OK. My name is B. Kumaravadivelu, Kumaravadivelu, I’m from San Jose State University, Department of Linguistics and Language Development.
Because I have only one name, that name beginning with the K is just my name. Because in my culture we take only one name. But B is the initial for my father’s name. You can call me Kumar, that’s OK.
OK. Uh before I respond to that question let me first a make it clear what I mean by method. Because I will be using that term method in a technical sense. Maybe it will be useful to distinguish between Method, with a capitol M, and the method with a small m. Now if you get into any teaching situation, a classroom for instance, what the teacher does is the result of a, a planned, organized systematic activity. So in a sense what the teacher does is, is (sound of phone ringing) teaching activity which follows a method. So I will call that method, any method that happens in any classroom method with a small c-small m. But when I am talking about a, a is Method with capitol M, and when I say that I am referring to the concept of Method conceived and constructed by experts in the field of language teaching methodology. So used that way, a method actually refers to a sort of a particular principles and also is sort of particular procedures that go along with those principles. In other words this method, any established method has a theory and a practice conceived and constructed by experts in that field. So I will be using, when I said method, I’ll be using this method with a capitol M in that technical sense. OK.
Now, responding to your question briefly historically. Language teaching field, both in terms of teaching and a teacher education, has been almost completely methods driven. Now what do I mean by that? By methods driven I mean, now if you look at the different aspects of teaching and teacher education, they are either syllabus construction, curriculum design, classroom teaching, um testing, everything is linked to a particular method. A, for instance, if you, if you look at the predominant Method in 1980’s, what’s called the Communicative Methodology, you will come across a number of books with a title ‘Communicative Curriculum’ or ‘Communicative Testing’ or ‘Communicative Materials’. So you see that in a this concept of Method, in this case Communicative Method, is linked to almost a rude aspect of learning and teaching. So that way the concept of Method actually drives this entire operation of language teaching and language learning as well as teacher education as well. Um a very significant problem with that a concept of Method is that as a subject is conceived and constructed by experts and they are designed with very little, at least in the beginning of the designing, they are designed with very little association with what actually happens in the classroom. So in that sense, the concept of Method is far removed from classroom reality. So research by me and a number of other scholars very clearly shows that what the teacher actually does in the classroom is very different from what the experts say should be happening in the classroom. Interestingly even teachers who are trained in a particular language teaching Methodology, and even those who claim that they follow a particular teaching Methodology, do not really follow the theoretical as well as the practical orientations of that Methodology as conceived by this experts. So if you actually get into your language teaching classrooms and video tape the teaching, and then do a, a classroom discourse analysis, then you will find out that what that teacher actually does is the result of the teachers understanding of what is required at that particular moment. The teachers understanding of what the learners need, what the learners want, etceteras, etceteras. And that may be quite at variance with what the established concept of Method, you know, talks about. So, what I’m trying to say then is: there is this, this junction, if you like, between this concept of Method conceived by the expert and the practice of method actually articulated and implemented by the classroom teacher in the actual classroom situation. So that has been the history here. So this Methods driven curriculum, language curriculum, has resulted in a, what I wait-what I might call a negative legacy. And, number one: this concept has commuted a very harmful dichotomy between the theorists and the teacher. So the theorist is supposed to produce knowledge, and the teacher is supposed to consume knowledge. So there is this kind of an artificial division of labor, if you like, between the theorist and, and, and, and the teacher. Secondly: because the concept of Method is expert driven, it over values the professional knowledge of the expert. And under values the personal knowledge of the classroom teacher. Because ultimately, what makes a classroom learning and teaching successful, is the fundamental understanding of what is required in that classroom by the teacher. What the teacher exactly does in the classroom with the text, with the syllibate-syllabus, with the methodology, with the learners, etceteras. So when you have this kind of a, a, a debilitating dichotomy between the theorists concept of Method and the teacher concept of method, that really contributes to a, a negative fall, and a fall-out of the entire a educational enterprise. And lastly the concept of Method is also, is very limited in it’s scope. Because if you look at some of the established concepts of Method each of these established Methods is linked to a particular school of thought, either in psychology or in linguistics or in both. So if you look at all of your lingual Methodology, for instance, that’s associated with a structure of linguistics and the behavior of psychology. But if you look at communicative Methodology, that’s linked to champskin (?) linguistics and a cognitive psychology. Therefore the theoretical principles governing each of these Methods go back to some of this insight derived from either in our linguistics or psychology or other disciplines. So both the theory and the practice then of each of these Methodologies, is to some extent restricted, limited to what the theory actually allows you to do with that particular Methodology. So these are some of the negative aspects of this concept of a Methodology, as such.
