Teaching effectiveness research help:
One of the heated debates taking place at present in the circles of TESOL relates to the effectiveness of teaching tasks applied by teachers in classroom contexts. A problem associated with this issue is the lack of sufficient research. Another problem is that the research available tends to be too general, rarely focusing on the specific impact of each task on the second language learning processes in the learner. These problems have been mostly pinpointed by Pica, Kanagy and Falodun who argued that the effective of second language instruction lies on the teachers’ understanding and comprehending the contribution of each task to second language (Pica, Kanagy & Falodun, p.10). They further held that language learning is not conducted for the purpose of generating language as an end, but rather, to enable the learner to communicate opinions and ideas. Furthermore, an important aspect of language learning is that the learner tends to negotiate for mutual comprehension. Accordingly, for such a process of negotiation to lead to successful ends, that is understanding and communicating of message, it has to involve the taking of initiative by the learner (Pica, Kanagy & Falodun, pp. 11-12). Teaching effectiveness research help is provided by experts in education working in our firm.
Deeper probing into the processes of second language learning, VanPatten argued in support of previous findings by Schwartz that “lexicon, syntax, and morphology are learned differentially” (VanPatten, p.31). This implies that second language learners do not learn language in a uniform manner, but rather, tend to learn various aspects of language, grammar and syntax in different ways, influenced by conscious and subconscious learning processes. Thus, VanPatten argues that while lexical terms are learned directly, syntax aspects are learned subconsciously such that they grow with the learner (VanPatten, p.31). Other researchers tend to generalize the language learning process, arguing that it is embedded in the instructional conversations during lessons, and that the teacher plays an important role in formulating the learning process since he/she stands as a role model imitated by students. Learners also tend to imitate the grammar and syntax of other learners who express a better proficiency in language (Brooks, pp. 160-161).
Researchers have also observed certain generalization in the process of second language learning. In specific, aspects such as speech rate, phonology, and prosody tend to be used in a slower manner among learners with lower proficiency, with a tendency to use more frequent and longer pauses, mainly to win more time for planning and organization of speech. Furthermore, it has been noticed that native speakers or individuals with high language proficiency conversing with non-native speakers who have a low proficiency in language, seem to use more modifications in their conversations, with a tendency towards problem-solving speech, in a way to assist the learner to comprehend the meaning of the message intended (Wesche, p. 227).
APPLICATION TO TEXT
The script chosen for this assignment was the same one used for assignment one. Both the teacher and Maya are Lebanese. The teacher enjoys a high proficiency in English language and has been teaching English as a second language for several years. Maya, on the other hand, was raised in Nigeria where English language was frequently used. Although the version of English language applied in Nigeria is significantly different from the standard English spoken by native English speakers such as Australians and Britons, Maya’s education in a formal English language school has a clear impact on her ability to use proper English in her conversation. However, needless to mention, Maya’s first language has always been Arabic, used frequently at home, during her leisure time, and even during the school break times. During the past seven years, Maya has been living in Lebanon where Arabic is the first language frequently used everywhere. However, in comparison to peers in the neighborhood for example, she is seen as highly proficient in English language, both because of her background in Nigeria, and the fact that she goes to a school that emphasizes English language proficiency.
The text pertaining to this study was derived from a recording of a session in which the instructor and Maya were the only two people conversing. The object of the conversation was an art project that Maya had completed, constituting a shoe box that was engineered into a suggestion box for the classroom. The objective of the session was to enable the learner to describe in detail the process through which she went from the beginning and until the project was complete.
The instructor starts the conversation with emphasis on the adverb “exactly” (line 1) such that Maya will understand that she is expected to describe in detail every step that she undertook in order to complete her project. Pauses and stops are noticed in the learner’s responses from the very beginning (lines 2, 6, 8, 12, 14, etc). At first, it would occur that these pauses resulted from the fact that she was nervous since this was the first time that such a technique was used by her instructor. However, even as her self-confidence improves, she still resorts to pauses almost in every statement, obviously because she was trying to recall the details of the process in chronological order, and at the same time, perhaps to make her statements without grammatical errors and with semantic clarity. This goes in conformity with the arguments of Wesche pertaining to the frequent and longer pauses used by second language learners, especially when they have a low proficiency in language. Maya is evidently aware of her lower proficiency in contrast to that of her instructor.
Throughout the conversation, the instructor uses the questioning technique. However, it must be noticed that this questioning technique was not exactly used to extract answers in as much as it was to help the learner organize her thoughts in a logical manner, justify her actions and steps, and above all, present them in statements that reflect better command of language. For example, in line (5), he rephrases “You always ask her for….” as if the learner is supposed to fill in the blanks.
