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Structuring principle: it holds that learning can be increased by selecting teaching methods that are appropriate to developmental levels. Listening practices should be graded at all levels of learning.
- Cognitive and student understanding principles: The teacher must establish significant associations between what students will learn and what they already know.
Sequencing principle: This outlines how the presentation of commands can be logically introduced to influence the expected learning outcome.
- Reinforcement principle: This principle works on the premise that a student will perform better from having received positive reinforcement. A student who is reinforced with praise for having achieved some specific learning has the will to repeat it in the future, being motivated by getting praise and positive feedback.
I would conclude by saying that learning a foreign or second language is a complex process. Among the most important aspects to be studied here are general principles such as motivation, structuring, sequencing and reinforcement. Listening skills are crucial in the learning of a foreign language. Listening tasks can be graded and adapted to different levels, and all previous learning principles can be followed in a listening exercise.
3. Theoretical framework. Research methodology and design.
3.1 Theoretical framework
There are several theories about language learning, such as Nativisttheory (Chomsky) which highlights the fact that all aspects of alanguage can be learned in the time that humans typically do this and thus, that an innate language mechanism must be a part of our languageequipment. The behaviorist approach which was defended by Skinner says that language is learnt by a process of habit-formation, of which the main components are:
1. The child imitates the sounds and patterns which he hears around
2. People recognize the childÂ´s attempts as being similar to the
adult models and reinforce the sounds, by approval or some other
3. In order to obtain more of these rewards, the child repeats the
sounds and patterns and so these become habits.
4. In this way the childÂ´s verbal behavior is conditioned and
shaped until the habit coincidences with the adults' models.
Bearing in mind the previous ideas of learning and behaviour, I have based my research on interactionist perspectives. These are concerned with the interplay between environmental and biological factors in the process of acquiring language. Interactionists tend to view children as having a strong biological predisposition to acquire a language. The nativist approach is the theoretical framework under which this research work is carried out. From a more practical perspective, my teaching practice is based upon an interactionist notion of language usage. In contrast to nativists, interactionists stress the importance of both the social support that parents provide the young language learner with, as well as social contexts in which the language-learning child is instructed.
Bruner (1983) argues that parents provide their children with a language acquisition support system (herein after, LASS). The LASS is a collection of strategies that parents employ to facilitate their childrenÂ´s acquisition of either a mother or a foreign language.
One of these strategies is scaffolding which, according to Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2004), is a term associated with VygotskyÂ´s (1978) notion of the Zone of Proximal Development. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2004) claim, " In essence, the ZDP is the difference between what a child can accomplish alone and what he or she can accomplish with the assistance of a more experienced individual" ( p. 86).
Another strategy is called infant- directed speech or `mothereseÂ´. When using infant-directed speech, parents speak in higher pitch, they stress important words, and they talk more slowly to their infants. Very young children show a clear preference for infant-directed speech, which gets an infantÂ´s attention and increases the chances of their understanding the message. Another pair of talking techniques that adults employ is expansion and recast. Expansion occurs when an adult takes a childÂ´s utterance and
expands on its complexity. For example, when a child might utter something like 'Mario eated', the parent might expand on the complexity, adding 'Yes, thatÂ´s right, Mario ate his dinner'. We can notice here that the parent has also corrected the childÂ´s grammar, changing eated to its appropriate past tense form, ate.
When parents expand, as in this example, they often recast the childÂ´s utterance as well, correcting the grammatical form of the utterance. According to Michael K. Meyerhoff, recast is where the parent repeats the preschooler's improper statement but in grammatically correct form. So if the preschooler says, "My foots are cold" the parent says, "Your feet are cold."
Meyerhoff claims it is important to remember that a child using telegraphic speech or engaging in over-regularization is actually demonstrating progress if not yet perfection in language development. Consequently, casual and informal expansions and recasts rather than harsh criticism allow mothers and fathers to effectively enhance the process without running the risk of frustrating or demoralizing their child.
Interactionist perspectives on language development have been critized on the following grounds:
- Parents rarely offer their children direct feedback on the
appropriateness of their grammar.
