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#IATEFL – Second language development in childhood: factors for success

content based language teaching and instructionVictoria Murphy, Professor of Applied Linguistics and author of Second language learning in the early school years: Trends and Contextsshares her thoughts on the importance of L2 development in childhood, ahead of her forthcoming talk at IATEFL 2015 on Tuesday 14th on the same subject.

How children learn second languages has long interested me. Looking back, even from a very young age I was fascinated with the notion of bilingualism. As a child growing up in Ottawa, Canada I was fortunate in that I had very early second language instruction – indeed I was taught French as part of my pre-school and kindergarten education. When I was in grade 3 I recall that a very nice lady came into the class and told us that if we were interested in having all of our school day in French in grade 4, that we should take the letter she was distributing home to our parents and get them to sign it. I vividly remember how excited I was then at the prospect of speaking French for the whole day! Little did I know then that I was to end up participating in an early cohort of French Immersion education, a form of bilingual education that I would later go on to study as an academic. That very early interest in bilingualism stuck with me and eventually motivated me to go on and study Linguistics and Psychology at undergraduate level and then as part of my graduate work examine more closely some of the mechanisms which underpin child L2 learning.

Why is child L2 learning important?

More than ever I believe the field of child L2 learning, and particularly the role that formal education has in developing plurilingual citizens, is critically important to our futures, for a variety of reasons, which include social, economic, political and cognitive perspectives. I think too that we need to have a much better understanding of the factors and influences that shape successful L2 development in childhood, and again, to identify more precisely the role that educational policy, schools and teachers can play in determining successful L2 outcomes. This understanding is all the more important because increasingly governments around the world are lowering the age at which children are being taught a foreign language as part of their formal primary education.  However, the evidence which directly examines questions about the most effective or appropriate age at which to teach foreign languages to younger children is mixed, where some studies clearly show advantages to older learners while other studies argue for benefits to young learners. One worries (at least I do) that the reason why governments are making these decisions is due to a generally held belief that ‘younger is better’ in language learning in general, and L2 learning in particular. Without a doubt there is plenty of evidence in the literature to demonstrate age of acquisition effects, and clear relationships between the age of the learner and their L2 outcomes.

Contributing factors for L2 learning

However, many other variables are implicated in this relationship in addition to age (i.e., it is not just the age of the learner that determines the ultimate success of L2 learning). This is the point of the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts. I wanted to show that by examining L2 learning across a range of young learner contexts – where the children in each context can be argued to be at an advantage age-wise – we see that age is not the only, and probably not even the most critical, variable in determining the success of L2 learners.  Implementing policy to formally teach L2/Foreign Language to children, or developing bilingual education programmes to help support different languages, ought to be considered within a solid understanding of the research that identifies what we can realistically expect of L2 learners across different contexts. Furthermore, particularly in those contexts where children’s bilingual development is being supported by the school, we need to pay very close attention to the nature of the provision in these different bilingual or L2 programmes so as to ensure that we offer maximal support for the development of the L2 (while at the same time maintaining and developing the L1). It is my hope that the discussions in the volume Second language learning in the early school years:  Trends and Contexts will be informative in identifying major themes and issues in different contexts of child L2 learning, and that possibly, future generations of educational policy makers will make decisions concerning educational provision with a greater awareness of the complexity of child L2 development.


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Poetry and the ESL classroom: how rhyme can work for your students

Diverse Elementary ClassPrior to becoming an Editor for Oxford University Press, Mexico, Lysette Taplin worked as an English language teacher and author for a number of primary and secondary series. In this post she promotes World Poetry Day by sharing some practical tips to use in the ELT Classroom.

Poetry is an effective tool in English language teaching as it enlivens the class, giving the students a motivational buzz while stimulating their creative writing. The emphasis on the sounds and rhythm of language aids students’ phonological awareness, building a foundation for correct pronunciation and intonation, which in turn has a strong correlation to proficiency in reading and listening. In order to celebrate World Poetry Day, this blog aims to present a selected poem from the OUP series Step Inside and provide ideas for ways to exploit poetry in the English language-learning classroom.

As an ELT Editor for OUP, I had the opportunity to work on an inspiring series of reading anthologies for primary school students. The series Step Inside promotes extensive reading by using texts from a variety of genres, including poetry, fables, myths and legends, fairy tales, fiction, non-fiction, and comics.

The following excerpt has been selected from a poem included in Step Inside, level 4:

Wayne the Stegosaurus

Written by Kenn Nesbitt

Meet the Stegosaurus, Wayne.

