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从SLA理论研究到课堂实践:教师可以怎样做?

[日期:2012-07-31] 来源:  作者:Marjorie Hall Haley、Patricia Rentz(黄瑞贤、王旭译) [字体: ]

提要 

在ESL师资培养计划中(这里是指从事把英语作为第二语言教学工作的教师),教师们要投入大量的时间和精力研究二语习得理论。那何时又如何把这些理论应用到课堂教学时间中去?本文专为二语习得(SLA)教师提供了一种描述性的方法。这一方法将二语习得理论运用到交际性课堂教学中去。文章首先论述二语习得研究对教师的重要性,继而涉及learner leadiness 和关注语言形式(focus on form),这是两个教师们可能愿意在成人ESL课堂上尝试的主题。最后,本文提出若干关于教材选择的建议以供教师教学参考。作者的意图是要鼓励读者把二语习得研究理论的点滴收获运用到课堂实践中。

引言

二语习得理论研究是个生机勃勃,不断发展且极具吸引力的科学领域。正如在许多处于发展中的研究一样,疑问多于答案,对于大多数ESL教师来说,SLA理论甚少有一项目是有待实证的。关于SLA研究和课堂实践的关系目前尚有许多争论。本文着眼于探讨教师如何选择SLA某些理念以应用到成人ESL课堂教学中去,以及到底ESL课本上有哪些信息可提高帮助。由于交际教学法已被公认为当前的主流,尤其是在ESL教学中。本文假设教师在课堂上采用的是交际性教学法。

为什么要学习SLA理论?

Manfred Pieneman(1995)提出一个问题:“为什么对于语言教师而言,了解语言习得理论是重要的呢?” 他指出:SLA理论的研究是以学习者为中心而不是以学习环境为中心的。关注学习者和语言习得的过程给我们提供了这些信息:学习者一般做什么,不做什么,以及什么可教,什么不可教。根据习得的正常范式,教师应该可以估计到他们的学生正处于哪个习得阶段。SLA理论学习也有利于教师对照大纲来判断教材是否能把学习者带到他们应达到的能力水平。Pienamann说“重要的是要了解在哪一阶段 什么是可学的。”当然,说的容易,做的就难了。莱特博恩认为:”在班级当中学生水平的差异性是人所皆知的现是实,过程性目的教学难以实现。”埃利斯指出:“SLA研究的发现并没有给教师提供明确的教学指导,也很可能永远也不会。这些研究通常在教师们看来不具备可操作性,且意义不大,况且SLA研究项目不一定和教师最关注的领域相一致。然而,SLA研究的确给出大量的概念和描述性解释,它们有助于教师更好地了解并解释自己的课堂教学行为,同时提供理念以供课堂使用,比如,SLA研究描述了中介语发展的过程,此过程显示出:当学习者遵循相对不变的学习路径时,这一路径不是线形的,在中介语重新构建的过程中会出现明显的倒退现象。类似的描述有助于教师了解学习者错误的类型和错误的不可避免性,以及到底什么是可教的,什么是可学的。(Mitchell&Myles,1998)

窄化研究领域

面对SLA研究的方方面面,教师如何从中选择一个领域加以关注呢?莱特博恩和斯彼特(1993)的调查叙述了特别针对教与学关系的相关研究。他们审视了课堂教学的五大建议和与之相关的研究,它们是:

1基于语言学习行为主义理论的教学法,此法强调语言的准确性,语言形式和对错误的难容性。

2基于交互主义理论的教学法,它给学习者提供交流的机会,以使他们从教师和同伴那里获得可理解性输入。这些输入自然而然转换成二语语法与词汇习得。

3.基于“可理解性输入”理论的教学法,此法与史蒂芬•克拉申最密切相关。它强调的不是互动,而是通过听力和阅读进行信息输入。

4.基于“从学生可学状态出发”(Teaching what the learner is ready to learn)的教学法与Manfred Pienemann关系最为密切。

5.基于“认识到教学的作用,却深信并非一切都需要教”这一理念的教学法。(莱特博恩和斯彼特1993. P97)。莱特博恩和斯彼特两人,根据本文中详尽的研究结果,断定后两种方法似乎更能有效地引导教师。

大量的课堂实例都支持这一观点:即注重语言形式和在交流中提供恰当反馈的教学法比起局限于单一强调准确性又单一强调流畅性的教学法更能促进二语学习。根据以上研究,一种整合法——在交际过程中融合对“learner leadiness” 的关注和对“语言形式的关注”(focus on form),似乎是教师应当尽量在课堂上开发的混合型方法。以此目标为起点,当前的研究又能告诉我们什么是有助于发展这种方法的呢?