Well, um first of all when I, when I critique the concept of Method as conceived by the expert I’m not dismissing the importance of the expert, I’m not dismissing the role of the expert at all. What I’m trying to do is to make a distinction between a professional knowledge, what an expert has, and also the personal knowledge that the teacher can develop. So an ideal situation would be: where there is a kind of a fruitful marriage, if you like, between professional knowledge and the personal knowledge. Now the teacher can develop a his or her personal knowledge based on the professional knowledge, you know, a given to him or her through education, training, or masters degree programs etceteras, etceteras. But, then my point is: an expert’s professional knowledge can hail only a very limited use for a practicing teacher. For the simple reason that when the expert gives you the professional knowledge, the expert’s professional knowledge is removed from the classroom reality. The expert does not know this particular teacher and the individual set of learners that this particular teacher is going to deal with. An expert does not, cannot completely anticipate the needs and wants and the situations of every single learning teaching operation. Therefore, what is more important, in my view, is the personal knowledge of the teacher. So, when, when a teacher goes through a master’s degree or a teacher education program, the teacher is (slight background sound) definitely introduced to the professional knowledge in that particular discipline. But I would suggest that the teacher take this professional knowledge to the actual classroom, which is the field of operation if you like, and then based on his or her own experience with that classroom, with that given group of learners, the teacher may have to adapt a number of ideas that he or she got from the professional experts. And then develop his or her own idea of what constitutes good teaching. What constitutes good learning. And what constitutes good assessment of learning outcome, etceteras. So that can come only from the practicing teacher, not from the professional a expert. Now what is that actually meaning in real terms. That means that any teacher education program has to develop in the prospective or practicing teacher the knowledge, the skill, the attitude, and the autonomy necessary for the teacher to be independent, flexible enough to develop his or her own theory of practice from classroom experience. Now I doubt very much, based on my own experience, and there may be, you know, different kinds of programs out there which I may not be aware of, but based on my own experience, most of our teacher education programs, in my view, do not develop the kind of knowledge skill, autonomy and a attitude necessary for the teachers to become independent theorizers themselves. So that’s precisely where a I think we need to restructure the a teacher education programs.
Now let me address a that question about what can be done to empower a, a the practicing teachers. Let’s begin with what seems to be happening in most of the teacher education programs. Most of the teacher education programs are, in a way, compartmentalized in terms of disciplines. Take, for instance, in the preparation of a language teachers, English as a second or a foreign language teachers. In most of the emeritusal programs prospective teachers go through a series of graduate courses. Maybe one course in Methodology, one in second language acquisition, one in curriculum construction, maybe, one in testing, and invariably, I suppose, they also will go through one or two courses, in what they call, practice teaching. Now if you look at the, the curricular content of these courses, they’re all, in a way, expert driven. Driven by the professional knowledge and, if that’s available, in the discipline, in the field. What I would rather suggest is: instead of looking at teacher education program in a discreet way like these individual courses, I would rather look at the kind of knowledge, the kind of skill, the kind of attitude that we need to develop in our a learners. And reorient the teacher education a program. But to be more specific, what exactly is the kind of knowledge and skill that I’m talking about. In terms of knowledge, right now most of our graduate students and teacher education programs get this established body of knowledge in the field. You know, what ca-what, what is Methodology and what is second language acquisition. Instead I would rather look at, in terms of what exactly is the professional knowledge available in the field, and to what extent that can contribute to the development of a the teacher as an individual in exercising this a huge responsibility of helping learners learn a particular language or even contra----(?) subjects. So what exactly is the knowledge necessary. More than that, I would look at what is necessary for this teacher to develop his or her own personal knowledge. And treating, if you like, the professional knowledge as a kind of a stepping stone, but not necessarily limit, you know, the awareness of professional knowledge to what the teacher, or the teacher educator, or the expert gives this particular teacher. So that is one kind of knowledge we need to focus on. In terms of skills. More than any other skill, I would rather like to see in our graduate students and in practicing teachers develop the capacity of actually honorizing what happens in their own classroom. Now when I talk about classroom discourse analysis, I’m not talking about this huge theoretical construct with, you know, statistically controlled research Methodology, I’m not talking about that. I’m merely talking about the need for the teachers to keep their eyes and ears open in the classroom. And if something succeeds, let them reflect on that. Why did this actually succeed? And if something fails, let them reflect on that. Why did it fail? And I tried my best, I tried my best, you know, through this Methodology, through the strategy, to help my learners learn, but there is some kind of a gap here, you know, the learning outcome is not commensurate with my attempt to teach them. So what actually went wrong? So that kind of a grounded analysis is what I believe is required and the teachers need to develop, or to put it differently, teacher educators have, have to help these teachers develop that skill to analyze their own classroom a situation. And of course, you know, they need some kind of, you cannot just leave them in the open and say: okay, go and do whatever you like. They definitely need a, a sort of framework that can function as an anchor, that can anchor their research, you know, action research in the classroom. So we need to provide that kind of a knowledge and skill for these a teachers.
