Semiotics and Didactics:
The Classroom: Forum or Arena?

Dimitrios Thanasoulas

University of Athens


During the last twenty-odd years we have been inundated with various new teaching methodologies that purport to make the learning process more thought-provoking for both educator and pupil. Admittedly, the non-human components, that is to say syllabi, have so far made a significant contribution to foreign language learning, whether we refer to the structural syllabus, which was in its heyday in the 50s and 60s, the notional syllabus, or the notional-functional syllabus. We will not dwell on this any further, since in-depth examination of the various types of syllabus is not within the purview of the present work. Yet, we have to note that, among the wide diversity of approaches that have permeated foreign language learning, the Communicative and Progressivist Approaches are of particular importance and value. The philosophy underlying the former approach is that language is to be viewed as a vehicle for communication; a conduit through which people express feelings or exchange information and opinions, in a given social context. In short, the tenet that informs its structure and methodology is embedding language in its situational context. It is perhaps (Dendrinos, 1992: 116) a modern recasting, so to speak, of Saussure's parole:

The logic behind the first approach is that language is a means of communication in a social environment and we need it in order to use it when we are discussing certain topics / themes or when we find ourselves in certain situations. With its appearance in the foreign language teaching scene, there was a move away from focusing on language as a system of autonomous meanings, expressed by its formal properties, to concentrating on language in operation, which implies that meaning is dependent on the context of situation and on the speakers using it.

The latter, i.e. the Progressivist Approach, takes a holistic view of the teaching-learning process, with the aim of fostering the student's development of the whole persona in an unfragmented way. Consequently, the pupil is no longer considered to be a passive subject that is called on to function in a predefined, systematic way; on the contrary, he or she is looked upon as a self-actualizing individual whose cognitive, emotional and educational needs are to be respected and promoted. As Dendrinos notes,

progressivists consider learners as effective participants in the process of learning and responsible for its outcomes and the teacher as a guide and facilitator who creates conditions for the development of an inventive, problem-solving capacity (ibid., p. 131).

However, no matter what kind of approach, design or procedure we may resort to, it is an indisputable fact that, unless human interaction, inside or outside the classroom, leads to authenticity and self-fulfilment, the whole process is bound to fail. There has to be room for both teachers and students to grow into. In this kind of relationship, methods and techniques are merely facilitating devices, whereas the cognitive, affective and social growth of teachers and learners is the keynote. In light of this, we will endeavour to shed some light on the role the aforementioned participants play, and address ourselves to some of the most besetting problems confronting both parts of the educational process.

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AS/SA Nº 6/7, Article 3 : Page 1 / 10

© 1999, AS/SA

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