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Supporting Young English Language and Literacy Learners

pass the bombMany believe that the acquisition of oral language must precede learning to read and write in a second language. Yet, the integration of reading- writing- speaking-listening- thinking may not only enhance, but also, clarify L2 language learning in communicative settings.  In this post Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar on supporting young second language learners as they develop biliteracy.

In our volume, Focus on Literacy, my colleague, Danling Fu, and I discussed the idea that “languaging pushes thinking while thinking pushes and extends languaging.” We used the term “languaging-as-thinking” to describe the process of “doing language, literacy, and learning while being and becoming (Fu & Matoush, 2014, pp. 14-15).” Active languaging-as-thinking while learning to read-write-speak-listen leads to bilingual/biliterate communicative competence, particularly when it is done for purposes that students see as meaningful and authentic.

Active languaging-as-thinking takes place during discussions before, during, and after reading. Just as significantly, it also takes place during the drafting of pieces of written communication and during interactions about the revision of those pieces of writing.  And, when teachers view reading as an opportunity for students to see, hear, and respond to language and view writing as an opportunity for students to give voice to their own interests, inclinations, and ideas, they lead students on the journey to becoming thoughtful biliterates via:

  • Language acquisition that’s connected to home language and cultures
  • Voiced, personally meaningful language and literacy
  • Opportunities to develop cognitive flexibility as well as linguistic flexibility

Instructional emphasis on active languaging-as-thinking impacts student’s understandings of L2 language and literacy and their feelings of self-efficacy regarding L2 language and literacy learning. Further, such an emphasis impacts their identity development as empowered biliterate language users who can choose how, when, where, and with whom they are able to communicate because they learn to make social, cultural, and linguistic choices that can reflect those identities.

Bilingual/Biliterate Development

Second language learners construct “one language system” not “two separate language systems” (Genesee, 2002). This newly acquired system develops gradually as students develop linguistic, cultural, social, and personal understandings. The developmental process is unique to each and learners develop at their own rates and according to their own particular sequence. This requires new language and literacy acquisition to be understood in terms of each student’s home language, culture and social interactions, their experiences with L1 literacy learning, as well as the personal interests, abilities, and inclinations that determine each individual’s use of language and literacy.  Because these factors are unique to each student, supporting each student through the process of becoming biliterate is not a simple task.

Supporting Bilingual/Biliterate Growth

“Don’t expect perfection, expect growth.”

– Linda Hoyt

Many instructional approaches focus on correct, native-like language use for L2 learners.  Yet, primary school learners are grounded in home-based language practices that are “transformed” (Grosjean, 1989) as a new interlanguage system develops. The “multicompetence” (Cook, 1991) that results from this process of transformation suggests that learning should be viewed in terms of “interlanguage” growth rather than in terms of the “target language” (Firth and Wagner, 1997). There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that this applies to both oral and written language development among primary school learners as well as among older students. In fact, Fu (2009) observed adolescent L2 writers and noted that many students visibly progressed from home language writing, to mixed language writing, to the clear use of interlanguage and that this progression occurred prior to the use of conventional English.

Similarly, many instructional approaches focus on bilingual or oral language development prior to biliterate or written language development. Yet, reading-writing-listening-speaking-thinking develop into a single, integrated interlanguage system in which written language supports oral language acquisition, just as oral language supports written language acquisition. Also, both oral and written language lacquisition are supported by:

  • realia (physical objects)
  • gestures, movements, and other kinesthetic involvement
  • illustrations and other representations
  • personal experiences grounded in home language and culture
  • shared events and experiences
  • meaningful social uses of language

The forthcoming webinar will focus on how these and other active languaging supports that enhance L2 biliteracy learning among diverse primary school students. A few practical, low-cost ideas for generating text that can be used for instructional purposes will be included.

 

register-for-webinar

 

Cook, V. (1991). The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multicompetence.  Second Language Research 7, 103–17.

