L&S Ch5

The University of Hong Kong **We aren't endorsed by this school
MAES 7004
Oct 11, 2023
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5 OBSERVING LEARNING AND TEACHING IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE CLASSROOM Preview In this chapter, we explore different ways in which researchers have observed and described what goes on in L2 classrooms. Before we do this, let us take a moment to reflect on the differences between classroom settings for language learning and other settings where people learn a new language without instruction. As we saw in Activity 2.1 , learning a second language in a non-instructional setting is different from learning in the classroom. Many believe that learning 'on the street' is more effective. This belief may be based on the fact that most successful learners have had experience using the language outside the classroom. What is special about this 'natural' language learning? Can we create the same environment in the classroom? Should we? Or are there essential contributions that only instruction and not natural exposure can provide? Natural and instructional settings Natural acquisition contexts should be understood as those in which the learner is exposed to the language at work or in social interaction or, if the learner is a child, in a school situation where most of the other children are native speakers of the target language and where the instruction is directed towards native speakers rather than towards learners of the language. In such a classroom, much of a child's learning take places in interaction with peers as well as through instruction from the teacher. In structure-based instructional environments, the language is taught to a group of second or foreign language learners. The focus is on the language itself, rather than on the messages carried by the language. The teacher's goal is to see to it that students learn the vocabulary and grammatical rules of the target language. Some students in structure-based classes may have opportunities to continue learning the target language outside the classroom; for others, the classroom is the only contact with that language. In some cases, the learners' goal may be to pass an examination rather than to use the language for daily communicative interaction beyond the classroom. Communicative, content-based, and task-based instructional environments also involve learners whose goal is learning the language itself, but the style of instruction places the emphasis on interaction, conversation, and language use, rather than on learning about the language. The topics that are discussed in communicative and task- based instructional environments are often of general interest to the learner, for example, how to obtain a driver's licence. In content-based language teaching (CBLT) , the focus of a lesson is usually on the subject matter, such as history or mathematics, which students are learning through the medium of the L2. In these classes, the focus may occasionally be on the language itself, but the emphasis is on using the language rather than talking about it. The language that teachers use for teaching is not selected solely for the purpose of teaching a specific feature of the language, but also to make sure learners have the language they need to interact in a variety of contexts. Students' success in these courses is often measured in terms of their ability to 'get things done' in the L2, rather than on their accuracy in using certain grammatical features. Before reading further, look at Activity 5.1 and complete Table 5.1 , drawing on your experience of learning language in different contexts or on your observation of others who have learned in different contexts.
In natural acquisition settings When people learn languages at work, in social interactions, or in the playground, their experiences are often quite different from those of learners in classrooms. As you look at the pattern of + and - signs you have placed in Table 5.1 , you will probably find it matches the descriptions below. Language is not presented step by step. The learner is exposed to a wide variety of vocabulary and structures. Learners' errors are rarely corrected. If their interlocutors can understand what they are saying, they do not remark on the correctness of the learners' speech. They would probably feel it was rude to do so. The learner is surrounded by the language for many hours each day. Sometimes the language is addressed to the learner; sometimes it is simply overheard. The learner usually encounters a number of different people who use the target language proficiently. ACTIVITY 5.1 Compare learning contexts The chart in Table 5.1 is similar to Table 2.1 in Chapter 2 , in which we compared the profiles of L1 and L2 learners. In this chart, we compare natural and instructional contexts for L2 learning. Think about the characteristics of the four contexts, each represented by a column. For each context, decide whether the characteristics on the left are present or absent. Mark a plus (+) in the table if the characteristic is typical of that context. Mark a minus (-) if it is something you usually do not find in that context.Write '?' if you are not sure. Note that the 'Communicative instruction' column has been subdivided into teacher-student and student-student interaction. What happens when learners talk to each other? Is that different from what happens in teacher-student interaction? Characteristics Natural acquisition Structure-based instruction Communicative instruction Teacher-student Student-student Learning one thing at a time Frequent feedback on errors Ample time for learning High ratio of native speakers to learners Variety of language and discourse types Pressure to speak Access to modified input Table 5.1 Contexts for language learning Learners observe or participate in many different types of language events: brief greetings, commercial transactions, exchanges of information, arguments, instruction at school, and in workplace interactions. Older children and adults may also encounter the written language in the use of video and web-based materials. Learners must often use their limited L2 ability to respond to questions or to get information. In these situations, the emphasis is on getting meaning across clearly, and more proficient speakers tend to be tolerant of errors that do not interfere with meaning. Modified input is available in many one-to-one conversations. In situations where many native speakers are involved in the conversation, however, learners may have difficulty getting access to language they can understand. In structure-based instructional settings The events and activities that are typical of structure-based instruction differ from those encountered in natural acquisition settings. In grammar translation approaches, there is considerable use of reading and writing, as learners translate texts from one language to another, and grammar rules are taught explicitly. In audiolingual approaches, there is little use of translation, and learners are expected to learn mainly through repetition and habit formation, although they may be asked to figure out the grammar rules for the sentences they have memorized.
Linguistic items are presented and practised in isolation, one item at a time, in a sequence from what teachers or textbook writers believe is 'simple' to that which is 'complex'. Errors are frequently corrected. Accuracy tends to be given priority over meaningful interaction. Learning is often limited to a few hours a week. In situations of foreign language learning, the teacher is often the only native or proficient speaker the student comes in contact with. Students experience a limited range of language discourse types. The most typical of these is the Initiation/Response/Evaluation (IRE) exchange where the teacher asks a question, a student answers, and the teacher evaluates the response. The written language students encounter is selected primarily to provide practice with specific grammatical features rather than for its content. Students often feel pressure to speak or write in the L2 and to do so correctly from the very beginning. Teachers may use the learners' native language to give instructions or for classroom management. When they use the target language, they tend to modify their language in order to ensure comprehension and compliance. Language classrooms are not all alike. The conditions for learning differ in terms of the physical environment, the age and motivation of the students, the amount of time available for learning, and many other variables. Classrooms also differ in terms of the principles that guide teachers in their language teaching methods and techniques. Designers of communicative language teaching programmes have sought to replace some of the characteristics of structure-based instruction with those more typical of natural acquisition contexts. In communicative instructional settings In communicative and content-based instruction, the emphasis is on the communication of meaning, both between teacher and students and among the students themselves in group or pair work. Grammatical forms are focused on only in order to clarify meaning. The assumption is that, in focusing on meaning, learners will acquire the language in a way that is similar to natural acquisition. Input is simplified and made comprehensible by the use of contextual cues, props, and gestures, rather than through structural grading . Students provide each other with simplified and sometimes erroneous input. There is a limited amount of error correction on the part of the teacher, and meaning is emphasized over form. Students tend not to overtly correct each other's errors when they are engaged in communicative practice. Because the focus is on meaning, however, requests for clarification may serve as implicit feedback. Negotiating for meaning may help students see the need to say something in a different way. Learners usually have only limited time for learning. In a typical teacher-fronted classroom with 25-30 students, individual students get very little opportunity to produce language in a 60-minute class, and when they do, it is usually in the form of a short response to a teacher's question. When students work in pairs or groups, they have opportunities to produce and respond to a greater amount and variety of language. Sometimes, however, subject-matter courses taught through the L2 can add time for language learning. A good example of this is in immersion programmes where most or all the subject matter is taught to a group of
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