A Focus On Communicative Functions English Language Essay

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Along with Brumfit, Brown (2000: 266) stated that: "CLT is best understood as an approach not a method". Similarly, Richard and Rodgers (1986: 83) suggest that "Communicative Language Teaching is best considered as an approach but not a method. CLT is not unified well among researchers; that is, educators do not refer to CLT as a unique teaching method, but it is used according to the contexts. The Functional- notional approach, the earlier version of CLT, led to the functional notional syllabus which integrates the core objectives of the approach. In the Functional-notional approach, the function of a language is crucial for organizing elements of the foreign language curriculum. Grammar is only taught to explain various forms for certain functions (Wilkins 1972; 1976, Canale& Swain 1980). In the functional- notional syllabus, the "communicative" approach was used with "functional" approach and "notional" approach interchangeably. That is to say, language functions are basic for designing the units of syllabus like request, denial, etc, and notions like time, location, etc (Yoon, 2004). While the Functional- notional approach has its particular syllabus which is well defined among researchers, CLT has no unified syllabus; each syllabus is different from educator to educator (Li, 1998).

To clarify CLT more clearly, we may compare Brown's definition of CLT and the traditional method, the grammar-translation (Brown provides the definitions of the CLT, but he used the definition of the grammar-translation from Prator and Celce- Murcia (1973)'s one). The definitions of these two are summarized in Table 2.1:

Holliday (1994) provides two versions of CLT, weak version and strong version: The strong version focuses on learning the way the language works in discourse not on language practices. In the strong version, learners work together and help each other in communicative tasks to solve language problems, not just for communication with pairs without any learning effort for the language. Moreover, since the purpose of the strong version of CLT is not to practice language forms, the teacher plays no important role to monitor the learners' group/ pair work. When students are able to communicate and generate useful assumptions about the language, they become communicative (Halliday, p 171- 172).

To sum up, CLT approach has numerous forms based on the specific focus; though researchers agreed with some common characteristics: "language cannot be learned through synthetic units such as grammar, functions, or notions in a discrete and linear way, and nor can it be learned separated from language use" (Yoon, 2004; p. 6); also Larsen-Freeman (1986: 132) describes the most obvious characteristic of CLT as that "almost everything that is done is done with a communicative competence". Li described CLT approach with characterizations in his article according to other researchers:

1) A focus on communicative functions;

2) A focus on meaningful tasks rather than on language per se, such as grammar or vocabulary;

3) Attempts to relate tasks to a target group of learners via genuine, realistic situations;

4) The use of group activities; and

5) The attempt to create a secure, nonthreatening atmosphere. (Li: 679)

Therefore, most researchers agree that there is no single method/syllabus for the CLT approach, it is necessary to define what should be considered in applying CLT, depending on existing variations.

2.3 Independent Learning:

Introducing the concept of 'independent learning' is one of the major contributions of Rogers' (1969, 1983) ideas on humanistic education.

Rogers (1969, 1983) contributes 'independent learning' as a main idea on humanistic education. It implies that learners can learn independently if appropriate conditions of caring, trust, support and guidance are given. Promoting students' independent learning offers the learners to hold the responsibility, capability, and become self-reliant, self motivated and life- long learners. Rogers (1969) refers to independent learning as a approach that "produces self- reliant learners" who are capable to control their own decisions (p: 9). He used various concepts in regard to this: "self- reliant", "self- determined", "self- initiated" learning, "self directed", "non- directional", "experiential learning", "self- chosen" assignments, "self-assurance", "self- confidence" "self- evaluation", "self- criticism", "self improvement" and "self- disciplined" (see Rogers,, 1969).

Offering learners the opportunity to learn independently can be a good step for guiding them to become autonomous learners.

2.4 Learner Autonomy:

Educationists emerged on the focus on the developing learners' autonomy as Cotterall (1995: 195) identified the learner autonomy: "the extent to which learners demonstrate the ability to use a set of tactics for taking control of their learning". Maslow (1970) described its characteristics as "self- decision, self government, being an active, responsible, self-disciplined, deciding agent rather than a pawn, or helplessly determined by others, being strong rather than weak" (p: 161). Freire (1998: 98) emphasized it as a "process of becoming oneself". Benson (1997: 29) shows that the learner autonomy "implies the recognition of the rights of learners within educational systems". This priority over the learner autonomy makes Friere (1998) consider it as an ethical imperative and a necessity which must be supported by both teachers and curricula.

