As ESL teachers, we all know that the techniques we need to employ while teaching adult learners differ from those techniques used with children. Jack Mezirow, a well -respected theorist in the field of adult learning, suggests that adults need to experience a disruption as a catalyst for the learning process. In his theory of transformative learning, he lays out the steps in the process which result in learning. The first step toward adult learning comes in the form of a disorienting dilemma. This dilemma provokes a period of critical reflection to help us make sense of the disturbance. As a result of our examination of what is happening, we grow.
In my experience as an ESL teacher, most of the participants attending the classes I teach have experienced a lot of disorientation through the process of immigration to Canada. Often the disorienting dilemma manifests itself in the form of culture shock. However, not only do newcomers have the issue of learning about unwritten cultural rules, they also often experience a decline in professional status which causes additional emotional turmoil.
Frequently, the turbulence that newcomers experience is intensified by fear and anxiety about what will happen next or where the future will take them. Leadership expert Robin Sharma believes that running away from fear is equivalent to running away from growth. If you are able to embrace your fear, you might find that the struggle to do so will bring you fulfillment.
Sharma also proposes that human beings have a responsibility to make a difference in the world. We ESL teachers are in a privileged position because we have a considerable opportunity to make that difference. We have the potential to guide our students through this period of critical reflection. Planning activities and using resources which encourage embracing the fear, anxiety, and disruption of immigration will help learners to manage the process to achieve their own individual outcomes. Critical reflection with positive results will go a long way in helping newcomers to succeed on their own terms. We as ESL teachers are poised to contribute enormously to the future of our country and humanity by directing our learners to analyse and reflect on their situations in ways that make them feel empowered.
Do you have any classroom activities that help students feel positive about their disorienting immigration experience?
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Sharma, R. (2012, March 22). Allan Greg in conversation. Robin Sharma on achieving our creative potential. Podcast retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ajjoea9yeds&feature=youtu.be