Academic year 2007/2008
Introduction Selecting the material for the Course of English for Specific Purposes for Students of Education, I had in mind two main objectives:
to provide linguistically challenging texts that will foster real development of my students’ English language skills and knowledge, and thus prepare them to use English widely as a tool in developing their professional competences;
to provide texts that will develop my students’ critical thinking and thus shape the way they think about teaching and learning and about their classroom practices.
The texts cover authentic educational material taken from professional literature and downloaded from Internet sites.
I am excited about this possibility to provide the course material in electronic form as I believe that an ESP course in the field of education should have a dynamic form and thus be ready to respond to changes and innovative ideas.
Acknowledgements I am grateful to a friend of mine, a great teacher and educational expert, for inspiring my professional thinking (hence the choice of course material) by sharing with me some of his thoughts on education. And many thanks to the Embassy of Finland in Belgrade for supporting the purchase of wonderful professional literature in English and making it available to all students and teachers of the Faculty of Education in Jagodina through the Faculty Library – most of the texts have been taken from those books.
What is different about teaching children?
It is interesting that the term leamer-centred, meaning that children's needs and interests are placed at the centre of planning and teaching, is no longer as commonly used as before. It was often interpreted in the wider EFL world as simply putting fun into learning, whereas what was often necessary was ensuring there was some learning in all the fun! In line with current thinking we shall use the term learning-centred to highlight a greater emphasis on the need to maximize learning and provide both support and challenge in learning. If we want to focus on learning centred teaching it is vital that we are well-informed about the physical, emotional, conceptual and educational characteristics of children and how theory has shaped our views on how children think and learn.
If we learn a foreign language as adults, we often have a long-term goal, such as wanting to get a job where bilingual skills are important, or wanting to study further in the country of the target language. These purposes are highly motivating and greatly increase our willingness to spend the long hours it takes to master another language. Young children, on the other hand, are not yet in control of their lives and still have a great deal to learn in their own language, as well as learn another one.
Young children are different from older learners because children:
have a lot of physical energy and often need to be physically active
are developing conceptually and are at an early stage of their schooling
learn more slowly and forget things quickly
tend to be self-oriented and preoccupied with their own world
get bored easily
are excellent mimics
can concentrate for a surprisingly long time if they are interested
can be easily distracted but also very enthusiastic
Of course we must remember that chronological age is not always the same as developmental age. Individual differences in learners, both within and across age bands, is especially marked at primary level.
Parental support and interest is a key factor in children's learning. With good parental support some young children may start school with good concentration and memorization skills, having been introduced to action songs, counting rhymes, bedtime stories, computer games, and so on. They may know the alphabet and how to handle a book, recognize print, use a counting line, and so on. Others will not, and as research shows, such pupils are already at a disadvantage, although some will easily catch up.
(Taken from The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by J. Brewster & G.Ellis, 2004)
How children think and learn
Behaviourism heavily influenced our views on how children learn languages. This view was shaped by the way behaviourists thought about children's learning in general, where children were seen as a 'blank slate' who learned by reacting passively to different kinds of stimuli and the positive or negative feedback they received. This view holds that teaching equals learning. This is known as the transmission model of learning. By contrast, Piaget presented the child as actively constructing his or her own thinking by acting upon the physical and social environment. All children were seen to go through a series of clearly defined stages of intellectual development. For example, most children between four to eight years are at the concrete-operational stage, where all learning develops only where it is heavily contextualized in concrete situations. By eleven, some pupils may move into the stage of formal operations, where they are capable of more abstract thought and can learn in a more decontextualized way. This was widely interpreted as meaning that it is not possible to teach young children some things until they are 'ready'. It is now widely accepted that Piaget underestimated the role of language and the role of adults in helping children to learn while over-estimating the role of play. However, his work triggered enormous interest in exploring how young children think and learn through observing children's behaviour in relation to tasks they were given.
Bruner (1983) investigated why children find school learning so difficult.
