Receptivity and Resistance of Students and Teachers to Learner Agency in Topic and Text Selection

  • Jonathan Mason
  • Yosri Ben Ammar
  • Sarra Romdhane
  • Shahira Tarash


This paper reports on a collaborative action research project at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in Sousse, Tunisia. As students normally play no role in selection of topics and texts in their “Textual Analysis” course, this can contribute to a passive attitude and limited development of critical skills. Consequently, the team of teachers introduced changes in which students took a leading role in selecting the different topics and worked in groups to find and present texts to class. Evaluation feedback was collected from both students and teachers. The findings showed that the majority of students were receptive to their increased agency in choosing topics and texts, and thought that this enhanced their critical skills, although responses to working in groups were more mixed.


Learner agency Critical thinking Action research Receptivity Resistance 


  1. Block, D. (2014). Structure, agency, individualization and the critical realist challenge. In P. Deters, X. Gao, E. R. Miller, & G. Vitanova (Eds.), Theorizing and analyzing agency in second language learning: Interdisciplinary approaches (pp. 17–36). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  3. Byram, M. (2008). From foreign language education to education for intercultural citizenship. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research methods in education (7th ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Cortazzi, M., & Jin, L. (1996). Cultures of learning: Language classrooms in China. In H. Coleman (Ed.), Society and the language classroom (pp. 169–206). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dörnyei, Z. (2007). Research methods in applied linguistics: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Durant, A. (2003). Facts and meanings in British cultural studies. In S. Bassnett (Ed.), Studying British cultures (2nd ed., pp. 20–40). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Gu, Q. (2010). Variations in beliefs and practices: Teaching English in cross-cultural contexts. Language and Intercultural Communication, 10, 32–53. Scholar
  9. Guilherme, M. (2002). Critical citizens for an intercultural world: Foreign language education as cultural politics. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Holliday, A. (1996). Large- and small-class cultures in Egyptian university classrooms: A cultural justification for curriculum change. In H. Coleman (Ed.), Society and the language classroom (pp. 86–103). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Holliday, A. (1999). Small cultures. Applied Linguistics, 20, 237–264. Scholar
  13. Holliday, A. (2011). Intercultural communication and ideology. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Hua, Z. (2016). Identifying research paradigms. In Z. Hua (Ed.), Research methods in intercultural communication: A practical guide (pp. 3–22). Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (1988). The action research planner (3rd ed.). Geelong, VIC: Deakin University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2012). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Little, D. (1995). Learning as dialogue: The dependence of learner autonomy on teacher autonomy. System, 23, 175–181. Scholar
  18. Little, D. (2007). Language learner autonomy: Some fundamental considerations revisited. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1, 14–29. Scholar
  19. Mason, J. (2011). Materials for developing intercultural competence in British studies courses at Tunisian universities (Doctoral dissertation). Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds.Google Scholar
  20. McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2006). All you need to know about action research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Mercer, S. (2011). Understanding learner agency as a complex dynamic system. System, 39, 427–436. Scholar
  22. Montgomery, M. (1999). What is British cultural studies anyway and why are people saying such terrible things about it? In N. Wadham-Smith (Ed.), British studies now: Anthology issues 6-10 (pp. 9–17). London: The British Council.Google Scholar
  23. Norton, L. S. (2009). Action research in teaching and learning: A practical guide to conducting pedagogical research in universities. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2008). Introduction. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of action research: Participative enquiry and practice (pp. 1–10). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shamim, F. (1996). Learner resistance to innovation in classroom methodology. In H. Coleman (Ed.), Society and the language classroom (pp. 86–103). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Stringer, E. T. (2007). Action research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  27. Vitanova, G., Miller, E. R., Gao, X., & Deters, P. (2014). Introduction to theorizing and analyzing agency in second language learning: Interdisciplinary approaches. In P. Deters, X. Gao, E. R. Miller, & G. Vitanova (Eds.), Theorizing and analyzing agency in second language learning: Interdisciplinary approaches (pp. 1–16). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  28. Wallace, M. J. (1998). Action research for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Mason
    • 1
  • Yosri Ben Ammar
    • 1
  • Sarra Romdhane
    • 1
  • Shahira Tarash
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SousseSousseTunisia

Personalised recommendations