Saturday, May 21, 2011

Teaching Style

video


I always reflect upon my teaching practices. I believe that challenges in teaching are unceasing. Each year, there are always new and sometimes unfamiliar challenges. I must do whatever is necessary in order to meet the educational needs of my students. Instead of considering myself unfortunate, I feel lucky because I have had the opportunity to teach learners of all socio-economic statuses, English language proficiencies, and all cognitive and grade levels. There are times when I am tempted to believe there is nothing I can do in my teaching assignment because the challenges appear worse than what they really are.

I train myself to always look at the positive sides of any situation. Part of this outlook comes from my exposure to experiences which were far worse than my recent ones. It makes me feel good when I am thankful for whatever I have and whatever I can do. I don’t think about what I do not have and what I cannot do and feel sorry for myself. I always believe that there are always bright sides to any situations, no matter how horrifying they may be.

I would like to mention that I am happy when I see that my students are happy. I am not a parent but for some reason, I feel that my students are my own children. I feel that I am both their parents in the classroom. In back of my mind, I consider the classroom as one big family where people support each other. I think I am a cooperative planner. I see myself as a facilitator of students’ learning processes. I believe that all students in the classroom have something to share with one another and something to gain from one another. While one of my styles is to inform, educate and entertain my students, I leave to them the decision about which activities appeal to them and to what level they will meet my high yet reasonable expectations. I always tell my students that whoever they become, whatever they end up doing and wherever they go is a product of their conscious or unconscious decisions. I remind my students nobody is responsible for their own happiness and success except themselves. The society, significant others and the environment are contributing but not determining factors for their failure or success (Diaz-Rico, 2006:p. 284: Cooperative Planner).

I also believe that teaching requires a tremendous amount of energy. Energy is infectious. I always do my best to get enough sleep in order to have sufficient energy to motivate and inspire my classroom. There were times when I needed to come to work and teach with only a few hours of sleep, and the result was never good. Students picked-up on my fatigue, lower tolerance, and negative energy. I noticed that my patience was short because I craved sleep. I made a decision to value sleep more than I previously had in order to teach effectively. Students do not need teachers who are irritable and unable to give them the energy that they need and deserve (p. 284: Emotionally Exciting Teacher).

I also remember the time when I was teaching high school students with severe emotional disturbances. I structured learning activities in which they could pursue their interests and show their talents. I did not require them just to write. I assessed their understanding by allowing them to choose how they would like to show their comprehension. Some students showed their understanding through song writing, some through poster making, some through writing a poem, some through essay writing, some through dramatization. I gave my students the liberty and the luxury of deciding how they would like to show the class the level of their understanding of the lessons. I noticed that students were happy to do activities in which they were interested. It engaged their thinking and they were proud to show-off their abilities.

I have always believed that students need to learn comfortably and confidently and we teachers need to make learning interesting and challenging for them. My exposure to different nationalities when I was teaching in an international school led me to believe that each person sees things differently. I have learned that there is no absolute truth in teaching, but only relative truth. There are many relative truths in a diverse classroom, and it is wise to recognize and respect the uniqueness of each relative truth. Students who belong to a particular culture and behave in a particular way must not be hastily judged by the teacher. We need to know how and why the thought processes and behaviors are the way they are and when and where they manifest.

My exposure to our CLAD courses has encouraged me to respect, exercise patience and reach out to my students. The CLAD program has helped me to become more aware of students’ cultures and behaviors which may be inconsistent with the expectations of the school. Now, I always remember that I need to provide my students equal educational opportunities through differentiating instruction, scaffolding and respecting and recognizing their cultures and by slowly and comfortably introducing them to the culture of their new environment.

With the experience that I have from my teaching activities and education, I feel that I am empowered to make students’ learning experiences culturally relevant. I feel that I must provide my future students with a diverse classroom where each student and each family can contribute to the curriculum and enrich learning by sharing their way life and their cultural perspectives on the lesson. Diaz-Rico mentioned in her book entitled The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook that “both mainstream students and CLD students benefit from education about diversity, not only cultural diversity but also diversity in ability, gender preference, and human nature in general” (p. 274).

As a teacher, I also have the power to allow my students to use their native language when expressing their thoughts if the use of English prevents them from conveying the richness of their ideas. I want to show my students that I respect and honor their wisdom…wisdom which can be expressed more eloquently using the language in which they are fluent. This motivates students to participate in classroom activities while also learning English.

Sharing literature, mathematical methods, and cultural events in the classroom can also enrich the curriculum. The curriculum will only serve as a guide of what to teach, and it can expand in its scope and methodologies based on the contributions of students and families from different cultures.

I would like to have the ability of “a skilled intercultural educator who recognizes that each culture supports distinct attitudes, values and abilities” (p. 278).

The discussions and the case studies presented in the reading materials have positively impacted my ways of thinking about students coming from different cultures. The readings revealed how far some school, state and national education policies and teaching practices have gone in teaching culturally diverse classrooms. The readings also presented the areas of concern that need to be addressed by those of us who hold a stake in education in order to provide equal learning opportunities for English learners.

Experts, other teachers, and the videos of Professor Hakuta have shaped my paradigm in teaching. I have learned that teaching is only not about what to teach, how to teach and when to teach, but it is also about love and respect and how much love and respect you can give. It is about inspiration and a firm motivation to provide educational opportunities and appropriate learning experiences for students across different language proficiency levels, intellectual levels, and cultures.

