REVISITING HUMANISTIC LANGUAGE TEACHING: AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO PROMOTE FUN AND ENGAGEMENT IN ES
Humanistic approach which was introduced by scholars like Erickson, Roger, and Maslow began to spread to the field of second language teaching and learning towards the end of 1970 (Khatib et al., 2013). Humanism is a general term in psychology which is highly concerned with the 'self.' It places high prominence to the inner world of humans and considers the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of individuals as the forefront of other achievements (Wang, 2005).
According to Wang (2005), “if a person cannot satisfy his basic needs physically and psychologically, he might fail to focus on his language learning wholeheartedly. Affect is not only the basic need of human body, but the condition and premise of the other physical and psychological activities”. Therefore, to promote teaching which gives the desired impacts to learners, teachers need to seriously consider applying humanistic approach in teaching. Teachers need to consider learners’ affective needs so that there will be better engagement and outcomes.
Humanistic principles give emphasis on the importance of the individual and specific human needs. The key assumptions underlying humanism are: (a) human nature is naturally good; (b) individuals are free and autonomous and therefore, they can make important personal choices; (c) human beings have unlimited potential for growth and development; (d) self-concept has a crucial role in growth; (e) individuals are strongly recommended to move towards self-actualization; (f) each person defines reality by himself/herself; and (g) individuals have responsibility to both themselves and to others (Shirkhani, 2013).
Lei (2007) puts forth that humanistic education brought about major changes in the field of language education: the roles of teachers and learners are redefined, learners' needs are given priority and language pedagogy goes through crucial modifications. Lei (2007) upholds that the humanism in education is characterized by learner-centredness which aims not only developing the cognitive and linguistic capabilities of the learners but also paying attention to the learners' emotions and feelings.
HUMANISTIC LANGUAGE TEACHING
Humanistic principles, in particular, make highly valuable contributions to foreign language teaching and learning. Humanism requires language teachers to regard themselves as a facilitator who is responsible to facilitate learning through creating a relaxed, stress-free and friendly atmosphere in which the learners are supposed to use language for real functions such as expressing their feelings (Shirkhani, 2013). Underhill (1989: 254) adds that Humanism requires the facilitator to have the skill for “finding the appropriate balance for each individual between self-directed autonomous power and other directed authoritative power”.
Mishra (2000) highlights the need for teachers to provide students with genuine and real challenge. Teaching a foreign language should not only be limited to the use of textbook. Language teachers are advised to bring some auxiliary materials holding some actual challenges. Moreover, teachers are also required to have trust in their learners so that they can transfer an acceptable degree of responsibility for learning to them. Teachers are also expected to value the individuals and individualization of the language classroom.
Stevick (1990) prescribes these five overlapping emphases as the basic components or guideline to the humanistic teachers:
Feelings: Emphasis is given on humane practice in teaching. Humanism rejects whatever causes people to feel bad.
Social relations: Humanism promotes and creates friendship and cooperation as a crucial part of interaction, and rejects whatever may reduce them.
Responsibility: Humanism accepts the need for public scrutiny, criticism, and correction, and disapproves whoever or whatever denies the importance of such issues.
Intellect: Humanism promotes freedom of mind towards knowledge and it rejects whatever interferes with the free use of mind
Self-actualization: Humanism believes that the search for realizing one's uniqueness leads to liberation. These emphases include both the development of certain qualities and contribution for achieving human potential in language learning.
HUMANISTIC LANGUAGE TEACHING IN ESL WRITING CLASSROOM: REFLECTING ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCES
Taking into consideration the principles of humanistic education, I implemented writing lessons among my upper form pupils with these principles in mind.
Giving emphasis on the importance of learners as individuals; I would always choose topics which are relevant to them or they are familiar with.
Promoting learner autonomy; my learners are allowed to make important personal choices about the topic of their paragraph or essay and its details.
Developing learners’ potential for growth and progress; I normally implement writing tasks in three phases. Evidence of growth and progress can be seen in terms of the number of words written as well as the amount of time taken to complete their writing tasks.
Considering learners’ emotions and feelings when assigning them writing tasks; learners need to feel happy to write, therefore, to ensure they enjoy writing, I always allow them to choose what they wish to write about.
Facilitating learners based on their need and ability; there are some weak and below average writers in my class and definitely, they are offered more help and guidance.
Attempting to create reasonable, stress-free and learner-friendly writing tasks. This is related to my implementation of writing tasks in three phases. Phase one allows my learners to write sentences or a very short paragraph. Phase 2 requires them to write a bit longer. As they gain more confidence to write, my learners are asked to write between 50-70 words in each paragraph, depending on their language ability.
Providing students with genuine and real challenge in some of their writing tasks; giving them tasks which are in line with their writing assessment in SPM examination. For an example, just like in SPM examination, they need to complete writing the 350-word essay in one hour.
These are the descriptions of some of the writing tasks or activities which are implemented in my classrooms.
ACTIVITY 1: What makes you happy
Pupils are asked to write at least three sentences telling three different ideas that make them happy. Then, they are required to take turn to exchange those ideas with their classmates. Later, they must write all those ideas in their essay book.
