Monday, June 17, 2013

A Pet Peeve of the GPA

Lots of people who call themselves "Vygotskyan" or "Sociocultural" won't like the GPA, any more than those who are labeled as "cognitivist".  Both share the commitment to the intuitively obvious fact that "What we did as schoolboys in Holland [or wherever] can't have been misguided."

For example, Dwight Atkinson, in the introduction to _Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition_  argues that "learners should indeed be presented with explicit and theoretically sophisticated explanations of L2 features..." which he feels is an application of sociocultural theory. Or Guy Cook, in his book on language play, largely concludes that supposedly discredited classic classroom approaches to language pedagogy are clearly defensible based on their alignment with what he expounds regarding the place of language play in everyday life. Well, this rising to defend tradition is all over the place. "Socioculturalists" are no exception.

The idea is that the first step in language learning is the successful participation in abstract, theoretical discourse (with concepts having names like "conjugation," "tense," "subjunctive," ...). To the extent that you're successful at that, you get to go on and "automatize" what you understood.

The GPA is the common person's approach! While we don't want to disadvantage intellectuals at all, neither do we want do disadvantage stay-at-home-mothers of four. I had a friend. She was a stay-at-home mother of four preschoolers. She had a book on her shelf about Hilbert Spaces that she had used when getting her M.A. in math. Later she got another M.A. in linguistics in a prominent linguistics department. But when she had those four preschoolers she told me, "I can't be intellectual right now." But "right now" was when she needed to be a growing participator! Yet I, like so many, thought that the pathway into another languacultural world began with a highly intellectual journey.

Glad that's over.