Well, in fact, when I talk about um Method being at a dead end. Of even making a more powerful statement like Method is dead. I’m definitely using the, the concept of Method in its technical sense, the Method that was handed down to the practicing teacher, a by a group of experts. A Method that came out of the conceptual orientation of our granddaddies, a, of these experts and not those which actually came out of classroom reality. So that kind a Method is definitely at, at an end. If you look at the 1980s, for instance, a or the end of the ‘70s, the beginning of the 1980s, this new Methodology called Communicative Methodology came in to being. And it replaced the previous audio-lingual Methodology. So almost through the ‘80s and also the beginning of the ‘90s, if you look at any of the textbook on Methodology, or any of the ESL-EFL textbook, you’ll see the word communicative in the title, and I say, the communicative methodology and a the communicative writing skills or whatever. But towards the middle of the ‘90s and the end of the’90s people realized that this concept of Method, with a capitol ‘M’, has a very limited relevance to what actually happens in the classroom. Has a very limited relevance to the preparation of, a, teachers in order to give them the skill and knowledge necessary to cope with the challenges of classroom reality. So they are now trying to beyond this limiting concept of Method, and if you look at some of the textbooks that come out in the later part of the ‘90s, you see titles like a ‘Voices from the Classroom’, or ‘Classroom Decision Making’, or a, or even a ‘Doing Teacher Research’. So the focus is actually shifting away from this abstract entity called Method to more and more what the practicing teachers actually need in order to carry out their job effectively well in their classroom. Now what does that actually entail? Well it entails, as I said earlier, a fundamental restructuring of a teacher education programs. Because now we need to really develop in the, in the teacher, in the prospective teachers or practicing teachers a, the ability to actually understand what seems to be happening in their own classroom. And then develop their own theory of practice, I mean, that’s, that’s what I would like to emphasis. The focus now is the develop of the individual teachers theory of practice. So what we are trying to do now is, instead of keeping this theory and practice as a kind of a dichotomized entity, and the theory being, you know, that, the realm of the theorist and the practice being in the realm of the practicing teacher. We need to combine these two and develop in the teacher the capacity to theorize from the classroom. And that, that’s where I believe the, the teacher education a field is moving, very, very slowly, in fact painfully slowly, but I do see the movement towards that end.
