Techniques and principles in language teaching
Teaching methods and teacher learner roles. Intelligence types and appropriate educational activities. The fundamental dimension of learning style. The use of language learning strategies: a synthesis of studies with implications for strategy training.
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LEARNER ROLES, STYLES AND STRATEGIES
The period from the 1950s to the 1980s has often been referred to as "The Age of Methods," during which a number of quite detailed prescriptions for language teaching were proposed. Situational Language Teaching evolved in the United Kingdom while a parallel method, Audio-Lingualism, emerged in the United States. In the middle-methods period, a variety of methods were proclaimed as successors to the then prevailing Situational Language Teaching and Audio-Lingual methods. These alternatives were promoted under such titles as Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning, and Total Physical Response. In the 1980s, these methods in turn came to be overshadowed by more interactive views of language teaching, which collectively came to be known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Communicative Language Teaching advocates subscribed to a broad set of principles such as these:
- Learners learn a language through using it to communicate.
- Authentic and meaningful communication should be the goal of classroom activities.
- Fluency is an important dimension of communication.
- Communication involves the integration of different language skills.
- Learning is a process of creative construction and involves trial and error.
However, CLT advocates avoided prescribing the set of practices through which these principles could best be realized, thus putting CLT clearly on the approach rather than the method end of the spectrum. Communicative Language Teaching has spawned a number of off-shoots that share the same basic set of principles, but which spell out philosophical details or envision instructional practices in somewhat diverse ways. These CLT spin-off approaches include The Natural Approach, Cooperative Language Learning, Content-Based Teaching, and Task-Based Teaching. It is difficult to describe these various methods briefly and yet fairly, and such a task is well beyond the scope of this paper. However, several up-to-date texts are available that do detail differences and similarities among the many different approaches and methods that have been proposed. (See, e.g., Larsen-Freeman, 2000, and Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Perhaps it is possible to get a sense of the range of method proposals by looking at a synoptic view of the roles defined for teachers and learners within various methods. Such a synoptic (perhaps scanty) view can be seen in the following chart.
Teaching methods and teacher & learner roles
Situational Language Teaching
Communicative Language Teaching
Total Physical Response
Community Language Learning
The Natural Approach
Actor Props User
As suggested in the chart, some schools of methodology see the teacher as ideal language model and commander of classroom activity (e.g., Audio-Lingual Method, Natural Approach, Suggestopedia, Total Physical Response) whereas others see the teacher as background facilitator and classroom colleague to the learners (e.g., Communicative Language Teaching, Cooperative Language Learning).
There are other global issues to which spokespersons for the various methods and approaches respond in alternative ways. For example, should second language learning by adults be modeled on first language learning by children? One set of schools (e.g., Total Physical Response, Natural Approach) notes that first language acquisition is the only universally successful model of language learning we have, and thus that second language pedagogy must necessarily model itself on first language acquisition. An opposed view (e.g., Silent Way, Suggestopedia) observes that adults have different brains, interests, timing constraints, and learning environments than do children, and that adult classroom learning therefore has to be fashioned in a way quite dissimilar to the way in which nature fashions how first languages are learned by children.
Another key distinction turns on the role of perception versus production in early stages of language learning. One school of thought proposes that learners should begin to communicate, to use a new language actively, on first contact (e.g., Audio-Lingual Method, Silent Way, Community Language Learning), while the other school of thought states that an initial and prolonged period of reception (listening, reading) should precede any attempts at production (e.g., Natural Approach).
What's Now, What's Next? The future is always uncertain, and this is no less true in anticipating methodological directions in second language teaching than in any other field. Some current predictions assume the carrying on and refinement of current trends; others appear a bit more science-fiction-like in their vision. Outlined below are 10 scenarios that are likely to shape the teaching of second languages in the next decades of the new millennium. These methodological candidates are given identifying labels in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style, perhaps a bit reminiscent of yesteryear's method labels.
Teacher/Learner Collaborates. Matchmaking techniques will be developed which will link learners and teachers with similar styles and approaches to language learning. Looking at the Teacher and Learner roles sketched in Figure 2, one can anticipate development of a system in which the preferential ways in which teachers teach and learners learn can be matched in instructional settings, perhaps via on-line computer networks or other technological resources.