He discovered that this was because children experienced it as very separate from their real lives. His theory of learning is essentially constructivist, a model of learning in which the child is seen as an active agent in his or her own learning, selecting, retaining and transforming information to construct knowledge which is shaped by his or her unique way of seeing and interpreting the world. This, he called scaffolding. If we think of building a house we may see some similarities to the ways in which a child learns. In house-building scaffolding is put up to support the building process. This is broken up into stages: first the foundations, then the walls and ceilings (the building blocks), then the systems - plumbing and electrics - which connect everything together. The links and networks between these different stages build up internal strengths so that by the time the scaffolding is removed, the house supports itself. In this way Bruner thought that the child's learning is a process, not merely a product, which can be accelerated or enhanced by breaking learning into stages and providing the building blocks and systems which connect these together. He saw children's learning as moving through three modes of representation, knowing something through doing it, through working with a picture or image of it and through using some symbolic means, such as language. Studies of how very young children consolidate their learning experiences reveal interesting patterns which reflect these three modes.
The work of Vygotsky (1978) is also very important since he emphasised the role of the adult and of language in children's learning. He saw the process of mental development as working on two levels, the present actual level and the future, potential level of development. The difference between the views of Piaget and Vygotsky are that the first believes the child learns through his or her own individual actions and exploratiol1, whereas the second believes that adults/teachers work actively to improve children's level of development. Another major difference between Piaget and Vygotsky is their view of the role of language in learning. Vygotsky held the view that speech precedes thinking, so that very young children find it helpful to speak out loud about what they are doing. From the ages of three to seven children's private speech changes to include conversational speech with others. A major legacy of Vygotsky's work is the importance placed upon developing opportunities to allow young children to talk in order to develop their thinking. His model of learning, social-constructivist, sees children as constructing their understandings from the social interaction of their learning contexts, with all its possibilities and limitations. Anning (1991) suggests that children are unique in what they bring to the learning experience but tend to draw on the same kinds of learning strategy. This means that we can think of learners as having individual differences but who learn using similar strategies to other children. The notion of metacognition, which is concerned with how children learn to think, plan and remember, has become increasingly important over the last fifteen years. Ellis and others believe that helping children to gain insights on how they think, plan and remember aids them in developing the confidence to tackle similar and new tasks. The role of the teacher here is to provide a model of the kinds of strategies that are useful.
We have so far considered some of the most important psychological theories about learning, but many teachers find it difficult to apply these kinds of psychological theory to their actual classroom practice. According to Gipps 'it is now more widely accepted that we need to generate educational theory out of good educational practice'. This can be seen in the way teachers pick out aspects of theories which fit in with their 'common-sense' view, based on classroom experience, of how learning seems to take place.
(Taken from The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by J. Brewster & G.Ellis, 2004)
The Stages of Cognitive Development
Piaget places great emphasis on the child's ability actively to make sense of the world. Children do not passively soak up information, but select and interpret what they see, hear and feel in the world around them. From his observation of children, and the numerous experiments he conducted into their ways of thinking, he concluded that human beings go through several distinct stages of cognitive development, i.e. learning to think about themselves, and their environment. Each stage involves the acquisition of new skills and depends on the successful completion of the preceding one.
The first stage is the sensorimotor, which lasts from birth up to about age two. Until aged about four months, an infant cannot differentiate itself from the environment. For example, the child will not realize that its own movements cause the sides of its crib to rattle. Objects are not differentiated from persons, and the infant is unaware that anything exists outside the range of his vision. Infants gradually learn to distinguish people from objects, coming to see that both have an existence independent of their immediate perception. Piaget calls this early stage sensorimotor because infants learn mainly by touching objects, manipulating them and physically exploring their environment. The main accomplishment of this stage is that by its close the child understands its environment to have distinctive and stable properties.
The next phase, called the pre-operational stage, is the one to which Piaget devoted the bulk of his research. This stage lasts from ages two to seven, when children acquire a mastery of language and become able to use words to represent objects and images in a symbolic fashion. A four-year-old might use a sweeping hand, for example, to represent the concept "aeroplane". Piaget terms the stage pre-operational because children are not yet able to use their developing, mental capabilities systematically. Children at this stage are egocetric. As Piaget uses it, this concept does not refer to selfishness, but to the tendency of the child to interpret the world exclusively in terms of its own position. She or he does not understand, for instance, that others see objects from a different perspective to his or her own. Holding a book upright, the child may ask about a picture in it, not realizing that the person sitting opposite can only see the back of the book.