The Stanford University CLAD program has confirmed my belief that we need to know our students and we need to know about what we are teaching because we cannot teach something we do not know and someone we do not know. Our discussions about culture have motivated me to communicate with the parents and students more in order to know just who my students and their families are. I want to have an idea about the dynamics of their families…dynamics that likely contribute to their actions in school.

Again, the use of native language during classroom discussion is a great way to integrate culture into the curriculum and pedagogy. Students’ understanding, capability and competence are not measured by their ability to speak English but rather by the substance of their thoughts. The use of native language allows students to express what they know in a manner that is comfortable, interesting and meaningful to them.

A think-pair-share strategy can also be a culturally relevant strategy. It accommodates both students who are comfortable and not comfortable when speaking up in the classroom. It gives opportunities for students to read, write and listen and speak with some of their classmates, but not necessarily the entire classroom.

It would be challenging yet rewarding to do an ethnographic study of my future students. I would like to utilize techniques presented in the funds of knowledge. I would like to include the interests of my students in the curriculum in order to maximize their engagement. I will have a deeper understanding of my students, their behaviors and thought process and thus be able to educate them, my fellow teachers, and parents about why students are the way they are. I am hoping to be influential in ways that are meaningful and relevant for the students, teachers and parents.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Content and Language Objectives for Each Lesson


My experience at the British School in Manila taught me to explicitly inform my students about their activities and the objectives of the lessons. Students were constantly and consistently asked to read the objectives for both the lessons and the activities. The teachers required students to write the learning objectives on their activity sheets. Instead of using the phrasing “Students will be able to”, teachers phrased the objectives in a manner that had meaning for the students. The objectives were written beginning with the phrase “I can”. An example is “I can name three inventors and identify their inventions.”

I have never experienced writing language objectives for my content area lessons. My activities might have included tasks which touched upon language objectives which were not explicitly presented in my previous lessons. In the future, if I am given the opportunity to work with students who can talk, I would like to include content and language objectives in my lessons. I can appreciate the importance of making language objectives part of the lessons; not only for students but also for teachers.

What are the advantages to writing content and language objectives for students to see prior to a lesson?

I see a lot of advantages when writing content and language objectives for students to see prior to the implementation of a lesson. Students will be able to identify the lesson’s language and content objectives and perform according to the expectations of the objectives. The affective filter for English learners will be reduced because knowing the objectives and the expectations of the lessons prior to their execution increases the predictability of the learning tasks and outcomes. Thus, students will be aware of the expectations associated with the lessons.

By being informed about the content and language objectives of the lessons prior to their implementations, students will be able to see that language is of vital importance. They will hopefully perceive not only the semantics, the syntax and the pragmatics of the English language but also the varied forms of communication (verbal and non-verbal) that involve different aspects of the academic, social, behavioral and cultural components of people’s lives.

By being informed about the content and language objectives of the lessons prior to their implementations, students will be able to see that content courses do not merely start and stop with memorizing the information contained in them. The knowledge that content courses provide is highly connected with language. The more students know about a certain content-related idea, the more they can communicate about it.

How might they affect both teacher and student performance in the classroom?

Having content and language objectives in the lessons affects both the teacher and the students. Teachers and students will be more aware that content courses are not isolated from language. While content courses provide numerous pieces of information about a certain body of knowledge, language gives life to it when people make it comprehensible and meaningful.

The combination of language and content objectives in lessons presents to both teachers and students the inseparable relationship of content courses and language. Both parties will hopefully realize that content knowledge will be useless if not expressed through language and language will be futile if there is no meaningful information with it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Error Corrections

First, think about your own error correction strategies. How do you go about correcting speech errors in your classroom? Reflect on these strategies. Are they effective? How do your students react to them?

Correcting language errors can be motivating or humiliating. One of the highlights of Miss Formoso’s video stated that “it is important for teachers of ELLs not to correct every student error. Research has demonstrated that correcting too many student errors can hurt a student’s confidence and hinder learning. It can also interrupt the flow and focus of the lesson.” My experience as an elementary and high school student in the Philippines showed that some students were hesitant to participate and speak English in the classroom because they feared being corrected by a classmate or a teacher. Worse, some students could be ridiculed. Correcting a student, while communicating his thoughts in the classroom, might send a message that his errors will be criticized. A possible result of this situation is that a student might just listen and not speak up.

In the Filipino culture, where accuracy of the English grammar is associated with intelligence and sophistication, a speaker/writer has to communicate accurately in English. Some celebrities and politicians can become highlights in the news because their English language ability is rather fluent than accurate. I am not proud to share that many people in my country give more importance on grammar than the quality of verbal and written work. This is especially true in many situations where formal communication is observed such as the classrooms, conventions and media interviews as well as other situations. On a personal note, I remembered that interrupting my thought, in order to immediately correct my English, stopped my thinking from generating ideas. The interruption made me forget what I wanted to share in the discussion.

When I was correcting the speech errors of my former students, I corrected utterances which only concerned the lesson’s objectives. A good example was a lesson about subject-verb agreement. My interventions were only limited to correcting subject-verb agreement errors even when my students made several errors about adverbs and prepositions. In this case, English learners had only focused on a particular skill where some errors were made but remedied in hopes that the corrections would be mastered.

