Importance Of Spoken Language In Teaching And Learning Education Essay

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The processes of teaching and learning are both highly complex concepts and activities. However, there are two major ideologies in recent times by the means in which the processes of learning through teaching can be accomplished. The first of these can be best described as the 'empty vessel' model of teaching and learning, or what Freire,(1983) referred to as the 'banking' model where knowledge or skills are inputted into the empty memory banks of the students. The second ideology which is based on the work of Dewey and Piaget is seen not as a matter of receiving information but of intelligent inquiry and thought. In this model, the teacher's role is to manage the learning experience in order for the student to achieve active construction of knowledge.

Both these models of teaching and learning have been heavily criticised especially when it comes to the teaching of second language learners (1999 Cummins) as the first pedagogy presents a curriculum based on the dominant culture and language proving few or no opportunities for learners to express their experiences and non-mainstream views of the world. Whereas, the second pedagogy has been criticised for its lack of explicit language teaching (Martin 1989) which Van Lier (2001) explains is far for the current views of language education that is based on the assumption that sound interaction plays a central role in the learning process. The study guide strengthens this point by referring the focus on language as both 'the medium' by which teachers and learning is carried out and 'the message' by which the instruction in developing particular ways of using language. The search for better ways to teach languages as Knight (2001) explains has probably never been as intense as it is today, with universities, classroom teachers and publishers all active. Van Lier (2001) believes that there has been a fundamental shift from conditioning notions of learning to human learning seeing the dominant terminology such as communication, negotiation of meaning, collaboration learning and responsive teaching as evidence of this. Therefore, if indeed there is a shift towards an alternative model of learning which is of a collaborative nature where the process involves education through dialogues, teacher as Mercer (2001) suggests need to have a better understanding of social-cultural perspectives as a pedagogic tool to help students improve their curriculum-related learning and their use of language as a tool for constructing knowledge.

Social-cultural Perspectives

The process of human development and learning depends very much on the company we keep. It shapes how we use language and our involvement in social interaction. For educational purpose, the learning process takes place through dialogue as stated in the study guide with the interactions between students and teachers reflecting the historical development, cultural values and social practices of the societies and communities in which educational institutions exist. The theory of this form of learning is based on Lev Vygotsky's (1962) work who gave language a central, role in human cognitive development.

Mercer (2000) believes that the adoption of social-cultural perspective would have a significant impact on education in three distinctive ways:

Spoken Language as the most important pedagogic tool;

Education is a dialogical and cultural process;

Spoken Language carries the history of classroom activity into its future.

All three suggestive ways place spoken language as the tool for carrying out the teaching and learning process. The first implies that spoken language enables one to gain, process, organize and evaluate knowledge with guidance from experts to other people. This depends on the second suggestion to some extent on the relationship with teacher and learner along with the culture in which those relationships are located. The third implies that if we want to understand the learning process we must recognise the role that parents, teachers and peers play in helping the children learn. The educational basis for a child's development especially for younger children is based on the level of spoken language. When children are learning to dress themselves the parent at first has to perform or talk them through the whole activity. After which, the child gradually performs parts of the activity, with the parent still assisting with the harder parts. Eventually, the child will be able to perform the task by themselves. Therefore, for the learner to go beyond what they are able to achieve they need to be assisted in order for them to participate in new situations, to deal with new tasks and to learn new ways of using the language. This could also be the case for a student who is learning a second language. Mercer (2000) describes this process as 'guidance through dialogue'. Mercer also implies that for children, 'recycling' the language they hear may be an important way of assimilating the collective ways of thinking of the community in which they are growing up. For second language learners this concept further complicates the fact they are both learning a new language and learning other notions through the medium of the language. If what Mercer is suggesting that dialogue is a major resource for the development of thinking and learning, the teacher must consider seriously the nature of the dialogue in which learners are engaged in the classroom. If we wish to move away for the traditional teacher-centred versus student-centred learning, towards a collaboration learning experience, both teachers and students have to been seen as active participants, and learning is seen as a collaborative process. However, the success of the learning process cannot be achieve just through a social-culture perspective, the kinds of support that is provided, is of crucial importance in the educational success of the students.