Um what I, what I have been trying to say, both in our presentations and in my writing, is that we need to develop in the teacher um a sense of strategies that are successful in the classroom. And a instead of giving a Method drawn from the experts and professional field, we may have to encourage our teachers to develop their own classroom strategy, which can come out of the classroom reality. But in order for them to do that, they may have to give them some kind of a broad framework for them to work with. That’s the kind of framework that I have tried to introduce when I talked about macrostrategys for language teaching. So the teachers have to keep in mind certain basic a, a principles, if you like, like in a, what can be done in order to maximize learning opportunities in the classroom, or what can be done to promote negotiative interaction in the classroom. A, how can we integrate language skills in our classroom. You know recently, even in now, in most cases, language skills are being taught in discrete items, you know, listening and speaking and reading and writing. Now when you think about it, you realize how absurd, now, that idea is, because it is something like, you know, designating Monday as the listening day, Tuesday as the speaking day, and Wednesday as the writing day, and say okay, Monday, today is Monday, I’m not going to speak, I’m not going to write, I’ll only listen. You know, that, that does not make any sense at all. But that’s precisely what we’ve asked our teacher to do. So they need to think about what are the strategies that they can use to integrate a, all the language skills. And to what exact-to what extent are they can, a contextualize the linguistic a input. Or how can they actually make what they do in the classrooms socially relevant of culturally conscious. So that’s the kind of a principles that I believe the teachers should be given, rather than an established Method. So once you give these teachers this kind of a general idea of a set of strategies without telling them that they, how to necessarily, you know, follow these. But giving them as a kind of spring board, if you like, which they can use to develop further their own ideas, their own strategies based on what seems to be happening in their own classroom. That way, combined with that, and if we give them the capacity to do their own discourse analysis in the classroom, I believe we can actually make our teachers reflective, and also develop their own theory of practice.
There are certain things that a even content area teachers can learn from second language acquisition research. But a, I must say that having a, a necessary caveat, which is, second language acquisition research as a field, is a, is a rather young field in our twenty-five, you know, thirty years. And I would consider most of the ESL research still exploratory and as far as I know, there is very little consensus in the field about what exactly has been found in terms of language learning and language teaching. Now having said that, there are certainly certain things that we can learn from second language acquisition research, and I would like to talk about the three basic areas of might be of use to content teachers. Number one: we learn from second language acquisition research that language learning and language teaching, in particular, and any learning and teaching in general, is governed by a number of inter-related factors. And the teachers should be conscious of these factors; you know factors like in an individual variation. You know, you have a group of twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, even forty students in your classroom, and you cannot look at them as one mass entity. And they’re all individuals with a individual styles and strategies, and a, and more division level may vary, and their attitudes may vary, their aptitudes towards learning and teaching may vary. So that is something that we have learned from second language acquisition research, and that I think will be useful for content area teachers as well. In other words, how do you address the individual variation that you find in your classroom? And at the same time a make individual, each and every student, learn something from that classroom. OK. That’s a very challenging task for a teacher to do. A, the second area where SLA can be of use for content teachers, is the concept of input and interaction. Now what kind of teacher input is necessary for learners to optimize, to maximize that learning opportunity? And that’s something very crucial for content teachers because instead of a having a teacher oriented or a teacher centered curriculum, if the teacher can think about what exactly will click with this group of students, what actually interests them. And if the teacher can slightly modify the teaching input, you know, to suit the needs and wants and situations of a given group of learners that would be very productive and very useful. And third, in terms of interaction. And I would even consider the, the research findings in the context of interaction much more useful than any other, and that is: research very clearly shows that the more meaningful interactive opportunities that you create in the classroom, the better for the learners. You know, in other words, rather treating them as a kind of mass, and they are sitting there merely listening to you, sixty minutes of lecture, instead of treating them in a, you know, this kind of passive recipients of your knowledge, if you can treat them as active agents, willing and able to learn, and therefore maybe, you know, devise a small group activities and appear on a activities. So that you can provide a opportunities for them to interact, not only with each other among the students, but also with you as a teacher, I think that would be much more useful.