Firth, A. & Wagner, J. (1997) On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81. 285-300.

Fu, D. (2009). Writing between languages: How English language learners make the transition to fluency. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fu, D. & Matoush, M. M. (2014). Focus on literacy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Genesee, F. (2002). Portrait of a bilingual child. In Vivian Cook (Ed.), Portraits of the L2 User. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 167-196.

Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person.  Brain and Language 36, 3-15.

 

 


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Technology Enhanced Language Learning 

DeathtoStock_Medium10Aisha Walker, Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at Leeds University, introduces her webinar, Technology Enhanced Language Learning, hosted by Oxford University Press on February 25th and 26th.

As I lead an MA programme in TESOL and ICT I frequently see draft student assignments that open with a sentence such as: “Technology is increasingly important in the world today.” The student may then go on to say that today’s learners are ‘digital natives’, that technology motivates and engages students and that all teachers should be using more of it.  Luckily, because we offer students the opportunity to get feedback on drafts before submission, I can catch these broad statements and ask students to be more measured and more critical in their approaches to concepts such as the ‘digital native’ or ‘technology for learner motivation’.

So why should language teachers make use of digital technologies?  I see two main reasons although there may be other pressures such as institutional policies (if a school has spent a lot of money on a new online learning environment, for example, they will want teachers to use it).  The first reason is that digital media are part of the way that we use language in the real world.  Much of our day-to-day communication is mediated by digital tools including email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’s App and much more.  These tools are normal sites of language use and it is as important to explore these with learners as it is to explore older media such as newspapers and radio (now often online, of course).

The second reason is that technology can provide solutions to some of the problems that we encounter as language teachers.  For example, in the context of a single-language classroom there is little reason for students to communicate in the target language except that the teacher tells them to.  Digital tools may enable them to communicate with an audience outside the classroom, for example by posting blogs or videos either to a general audience or in partnership with a class of learners elsewhere.  Whilst I do not believe that technology is intrinsically motivating, novelty and variety do engage and motivate students.  Technology offers plenty of novel possibilities from new ways of presenting material to new games for language practice.

In summary, digital tools and media are part of everyday language use and should, therefore, be part of language learning.  In addition, the range of possibilities offered by digital tools mean that there are many ways in which technology can enhance language learning. But… ‘learners are digital natives’? It’s more complicated than that!

To explore how using everyday digital tools and media can be part of language learning, join us for Aisha’s upcoming webinar Technology Enhanced Language Learning.


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Coming of Age as a Teacher

Teacher in classroomAnna Parisi is course tutor and materials designer for teacher development courses at ACCESS, in Greece. Anna has extensive experience in syllabus design and producing supplementary materials for private language institutions in Greece. Ahead of her webinars on 27th and 28th January, she gives us a preview of what she will be talking about…

I envy new teachers!

When you are a new teacher, everything you do is new. While ‘learning the ropes’, you constantly take risks and experiment, evaluate and take decisions. There are so many surprises: your students surprise you, you surprise yourself. It can be highly stressful but exciting because it’s an on-going process of observation and discovery.

We call this ‘enthusiasm’.

And then, routine starts settling in. We know we have to cover the curriculum no matter what, finish the book, and after so much trial and error we know what works best ( well, most of the time) so why take risks?  We change our routines when something goes seriously wrong or when we are bored out of our wits.

We call this ‘experience’.

Occasionally, both enthusiastic new teachers and experienced old-hands attend conferences, listen to experts and take notes. Later, we may use 1 or 2 ideas in class but generally we find ’there is no time’, ‘you can’t do this in the real world’ as real students often respond in a different way to what we want them to.

We also share fabulous ideas and photographs on the social media; we follow gurus and mentors online in search of general truths and successful practices. But still most of our issues in the classroom remain unresolved, and out of date or over-demanding curricula remain in place.