This writing task is for weak writers. It is not an issue if they only manage to write about one thing that makes them happy. Remember, teachers need to assign learner-friendly task especially in Phase 1 of their writing practices. Teacher facilitates learning and encourages learners to write more or longer by encouraging them to take turn exchanging their ideas verbally. At the end of the lesson, progress and growth can be highlighted based on the extended list of what makes them happy. Teacher’s praise and congratulatory remarks for the progress will surely carve smiles on learners’ faces.
ACTIVITY 2: Meeting My Idol
Each pupil is asked to choose an idol. Then, they are required to write a paragraph beginning with this sentence, “Last night, I met X, my idol. We …”. The pupils have to continue writing the paragraph with any relevant information or details. They are given 20 minutes to complete the task. In Phase 1, it does not matter how long they write.
Obviously, they are given freedom to choose their idol and write what they wish; they are given freedom to write about the activities they do after meeting their idol. They are in control of the content of their paragraph.
ACTIVITY 3: My great holiday
Pupils are asked to imagine they are rich and are willing to sponsor 3 of their classmates for a trip to London. Their task is to provide some reasons why they choose the three classmates.
Again, the choice is theirs. Learners have freedom to nominate the three classmates as well as to present or even create reasons to justify the choices made. Their emotion is considered in this task as learners do feel happy "being rich" and they have fun writing about the three classmates of their choice.
ACTIVITY 4: Join me…
Teacher asks each pupil to choose a hobby of their choice. They are asked to write a paragraph about their hobby and the reasons why other classmates should also take up the hobby.
This writing task gives emphasis on the importance of learners as individuals. It is a fact not all learners share the same hobby. Therefore, they are given the autonomy to decide on a hobby which they are familiar with.
ACTIVITY 5: Theme Park
In groups, pupils have to write two paragraphs about their trip to a theme park. They need to describe the park and at least one activity done there. They should write about 50-70 words in each paragraph.
The topic could be a challenge to some learners as not all of them have had the experience going to a theme park. To create a reasonable and learner-friendly writing task, learners are grouped, hoping they will assist each other. Weaker learners are also facilitated through this group task. For topics which are not personal to some learners (like visiting a theme park, going for a holiday overseas, working part-time at a restaurant), group work is assigned by the teacher as this will reduce some anxiety among learners who are not familiar with the topic. Moreover, to create less stressful learning, later, the groups are required to exchange ideas. At the end of the day, all learners will have enough ideas to complete the writing task individually.
There are ESL teachers who simply assign writing tasks without considering their learners' interest and personal preferences. Some of them merely complete writing practices offered in the workbook bought at the beginning of the year or module downloaded from a source. Not all writing topics in workbooks or modules excite our learners; some of the topics chosen by the writers are alien to and tough for our learners. In some cases, learners have no chance at all to choose what they want to write. It is disappointing such a thing is still happening in some ESL writing classrooms. Writing itself is not favoured by most learners and it is disheartening if teachers make it worse by asking them to write about something of not their choice or preference all the time. This malpractice, if it is still happening in any writing classroom, has to end.
Humanistic education should be embraced by ESL teachers as it gives much emphasis on the affective aspects of language learning. Learners are treated in some sense as a 'whole person', that is, every student in the classroom should first be looked at as a human, then a learner. When teachers pay attention to the learners’ affect and emotional states, learners will be happy to engage in learning. Their happiness or psychological state can influence their language performance and learning practices in a positive manner. Being happy in their ESL classroom can enhance learners’ performance. I am very sure teachers do not wish their learners to be distressed while learning English as being anxious and sad can frustrate learners to work efficiently.
Let’s make a change. We can make a difference!
"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if
he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be."
- Abraham Maslow (1954)
Khatib, M., Sarem S.N. and Hamidi, H. (2013). Humanistic Education: Concerns, Implications and Applications. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 45-51, January 2013. http://www.i-scholar.in/index.php/JLTACP/article/view/64796/55636
Lei, Q. (2007). EFL teachers‟ factors and students‟ affect. US-China Education Review, 4(3), 60-67. doi:10.2307/1170741.
Mishra, C. (2000). Humanistic Approach to Education. Journal of NELTA. 5, (2), pp.26-29.
Shirkhani, S. (2013). Humanism in Foreign Language Classroom. i-manager’s Journal on English Language Teaching, Vol. 3 l No. 4 l October - December 2013. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Servat_Shirkhani/publication/305777470_Humanism_In_The_Foreign_Language_Classroom/links/57a1786208aeef35741b8213/Humanism-In-The-Foreign-Language-Classroom.pdf?origin=publication_detail
Stevick, E. W. (1990). Humanism in Language Teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Underhill, A. (1989). Process in humanistic education. ELT Journal. 43(4), pp.250-260.
Wang, G. (2005). Humanistic Approach and Affective Factors in Foreign Language Teaching. Sino-US English Teaching. 2(5). Retrieved Nov. 2010, from www.pdf- finder.com/Humanistic-Approach.