Another way to correct errors is by addressing them in the entire class rather than singling out a specific student. My observation is that students often react positively to this approach because they feel that the correction is not a personal attack against them. Believe me that some students take corrections personally when their teachers addressed these errors by directing specifically to them. This situation may have two negative consequences. First, students might feel inferior and second is that some students might see their classmates as being inferior when they are substantially corrected more often than the others.

It is also possible for teachers to create their own samples of erroneous communication that followed the common error patterns of their students in the classroom. In this way, students cannot guess or identify whose errors are being discussed in the classroom. The teachers can also encourage target students to participate in the error correction activities done as a lesson. Students are able to see the samples of common/possible errors in English communication without associating the errors to their classroom or their classmates. It is desirable when error corrections are associated with the lesson objectives.

These error-correction strategies were used by Ms. Linda Tong’s video when she addressed the error of a student to the entire class and not to a particular student during the lesson about apostrophe. Ms. Tong’s students did not realize they were being corrected .They were very participative and analytical to point out that Chinese language and English language get mixed up in form when indicating possession or ownership.

Ms. Cheong chose not to correct her student when the child said that mealworms eat flowers/flours. It was not clear what the student meant to say. While it is good not correct the error, it facilitates learning, on the other hand, to address the error when directed to the class, and not to the student who uttered the error. I can provide a review and wrap up time of the lesson and scaffold the error correction. If I were to correct the error, I will present a picture of flour and a picture of flower. I will then ask student to, let us say, raise their hands like reaching a tall man’s head if they think it is the flour, and spread their hands like a bird flying in the sky if they think it is the flower that belongs to the food group of the mealworms?

Maria Montessori believed that young children have an absorbent mind. I feel that I need to correct the errors in the video in a fun and nurturing manner during the summarizing and wrapping up activity of the lesson. The correction will minimize any possible confusion that students might have because of what they hear from their classmates.

On the other hand, the video of Ms. Formoso showed an error correction strategy. She corrected her student by paraphrasing student’s answers. My belief is that Ms. Formoso’s approach to error correction made the student aware of the correct answer. The student did not feel she was being corrected. This manner of addressing errors in the classroom appears to guide students in their learning rather than identifying errors from their participation. This is in compliance with one of the “Suggestions for Error Correction: Rephrase or expand on the student’s statement, correcting the mistake and emphasizing or isolating the word or phrase that you are correcting. “

While I taught my students and learned with them, I gave students homework and activities outside the school. My students needed to “find their own way, taking charge of their learning” (Brown, 2007: p. 258). I would like them to learn to communicate spontaneously without a script in their hands. My desire is for them to share and receive in a dialogue in order to be able to do their part in a real life situation. This realistic and functional approach to language learning presents “a feel for the language by experimenting with its grammar and words” (p.258). As I led my students to “make their own opportunities for practice in using the language inside and outside the classroom, they also spent time socializing with their native-English speaking peers, friends and relatives. This advances not only their cognition for English language but also their ability to acculturate themselves in the country since a few of my students were new comers.

If not all, most of the strategies, on pages 259 and 260 of the book entitled “Teaching by Principles” by Douglas Brown, were incorporated in my lessons at different times depending on the objectives of the lessons. In order for me to get students buy-in when teaching these strategies, I needed to explain the purpose of the lesson especially its direct/indirect importance and impact in their current and future endeavors. I shared with them the importance and impact of the lesson and then they prepared themselves to learn. A good example of gaining students buy-in was evident in Miss Dimoss’ video. She discussed why the skills learned from the lesson were important and how they could be utilized outside the classroom.

One of the highlights of Ms. Dimoss’ video talked about making lesson objective explicit. It was stated that “having students “buy-in” to what they are learning is an effective way to motivate them. When students buy in, they:

· Begin to realize how the information or skills they are learning fit into a bigger picture.

· Understand how they will use the information

· Are given a purpose for learning.

Allowing students to reach their own conclusions about the importance of an activity allows them to take ownership of their learning process.”

One of the strategies that I feel I have taught not as much the other strategies is for students to learn certain tricks that help them keep a conversation going. In order for the students to be interested in this strategy, I will tell them that keeping the conversation going can be a powerful skill that a person should have especially when he desires to inform, to educate and to persuade as well as to entertain in a given situation. Having mastered strategies for keeping the conversation going and for being skillful at it may lead to a success in dealing with people in the private and public settings. If I were to teach this strategy, I would like to show video clips of talk shows, debates, group discussions or even simple and good conversation when strangers meet and carry and keep a conversation going. My students will identify patterns of the video clips that kept the conversation going. The class will also discuss the strategies that people in the video utilized in order to have a meaningful conversation.

After the class discussion, I can probably utilize think, pair and share strategy. I will ask my students to organize themselves to a group of 2 or 3 and then discuss one of topics they like such as favorite movies, favorite actors/actresses, favorite games, favorite toys, countries they are interested in visiting, the person they admire and many types of topics. I will reiterate that the objective of the activity is to keep the conversation going with a partner or partners. The importance of the lesson is that students can be educated, informed, persuaded and entertained as they listened to their partners or maybe not depending on how it is performed. My students may use strategies that people in the video clips utilized. Each group in my class will share strategies they have used to keep their conversation going when they were doing their discussions.