Method Synergistics. Crossbreeding elements from various methods into a common program of instruction seems an appropriate way to find those practices which best support effective learning. Methods and approaches have usually been proposed as idiosyncratic and unique, yet it appears reasonable to combine practices from different approaches where the philosophical foundations are similar. One might call such an approach "Disciplined Eclecticism."
Curriculum Developmentalism. Language teaching has not profited much from more general views of educational design. The curriculum perspective comes from general education and views successful instruction as an interweaving of Knowledge, Instructional, Learner, and Administrative considerations. From this perspective, methodology is viewed as only one of several instructional considerations that are necessarily thought out and realized in conjunction with all other curricular considerations.
Content-Basics. Content-based instruction assumes that language learning is a by-product of focus on meaning--on acquiring some specific topical content--and that content topics to support language learning should be chosen to best match learner needs and interests and to promote optimal development of second language competence. A critical question for language educators is "what content" and "how much content" best supports language learning. The natural content for language educators is literature and language itself, and we are beginning to see a resurgence of interest in literature and in the topic of "language: the basic human technology" as sources of content in language teaching.
Multintelligencia. The notion here is adapted from the Multiple Intelligences view of human talents proposed by Howard Gardner (1983). This model is one of a variety of learning style models that have been proposed in general education with follow-up inquiry by language educators. The chart below shows Gardner's proposed eight native intelligences and indicates classroom language-rich task types that play to each of these particular intelligences.
INTELLIGENCE TYPES AND APPROPRIATE EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES
Intelligence Type/ Educational Activities:
- linguistic: lectures, worksheets, word games, journals, debates;
- logical: puzzles, estimations, problem solving;
- spatial: charts, diagrams, graphic organizers, drawing, films;
- bodily: hands-on, mime, craft, demonstrations;
- musical: singing, poetry, jazz chants, mood music;
- interpersonal: group work, peer tutoring, class projects;
- intrapersonal: reflection, interest centers, personal values tasks;
- naturalist: field trips, show and tell, plant and animal projects.
The challenge here is to identify these intelligences in individual learners and then to determine appropriate and realistic instructional tasks in response.
Total Functional Response. Communicative Language Teaching was founded (and floundered) on earlier notional/functional proposals for the description of languages. Now new leads in discourse and genre analysis, schema theory, pragmatics, and systemic/functional grammar are rekindling an interest in functionally based approaches to language teaching. One pedagogical proposal has led to a widespread reconsideration of the first and second language program in Australian schools where instruction turns on five basic text genres identified as Report, Procedure, Explanation, Exposition, and Recount. Refinement of functional models will lead to increased attention to genre and text types in both first and second language instruction.
Strategopedia. "Learning to Learn" is the key theme in an instructional focus on language learning strategies. Such strategies include, at the most basic level, memory tricks, and at higher levels, cognitive and metacognitive strategies for learning, thinking, planning, and self-monitoring. Research findings suggest that strategies can indeed be taught to language learners, that learners will apply these strategies in language learning tasks, and that such application does produce significant gains in language learning. Simple and yet highly effective strategies, such as those that help learners remember and access new second language vocabulary items, will attract considerable instructional interest in Strategopedia.
Lexical Phraseology. The lexical phraseology view holds that only "a minority of spoken clauses are entirely novel creations" and that "memorized clauses and clause-sequences form a high proportion of the fluent stretches of speech heard in every day conversation." One estimate is that "the number of memorized complete clauses and sentences known to the mature English speaker probably amounts, at least, to several hundreds of thousands" (Pawley & Syder, 1983). Understanding of the use of lexical phrases has been immensely aided by large-scale computer studies of language corpora, which have provided hard data to support the speculative inquiries into lexical phraseology of second language acquisition researchers. For language teachers, the results of such inquiries have led to conclusions that language teaching should center on these memorized lexical patterns and the ways they can be pieced together, along with the ways they vary and the situations in which they occur.
O-zone Whole Language. Renewed interest in some type of "Focus on Form" has provided a major impetus for recent second language acquisition (SLA) research. "Focus on Form" proposals, variously labeled as consciousness-raising, noticing, attending, and enhancing input, are founded on the assumption that students will learn only what they are aware of. Whole Language proponents have claimed that one way to increase learner awareness of how language works is through a course of study that incorporates broader engagement with language, including literary study, process writing, authentic content, and learner collaboration.
