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Describing learning and teaching

Key questions:

3. Psychological, physiological, intellectual and cultural peculiarities of young learners in the process of FLT

4. The requirements to modern methods in FLT to young learners

5. Principles of learning and language learning


Psychological, physiological, intellectual and cultural peculiarities of young learners in foreign language teaching: Activities which impose what the teacher would wish to take place, but which are beyond the child’s level of development, are difficult and even in some cases impossible for a child to understand. They often result in a restless classroom, or discipline problems in large classes.

Without knowledge of a child’s various stages of cognitive, emotional, physical, and social and language development, and an ability to recognize these changes, it is difficult for a teacher to plan an effective programme. Piaget’s view that all children pass through the same stages of cognitive development but at different rates still provides a comprehensive outline for the study of intellectual development.

Changes can take place within a week or even within a lesson, which means that teachers need to be flexible, adjusting lesson plans where necessary to cope with new developments. In some cases there seem to be periods of concentrated and sometimes rapid development followed by periods of little advance (see slide #1)

The rate of development may not necessarily indicate a young child’s ability. An intelligent child may be a slow developer or even a late developer. Children who make little progress may have some physical difficulty which may not have been recognized.

The length of time a child can concentrate on doing one activity also varies from child to child. Some young children can only manage to concentrate for about 5 minutes, others for very much longer periods of up to fourteen or fifteen minutes. Once children have lost interest in an activity and their attention has wandered, little or no more learning takes place. It is best to change an activity before children lose interest so that they are left wanting more and looking forward to the next opportunity to do the same activity. Over-exposure to an activity leads to boredom. As children develop, so their span of concentration lengthens. It is important not to confuse a child’s span of concentration with his need to move physically.

Language development. A child’s ability to use his first language is a crucial factor in the learning process. The degree to which he can use Language 1 to communicate will reflect on his ability to acquire Language 2. Teachers need to know the level of Language 1 development of each child they teach. Where a child’s Language 1 ability is not sufficiently developed, teachers can jointly plan activities common to Language 1 and the English lesson. They can also advise parents on suitable language experiences which should help improve the child’s use of language.

Cognitive development: A child’s language learning skills are not isolated from the rest of his mental growth. It appears that concepts that he has learned in Language 1 can be transferred to Language 2. Children find it easier if learning a new concept takes place in Language 1 rather than in Language 2. It is also easier for the person explaining the concept, as the child’s use of Language 1 is more developed and thus explaining is easier. Teachers who have no other way but to explain in Language 2 will find it helpful to consult books that deal with introducing concepts to young children in a structured way. They also need to plan a longer learning programme, as children will need more experiences and time to learn a completely new concept. This is a particular problem in ESL situations, where all teaching may be through the medium of English and not through the child’s Language 1.

It is impossible for children to learn everything perfectly in each lesson. For this reason part of every lesson should consist of going over previous work (remedial work) to help children to consolidate the language and the concepts they have been exposed to. Failure to consolidate any one stage of learning affects the next stage of learning. If new activities are presented before sufficient consolidation of previous activities has taken place, a gradual accumulation of things are properly understood begins to grow. This often leads to a feeling of “not being good” at English.

On other hand, activities which are right for the stage of development and are properly consolidated give a feeling of being successful, which in turn motivates. If children can go from one successful activity to another, motivation takes place naturally.

Emotional development. It is difficult to examine all aspects of a child’s emotional development. However, teachers should be aware that young children differ in temperament. Some children are aggressive, others shy, some are over-anxious to please and in some cases frightened of making a mistake; others are moody, especially if they do not get what they want. Temperament affects their ability to take part in language-learning activities. Teachers need to be aware of differences in temperament and be able to help children make the best of an activity. By watching children in the classroom, in the playground or with their parents and by talking to parents about their children, teachers can gradually find out about children’s temperaments. Once a teacher knows what sort of temperament a child has, she can allocate particular activities to him which gives him an opportunity to develop his character. She also knows better when to give praise and encouragement.