Well um, actually that has, that kind of research finding has very crucial role to play in the, in the language classroom. Um, particularly when you deal with a language minority students. There are a number of factors that affect a practicing teacher has to keep in mind. Number one: for instance, most of these language minority students are first generation school goers. Now that’s very crucial because that means that there may not be a role model at home, you know their parents may not be educated, and there is not reading environment, if you like, in a at home, there is no learning environment at a, at home. So when you are dealing with that kind of a, a student a community, you have to be very careful about your expectations. Your expectations in terms of, for instance, even in classroom interaction. You know, they may not be, you know, you may be an excellent teacher and you may have designed wonderful, you know, instructional materials, but still, you know, that may not be sufficient to draw your students into some kind of a meaningful interaction, because, you know, they come from, you know, they’re first generation school goers, no role model, and therefore they may not yet realize the importance, you know, of interaction and negotiation in a classroom context. So that is something the teacher has to be aware of. The second thing is, particularly in terms of second or foreign language development, the teachers must understand that language development is a long- term process. Research shows that it takes anywhere between six to seven years, you know, before these language minority students can develop a reasonable level of proficiency in English, of in any other language. Therefore, you know, it is, it can be very frustrating, and you are a good teacher, and you are using good materials, and good strategy, but still, you may not actually happen, um language learning taking place in a highly accelerated way that you expect it to, to take place. So the teacher has to, you know, way lower her own expectations in terms of a the time it takes for these learners to develop adequate level of proficiency. And a third important factor is: um, a particularly in the context of a language minority students. I think the teacher should explore the possibility of a exploiting the language resources that the learners come to class with. And it’s not as if you are not doing, maybe a beginning learners in the second language, English as a second language, but they have mastered by which of being, you know, grown up people, they have mastered their own first language. So to what extent, you know, the teachers can exploit the linguistic resource that the learners themselves bring with them, it may not be easy in all cases because the teachers themselves may not share the first language of a the students. But to the extent it’s possible, you know, that’s one source that the teacher should be able to make use of. And related to linguistic diversity, of course, is cultural diversity. Now these students come from different inner cultural backgrounds. And yes it’s true, you know, in a second language context, if they are learning English in an English speaking country, like the United States, yes, it’s very important for them to understand how the culture work here. But that can definitely be done without, in any way, dismissing or minimizing the significance of their own culture. See, in other words, in sort of focusing on the cultural assimilation, you know, you are here and you are learning English, and therefore forget your culture, take on another one, instead of doing that, you know, maybe we can utilize this cultural diversity as a resource rather than as a, as a constraint. So these are some of the, you know, a questions and, that can be answered from SLA research and, particularly in terms of language research.
I think is, oral production is a very tricky question here because, particularly when you are a dealing with a language minority students. A number of factors come into a play when you expect a, a early oral production in, in your learners. First of all, as you rightly mentioned, there is this silent period. And if at all we draw any conclusion from first language acquisition, child first language acquisition, for instance. The child goes through an extended period of a you know, silence, but then suddenly in a language busts out. Unfortunately in a second language classroom, second language context, we the teachers do not give, you know, that kind of a, a, and extended silent period for our students. You know we teach a particular structure today, and we expect our students to use it tomorrow. And I think that may be too much of an expectation. I think we need to develop uh a lot more a patience and a with our students, so that we allure them to develop a, in of confidence in our program to ah, produce orally. Because if we insist in oral production early on, we may be actually be um developing in our learners some kind of a psychological resistance and a which may become very counter-productive. Um therefor, even though at one level as a teaching strategy, we are focusing on the this strategy of promoting negotiated interaction in the classroom, but if you are a teacher at the beginning level, for instance, or a low intermediate level, um I think it’s better to, to go slow and a give the learners a the, the time that they need before they are confident enough to produce orally in the classroom. Secondly I think a, a second strategy that we can encourage our teachers to follow in the classroom, in terms of oral production is, is creating and sustaining motivation among your, a your learners. Most often, in my experience in watching, observing teachers teach in schools and colleges, I see that most often students are willing to say something, willing to participate actively if the topic given for discussion is something that interests them. So my advice would be, instead of a the teacher always initiating this topic for discussion, if we could encourage the students themselves to initiate in a topics of interest that interests them, maybe then they’ll be much more willing and able to participate in classroom a discussion. So in a way we are talking a two prong here. On the one hand, yes we need to promote interaction, but at the same time a, you know, go slow, and a, if you push too far than that might result in a negative psychological impact on your students. On the other hand, you know, try to identify what actually interests your students. And, and, and try to introduce those topics in the classroom so that they have something to say about tho-those topics. You know, we are compelled to content um subject teachers. Language teachers have a wonderful opportunity because an, if you are a math teacher or a physics teacher, you are, in a way, confined to mathematics and physics. But as a language teacher, almost anything can be the content of instruction, the content of learning, so that way you can actually let the students to choose their own topic for discussion. That might encourage them to, to say more in the classroom.
