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  • An example to consider in detail is an ant colony. The queen does not give direct orders and does not tell the ants what to do. Instead, each ant reacts to stimuli in the form of chemical scent from larvae, other ants, intruders, food and build up of waste, and leaves behind a chemical trail, which, in turn, provides a stimulus to other ants. Here each ant is an autonomous unit that reacts depending only on its local environment and the genetically encoded rules for its variety of ant. Despite the lack of centralized decision making, ant colonies exhibit complex behavior and have even been able to demonstrate the ability to solve geometric problems. For example, colonies routinely find the maximum distance from all colony entrances to dispose of dead bodies.


  • 1. Context All the Way Down Ecology of Language Learning Charles Wotton
  • 2. Contents
    • Why Ecology?
    • Emergence
    • Affordance
    • Multiple Scales
  • 3. Why Ecology?
    • I t may make as much sense to separate language from other semiotic processes as it does to separate the swaying of the tree branch from the wind that moves it. (Van Lier, 2002, p. 149)
  • 4.
    • A. Well!
    • B. ((Silence))
        • (Van Lier, 2004, p. 111)
    Why Ecology?
  • 5.
    • A. Well!
    • B. ((Silence))
        • (Van Lier, 2004, p. 111)
    Why Ecology?
  • 6. Emergence
    • Emergence presupposes a non-reductive change, from a lower-level phenomenon to a higher-level phenomenon, from individual ants to ant colony, from a bunch of houses to an organized city, from perception to thought, from pointing to language.
    • (Van Lier, 2004, p. 82)
  • 7. Emergence
    • Emergence happens when relatively simple organisms or elements reorganize themselves into more complex, more intelligent systems (van Lier, 2004, p. 80)
  • 8. Emergence
    • Rather than developing in the linear manner syllabi and curricula want us to believe, learning develops in nonlinear, discontinuous ways… If we consider language learning and teaching as a complex system with emergent properties, we can no longer look for cause and effect in the simplistic linear fashion proposed by a short term proficiency tests.
    • (Kramsch, 2008, p. 392)
  • 9. Affordances
    • What learners are exposed to is not “input”, but “affordances,” from which they select those that best fit their experience and the activity in which they are engaged. (Kramsch, 2002 p. 7)
  • 10. Affordances Action Perception Interpretation SELF ENVIRONMENT AFFORDANCES
  • 11. Multiple Scales
    • Linguistic phenomena are...indissociable from an individual's memory of past phenomena and his/her anticipation of future ones (Kramsch, 2002, p. 19)
  • 12. Multiple Scales
    • ...patterns of activities and events which are self-similar at different scales...for example the way speakers use language in one context may be fractal with the way they are made to relate to others in the larger context of a global economy (Kramsch, 2008, pp. 392-3)
  • 13. Multiple Scales Classroom Playground Family school neighbour- hood government Funding sources academia PAST FUTURE
  • 14. The premise that most clearly characterizes an ecological approach to language acquisition is that language behaviour always involves more than can be captured in any single frame or script. An ecological approach aims to avoid unjustifiable appeals to normativity–in both research designs and the interpretation of data. All settings, we suggest, will on closer scrutiny turn out to be discoursally and socioculturally complex. (Leather & van Dam, 2003, p. 13)
  • 15. Questions
    • Is ecology really the right metaphor?...language is not a natural phenomenon after all; it is socially constructed and does not evolve like living things, not to mention the fact that natural ecologies involve an awful lot of eating and being eaten.
    • Some of these ideas would be hard enough to incorporate into a Canadian classroom. Do you think they would be useful at all in other cultural contexts?
    • Do we need an ecological approach to language learning or do existing approaches cover enough of the same ground?
  • 16.  
  • 17. Action-based Learning
  • 18.
    • The students are not speaking face to face bridging some sort of information gap, but they're working side by side, with a joint focus of activity. (Van Lier, 2004, p. 147)
    • Learning an L2 involves a struggle to forge a new identity that is true to the self (Van Lier, 2007, p. 47)
    • teaching grammar explicitly...by raising the learners awareness of what they're trying to say and how they're saying it and coming up with more efficacious ways of saying that thing (Van Lier 2004, p. 90)
    • The teacher provides assistance, but only just enough and just in time...taking the learner's developing skills and interests as the true driving force of the curriculem ( Ibid , p. 224f)
  • 19. Scaffolding
    • continuity (task repetition, connections, v ariation)
    • contextual support (safe, supporti v e en v ironment)
    • intersubjecti v ity (mutual engagement, encouragement)
    • contingency (task procedures, teacher’s actions depend on actions of learners)
    • hando v er/takeo v er (increasing role for learner, attending to emergent skills and knowledge)
    • flow (skills and challenges are in balance, participants are in ‘tune’ with each other)
    • (Van Lier, 2007, p. 60
  • 20. Zone of Proximal Development Scaffolding: Modeling… Resourcefulness, Self-access (Van Lier, 2004, p. 158) “ Docendo discimus” (We learn by teaching ) Assistance from more capable peers or adults Interaction with equal peers Interaction with less capable peers REGULATION SELF “ If one member of a dyad undergoes developmental change, the other is also likely to do so” (Bronfenbrenner 1979:65) Inner Resources: knowledge, experience, memory investment
  • 21.
    • Emergence presupposes a non-reductive change, from a lower-level phenomenon to a higher-level phenomenon, from individual ants to ant colony, from a bunch of houses to an organized city, from perception to thought, from pointing to language.
    • (Van Lier, 2004, p. 82)
  • 22. Perception / Affordance
  • 23.
    • An affordance refers to the fit between an animal’s capabilities and the environmental supports and opportunities (both good and bad) that make possible a given activity
    • (Gibson & Pick, 2000, p. 15)
  • 24. Why Ecology?
    • Language: it's context all the way down (Van Lier, 2004, p. 20)