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Didactics - Final lecture

A : The history of EFL

English did not become a language of any importance until relatively late - élite spoke French - not as yet an economic powerhouse. Mass language learning stems from need. First textbooks aimed at a market of merchants. Dialogues to be learnt by heart, - the Catechistic method - centred on the kind of situation that the travelling businessman might encounter. Text books often multilingual. Grammar of modern languages little developed - functional approach to language teaching. 
Development of EFL in 16thC - Elizabeth invites in foreign skilled tradesmen - persecution of Protestants in France after 1572. Jacques Bellot - one of the first teachers of EFL. Approach rooted in daily life of immigrants - need to be able not only to speak, but also to read and write.
A further influx of Protestants after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 renewed need for EFL. Guy Miège brought out his New Method in 1685 - with a grammar, a dictionary and a set of dialogues. 

Early 18thC - interest in the language on the continent - first among neighbouring countries, then spreading. This was both because England was beginning to become a commercial power, and because it was looked upon as a source of enlightened ideas in theology and in philosophy - the English have both something to sell, and something to say. English also penetrates the wider world through colonial expansion, opening up needs and new markets - John Miller's textbook for Bengal. 

In 18thC the language becomes standardized - grammars and dictionaries appear, thus providing material for a teaching apparatus founded on the teaching of classical languages - higher status. 

Then the modern period - development of the school as a mass institution, and the divorce of modern language teaching from immediate concerns. Recognition that language teaching under these conditions could be boring and inefficient lead to demands for reform through the 19thC, and for a greater degree of professionalism. Theoreticians such as Claude Marcel revolted against the Grammar-translation method, turning to the 'object-lessons' of Pestalozzi. Learning through listening - François Gouin - allies monologues to action - cutting both into short phrases within a sequence. 

The Reform Movement - primacy of oral over written language - importance of phonetics - and the demand for sense - the connected text, rather than disconnected sentences. 

Move to WWII - need to teach languages to American servicemen - practices based on behaviourist approach to learning and upon Bloomfieldian linguistics - rote learning of basic structures - audio-lingual method. This method came in for criticism in 60s - boring and inefficient. Put the learner and his needs at the centre of our approach. Identification of these needs.


B : Chomsky and after

Importance of Chomsky's theoretical contributions 

- children do not hear a lot of correct language, because performance is often interrupted and so ungrammatical

- children do not hear as much language as they would have to if the Skinner account were correct 

- children produce sentences and understand sentences every day that they have never heard before - in fact we all produce new sentences on a regular basis -

Children learn because they are programmed to do so - there is a special structure in the brain. 

Krashen - used Chomsky's theory to build his own theory of EFL 

- distinction between acquisition and learning 

- language is learnt in a natural order 

- acquired language enables us to express ourselves freely - learned language allows us to monitor our production - but only useful in limited circumstances 

- we learn language through processing comprehensible input - we do not need to ask the learner to produce language - he automatically will when he is ready 

- people will only learn a language if they have a positive attitude to that language and to the learning situation. Often differences in learning can be traced to differences in attitude.

C : The Critique of Krashen

Went on to criticize Krashen's formulations - work of Anderson, who looks at EFL from a cognitive standpoint. The learner goes through three stages - 

- Cognitive stage - instruction or watching expert 

- Associative stage - makes connections between different elements of the skill and with already existing skills 

- the Autonomous Stage - skill becomes automatic

Gagné, in same tradition - but - rules are not those of grammar books, but ones that the learner constructs for himself. This process of rule-construction has been typified by Selinker as interlanguage - the learner constructs a series of grammars, each of which is relatively consistent, but will be replaced by a further interlanguage which approaches the target model more closely, until in the end, the learner's language will, in almost all cases, fossilize at a particular level. 

From this point of view, it is necessary for the learner to make errors. It is through his errors that the learner progresses. However, we need to distinguish various types of error 

- developmental errors - those through which all learners of a specific language progress, whatever their mother tongue - similar to those made by the child learning the language as a mother tongue 

- interference errors - learner falls back upon his mother tongue - this is not necessarily a bad thing, because the mother tongue provides a resource for the construction of testable hypotheses. 

