The discovery of meaning lies, as Wittgenstein so persuasively taught not in the lexicon but in use. In the search for meaning, then we are not so much concerned with matters of fact or with some objective representation of reality, but with the more elusive topics of the perception, cognition and expression of reality.
As I reflect on today’s changes in classrooms, I take a step back, peer into those spaces, and establish my beliefs and perceptions in regard to classrooms and roles. For it is by expressing how I perceive classrooms that I many then inquire into the changes that digital technology has brought us.
To begin with, the classroom is a dynamic social encounter which is conditioned by different factors such as roles, furniture display, pace and flow of movements, evaluation and silences.
Teachers are individuals who represent a group culture and at the same time, represent the institution’s culture – both characteristics are present according to varying degrees. Learners also represent a group culture, as well as being a group culture.
In the classroom, it becomes easier to point out teacher roles in terms of what they are, giving them a name, a defining noun. Although their roles may shift several times in the same lesson from manager to monitor to counselor to entertainer, this shift may often be very subtle. Yet teacher roles are characterized by what they are, they have a name of role which holds certain characteristics.
On the other hand, learner roles appear more difficult to pin-point with a name. Their roles are more easily recognized in terms of their behaviour, of what they do in the classroom, it becomes the action which characterizes their role.
Hence I am led to put forward the hypotheses that a role may not always be a role per se, but a function:
In the classroom a teacher is something. The learner does something which does not reflect a role per se, but an activity. If nouns pre-define the proceeding verb, it is the teacher’s role which will pre-determine and ser in motion the learner’s function/ role.
Therefore, speaking of “Learner’s role” as one refers to “teacher’s role” is an illusion of democratic equality. The concepts of roles are highly relevant within a communicative approach. Since one may consider the communicative approach as evolving from the intellectually dissatisfied ‘60’s, a more democratic ideal of education had to be established and put into practice.
There was a shift from from teacher – centred to learner – centred approach in classrooms (pedagogic reasons for this are not under debate here – I am merely observing this shift of emphasis).
Below is a graph of how I perceive the socio-educational of the changes which I have just referred to, in regard to English Language Teaching:
Speaking of teacher and learner roles becomes a metaphor for this concept of equality. Both share/contribute equality. Both share/contribute equally to the classroom culture as such, but each in turn will form their own culture – both in and out of the classroom.
Let us visualize this metaphor which is at once bifurcate and globalizing:
Let me consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners. To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is and active verb and to gain a passive verb. These concepts of activity and passivity also determine roles in a very subtle way. The shift in concept. i.e. that learners do not only “gain” but also “give” (i.e. learners do not only “gain” but also active) in a lesson is explored and emphasized within the communicative approach. This shift accompanies the move which may be parallel to the cognitive theories – a shift which may be parallel to the implementation of communicative teaching / learning.
However, current shifts in education and society have disrupted these perceptions. As the world of knowing and knowledge becomes flatter, more open, so too, do roles.
Or do they?