“Right then, write!”

Reflections on Susanne Jacobsen’s text Right then, write! published in Sproglæreren (april 2011)

Since the simple goals (Fælles Forenklede Mål) was adopted in 2009, it has become a task to all language teacher, not just Danish teachers, to work towards creating fluency and literacy within the students, thus Susanne Jacobsens article, speaks about how the language teachers should relate to this. This reflection will focus on the aspects of English as a subject in the Danish primary schools.

English has become a lingua franca on a global level, where only people with a decent understanding of the English language can orient themselves in the democratic debate within the global arena (p. 25). Thus, English is an indispensable source of knowledge and information and a weighty bildung factor (dannelsesfaktor). Meaning that not only are the students learning the language, but also about the language to understand the subject itself. One of the factors that Jacobsen highlights is scaffolding, as it is significantly important, when working on verbal communication and understanding of the language, which is highly context-dependent. When students are corporately working or they are interacting, the teacher can scaffold by offering the here-and-now vocabulary which is needed by the individual students – both previous to and during the task. Gibbon (2009) from the Australian genre-pedagogy states that the point is that, the gap between action and context-dependent language for some students is insurmountable, unless the scaffolded report is included (p.26). This means that group work, when learning a L2 language, is very important and highly beneficial for the students because they eventually will end up in a situation, where they have to discuss or bargain with group members, thus enabling them to test out their individual interlanguage hypotheses. Group work further fuels the sense of trust, which is an absolute necessary foundation for all language acquisition (Jacobsen og Olsen, 2011). The actual group work itself can then work as a type of scaffolding, that improves their language skills as they have to write later on – which is more complex, as writing often is a non-context dependant task. It is important, that the students learn to read and write nominalisations, i.e., words that are often constructed from verbs, but made into nouns, because it enables them to deal with abstract terms in an appropriate and complex language when writing. Jacobsen suggests sentence-matching games where the student has to compare a everyday language sentence with an abstract sentence with nominalisations, thus this allows students to find and realise, that persons and actions hide behind nominalisations (p.27).

The advanced level of communication in the English language, that the Danish students learn, is what gives the Danish school system points on the global scale (p.27), and Jacobsen adds, that if we don’t teach them this, we let down the students from a lower socio-economic background. It is the teacher’s task to create the contexts, in which the students can produce exactly the language, that fuels learning (Derewianka, 1990).

Literature:

Deriwianka, B, (1990): Rocks in the Head: Children and the Language of Geology, in: Carter, R. (red.): Knowledge about Language and the Curriculum. Hodder & Stoughton.

Jacobsen, S. (2011): Right then, write!. Sproglæreren

Jacobsen, S. & Olsen, M. (2011): Om klasseledelse og tryghed I engelsklærerens optic, in: Schmidt, M. (red): Klasseledelse og fag – at skabe klassekultur gennem fagdidaktiske valg, Dafolo

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Functional Grammar – Introduction

Reflections on Introduction (chapter 1; pp. 1-11) from A New Grammar Companion by Beverly Derewianka

Chapter 1 in Derewianka’s book A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers (2015) introduces the book, its form and its chapters. The book can be used in several ways, but especially for those who are interested in either the meaning or the form of English grammar. The meaning behind grammar teaching focusses on the linguistic choices created for certain meanings. Grammar is reviewed as a resources; “(…) an array of possibilities from which we can choose” (p.1).

Functional grammar teaching is a…

  • sociological perspective*
  • language perspective, and a
  • pedagogical perspective

*Sociological perspective as learners can (and should be able to) use language to achieve a range of social purposes such as describing, explaining, arguing and recounting.

When using a functional perspective:

  • Language is a dynamic, complex system of resources for making meaning.
  • Language reflects the culture in which it has evolved. It is not a neutral medium, but expresses certain world views, values, beliefs and attitudes.
  • Our language choices change from situation to situation, depending on the social purpose for which language is being used, the subject matter, who is involved, and whether the language is spoken or written.
  • The emphasis in language study is on how people use authentic language in various contexts in real life to achieve their purposes.
  • The particular focus will be on the language needed for successful participation in school contexts.
  • A knowledge of grammar can help us to critically evaluate our own texts and those of others (eg identifying point of view; examining how language can be manipulated to achieve certain effects and position the reader in different ways; knowing how language can be used to construct various identities or a particular way of viewing the world).