- Linguistic and social practices vary widely across cultures; some Eastern cultures do not use anything like the practices described above and yet, their children still learn language at a similar rate to Western children.
However, despite this partial opposition by some researchers and language experts, I consider interaction as crucial for the development and practice of oral skills in a second language. The fact that there are other children to practice with in class is motivating enough so as to turn English lessons into interactive spaces. The results are verypositive and revealing, as it is described further on in this paper.
3.2 Research methodology and design
First of all I would like to say that I work as an English teacher in a town called Coín which is situated in the Valle del Guadalhorce in the province of Málaga. It is a town with around 23,000 registered citizens, and has a lot of public and private educational resources.
One of those resources is Lourdes School where I give classes every day. It is a teaching center with specific social values such as:
- Educational values: ItÂ´s a primary goal for the students to inculcate essential values to integration within both school and society; cooperation, respect, tolerance, effort among others.
- Participatory community of students, teachers, school staff, and families.
- Concern for teacher training and exchange of professional experiences
- Orientation in the area of individualised tutorials.
- Interest in different cultures represented by various student groups.
- It is a school that promotes shared responsibility of all members of the school community in achieving better education.
The socioeconomic level of the families is, in general, medium-high. However, there are families with a low socioeconomic level. I considered this piece of information relevant because it determines the importance that students' parents give to learning, and more specifically, to learning a second language at school.
Given the importance of the improvement of listening skills in English Language Teaching as a second language, the aim of my research has been the improvement of spoken English for the seven-year-old Spanish children through listening with images. For this reason, I have used a quantitative methodology design. In order to do so, I have worked with two groups: N=28 students (2nd Grade A) and N=27 students (2nd Grade B) a total of 55 students. They are children in the second level of the first Primary cycle from Lourdes School. The following graph illustrates the sex distribution of my subjects in the two groups. There is a female majority in both of them, but this is notsignificantly high:
Firstly, I started with a direct observation of my pupils. In this way I could observe different needs:
- There is a need to improve the use of oral English in class,
namely the oral expression and the oral comprehension.
- There is a need to increase the participation and motivation of
students in class. For this I need to address the problem of shyness.
- There is a need to increase the fluency in the use of oral
language in class through pair and group work, playful activities, games
and so on.
Secondly, I started mitigating those needs through various activities. In order to do this the teacher must provide the pupil variedopportunities for oral communication. Apart from that, I considered itto be really important to formulate English greetings, informal
questions to create useful interactions between teacher-pupil and pupil-teacher. I normally use two puppets called Norton and Monkey. As far as
I am concerned, puppets are a good technique to present items of language in an innovative way. They provide a great motivation in my pupils. I use it to create an informal communication with them.
My first class is at nine oÂ´clock and normally my pupils are somewhat sleepy. For this reason I start the class with Norton and Monkey. I use the puppets to introduce simple questions, greetings, repetitions, songs and vocabulary. When the students are more alert, I start with stronger grammar and morphological points, such as main vocabulary, grammar and structures. Then we practice a listening in relation to the topic, the vocabulary, structures or grammar. Generally these aspects are covered in a global context all together. I finish the class with a summary of what has been learned to reinforce the learning process for each child.
According to Harmer (1991), the activities of oral communication must incorporate a purpose or communicative objective that provokes involvement of the pupil in the different oral interchanges.
Particularly, in my day to day routine, I practice the following activities:
1. Listening to a recording about a specific topic
2. Pair work; there are a lot of types of activities, such as
finding the differences or similarities, describing and arranging, story
reconstruction and poem reconstruction.