This makes an opportunity for learners to set suitable objectives, choose learning programmes, ways of instruction and the criteria for assessment. In this regard, Macaro, (1997: 178) pointed out that teachers should be aware that encouraging learners to become autonomous learners requires a change in the structure of classroom relationships regarding the distribution of power and control. Cotterall (2000: 109) remarked that many language teachers have shown interest in incorporating the principles of learner autonomy into their classroom practice.

Lee (1998: 282) shows that learners' understanding of independent learning outside classrooms can end them in learning continuously after their school classes. Jones, (2007: 2) refers that teachers can develop learners' autonomy by encouraging them to assign classroom learning activities and tasks independently.

Choosing learning material is a crucial factor for the recognition of learners' autonomy. Offering strategies and learning tasks for students can be benefit, whereas, the curriculum which puts the whole responsibility on the teacher will never result in developing students' autonomy. So, the curriculum should depend on experiences which stimulate students' decision- making and personal responsibility (Nunan, 1988). This curriculum needs incorporation of both teachers and learners to account for the specifications of learners' social context, culture, prior knowledge and experience. For instance, Benson (1997: 29) refers that needs "the rights of the 'non-native speaker' in relation to the 'native speaker' within the global order of English". In Libya, students are not free to choose their specialised fields of study. It is the decision of the Ministry of Education depending on meeting certain criteria to join a further stage of study.

2.5 The components of Foreign Language (FL) delivery:

The FL components contain Curriculum, textbooks, Materials, assessment, training. The first component, Curriculum is defined by scholars such as, (Yalden, 1983; Richards 2001; White 2003 and Mapper 2006) as usually specifying the aims and objectives of a course or a programme. It also specifies content that is chosen to fulfil those aims, how the content is organized, and what kind of evaluation is set to measure whether the aims and objectives have been achieved. Based on the curriculum goals and objectives, suitable textbook/materials are chosen.

These crucial components in language programmes can be textbooks and prepared materials: Materials serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that occurs in the classroom. In the case of inexperienced teachers, materials may also serve as a form of teacher training, they explain lessons' plan and the way they teach, Richards (2001: 25 1) Ellis (1992: 224) points that "one way of viewing language teaching materials is as devices for implementing a syllabus". Richards (2001) adds that good materials are a pre-requisite for curriculum success.

As the third component of EFL delivery, assessment complements curriculum goals and classroom delivery. It is the "measurement of the ability of a person or the quality or success of a teaching course" (Richards, Platt & Platt 1992: 23). It needs to be meshed with the curriculum and textbook/materials for programme success. Nation (1996: 8 5) adds that assessment is a way of helping the learner make use of the course and he notes that this entails careful observation of the learner. He also remarks that assessment can make changes to the course for better results.

Assessment also needs to specify who the learners are, i. e. children or adults, and their present knowledge as well as their needs and interests (Nation, 1996). According to Gipps (1994) in educational assessment, standards are set to assess pupils' performance and encourage them to think rather than simply choose from alternatives or recall information. For example, assessment can measure a pupil's performance on concrete tasks that are within the ability of the pupil. For Gipps assessment helps us find out more about the learner's progress than a mere test: What we need to know is that students have been taught, not the actual items in the test, but the skills and knowledge measured by the test, that is,, that the students have been taught the construct, not just how to answer the items. (1994: 46) Compared to testing, assessment is more comprehensive as it may include a test, an interview, an observation, or a questionnaire to assess a student's ability. A test is given to measure the student's ability at a certain time but assessment is on- going throughout the year. For both, the aim is to evaluate a student's doing, or whether a certain method or technique is working, or how to develop a course to help the student do better. Savignon (1997) defines a test by saying that:

A test is a sample of behaviour. On the basis of the observed performance elicited on a test, inferences are made about the more general underlying competence of an individual to perform similar or related tasks. (1997: 210).

Brown (1987) points out that an achievement test is limited to particular material covered in the curriculum within a specific time. Gipps further adds that achievement tests measure students' abilities to remember and apply information that is learnt routinely. She believes that tests should measure understanding by asking students to use the knowledge they have instead of just recall it. For example, tests should ask students about their knowledge to solve a problem or to apply their knowledge in a new context (Gipps, 1994: 46). Nation (1996) argues about how much the form of the questions on an achievement test should match the type of activities done in the classroom. This argument accordingly is for a slightly different way of asking the questions based on the need to help learners to transfer what they have learned to new situations. Assessment can determine what to teach and how to teach, where teachers end up teaching to the test. Therefore, "classroom activity is restricted to test preparation" and "educational change is limited by the power of the assessment machinery" (2001: 216). Cameron (2001) says that assessment is necessary to provide feedback to teachers and learners that would be hard to get without it.