Full-Frontal Communicativity. We know that the linguistic part of human communication represents only a small fraction of total meaning. At least one applied linguist has gone so far as to claim that, "We communicate so much information non-verbally in conversations that often the verbal aspect of the conversation is negligible." Despite these cautions, language teaching has chosen to restrict its attention to the linguistic component of human communication, even when the approach is labeled Communicative. The methodological proposal is to provide instructional focus on the non-linguistic aspects of communication, including rhythm, speed, pitch, intonation, tone, and hesitation phenomena in speech and gesture, facial expression, posture, and distance in non-verbal messaging.
Consider the very different behaviors or strategies that individual students use to learn a new language. Shy, introverted, analytically-oriented Marianne learns Spanish through grammar drills and sentence analysis. Uncomfortable with spontaneous speech in Spanish, she rehearses as much as she can in private. In contrast, sociable, extroverted, globally-oriented Jose from Mexico avoids grammar drills but seeks out social conversation in English, his new language. He is content to get the general meaning without knowing every word. When intuitive Bill studies Russian, he constantly tries to build a mental model or big picture of the language. He avoids step-by-step language learning.
Noriko, attuned more to the senses (movement, sound, sight, and touch) than to intuition, looks for English texts that proceed one step at a time. She uses flashcards, and with her classmates, she initiates "total physical response" exercises that involve all the senses.
Serious Sarah outlines every French lesson, plans her study sessions, does all the exercises in her textbook religiously, and is not happy unless she is on time or ahead of schedule. Playful Michael tells jokes in German and has fun with the language, but has trouble organizing his work, coming to closure, and submitting his assignments on time. language teaching strategy style
These learners are using different kinds of language learning strategies, or specific actions and behaviors to help them learn. Their strategies differ greatly, at least in part because their general learning styles (overall approaches to learning and the environment) are so varied. Recent research (Ehrman & Oxford, 1988, 1989; Oxford & Ehrman, 1988) suggests that learning style has a significant influence on students' choice of learning strategies, and that both styles and strategies affect learning outcomes. This lecture briefly summarizes existing research on learning styles and strategies in foreign and second language learning. Readers are urged to go further by consulting the references provided at the end of the Digest.
WHAT IS MEANT BY LEARNING STYLE?
The term learning style is used to encompass four aspects of the person: cognitive style, i.e., preferred or habitual patterns of mental functioning; patterns of attitudes and interests that affect what an individual will pay most attention to in a learning situation; a tendency to seek situations compatible with one's own learning patterns; and a tendency to use certain learning strategies and avoid others (Lawrence, 1984). Learning style is inherent and pervasive (Willing, 1988) and is a blend of cognitive, affective, and behavioral elements (Oxford & Ehrman, 1988). At least twenty dimensions of learning style have been identified (Parry, 1984; Shipman & Shipman, 1985).
"Field independence vs. dependence." One of the most widely researched dimensions of learning style is field independence vs. dependence. Field independent learners easily separate key details from a complex or confusing background, while their field dependent peers have trouble doing this. Field independent learners show significant advantages over field dependent learners in analytical tasks (Hansen & Stansfield, 1981; Chapelle & Roberts, 1986).
"Analytic vs. global processing" seems to be closely allied with field independence vs. dependence, and indeed may be a more fundamental and more explanatory dimension of learning style. However, little foreign or second language learning research exists concerning the analytic-global dimension except in the context of brain hemisphericity. The left hemisphere of the brain deals with language through analysis and abstraction, while the right hemisphere recognizes language as more global auditory or visual patterns (Willing, 1988). Leaver (1986) speculates that right-brain learners those who prefer the kinds of processing done by the right side of the brain are more facile at learning intonation and rhythms of the target language, whereas left-brain learners deal more easily with analytic aspects of target language grammar.
"Cooperation vs. competition" has been only lightly studied as a dimension of style in the language learning field. Reid (1987) found that in the language classroom, learners rarely report using cooperative behaviors (behaviors that one would infer to reflect a cooperative style); however, this finding might well be related to instructional methodologies that often preclude cooperation and foster competition. In studies where students were taught specifically to be cooperative, results revealed vast improvement in language skills as well as increased self-esteem, motivation, altruism, and positive attitudes toward others (Gunderson & Johnson, 1980; Sharan et al., 1985; Jacob & Mattson, 1987).