(p.3)

What language does and what it is needed for:

  • For achieving different social purposes
  • For sharing ideas about their experience of the world
  • For making connections between these ideas
  • For interacting with others
  • And for constructing coherent texts in both spoken and written modes.

The language choices made are naturally influenced by the context. The context includes the purpose, field, tenor and mode. The figure beneath shows how a text is typically shaped (how, and why). The social purpose covers genre and characteristics thereof, thus the entire text and all it’s elements (read: context) is shaped by the social purpose of itself.  Building the field influence that linguistic choices one has to express and connect ideas (knowledge), thus if the teacher is asking a learner to deliver a certain type of text, the “field” is where scaffolding ought to be done (if need be) e.g., to equip the learner with a broadened vocabulary (p.6). The tenor concerns the actual roles presented and their relationships with each other e.g., occupation, titles, intimate vs. distant relations. Finally the mode of the context has to do with creating a coherent and cohesive text, which is different from fluent and spontaneous verbal language.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 16.37.47

The chapter also introduces the levels of language (and their relation to each other), divided into the following:

  • Text
  • Sentence
  • Clause
  • Group/phrase (as a group of words, what function does ‘this phrase’ have in the sentence?)
  • Word

Example of a story divided into the 5 levels of language: (p.11).

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 16.38.55.png

Literature:

Derewianka, B. (2015): A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers. Reprint. PETAA

 

Feedback on Errors (or Lack Thereof)

Reflections on Feedback (chapter 11, pp.131-140) from Fremmedsprog i gymnasiet: teori, praksis og udsyn by Susana Silvia Fernández

“(…) Man skal kun give feedback, som er overskuelig og systematisk, og som kan bearbejdes af eleven, så det fremmer læring” (p.131) Fernández begins her text about feedback by stating the current (consult milestone 3 beneath) view on correcting errors. The opinions on whether to correct mistakes has swung like a pendulum between two extremes. There has been 3 milestones (read: notions/view points) on correcting errors:

  1. “Correct everything straight away” which is a very behaviouristic view on learning, that perceives learning as a repetition of good models/tools for acquiring appropriate (good) habits.
  2. “Correcting doesn’t work” which is opposite to the ladder and inspired by Noam Chomsky’s theory on language acquisition; attributes repetition and imitation of “a good model”, correcting errors has much less importance, than the student’s interlanguage-development and treating different errors. A view which is very much aligned with the one of Krashen (discussed in the earlier reflection on Teaching Grammar).
  3. “Correcting supports the student’s’ hypothesis creation” is the current view, that corrections should not be exhausting, but are necessary when done at the right time in the right way.

The language hypothesis relies on the importance on interaction and output, in which the student through hypotheses can test themselves and continuously adapt their hypothesis as it is a process that changes as they learn something new (p.132). Errors then, are systematic incorrect hypotheses, that can happen for an inter- or intra linguistic reason, whereas mistakes are random mistake in the student’s output, that can often be self regulated (p.132). One way as a teacher to coach the student towards adapting their hypotheses, is through correcting errors i.e. corrective feedback, which is used as a tool for when the errors occur, because they indicate of the students interlanguage development, thus corrective feedback allows the student to adapt their hypotheses. Summative feedback is highly relevant in end-product situations like exams, but formative feedback is constantly relevant, as it further helps the student to become better in their weak arenas, thus helping them to become better (p.133). The formative feedback can be divided into impact and explicit. The explicit feedback directly points to the error and often the right answer, whereas implicit naturally is more subtle. Implicit feedback can be e.g., underlining errors, using abbreviations for different types of mistakes (WC=word choice, PP=prepositions), providing the right tense as a response when whilst communicating verbally, giving a metalinguistic explanation, etc…

Finally Fernández talks about collaborative language learning as a great tool for interlanguage development, where students receive feedback from their peers.