- avoidance - learners may never master certain structures because they avoid them

Krashen's input hypothesis has also been strongly criticized. First of all, it is not clear what he means by 'comprehensible' input. There is a danger that the idea might lead to oversimplification of the language offered in some language classrooms 

Second, Krashen suggests that output plays no role in language acquisition. This can be contested on two counts 

- the teacher needs the students' output in order to monitor their progress and adapt her material. 

- Boulouffe - it is only through output that deep-rooted avoidance errors can be cleared up. It is through the personal production of the target language that the learner is forced to reorganize his language, and to integrate it at the personal level.

A number of observers have suggested that the need to negotiate meaning, and particularly demands for clarification on the part of an interlocutor, leads to greater progress. This can only occur if the learner is encouraged to use the language.

Krashen's scepticism concerning grammar teaching has also been the subject of sharp criticism. The empirical evidence is inconclusive. Certainly, formal grammar teaching does not appear to make such a difference as to justify a large number of classroom hours spent on it, however, it can help with some errors - particularly those where input will provide no direct clues.


B : Developmental psychology

The human brain is an enormously complex organism. However, there is now some consensus that 
- the brain can be divided into two parts - left and right hemisphere - which have different functions 

- language is governed by the left hemisphere - at least if we equate language with grammar 

- feelings, colour and humour appear to be right hemisphere qualities

- the brain may in fact be further subdivided into areas that govern different functions.

Development may not be unitary - Gardner suggests that we possess seven different types of intelligence, and that each of them has their own developmental pathway. Anderson, on the other hand, holds that although there may well be numerous different processing modules, they are all united by a basic processor, the speed of which differs from one individual to another, and is the deciding factor in differences in intelligence. 

How do young people actually develop? Most modern answers to this question take Jean Piaget as their springboard. Piaget believed that all children developed through three basic stages 

- the sensory-motor operations stage 

- the concrete thinking operations stage 

- the formal thinking operations stage

He believed that, by and large, any normal child would go through these stages automatically, if allowed freedom of movement and freedom to play - interaction with adults is of little fundamental importance. 

Vygotsky, on the other hand, believed that the role of others was crucial - this is because learning takes place in the 'zone of optimal development', which refers to those activities of which the child is capable if he is given the help and guidance of another - whether an adult or a peer. Vygotsky also saw language as central to cognitive development, whereas Piaget appeared to see it as somewhat peripheral.


Adolescence & the Sociology of Schooling

Looking more closely at the adolescent, we remark that the arrival at secondary school tends to coincide with the onset of puberty. Puberty is a moment of great change and rearrangement of the body and of emotional life. Children suddenly shoot up to adult height, and develop fully adult characteristics, whereas the school and society continue to treat them as if they were infants. Differences in the onset of puberty, both between the sexes and within the same sex may have consequences for character development - early into puberty - happier and more extroverted. 

At same time, young person is beginning to think in more universal terms, and is capable of taking on the role of the other. This leads to the possible development of a highly ideological view of the world. 

The adolescent finds herself within the school system gradually removed from the domain of the family. The self is judged in its relations both to the school system, as represented by marks, teachers' judgements, conseil de classes and so on, and to the peer group. 

We saw how the school can be seen as simply reproducing the divisions that already exist in society. Working class children tend to have different school careers from middle-class children, and the latter leave with a higher level of qualification than the former. 

However, we also saw that the school itself can affect outcomes. Some schools are better than others, and some teachers are better than others. How you become and remain one of the latter is a matter both simple and complex. It is simple, in that the answer is damned hard pounding. It is complex in that the matter to be pounded is infinite in its variety : your subject matter, your school, your pupils and the society they live in - and, perhaps most of all, and most difficult to realize, your self.
 

(If you wish to comment or ask a question, please write to tmason@timothyjpmason.com)

Home Didactics Top of Page

Timothy Mason

IUFM de Versailles

Sections :

The history of EFL

Chomsky and after

The Critique of Krashen

Developmental psychology

Adolescence & the Sociology of Schooling


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