Promoting agency – oriented communication in the L2 classroom: an ethnographic study

Hendrik Dirk Lagerwaard

Learning a new language is a continuous development and requires some time. The research that I will be carrying out focusses on a methodology that I apply as an English language teacher in which agency-oriented communication is promoted. In order to comprehend this concept, it is of crucial importance to understand that the methodology draws heavily on the Sociocultural Theory.

The Sociocultural Theory (SCT), which is based on the ideas of Lev Vygotsky, allows language development to take place in the interactions of learner and interlocutor. Throughout the activities, learning occurs within a sociocultural environment through the learner’s dialogues with a more competent person, who might be a teacher or a more advanced peer and who: ‘mediates’ the learning and provides scaffolding or assistance as long as it is needed. Over time, students begin to regulate their own activity; this process is called internalization. Finally, the learners will become more autonomous students, as they enter the ‘zone of proximal development’, who benefit from certain kinds of interaction and mediation that allow them to carry out activities they otherwise would not have been able to perform.

How does the SCT actually take place in the classroom? And how could we motivate students and let them actually take initiative? The answers lie in the key concept of my study: agency.

Agency links motivation to action, and defines the paths taken by learners; it is the socioculturally mediated capacity to act. Agency is constructed through participation in activities/specific communities of practice. It suggests that learners engage in constructing terms and conditions of their own learning. Agency is more than the performance of doing, it is intimately linked to significance. Together, agency and significance shape the individual’s orientation to learn or not.

As a result, I decided to focus my research on agency, and introduced a new concept: agency-oriented communication. Is this way of communicating in the L2 classroom effective? And do students become more competent speakers of the English language? That is something not only time, but also my ethnographic study will tell.