Physical development. Not only cognitive development but also physical development plays an important role in determining what activities are right for the young child. “Patterns of physical growth tend to be broadly similar for all children. As a course muscle control becomes finer, a child can make more complex and differentiated movements”.

Teachers often complain that young children have difficulty in sitting still. They want to move, to wriggle and touch everything. To quote Millar, “The fact that children find it less easy than adults to sit still for long periods, not to bang their heels against a chair, not to jump up, or move their arms, or touch objects, to execute fine movements with their fingers and modulate their voices, is not a question of having more energy to spill, but of comparative lack of integration and control of movement system”. Activities need to give children an opportunity to move around within the classroom. Rhymes, for example, can include activities like jumping or dancing, and games can include physical activity games. In many cases the need to wriggle and move might look like a loss of interest, but if the activity is right for the child, the child will still be involved and listening even if he is wriggling.

Cultural influence on language development. Although young children pass through the same stages of development, it is important to realize that the influence that a child’s society and culture can have on his development. Without adequate knowledge of the child’s background, it is difficult to understand fully his behavior in the classroom or to plan the right type of activities from which he can benefit.

Modern methods in FLT to young learners should meet the following requirements (Í.Ä.Ãàëüñêîâà):

· To create a friendly atmosphere for a child to learn FL

· To stimulate children’s interest, to increase their desire to learn which leads to children’s successful achievement in learning

· To involve child’s personality, his/her feelings, emotions, and sensations

· To take into consideration child’s needs and interests, for this reason to provide children with a variety of activities and exercises

· To activate children’s activity using a game as a way of teaching/learning

· To make a child an active participant of the learning process, who realises that learning of a foreign language, is closely connected with his personality and interests, not with the exercises and ways teacher provides.

· To create situations where the central figure is a child, children must be equal subjects of learning process, who communicate actively with each other; in this case teacher attains the role of a controller, consultant or a participant.

· Gradually teach children to work with language independently and provide the differentiation and individualisation of learning process;

· To use all forms of work in class which stimulates children’s independent work and creativity: individual, group, collective.

Principles of learning and language learning

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and his colleagues have demonstrated that children in primary or elementary school are usually in what is called the concrete operational stage of cognitive development. This means that they learn through hands-on experiences and through manipulation of objects in the environment. Children in primary or elementary-school settings generally learn by doing. Children in language classes need to be active rather than passive; they need to be engaged in activities of which language is a part; they need to be working on meaningful tasks and use language to accomplish those tasks.

Another generalization about children’s learning comes from the work of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s work on zone of proximal development postulates that children learn in social contexts, in groups where some group members know more than others. Those who know more facilitate the learning of others by challenging them to go beyond their present level of understanding. The ones who know more may be peers, but they may also be adults. This principle suggests that children need not only hands-on or direct experiences, but also experiences where they are interacting with and learning from others, both adults and children. In terms of language classes, an implication would be that children to use the new language with each other and with the teacher.

A basic principle of both first- and second -language acquisition is that acquisition occurs through learners figuring out how the language works, through learners making and testing out hypotheses about the language. Language acquisition involves the cognitive work of creative construction of the rules of the language (Lindfors 1987). In terms of the classroom context, an implication is that learners need opportunities to use and to experiment with the new language. Another implication is that mistakes are a natural and inevitable part of language learning.

Another basic principle of first and second-language development is that language acquisition occurs through social interaction, through having to use the language with others in authentic communication settings. Language develops as speakers try out the language they are figuring out in situations with others, and as others respond to their efforts. Putting this principle into practice would mean that learners need to talk with each other and need to have language input from others.

These principles suggest a communicative approach to language teaching, which focuses on involving and small groups of learners in authentic communicative situations and in problem-solving and information-gap activities.

Date: 2014-12-22; view: 1936

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