Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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Reading Chris Hunt's interesting article on common sense has made me think. Chris started off with 8 quotes from famous writers and asked us which we agree with. I found that I pretty much agreed with all of them, especially the quotes from Einstein, Emerson and Hull. This made me wonder where Chris and I may disagree.

Maybe there's far more we agree about than disagree about. I basically agree with Chris' views on capitalism and absolutely agree that 'the function of education should be to help children become self-actualizing'. I also agree we should maximize the opportunities for children to make genuine choices in the classroom.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Chris seems to focus on the children's democratic right to choose. I am much more focused on where 'choice' comes from and the role of the teacher in motivating children to choose to learn English and to choose particular language targets in our lessons.

George Kelly, the constructivist who has had the most influence on my own views on learning, wrote that 'A person chooses for himself that alternative... through which he anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of his (construct) system.' Like Chris, I think that children are natural learners, and like Kelly I think there are psychological reasons why people make particular choices and these reasons can be examined and understood - they don't just come out of the ether.

I agree with Chris that formal education and 'teaching' so often pushes down children's natural desire to learn. However, I don't see the solution as doing away with school. I see it in training teachers in techniques that emphasize the need for children to make genuine choices, in developing a deeper understanding of the psychological reasons why children make one choice rather than other, and in looking for ways to motivate children to choose to learn English.

If children are to reach their full potential as learners, develop the confidence and courage to make genuine choices and attain greater self-actualization, then, as Lev Vygotsky, so wisely pointed out, they need to interact with others that know more than they do. In some situations, they can learn by interacting with other children. But for most Japanese children learning English, it is the teacher that needs to play this crucial supporting role.

We just need to be careful to teach in such a way that children feel they are making genuine choices. They need to feel they are learning what they have chosen to learn. This comes down to the teaching techniques we use and these can be acquired through training.

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