Um, again let me draw from a first language acquisition. There is an extended period of a comprehension before production actually takes place. And a even though as teachers in that classroom, we may not be inclined to wait that long before our students can produce, but I think we should wait a re-a reasonable length of time before we can insist on production. Um therefore, maybe at the initial stages of a language teaching and language learning, maybe we can focus on more and more comprehension ability in our students. Maybe our instruction and our assessment can be focused more on a, you know, maybe let them listen to some kind of a audio tape or a video tape, you know, program and try to understand what’s happening. Maybe you can ask leading questions in order to draw what they have actually comprehended before a, you know, insisting on, on, on production. Even when the production stage come along, it may be a good idea to just to let them, let the students speak their mind without excessively focusing on grammar, because if we are going to stop them at every level and insist on grammatically correct sentence, you know, not only you are discouraging them from participating, but you may be actually developing, as I said, some kind of a psychological distance in them. So at the beginning stages, beginning classes, or low intermediate classes, I would rather actually openly tell the students: I’m interested in your ideas. Doesn’t matter if you are not able to say that in a completely grammatically correctly. OK, just tell me what you think about these things. So that way maybe we can encourage more comprehension as well as a production in the classroom.
Well actually, you know, this, this is definitely true of a language development and I would even extend it to a content area development as well. In an earlier a tradition of a language education, particularly believing in behavioral psychology, we used to insist on mastery learning. So you learn a particular item today, and you practice it thoroughly, and you produce it correctly. That, that was the expectation of the teacher. But that is part of the psychology that has been discredited, if you like. So rather than emphasizing mastery learning of one item at a time, I would rather focus on partial learning of many items at a time. So when you accept that partial learning of many items at a time, then a you will not be actually expecting in a completely grammatically correct sentence at a given point in time. Maybe they, they have understood part of the structure, maybe they have understood a particular speech act a partially. And maybe, you know, they will come back to that and a relearn it once again and then perfect their learning. In other words, teachers have developed a greater sense of ambiguity in order to accept even partially understood responses from the learners, and not necessarily insist on, you know, perfect a responses from the learners. And, of course, you know, I a-you, you mentioned this ‘u-shaped’ phenomenon, where teachers may be coming across um instances of correct language behavior at one point in time, maybe later on these students may backslide and make some mistakes, and that is part of the lan-language learning process. Uh, not only that, depending on whether the student is explicitly focused on grammatical item or not, a you know, that student may be able to come with a correct sentence or sometimes may not. So at least at the initial and a, a lower intermediate level, I think teachers should a, a develop a lot more patience and flexibility in dealing with varying degrees of a, a learning outcome in the learners.
The idea of maximizing learning potential is of course not just restricted to language classroom alone. I mean it, it is open ended and it applies for any learning teaching situation. Um the fundamental premise behind the idea of maximizing learning opportunity in the classroom is to accept the fact that at any given level, students come to us with two things. Number one: they come to us with a very established concept of what constitutes learning, what constitutes teaching, and what constitutes learning outcome. That’s number one. Second, again at any level, they come to us with some established knowledge about something, whether it’s language, or mathematics, or, you know, physics, or even general knowledge about what, what’s happening outside a the classroom in the real world. So when I talk about maximizing learning opportunity I’m thinking of a, a the practicing teacher. Recognizing this very rich repertoire of knowledge and skill that the students bring with them to the classroom. And try to exploit that rich knowledge and skill for further learning. See, in order for that to take place, the teacher has to do a couple of a things. Number one: the teacher has to go beyond the real plan, the lesson plan. The teacher may have to go beyond the predetermined syllabus given to him or her. And the teacher may have to go beyond the prescribed textbook. And in this context I, I normally talk about, about using the syllabus as a pre-syllabus and using the text as a pre-text. So in any learning, teaching context, the teachers are given a set of pre-selected, pre-sequenced, pre-determined syllabus or curriculum. Most often the teachers did not play any role at all in designing that particular curriculum. So that’s given to you. So that’s one constraint that yo-as a teacher that you have to learn to live with. And secondly, possibly, the teachers are also given a set of textbooks to be prescribed for a the learners. So these are actually given constraints, if you like. And then, depending on the, the needs and wants and interests of a given group of learners, try to go beyond this syllabus given to you. Try to go beyond the textbook given to you. I’m not saying that a, you know, you, you need to throw away the syllabus or throw away the textbook, you still have to work within this educational, in the constraints that you are faced with, but, as a classroom teacher you are the master of that mini-universe, if you like. So you are the one who are actually monitoring what is succeeding and what is not succeeding. So depending on that feedback, and as a teacher you should be able to, you know, modify the syllabus given to you or modify the textbook given to you, in terms of, you know, using supplementary materials for a classroom instruction.( sound of papers being shuffled) So that is one way that, you know, the teachers can actually maximize the learning opportunity, the learning potential in the classroom.
