Information about Faisa was gathered through a recorded interview, informal conversations in class, class assessments and a learning styles test (VAX).
Faisa is a 21-year-old Somali woman. She moved to the UK in 2006 as a refugee. She lives in a council flat with her brother, his wife and her baby nephew. She worked in a mobile-phone shop for five months in 2008, but has been unemployed for the past eighteen months and claims benefits. Faisa attended classes at Enfield College before joining my ESOL Entry 3 class, and has a full ESOL Entry 2 certificate. She joined my class because she was put on the Job Centre’s ‘New Deal Program’, which offers job seekers the opportunity to improve their English gain a certificate, and get employability training and job search assistance.
Faisa was educated in Somalia, joining Koran school at five and then moving to High School when she was 12. She attended school until she was 14 when personal tragedy forced her to leave Somalia. Faisa started learning English in Somalia, but she says that it was nothing like the English in England and was no help to her when she got here. On settling in the UK she was put into an ESOL class, but she says that she learns more from talking to native speakers.
Faisa works well on her own. She is confident in her own ability to solve problems, and is not afraid to ask questions or for help. From observation, however, I find she produces better work in pairs or groups. The social constructivist theory (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978 and Wertsch, 1985, 1991) that learning is primarily a social process seems clear when she works with other learners as she discusses the work, her choices, the other learners choices and with them achieves better results. Her enjoyment of collaboration also seems to suggest that she is a Communicative learner as described by Willing (1988): someone who likes learning by conversation, listening to native speakers, talking to friends in English, watching television in English, and using English outside of class, Of all the foreign learners in class, she is the most interested in listening to Radio 4, watching English TV and movies and talking to native speakers.
I gave Faisa a VAX learning test in which her score showed her to be a visual learner. However, her Kinesthetic and Oral scores were also high, which seems to support Kolb and Dewey’s view that ‘it is multiple learning styles in an ongoing process that is most important’. In a lesson on organizational features in which she had to create a poster with her partner she displayed a high level of involvement and easy understanding of the use, and purpose of organizational features.
In a similar way an understanding of multiple learning theories seems to be necessary in helping Faisa to improve. As well as the Social Constructivist approach, the Cognitivist’s theory on learning (Gagne, 1985) also seems to apply to Faisa’s language acquisition. She is constantly building on past experience to help her language learning. In class she compares English words or phrases to Italian, Somali and French words that she knows, to draw comparisons and develop a ‘schema’ (Paiget) for her of what she is learning. Because Somali is a language that has borrowed many words from Italian she is very interested in this aspect of English, when doing vocabulary and spelling work.
Faisa enjoys reading and says that she is glad to learn English because there are so many books to read. She borrows graded reading books from the library, and is aware of Shakespeare as well as Harry Potter. When she first enrolled in college, she planned to study Health and Social Care. She said she wanted to work in Childcare because she was used to looking after children (family members) in Somalia. However, she has changed her mind about her career prospects. Although...