Bruner (1978) describes scaffolding as 'the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some tasks so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skills they are in the process of acquiring.' In the classroom its role is to support learners to carry out tasks successfully and if done effectively 'scaffolding' reduces the learner's scope for failure. Mercer (2000) explains that 'scaffolding' is not simply another word for help, but it is a special, sensitive kind of help that assists learners to move towards new skills and levels of understanding that the learner will later be able to complete a similar task alone. The notion of 'scaffolding' is similar to ideas mentioned in the social-cultural perspectives section as they are related to ideas by Vgotsky who also uses the term 'zone of proximal development' (ZPD) that refers to the distance between what a learner can do unassisted and what a learner can do jointly with a skilled expert. Mercer agues, it is only when scaffolding is needed that learning will take place, since the learner is then likely to be working within the ZPD. He adds that 'for a teacher to teach and a learner to learn, they must use talk and joint activity to create a shared communication space'. Therefore, the progress of two students in the same school year might well be greatly affected by the teacher's different styles of teaching. If the teacher does not affectively communicate the instructions for the task with the necessary 'scaffolding', this could influence development. For second language learners there is a danger of the teacher simplifying the task risking a reductionist curriculum, rather than reflecting on ways of 'scaffolding' the learner. It is important for learners to be engaged with authentic and cognitively challenging learning task and for the use of the teacher talk as an effective way of 'scaffolding' students. As Mercer (2000) suggests that the importance of the notion of scaffolding as 'the guided construction of knowledge.'

Discourse Features and Strategies

In classrooms, some patterns of teacher-student talk are often referred as the initiation, response, feedback pattern or IRF. There has been much research in this field of study. Alexandre (2000) research work showed that often the IRF pattern called for a closed response whereas few teacher-initiated student responses were asked in an open manner calling for an extended student response where they might present an opinion. This was not the case in Russian where the trend was the opposite. The Van Lier (2001) suggests that the closed response pattern is the result of one of the partners taking on a controlling role. In the study guide it mentions that researches Lemke (1990) and Wood (1992) have agued that the dominance of this exchange pattern of question-and-answer seriously limits the kind of participation that a student can have in classroom discourse, and that its use is really a reflection of teachers' need to control classroom events, rather than justifiable for pedagogic reasons. The IRF pattern occurs in fairly predictable ways, frequently involving a question to which the teacher already knows the answer, followed by a short response by the student and finally a teacher evaluation relating to the correctness or incorrectness of the answer. The teachers' questions are often framed in ways that do not allow for students to make extended response. Therefore, teachers should develop interactions that more closely match the real world which is outside the formal teaching content. Figure 1 show an example of this.

Teacher: try to tell your friends what you have learnt ...

OK .... (to student) yes?

Student: when I get with ... er ... the (8 second pause. Student is clearly having difficulty expressing what she wants to say.)

Teacher: yes, yes you're doing well ...when I measured with a ruler

Student: when I measured with ruler, I find this side is 3 cm long and ...

Teacher: found this is 3cm long and 3cm width

Student: I found this is 3cm long and 3cm width and 3cm high.

Teacher: I think that was very well told ... do you have anything to add to that? The

volume ...

Student: The volume is 27 cm³

Figure 1

In the text shown in Figure 1, the student takes on the role of expert. Although the teacher is in control of the knowledge associated with the overall development of the topic, the student manages to explain quite well. This increase in the equality of the teacher and student roles leads the student to produce longer stretches of discourse than often occurs in classroom interaction. The teacher can be described as 'leading from behind'. At the same time, while the teacher follows the student's lead and accepts as a valid contribution the information the student gives, the teacher recasts what the student says, modelling alternative forms of language that are appropriate in the context of talking about mathematics.


In order for affective learning to take place, it is clear that teacher guided reporting encourages language to be 'pushed'. Vygotsky (1978) suggests that learning occurs, with support from those more expert, at the learner's zone of proximal development - that is, at the outer edges of a learner's current abilities. It is important that the recasting and scaffolding students receive from the teacher is precisely timed for learning to occur. The value of learning by doing and talking through the task (especially for second learners where concrete experiences help make language comprehensible) highlights the critical role of teacher-talk in student's learning and language development.

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