3. Singing a song, either popular and well-known or new to my
students. According to Madrid and Mc Laren (1995), several authors have
highlighted different advantages of the use of songs in the classroom,
Creating a pleasant atmosphere in the classroom and encouraging thelearning of block language, increasing the studentÂ´s vocabulary andcontributing to the learning of new expressions without much effort,improving the pronunciation of English, introducing the art of recitation and practicing reading skills aloud, giving opportunities to practice and improve the singing skill, bringing variety, fun and happiness to the English class, helping to develop the studentÂ´s sociocultural competence and favor a better understanding of the target countryÂ´s culture and folklore. (p.228)
4. Group work. According to Colin Retter (1980), there are someadvantages to this; group work offers opportunities for the pupils use the language themselves. On the other hand, group work allows for fun in class. This type of activity is motivating for children. In relation to group work, there is a lot of activities. However, taking into account my experience in class, I can emphasize the following ones:
- Jigsaw Activities. This activity is very similar to Communication gap, however the Jigsaw activities are richer and several pupils are able to participate. The puzzle can have several models, such as a strip of images about a story, phrases, among others.
- Role plays. In this activity the teacher must provide a different role to each pupil which must be acted out according to a situation which the teacher has described.
5. Games. Games are a natural activity for children. They help their human and social development. Games help to develop skills. In this case, I use games to develop communicative and linguistic skills.
As we can see, through different activities I use in class a mixture of different methods.
In my research I have used exams to evaluate the pupils' progress. The exams have five questions to evaluate the level of listening comprehension which is my focus and to complete the evaluation I usually do an oral exam. In the following section, I will show how far students are in relation to their initial language level in English: their tests show that continuous oral practice has had very positive results in their academic outcomes.
4. Fieldwork and analysis. Quantitative results of the study.
The research is based upon a quantitative method which is a process used to explain events through a great quantity of information. The quantitative methodology permits investigators to examine the data in a numeric way especially in the field of statistics and numerical analyses.
Nonetheless, we must be aware that there are also limitations in using this method. According to the investigator Sorokin the limitations are:
ïƒ¼ Quantitatively disguised subjectivity.
ïƒ¼ Quantitative conjugation groupings to study social systems.
ïƒ¼ Taking one part of the system as an independent variable or cause all of the quantitative data can be seen in traditional research.
As stated above, my research is based upon work with two classes of primary education level, specifically on the second cycle of primary school years, that is to say seven-year-old students. From my point of view, I considered the improvement of listening skills to be relevant because this skill allows for and enhances the development of speaking in a foreign language.
It has marked similarities to the acquisition of the mother tongue. A baby starts listening and step by step when he/she has received enough input he/she can begin to vocalise outputs. According to Madrid and McLaren (1995), listening is important because:
It provides comprehensible input, essential for language processing. It is needed in real life and so is a skill whereby the students are motivated by the knowledge that they will be able to use this skill in real life situations. It is something the whole class can do either individually, in pairs, in small groups or as a whole class exercise.
It allows students to distinguish between sounds, stress and intonation patterns. It connects with what the learner often does in his/her day-to-day life whereby he/she may listen to pop-songs, watch MTV, watch videos, etc in the target language and by being able to listen with success further motivation often develops. (p.39)
For these reasons, in my own class with my pupils I use some strategies which, according to Facella, Rampino, Lesley and Shea (2005) are effective strategies for teaching English to small children.
There are linguistic strategies which I use together with my day-to-day routine such as: the constant and continuous use of paraphrase, continuous and consistent use of elaboration and expansion, reformulation, use of simple structures, avoidance of complex structures, and repetition of similar sentence patterns and routines.
However, before starting the English learning process, teachers should know and respect the childÂ´s stages of linguistic development. According to Dunn (1984), the process of learning a second language in young children within the classroom context goes through three stages, namely: silent period, intermediate period and breakthrough period. In the silent period, as children can already communicate in their own language, they want to be able to use the foreign language in the same way. If they cannot say what they want, they feel frustrated and may lose interest. Thus, to speed up the process of speaking, teachers can provide children with useful or prefabricated phrases helping to expand the childrenÂ´s repertoire of language. They can learn these as blocks of sounds in the same way as they did when they learnt their first language and thus move quickly through the intermediate phase and feel that they have arrived at a breakthrough level although this is on a limited basis.
In relation to paraphrase, in class I use simpler words when the children