The issue of reticence seen among EFL/ESL students is what makes the whole teaching process ineffective. However, in the era of high-tech decisions and well-informed educational staff, this impediment can be easily removed. The article “Reducing student reticence through teacher interaction strategy” by Winnie Lee and Sarah Ng discovers the main points to be taken into account while teaching English among Chinese students. To say more, the paper aims to analyze this article adding some evidences and facts from secondary sources. In sum, it will shed light on the characteristic features of teacher-student communication when implementing the teacher interaction strategy.
First of all it should be mentioned, that the problem of student reticence is widespread. Definitely, the pedagogical process should be well-polished and well-structured in terms of objectives, tasks, marking criteria, etc. In addition, a teacher’s personal manner to approach the classroom before lesson starts is also important. It is important that a teacher pays attention to a clear explanation of different target language phenomena and to the mnemonics to be used so that to keep all of those phenomena in mind.
Multiple variables are involved into the process of studying English by ESL/EFL students, such as motivation, confidence, thoroughness, etc (Lee & Ng, 2010). Hence, the figure of a teacher cannot be underestimated as he/she is a mentor and a leader into the world of a new language and everything related to it. The main factor is willingness of students to get involved into the entire process from the very start until a desired result is achieved. In this vein, the McIntyre’s model known as “a conceptual willingness to communicate” (WTC) provides a holistic integration of all complex variables into “a useful interface between these disparate lines of enquiry” (Lee & Ng, 2010, pp. 302). Thus, a teacher is to bring up in his/her students the prerequisites of communicative behaviour.
It is a teacher who defines the way in which the lesson should go on. Operating with a huge amount of variables that can make each lesson different, a teacher should not forget to keep up with the idea of constant communication with students and among students. Of course, students are people, and some of them are more gifted in acquiring the basics of the language than others. However, it should not serve a full stop which permits the teacher to pay no attention to those lagging behind the group. McIntyre’s model suggests taking into account such variables, as “participants, physical setting, and the formality of the situation” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 303). It is a nice way of training personal ability to communicate and quickly transform thoughts in a source language into the words in the target language.
According to Cullen’s suggestion, highlighted in the article, the person of a teacher is identified as the one to determine the conversational process and its control according to “learner’s participation opportunities in classrooms” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 303). That is to say, a teacher distributes the roles between students so that everyone participates in the language process and nobody feels like an outsider. The extent of reticence reduces then, and is about to be eliminated in the future. With this idea in mind, a teacher should keep a strict eye on changing roles among students so that to make them feel confident. In case with Asian students (particularly those from China), they tend to be passive and non-talkative until they are called on just because “reticence and humility are highly valued Asian cultural traits rooted in the Confucian tradition” (Park & Endo 2006, pp. 78).
Giving an opportunity for a student is paramount as “intention must combine with opportunity to produce behaviour” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 303). So, students are not to perceive the information with no idea of how it is used in the fluent language. They should come up with appropriate standards of behaviour so that to imitate how might native speakers speak or express their feelings in a definite situation. It was found that the main factors in classroom reticence are as follows: “sociocultural communication factors, teaching methods, trends towards perfectionism, a tendency to be non-talkative, conformity and competition, fear of losing self-identity, and lack of sufficient English speaking knowledge” (Pike 2007, pp. 52). All these issues are to be effectively and rationally worked out by a teacher in the class.
The aforementioned models serve as a background before introducing the teacher interaction strategy. The definition of the teacher interaction strategy states that a teacher takes advantage of some “interaction device”, such as: “use of referential/display questions, wait time, turn allocation, as well as ways of engaging learners in communication” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 304). Thus, this strategy is believed to make progress in teaching ESL/EFL students from Asia and China, in particular, as it gives a broader understanding of the general rules and norms of language in the direct flow of speech. What is more, the teacher interaction strategy splits into the three types of sub-strategies, namely: 1) Teacher-fronted strategy; 2) facilitator-oriented strategy; and 3) Learner-oriented strategy (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 304-306).