Kindest regards,

Edward Guinto

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Teaching students to be good readers

Learning to read and reading to learn are important components of academic life that students need to attain success. For second language learners who are fluent and accurate in their native language, “reading comprehension is primarily a matter of developing appropriate, efficient comprehension strategies”(Brown, 2007: p. 366). Douglas Brown, a professor of MA-TESOL program at the San Francisco State University outlined 10 reading strategies which can be applied in the classroom. These strategies include identifying the purpose in reading, use of graphemic rules and patterns to aid in bottom-up decoding, use of efficient silent reading technique for improving fluency, skimming the text for main ideas, scanning the text for specific information, use of semantic mapping or clustering, guessing when you are not certain, analyzing vocabulary, distinguishing between literal and implied meanings and capitalizing on discourse markets to process relationships (p. 366).

The above-mentioned reading strategies were very helpful not only for the second language learners but also to native speakers. I believe that the use of each strategy varies according to the objectives of each lesson. Some strategies may be used with other strategies while some others might be better used alone in order not to overwhelm beginning English learners. Each classroom, each teacher and each student is different. Whether or not a particular strategy will be used is a decision of the teacher who knows his lesson objectives, his students and their needs.

When I was teaching English language learners, I always used to identify the purpose of reading because “efficient reading consists of clearly identifying the purpose in reading something. By doing so, you know what you are looking for and can weed out potential distracting information. Whenever you are teaching a reading technique, make sure students know their purpose in reading something” (Brown, 2007:p.366). Sue Baker mentioned in the video entitled “Developing Academic Vocabulary” that our students are much more critical consumers of education. Students need to know why it is valuable to be able to read what they are reading. Sue Baker believed that students will be motivated to read when they are aware of the purpose for reading and they will learn to read and read to learn.

I also utilized the strategy called skimming the text for main ideas and scanning the text for specific information. The objectives of my lessons and the grade level of my students determined the simplicity or complexity of the activities associated with these strategies. Skimming is specifically useful in order to “give students a head start as they embark on more focused reading” (Brown, 2007: p. 368). On the other hand, scanning is necessary, especially when students “need to extract specific information without reading through the whole text” (Brown, 2007:p. 368).

Touching again on the strategy that suggests identifying the purpose in reading, I believe that a teacher needs to establish a sense of purpose/objective when he asks students to read.
When I was a student in elementary and high school level (no middle school in the Philippines), I remembered reading numerous materials not because I had sense of purpose but because I was told to do so. I felt no connection to my reading. I felt burned out. I think that in all activities in a classroom, there are possible connections to real life situations. A teacher needs to be creative in establishing the connection between the lesson and real life scenarios. For example, when teaching poetry, students can make a poem for their mom, friends or their crush and they will see their reactions. When they read newspapers, students can become socially aware and being socially aware leads to being informed and being informed may lead to a wise personal, professional or political decision. When they read history, students learn about real-life successes and failures in the past, which they need to remember in order to adopt good practices and remedy bad practices in the present as well as in the future.

When skimming a text for main ideas, a teacher can ask students to turn the pages of a book for a minute and glance at the words and pictures on each page. A teacher can ask students to group themselves and have them identify the possible purpose of the text, and the main topic or theme of the text. As the class reads the text, the students will be interested to learn that some of their assumptions are similar and dissimilar with the information in the text.

When scanning the text for specific information, a teacher needs to specify what information the students need to produce. It should be clear whether students are supposed to answer questions about WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHO, WHY and HOW from a given reading assignment. A teacher may ask the students to look for key words which point to relevant information in order to be able to answer specific questions.

What kinds of scaffolding can you provide to help children with tasks that depend upon these reading skills?

Identify the purpose in reading.

Drawing on students’ prior knowledge may be used to scaffold this strategy. In addition, a teacher may ask students’ opinions and knowledge about the importance of a particular topic for themselves, for their family, for their friends, for the community etc. This is similar to the video shown in Ms. Loret Peterson’s class when she used the technique of eliciting students’ opinions about the importance of root words which proved effective for gaining student buy-in. A teacher can also write the learning objective on the board or ask students to write the learning objective before beginning a reading activity.

The video of Ms. Peterson which highlights student buy-in showed why having students buy-in to what they are learning is an effective way to motivate them:


· Students begin to realize how the information or skills they were learning fit into a bigger picture.

· Students understood how they will use the information

· Students were given a purpose for learning.

Skim the text for main ideas

A teacher may ask students questions that will guide them in finding the correct answers. He can also present two ideas to students and they can decide which one is the main idea/ or theme. This was the strategy that Ms. Katie Hull utilized in her classroom when she gave EAST L.A. or STEREOTYPING as two possible themes. As the narrator mentioned, Ms. Hull recognizes the importance of theme in reading comprehension. Identifying the theme of a reading passage allows the reader to make predictions about what will happen next, elucidates the problem a main character must overcome, and contributes to the reader’s overall comprehension of a text. A teacher can also draw on students’ prior knowledge.

Scan the text for specific information.

Drawing on students’ prior knowledge can be used to enhance this strategy so that students will feel more comfortable when learning. In order for students not to feel overwhelmed, the activities may be divided into parts, and one part must be completed before proceeding to the next. For example, students will only focus on names, then dates, then key concepts…one theme at a time. Another way to scaffold this is by modeling.

