hese days the educational system of Russia is undergoing intensive and crucial modernization. The structure and the basic functions of the higher educational system, mainly represented by our universities and, to a lesser degree, institutes and academies, are supposed to be dramatically altered in the nearest future. One of the changes manifests itself as a fast shift to a bi-level teaching system similar to what they mostly have in Western Europe today. Another change is formulated as a module-structured educational process and a credit system of assessment within the framework of the so-called Bologna process. All this has placed our establishments of higher education into such conditions that demand uniformity of the reforms, irrespective of the location and profile of the specific university in the vast territory of Russia.
Meanwhile, it should be clearly realized that the main aim of the current educational reforms is to change the attitude towards a studying person as the subject of the process. Man is no longer a means of achieving a definite social control; quite the contrary, education now must treat the individual as the highest-value asset. Education also aims to develop the individual, providing his or her personal sovereignty, cultivating his or her self-control and choice-making abilities. This tendency to allow each and every one's talents and faculties to blossom drives us close to the problem of the student-teacher relationship from the point of view of a personality-oriented educational paradigm.
The above paradigm may serve as the basis for further creation of new educational technologies. These personality-oriented educational technologies, as stated by Prof. Ye.V. Bondarevskaya, are a definite set of pedagogic activities, stipulated by the teacher's individuality, aimed at the creation of a culture-consistent teaching medium and providing acquisition of knowledge by way of mutual exchange of perceptions, as well as acquisition of means of learning and personal self-development*.
We will now try to describe the peculiarities of the above technologies using the example of foreign language acquisition by future language experts.
1. As said above, personality-oriented education is characterized by a definite system of pedagogic activities, stipulated by the teacher's individuality. A system of this kind may well be represented by foreign-language communication, exercised in class by the first- and second-year students of the Department of Romance and Germanic Languages at the Southern Federal University of Russia. The basic principles for structuring the process of foreign (English in our case)-language learning may in our opinion be as follows:
- personality-oriented communication permitting the level of the English language acquisition to be assessed and taken into account for each student within a single academic group;
- cooperative intercommunication carried out in various schemata like "teacher-and-student," "student-and-student," "student-and-students." The teacher's objective here is to gradually and finally involve the whole group into verbal communication;
- situational and role organization of studies;
- a strong verbal (speech) bias in teaching the English language, which means a practical demand for some communicational basis during each class;
- novelty, which means that the teacher should constantly seek for and put forth before his students new speech situations, topics, problems, etc.
2. Creation of a nature-consistent teaching medium, which in fact is the educational medium corresponding to the age-specific and individual peculiarities of the students. Studentship is a subadult age, the time of final formation of such mental attributes as memory and thought. Yet one should also bear in mind that, apart from the general mental peculiarities of this age, each student has his or her individual, i.e. personal features, which, if realized by the student and correctly perceived by the teacher, may serve as a basis for further development of a personality-oriented strategy for teaching the students and educating the teacher.
Here are some probable cases.
Student A has a good memory, needs little time to memorize a large number of new English words, yet constantly feels difficulty when constructing phrases, collocations and longer sentences in English.
Student B: has a good logical memory, yet has difficulty in memorizing (by rote) new English words, set expressions, phrases. An important help in this case might be 'logical supports,' facilitating the process of memorization.
Special attention should be given to those qualities of the sphere of motivation, which, if not clearly realized, will never enable to create a nature-consistent teaching medium. What induces this or that student to learn a foreign language? What is the motivational structure of such learning? What motives are the leading ones? What is the power of motivation? Finally, what is the 'power of the afteraction,' when we speak of motivation in studying the English language? If, in his or her activities, the student is guided solely by the factor of personal ambition, then the cognitive activity will be low, so the teacher will have to incorporate some outer stimuli, including direct and definite demands. In the event the student is guided by a long-formed professional motivation, the teacher will only have to incorporate those activities which are aimed at the solution of professional problems.
Important is that the teacher has to assist the student in realizing the student's own mental peculiarities. The existing literature on psychology contains enough personality-oriented tests, which may enable the student to develop an individual learning strategy.
3. Acquisition of knowledge by way of mutual exchange of perceptions. By this we mean English-language teaching as a process aimed at satisfying the existential requirements of the personality (i.e. the student's need for communication, self-development, self-regulation, and self-esteem, in developing his or her abilities to become an expert in a definite field, achieve breakthrough, etc.). Foreign language acquisition imparts students the ability to communicate with the help of this or that foreign language, hence to interact with a greater number of people; to read foreign authors in the original; to be involved in a broader (up to 'global') communicational context; perhaps finally to become, or at least to have an additional qualification of, a professional translator and/or interpreter.
4. Acquisition of knowledge through the acquisition of means of learning and personal self-development. The basic principles of the personality-oriented technologies here are: shift of emphasis from teaching to learning; the cognitive activity of each student, who defines the optimal ways of learning himself and for himself; in this the student proceeds from his own individual capabilities (type of brainwork, type of memory, individual creative trend, working efficiency, etc.); organization of the learning and cognitive activities in the most rational way, depending on the subject studied. From out of all the personality-oriented learning technologies, extremely efficient in English language studies (apart from the above-mentioned communicative learning) are the following play-and-learn technologies: role games, business games, imitational games, situational games, all performed in English). At our Department we have developed and put into teaching practice such games as Purchase of a House within the larger topic Lodgings; A Party, A Student Party within the topic Meals; A Talk in the Parlor within the topic University Studies; Our Plans for the Coming Summer Vacations within the topic Traveling.
Thus, the model of personality-oriented education requires from the foreign language teacher:
- examination of the age-related and individual peculiarities of each student and, on this basis, development of the correct learning strategy for the student and the correct teaching strategy for the teacher;
- actualization of personal abilities in foreign language acquisition;
- application of a number of personality-oriented educational technologies;
- adaptation of the model to the specific professional and pedagogic peculiarities of the teacher's personality, as well as the teacher's creative capabilities.
The reader can clearly see that we have only outlined here, in the most general terms and without entering into practical details, the basic principles for the modernization of the higher educational system in Russia. However, reality may seriously obstruct the process, more especially as foreign languages are concerned. One of the expected problems may arise from the older teachers, who are used to do their job in class with little or without any motivation, the way they have done it since the cold-war times. Another problem is that our teacher-training colleges are still generally instructing future teachers to work in the old ways.
Since the students in Russia, like those in any other civilized country, live these days in an open world, a strong stimulus for them is a possibility of going abroad and trying their professional skills there. Student mobility is welcomed here like everywhere else.
Those students and graduates who can speak foreign languages, first and foremost English, have better chances in their careers against those who can't. In other words, bilingualism has turned from a rare ability into an urgent condition for the intellectual survival in the rapidly changing world. That is why our future language teachers who only study now, have to be educated differently as compared to their older and more experienced colleagues, while the latter have to be re-educated and taught to treat their students in a totally new way. This will certainly take time, which continues to be a scarce commodity.