Scholarly article on topic 'Student Reticence in Iran's Academia: Exploring Students’ Perceptions of Causes and Consequences'

Student Reticence in Iran's Academia: Exploring Students’ Perceptions of Causes and Consequences Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{Reticence / Voice / "Class Participation ;Speaking"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Solmaz Aghazadeh, Hojjat Abedi

Abstract The nature of silence in classroom is complex with different students possessing distinct beliefs, social norms, and cultural backgrounds. There are several factors that contribute to students’ reluctance to speak up and participate in classroom activities, such as linguistic, psychological, and sociocultural (Harumi, 2010) issues. Awareness of sources of silence on the part of EFL instructors may decrease misinterpretations regarding students’ level of engagement in language classrooms. Despite the available literature on Asian students’ silence (e.g., Littlewood, 2000), studies in the context of Iran are scarce and have mainly focused on exploring teachers’ perspectives in this regard. To help bridge this gap, we interviewed 28 university EFL students exploring their perceptions of the nature of reticence in classroom, its causes, and its consequences. Thematic analysis of the data yielded mixed results. Regarding its causes, silence might be because of students’ personality type and even a legitimate form of classroom participation. In some other cases, it seems to be the result of teachers’ emotionally negative feedback to questions and mistakes or, at a more general level, their authoritarian approach to students. In terms of its outcomes, student reticence was found to sometimes contribute to and sometimes hinder deeper mental engagement in classroom process. Based on the findings, some guidelines were proposed for instructors on how to deal with reticent learners.

Academic research paper on topic "Student Reticence in Iran's Academia: Exploring Students’ Perceptions of Causes and Consequences"

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Procedía

Social and Behavioral Sciences

ELSEVIER

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 78 - 82

International Conference on Current Trends in ELT

Student Reticence in Iran's Academia: Exploring Students' Perceptions of Causes and Consequences

Solmaz Aghazadeha' *, Hojjat Abedib

a b Shahid Beheshti University, Evin, Tehran, Iran

Abstract

The nature of silence in classroom is complex with different students possessing distinct beliefs, social norms, and cultural backgrounds. There are several factors that contribute to students' reluctance to speak up and participate in classroom activities, such as linguistic, psychological, and sociocultural (Harumi, 2010) issues. Awareness of sources of silence on the part of EFL instructors may decrease misinterpretations regarding students' level of engagement in language classrooms. Despite the available literature on Asian students' silence (e.g., Littlewood, 2000), studies in the context of Iran are scarce and have mainly focused on exploring teachers' perspectives in this regard. To help bridge this gap, we interviewed 28 university EFL students exploring their perceptions of the nature of reticence in classroom, its causes, and its consequences. Thematic analysis of the data yielded mixed results. Regarding its causes, silence might be because of students' personality type and even a legitimate form of classroom participation. In some other cases, it seems to be the result of teachers' emotionally negative feedback to questions and mistakes or, at a more general level, their authoritarian approach to students. In terms of its outcomes, student reticence was found to sometimes contribute to and sometimes hinder deeper mental engagement in classroom process. Based on the findings, some guidelines were proposed for instructors on how to deal with reticent learners.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selectionand peer-reviewunderresponsibilityofUrmia University, Iran.

Keywords: Reticence; Voice; Class Participation; Speaking

1. Introduction

To date, a host of research studies have focused on the characteristics of language learners who have been perceived as having pivotal roles for their learning and their capabilities as well as their limitations. Among the

* Corresponding author.

E-mail address:aghazadeh.solmaz@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.391

factors that have been explored by researchers, students' reticence in language classrooms has attracted many attentions in recent decades (Cortazzi & Jin, 1996; Liu & Littlewood, 1997; Flowerdew, 1998; Chen 2003; Jackson, 2002, for example). Current ESL/EFL literature has frequently reported that Asian (especially East Asian) students of English as a second or foreign language are reticent and passive learners in language classrooms and choose not to use the target language most of the times, especially when responding to teachers.

Getting students to respond in the classroom is a problem that most EFL teachers face, particularly when they are dealing with Asian learners. Asian learners are typically perceived as passive and reluctant to participate in classroom discussions; they are unwilling to give responses, they don't ask questions, and they are highly dependent on their teachers (Jones et al., 1993; Braddock et al., 1995; Cortazzi & Jin, 1996; Tsui, 1996). However, some EFL teachers may misinterpret the learners' reticence as lack of initiatives or refusal to participate in classroom discussions.