Taking a reading inventory

By having the following in the classroom, students can practice their reading more comfortably:

1. Schedule of Activities.

2. Learning objectives and educational standards posted.

3. Textbooks.

4. Dictionaries and other general references.

5. Maps.

6. Classroom Rules.

7. Student work samples posted.

8. School Newsletter.

9. Signs such as exit, entrance, fire extinguisher, etc.

10. Labels.

11. Thinking maps.

12. Many possible reading stimuli.

Materials outside the classroom that will facilitate reading success:


1. Print and television advertisement

2. Mail

3. E-mail

4. Internet

5. Food labels

6. Medicine labels and safety instructions

7. Newspapers

8. Community signs

9. Tag prices

10. Circulars

11. Directions

12. And many more!

I incorporate reading genres in my teaching. When I was teaching my students about community signs or community helpers, the students, aides, and I had to dramatize the lessons about community helpers. In addition to this, the class had some additional exposure by visiting work places of community helpers such as firemen, policemen, doctor, etc. This provided them with real life exposure and a genuine encounter with the community helpers. They could also ask questions regarding the duties and responsibilities of these helpers which provided them an opportunity to expand their knowledge and vocabulary.

Another lesson I taught was about transportation. I presented the bus schedule, particularly that of the Glendale Beeline. I had to give each of my students a route map/schedule of this line. I wanted them to learn how to read a basic map, route and schedule as presented in a simple table. This could also be an introduction to statistics where students learn how to read legends represented by colors. This can be used in the future to teach Math for time, physics for movement and speed, chemistry for chemicals, etc.

Kindest regards,

Edward Guinto

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

ROLES OF PRIMARY LANGUAGE IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

The native language or the primary language of any language learner has numerous roles in the learning or acquiring of a second language. For the purpose of this paper, I would like to use learning and acquiring a language as two interchangeable terms like some experts believe. This is contrary to Stephen Krashen who differentiated language learning from language acquisition.

Peresuh and Masuku examined the role of primary language in learning. “It shows that the first language acts as a sort of a “gatekeeper” i.e. filtering and interpreting mechanism within which subsequent concepts are best developed. My experience when I was starting to learn English as my second language showed that concepts needed to be formed in my mind using my Filipino native language. When concepts formed visual representations in my mind, I started to interpret them in my native language and translate them to English before speaking and writing them in English. There was a delay in my responses due to process involving a native language and the target language.

In recognizing how knowledge in the native language transfers to the second language, Professor Henji Hakuta mentioned in his video lecture that “the strength of development of the native language is going to transfer to the second language.” Hakuta believed that children who have strong native language development will also have strong first-language development; if they are weak in the first language, they will be weak in the second language.

A number of my experiences teaching English learners of different countries at the British School in Manila revealed that when children were learning English language specifically when speaking and writing, they deliberately fall back upon their native language. I found this amusing. My experience is also supported by the research done by Peresuh and Masuku which stated, “the primary language is used so that the child gets the opportunity to learn the basic concepts in his own language and to give him freedom to express himself without the inhibitions imposed by an insufficient mastery of the medium of instruction. It is hoped that the child will use his primary linguistic skills in acquiring the second language.”

WHAT TEACHERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE ROLE OF PRIMARY LANGAUGE IN THE SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISTION AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

There are a number of things that teachers need to know regarding the role of the primary language in learning a second language. An effort by teachers to understand these roles is essential, especially in the United States where there have been an increasing number of English learners due to the influx of immigrants from various parts of the globe.

Professor Hakuta stated that the need to undo what was learned in the first language in order to learn the second language was overwhelming for the child. Teachers need to understand that there are many aspects of the second language acquisition which complement the native language. Most, if not all languages, have their verbs, subjects, prepositions, etc. Each language may be different in terms of grammatical structure but they are also share a universal grammar in many ways.

There are instances where English learners have difficulty learning the syntax and orthography of the English language because their primary language syntax and orthography is very different from English. An example of such language difference is Filipino and Spanish versus English. To my understanding, all words in Spanish and in Filipino are pronounced according to set of rules that do not vary. Words are enunciated phonetically with combinations of only short vowel sounds; whereas, English has numerous sets of sight or high frequency words. A Filipino or Hispanic child might read the English word “one” as o-neh or au-neh.

Koreans and Chinese usually have difficulty enunciating words with the letter “R” and this is often also reflected in their writing. Professor Hakuta believe that it is important for teachers to decide which are the important kinds of errors that need attention. There are numerous suggestions found in different research done by different experts on how to effectively teach English language learners. Some are practical and some are ambitious. However, professor Hakuta opined that research does not really have that much to say about how to go about deciding what needs to be addressed. They are dependent on the decisions that are made based on the level of the classroom teacher.

SOCIAL AND STRUCTURAL CONTRASTS BETWEEN ENGLISH AND ANOTHER LANGUAGE

There are social and structural differences between the English language and foreign languages. Every language has a social and a structural function. The social function of each language is attached to the culture in which it is spoken.

Allow me to first discuss the structural contrast between English and other languages. For British and Americans, greeting someone “How are you?”once, twice or thrice a day is normal but doing the same in the Philippines is too much and seems odd. The greeting how are you for Filipinos is usually used to signify deep excitement to see someone with whom one has lost touch for quite a while.

Another example of social function of language contrasting with English language is addressing someone with respect. In Spanish, when one addresses someone in Spanish, the speaker uses “usted” to signify formality and respect and “Tu” to indicate familiarity. This has no counterpart in the English language unless one addresses someone as sir or ma’am, which has another equivalent in Spanish.

