The Form Focused Instruction Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

This chapter first reviews the role of attention, which is one of the important factors that affect learners' production. Then it discusses two theoretical rationales for task planning research: the output hypothesis and focus on form. The chapter continues with the description of types of planning and illustrates how each type of planning has been carried out in previous studies on task planning, followed by findings of past task planning studies. Finally, writing instruction will be discussed.

2.2 Role of attention

According to Baddeley and Logie (1999), working memory consists of a phonological loop, visuo-spacial sketch pad, and central executive component. The phonological loop processes acoustic information, whereas the visuo-spacial sketch pad processes graphic information. These two components exist independently, but both of them are controlled by the central executive which, in turn, is controlled by attention.

The question of how learners process language is a central issue in the field of SLA. Particularly, the concept of attention and its role in language acquisition is one of the most extensively researched and discussed topics to date. Although there has been a problem of vague definitions of attention and other similar terms such as consciousness and awareness (Tomlin & Villa, 1994), it has been generally agreed that attention is essential for L2 acquisition to occur (Long, 1996). Tomlin and Villa (1994) review the research of cognitive processes in SLA as well as in cognitive science, and they analyze conceptions of attention in depth. According to their fine-grained analysis, attention includes three functions: alertness, orientation, and detection. Tomlin and Villa (1994) also explain that awareness is "a particular state of mind in which an individual has undergone a specific subjective experience of some cognition content or external stimulus" (p. 193). In their view, awareness is different from consciousness because consciousness includes multiple meanings, such as perception, understanding, and intention. This study follows Tomlin and Villa's (1994) definitions of the terms attention, awareness, and consciousness unless specified otherwise.

In his ongoing research, Schmidt (1990, 1995, 2001) has argued that attention plays a central role in L2 acquisition. Referring to research in psychology and cognitive science, Schmidt states that "attention is necessary for all aspects of L2 learning" (2001, p. 3). As basic assumptions on attention in psychology, Schmidt (2001) presents the following six points (pp. 11-16):

attention is limited;

attention is selective;

attention is subject to voluntary control;

attention controls access to consciousness;

attention is essential for the control of action; and

attention is essential for learning.

These six assumptions are intertwined with each other, but assumptions 1, 3, and 6 in the list above are directly related to aspects of task planning. First, according to Schmidt (2001), the principal view of attention in psychology is that it involves a limited capacity for cognitive processing. Strong support for this concept comes from studies in working memory. Baddeley and Logie (1999) have proposed that the central executive, a main component of working memory, plays a vital role in controlling attention. Based on empirical studies conducted in neurological science, Baddeley and Logie (1999) suggest that the phonological loop and the visuo-spacial sketch pad, the two specialized systems in working memory, have capacity constraints. These systems serve the central executive, which results in limiting the capacity of the central executive (Baddeley, 2003; Baddeley & Logie, 1999).

Research in psychology also suggests capacity limits for attention. In reviewing the literature on psychological experiments on attention, Pashler (1998) found consistent results that could be interpreted as capacity overload. For example, when research participants are involved in processing multiple stimuli simultaneously, their performances become less accurate as the stimuli become more complex. Although there may be considerable differences between processing language for learning and non-language stimuli, these findings indicate the possibility of limitations in attentional capacity.

In SLA research, some researchers believe that attention is limited because of limited capacity of human for information processing (Schmidt, 2001; Skehan & Foster, 2001; VanPatten, 2004). VanPatten (1990) did a study in which he compared learners' listening comprehension when they were asked to pay attention to meaning only or to both meaning and form simultaneously. The results revealed that the learners, especially those with lower L2 proficiency, had difficulty attending to form while processing meaning, suggesting that meaning and form compete for attentional resources. Given that L2 acquisition is more complex than L1 acquisition, involving multiple factors, VanPatten (2002b) claimed that L1 processing models are not applicable to L2 processing.

Robinson (2003) acknowledges that there are restrictions on the ability to process linguistic information, but questions the idea that capacity limitation is the cause for various processing problems. He claims that it is not capacity limits, but a limit in the control of cognitive functions and interference during attentional resource allocation that are responsible for processing overload (Robinson, 2003).

