The background and main characteristics of children’s learning style
1.1 The characteristic of teaching young learners
The concept of learning is influenced by the psychological study of the learning process and is widely interpreted in the popular use. The psychological concept extends quite far and includes all parts of children’s development, from language acquisition to social roles and changes in their personality. Language teaching can be widely interpreted as all activities intended to facilitate and cause language learning. At the beginning of learning the new language, the learner’s knowledge has none or hardly any associations with the language, it is as an infant learning its first language. The lack of contact with the language and the lack of a safe reference system can give the learner an intellectual and emotional shock which can discourage from further learning. Thus, the task for the teacher is to overcome children’s disorientation which characterises the beginnings of learning, build up and associate a system of positive attitudes and feelings with the language: that is, being able to reply spontaneously and to think in the second language. In teaching of the second language, certain social strategy is also needed, so that children should feel a need of imitation and acquire the second language in the same way as their first one. (H.H. Stern Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching:397-400)
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Children’s world is based on games and having fun and the same should apply to their learning. Children should not be aware of learning, neither lexicon nor grammar, but the teacher can easily use these facts to teach the foreign language through games, stories and songs. In teacher’s work with young learners, it is important to teach them according to psychological and pedagogical rules. The amount of material which the learners can remember depends on teaching techniques and the way the material is drilled. It is important to remember that lack of stress in learning makes it more efficient and easier to use in real situations. What is more, only friendly attitude of the teacher towards a learner, teacher’s willingness for learning and using all methods of relaxation can protect a child from being discourages and shy in learning and using the foreign language. Any good associations with parts of the material can cause that vocabulary or grammar will be better and longer remembered. It is also important that children’s concentration span is quite short and it is crucial to use any procedures which can make the learner able to longer concentration. Student should be also involved and interested in the lesson (Brzeziński 1987: 145-150).
Children’s learning is based on imitation and having fun rather than on their awareness of learning. Imitation is the easiest way of introducing new vocabulary and its aim is to lead to correct articulation and intonation of sounds and their memorization. In teaching young learners, intonation exercises are especially useful because of children’s flexibility of larynx which disappears with time. In terms of imitation exercises, the teacher should pay attention to learners’ reactions determined by their age. Furthermore , the teacher should change the techniques of teaching to avoid learners getting bored (Woźnicki, T./ Zawadzka, E. 1979: 60).
Most activities for children should consist of movement and involve their senses. The teacher needs many objects, visuals and pictures to work with, and to create a possibility to use all of the school’s surroundings. It is also important for the teacher to let the pupils play with the language, talk to themselves as much as it is possible, use songs, rhymes and tell stories. As a matter of fact, the teacher should let pupils talk even nonsense to enable them to experiment with the language. The basic principle in teaching a language is a variety of activities, pace, organisation, voice and face expressions. Nevertheless, routines in the classroom are also essential so that the children can know the rules, be able to use the mark system and complete tasks. Using familiar situations or activities creates the atmosphere of safety, especially for the shy learners. Another important criteria in making teaching a language efficient is the classroom atmosphere. During the lesson, there is supposed to be room for shared experiences, group work, pair work; what is more, rewards and prizes should be avoided. It is much more useful for the teacher to make notes about each pupil regularly in case the teacher would like to inform the pupils’ parents about their progress (W. A. Scott Teaching English to Children:5-7).
1.2 Theory of language acquisition in the early age
From around 1975, “language acquisition” is contrasted with language learning. The American applied linguist Krashen uses the word “acquisition” to describe learning of the second language which is analogous to the way in which a child learns “naturally” his or her first language and does not focus on the linguistic form. The disadvantage of Krashen’s terminology is that it is contrasted with psychological terms. Krashen differentiates between “acquisition” and “learning”, as learning for him is more or less conscious. It is a very valuable distinction but it implies a constraint on the use of the term “learning”, and frequently deliberately limits it to the school-like learning (H.H. Stern Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching: 18-20).