He doesn’t have the biggest brain.

He’s long and heavy, wide and tall,

But has a brain that’s extra small.

He’s not the brightest dinosaur.

He thinks that one plus one is four.

He can’t remember up from down.

He thinks the sky is chocolate brown.

Using poetry to teach pronunciation

This humorous poem can be used to focus students on English pronunciation by working with rhyme.

In your class, put students into pairs and give each pair the lines of the poem cut up into strips. Have them work together to identify and group the lines that end in rhyming pairs. Tell students that rhyming pairs are two words that end in the same sound, for example Wayne and brain, tall and small. Highlight some of the difficult spelling patterns, for example Wayne, brain; tries, eyes; white, night, etc. while emphasizing the pronunciation of each of the sounds. Then, tell students that they are going to create a rhyming chain. Instruct students to choose four rhyming pairs from the poem and write down as many other words that rhyme as they can. Have some volunteers write their rhyming words on the board to check answers as a class. Next, read the poem aloud and have students order the lines from the poem. Ask volunteers to read the poem aloud to check answers as a class.

Rhyming Schemes

The pattern of rhymes in a poem is labelled with the letters A, B, C, D, etc. To identify the rhyming scheme, tell students to look at the last word in each line. Tell them to label the first set of lines that rhyme with A, then label the second set B, etc. In the case of the poem above, the rhyming scheme for each stanza is AABB because the first two lines in the stanza rhyme with each other as do the last two lines.

Below is an example of an ABCB rhyming scheme, excerpt taken from Step Inside, level 2:

Art Class

Written by Penelope McKimm

Art class can be lots of fun,

With so many things to do!

Cutting, coloring, painting, drawing,

Sticking things with glue!

Have students illustrate the poem

Have students work in groups of six. Encourage them to think about what happens in each of the stanzas and then, choose one of the stanzas to illustrate. When they have all finished illustrating their stanzas, have them put them in order and present their work to the rest of the class.

Writing

Give students a handout of a poem with some words missing. It could be the same poem students were working with before, or a different poem.

Wayne the Stegosaurus

Written by Kenn Nesbitt

Meet the Stegosaurus, __________.

He doesn’t have the biggest __________.

He’s __________ and __________, __________ and __________,

But has a __________ that’s extra __________.

Put students into pairs and have them brainstorm words to complete the gaps. Encourage them to include rhymes, but tell them that they can change the rhyming scheme if they wish.

Another activity which provides students with scaffolding for their poem is to tell them to write a five line poem with the following structure:

First line: a noun

Second line: four adjectives

Third line: an action

Fourth line: how you feel about the noun

Fifth line: the noun

This activity can be carried out individually or in pairs or small groups. Encourage students to use a thesaurus to think of exciting adjectives, for example superb instead of good. Below is an example of a five-line poem

T. Rex

Fierce, fast, green and scaly

Goes out hunting daily

Makes me shiver to the bone

T. Rex

Both students and teachers often tend to fear poetry, but by providing the proper scaffolding, we advocate creativity and give our students sense of accomplishment. As teachers, we need to make it clear to our students that it is okay to make mistakes. The most important thing is to let their imaginations run wild, and then have them go back and edit their work once they are finished.

Please note that not all titles are available in every market. Please check with your local office about local title availability.


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#IATEFL – Research and Teaching: Bridging the gap

#IATEFL Research and Teaching: Bridging the gap

Photo courtesy of Mike DelGaudio

Patsy Lightbown, Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Applied Linguistics), and Nina Spada, Professor (Second Language Education), and co-authors of the prize-winning book How Languages are Learned, look at how increasing teachers’ awareness of second language teaching research can support them in the classroom. Patsy will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2015 on Saturday 11th April.

As teachers, we base our instructional activities on many kinds of knowledge, including our own experience—not only as teachers but also as learners. Whether intentionally or not, we often teach as we taught last year (or five years ago) or as we were taught when we were students. And when we do try to teach in a different way, it may be because we were dissatisfied with our experiences—on either side of the teacher’s desk.

Research on second language teaching and learning is another source of knowledge that can help teachers shape their pedagogical practices. However, we have heard time and time again that teachers have limited knowledge of research findings, even some quite robust findings that have been replicated over many years. Teachers, quite understandably, cite a lack of time for locating and reading research that might be of value to them. Further, they often express a belief that published research is not relevant to their particular teaching situation. Some teachers express frustration at what they perceive as the overly technical or esoteric language of research reports. For these reasons and others, teachers may miss out on information that would help them in their work.