A, the, the question of fluency and accuracy is, is a very important one for, not merely for language teachers, but for a content area teachers as well. If you look at the language-teaching field, we have, from time to time, emphasized or another. There are occasions when we said: far more accu-grammatical accuracy is more important than communicative fluency. And at some other time we said: no, no, no, communicative fluency is more important than grammatical accuracy. But now we seem to be coming to some kind of a consensus where we realize that both accuracy and fluency are necessary if you are becoming a successful learner of anything. Um now where we should emphasize fluency and where should we emphasize accuracy depends, I might say, on a specific (background noise of someone yelling) learning, teaching objective of that particular day or that particular week, for instance. Now in a grammar class, (sound again) if your focus is exactly on a grammatical structures, and you are actually trying to help your learners develop an understanding of how this particular grammatical structure works, of course that’s a context were, you know, you will be focusing more on the accuracy rather than fluency itself. But in, another context, you know, earlier we talked about a the importance of promoting interaction in the classroom. So in a, in a, in a communicative skill oriented classroom, your objective is to promote negotiated interaction in the classroom. Your objective is to or is to encourage your students to participate in the classroom interaction. And if that’s your objective, then I would say fluency takes precedence over accuracy. In other words, allow your students to fluently talk about a topic, and as they do it, if they happen to make a couple of grammatical
mistakes, and if the mistakes do not come in the way of getting the message across, then I would advice, you know, just ignore those mistakes and encourage fluency. So our ultimate goal, of course, is to develop both fluency and accuracy. But as you are marching towards that a goal post, you may have to vary the emphasis depending on your specific a learning teaching objective.
Well, um, the differences between second language acquisition and foreign language acquisition, to me, a relates more to the environment rather to the psycho-linguistic processes of language learning. I see more commonality, if you like, between the psycho-linguistic processes, how languages are learned, to whether there is a second language environment or foreign language environment. But there are a number of factors which actually contribute to the differences between second language acquisition and foreign language acquisition, in terms of educational environment. Let me talk about a three or four of them. Number one: you know, in a second language acquisition context, both the teacher and the learners are very clear about the importance of the second language that you are learning and teaching. Take for instance the context of the United States and you have a group of a immigrant students in you classroom, or language minority students, they are here as immigrants or a maybe they are going to stay forever, so they need to develop language competence in the second language. But the second language English is in the air, as it were, so because of the motivational factors, because of the exposure, etceteras, and they should be able to learn the language much easier, and, and a faster and a with a little effort. But in a foreign language context, (phone ringing) the difficulties arise for a number of reasons. Number one: the government itself, or the society itself, may not be very clear about what should be the language planning or language policy. So if they are in a foreign language acquisition context, if the educational system expects the students to learn a foreign language, what exactly is the purpose? Why are they learning this foreign language? In most countries they are not learning a foreign language for day-to-day communication, even though that may be true in certain multilingual countries like, you know, India or Singapore or Nigeria etceteras, where the foreign language is the link language because of colonial history. But in most foreign language context ah you’ll not see a very clear-cut language planning or language policy. And then, are they learning this English, or a foreign language, for communicative purposes, or are they learning it merely for reading and writing so that they can keep abreast of what happens in the field of science and technology etceteras. So that has to be made very clear, so that is one difficulty in the FLA situation. The second thing is: in contexts where a foreign language is introduced early on in the school system, the students may not actually realize the importance of learning that language, and therefore there’s a very distinct lack of motivation among the students. Later on when they become college students or adults then they, then they understand, oh-ho, I should have learned this second or foreign. But when it’s introduced early on in, lets say, primary school or early junior high, they do not fully understand the importance of that language, so teachers may have to work a, a little more on creating and sustaining motivation. So that’s the second major difference there. And the third a, a difference is um, a, we talked about the importance of a promoting interaction in the classroom. In a foreign language situation, there are very few opportunities for negotiated interaction in a classroom situation. And even outside the classroom, the students may not get a lot of opportunities to practice the foreign language they are learning. Now that adds a more challenging aspect to the teacher’s task, because the teacher has to develop more interactive exercises and activities in the classroom, maybe because that’s the only arena, classroom, where the students have an opportunity to interact in the foreign language. So that is definitely an important factor, a lack of interactive opportunities. And perhaps the last point is: in most FLA situations teachers find themselves in a very difficult instructional circumstances. They are teaching under a very difficult circumstances, because in most countries when you are teaching English as a foreign language, for instance, you have, you have very large classes, you know, students in the fifty, sixty, even a hundred, and you have a limited resources, you have very limited number of trained teachers, you have very limited number of a good textbooks available, so all this lack of resources actually contribute to that. So the, the difference, as I see, between SLA and FLA, are in terms of these educational and environmental facilities, rather than in terms of psycho-linguistic processes.
