Terml teaching and learning

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Introduction

According to the report of Taiwan Statistics (2009), over 2.3 billion people live in this small island with the density of 638 persons in each square kilometre. To have greater chance and better living, most parents in Taiwan believe having certificate of higher education is one of the best ways for their children. The only way to win the ticket for entrance into superstar schools and universities is to pass the national exams. In this condition, many teachings have been driven by testing (Chih-Min: 2009). Although almost everyone knows it is against the process in terms of pedagogy, it appears to be very difficult to entirely correct this rooted concept in the public. As a reaction to this idea, most English teachers in high schools choose Grammar Translation Method which is to an extent very time-saving to go through as many grammatical rules as they can to prepare students for the exams (Walter: 1999).

Many teachers were taught in this test-driven approach which leads to the same method they use in their classroom. I am one of them. Although in the teacher training courses in most universities, the learning models and “8” methods of second language learning and teaching were introduced, student teachers forget part of them generally. After I became an elementary-school English teacher, the same method was also broadly conducted in my classroom by explaining lots of grammatical item to young learners at the age of 9~12 hoping to help them to be ready for the same way most teachers would do in high schools. But there are problems.

Thus, this question is so meaningful that it provides an opportunity to retrospect and introspect in the previous way of my teaching and to reconstruct a new one. In this essay, two main aspects will be discussed. Firstly, I would like to briefly describe the problems in teaching I faced and then analyze the reasons under the magnifier of four main stream learning models of second language learning (SLL in the rest of this essay), which are the Innatist model, Behaviourist model, the Cognitive model, and the Constructivism model (Cruttenden: 1979; Brown: 2007). Secondly, by inspecting these four mainstream learning models, one of them will in my view be indicated as the one which best describes the process of SLL with supporting evidences. That could be a good solution to my teaching problems. Thirdly, I will present a short introduction to several well known L2 teaching methods chronologically. Fourthly, specific criteria would then be adopted to examine which one of them best correspond to the learning model in my view while the correspondence would also be proposed.

1. Which models of learning in my view best describe the L2 process?

1.1 Problems in my teaching

Every teacher has his/her own basic concepts about teaching based on pedagogic theories which lead to his/her own policy and practice in the classroom (Stern: 1992). In the way round, it would not be too difficult to tell the pedagogic belief of a teacher from his/her methods and activities in the classroom.

As for me, everything in the student's book was completely presented to the children. The previous experience in a private cram school drove me again to explain all the grammatical rules related to the content in one unit. Then in small groups or pairs, the pupils were asked to practice together and sometimes in front of the class. Very often, activities from various workshop books and teacher's guide were applied to help these young learners in the stage of practice and production. Afterwards, some basic written exercises were assigned for the purpose of familiarization of the vocabulary and sentence patterns. Twice in a term, the young students were given a paper-and-pen test as an achievement assessment. This process was fair enough for I thought I had tried my best. However some problems appeared one after another.

One of them is that no matter how many times I explained the rules and helped them simply to substitute the subjects, objects, verbs or other parts of a sentence, those who didn't know before class remained unfamiliar or became confused while those who had learned these in other private institutes felt very bored. As time passed, those children who originally tried hard to understand but failed then turned uninterested. Another is that although activities, especially games, indeed played a crucial role making the young learners highly motivated and involved in practice and also making me aware of how much they comprehended and acquired, sometimes these young pupils focused too much on the games instead of the target language itself. What frustrated me more was that even they were so happy and eager using the target language while playing games, still quite a lot of them left the language behind after classes and could hardly bring it back again remember it. The written assignments and tests showed the obvious evidence for the problem!

1.2 Analyze the problems with learning models

After an examination of the teaching theory which underlies in my mind, it was a mixture of vague ideas about different learning models. To some extent, I believed that as long as a teacher offers plenty of inputs, after the digestion in their brains, the young learners should be able to produce outputs. The elementary pupils should also have achieved the level of self-monitoring on their learning. This corresponds slightly to the Input and Monitoring Hypotheses claimed by Krashen (1985). Another belief that all I needed to do is help them and sometimes force them to practice the vocabulary and sentence patterns with different drills and reinforcement such as oral compliments or little gifts somehow echoed the model of behaviourism (Pavlov: 1960; Skinner: 1987). With the practice in games, the vocabulary and sentence patterns become more meaningful to the students. They could easily remember the sentence and vocabulary as chunks which at a low level meet the assumptions of cognitive learning (Piaget: 1979; Daniels: 1996). Since this mixture of small pieces of different learning models is obviously incomplete and chaotic with large room for improvement, there is an essential need to have a look at the four models mentioned again.