Literature:

Fernández et al. (2014): Fremmedsprog i gymnasiet: teori, praksis og udsyn. Samfundslitteratur

The Development of Young Writers

Reflections on Scaffolding Young Writers, Chapter 1; The Development of Young Writers, by Linda Dorn & Carla Soffos

Writing, the action, has both a social and a cognitive side. “Writing is by nature a social process. Writing represents the means by which a message can be communicated to someone else.” (p.2) Children uses inquirers such as “What does this say?” as foundation for learning how to write. Children that come from homes of writing environments before they start school. have already acquired critical understanding for learning about the writing process (p. 2). Healy (1994, p.2) talks about the cognitive side of writing, and describes that for a child to start the writing process, the child must understand and pull together ideas (feelings, emotions and images) or knowledge from their own memories, desired to be communicated. “Language becomes a tool for consolidating bigger ideas into original statements while choosing the best words and placing them in the correct order.” (p.2), which is a complex process driven by a personal need to express a message. The more meaningful and personal the idea is for the child, the easier it will be for the child to use its transcription skill. Scaffolding the child at appropriate points is a tool of mediation, that then helps the child’s ability to orchestrate the social, cognitive, and mechanicals sides of writing, thus writing is a learned skill, shaped through practice and constructive feedback, which further helps the child to become a self-regulated writer (Harries & Graham:1999). Writing itself is a very complex process, which you have to recognise, when teaching young learners, after having identified ideas and words for expressing them, the writer then has to read, revise the text by e.g., deleting unnecessary words, sections or rearrings sentences, and paragraphs, to clarify concepts. Thus the next level of complexity is added as the writer has to consider the receiver’s (read: reader or audience) need and experience of the text and, their knowledge of the given idea, concept or information. During the act of writing, the writer will develop and apply strategies of organising, monitoring and revising the specific message to the particular audience (p. 3). According to Healy (1994, p.3) developing a well-orchestrated writing process depends on the interrelatedness of the following three aspects; comprehension of ideas, expressive language and facility with mechanics. It is the teacher’s role to strive to create a balance between the child’s composing and transcribing skills, yet the ultimate goal of teaching is to promote an orchestration process, which happens at the intersection where old knowledge meets new knowledge i.e., if the child has too many new things to learn, this can interfere with the orchestration process (p. 4). There are specific benchmark behaviours along a continuum of writing control with young writers, and the primary grades are critical times for shaping orchestration. Therefore the teacher must recognise the behaviours that indicate how students are becoming writers, and to promote this process, teachers can ask four simple questions:

  • What is easy for the writer to do?
  • What is hard for the writer to do?
  • What does the teacher expect the writer to do?
  • What does the teacher expect to do for the writer?

Levels of writing competence

The emergent writer

Greatest challenge occurs with transcribing the message. Here teacher can guide the child to learn to use simple resources to assist problem-solving efforts. Risk-taking behaviours are the basis for early monitoring, searching and self-correcting actions, which are the foundation for successful writing. As the emergent writer practise reading behaviours, it allows them to make logical and realistic predictions for the upcoming words and phrases (p. 7).

The early writer:

Here the writer has begun to think about the length of their stories, and it is common for the writer to evaluate their words with comments such as “Look at how many pages I wrote!” (p. 8). The early writer will move from chronological accounts to more focussed pieces, that sustains the theme throughout. The teacher can introduce the early writer to new resources, including writing forms and checklists, serving as self-help guides to promote independent thinking. It is important, that the child must possess the knowledge and skills to use these resources in productive ways (p. 9)

The transitional writer:

The transcribing skills of young writers are faster and more automatic, thus the control frees their attention to focus more actively on the craft of writing (p. 9).

In conclusion, to develop independent writers, the teacher must consider both the cognitive and social sides to learning by being attuned to what the child already knows.

Literature:

Dorn, L. J. & Soffos, C. (2001): Scaffolding Young Writers: A Writer’s Workshop Approach. Stenhouse Publishers

Teaching Grammar

Reflections on Introduction: Teaching Grammar (chapter 5) in Basic Issues in EFL Teaching and Learning (Eisenmann & Summer:2012) by Ivor Timmis

Even though one might think, that there’s a general conception on how to teach language to new learners, there’s great debate especially concerning the importance of grammar teaching. There are two extreme views on teaching grammar; one part beliefs that teaching grammar is absolutely central to learning a new language, where the other part believes that grammar is not important at all, or even harmful to be taught or a waste of time. The two opposite positions on grammar teaching are the interventionist and the non-interventionist.