Assessment can be divided into:

2.5.1 Summative Assessment

Many writers criticized summative assessment as no longer effective for assessing students' learning (Bruner, 1960; Bernstein, 1971; Rogers, 1983; Boud, 1995; Freire, 1998). For example, Bruner (1960: 30) remarks it as a "disconnected fashion and learning by rote". Bernstein (1971: 224) refers to it as being mainly answers.

Learners' concern about assessment and tests plays a crucial source for summative assessment criticism. Foster (1996: 76) identified summative assessment: "pre-specified response assessment" performed in various forms like: "true/ false items, fill in blanks, multiple choice tests and short answer questions". It is a fact that such examinations are implemented in the form of assessments in Libyan secondary schools. Fleming and Stevens (2004: 120) refer to this kind of assessment as it gives little attention to teachers' valuable judgements and continuous assessment of students' learning and progress.

In his empirical study, Choi (2008) investigated the views of 100 Korean students and 40 instructors on the impact of EFL standardised testing on EFL education in Korea. The results shows that the majority of teachers and students were not satisfied with these tests as for the negative wash back affects their learning and teaching. They pointed out that these tests are invalid to assess English proficiency and prepare them to "productive English skills" (p: 39).

Despite this consensus on the negative impact of summative assessment on students' learning, the opponents of this form have failed to invent more effective and practical means for evaluating students' learning. Therefore, summative assessment in forms of grades and examinations are still prevalent in the different countries (Li, 1998; Weimer, 2002; Remesal, 2007; Peterson & Irving, 2007, Al-Nouh, 2008; Orafi & Borg, 2009). Libyan schools are one of these contexts (Alhmali, 2007; Orafi & Borg, 2009).

2.5.2 Formative Assessment

Formative assessment was presented due to the lack of summative assessment and as an alternative approach for evaluating students' learning. Formative assessment informs learners about their performance and creates opportunities for their reflection on their own actions. Various sources, such as, teachers, parents, peers or students themselves can provide students with formative feedback (Foster 1996). Boud (1995: 11) claimed that students "are always self assessing". Nicol and Macfarlane- Dick (2006: 200) claimed that implementing formative assessment techniques could be effective strategies for developing students' self- regulation learning. Applying the two forms of formative assessment (self and peer assessment) becomes a common issue in the writings about the LCA (Rogers, 1983; Brandes & Ginnis, 1986; Baron, 1998; Blanche, 1988; Tudor, 1996; Lambert & McCombs, 1998; Weimer, 2002; Geeslin, 2003). For example, Rogers (1983: 88) shows his interest about encouraging students to evaluate themselves and their peers.

The characteristic of all forms of formative assessment is involved in the active role of students during their performance of learner- centred assessment tasks. Baron (1998) stated some of these activities which students can perform during working on these tasks: 1) formulate the problems; 2) make and specify their assumptions; 3) consider different points of view; 4) make choices and decisions; 5) activate prior knowledge of content and process; 6) design and carry out an investigation; 7) collect, analyze and interpret data; 8) communicate results in writing and orally; 9) collaborate; 10) tell a whole story; 11) self-assess the quality of their work using a set of pre-specified criteria; 12) reflect on their own work and the other groups (Baron,1998: 221).

Regarding the relation between the two forms of formative assessment, Boud (1995: 15) refers to the relationship between peer assessment and peer feedback with self assessment and suggested that the suitable implementation of them would considerably encourage self assessment. This was emphasized by Weimer (2002: 138- 143) who also emphasised that the significant role of implementing peer assessment for students' development of self assessment skills.

2.5.3 Self-Assessment

Students' self evaluation is considered as a main theme in Rogers' "person-centred" approach (see Rogers, 1983). (Foster, 1996) refers to "person-centred" approach as "student self assessment". Self assessment used by learners to evaluate their own proficiency. Foster (1996: 76) refers to some forms of student self assessment such as "individual revision with specific criteria, peer revision with specific criteria and portfolios with evaluative comments based on familiarity with specific criteria". Rogers (1969: 143) claimed that offering the learners the responsibility for assigning their learning goals and evaluation would guide them to their own directions. Oscarson (2009: 234) claimed: "self-assessment can be one way to reach the self regulation learning".