1.3 Examination of different models of learning

1.3.1 The Innatist Method

The way of how human beings learn, which can be interpreted as the process of coping in their brains with the information from people and environment around, keeps attracting experts claiming their hypotheses and trying out experiments to prove them. Back in the 1980's some linguists one after another proposed powerful views of learning, particularly in L2 learning or acquisition. Among them, the Innatist Method, the Behaviourism Method, the Cognition Method, and the Constructivism Methods would be chosen as the four most important methods influencing many other linguists' theories and most teachers' teaching until now.

One of the claims of learning is called the Innatist hypothesis proposed by several linguists like Krashen and Chomsky. In Krashen's view, instead of using the term ‘learning', second languages (L2) should be acquired as the way people become very naturally good users of their first language (L1) (1985). Therefore, the learners unnecessarily need to be aware of and to monitor what language items are picking up. And because the essences in both languages are alike, there is a similar order to pick up L1 and L2. What teachers should do is to provide as many meaningful inputs for learners as they can and try their best to reduce the negative affections in learners for the most benefits in L2 acquisition. Chomsky assumes that every human is born with a ‘LAD', language acquisition device, inside so as to apply the innate ‘universal gammar' to learn languages (Brown: 2004).

However, several shortcomings are pointed out in Krashen's hypotheses, such as that SL can be learned with consciousness for mature adults especially, that SLA or SLL does not 100% follow the sequence as first language acquisition, that there are differences between inputs and intakes, and that negative feelings does not always play bad roles in language learning or acquisition as claimed in the work of Brown (2004). Beside of the information processing as cognition, it also seems to lack for discussions about communicative purpose.

1.3.2 The Behaviourist Method

A second model is called the Behaviourist which basically views language as one type of human behaviour. Like the animals in the Behaviourists' experiments, humans react to stimuli from people or environment. Once the connections between stimuli and responses are constructed, whenever one person is stimulated, he/she would react almost in the same way. Language learning thus is regard as a habit formation process (Nelson: 1960). Phrases and sentences learning is a long and complex chain of stimuli and responses, which initiate other stimuli in a linear cycle. In addition, another school of behaviourism emphasizes the stimuli which come after the actions count more than those before. The perception of stimuli which strengthen or lessen the responding actions is broadly utilized during the 1960s to 1970s. Until now, some language teaching drills are still commonly used to increase repetitions and to enhance the impression of language items.

A strong questioning arises to the fundamental conception of Behaviourism. Are human beings so much similar as animals especially in terms of language learning as a kind of behaviour? If the answer were yes, why would it be difficult for this hypothesis to explain the reason why after many times of correction and even uses of the positive reinforcements learners still make errors time after time? Many other experiments indicate that language learning or acquisition is a process far more complicated than behaviour formation. Apart from the repetitions and both negative and positive reinforcement, learners' emotions very frequently influence learning as well (Krathwohl et al.: 1964). Everyone more or less has the experience that our feeling about a certain teacher decides how well we learn that subject. As phrases and sentences for consideration, most of them could sometimes be learned by analysis and by application of grammatical items while sometimes they are simply stored and used as chunks which would be more efficient than conditioning every little step of learning. The way of data-coping has grand differences from the chain stimulus-response process.

1.3.3 The Cognitive Model

Another relevant learning model is the Cognitive Model in which human being is considered as an organic machine in which data and information are processed. Every moment, one is selecting important information s/he would like to receive consciously or unconsciously. As received new information by the sensory organs like eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skins is transported to the brain, the stored and existed knowledge would be extracted to be processed with it and a brand new concept of this knowledge would then be produced. Thus so-called short term memory becomes long term memory. Once the basic ideas and skills of learning are constructed, learners can acquire knowledge with their own intentions and styles. The claim that “Learning results from inferences, expectations and making connections” made by Hartley (1998) successfully summarize the main theories of Piaget's mental growth stages (1928), Bruner's learning through discovery (1967), and Gadné's 8 forms of learning (Brown: 2004). For better learning effect, the instructions should be well-organised and clearly-arranged while concepts and points meaningfully-connected. It would be helpful for learners if the background schema is first scaffolded. The reinforcements in Behaviourism theory as reward or punishment is claimed to turn into giving suggestions for improvement.