In the light of an early start of language learning, Anderson claims that the way a person acquires mother tongue still remains a riddle. Between birth and the fifth year of life, children develop their ability to speak. Children in the first stage observe adults’ behaviour and any noises they produce. After some time, they start understand the meaning of such noises without seeing adults’ movements. The next step is imitation of sounds and (partially) a creation of their own ones. Consequently, children find out that they can control adults’ behaviour by making certain sounds. Lonnerberg mentions that only 10% of children’s utterings is like adults’ ones and that 90% of such utterings is their own language production. As far as it is concerned, children’s language acquisition is a dispute between an innate, individual parole and the langue created and used by the society (Brzeziński 1987: 22-23).
1.2.1 A critical age for foreign language learning
Regarding the age of the earliest acquisition and learning point as birth, the best moment to start teaching a child the second foreign language is the age of 4-5. This is because of children’s flexible larynx which allows for nearly ideal imitation of sounds and the most efficient brain which all together create a great opportunity for language acquisition. Nevertheless, only until the age of 12-13, children keep their flexibility and natural readiness for language acquisition. Lenneberg shows through extended case studies the stages of physiological maturity processes taking place in the brain’s hemispheres (especially the left one), which is dominant. What is more, if it happens that the left hemisphere is damaged before the age of 12-13, it is possible that the right hemisphere takes over the domination and speech problems can be reduced. In addition, after this age such a process is almost impossible (Brzeziński 1987: 28-29).
1.2.2 Children’s second language acquisition
The phenomenon of mother tongue acquisition is interesting for linguists, psychologists, neuropsychologists and even neurophysiologists. Furthermore, it is connected with natural bilingualism which occurs when a child learns, in a natural way, the second language. The process of the second language acquisition in natural conditions is quite similar to the first language acquisition or even identical. The only difference between those two is the fact that the second language is assimilated later and is based on experience and knowledge of the first one and, as a result, the whole process happens faster and more effectively (Brzeziński 1987: 18).
Chomsky(1964) claimed “… it is a common observation that a young child of immigrant parents may learn a second language in the street, with amazing rapidity, and that this speech may be completely fluent and correct to the last allophone, while the subtleties that become second nature to the child may elude his parents despite motivation and continued practice” (Brzeziński 1987: 8).
The first international meeting connected with children’s acquisition and its use in teaching foreign languages took place in Hamburg in 1961. Participant tried to find out if it is right to introduce foreign languages in the primary schools, if it is true that children learn better than teenagers and adults and which techniques are supposed to be used in teaching them. After four years, the second meeting took place and the first answers were given. During many decades, lots of contrary opinions developed. As early as 1967, Corder points out: “It still remains to be shown that the process of learning second language is of fundamentally different nature from the process of primary acquisition”. On the other hand, in 1972, Moulton stresses that in teaching a foreign language to young children it is possible to adopt some methods and intuition procedures, used by a child during mother tongue acquisition, and weave them into learning of the foreign language (Brzeziński 1987: 8).
1.2.3 Factors of efficient language learning
In 1960s, the matter of teaching a foreign language during the early age was a topic of many discussions. After the war, in many methodological books it was said that children can easily absorb, imitate and produce the new language. Learning of languages in the early age is connected with the habit of repeating words and sentences in a foreign language and acquisition of language material with the help of various memory techniques. The technique of frequent repetition of the material, as the main key to learning a language, is also supported by many psychologists such as Watson and Thorndike. In many psychological books, it is easy to find many completely different definitions of habit. According to “Mały słownik psychologiczny”, habit is well-practised through numerous repetitions: actions which are done always in the same way and automatically. This definition can bring one to a wrong opinion that one should always react in the same way. Lado definites habit as fluency in using units and models of a particular language in answering while attention is not paid to units but to content. There are many more definitions of habit written by A. Szulc, Lompscher or Rubinsztejn, but all these definitions come down to the conclusion that the habit is way of mechanic, unconscious repetition and conscious production leading to the conscious process where consciousness is removed so long as the automatic element is eliminated. In this case, the fact that the process of repetition is the most important comes from the opinion of psychologists based on the theory that acquiring the mother tongue comes from the imitation of adults. There are also certain reasons directly influencing and shaping the process of learning and its efficiency:
· age - after the age of 10, language acquisition ease diminishes. Children’s minds lose their flexibility and it is not that easy to acquire a language. Younger learners have better and more specific memory but have less ability to learn and need more repetitions. Children are more willing to imitate but have a very short concentration span. Their mechanical memory is better than that of the adults, and their short memory is more dynamic and more effective. The older the child, the more specific the way of learning is. Older children have their own range of memory, their long-term memory is more developed and more logic. They can focus more easily and have wider general knowledge. Being more mature, having better learning techniques and better motivation, the young and adults can easily make up this matters, which children can reach thanks to their imitating skills and more flexible minds.