Moreover, children at the pre-operational stage are not able to hold connected conversations with another. In egocentric speech, what each child says is more or less unrelated to what the previous speakers said. Children talk together, but not to one another in the same sense as adults. During this phase of development, children have no general understanding of categories of thought that adults tend to take for granted: concepts such as causality, speed, weight or number. Even if the child sees water poured from a tall, thin container into a shorter, wider one, he or she will not understand that the volume of the water remains the same - concluding there is less water, because the water level is lower.
The third stage, the concrete operational period, lasts from ages seven to eleven. During this phase, children master abstract, logical notions. They are able to handle ideas such as causality without much difficulty. She or he becomes capable carrying out the mathematical operations of multiplying, dividing and subtracting. Children by this stage are much less egocentric.
Finally, the years from eleven to fifteen cover what Piaget calls the formal operational period. During adolescence, the developing child becomes able to grasp highly abstract and hypothetical ideas. When faced with a problem, children at this stage are able to review all the possible ways of solving it and go through them theoretically in order to reach a solution. The young person at the formal operational stage is able to understand why some sorts of questions are trick ones. To the question "What creatures are both poodles and dogs?", the child might or might not be able to give the correct reply (the answer is "poodles"), but he or she will understand why this answer is right and appreciate the humour in it.
And to conclude, according to Piaget, the first three stages of development are universal; but not all adults reach the formal operational stage. The development of formal operational thought depends in part upon processes of schooling. Furthermore, adults of limited educational attainment tend to continue to think in more concrete terms and retain large traces of egocentrism.
(Taken from English for Students of Psychology and Education,by M. Prica, 1996)
Multiple Intelligences Theory
In the past, intelligence was a fixed, static entity at birth which was defined operationally as the ability to answer items on IQ tests. Even since the publication of his Frames of Mind (1983), Dr. Howard Gardner has postulated an alternative definition of intelligence based on a radically different view of intelligence. According to him, an intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting or community. There are many, not just one, different but autonomous intelligence capacities that result in many different ways of knowing, understanding, and learning about our world. Up to the present, he has proposed a schema of eight intelligences and suggests that there are probably many others that we have not yet been able to test (Gardner, 1995). A summary of Gardner's eight intelligences is given as follows:
Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence is the ability to use language effectively and creatively both orally and in writing. It describes the learner with a good vocabulary, a good reader, who learns well from stories and likes doing crosswords. This intelligence can be seen in such people as poets, playwrights, storytellers, novelists, public speakers, and comedians.
Logical/Mathematical Intelligence is the ability to use numbers effectively, to recognize abstract patterns, to discern relationships and to reason well. It describes the learner who is good at or likes using computers, is good at problem-solving and likes classifying, sequencing and ranking activities. The intelligence can be seen in such people as scientists, computer programmers, accountant, lawyers, bankers, and, of course, mathematicians.
The logical/mathematical and verbal/linguistic intelligences form the basis for most systems of education, as well as for all forms of currently existing standardized testing programs.
Visual/Spatial Intelligence involves the ability to sense form, space, color, line, and shape including the ability to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas. It describes the learner who enjoys drawing, who learns well from using pictures, charts, maps, diagrams, etc. This intelligence can be seen in such people as architects, graphic artists, cartographers, industrial design draftspersons, and, of course, visual artists (painters and sculptors).
Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence is the ability to use one's body to express oneself and to solve problems. It describes the learner who learns through manipulating and moving objects and lively activities – action rhymes and games. This intelligence can be seen in such people as actors, athletes, mimes, dancers, and inventors.
Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence involves the ability to recognize tonal patterns and a sensibility to rhythm, pitch, melody, etc. It describes the learner who learns well through the use of chants, rhymes and songs. This intelligence can be seen in advertising professionals (those who write catchy jungles to sell a product), performance musicians, rock musicians, dance bands and composers.
Interpersonal Intelligence involves the ability to understand people's moods, feelings, motivations and intentions. It includes the ability to work cooperatively with others in a group and to communicate, verbally and nonverbally, with other people. It describes the learner who learns well from pair- or group-work activities such as interviews, games, surveys, etc. This form of intelligence is usually highly developed in such people as counselors, teachers, therapists, politicians, and religions leaders.