The criticism indicates that there are several flaws beneath the surface of the interpretation of human learning. The methodology and subjects used in the experiments is one of them. For instance, Jean Piaget's assumption would be more convincing if he had not chosen the method of observing his own children. The influence of human social interaction not been taken into consideration is another. A third critical claim argues the real competence and performance of children a certain age may be more than complex to fit in a certain stage.

1.3.4 The Constructivism Model

The last but not least important model, the Constructivism Model, has two divisions: Cognitive Constructivism and Social Constructivism. The Cognitive Constructivism has a great deal of parts overlapped with Cognitive Model concerning children developmental stages and individual learning styles while the Social Constructivism emphasises on meaning-making through social interactions. In interactions, the use of language constructs the knowledge (Virginia: 1997). Vygotsky as a landmark in this model primarily forms the concept and foregrounds language as a tool for communication and for mind-shaping (Clare: 1999). Once the conditions of interaction or collaboration with teacher or classmates are set, contextual learning will be intrigued with the ‘zone of proximal development.'

This model depends a lot on the base of the Cognitive Model which to some extent disables the distinction of the ambiguity of these two models. One of the criticisms toward the Constructivist model appears to be that this model didn't provide teaching a new different paradigm apart from the traditional one (Roblyer: 1997). Another critical perception regards this model cannot promise any guarantee efficient learning and teaching. Some empirical researches also proved that the learning would be difficult for new learners since they don't have the prior background knowledge and the preparation of how to interact with people, environment, or even what they have already known.

1.4 Evidences to choose a model best describing the process of SLL as a solution

As the conceptions of these four mainstream models of learning have been very briefly presented, there's a necessity to take a further step to discuss which of them in my very personal point of view defines the SLL learning and teaching more accurate than the others.

Generally speaking, the reason why a new assumption or hypothesis is proposed mostly lies in the reaction to the dissatisfactions with the ones before. It approximately resolves some rest parts which the old ones haven't fully answered. However, since completeness and perfectness in a theory seem to be extremely difficult to be universally recognized, it leaves unsolved puzzle pieces for others. Thus, it would be impossible to sum up that a certain model is simply the best. For some reasons, one could be viewed as the best one among the four.

In my opinion, though many may disagree, the Constructivism Model describes the SLL process better and more complete than the other three for it based on the theory of the Cognitive Model which interprets the SLL process with more details expends its field to a broader area. Both the Innatists and Cognitivists emphasise on the importance of meaningful inputs, but the Innatists didn't take another step to discuss about how these inputs become intakes and then be applied while the Cognitivists explain that the meaningful inputs received as short term memory would be integrated with previous experience and intakes into a larger-size concept through information processing and be stored as the long term memory waiting to be awakened for use or integration with new information. The claims of the Cognitive theorists then were mainly made to argue against those of the Behaviourists that language as a human behaviour is a chain of stimuli-responses process. Humans are not always stimulated by outside world and react mechanically as responses; very often conscious rejections of incoming information occur. Even unconscious or subconscious selections of receiving or repelling keep on operating every moment. The active application of skills and strategies in the Cognitive perceptions of learning surpasses the passive responding behaviour. Experiences also prove that drill practices bore both learners and teachers. Although reinforcements either positive as gifts or points for collection on expected learning or negative as punishments or ignorance on errors or failures are widely conducted, side effects as demotivation to learn on learners easily produce. By problem-solving tasks and discovering tasks, the construction of the meanings of learning materials, particularly a language, is made and also motivates learning. This meaning-creating process is both shared in the Cognitive and Constructivism Models, which makes them both more accurate than the Innatist and Behaviourist Models in interpretation of SLL process. Furthermore, the Social Constructivism Model foregrounds the social interaction which in itself the knowledge would be give meaning and thus integrated into long term memory. Not only stored as resource, the knowledge learned through the process of social interaction but prepares learners for real world needs. This model raises the autonomy of learners that they need not to be pushed hardly and far by teachers but by themselves and peer learners. Within such a meaning-building context, the focus is on fluency and the information interchange while accuracy is not so much emphasised in comparison so that the learners would not be stressed and errors or mistakes could be corrected in another phase by teachers or by self or peers during the interactions. Although there are some other kinds of purposes for SLL like essay writing or public speech giving, most intentions are to convey information with one another which proves the Constructivism model best describe the SLL process in the real world situation and in the classroom as well.