Although discussion and controversy is going on with respect to capacity limitation in attention, the results of research in SLA clarified that attention will experience certain limitations during processing, which relies on task difficulty and cognitive requirements (Robinson, 2003; Skehan, 1998). Without considering the reason of limitation related to attention, the demand of task planning is regarded to decrease the attention load during the performance (Ellis, 2005). When enough time is available for planning, learners are able to devote their attention to different aspects of language to retrieve information in working memory before they begin to perform the task, leading to the production of more proficient speech or writing.

According to Sangarun (2005), when learners are provided with time to plan, they have an opportunity to decide what to pay attention to, which can be meaning, form, or both meaning and form. He investigated the effects of guided planning. The participants in her study were instructed to plan for a task under one of three conditions: focusing on meaning, focusing on form, or focusing on both meaning and form. Finally, he reported that the participants were generally able to allocate their attention as instructed. Schmidt (2001) states that people have the ability to attend to one specific stimulus with or without an opportunity to plan, but these studies on planning show that learners can voluntarily control their attention to certain aspect of language regardless of the presence of a specific instruction to do so.

Finally, Schmidt (2001) claims that attention is necessary for learning. He explains that any learning, including language learning, requires the stimuli to be stored in long-term memory, and attention is essential for this process. In SLA research, VanPatten (2004) has also argued that learners need to attend to input for further processing. Leow (1998) conducted a study to investigate the necessity of attention, specifically the necessity of detection, following Tomlin and Villa's (1994) term, for L2 learning. The results showed that participants who detected novel grammatical items were able to recognize these forms more frequently and were able to use the forms more accurately than those who did not detect them. These results suggest that detection leads to learning at least at a morphological level.

2.3 The output hypothesis

The output hypothesis was first presented by Swain (1985). The basic idea of this hypothesis is that language production, whether speaking or writing, plays an active role in facilitating L2 learning when certain conditions are met (Swain, 2005). In the 1980s, the mainstream premise in SLA research was based on input as represented by Krashen's input hypothesis (Krashen, 1985). Krashen (1985) states that language acquisition takes place when learners receive input that is slightly above their current proficiency level (i+1). In his position, language production emerges as a consequence of acquisition, but it has no contribution to language acquisition.

Swain (1985) questioned Krashen's claims based on her observations of French immersion classes. Although immersion students exhibited higher proficiency in listening and reading compared to students in regular French as a foreign language programs, speaking and writing abilities were not developed to a degree similar to that of comprehension. Swain (1985, 2005) pointed out that what was lacking for students in the immersion program was production, particularly production that is pushed to be appropriate both grammatically and sociolinguistically.

In a series of articles (Swain, 1995, 1998, 2005), Swain presents three functions of production in the processes of second language learning: 1) the noticing/triggering function, 2) the hypothesis-testing function, and 3) the metalinguistic function. The noticing/triggering function of output is that learners may notice something about their interlanguage, specifically that they lack the linguistic knowledge to express what they want to communicate, as they try to speak or write in the L2 (Swain, 1995, 1998, 2005). This noticing leads learners to realize that they do not know a certain linguistic form. Swain (1998, 2005) suggests that there are multiple levels of noticing. For example, learners may notice a certain L2 form because it appears frequently or because it has salient features. Learners may also notice that there are some differences between the L2 form in discourse produced by native speakers and the form in their interlanguage. Finally, learners may notice that they do not know how to deliver their message in the L2. Swain (1995, 1998, 2005) claims that noticing may prompt learners to generate new L2 knowledge or to strengthen the knowledge that they have already gained.

The second function of output is hypothesis testing (Swain, 1998, 2005). Learners may examine their hypothesis of how some aspects of the L2 works by trying it out in speaking or writing. In other words, learners may produce language to test whether it is comprehensible and whether it is formed correctly (Swain, 1995). By doing so, learners are expanding the current level of their interlanguage. At times, learners receive feedback on their output, which may trigger reformulation of their hypothesis. Swain and Lapkin (1995) propose that the process of this type of reformulation is one of the ways that language learning takes place.