With a growing need for spoken English among non-native English speakers, research in the field of reticence in foreign and second language situations has captured the attention of language theorists and educators in recent decades (Cheng 2000; Endo 2008, for example). It is assumed that when people are asked to speak in a second or foreign language, they become more apprehensive and tense and thus more unwilling to participate in conversations (Horwitz et al., 1986). A host of research projects have focused on exploring the roots and ramifications of learner's reticence in the classroom (Liu, 2005; Harumi 2010, for example). This silent behavior has been referred to as 'stony silence' or 'dead air' that follows a question addressed to a class of Asian learners (Flowerdew, 1998).

Up to now, as mentioned above, a plenty of research has been carried out in regard to Asian EFL students examining their being silent in the classroom, such as Liu & Littlewood (1997), Cheng (2000), Jackson (2002), Chen (2003), Endo (2008), and Harumi (2010), only to name a few. The hitherto results from the research are varied. In general, we can divide these results into two strata: one pinpointing the potential causes for Asian students' reticence and then scrutinizing these causes, the other rebutting this allegation at all, i.e., Asian students' reticence, and labeling it as a "myth".

With regard to the former, the roots of the reticence have been investigated by many researchers (Harumi, 2010; Cheng, 2000; Liu & Littlewood, 1997, to name a few) . In her ethnographic study, Harumi (2010) discovered that roots of silence inside the Japanese classroom were linguistic (limited vocabulary, expressions, grammar, and so on), psychological (shyness, boredom, lack of confidence, and so on), and socio-cultural (Confucian ethics, classroom culture, and so forth) factors. Chen (2003) discerned personal-affective factors such as anxiety and lack of experience with class discussion, and sociocultural factors such as the prevailing belief of "teacher as a sage on the stage" as the primary causes of the issue in question. In a similar vein, Jackson (2002) identified several explanations for the students' reticence. In this way, the students' lack of proficiency and opportunities to practice English, lacking co nfidence thereby fear of losing face by making a mistake, anxiety, and habit of waiting to be singled out were noted as the main sources of the students' reticence.

Conversely, Cheng (2000) demonstrated that "... Asian students are not culturally predisposed to be reticent and passive in language learning." Rather, if some Asian students are perceived as being "quieter than expected in certain circumstances, the causes are situation specific [sic]..." (p.435). He attributed these situation-specific causes to the "differences between teaching methodologies" and the "lack of required foreign language proficiency" (p.442). With almost similar results, in their 1997 study, Liu and Littlewood stated that in spite of some allegations against Asian students as being passive in EFL classes, students wanted to take an active speech role in the class.

As mentioned above, in the previous studies, multiple variables such as low English proficiency, personality, and cultural beliefs are found to contribute to the students' reluctance to participate fully in classroom discussions. However, such interpretations are often based on teachers' interpretations of students' silence behavior which may be in contrast with the reasons that students themselves may deem as being important. In fact, the sources of potential mismatch regarding the students' level of engagement in whole-class discussions may lead to some misinterpretations on the part of the teachers. Thus, awareness of the roots and ramifications of reticence in language classrooms can play an important role in identifying the potential sources of mismatch and encouraging the students to speak and express their ideas in oral language classrooms. Meanwhile, it can help the teachers to come to a better

understanding of the students' behavior in the sense that they would not be confounded by extraneous factors that are, in fact, irrelevant and of little contribution in this regard.

The main issue which pushed us forward in carrying out this study is concerned with the generalizability of the past findings. It was noticed that the majority, if not all, of research studies about the issue in question were carried out only in eastern countries in Asia, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and the like. But the question is, "Does Asia consist only of these countries?"

Considering the fact that it is the students who have the problem of reticence, exploring these insiders' perceptions of the silence behavior can be of great help to arrive at a better understanding of this challenging issue. The purpose of this study is to investigate the causes and consequences of learners' silence reflecting leaners' viewpoints and a comparison will be made in order to identify the sources of potential mismatch between teachers' and learners' view regarding the issue of learners' reticence in the EFL classrooms in Iran. Also, the factors that contribute to learners' reticence, especially cultural and contextual problems, will be examined and possible pedagogical implications which reflect learners' point of view will be suggested. Moreover, based on the findings, some guidelines will be proposed for instructors on how to deal with reticent learners.

The following is the report of the present study as to what and how the different phases of this research were carried out.

2. The study

In order to explore the roots and ramifications of students' reticence to participate in oral classroom discussions, this study seeks to provide answers tothe following research questions.

Research questions:

1. What do Iranian learners perceive as the causes of their reluctance to actively participate in the whole-class discussions?

2. What is active students' perceptions of the reasons of their reticent peers' behavior in the classroom? Can they help their reticent peers to speak up and express themselves in the classroom? If so, how?

3. What is learners' expectations regarding their teachers' use of some supportive strategies to break learners' silence?

4. Is there any mismatch between teacher's teaching style and learners' learning style and what are its potential consequences?