2. The Method Corresponding to the Constructivism model

2.1 Brief and Chronological Introduction to Popular SL Teaching Methods

In the background of time and place and even the pedagogical needs, teaching methods came out to solve the contemporary problems or were originally designed for other purposes but later applied for teaching and learning. Around the time of the 1890s to 1930s, students learning languages especially as Greek and Latin were broadly taught with the method of translating words and sentences and of explaining the grammatical rules. Because of the target languages are Greek and Latin to many learners as classical ones, this method is called the Classical method while the name of Grammar Translation Method comes from the way they are taught and learned. In the coming decade after the Grammar Translation, as a reaction to the rejections of the Classical Method, the Cognitive Approach was proposed in which the general four skills as listening, speaking, reading and writing were first introduced, though not all of them were equally focused at that time. Influenced by Skinner's behaviourism theory and the need of translators for the world war, the Army Method or more commonly used name “Audio-lingual Method” thus appeared between 1950s and 1960s. It emphasised the importance of native teachers and the repetition drilling skills by using audio tapes for practices until perfectly memorized and applied.

To avoid mechanical rule application, language interpretation and inflexible drillings and to help learners inductively adsorb language, the method of presenting and discussion in the target language called “Direct Method” followed the Audio-lingual Method in the next ten years. About the same time of the 1960's, several methods became popular until nowadays. Some of them are “Designer” methods such as the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, and Community Language Learning which correspond to Chomsky's focus on deep structure of language and give grounds to affective and interpersonal elements. There is still one with the name of Communicative Language Teaching Method which one can easily tell the main perspective and goal from its name.

2.2 Choosing One Method Corresponding to Constructivism with Specific Criteria

In contemporary international and social environment, things are looked at from different dimensions. In same way, teaching methods should also be examined with dissimilar point of view lest it be judged too much subjectively. For this reason, the underlying theory is argued to be inspected first. A second thing could be put into consideration is its goal. Then the ways used to achieve this goal and other influential elements are suggested to think about too. The examination of how efficient it is in learning and teaching for both learners and teaching should also be made. From these aspects, in my view, the one best corresponds to the Constructivism Model should be the Communicative Language Teaching method. The supporting proof is listed as below:

As implied in the name of this method, the assumption is that through it, language learners can achieve the goal of communicate with others and learn the target language through communication. The information exchanging, attitudes or emotions conveying and interaction, and relationships building operating among language users are known as main parts of communication. The ability to complete the exchange and interaction correctly utilizing and producing the target language in a certain social speech context is called the ‘communicative competence' (Lyons: 1970; Hymes: 1972). In addition, that nonverbal means or strategies such as intonation, gesture, and facial expression are necessary ways to successfully communicate is added into the definition by Jane (1979). In the learning process under this method, fluency of language using to express one's meaning is far more crucial than linguistic usage accuracy; mistakes or errors become relatively less important without the need for correction immediately. That the learners, if they consciously aware of the mistakes or errors, can be self or peer corrected reduces the affective filters for SLL. The classroom practices are designed in a very similar way as the communication in real world situation so that through the learning process, learners could apply more easily and quickly their own knowledge to solve their problems comparing with other methods. The communication-oriented method making language meaningful to learners may also increase implicit motivations and lead to learner autonomy which equips learners for more and further learning with less explicit affection. Although time used for communication in this method in the classroom is much more than many other methods, if considerations about the reduced time spent in real situations are made, the effectiveness is still brilliant.

Conclusion

Like mentioned in the other part of this essay, no single learning model is entirely complete and perfect from every point of view, nor can a teaching method be. The best learning comes from the cooperation of experienced and passionate teachers using different methods making up the drawbacks with their own merits and highly implicitly-motivated learners who know why, what, and how they learn with autonomy through learning. This is always ideal and it remains a great challenge to administration staff, syllabus designers, teachers, and learners. From the previous discussion of my very limited knowledge of learning models and popular teaching methods in the realm of SLL, I would like to suggest that the Constructivism Model best describes the SLL process in the classroom explaining better the way of information processing, knowledge constructing, and language utilising while the Communicative Language Teaching corresponds to the Constructivism with its advantages such as communication as goal, communicative tasks and discussions as means, many non-verbal ways as strategies, and the fluent and accurate interactions as effects.

References

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