Anthropology in a Second Language: the Case for Dialogic Teaching and Scaffolding

| December 3, 2013
Anthropology in a Second Language: the Case for Dialogic Teaching and Scaffolding

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Percival Santos
Akita International University, Japan

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Percival Santos is Assistant Professor of Basic Education at Akita International University. He currently teaches anthropology, quantitative and qualitative research methods and social policy. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the London School of Economics. His research interests include the pedagogy of the social sciences and the use of ethnography to teach foreign languages.

How is anthropology taught in the Anglophone world? Undergraduate anthropology courses in the U.K. are typically taught through lectures, tutorials, and seminars (Mascarenhas-Keyes & Wright, 1995). In the case of the U.S., courses there are offered as three-hour weekly lectures accompanied by teaching assistant-led discussions (Michaels & Fagan, 1997). Courses in both countries will often give out reading lists for students whose contents will be covered in the lectures and discussed in the seminars. Textbooks are not normally used in introductory courses in the U.K., whereas in the U.S., they constitute an essential resource in introductory or survey courses for non-majors (Hickerson, 1997).

How effective are lectures, seminars and reading lists at promoting students learning? Lectures enable the efficient and quick transmission of content but are a passive form of learning. Moreover, they are very inefficient when seen through the perspective of the student. “We only retain roughly 10 percent of what we read, and only 20 percent of what we hear” (Dracklé, 2004, p. 170). Lectures are “necessary to educate masses of students” (Podolevsky, 1997, p. 54-55), and universities use them as the default platform not because they are pedagogically sound, but because they are cheap and efficient, administratively speaking. Seminars and tutorials entail significantly more active participation on the part of the student, but they can often be dominated by teaching assistants, especially when students come without having done the required readings (Michaels & Fagan, 1997).Reading lists tend to reflect the research interests of the instructor and the department where he teaches and they are very often highly theoretical. Students can find these readings uninteresting because, being novices, they lack the ‘cognitive framework’ necessary to make sense of them. Many of these readings focus on theoretical debates and disagreements on certain issues between scholars within the discipline for which first and second-year students lack the background to fully appreciate (Haviland, 1997).

[private] See page: 248-274

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Category: Monthly Editions, Volume 15 Issue 4