· attitude – in learning, there are many elements which have influence on better acquisition or learning, but attitude is one of the most important because it stimulates brain to better work and makes memory work more efficiently. What is more, the lack of motivation can cause that person who is not interested in the topic or in learning itself will not remember anything.
· previous experience connected with the material that has to be learned – the more experience the learner has, the easier and more efficient learning is for him or her.
· material and content – there are some units of material which are more difficult to understand or remember, for example, sentences which have lots of information. Also, the size of the material, the length of sentences, the kind of material (Passive Voice sentences are harder to remember and require longer time to learn than Active Voice sentences) significantly influence the effectiveness of the learning process.
· way of learning – Humans use mechanical or logical memory while the logical one is more preferred and a part of material learned in a logical way is not only easier to reconstruct, but also stays longer in human memory. Certain researches show that talking in a foreign language is not only a simple reproduction of material that was learned. A learner should pay attention to very basic patterns which can be modified and updated with new vocabulary and structures. Mechanical memorising of sentences can be even a quite dangerous and tricky factor because certain language elements occur in a particular arrangement, in a way they were learned and drilled by exercises.
· number of exercises and repetitions – Psychological research shows that the long term memory is extended in proportion to the learning time. What is more, overlearning is a very important element in the memorizing process. The higher the level of overlearning, the slower is the process of forgetting. Yet, the level of overlearning is reached individually after each learner performs a number of repetitions. At the same time, mindless repetitions cannot be treated as overlearning.
· time spent on learning – It is important how long and how often repetitions and exercises are done. Frequent and short exercises are more efficient than rare and long ones (Woźnicki, T./ Zawadzka, E. 1979: 30-40).
1.3 The characteristic of children’s memory
Learning styles are various ways of learning. They involve education methods, characteristic for an individual, which are used by the individual to learn best. The alleged basis and efficacy for these proposals have been extensively criticized. Learning styles depend on individual preferences, and, according to Nail Fleming, such styles may be divided into four categories.
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The fist group is made of visual learners, who, as the term suggestsplies, receive most information visually. These learners have a tendency to do well at public schools because most of what they are taught is presented through visual teaching tools. They do well with visual aids like pictures. For visual learners, the easiest way to learn is watching and calling up visuals in their minds to remember what they studied in the past. They have a tendency toward appreciating arts: crafts, painting or drama. They tend to be creative and imaginative.
The second group are auditory learnerswho tend to learn better through listening. They listen to instructions and follow them in such a way that they can gather large amounts of information and deal with it. Auditory learners are very good at listening to lectures and conversations for a longer time without getting bored. They are more concentrated than visual learners and may be more discerning and attentive in the class. They prefer to study with music in the background. These students may also be creative and imaginative. They are good at listening to information and reproducing it in their individual ways.
Students with another style known as kinesthetic learning might be mistaken for too active in the classroom. They do not like waiting for information. They prefer to find things out for themselves without any prompts. They are the explorers who want to make new discoveries. They are quick to learn new things and do not mind being left on their own with a particular toy to find out how it works. They can be successful in practical tasks, such as carpentry and design. These children prefer doing rather than thinking. Homeschooling might be a better for these learners because regular classroom activities might not be interesting enough for them.
The forth group consists of logical learners who think in a conceptual manner. They explore patterns and like to know how things work. They often ask questions and are good at puzzles, math problems, strategy games and computers. They understand abstract concepts faster than others. These students prefer inventing and building their own contraptions, for example, with toys (http://www.ehow.com/info_7881656_inventory-learning-styles-child.html#ixzz1MXMcJS9C).