The conversation and teaching effectiveness:
At the beginning of the conversation, the instructor emphasizes minute details of the things the learner was talking about (lines 9, 11, 15). The objective of this method is to stimulate the cognition of the learner such that she would be more descriptive of the materials she used. Evidently, this places a lot of pressure on the learner, specifically that now she has to think of much more details than she thought would be the case. For example, she has to describe the color and texture of the papers, not merely saying ‘papers.’ Yet, eventually, this method pays off on the long run as the learner begins to realize that in describing her actions and the materials she used, she is expected to provide the listener more information in order to fill in the blanks to the jigsaw puzzle that she has mentally created to him. This is witnessed in line (28) when the learner reports that she also used glue, “a really strong one…” She emphasized this aspect of the glue because she was trying to tell the other party that the materials she used had to be well glued, and hence, the application of a strong glue was necessary.
One of the interesting aspects in the conversation is the manner in which the meaning is expressed and manipulated, both by the instructor and by the learner. Aware of her nervousness and low proficiency, the instructor does not hesitate to provide the learner with the help she needs, partly by completing the sentences and descriptions for her, and partly by initiating or picking up the topic from where the learner had stopped. This is obvious for example in line (25) where the instructor intervenes to give a full description of the texture of the paper and what can be done with it.
It is noticed that at the start of the conversation, the learner was still confused and not yet certain of what the instructor expected from her. Her expectations eventually became clear as she began to understand what she had to do. Her tendency to voluntarily provide details shows that she has started to imitate her instructor in the manner he elaborated through his questions.
Whether the learner was aware of what she was asked to do or not, she obviously had a clear plan in her mind. The target she was focusing on was to explain the logic of her plan that she adopted to explain to her instructor that she had invented something different, something she was proud of.
Problems related to the communication of meaning can be easily noticed in the conversation. On several occasions, the learner fails to find the suitable words to identify the materials or the actions. For example, her inability to elaborate on her description of the paper invites the intervention of the instructor. Similarly, she uses “library” instead of stationery, but this is related to the Lebanese culture since the Lebanese use the same word (ie library) interchangeably for book stores and stationery shops (moreover, both books and stationery needs are usually sold through the same outlets). The same problem is detected in line (38) when the learner states “it has to be open from the top to put some problems in it.” This is totally meaningless in English language. Yet, since the learner was literally translating from Arabic, the sentence makes sense as the words problems and complaints tend to be used interchangeably. Another area of confusion in meaning occurs when the learner tries to justify the drawing of an arrow. She argues that she drew it “so that everybody can see, you know, this hole” (line 54). This might have been the conscious intention of the learner when she drew the arrow, but when faced with a stronger argument by the instructor, and most probably preferring to avoid the argument in a language in which the other party was more proficient, the learner immediately preferred to withdraw by finding an easier way of justifying herself, “I just wanted to decorate it” (Line 56).
Throughout the conversation, the learner used the simple past, and most of her sentences and statements were generally simple. In line (2), she says, “I got a shoebox” and then she stops. This pattern prevails in most of her statements (lines 8, 14, 18, 48, 52). The syntax is almost the same, starting with a pronoun (usually I), then the verb, and then the object. Whatever modifications she used were obviously employed to win some time so that she could organize her thoughts and speech.
The other lexico-grammatical form that she used abundantly is obvious in her responses to the instructor whenever he helped her out. For example, in line (9), he asks her about the things she got, and she immediately replies listing the materials, but without the use of a verb or even a pronoun. Similarly, in line (24), she says, “and easily be teared.” Apart from the mistake in conjugation of the verb (torn instead of teared), she is not using complete sentences, but rather, phrases that lack verbs and pronouns, but that nonetheless make the meaning obvious since they are completions for the statements or questions of the instructors. Apparently, the learner has made things easier for herself by adopting this strategy instead of having to respond in full sentences. It is important to mention that the intention of the instructor in this specific exercise was not to focus on grammatical material in as much as it was to focus on interactive communication as a newly introduced method that he wanted to illustrated through his conversation with this specific learner. Yet, the instructor did not ignore the importance of grammar, and thus, he corrects the conjugation mistake without explicitly making an issue out of it, thus replying “And can easily be torn…” (line 25).
However, all in all, the conversation contained several common grammatical mistakes that should have been corrected by the instructor. The instructor could have also taken the opportunity that the learner was very tense to pinpoint these common grammatical mistakes such as the use of the simple past instead of the past perfect in “I did not finish it yet” (line 58) which is a very common mistake among Lebanese students learning English as a second language.
The inadequacy and contradiction in using tenses is also obvious. For example, although conducting the conversation in past tense, and even when asked in the past tense, the learner responded in the present saying “So that I can cover the sides of the….” (Line 12). This is another culturally-induced mistake. In this case, the learner was not literally translating word-for-word from Arabic. In fact, she was projecting and applying Arabic grammar to her statement. It is not evident whether the learner’s awareness of her lexico-grammatical weakness forced upon her the strategy of avoiding the usage of complete sentences throughout the conversation, but it is clear that she took the safe route of responding in as many short phrases and statements as possible. Yet, even then, she did not survive those mistakes induced by and pertaining to the projection of Arabic grammar onto her English conversation.
