An Investigation into English as a Second Language (ESL) Learner Participation in Language Learning Opportunities: A Social View
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To publish my research
Learner participation in language learning opportunities has been configured differently by different learning theories. In the domain of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), the cognitive view of learning has been dominant in explaining learner participation. It has been widely accepted that it should be in the form of participation in oral activities which leads to gains in linguistic competence. The aim of this thesis is to understand the issue of learner participation from the social perspective, where a broader understanding of learning will be employed informed by the work of Lave and Wenger (1991) and others. To do so, this study investigates the forms of participation of six ESL learners in suburban Malaysia in two contexts: in-class and out-of-class. In order to understand the issue of learner participation from a social view point, data were collected using classroom observations, learners’ interviews, learner diaries, and photographs taken by them. All the data were transcribed and analysed qualitatively. In order to handle the large amount of data, the Nvivo software package was used for organisation and retrieval purposes. The findings reveal several insights about learner participation. First, learners are active agents where they constantly make decisions on what to engage with and how, and act on the norms and expectations that are imposed on them in a particular sociocultural context. Second, the six learners are members of or aspired to become members of several communities: academically successful learners; successful ESL learners; proficient speakers of the target language; the classroom; and youth. Thus, they aligned their forms of participation with these various communities. Third, learners in this study tended to distinguish between learning and other kinds of engagement. They tended to equate certain forms of participation as actions that one needed to take to learn the language; thus other forms of participation accorded less value. In this study, some insights from Communities of Practice (CoP) theory- learning as a process of gaining membership in a particular community and that learners move from peripheral to core membership- were used to understand the issue of learner participation. However, upon understanding and interpreting the data, it was found that CoP theory is limited in several ways. First, CoP focuses only on one type of community (e.g. the classroom) in one temporal dimension. Yet, findings indicate that there are several other communities that exist in the classroom at one time. Due to this shortcoming, this study has turned to the concept of ‘figured worlds’ (Holland et al, 2001). Secondly, CoP theory argues for a group dynamic. Less recognition is given to the fact that individual learners are also dynamic and agentive. Akkerman and Meijer (2011) suggest dialogical views on identity; in which a framework is provided that acknowledges the multiple, discontinuous and social nature of identity (a postmodern view), while at the same time assumes identity as being unitary, continuous and individual (a modern view). Thirdly, CoP tends to focus on a singular “identity-in-practice (Tan and Barton (2008). Tan and Barton (ibid: 50) argue for the plurality of identities-in-practice (IdPs); rather than a singular “identity-in-practice (IdP) as suggested by Lave and Wenger (1991). The view of learning as boundary crossing seems to better describe the kinds of participation and learning that have been suggested by the findings generated in the study. Instead of looking at learning as participation in a particular community, learning as boundary crossing better captures the dynamic of learner participation in language learning opportunities, of learners as whole persons (rather than fragmented identities), and of learners as agentive beings.
Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia
Doctor of Philosophy in Education