"Tolerance for ambiguity" is another style dimension of language learning. Learning a language can be a difficult and at times ambiguous endeavor, and students who can more readily tolerate ambiguity often show the best language learning performance (see Chapelle & Roberts; 1986, Naiman, Frohlich & Todesco, 1975).
The Myers-Briggs Type indicator (Myers & McCaulley, 1985) contributes four more dimensions to learning style: extraversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving (the last dimension referring to the immediateness of the need for closure). Several of these dimensions appear to significantly influence how students choose to learn languages, according to recent research (Ehrman & Oxford, 1988, 1989; Oxford & Ehrman, 1988).
Other important style aspects that may relate to language learning performance are leveling-sharpening of detail, reflectivity-impulsivity, and constricted-flexible thinking (Parry, 1984). Additional research needs to be conducted on all style dimensions in order for teachers to understand more about the basic stylistic preferences of their students.
WHAT ARE LEARNING STRATEGIES?
Language learning strategies are the often-conscious steps or behaviors used by language learners to enhance the acquisition, storage, retention, recall, and use of new information (Rigney, 1978; Oxford, 1990). Strategies can be assessed in a variety of ways, such as diaries, think-aloud procedures, observations, and surveys. Research both outside the language field (e.g., Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983) and investigations with language learners (see reviews by Skehan, 1989; Oxford 1989; Oxford & Crookall, 1989) frequently show that the most successful learners tend to use learning strategies that are appropriate to the material, to the task, and to their own goals, needs, and stage of learning. More proficient learners appear to use a wider range of strategies in a greater number of situations than do less proficient learners, but the relationship between strategy use and proficiency is complex. Research indicates that language learners at all levels use strategies (Chamot & Kupper, 1989), but that some or most learners are not fully aware of the strategies they use or the strategies that might be most beneficial to employ. Many different strategies can be used by language learners: metacognitive techniques for organizing, focusing, and evaluating one's own learning; affective strategies for handling emotions or attitudes; social strategies for cooperating with others in the learning process; cognitive strategies for linking new information with existing schemata and for analyzing and classifying it; memory strategies for entering new information into memory storage and for retrieving it when needed; and compensation strategies (such as guessing or using gestures) to overcome deficiencies and gaps in one's current language knowledge (see Oxford, 1990).
Language learning strategy research has suffered from an overemphasis on metacognitive and cognitive strategies, which are admittedly very important, at the expense of other strategy types that are also very useful. Some preliminary research suggests the existence of sex differences in strategy use (see review by Oxford, Nyikos, & Ehrman, 1988). Choice of language strategies also relates strongly to ethnicity, language learning purpose, the nature of the task, and other factors (see Politzer, 1983; Politzer & McGroarty, 1985; Oxford, 1989). As noted earlier, one of these related factors is, no doubt, learning style.
Important effects of training in the use of language learning strategies have been discovered by a number of researchers (see Atkinson, 1985; Bejarano, 1987; Chamot & Kupper, 1989; Cohen & Hosenfeld, 1981; Oxford, Crookall, Lavine, Cohen, Nyikos & Sutter, forthcoming). It is clear that students can be taught to use better strategies, and research suggests that better strategies improve language performance. Just how language learning strategies should be taught is open to question, but so far it has been confirmed that strategy training is generally more effective when woven into regular classroom activities than when presented as a separate strategy course.
Language learning styles and strategies appear to be among the most important variables influencing performance in a second language. Much more investigation is necessary to determine the precise role of styles and strategies, but even at this stage in our understanding we can state that teachers need to become more aware of both learning styles and learning strategies through appropriate teacher training. Teachers can help their students by designing instruction that meets the needs of individuals with different stylistic preferences and by teaching students how to improve their learning strategies.
Learner training in this case is about developing students' awareness of how they learn. It aims to develop students' learning strategies with the intention of making learners more effective and independent. Learner training can be started with students as young as 5 years old! The article that follows contains learner training activities you could try with your young learner students.