Last, Swain (1995, 1998, 2005) discusses the metalinguistic function of output; that is, speaking serves as a mediating tool to reflect on language production. Learners may talk about someone else's or their own language production, and by talking about language, what they notice and the hypotheses they form and test will become accessible for examination (Swain, 1998). Output enables learners to articulate, transform, and reflect on their thoughts and to draw their attention to inconsistencies, if there are any.

Referring to linguistic output within a sociocultural theoretical framework, Swain (2005) states its role as follows:

Speaking (and writing) are conceived of as cognitive tools that mediate internalization; and that externalize internal psychological activity, resocializing, and recognizing it for the individual; tools that construct and deconstruct knowledge; and tools that regulate and are regulated by human agency. (p. 480)

Swain (2005) states that even research methods such as think-aloud and stimulated-recall protocols serve processes of learning, and should not be considered as data collection tools only. Think-alouds and stimulated recalls assist learners in understanding and restructuring their experiences, and they play an important role in learning.

De Bot (1996) reviews Swain's output hypothesis from a psycholinguistic perspective and explains that one of the important roles of producing output is to transform learners' declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge. To describe the development of procedural knowledge, de Bot (1996) states that language production involves various stages of form-function connection.

Although the interlocutor of the learner plays an important role, benefits of output for language acquisition are not fully dependent on external feedback (de Bot, 1996; Swain, 2005; Swain & Lapkin, 1995). For example, Swain and Lapkin (1995) state that noticing a gap in their linguistic knowledge may occur spontaneously when learners have trouble producing output, and external feedback is not always necessary to trigger noticing. Also, with regard to hypothesis testing, de Bot (1996) explains that learners develop internal speech and monitor its form and meaning before they speak. Since learners' receptive knowledge is generally more consistent than their productive knowledge, they are able to reform and improve their production as they examine their hypotheses internally. When learners produce an utterance after going through these processes, their output reaches its optimal level if the system of internal hypothesis testing is working properly. When learners have an opportunity to plan, they can afford to spend time to evaluate their internal speech, and it is possible that they notice a gap in their L2 knowledge and test their hypothesis against their internal norm. In this sense, planning can assist learners in producing better output, which may lead to learning.

In addition, de Bot (1996) argues that noticing a gap and trying to solve the problem of inconsistencies between the message and linguistic form by themselves, rather than by receiving the correct form in the input, results in more successful learning. When learners detect a problem and actively search their memory for the solution, they focus on a particular aspect of production processes. As they get involved in analyzing the source of the problem, their metalinguistic knowledge is strengthened. The deeper the analysis, the more solid the memory becomes, which results in interlanguage development.

2.4 Form-focused instruction

Focus on form has been discussed as the rationale for task planning research in recent years (Ellis, 2005; Ortega, 1999). It is a pedagogical approach that is generally presented in contrast with focus on forms and focus on meaning. What distinguishes the notion of focus on form from those of the other two terms is the way that learners process linguistic and communicative information. Doughty and Williams (1998a) summarize the fundamental difference in the three concepts by explaining that "focus on form entails a focus on formal elements of language, whereas focus on forms is limited to such a focus, and focus on meaning excludes it" (Doughty & Williams, 1998a, p. 4). Focus on form is a condition where learners' attention is drawn precisely to a linguistic feature as necessitated by a communicative demand (Doughty & Williams, 1998a). Reviewing the definitions of focus on form that have been proposed in the past research, Doughty (2001) states that "focus on form involves learners briefly and perhaps simultaneously attending to form, meaning, and use during one cognitive event" (Doughty, 2001, p. 211). Doughty and Williams (1998b) claims that focus on form is more beneficial for learning than focus on forms or focus on meaning.

