On Form Fonf Approach English Language Essay

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This thesis is a report of a mixed methods research of the effects of the focus on form approach to teaching English to speakers of other languages. The study focused on English simple past tense (PT) and definite and indefinite articles (ART) as the linguistic targets at the university level in an English as a foreign language (EFL) context. The first chapter of this thesis primarily presents an overview of the study. It describes the development of teaching English as a second/foreign language (ESL/EFL). Then, it states the problem, objectives of the study, significance of the study, an overview of the research methodology, and theoretical framework. Next, some pedagogical guidelines are presented. Finally, the importance of the study is vigorously discussed, and some key terms used in this research are defined.

1.1. Preliminaries

Learning grammar is very popular among adult language learners (Ikpia, 2000). These learners believe that there is a relationship between grammatical accuracy and communication. Scholars in the field of TEFL and TESL have got different views on teaching grammar. For some, language is a tool for communication and not the object to be analyzed (Ellis, 2008, p. 1). But on the whole many researchers support the inclusion of grammar in language learning curriculum.

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A concise history of grammar instruction in language teaching is has been provided by Hinkel (2002), which is summarized here. Grammar translation approach, was characterized by rote memorization of rules and an absence of genuine communicative activities. And then around the turn of the 20th century, direct method came into existence. In this method, grammar was acquired through oral practice, drills, and repetition, not through memorization and written manipulation of explicit rules. another structural method was 'Audiolingualism'. In this method ,too, implicit way of teaching grammar was exercised .Cognitive approaches to instruction had gained popularity By the 1960s. Explicit grammar instruction became popular again. However, the pendulum swung again toward the implicit grammar instruction in the 1970s with the advent of humanistic approaches, particularly communicative language teaching. The proponent of communicative language teaching believed that accuracy would be acquired naturally over time. (See Gascoigne (2002) for a full discussion of the explicit/ implicit grammar debate).

Recently research has shown that an exclusive emphasis on either extreme impedes adult learners' acquisition of English. This shows that too much emphasis on one of these extreme dose not lead to successful language learning. But on the whole it is well accepted among teachers that complex forms cannot be learned by processing meaningful input alone. This supports the explicit grammar instruction, which is the focus of this study.

1.2. Theoretical Framework

Long (1991) was the first who coined "Focus on form". It is defined as "[to] overtly draw students' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication" (pp. 45-46). Furthermore, an operational definition of focus on form is proposed that "focus on form often consists of an occasional shift of attention to linguistic code features-by the teacher and/or one or more students-triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production"(Long and Robinson, 1998, p. 23). As Williams (1998c) pointed out, the second definition provided researchers and practitioners with "greater direction for practical implementation" (p. 3). In order to make the term Focus on Form clear without confusion in research and pedagogy, Doughty and Williams made it explicit that, "focus on formS and focus on form are not polar opposites in the way form and meaning have often been considered to be. Rather, 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".

Wilson (2008), based on SLA theories, further defines Focus on Form in terms of eight fundamental principles of SLA theories as the theoretical underpinnings of the language teaching approach. The eight principles are the input principle, the output principle, the noticing principle, the interaction principle, the fluency/accuracy principle, the contextualization principles, the learnability principle, and the continuum principle. With the theoretical framework discussed above, therefore, it clearly reveals that the FonF approach emphasizes both the accuracy of linguistic form and communicative fluency in linguistic performance with profound cognitive and pedagogical foundations and underpinnings of SLA theories and principles.

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There are still other researchers who advocate similar ways to categorize approaches to teaching form. For example, Ellis (2001) proposes form-focused instruction (FFI), defined as any planned or incidental instructional activity that is intended to induce learners to pay attention to linguistic form. FFI consists of three major types: focus-on-forms, planned focus-on-form, and incidental focus-on-form. (a) Focus-on-forms emphasizes the teaching of discrete grammatical points similar to the GTM and the Audiolingual Method, (b) Planned focus-on-form requires a focused task and is intensive, (c) Incidental focus-on-form occurs when learners' attention is drawn to form while they are performing an unfocused task. It is extensive (Ellis, 2008). The last one is similar in nature to Focus on Form defined by Doughty and Williams (1998c), Long (1991), and Long and Robinson (1998).

Spada and Lightbown (2008), additionally, suggest isolated FFI and integrated FFI. The former is separate from the communicative use of language, but occurs in CLT and/or CBI (content-based instruction). It may be used before or after a communicative activity if students have difficulty in a certain language feature which will be taught separately from the communicative activity. Isolated FFI appears to resemble focus on formS, although Spada and Lightbown have claimed that it is different. The latter draws the learners' attention to language form during communicative or content-based instruction, which, as they have claimed, is similar to focus on form as defined by Ellis (2002) and by Doughty and Williams (1998c). In addition to the theoretical framework above, there are pedagogical aspects of Focus on Form to be taken into account.