I think in the specific context of a, language minority students, a major concern that I have relates (phone ringing) to the question of teaching culture in the classroom. (long pause) I know that our different perspectives about a, and how culture should be taught in the classroom. Luckily, as I see it, the earlier emphasis on cultural assimilation is a dying down, you know, I so not see many advocates for cultural assimilation, they are not any more saying that for you to learn a, a second language successfully, you have to culturally integrate with the target language community, even though there are some who still say that. (phone ringing) Um, and then you have the second school of a thought, which emphasizes cultural prudelism or multiculturalism, as the word goes. I would very much a, a encourage our teachers to pay attention to the, the rich cultural diversity that they see in the classroom. and it is not just enough talking about multiculturalism, and this is something that I feel very strongly about, but as I see what happens in schools and colleges, in the name of multiculturalism, is to talk about culture as a product rather than culture as a process. By which I mean, in a, in a number of schools and colleges, because they, they believe that they are promoting multiculturalism, maybe they designate one particular month, let’s say, in February is the month of African-Americans etceteras. Or maybe, you know, they celebrate certain cultural festival, festivals from different cultural communities. But more often than not, I know there are good exceptions, and more often than not, these are treated more as rights and rituals rather than an opportunity for both the teacher and the learners in the classroom to really understand and come to grips with cultural differences represented in the classroom. So I would rather go beyond, obviously, cultural assimilation, and also go beyond the surface level cultural, multiculturalism and try to think about creating what I call critical cultural consciousness in our learners, as well as in our teachers. Now what do I actually mean by critical cultural consciousness? I’m talking about the importance of respecting different cultures, and at the same time developing a true, meaningful understanding of various cultures represented in your, a, in your classroom. And that takes time, and that takes time, that takes a lot of a effort, but a, if a classroom teacher cannot do it, nobody can.
Well, um, one point actually which I have been coming back to again and again, is this, to use your phrase, the empowerment of a teachers. And a, traditionally we looked at, a, teachers as passive technicians, meaning, all they need to do is to (laughter)get this body of knowledge from one source and act as a kind of a conduit and transfer that body of knowledge to another source. And we need to go away from that kind of a concept. And we have been talking about our teachers as reflective practitioners, and that is good to the extent that, you know, that gives an opportunity for teachers (voice) to actually, critically look at what happens and has, in their a classroom, and reflect critically about what succeeds and what does not a succeed. So that is, that’s good, so far as it can go, but I would like to go even beyond that and um talk about teachers as transformative intellectuals, and as you very well know, I’m borrowing the idea from Henry Giro(?) and other critical paragagists (?). But I think the concept of, a, teachers as transformative intellectuals is important to me because as teachers we need to develop social, cultural, and political consciousness in our learners, and to do that we need to actually look at the classroom community as part of the larger societal community. You know there is a tendency among some of our teachers to look at classroom as a mini-society by itself as if that has nothing to do with what happens outside. I would rather get away from that concept and say: classroom is part of the larger society, so you, once you get into the classroom you cannot just shut away, you know, what happens in the outside a world. So you need to bring in this social, cultural, political concerns into your classroom as well, and become in a, a, a, a, transformative intellectuals, and I hope we do that.