Reviewing several studies of focus on form (Lightbown & Spada, 1990; Lyster, 1994; Spada & Lightbown, 1993; White, 1991), Long and Robinson (1998) reported generally positive effects of focus on form on learning. However, they criticized that many of the studies assumed the occurrence of focus on form by simply providing instruction that was rich in focus on form. The level of attention that learners allocated to form and meaning cannot be scrutinized unless researchers look into learners' conscious mental processes upon receiving form-focused instruction. It is also helpful to examine what learners are doing internally because, due to the nature of classroom dynamics, it is difficult to find out what aspects of instruction directly resulted in learning (Lyster, 1994). Long and Robinson (1998) suggested the use of finely tuned measures, such as questionnaires, to examine to what extent the instructional treatments actually triggered the intended focus on form.

According to Ellis (2005), focus on form can be regarded as one of the fundamental approach for language processing that put an emphasis on theoretical frameworks of planning study. He emphasized that focus on form can be taken into account in three situations including pedagogic, discoursal, and psycholinguistic contexts. As far as planning research is concerned, focus on form can be studied from a psycholinguistic perspective. He explains that the opportunity to plan for a task extends the limits of attentional capacity and allows learners to shift their attention to formal aspects of the language while preparing for meaningful language use, which may enable them to connect form and meaning. Because of the time allowed for planning, learners are able to access their knowledge, even knowledge that is not available for automatic processing (Ellis, 2005).

The preceding overview of the role of attention, output hypothesis, and focus on form provides some support that task planning may create optimal conditions for language learning to take place. During cognitive processing, attention undergoes certain constraints. Since L2 learners have limited language proficiency, they are not able to allocate their attention to all of the aspects of oral or written production. The opportunity to plan for a task may reduce the cognitive load that is involved in writing by creating extra capacity in attention resources. From the perspective of output hypothesis, task planning may assist L2 learners in producing better output by allowing them to spend time to evaluate their linguistic knowledge. Furthermore, when learners are allowed to plan for a task, they may be able to shift their attention to form while being engaged in meaningful language use, which may lead to language learning.

Turning to task planning, there are different types of planning. In the next section, each type of planning that has been investigated in prior studies is described in detail.

2.5. An introduction to planning

All language use, either written or spoken, involves planning because one has to decide what to express and how to express it (Ellis, 2005). Planning can happen at discoursal, sentential, and constituent levels, and may take place before or during a task, resulting in different types of planning that will be talked about below. As Ellis (in press) points out, research into the effect of planning has theoretical interest because "it serves to test claims regarding the nature of variability in learner language and the validity of models of L2 speaking such as that of Levelt (1989)". In addition, studies on planning may also be of practical interests as it may have pedagogical implications that can inform teachers in task-based instruction, "where one of the options available for implementing tasks concerns whether or not to allow students time to plan and, if so, what kind of planning and for what length of time" (Ellis, in press)


Pre-task planning Strategic Planning

Planning Pressurred

Within-task planning Unpressured

Figure 2.1 Types of task-based planning (Ellis, 2005, p. 4)

Figure 2.1 illustrates two major types of planning by Ellis (2005): pre-task and within-task planning, depending on when the planning takes place. Each type subsumes two sub-categories. Ellis (in press) slightly revised the categorization and distinguished between three major types: rehearsal (e.g., Bygate, 1996,2001; Lynch and McLean, 2000, 2001; Bygate and Samuda, 2005), pre-task planning (e.g., Crookes, 1989; Foster and Skehan, 1996; Skehan and Foster, 1999; Wigglesworth, 1997), and within-task planning (Yuan and Ellis, 2003; Ellis and Yuan, 2005). More recently, Wang (2009) was able to include five different types of planning in one study. The findings confirmed the effects of strategic planning in general, but on-line planning alone was found to be insufficient to make a difference in task performance unless some pre-task preparation is involved. Out of her five planning types, task repetition (cf., Bygate 1996,2001) appeared to be the most powerful in that repeating a task achieved comprehensive effects in almost all performance areas: fluency, accuracy, complexity and lexis, whereas other types of planning can, due to the trade-off effects, only push learners for improvement in certain aspects. The following discussion will be devoted mainly to pre-task strategic planning, given its relevance to this study.