In the meantime, there is so much that goes unacknowledged, devalued or ignored: teachers’ tacit knowledge, the knowledge that teachers have acquired through the years but find it difficult to articulate or transmit.

While PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) have helped in this respect with sharing lots of ideas, thoughts and insights, teaching lives as depicted online have left a lot feeling they are missing out on developments or even with undeserved feelings of inadequacy. This wealth of ideas from teachers, trainers, authors is a host of wonderful recipes but not a better diet overall.

The gap between theory and practice remains as large as ever, published material sometimes seems to come from a parallel universe, and although everything takes place for the good of students, they are not part of the decision making and are not even asked what they think some or most of the time.

For teachers to take control and have greater professional responsibility over what we do, small scale teacher-led research is the next step in teacher development.

Why research?

Research is by definition questioning, challenging preconceptions, discovering, experimenting. Teacher-led research is action taking place where the action is: in the EFL classroom. If we, teachers, would like to see change and improvement then we are the best placed to initiate and undertake it. If we want greater autonomy, we will have to seek and welcome greater responsibility.

If we believe that we, teachers, should be involved in curricula change then we ‘need to take a critical and experimental approach to our classrooms’ (Nunan 1989). Solutions to practical problems in the classroom can rarely be imported from outside the classroom. It’s the teacher who is best placed to investigate and resolve issues by taking some course of action.  By researching our own classes we can better understand our own classroom procedures. We can become better able to assess what actually happens in the classroom as opposed to our own assumptions about what happens.  Teacher-led, classroom based research also means consulting our students, understanding and catering for their differences.

But what does teacher-led classroom based research involve?

Carrying out research should be a collective project, not a solitary task.  It’s really about discovering, sharing and transmitting knowledge, problem-solving. It’s an integral part of teacher development. Carrying out such a project can be a collective experience inclusive of all teachers in all stages of professional development. Teachers being part of this experience is the heart of a collective, teacher-led research project.

In the upcoming webinar, we’ll look at some of the basics of teacher-led classroom based research and how it can transform our teaching lives. You’ll be surprised! You can register for the webinar here.

References

Nunan, D.  and Bailey, K.M. 2008 . Exploring Second Language Classroom Research : A Comprehensive Guide. Boston: Heinle

Nunan, D. 1989. Understanding Language Classrooms . Cambridge : Prentice Hall International


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What are the building blocks of skills teaching?

What are the building blocks of skills teaching and how can these help your learners listen and read for tomorrow?

Take a look at this infographic to find out more.

Navigate Infographic

Navigate is a brand new General English course that takes an innovative approach to reading and listening based on this academic research as to how adults best learn languages. It teaches reading and listening from the bottom up, giving learners the skills they need to understand the next text they will read and hear, not just the one they are reading or hearing now. The course content also has been extensively piloted and reviewed in ELT classrooms across the world, giving teachers the confidence that it really works. Find out more at www.oup.com/elt/yourdirectroute


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The Many Challenges of Academic Writing for ESL

The challenges of academic writing in ESLDr. Ann Snow, writing consultant for Q: Skills for Success, Second Edition, discusses the particular challenges of writing in an academic context.

This month I will be teaching a new academic writing course for second language students at my university. I am thus thinking a lot about writing these days and looking forward to helping my students become better academic writers. I’ve promised a lot in my course proposal. I will:

  • Cover characteristics of expository writing and help students apply them to their own academic disciplines;
  • guide them through a cycle of awareness and analysis leading to self-assessment; expose them to different text types (e.g. problem-solutions, methods, discussion sections) and genres (e.g. critiques, case studies, literature reviews, research papers);
  • help them improve their sentence and discourse-level grammar and be better proofreaders of their own writing.

In addition, I am determined to go outside the traditional boundaries of a writing class because I think that writing cannot and should not be taught in isolation from the other skills that students need in order to be effective writers. Therefore, I have added academic vocabulary and strategic reading skill components. I also plan to integrate critical thinking skills so my students improve their abilities to make inferences, synthesize, develop arguments and counter-arguments, and evaluate sources in their writing. My task feels a little overwhelming right now, but also helps me as the instructor appreciate the complexities of academic writing and understand better the challenges our second language students face.

