Student Perceptions of Beginning French and Spanish Language Performance. (Language Teaching & Learning)

By Gascoigne, Carolyn; Robinson, Karen | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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Student Perceptions of Beginning French and Spanish Language Performance. (Language Teaching & Learning)


Gascoigne, Carolyn, Robinson, Karen, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

By examining students' perceptions of their personal language learning endeavors, teacher perceptions of their students' language learning, as well as the similarities and discrepancies therewithin, language teachers can gain valuable insights into their students' self-regulatory skills, thus informing the language instruction process. This study examines where (in terms of skill) and how (in terms of degree and direction) student and teacher perceptions coexist in the beginning French and Spanish classroom.

Introduction

Most U.S. students who have studied a second language have done so under less-than-ideal conditions. First, unlike our European counterparts, we tend to reserve language study for secondary and post-secondary level students (Brown, 1994). Second, language learning typically takes place in a classroom environment for a mere handful of hours per week. Most language educators would argue that beginning language instruction as early as possible, and within authentic contexts, should be our goal. However, until language teachers are able to reconfigure the U.S. educational system, we must continue to improve our understanding of the current language learning context: the classroom. To this end, the following pages seek to shed light on the language learning process by studying student perceptions of language performance in introductory second language (French and Spanish) courses.

Like all teachers, language educators have considerable influence on the ways in which their students make sense of their learning and qualify their successes and failures. Certainly, both the implicit and explicit messages that we convey in our classrooms affect our students' developing notions of themselves as language learners, as well as their progress in the language (Williams and Burden, 1999: 200).

Students judge their success by internal (personal opinion) as well as external (teacher approval, grades) factors (Williams and Burden, 1999). Whereas language teachers are unable to tap into their students' internal measures of performance, we can help students to become more accurate assessors by ameliorating the quality of the external messages we send. For the less-skilled student, simple grades may be an insufficient medium of communication. Individual conferences or frequent narrative progress reports, for example, may be possible ways of improving the accuracy of the less-skilled student's perception and, quite possibly, performance.

By examining our students' perceptions of their personal language learning endeavors, teacher perceptions of their students' language learning, as well as the similarities and discrepancies therewithin, language teachers can gain valuable insights into their students' self-regulatory skills, thus informing the language instruction process. Indeed, Boekaerts (1998) believes that post-modern education must encourage students to steer and direct their own learning (p. 13), and an essential first step toward this goal is understanding how students perceive their own performance.

Perception Theory

Three dominant models (attribution theory, self-efficacy, and self-concept) have given shape to much of the perception research to date, and can be classified primarily in terms of where they cast their gaze: back toward the past, ahead to the future, or on the present.

The Past

Attribution theory posits the student as a rational analyzer of learning causes and outcomes in which retrospective judgement of the causes of one's performance has a motivational effect. The causal determiners most commonly cited in any given success or failure have been: ability, effort, luck, and task difficulty (Weiner, 1983). Causal attributions are "latent variables-mental states or events that are not observable but are presumed to exist because their effects are observable" (Whitley, Hanson, and Frieze, 1985: 609). At its core, attribution research seeks to reveal how learners explain a completed-or past-success or failure.

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