Involve the students in planning the course. With older teenage students this can be particularly rewarding. Using a copy of the basic syllabus the class look through the plan of units in the course book. (This can usually be found at the beginning of the book). Anything on the syllabus and in the book we mark as "compulsory". Anything else we mark as "we'd like to do if we have time" or "definitely not". This involves the students in the decision-making process and takes away the feeling of slogging through the book for no particular reason.
Learner goals. At the beginning of each term ask students to make 3 resolutions about learning English. Try to make them realistic, achievable and specific.
I'm going to have a dictionary beside me when I'm writing.
I'm going to do homework on time.
I'm going to keep vocabulary notebook up to date.
At the end of the term ask the students if they managed to keep their resolutions.
Raising students' awareness.
Write the aims of the lesson on the board at the beginning of each class.
Animal quiz - to revise names of animals we studied last week.
When introducing the activity as well as explaining what students have to do, explain the reasoning behind it.
Ask students to remind you of what they did in class today and just as important why they think they did it. Get students to keep a learner diary and at the end of each class give the students 5 minutes to compete their diary with entries under these titles:
Today I studied
Today I learnt
One thing I said very well in class today
One mistake I made today
Thinking about learning
Ask students to think about a time when they did something very well at school (it doesn't have to be in English, it could be winning a race) and ask them to tell the class.
Ask questions to try and draw out why they were successful in that activity. As a class try to draw up a list of points, habits, attitudes that lead to success. If you think your students would prefer to write about it ask them to do that.
You could create a wall display together called 'Success in learning'.
Prepare a set of questions for learners to answer.
Do you revise what you have learnt regularly?
Do you look over your vocabulary notebook?
Do you use a dictionary when you do homework?
Do you do your homework when watching television?
Do you participate in class?
Are you prepared to ask questions if you don't understand?
If you don't understand a word do you forget it or try to work out its meaning?
Students can then discuss these questions in pairs or as a class.
Correction and assessment.
Get students to keep an 'X-FILE' of the mistakes they make in their written work with a corresponding correction.
He don't like ice-cream/He doesn't like ice cream
I go to the playground yesterday/I went to the play ground yesterday
Check the this from time to time and point out if they are repeating the same mistakes again and again.
Set students some written work and after they have completed the first draft ask them to work in pairs and see if they can spot any mistakes in their partner's work.
If your school gives out student reports ask the students to complete a copy of the report beforehand. Typical reports have categories such as progress in listening, reading, writing, speaking, homework and participation in class. Compare their report with the one you have written, any differences can be discussed with the student.
'Can do' statements.
These are increasingly being used with primary students. After completing a topic the learners decide whether they can do certain things:
Name 6 animals
Count to 10
If the learner can successfully name 6 animals they might tick (v) the statement or draw a smiley face.
Experiment with various learning strategies. Learners may need to be shown different learning strategies. For example, each term have a different way of recording class vocabulary - a vocabulary bag where students add new words each class, these words are tested over the next few classes and then discarded when they are learnt, a vocabulary wall where new words are attached, or students keep a vocabulary notebook. At the end of the year ask students which way was more successful for them.
Portfolios. These are a great way to help students review what they have done over the term or year, organize and assess their work.The students choose a certain number of pieces of work they want included in the portfolio and this is the work that is then graded by the teacher. Show learners resources they could use to extend learning outside the classroom. If your school has a library or study centre you could incorporate a visit as part of the class. Create a classroom library. Ask each student to buy a graded reader of the appropriate level and then the students can swap books throughout the year.
Give students addresses of websites where they can practice English. It's well worth looking at your course book. Many of these now have self-assessment or reflection activities at the end of units.
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3. Brown A.L., Bransford, J.D., Ferrara, R. & Campione, J.C. (1983).
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37. Richards, J., & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language Teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics 4646 40th Street, NW Washington, DC 20016-1859. (202)362-0700 / (800)276-9834 firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOLLOW UP TASKS
1. In which way do various methods interpret: a) role of teacher in the classroom; b) learner roles; c) specifics of language classes for adults; d) perception/production balance at early stages of language learning;
2. Which predictions as to the future of methods seem plausible? Which do you consider utterly fantastic? What is your vision of the future of methods?
3. What are the 4 aspects of a learning style? Which learner styles can you name? Characterize your own learning style.
4. Give a definition of learning strategies.
5. Dwell upon constituents of learner training: which do you think are exaggerated? Which are lacking?
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