1.3.1 Initial memorisation
According to many researches, children have lots of problems when trying to remember and repeat parts of material or longer sentences. In a situation when a group of kindergarten children was asked to remember and repeat, they were passive and even did not take any action to do so. 8-year-old children are a slightly better and show some will to do what they were asked, although only the 10-year-old children and older pupils are able to deal with efficient memorization, data processing and are even able to organise new information to remember it better. According to this research, one can observe that at the beginning children can use only simple techniques and just after some time those techniques develop, become more complicated and fitted to individual preferences and styles. This fact is quite disturbing because during the very early school-years children are often required to remember mane, sometimes even complicated information like lyrics, grammar rules or definitions. On the other hand, children can easily learn their mother tongue, they widen their knowledge about society or nature quite fast. Children are often able to repeat the dialogue of their parents even if they seem not interested in it. In their first years, they are not aware of how their memory works. The ‘flash memory’ term became very popular according to the discovered phenomena that some people have perfect perception and prefer things they saw rather than those which they listened to. It is a very important fact that children use flash memory in a metaphorical way because they mechanically transfer the received information to their memory. Everything seen by people is remembered for a very short time in their operation memory. For a long-term memorisation, it is useful to include various visual aids in the teaching process. Children are able to remember not only pictures but also many details from such pictures. However, sometimes a picture shown to a child may be slightly different, may have different colours or shapes (especially of those elements which amazed the child). Autistic children have a very efficient flash memory and after a few seconds they are able to memorise very complicated and detailed pictures; what is more, they do so without much effort.
From the previously discussed research, one can deduct that only from the age of ten children can consciously memorise some facts for a longer time. More effective memory depends on which study techniques the child uses. Those study strategies consist of certain elements like:
- the level of consciousness and awareness of the aim the child is learning for and willingness the child hasmemorisation strategy
- effort used to learn a specific part of the material
Sometimes it is very hard to prove which element from the ones mentioned above is used. It can be even said that children create memorization strategies in internalisation. Before a child creates its own technique of learning, a child cannot achieve better results in learning but when those strategies are already created, the child knows how to study to achieve his or her aim. Then, the process of memorisation becomes faster, easier and more efficient. After some time, children not only know how to learn faster but also can understand more and do this more freely. Nevertheless, at the age of six it is still very complicated for the young learner to organise material which has to be learnt, and this is why children start to repeat. Only nine-year-old children are consciously able to group certain pictures into categories to achieve better memorisation. To sum up, one can easily say that children develop their memorisation skills according to their age and in this process children remember those things which they pay attention to but it is short memory and at the same time hard memory which are used. Sensitivity on keeping memory on the alert and reaction do not depend on where this new information comes from (society, nature or their own body) but in case of children it is mainly automatically received and processed by their brain. This process happens quickly and almost without any effort and the teacher cannot see those processes and cannot stop or modify them. This process can be only stopped and controlled, but then it works much slower and requires some effort. What is more, a child has to be conscious of information and has to recognise it. To distinguish between automatic and controlled memorisation, one can distinguish three levels of the automatisation processes:
- the first level is dominated by the automatic use of information (also without paying attention)
- the second level is partially automatic when attention is not focused on information
- the third level is only rarely automatic but full attention is needed in this case ( E. Gruszczyk- Kolczyńska, Ewa Zielińska Wspomaganie dzieci w rozwoju zdolności do skupiania uwagi i zapamiętywania WSiP Warszawa 2005: 52-68).
1.4 The theory how media influence children
Media themselves may introduce lots of positive things but also the negative ones into the human life, shape attitudes and mentality of the young people. Furthermore, especially children may be easily influenced by commercials. Media contents are brought to people through the Internet, radio or television, and such media information consists of specific stimuli which affect brain, senses and create or change attitudes and ways of looking at the reality. The good side of the media is the fact that it is created for people’s development, making life more convenient, introducing social and personal values and causing that long distances are easier to overcome. As a result, even such aspects as education or culture are closer to various and separated nations. On the other hand, mass media become a kind of of a boundary or a cage in which a person is isolated from the others, as it may create a situation of misunderstanding and limit of one’s social life which is then substituted with cyberspace.
Needless to say, the mass media caused radical reorganisation of the social life. In terms of education and upbringing of young generation, the media are creating new types of personalities, a sort of a new civilisation. This new generation of media-people is an inextricable part of the modern life, and can be source of many good, positive and improving aspects as well as bad, demoralising, violent and the ones encouraging unacceptable deviations.