We are convinced of the importance of making research findings accessible and engaging for teachers. Here are some examples of the kinds of research findings that can inform teaching.

  • In content-based language teaching students may not learn the vocabulary and grammar that are present in the language they hear and read—even when they appear to learn the subject matter itself.
  • In well-designed group work, oral interaction allows students to learn from each other as well as from the teacher.
  • First language development, especially literacy, is an important foundation for second language learning.
  • Tests can be used to enhance learning, not just to assign marks.
  • Students need direct instruction on academic language even if they can already engage in informal conversation on familiar topics.
  • Learning to read involves both top down (e.g., understanding the context) and bottom up (e.g., being able to sound out a new word) processes.

An awareness of these and other research findings can be useful as teachers plan lessons and set goals with their students. In collaboration with a group of exceptional researchers with close links to classroom practice, we have developed a new series of books for teachers: Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom, published by Oxford University Press. The series now has five completed volumes, with another in press and two more in development. Each book in the series reviews research on language learning and teaching in a particular domain, emphasizing studies with school-aged learners. Each volume includes Classroom Snapshots that illustrate real classroom events, Spotlight Studies that focus on research that has special importance for primary and secondary school teachers, and Activities that invite readers to extend their understanding by analysing examples of classroom interaction or samples of textbook language.


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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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A Picture is Worth A LOT More than a 1000 words…to a 6 year old.

testDo we collate data too much? Do we infer from observation too much? Do we believe we know what’s best for our young learners to read simply because we are the teachers? Answering the third question first – without going directly to the source – our students – then the answer is probably an unfortunate yes, making the other two answers a negative yes as well.

The following is an interview to get a 6 year-old’s opinion on Extensive Reading. The insight on the value of pictures and the power of their appeal and reading encouragement to young learners is soon apparent and is something educators should not undervalue nor underestimate, especially when selecting the right readers for their classroom library.

What’s your name?

George

How old are you?

6

Do you like to read?

Yes, a lot.

Do you know about Extensive Reading?

(Thinks for a second) What does that mean?

Do you play video games?

Sometimes. I like Minions.

Is that a race?

Yes. If you finish the first lap then you can do the second lap.

You mean you get extra time?

Yes.

Your time is extended?

Hmm, extra yes. Oh! Extended means like extra?

Yes. Do you think extra means choice?

Hmm, yes. So Extensive Reading means… reading choice?

Basically. Do you like Extensive Reading?

Yes.

What is the last book you read?

George’s Marvelous Medicine.

Why did you like it?

It’s funny, and I really liked the pictures, especially when Grandma got taller and thinner – and uglier!

Who gave you the book?

Alex (his uncle). He said it was his favourite book when he was little, so I really wanted to read it.

Did you read it by yourself?

No, with my Dad. And the pictures really helped me understand the words I didn’t know.

What other books do you like?

Curious George.

Do you like books that have characters with your name?

(Laughs) Sometimes.

When do you read books?

With my Dad, at night. In bed before I go to sleep. George’s Marvelous Medicine took about a week. At night is my favourite time to read but I sometimes read after lunch. On the sofa. I don’t like reading in the morning so much.

How about reading on a computer?

I like reading stories both on computers and books.

What book are you reading now?

Fables from Africa.

Do you like it?

Yes, it’s about animals. I really like books about animals. And it has some good pictures.

Do you talk to your friends about books?

Not really. But I sometimes read to my sister. I point to the pictures when I read to her.

How old is she?

18 months. But I only try when she’s in a good mood.

How many books have you read in your life?

I have no idea about that.

You have 2 Curious George books that have 8 stories each, so 16 stories. How many times have you read those stories?

So many.

Why have you read the same stories so many times?

Because the pictures are so funny.

What other books do you read?

I speak Japanese too, so sometimes I read Japanese books, but not the ones with Kanji. I don’t know Kanji.

What do you like about Japanese books?

The stories are good. And I really like the pictures. They help me understand more. Oh, and I really like word search puzzles. It doesn’t feel like reading but I feel smarter after I do them.

Last question, do you have a favourite book?

I have four! Curious George (all), George’s Marvelous Medicine, Baby Animals, and Where the Wild Things Are – that one has great pictures!

Sorry, one more question. If a book doesn’t have pictures will you read it?

Yes…maybe…, but I will always choose the one that has pictures.

So George, I think you like Extensive Reading.

Yup!

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