Professor Hakuta specifically mentioned that English is predominantly linear in its patterns and Oriental languages are marked by indiscretion. This means that when communicating, English speakers are more direct than speakers of Oriental languages. An example is when statements turned into questions to emphasize demands. For instance, an American will say, “Stop, when you see a red light.” For some people speaking in different language they would rather say, “Can you stop when you see a red light?” For some cultures being straightforward is a sign of arrogance and hostility. This is true in Filipino provincial society.

Aside from the social functions of language, English has a different structural pattern from many languages. To show negation in English, the negative words such as never, no, not are placed after the auxiliary verbs. For example is “I cannot, can never, can no longer drive.” In Spanish, the negation word no is always placed before the verbs but in French negation words non and pas come before and after the verbs respectively.

For apostrophe S, English language marks apostrophe S after the object or person’s name to show possession. But as shown in the video Guided Speaking Skills by Ms. Linda Tong, apostrophe S does not exist in Chinese language in order to show possession. In Spanish, there is never an apostrophe S to signify possession. It is also with the use of de or del.

Another difference is the placement of subject and verbs in sentences both in writing and speaking. A sentence, “You want coffee?” will be translated to Filipino as “Gusto mo kape?” If I were to follow the English logical arrangement of the Filipino this words, it will become “Mo Gusto Kape?” which is a ridiculous yet understandable way of coming up with the same meaning.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS

Fillmore and Snow suggested that “an understanding of linguistics can help teachers see that the discourse patterns they value are aspects of their own cultures and background; they are neither universal nor inherently more valid than other possible patterns. Without such an understanding, teachers sometimes assume that there is something wrong with the students whose ways of using language are not what they expect”(2000: p. 5).

It is also important to be familiar with the culture where a particular language is spoken. “In some cultures, for example, children are encouraged to listen rather than to ask questions of adults. Only rude and poorly reared children would chatter away in the presence of an authority figure like the teacher”(p.9).

Fillmore and Snow also suggested courses which teachers need to take in order to understand English learners better. These courses include Language and Linguistics, Language and Cultural Diversity, Sociolinguistics for Educators in a Linguistically Diverse Society, Language Development, Second Language Learning and Teaching, The Language of Academic Discourse, Text Analysis and Language Understanding in Educational Settings.

Technology can also be used to alleviate the problems. With modern technology, there are a variety of ways to catch the interest of the English language learners while they are learning English. There are many interactive games that help teach English content and structure. The internet, a facet of modern technology, can provide almost unlimited reading materials that will help teachers understand and help English learners. However, Professor Hakuta mentioned that the level of the teachers determines which concerns of English learning are given primary focus.

CONCLUSION

Researchers and experts have made several suggestions on how to effectively educate English language learners. Some suggestions might be costly or laborious for the teachers. Experts themselves have different and sometimes conflicting views about second language acquisition. I am overwhelmed by the richness of information that there is for this student population.

On the other hand, I agree with Professor Hakuta when he states that the decision is for the teachers to make. Of primary importance is the sensitivity of the teacher towards culture and language. We teachers need to free our minds from stereotypes, prejudice, and preconceived notions regarding certain cultures. We need to embrace the reality that diversity exists in our society.

We must take steps to prepare ourselves to be better teachers. We need to understand the cultures of our students in order to connect with them. We also need to better understand the syntax, the semantics and the pragmatics of the English language in order to guide our students to a successful second language acquisition. If we do not understand English then we are like the blind leading the blind.

Remember…we cannot teach something we do not know.

Monday, May 16, 2011

ON SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

Language acquisition is one of the most fascinating and impressive aspects of human development. We listen with pleasure to the sounds made by a three-month-old baby (Lightbrown, 2006: p. 1). We are pleased to hear children utter new words, phrases or sentences wondering how they learn it and from whom they got those words. Many believe that it is the home that feeds information to these children who acquire and apply language in different contexts.

The video entitled The Human Language Series part 2, which featured several language experts, showed that children uttered words, phrases and sentences which they did not hear from their mother, peers and people by whom they are surrounded. An example of this was when a mother used the words Pajamas repeatedly, the child copied it saying bajamas. The mother corrected the child a number of times but the child insisted on saying bajamas .

In this paper, I will discuss, based on my understanding of the readings/videos and my experiences as a teacher and an English learner, the factors that affect second language acquisition. I will also discuss the impact of these factors on learning second languages successfully. Along with this, I will describe three of the five hypotheses of Stephen Krahens and their relevance to teachers of English Language Learners. After the discussion of these factors and these hypotheses, I will mention some of my classroom experiences and what I will possibly do after reading and viewing the topics following this introduction.

FACTORS AFFECTING SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITON AND THEIR IMPACT ON SUCCESSFUL LANGUAGE LEARNING

There are many factors affecting second language acquisition. Each of the many possible factors can affect language learning on different levels. I would like to focus on two major factors affecting second language acquisition. My focus is on the psychological and socio-cultural factors. They seem to play an integral role in the language acquisition of human beings.

A) Psychological Factors

Psychological factors involve the background, the socio-emotional state and the cognitive ability of the language learner. These psychological factors have great influences on second language acquisition. The success of second language acquisition will be contingent upon the status of these factors.