1.3. Statement of the Problem

'Particular characteristics of EFL settings make it apparent why grammar instruction figures heavily in the EFL curriculum (Fotos, 1998). However, learners of English as a foreign language are well aware of the fact that, despite years of study, they are still unable to use the English language communicatively'. It is evident that by having a good knowledge of L2 grammar system L2 learning would be accelerated as well. But the question raised is "how and by which methods and techniques we can achieve such an aim". Since learning English as a second language is considered as an essential need nowadays and the performance of students in grammar learning has not been that much satisfying so far, the application of efficient methods and techniques to promote their output is quite significant. The reasons for such failure should be traced, but certainly most of them will remain out of scope of this study. Thus, LA researchers, such as Long (1991), Long and Robinson (1998), and Doughty and Williams (1998a), have proposed Focus on Form in L2 instruction. "Focus on form", first coined by Long (1991), is defined as "[to] overtly draw students' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning, or communication" (pp. 45-46). Furthermore, an operational definition of focus on form is proposed that "focus on form often consists of an occasional shift of attention to linguistic code features-by the teacher and/or one or more students-triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production"(Long and Robinson, 1998, p. 23). As Doughty and Williams (1998c) pointed out, the second definition provided researchers and practitioners with "greater direction for practical implementation" (p. 3). In order to make the term Focus on Form clear without confusion in research and pedagogy, Doughty and Williams(1998c) made it explicit that focus on formS and focus on form are not polar opposites in the way form and meaning have often been considered to be. Rather, 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.

In a reply to the proposed FonF approach, studies on the effects of FonF (Focus on Form) instruction in L2 were extensively conducted. The results have shown positive empirical evidence for FonF instruction, as those reviewed in Ellis (1995), Ellis (2002), Norris and Ortega (2000), and Spada (1997). On the other hand, some research on the effects of Focus on Form has revealed no positive effects (e.g., Stein, 1998; White, 1998). In addition, FonF instruction has been criticized by Sheen (2003, 2005), who claimed that there was no sufficient empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of this approach. However, Ellis (2008) has pointed out that "He is clearly wrong" (p. 833). Thus, it appears that there is a gap among the various pedagogical perspectives in the SLA field that needs more empirical evidence to bridge. However, taking a cursory look at standardized test scores indicates that the problem of the current teaching practice has not made the learners successful in their English performance. Therefore, it seems that there is a need to implement more effective teaching approaches to improve the English learning and teaching outcomes regarding grammatical knowledge in a context.

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The trends of language teaching methodologies have often been influencing and impacting the English teaching practice. Therefore, the current approaches in the SLA field, such as Focus on Form, can be examined for pedagogical implementation for this context. Thus, the current study primarily aims to investigate the effects and durability (whether the effects are retainable) of FonF instruction targeting PT (past tense) and ART (definite and indefinite articles) on an EFL learners.

1.4. Objectives of the Study

The purpose of this study is:1) to investigate the effectiveness of FonF instruction, focusing on PT at a college level EFL class in comparison to the non-FonF method and 2) investigate the effectiveness of FonF instruction, focusing on ART at a college level EFL class in comparison to the non-FonF method Since the English education is compulsory in Iranian education system (from Guidance school to university level) the current effective pedagogy, effective language teaching approaches for the context have become important. Owing to the previously and currently non-FonF approaches that have been little fruitful as shown in the recent TOFEL iBT, TOEIC, and IELTS score results of Iranian EFL learners, it appears that there is a need to seek alternative teaching approaches to improve the English education in this context. FonF, as a current "hot topic" in the instructed SLA field (Brown, 2010), is taken into consideration when exploring a more effective alternative for the EFL context of Iran. Focus on Form, as a language teaching approach, is not only based on cognitive underpinnings and a theoretical foundation of SLA principles and pedagogy (e.g., Doughty, 2001; Doughty and Williams, 1998c; Long, 1991; Long and Robinson, 1998; Wilson, 2008b), but also presents useful teaching techniques and guidelines for classroom practice (e.g., Doughty and Williams, 1998b, 998c; Long, 2000; Wilson, 2007). Moreover, its effectiveness has been demonstrated by empirical evidence from laboratory and classroom studies such as those reviewed by Ellis (1995), Ellis (2002), Norris and Ortega (2000), and Spada (1997). Therefore, Focus on Form appears to be an effective approach to language instruction worth investigating for improving pedagogical implementation for EFL contexts, such as Iran.