The instructor’s strategy was to focus on interaction, chronological ordering, and the description of process. However, he failed to give sufficient attention to the importance of grammar. The instructor’s proficiency is not questioned here. What is questioned is whether he is or not actually aware of the manner in which learners of second language develop their proficiency of grammatical rules and concepts. Projecting the mother language grammar onto the grammar of the second language is not only common among students, but also among non-native instructors. Furthermore, most TESOL instructors tend to turn a blind eye to such projections, hoping that their students will gradually realize their mistakes and correct them.
It can be argued that the instructor did not want to impose too much stress on grammar, and thus, to avoid spoiling the first experience of interactive instruction, avoided commenting on grammatical mistakes. This actually was the manner in which the instructor justified himself after the lesson, arguing that under normal situations (ie in latter sessions), the appropriate usage of grammar would be given more attention.
Several questions need to be raised at this point: Has this method enriched the learner’s proficiency in English language? Has the learner responded by developing appropriate and adequate strategies that justify the use of this method of instruction? Has the learner actually learned something useful? Do the consequences of this method justify the amount of time and effort invested in it?
It has been noticed that the learner was able to evade the usage of complete sentences, thus resorting to simple and even casual conversational phrases and statements. The ability to use complete sentences effectively and correctly is definitely more important and valuable than using phrases that did not contain adequate syntax according to the syntax rules of standard English.
Secondly, the learner seems to have grasped the objective of the experiment, and accordingly, was able to commit herself to a certain strategy in describing the process in a chronological order, and using descriptions as elaborately as her repertoire of vocabulary allowed. If the ultimate objective was merely introducing interactive communication as a means of instructing second language to non-native speaking students, the experiment is quite successful. However, we need not forget that the objectives of methods of instruction must have their tasks identified and defined clearly (Pica, Kanagy & Falodun, p.10). Apparently, the instructor himself might not have planned for these tasks in a well-defined manner, and hence the many flaws that were observed and detected.
The method, however, can be improved thoroughly such that it would provide better results in the future.
First of all, this method of interactive communication should be well-planned in such a way that the instructor has a set of clearly defined objectives to be achieved.
Secondly, the instructor should be less involved in the conversation, allowing the learner to be more creative and more independent when providing constructing the sentences.
Thirdly, it is recommended that prior to the conversation, the student be engaged in some preparation. In the case of Maya for example, she and the instructor may have defined the terms of the process, the names of the items used and other aspects of the experience. Thus, when the learner starts the conversation, he/she would have more self-confidence, more control over the terminology, and more capacity to focus on using correct grammar and syntax. Whether this would result in less frequent and shorter pauses and stops will require further research. The objective is not to put the learner in an embarrassing situation where he/she should improvise. Rather, the ultimate objective is instruct on how to converse using appropriate syntax and lexico-grammar.
I also recommend that if possible, the sessions be video-taped and later one reviewed by the entire class. The other learners would thus be asked to repeat parts of the conversation using their own vocabulary and syntax. This would not only lead to the investigation of other ways of expression, but it would also engage more learners in discovering the mistakes that they themselves make as learners of a second language. This is not to mention that such an application would enable the instructor to detect the patterns of erroneous usage of semantic and lexico-grammatical as well as syntactical patterns of the second language.
Finally, to enrich this method of instruction, it is recommended that several students be involved in conversation, with the instructor playing the role of the umpire who intervenes only to correct the errors in grammar, syntax, etc. The strategy to be used is that more proficient students should converse with less proficient students with the instructor observing the learning patterns among them.
Apparently, these recommendations will improve the method applied by the instructor in this experiment, but it remains open to experimentation and research to prove whether the tasks involved in this method are actually useful and effective in improving and enhancing second language learning.
Brooks, Frank (1990). ‘Foreign language learning: a social interaction perspective’. In Second language acquisition/foreign language learning. Edited by Bill VanPatten & James Lee. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pages 153-169 and 246-268.
Ellis, Rod (1990). Chapter 6 ‘Formal instruction and language learning’. In Instructed second language acquisition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pages 130-173.
Pica, Teresa; Kanagy, Ruth & Falodun, Joseph (1993). Chapter 1 ‘Choosing and using communication tasks for second language instruction and research’. In Tasks and language learning: integrating theory and practice. Edited by Graham Crookes and S Gass. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pages 9-34.
VanPatten, Bill (1994). ‘Evaluating the role of consciousness in second language acquisition: terms, linguistic features and research methodology’. In Consciousness in second language learning. AILA review, volume 11. Edited by Jan H Hulstijn and Richard Schmidt, pages 27-36.
Wesche, Marjorie Bingham. (1994). Chapter 10 ‘Input and interaction in second language acquisition’. In Input & interaction in language acquisition. Edited by Clare Gallaway and Brian Richards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pages 219-249.