I would like to limit my discussion of the Learners’ background to only the name, previous second language experience, preferences and age. The background of the learner may be a contributing factor towards a success for language acquisition. An example is when people are called by their names. They feel validated if their names are treated with respect and not with prejudice (Diaz-Rico, 2006: p. 5). Teachers who make an effort to correctly enunciate students’ foreign names give a message that they care for the children and the children in the classroom feel a sense of belonging. The children’s feeling that they belong makes them comfortable so they will willingly join class activities and acquire and learn a language.

When I was teaching at the British School Manila, an international school in the Philippines where students come from approximately 40 different countries, I felt that the previous second language experiences of the child can be a contributing factor influencing success in learning a second or additional language. Students use patterns of their language and translate thoughts from their own language to English. As a teacher, I understood the meanings of their utterances or writings, but in the back of my mind, I knew there was strangeness. An example of this was “Edward touched me or make palo (beating in Filipino) but it is like this strong, it hurts (referring to Edward hitting him/her).” One can assume, in this scenario, that the child knows some English but he lacked enough words to sustain a purely English conversation. As a result, the child resorts to acting the words and/or using non-English words. If I am not mistaken, this is called code-switching in the academic language.

Another factor that I believe is important is to know the preferences/interests of the language learners. Due to modern technology, a great number of children have different preferences and interests. These vary from televisions, computers, music players, mobile phones, play stations, Hollywood, and many others. I remember my Korean student who was highly interested in cars. He took pride in Hyundai, a Korean company. He believed that Hyundai makes the best car in the world. Although I did not agree and I honestly was not interested, I encouraged him to tell me about Hyundai cars and what made them special. I did not remember the advantages of having a Hyundai car because I was not interested ... not to mention that I was not a car owner at that time. Regardless of my disinterest, I used his interest to make our individualized instruction communicative and cooperative. I laugh each time I remember it.

On the other hand, another factor that affects second language acquisition is age. Although many people believe that children acquire a second language more rapidly than adults, recent research counters this notion (Diaz-Rico, 2006: p. 7). It is also the case that reaching high levels of second language proficiency involves aptitude, motivation, and the appropriate social conditions for learning (Lightbrown, 2006: p. 73). What this means for me is that age is not a determining factor for the success of second language acquisition and learning. There are variables such as aptitude, the willingness and the environment of the language learner. A case in point is that all language learners of the same grade level in the same classroom do not absorb the same amount information when learning a language. Some fall behind and some excel. As professor Hakuta mentioned in his Introductory Video part 2, “there is specific part of your brain, usually located in the left hemisphere for most people, in which, if that area is damaged, for unfortunate, various reasons, you have difficulty in acquiring language.” His statement refers to the aptitude and the cognitive ability of a child to acquire language.

Aside from the background of the language learners, socio-emotional components of the learner’s psychology affect second language acquisition. Socio-emotional components may take the form of self-esteem, motivation, anxiety level and attitudes.

Diaz-Rico mentioned that self-esteem is particularly at risk when learning second language because so much identity and pride are associated with language competence (2006: p. 11). In many cases, if a language learner starts acquiring or learning language in an unreasonably challenging way, they are not motivated to continue learning. They fear that they might be labeled as intellectually inferior especially when, as professor Hakuta mentioned in his follow up video lecture part one, English acquisition is used as a proxy for doing well in school. My observation in the Philippines was that English acquisition is associated with intellectual competence and this results in either over-performance or underperformance by the students, neither of which is beneficial. This fosters a competitive environment rather than a cooperative learning environment.

Motivation affects second language acquisition. Motivation can be both personal and professional. Some learners do well in acquiring second language because they would like to connect with their relatives whose native language is the second language. Professional ends, like in the Philippines, bring more honors to learners in the job market, in schools and in the community because Filipino culture believes that English is the language of the elite and the learned.

The level of anxiety and the attitudes of the learners towards second language also affect language acquisition. Anxiety can cause learners to feel defensive and can block effective learning (Diaz-Rico, 2006: p. 13). The attitudes of the learner towards the language may result into the failure or success of language acquisition. For example, Filipinos regard the English language as very valuable because its acquisition will lead to professional success. However, according to the parents of my former French students, French nationals take so much pride in their language that the use of English in France between two French nationals or even with visitors might create tension.

Another interesting psychological factor that affects second language acquisition is the learner’s cognitive ability. Cognitive ability refers to cognitive style, learning style and learning strategies of the language learners. Many believe that immersion of children in classrooms that only use English language as a medium of instruction facilitates faster language acquisition. This might be true on some levels. Moreover, the speed of acquiring language is not only dependent on the nurturing environment but also on the nature of the child. It is a case of nature and nurture. Each can only do so much, but a combination of both is stronger than either one. Such combinations account for the cognitive style, learning style and learning strategies of the language learners when acquiring second language.

B) Socio-cultural Factors

Language learning occurs within social and cultural context. As one masters a language, he is also becoming a member of the community that uses this language to interact, learn, conduct business, love and hate and participate in a myriad of other social activities( Diaz-Rico, 2006: p. 19). I believe that language and culture are intertwined. Learning a language is also learning the culture. When one learns only the language excluding its cultural component, he/she will end up just translating words from first language to second language without regard to how such a translation will affect people whose native language is the second language being studied. This also means that language affects behavior and behavior affects language. People interact through verbal and non-verbal language on some occasions. Each ethnic group interacts with certain pattern of words and non-verbal communication to convey their meanings. This statement is supported by Diaz-Rico on page 20 which stipulates, “when two cultures come into contact, misunderstanding can result because members of these cultures have different perceptions, behaviors, customs and ideas. Thus, socio-cultural factors-how people interact with one another and how they carry out their daily business-play a large role in second language acquisition.”