The non-interventionist has a highly input-based focus, and divides learning into two; learning (as of being taught explicitly) and acquisition (absorbing), thus saying that acquisition is more important, as it creates implicit knowledge within the student. Learning is then referred to as the conscious, traditional grammar-based process in the classroom, whereas when arguing for the acquisition-approach, the non-interventionist will refer to when we as humans learn our first language, which certainly isn’t by being taught grammar explicitly. Through listening and reading the learners are exposed to comprehensible input (Krashen, 1981), which has to be material that are both interesting and understanable. The non-interventionist beliefs that grammar has (or should have) a minor role when teaching a new language. This belief became especially popular in the 80s as sales-pitched by Stephen Krashen, that stated that a student that cannot verbalise the answer, might as well just have the answer, they are just working with their implicit knowledge in a more introverted fashion and will start verbalising as they have gathered enough implicit knowledge (just like young children learning their first language).

The interventionist empathises the importance of grammar teaching (form-focused activities) and will present studies showing how being taught grammar is very beneficial when learning a new language. The interventionist will argue the importance of explicit output-based learning as the basis of understanding and acquiring a new language. As output-based can facilitate acquisition by helping the learners to notice gaps between what they want to say and what they are able to say. They also counter-argue with the non-interventionists and say, that non-interventionist content-based teaching certainly may lead to significant gains in fluency and receptive skills, but that it does not produce accuracy of output.

So whether one fits one or the other, there are additionally different approaches to the way that one might teach grammar; proactive and reactive grammar teaching. The traditional approach is the proactive gramma teaching, this happens as grammar is explicitly presented by the teacher, the practised and produces by the learner (PPP; present-practise-produce). The procedure typically involves the presentation of the target structure in some kind of illustrative context and the explanation, meaning and use of target structure. This is followed by controlled practise where the learners manipulate the target item in exercises. The opposite and less explicit approach to teaching grammar is reactive grammar teaching which happens as the error occurs. There is a focus on form, where grammar points are dealt with as and when they create difficulty in context of a communicative activity, thus the teaching becomes implicit. This could be the teacher responding in a verbal dialog with a learner, by correcting their grammatical error in their answer. Reactive grammar teaching can both be planned and/or spontaneous.

Additionally the activities of grammar teaching can either focus on input or output. Ellis (2003) argues that input-based approaches intends to draw the students attention towards the structure of a subject in different ways, by highlighting to pointing out different structures in the input material. The theoretical reasons behind input-based approaches, rests on the computational model of language acquisition (Ellis, 2003), where acquisition occurs as a result of obtaining input. Furthermore it’s argued that the link between input and intake is the process of noticing, i.e. where the learners becomes conscious of what they already know and what input they get from their L2 (Schmidt, year), thus the learner need to be conscious of the input, in order to produce it as output. Therefor the teacher using an input-based approach should seek to provide a rich input. The input-based approach is especially linked to acquisition through listening and reading. The output-based approach to grammar teaching requires intense practise and is typically linked to explicit- and proactive teaching, though there are two kinds of output-based approaches; one includes that the that the output is fundamentally an intense practice of particular structures, and one where the learner is experiencing acquisition through practising output. By an explicit practice the learner will gain an automatic control of certain structure in their development of language (DeKeyser, 2003). Within output-based grammar teaching, the teacher anticipates what the learner will have difficulties with and plans tasks accordingly, yet focusing primarily on meaning.

Furthermore, one should be aware of the intentions behind teaching grammar either explicitly or implicitly. Explicit teaching is often designed to create explicit knowledge, which is the conscious knowledge of grammar i.e. the rule-set of grammar. Krashen (1981) would argue that explicit knowledge can be used only when learners have sufficient time and are focused on the form and know the rule. So although learners are aware of their explicit knowledge, as they hav to attend to language structures to learn them, when it comes to actual language use they face many problems because explicit knowledge exists independently of its actual use. It can be, in contrast to implicit knowledge, communicated or demonstrated on demand. Rather Krashen would favour implicit teaching as implicit knowledge is proceduralised (acquisition). Implicit knowledge is the knowledge we have without knowing why. For example the correct way of saying something, but without knowing why, maybe just sensing that it sounds right.

Literature:

DeKeyser, Robert (2003): Implicit and Explicit Learning. In: Doughty, Catherine/Long, Michael (eds.): The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 313-348.

Eisenmann, M. & Summer, T. (2012): Basic Issues in EFL Teaching and Learning. 2nd Review. Universitysverlag WINTER Heidelberg

Ellis, Rod (2003): Task-based Learning and Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

Krashen, Stephen (1981): Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Schmidt, Richard (1990): The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning. Applied Linguistics 11, 129-58.