The first type of the teacher interaction strategy presumes that a teacher should use the controlled and well-structured manner where the whole teaching process results in “a teacher-dominated, rigid, and restricted interaction pattern” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 304). Here a teacher involves more into nonverbal communication through the use of visual aids and other devices so that to initiate teacher-student communication fully controlled and led by the teacher himself/herself. The main principle for this strategy presupposes teacher initiation and then learner response with teacher follow-up (Lee & Ng 2010). It is used for the purpose of checking and transmitting knowledge so that to come over to the next step of studying English.
The second type of the aforementioned strategy gives more freedom to students in thinking over the main questions set by a teacher. In fact, it is a communicative approach adopted by a teacher “in a more let-go and meaning-focused” way which results in “learners’ greater participation rights” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 305). Students are given more time to prepare the answers for a teacher’s question, and it facilitates the educational process with more content-focused rather than form-focused feedback (Lee & Ng, 2010). Definitely, it is a connecting link between the teacher-fronted and learner-oriented strategies. In other words, it is a pathway to the advanced level of learning English. Three kinds of move are taken into account while using this strategy, namely: initiating (teacher); response with a particular pause in between (students); and follow-up with some correction and sympathy, of course, on the part of a teacher (Lee & Ng 2010).
Finally, the learner-oriented strategy is a culmination of a teacher’s tries to make students understand how the language is spoken and perceived as well. It is a non-intervening practice giving more freedom of expression and communication to students when they communicate with one another in the classroom. A student-student pattern is used here, because “the whole interaction is basically learner initiated, and the teacher will not intervene except at the time when learners come across difficulties” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 306). The teacher stands here for just observation and taking notes on how each of the participants communicates and shows willingness to do so. It is a stage when everything learned before is compiled into a conversation in which all those rules and language phenomena become overt. A teacher sets a definite task and then students express their opinions, ask for more information, or argue on what has been told by some student(s) (Lee & Ng 2010).
It is up to a teacher to decide, which strategy fits into the lesson. Notably, it depends on the educational program scheduled for the whole period of learning. Moreover, a type of intensiveness also matters as some learners may express willingness to study English language in the short run. However, it is noted that “the use of a facilitator-oriented strategy can help reduce reticence in both learner-centred and teacher-fronted classrooms” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 307). On the other side, the professional skills of a teacher and his/her experience background are also vital when choosing the best strategy or a combination of strategies, if applicable.
Nevertheless, an interaction with peers in the classroom makes Asian students feel equal in opportunities and strong in the way they want to speak English. Bilingualism is getting stronger when both the socio-cultural and pedagogical environments are well tracked and highlighted so that each of the students can think in a way the native-speakers do (Kanno, 2012). The language perspective should not sound like an artificial one, as it describes the mood and the spirit of the people sharing it (Liu 2001). Hence, there are many factors to take notice of while getting closer with the audience of ESL/EFL students. However, the person of a teacher is well related to the full-fledged assistance in studying English from the very beginning to the advanced level.
The experiment, which is observed in the article, outlines the significance of the interactive learning for Asian students so reluctant and reticent during their classes. In fact, two teachers were selected to perform a lesson based on the strategies mentioned above with no information for both students and teachers. Those new teachers employed different strategies during two lessons they were given. During the first lesson the strategy was a combination of teacher-fronted and facilitator-oriented while the second lesson was performed using learner-oriented and facilitator-oriented strategies (Lee & Ng 2010).
The results have shown that a previously high motivation of the students in the target group got even higher as they were willing to participate in communication throughout the lessons. Furthermore, during the first lesson, students’ participation opportunities were quite little as they were directed by the teacher, but then they were “hungry” to communicate showing their opinions and participation behaviour on a high level of interaction (Lee & Ng 2010). The authors admit the fact that “pedagogical goals and task/activity types are closely related to the interaction strategies teachers employ” (Lee & Ng 2010, pp. 309) It means that a pure pedagogical approach cannot reduce the reticent behaviours among Asian students, but the teacher interaction strategy can.
To sum up, the study by Lee and Ng (2010) makes a great effort in showing the best practices in teaching English for ESL/EFL Asian students (mainly from China). The proposed teacher interaction strategy is a powerful tool in giving more participation opportunities to students and, thus, developing their participation behaviour which, in turn, reduces the level of the overall reticence in the classroom. A theoretical analysis of the strategy was well approved in practice, as was shown in the experiment, highlighted at the end of the article.