Among the socio-cultural factors is acculturation, which is defined by Diaz-Rico as the process of adapting to a new culture. The author mentioned that the degree to which a learner acculturates to the target language group will control the degree to which he acquires second language. For example in the United States, immigrant children acquire English; however, the kind of English which these children will acquire depends on the group which surrounds them. As I communicate with Americans, I notice differences in English. depending on their personal demography. Some would say I don’t want anything, some would say I don’t want nothing and others would say, I ain’t want nothing. All statements are English but have different patterns.

DISCUSSION ON THREE KRASHEN’S HYPOTHESES AND THEIR RELEVANCE TO TEACHERS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

Allow me to discuss in this paper, three of the five theories of Stephen Krashen hypotheses and their relevance to teachers of English language learners. I chose to briefly discuss the Acquisition-learning hypothesis, the input hypothesis and the affective filter hypothesis.

A) Acquisition-learning hypothesis

Krashen believed that acquisition and learning are two different terms. For him, acquisition is a result of language learners’ exposure to the situation using the second language without a deliberate effort from a learner. He compared acquisition to a child learning first language without a conscious attention to language form. On the other hand, we learn through our deliberate/conscious effort to understand the second language. We become conscious of the rules, vocabularies, usage, etc.

The relevance of this to teachers of English Langauge Learners is that teachers should be aware that learners both acquire and learn language. There are unconscious and conscious types of exposure to second language. Since I teach severely handicapped students who are all non-verbal, this theory might not apply in my classroom as much as in my previous teaching roles and possibly in my future teaching assignments. What I believe is that teaching second language should be task-based and communicative. There should be a growing emphasis on the substance prior to addressing the form. Children need to learn fluency and when they master fluency, they will be confident enough to learn accuracy.

B) Input hypothesis

Input hypothesis states that acquisition occurs when one is exposed to language that is comprehensible and that contains i+1. The letter “I” represents the level of language already acquired and the “+1” is a metaphor for language (words, grammatical forms, aspects of pronunciation) that is just a step beyond that level (Lightbrown, 2006: p. 37).

For the classroom teacher, Diaz-Rico mentioned, “the relevance of this hypothesis lies in its emphasis on comprehensible. When working with English Learners, teachers need to use a variety of techniques and modalities, including visual and kinesthetic, to ensure that their speech is understandable” (2006: p. 58).

Given the above, I like to become aware of the zone of proximal development of my English learners. I continue to build their confidence for fluency while polishing their accuracy by giving lessons that have meaningful relationships and connections to them. I might ask students to write essays, compose a song that they’d like to perform, or interview someone to emphasize what they have already acquired while providing additional lessons. I will design lessons in such a way that there is cooperative learning rather than competitive learning so that students and teachers will learn from each other while having fun.

C) Affective filter hypothesis

In the book How Languages are learned, the authors stated that “some people who are exposed to large quantities of comprehensible input do not necessarily acquire a language successfully. This is accounted for by Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis. The affective filter is a metaphorical barrier that prevents learners from acquiring language even when appropriate input is available. ‘Affect’ refers to feelings, motives, needs, attitudes and emotional states. A learner who is tensed, anxious or bored may filter out input, making it unavailable for acquisition” (Lightbrown: 2006: p. 37).

The relevance of this hypothesis for teachers of English Language is that the classroom environment should be non-threatening and encouraging. This promotes active learning which students increasingly enjoy and appreciate.

I have been doing this as a teacher, especially now that I am serving the severely handicapped student population. I arrange my classroom in a way that will facilitate functional learning by communicating through pictures, playing soothing instrumental music and learning by doing. These activities will make them physically engage while they actively use all their senses.

CONCLUSION

Language acquisition and learning has been a mystery for me until now. Different experts have expressed conflicting beliefs concerning language acquisition and learning. In spite of the many factors that affect success of learners in second language acquisition, I believe that they are not determining factors but rather contributing factors in the success or failure of second language acquisition.

I stand firm in my belief that the success of learners in second language acquisition is dependent on the level of nurturing in the child’s environment and also his cognitive ability to learn. The job of the teacher is to provide a nurturing learning environment for children regardless of the cognitive ability of his/her students.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Ellis, R. Principles of Instructed Language Learning. Asian EFL Journal, 7(3). Available at http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/sept_05_re.pdf.
  2. Lightbown, Patsy M., & Spada, Nina. (2006). How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapters 1–3 (pp. 1–75). [book]
  3. Diaz-Rico, Lynne & Weed, Kathryn. (2006). The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. Ch. 1 (p.2–30), Ch.3 (p. 50–72).
  4. Searchinger, Gene (Producer/Writer/Director). (1995). The human language series. NY: Ways of Knowing, Inc. [Documentary video series]. Pay special attention to Part 2: Playing the language game: Acquiring the human language. If time permits, you are also encouraged to watch Part 1: Colorless green ideas: Discovering the human language. (These documentary videos can be found online.)