1.5. Significance of the Study

One of the goals of SLA is to improve language teaching (Ellis 1997 p. 79). Seeking effective approaches and methods to L2 instruction has been a primary goal not only to the SLA field in general but also to the English education in Iran in particular. When there is positive evidence to support the effectiveness and durability of FonF instruction, informative suggestions such as this effective approach to pedagogical implementation for college EFL/ESL courses could be similar to the teaching setting of the present research endeavor. If the FonF approach is supported by the research results that can be generalized with sufficient samples, it may facilitate and improve the language learning and teaching outcomes and ultimately benefit the field of TESOL or even other related fields. Thus, the current study is considered significant in that the incoming results seem to have both theoretical and pedagogical significance in foreign language teaching particularly in the Iranian context. As a result, a great number of experts in language issues can take advantage of such results. They may include teachers, school as well as university students and curriculum developers.

1.6. Research Questions

Based on the above description of unsuccessful teaching methods in general and the discussion of learners' lower achievement in English standardized tests in Iran in particular, it is apparent that the Iranians needs to seek better teaching approaches such as Focus on Form for pedagogical implementation. To investigate the effects of FonF instruction using some problematic linguistic features (PT and ART in this case, see further discussion of the targets in Chapter 2) that most Iranian learners may have been encountering, the research questions are formulated as follows:

RQ1. Does using Focus-on-Form instruction enhance a more accurate production of simple past tense than the non Focus-on-Form method in Iranian EFL learners?

RQ2. Does using Focus-on-Form instruction enhance a more accurate production of definite and indefinite articles than the non Focus-on-Form method in Iranian EFL learners?

1.7. Research Hypotheses of the Study

Referring to the research questions mentioned, the hypotheses of the current study are as follows:

H1. Using Focus-on-Form instruction enhances a more accurate production of simple past tense in comparison with the non Focus-on-Form method in Iranian EFL learners.

H2. Using Focus-on-Form instruction enhances a more accurate production of definite and indefinite articles in comparison with the non Focus-on-Form method in Iranian EFL learners.

1.7 Definitions of Key Terms

1.7.1. Focus on Form

• Long (1991): "focus on form... overtly draws students' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning, or communication" (pp. 45-46).

• Long and Robinson (1998): an operational definition of focus on form-"focus on form

often consists of an occasional shift of attention to linguistic code features-by the teacher and/or one or more students-triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production" (p. 23).

• Doughty and Williams (1998b): "focus on formS and focus on form are not polar opposites in the way form and meaning have often been considered to be. Rather, 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. Most important, it should be kept in mind that the fundamental assumption of focus-on-form instruction is that meaning and use must already be evident to the learner at the time that attention is drawn to the linguistic apparatus needed to get the meaning across" (p. 4)

• Wilson (2008b): focus on form consists of eight principles-the input principle, the output principle, the noticing principle, the interaction principle, the fluency/accuracy principle, the contextualization principles, the learnability principle, and the continuum

principle. These eight theory-driven principles of SAL theories provide instructional principles for pedagogical implication of focus on form.

1.7.2. Focus on formS

• Long (1988, 1991, and 2000) focus on formS is the teaching of grammar lessons working on discrete linguistic structures.

• R. Ellis (2001): focus-on-forms focuses primarily on the instruction of discrete grammatical points based on structural syllabuses.

• Sheen (2003): traditional teaching of discrete grammar points in separate lessons

1.7.3. Focus on Meaning

To enhance the interpretation, expression, and negotiation of meaning in communication (Savignon, 2001).

1.7.4. Form-Focused Instruction

• Spada (1997): any pedagogical effort which is used to draw the learners' attention to

language form either implicitly or explicitly (p. 73).

• Ellis (2001): any planned or incidental instructional activity that is intended to induce

learners to pay attention to linguistic form. It consists of three major types:

focus-on-forms, planned focus-on-form, and incidental focus-on-form.

• Focus-on-forms emphasizes the teaching of discrete grammatical points similar to

the Grammar Translation Method and the Audiolingual Method.

• Incidental focus-on-form occurs when learners' attention is drawn to form while they

are performing an unfocused task. It is extensive (R. Ellis, 2008, p. 872).

• Planned focus-on-form requires a focused task and is intensive (R. Ellis, 2008, p.

1.8 Summary

This introductory chapter started with the preliminaries of language teaching and stated the problem that the non-FonF methods currently being used are not successful in helping the English learners' performance. Then, some research questions were accordingly raised whether Focus on Form is more effective than the non-FonF method, and whether Focus on Form affects the simple, complex or both of the form and/or function of the target linguistic features. Afterwards, the objective of the study, which is to investigate the effects and durability of Focus on Form, was stated. Next, the significance of the study was presented and the scope of the study was delimited. Then, theoretical framework of Focus on Form and the pedagogical Guidelines were presented. Finally, some key terms were defined. In the following chapter, the theoretical and empirical literature related to the current study will be reviewed and discussed in detail.