…if a student really works hard, and yet there is a danger of this student failing a test, although he or she has studied intensively for it, then I cheat. I take a pen that has the same color ink as the student used to write the test and I correct some of the mistakes so that the student does not notice and I can give a positive mark. And then I follow this up with a lot of appraisal and support …
(Puchta, H. 1999. Learners: belief, identity and success. IATEFL 1999. Edinburgh Conference Selections. P. 71-72)
Humanistic approach emerged as a reaction to the behaviorist approach to teaching with the rigid teacher’s control over the learners behavior. The concern of humanistic tendencies was to enhance people’s self-actualization and their role in directing their own lives (Kelly, Maslow, Rogers cited in Roth. I. 1994. Introduction to Psychology. Volume 1. The Open University. P. 419).
Humanistic approach to language teaching emphasized the value of developing whole learner's personality, socialization of an individual in a group, creative activities with music, arts etc. It was further developed in community language teaching. The method was based on counseling techniques (Curran, C. 1976. Counseling-Learning: A Whole Person Model for Education. N.Y.) In lay terms, counseling is giving support to another person. This method was described as humanistic with self-actualization and secured self-esteem of the learners.
The priorities of the method were to develop learners’ relationships in the group, to guarantee in learners the feeling of security and belonging to the group as well as asserting one’s personal identity. “Learner autonomy” became a new and much discussed concept. Affective learning and learner anxiety were taken seriously as an important factor of effectiveness. Instead of the formulaic knowledge (the product of behaviorism) teachers tried to develop in learners heuristic knowledge (After Fox, J. 1992. New Perspectives in Modern Language Learning. University of East Anglia. P. 87).
Special attention was given to the issue of “debilitating anxiety”, which unlike “facilitating anxiety” could hinder and even block the process of language acquisition. As a result of the debilitating anxiety in the lesson the learners usually develop a “defense mechanism” against it. Some of them withdraw from the work of the class, make a game of a task, fidget and let their attention wander or plunge into the world of fantasy. They can challenge the teacher with the unacceptable behavior or passive aggression in the form of “silent protest”. Some learners accuse others of their own learning problems. As expression of protest the learners join subgroups of other failure-learners (See: Madeline, E. 1996. Understanding Second Language Learning Difficulties. Sage Publications).
An important issue, which is tackled by the humanistic approach to teaching is the rejection of the learners by their teachers. The rejection of this type can be hidden and show itself indirectly. These teachers prefer not to look at the learners, which they dislike (gaze of avoidance). The whole teacher’s body movement is in the direction opposite to the learners they dislike. The teachers keep a longer physical distance with these learners and give them less verbal contacts and addresses. These learners are denied teacher’s supportive intervention and detailed feed-back that other learners normally enjoy. They are given a reduced teacher’s waiting time.
Humanistic approach advocated “non-conflict”, “non-judgement” and “empathy” in the relations of the teacher and learners. The importance of the humanistic approach lies not just in the effectiveness of language learning but also in the development of the personality.
Humanistic approach facilitates self-actualization of learners. Self-actualized people have a healthier psyche and are more capable of a creative non-stereotyped behavior. This helps them to identify easily with the group. They demonstrate a more accurate perception of the reality and accept it without unnecessary conflicts. They focus more on the cognitive problems and less on themselves. These learners possess the capacity for peak experiences (through love, music, art, nature etc.) and a greater aptitude for empathy with other people. They are able to see things other than in black and white.
Exploratory task 1.1
Study the following descriptions of the learners and reflect on the possible reasons that explain their learning difficulties. Suggest recommendations to improve the teaching situation. What individual features of the learners have to be respected by the teacher?
1. Frank is shy, withdrawn and obtuse. When called upon for an answer in class, he hesitates a lot and sometimes does not respond at all. When pushed, his answers are usually incorrect. However he does well with written homework.
2. Mark is a delightful student. Very active and enthusiastic in class. He never has enough time to complete the task in class and rarely finishes the test on time
3. Mary is inattentive and never follows explanations in class. She does not seem to understand the grammar rules. However, the next day she knows the rule perfectly.
4. Clara is very motivated to study English but finds it meaningless to take part in communicative activities. After communicative lessons she feels frustrated.
5. Vera is clever and likes to take part in discussions. However while talking she often makes slips such as forgetting, blurring or mixing up word endings.
(Some examples are adapted from Leaver, B. 1993. Teaching the Whole Class. The AGSI Press. P. 4-8)