3. Research Method

3.1. Participants

The students intended to take part in the study were studying English language and literature in their first year of undergraduate studies. All of the learners' first language was Persian and their level of proficiency in English ranged from intermediate to advance. However, in order to find out different interpretations of distinct learners, based on observation, professor evaluation, and speaking course scores, the learners were divided into two groups of active learners and their reticent counterparts. By definition, active learners are considered as being cooperative and more often than not tend to participate in the full-class discussions while their reticent peers are interpreted as being passive learners who scarcely initiate in taking part in discussions. Most of them were our friends (either near or far). We intentionally selected our sample from among our friends because of two reasons: First, it was easier to get access to them (either in person or by phone), i.e., convenience sampling. Second, we thought they would tend to be among the interviewees than the students we did not know.

3.2. Data collection

Since this study is a qualitative research and its purpose is to explore and understand perceptions of the silence phenomenon in the academic context of Iranian universities, the learners in each group, active as well as reticent ones, were interviewed. The interview consisted of three parts. In the first section, the learners were asked to give some general background information on their learning experience. As the next step, the second section of the interview, which was in a semi-structured format, dealt with eliciting active as well as reticent learners' perspectives of the roots of silence whose consequence is 'the nails that don't stick up' in the EFL classrooms. Finally, in order not to ignore the potential causes which are not previously anticipated by the interviewers (Dornyei, 2007),

an open format enquiring learners' viewpoints on the issue in question was established. Also, by asking open-ended questions, it was aimed to explore their attitudes regarding the teacher's use of supportive strategies to break the 'stony silence' in the language classroom.

4. Data analysis

In order to find various sources of students' reticence the data analysis was conducted in several phases. As a first step, the first level of coding, i.e., open coding, in which only labels are assigned to the each one of data was done. Then, in the second phase of the coding, i.e. axial coding, logical connections were made between the subcategories. Ultimately, in the last stage, i.e. selective coding, grand themes, which subsumes the previously-found subcategories and categories, were identified. Therefore, while we were scrutinizing the data, we assigned appropriate labels to the causes for reticence perceived by the students who were interviewed. For example, some of the students said that they did not have any good reason to speak. So, we labeled it as "motivation". Finall y, all the data were coded in the same way so that we had organized data. As noted above, this stage was open coding.

The next stage was to try to find a logical pattern in the coded data. In other words, we had to go through the coded data several times in order that we could discern any relationship among the coded data. Still in other words, we expected to find some common characteristics among every single coded data. As an example, consider the following coded data in our study (they are a part of the coded data):

• Lack of motivation

• Mispronunciation

• Lack of confidence

• Turn-taking

• Previous educational experiences

• Lack of lexis

• Introversion and extroversion

• Anxiety

In this example, we thought a lot to discover one or more relationship(s) among them. This stage was mentally demanding since we figured out a common feature for some of them; we found that there is a contradiction between the found common feature and the other coded data. So, we had to think again and again so that our effort culminated in a satisfactory and logical categorization. With regard to the above-mentioned example, we could incorporate "lack of motivation", "lack of confidence", "anxiety", and "introversion and extroversion" into the inclusive term "affective/personality factor". In the same vein, all the coded data were, in a similar manner, ascribed to the general terms, i.e., general causes for students' reticence in the classroom. This was axial coding in that we tried to find links between and among the themes or categories. Finally, in the last stage, i.e., selective coding, grand themes were identified.

In this way, all the data obtained from the subjects were analyzed and efforts have been made to explore the reasons behind these roots of silence as well as its consequences. In fact, based on the findings of this study, common sources of reticence which were also indicated by previous studies were found to be the case about Iranian students. However, this study has demonstrated other important causes which were identified as being important in contributing to learners' reluctance to participate in whole-class discussions. Furthermore, reticent students' opinions about certain teacher behaviors which could play a considerable role with regard to their reticence were investigated and practical strategies were suggested in order to help the teachers deal with reticent learners.

5. Conclusion

This study has mainly focused on the students' perceptions of the silence behavior in English language classrooms in Iran. As illustrated in this paper, there are certain causes for students' reticence which can contribute to teacher's misinterpretation. These causes are dealt with under two sections labeled as internal and external factors. And then some practical implications have been proposed to overcome these obstacles. With regard to literature, it should be mentioned that most of the researches investigating the issue in question were carried out in the Far East such as Japan, China, and South Korea, therefore limiting the results to the countries being located in that area. Hence, to obviate this problem and to have a broader understanding of the issue, it is believed that other replication researches are needed to investigate the phenomenon, i.e., student reticence, in other parts of the globe.

Acknowledgement

The authors of this paper would like to thank Dr. R. Anani Sarab and Dr. A. Abednia for providing insightful revising suggestions.

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