Intrapersonal Intelligence involves the ability to understand the internal aspects of the self and to practice self-discipline. It describes the learners who is good self-evaluator and likes to reflect, as well as doing self-assessment exercises, learning diaries, etc.; someone who likes independent learning, such as project work and presentations; someone who likes creative writing. This intelligence can be seen in such people as philosophers, psychiatrists, spiritual counselors, and cognitive pattern researchers.
Naturalist Intelligence involves the ability to recognize and classify plants, minerals, and animals, including rocks, grass, and all variety of flora and fauna. It also includes the ability to recognize cultural artifacts like cars, sneakers, etc. It describes the learner who is good at recognizing patterns in things; someone who notices similarities and differences between things, who is good at classifying and organizing things into groups. This kind of intelligence enriches the other seven intelligences. The intelligence can be seen in such people as farmers, hunters, zookeepers, gardeners, cooks, veterinarians, nature guide, and forest rangers.
Armed with this knowledge, teachers can ensure they provide enough variety in the activities they use so that as much of their pupils’ learning potential can be tapped as possible.
(Adapted from The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by J. Brewster & G.Ellis, 2004)
Obstacles and Misconceptions in Teaching for Thinking
Disagreements over the proper psychological approach
Obviously, among psychologists there are a great many disputes, such as those over the nature of learning, the role of memory and concept formation, and the nature of intelligence and of affective factors, that have been followed keenly by educators because of the bearing these issues can be expected to have on education. Much hangs, therefore, upon the psychological approach that educators suppose to be correct when they begin the planning that will make their schools more reflective. We must not confuse
1. Attempting to understand children’s cognitive development by studying what children can’t do without intervention
Attempting to understand the cognitive development of children by studying what children can do with intervention Comment. This is, in part, the issue between Piaget and Vygotsky. Since virtually all educational situations involve adult mediation between the culture and the child, and since such mediation comes in a variety of styles, each has its own impact on children’s learning. It is hazardous to accept Piagetian approach as a norm for curriculum construction or for the devising of pedagogies. Piaget is so interested in showing what children cannot do unaided at a given stage that he is unable to focus on how they can be helped to do it.
2. Stressing all the varieties of human intelligences (mathematical, musical, linguistic, etc.) so as to aim at the cultivation of all varieties
Emphasizing only certain varieties of human intelligence
Comment. In the long run, Howard Gardner’s emphasis on the variety of human intelligence is both correct and just, for it provides a fair and humane goal for the educational process. But it is of little consolidation to those who are language-deficient and who discover that language and mathematics, rightly or wrongly, are the established currencies of the classroom. All of the child’s potential modes of intelligence deserve to be developed, and the schools should develop literacy in each of these modes.
(Taken from Thinking in Education (2003) by Matthew Lipman)
Social-interactionist views of language acquisition
In the late 1970s and 1980s developmental psychologists emphasised the importance of social factors, which leads us on to the current view, 'social-interactionist'. This emphasises the importance of human social interactions, and the role of adult and child relationships in learning. A crucial element in this view is the way language is modified to suit the level of the learner. As a result, many studies were made of the way the chief caregiver, often the mother, talked to the child. Bruner (1983) showed how an innate device, such as Chomsky's LAD, was not able to function without the help given by an adult. They called this kind of help the Language Acquisition Support System or LASS. Bruner said there needed to be a child component, incorporating an innate tendency for active social interaction and language learning (LAD), and a social support component provided by other speakers, especially adults (LASS).
The partner with whom the child interacts provides a structure or framework, which Bruncr referred to as 'scaffolding'. The work of Vygotsky in the 1930s (not published in the West until the 1960s) was significant in terms of emphasising the way in which human thinking is dominated by mental processes arising from language. He coined the phrase 'zone of proximal development' (ZPD) to explain the fact that children can do much more with the help of someone more knowledgeable or skilled than themselves than they can do alone. This highlights the importance of social interaction and learning from working with others. Vygotsky then described how the child is able to move away from learning with others to more independent thought and behaviour. The notion of the ZDP has provided us with insights into how teachers can both support and yet challenge learners through the careful design and staging of tasks.
It seems that the final picture is very complex. Imitation and practice are important in language learning although children are also immensely creative. No doubt in the future more research will develop other insights and views on the child language acquisition process.
(Taken from The Primary English Teacher’s Guide by J. Brewster & G.Ellis, 2004)