Finding the writer’s voice

Stepping back from the details of my new course, let’s consider the big picture of what writing entails. Writing is a complex language form practiced by users of all languages (both native and non-native) for everyday social and communicative purposes and, for many, for vocational, educational, and professional needs. It has been variously described as a product – a piece of writing with a particular form and the expectation of “correctness.” And as a process – a journey that takes writers through stages where they discover they have something to say and find their “voice.” From the cognitive perspective, it is seen as a set of skills and knowledge that resides within the individual writer and from the sociocultural perspective as a socially and culturally situated set of literacy practices shared by a particular community (Weigle, 2014). With these perspectives in mind, all teachers of writing must ask: How can I help my students improve their writing and what are best practices in the classroom? As I design my new course I am asking myself these same questions.

Needs assessment

An important first step is undertaking a needs assessment, whether informal or formal, to learn what kinds of writing students need. From this assessment, a syllabus or curriculum can be developed or a textbook series selected that is a good match with your students’ needs. Typically, the instructional sequence starts with personal/narrative writing in which students have to describe or reflect on an experience or event. This usually leads to expository writing in which students learn to develop a thesis statement and support this controlling idea in the body of their writing. Analytic or persuasive writing is the most challenging type of academic writing because students must learn to state and defend a position or opinion using appropriate evidence (Ferris, 2009).  These kinds of academic writing tasks require students to become familiar with a variety of text types and genres, one of my course goals.

Improving vocabulary and grammar

The academic writing class also provides the opportunity for students to fine-tune their grammar and expand their academic language vocabulary. Typically, by the time our second language students are engaged in academic writing, they have been exposed to the majority of grammatical structures in English (e.g. complete tense system; complex constructions such as relative clauses and conditionals), but they still may need to learn how to integrate these structures into their writing. They also need to match text types with the kinds of grammatical structures needed. For example, in order to write a cause/effect essay, students need to use subordinating clauses with because and since and they need to use the appropriate transitional expressions like therefore and as such. Student will most likely have learned these structures in isolation but now need extensive practice and feedback to use them accurately in their writing. In terms of academic vocabulary, students need to differentiate the types of vocabulary found in everyday usage (e.g. the verbs meet and get) with their more formal academic counter-parts encounter and obtain (see Zimmerman, 2009, for many other examples.)

In sum, the English for Academic Purposes curriculum must integrate reading and writing skills, and, as mentioned, grammar and vocabulary. Cumming (2006) points out that a focus on reading can lead to writing improvement and an opportunity to learn discipline-specific vocabulary. It also gives students something to write about. Combining reading and writing also provides needed practice in analyzing different text types so students see the features of these models. These kinds of activities create opportunities for more complex tasks such as summarizing and synthesizing multiple sources. A curriculum that integrates reading and writing also exposes students to graphic organizers for reading comprehension which student can recycle for pre-writing (Grabe, 2001). Finally, students need many exposures to similar tasks in order to master the complexities of academic writing and build confidence in their abilities.

I look forward to teaching my new academic writing course and I hope this brief glimpse inspires others to undertake this challenge as well.

References and Further Reading

Ferris, D. (2009). Teaching college writing to diverse student populations. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press

Grabe, W. (2001). Reading-writing relations: Theoretical perspectives and instructional practices. In D. Belcher & A. Hirvela, (Eds.), Linking literacies: Perspectives on L2 reading-writing connections.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Weigle, S. C. (2014). Considerations for teaching second language writing. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. M. Brinton, & M. A. Snow (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (4th ed., pp. 222-237). Boston, MA:  National Geographic Learning Heinle Cengage.

Zimmerman, C. (2009). Work knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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