1.4.1 Media in education
The fact of striving for more effective ways of teaching is a main subject of many modern researches. Nowadays, in order to achieve the goal it is natural to use the most entertaining and universal tools like the Internet and other mass media. Thanks to these tools, learning can be more pleasant and successful for the learners and also easier and less effort-requiring for the teachers. More and more modern teaching techniques make education up-to-date and allow for leaving (old) traditional methods in education and introduce the modern model of integration of education with entertainment. In this context, education becomes a product, (almost a technological device), a source of educational tools and an incentive for the unconscious learning.
Media may be easily and freely used not only in school teaching but also in private, out-school or even global, social, personal and cultural training. They can provide news, information and educational content using all possible multilingual tools. What is more, this kind of instrument has certain aspects which are singled out by Henryk Grudzień in his work Media jako składnik procesu dydaktyczno-wychowawczego:
- direct influence – this means that especially television programs and films immediately influence their audience (human emotions and intellect)
- building-up influence – means building up information, associations and feelings connected with films or TV programs which cause some changes in the human psyche
- subconscious influence – similar to the one above, but the audience is not conscious of changes in its attitudes because at the beginning the audience refuses the given way of thinking due to its unsuitable content and after some time its resistance disappears.
Media also have a tremendous influence on the lifestyle of the young people, and they affect lots of spheres of young people’s lives, for example:
- the effect on the way that somebody behaves (making decisions, aggressive behaviour, social actions etc.)
- the effect on the level of knowledge (level of information, range of knowledge, level of communication skills etc.)
- the influence on attitude (believes, religion, judging of other people, etc.)
- the influence on physical fitness (damaging of senses, lack of motion, addiction)
The processes mentioned above depend on many conditions such as age, psyche, actual situation in one’s life, level of knowledge, weather, place of receiving such information or influences, company or gender. For example, the most influential may be a film watched in a cinema where the level of focus is very high, a bit weaker may be television and the weakest the radio.
1.4.2 The Internet in children’s education
Nobody can deny that modern technology has changed and revolutionized education. Teachers have also quickly adjusted their teaching methods in a response to new technology because gadgets in the classroom can create a more interesting, interactive and entertaining environment. If schools strive to keep up with technological trends, then the learning that takes place there becomes more relevant and meaningful for the learners. The Internet and computer knowledge and literacy of major software programs is no longer reserved only for higher educational systems or special trade schools in the modern society. ( http://www.ehow.com/about_5410187_uses-modern-technology-classroom-teaching.html#ixzz1Iai4xP5X)
Many children, when going to school, deal with individual difficulties on the basis of their opportunities. Nowadays, from the very early age, children get used to computers, the Internet and other modern technologies. The access and the use of the Internet fulfil many of the aims of education. What is more, it broadens children’s mind horizons, gives them a sense responsibility, builds up their self-esteem and develops their autonomy. A big advantage of the Web is its easy access and lack of duty to have a face-to-face contact. The author of the book Special educational needs and the Internet: issues for the inclusive classroom Chris Abbott claims that there are four principles and each one proves that websites and the Internet have become an influential tool for teaching as the pupils are:
- Informed – The Internet is a source of information and news used in topic work, planning visits, web sites pictures of classmates’ work, connection with other pupils even outside the school, village or town and also link with past friends.
- Involved – In the virtual tour, in preparing material, in creating and sharing their ideas; in group with the integrated activities where physical presence is not significant.
- Empowered – enabling access for children with any physical difficulties, various tools, e-mails
- Recognised – pictures on websites of the children and their work, whiles of the school council meeting, aiding successes and building self-esteem. (111-112)
The Internet has a large part to play in the future education of the young people. In this book, the author included many useful tips when using computers in teaching young learners. For example, the page a teacher wants to use should be put on the screen before children come into the classroom. What is very important, computers should be set in a way so that the children cannot open unauthorized sites and also it is important to remind the children of behaving in a good way to prevent the pupils from running to get to the computers first. It is also useful to create a list of computer room rules. Wherever possible, there should be no more than three pupils per one computer. If children cannot see the screen, they may quickly lose interest in their school work and may not be willing to learn. All these elements can make children more concentrated and make learning more effective (C. Abbott Special educational needs and the Internet: issues for the inclusive classroom New York 2002).
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