Self assessment strategies play an important role for student- centred learning. Rogers (1983: 158) highlighted that encouraging students to evaluate their own learning is "one of the major means by which self-initiated learning becomes also responsible learning". Geeslin (2003: 865) refers to self assessment as parallel to other instructional communicative goals of implementing student-centred learning in FL classrooms.

In their study to explore students' perceptions of self assessment, McDonald& Boud (2003) found that the usefulness of this form was perceived by students for preparing them for their external exams and for developing their perceptions of their careers. Empirical evidence conducted by Oscarson (2009) who emphasized the usefulness of applying self assessment in EFL classrooms.

Some advantages found in applying self assessment for the some objectives: 1) it is a necessary skill for lifelong learning (Boud, 1995); 2) it enhances students' motivation and self-directive learning (Lambert & McCombs, 1998); 3) it contributes to self-empowerment and constitutes a form of learner-involvement (Tudor, 1996; Rico, 2008); 4) it empowers students to set meaningful goals (Tudor, 1996; Baron, 1998); 5) it provides one of the most effective means for developing critical self-awareness (Nunan, 1988; Brandes & Ginnis, 1986); 6) it develops students' ability to identify their weaknesses and difficulties (Nunan, 1999; Hunt,2001); 7) it fosters students' creativity in various aspects of their learning including their participation in classroom activities (Tudor, 1996); 8) it helps learners identify preferred materials and ways of learning (Nunan, 198); 9) it lightens the teacher's load in both practical and psychological terms (Tudor, 1996); 10) it induces learners as well as teachers to regard assessment as a mutual responsibility which is conducive to the democratic development of language teaching (Oscarson ,1989).

Ability for self-assess is an essential quality for independent learners. Blanche (1988: 75) believed that "self-assessment accuracy is a condition for learner autonomy". This implies that implementing learner-centred teaching requires students' good understanding of self-assessment.

2.5.4 Peer Assessment

This is the other form of formative assessment by which enables teachers to evaluate students' learning in classrooms. Peer assessment means dividing learners in groups to carry out assessment tasks by making judgements on each other's work. This form can be also implemented in classrooms by allowing students discuss their learning progress with one another (Brandes & Ginnis, 1986; Boud, 1995; Tudor, 1996; Weimer, 2002; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Rico, 2008).

This marks positive impact on students' learning as it allows students exchange perspectives on the content of learning (Brandes & Ginnis, 1986), it gives students opportunities for real communication and increase their confidence (Hunt, 2001), it sensitizes students to evaluation criteria which enhances self-reflection (Saito & Fujita,2004), and helps to move from the traditional one way teacher- to- student of evaluation to multi-route peer- to- peer evaluation (Saito& Fujita,2004).

The fourth component is teacher training programmes. In order to use the textbook/materials and to conduct assessment in a best way, teacher training programmes are really required (Kreeft, 1997; Glatthom, Jones & Bullock, (2006). In addition to pedagogical knowledge, teachers need to be fluent speakers of English. The role of the university in teacher education has been discussed by some scholars, for example, Gold (1999) who emphasized the importance of a theoretical background in teacher education: The educational impact of a university faculty on students appears to be most influential in the area of intellectual expertise where the focus on ideas and concepts about their teaching in turn increases their intellectual orientation (1999: 169).

2.6 Teacher's Roles in the CLT Classroom in an EFL context

Successful implementation of CLT activities depends on the teacher as a major part for controlling this method. It is emphasized that teachers with high fluency and oral ability can encourage and develop learners' interests to participate in communicative activities. Successful implementation of CLT activities required a high fluent teacher with oral ability. In EFL countries, like Libya, where there is no English input outside the classroom. The main attention is directed towards the teacher's role as a knowledge provider.

Richards & Rodgers (2001) also specify the teacher's roles in the CLT classroom: 1) need analyst - teachers in the CLT classroom need to analyze learners' learning styles, assets, goals, etc, and to provide CLT instructions such as group/ individual work depending on the analysis results; 2) counselor: teachers should be effective counselors and communicators in CLT activities such as paraphrase, confirmation, and feedback during CLT activities to encourage the learners to learn the language effectively; 3) group process manager: teachers are responsible for guiding, controlling and creating the appropriate conditions for better communication activities, Richards & Rodgers (200: 167- 168).

To sum up, following the researchers' suggestion, the successful implementation of CLT in real teaching contexts depends heavily on teacher-related factors, especially in EFL countries (Liming, 2001; Yian, 2001; Choi, 2000).

2.7 Teaching Methods