How to describe learning and teaching

• • • • What do we know about language learning? What elements are necessary for successful language learning in classrooms? How do the three elements of ESA fit together in lesson sequences? What teaching models have influenced current teaching practice?

What do we know about language learning? Not all adults who come into contact with a foreign language learn it. They might not want to. Perhaps, the language they come into contact with is, in their view, just too complex for them. Perhaps, they don't hear or see enough of it have sufficient opportunities to try it out. Successful children and successful adults seem to share certain similarities in their learning experiences. First of all, they are continually exposed to language which they more or less understand even if they can't produce the same language immediately themselves. Secondly, they are motivated to learn the language in order to be able to communicate. Finally, they have opportunities to use the language they are learning, thus giving themselves chances to flex their linguistic muscles - check their own progress and abilities. Babies get endless exposure coupled with emotional support which is just right for their learning. What elements are necessary for successful language learning in classrooms? Classroom students Like language learners outside schools, they will need to be motivated, be exposed to language, and given chances to use it. We can therefore say what elements need to be present in a language classroom to help students learn effectively 'ESA' Engage: This is the point in a teaching sequence where teachers try to arouse the students, thus involving their emotions. Lessons at school which were uninvolving they ‘switched off’ they were bored, because they were not emotionally engaged with what was going on. Contrasted with lessons where they were amused, moved, stimulated or challenged. Activities and materials games (depending on age and type), music, discussions (when handled challengingly), stimulating pictures, dramatic stories, amusing anecdotes etc. They will ask students what they think of a topic before asking them to read about it, for example.

Study: Study activities are those where the students are asked to focus in on language (or information) and how it is constructed. They range from the study and practice of a single sound to an investigation of how a writer achieves a particular effect in a long text; from an examination and practice of a verb tense to the study of a transcript of informal speech to discuss spoken style. Different styles: the teacher can explain grammar, they can study language evidence to discover grammar for themselves, they can work in groups studying a reading text or vocabulary. But whatever the style, Study means any stage at which the construction of language is the main focus. Typical areas for Study Might be the study and practice of the vowel sound in 'ship' and 'sheep' (e.g. 'chip, cheap, dip, deep, bit, beat' etc.), the study and practice of the third person singular of the present simple ('He sleeps, She laughs, It works' etc), the study and practice of inviting patterns (Would you like to come to the cinema/to a concert?' etc.), the study and practice of the way we use pronouns in written discourse (e.g. 'Al man entered a house in Brixton. He was tall with an unusual hat. It was multicoloured etc.), the study and practice of paragraph organisation (topic sentence, development, conclusion) or of the rules for using 'make' and 'do'. Successful language learning in a classroom depends on a judicious blemti of subconscious language acquisition (through listening and reading, foil example) and the kind of Study activities we have looked at here. Activate: this element describes exercises and activities which are designed' to get students using language as freely and 'communicatively' as they can. The objective for the students is not to focus on language construction and/or practise specific bits of language (grammar patterns, particular] vocabulary items or functions) but for them to use all and any language which may be appropriate for a given situation or topic. Typical Activate exercises include role-plays (where students act out, as realistically as possible, an exchange between a travel agent and a client, for example), advertisement design (where students write and then record radio commercial, for example), debates and discussions, 'Describe and Draw' (where one student tries to get another to draw a picture without that other student being able to see the original), story and poem writing, writing in groups etc. If students do not have a chance to Activate their knowledge in the safety of a classroom, they may find transferring language acquisition and study into language use in the real world far more problematical. These ESA elements need to be present in most lessons or teaching sequences. Whether the main focus of the lesson is a piece of grammar (in which case there will be

opportunities for Study and Activation), or whether the focus is on reading (where there may be a lot of Activation of language knowledge in the processing of the text, but where, at some stage, the students will also Study the construction of that text or the use of some language within it), students always need to be Engaged, if possible, so that they can get the maximum out of the learning experience. Most students will want to have Studied some aspect of language, however small or a short duration, during a lesson period. How do the three elements of ESA fit together in lesson sequences? Here is an example of 'Straight Arrows' sequence designed for elementary-level students. 1. Engage: students and teacher look at a picture or video of modern robots. They say what the robots are doing. They say why they like or don't like robots. 2. Study: the teacher shows students (the picture of) a particular robot. Students are introduced to 'can' and 'can't' (how they are pronounced and constructed) and say things like 'It can do maths' and 'It can't play the piano'. The teacher tries to make sure the sentences are pronounced correctly and that the students use accurate grammar. 3. Activate: students work in groups and design their own robot. They make a presentation to the class saying what their robot can and can't do. We can represent this kind of lesson in the following way

Engage

Study

Activate

ESA Straight Arrows sequence However, if we teach all our lessons like this, we may not be giving our students' own learning styles a fair chance. Such a procedure may work at lower levels for straightforward language, but it might not be so appropriate for more advanced learners with more complex language. Here, for example, is a 'Boomerang' procedure. 1. Engage: Students and teacher discuss issues 2. Activate: Teacher describes an interview situation. Act out in a role-play. Students plan. They then role-play the interviews. Teacher makes a note of English mistakes they make are difficulties they have.

3. Study: Teacher works with the studen on the grammar and vocabulary which caused them trouble during the role-play. Compare their language for where they went wrong 4. Activate: Some time later, students role-play another job interviev^ bringing in the knowledge they gained in the Study phase.

Engage

Study

Activate

EAS(A) Boomerang sequence In this sequence the teacher is answering the needs of the students. They are not taught language until and unless they have shown (in the Active phase) that they have a need for it. However, it places a great burden on the teacher since he or she will have to be able to find go teaching material based on the problems thrown up the Activate stage. In straight arrows sequences the teacher knows what the students need and takes them logically to the point where they can Activate the knowledge which he or she has helped them to acquire. For the boomerang sequence, however, the teacher selects the task the students need to perform, but then waits for the boomerang to come back before deciding what they need to Study. Many lessons aren't quite as clear-cut as this, however. Instead, they are a mixture of procedures and mini-procedures, a variety of short episodes \S building up to a whole. Here is an example of this kind of 'Patchwork lesson: 1. Engage: students look at a picture of sunbathers and respond to it by commenting on the people and the activity they are taking part in. Maybe they look at each other's holiday photos etc. 2. Activate: students act out a dialogue between a doctor and a sunburn victim after a day at the beach. 3. Activate: students look at a text describing different people and the effects the sun has on their skin. They say how they feel about it. (The text is on page 75 in this book.) 4. Study: the teacher does vocabulary work on words such as 'pale, fair-skinned, freckles, tan' etc., ensuring that students understand the meaning, the hyphened

5. 6.

7.

8.

compound nature of some of them, and that they are able to say them with the correct pronunciation in appropriate contexts. Activate: students describe themselves or people they know in the same kind of ways as the reading text. Study: the teacher focuses the students' attention on the relative clause construction used in the text (e.g. 'I'm the type of person who always burns, I'm the type of person who burns easily'). The use of the 'who' clause is discussed and students practise sentences saying things like 'They're the kind of people who enjoy movies' etc. Engage: the teacher discusses advertisements with the students. What are they for? What different ways do they try to achieve their effect? What are the most effective ads the students can think of? Perhaps the teacher plays some radio commercials or puts some striking visual ads on an overhead projector. Activate: the students write a radio commercial for a sunscreen. The teacher lets them record it using sound effects and music.

The patchwork diagram is shown on the following page. Engage, Study and Activate - are the basic building bloc for successful language teaching and learning. By using them in different and varied sequences, to promote students' success.

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