文献评述:Learner Readiness

在有关learner readiness 和学习时机的文献中,似乎存在着共识:学习者的中介语是按照自然发展顺序建构的。(中介语是学习者在学习二语时形成的过渡性语法。)正如埃利斯所断言:发展顺序的存在是二语习得研究历程中最重要的发现之一。目前二语习得研究界已普遍认定:二语的语法习得,就象母语语法习得一样,具有阶段性。

问题是:“已经发现某些特征出现的具体顺序存在着差异性。”(埃利斯,1994,P21).尽管什么都还未确定,但关于发展顺序和learner readiness的资料给教师将这些理论应用到课堂中提供了依据。

继发展顺序理论之后,最详尽的教学法的介绍出自于史蒂芬•克拉申和Manfrid Pienemann之手。就教学应切合学习者发展阶段这一方面,尽管他二人的有些结论都是基于“二语学习者的发展阶段是具有预测性的”这一发现,他们对教学的建议却迥然不同。

克拉申的“自然顺序假说”扼要地论述了语言的规则是以可预测的顺序习得的,但又断言,这一顺序独立于课堂语言规则教学顺序之外。克拉申提醒教师,不要一门心思只想要使自己的教学与学习者的发展合拍,他强调了基于提供“可理解性输入”的语言教学法的价值。在他的输入假说中,克拉申是这样给可理解性输入下定义的:二语输入应是在句法的复杂性方面,稍高于学习者现有的二语能力。如果学习者理解了输入而且输入足量的话,他就自动习得了这一必要语法。他认为对任何语言形式的强调都不能改变语言的习得。(Lrashen, as cited in Lighttown,1998 and Mitchell & Myles,1998)。Pienemann’s(1995)也有类似的研究显示:学习者的中介语的发展存在着可预测的路径。不过他认为这一发现可用于大纲的设置、语言评价和教学中的纠错。他的研究是让教师尝试着把一个结构教给一大群学习者,这一教学是高出学习者现有发展水平两步的一个特定层面。意在判断这样的教学能不能让学生跳过一个习得的阶段,而结论是不可能。另一方面,有证据表明在语言输入只稍高于学习者现有水平的情况下,习得和运用这一语言形式准确性提高了。这就是Pinemann 的“可教性假说”(Teachability Hypothesis),换句话说,教师应奔着学习者的下一个发展目标去教授他们可接受的东西。有趣的是,研究还表明这种稍高一级的教学确实培养了学习者笔头运用新结构和解释规则的能力,却无法自动产出这些结构。

后者可看作是史蒂芬•克拉申所说的学得有别于习得的一个例子。尽管这一概念仍颇有争议,教师在观察课堂学习过程时还是应时时考虑到的。克拉申坚信,习得和学得的是相互独立的。

习得是潜意识的,是在有意义的交流过程中自然互动的结果,而学得是有意识的,是课堂教学的结果。(Krashen cited in Mitchell&Myers,1998)。莱特博恩对克拉申不针对特定形式进行教学的这一理论提出异议,他认为目前关于课堂的研究证明:学习者不仅能得益于注重形式的教学(focus on form),有时候他们自己还可能这样要求,以便克服对某些特定结构不正确或不完全的理解。(e.g. Lightown & Pienemann, 1993; Lyster, 1994;Swain,1991; L.Whilte,Spada, Lightbown &Ranta, 1991).

尽管此项研究还不能确定针对特定发展阶段的教学真能促进学习者的进步,但已经发现了许多结构的发展顺序,这项努力仍具有价值。Pienemann在继续着这方面的研究,且已提出了“可加工性理论”,这一理论预测了在某一特定的发展阶段哪些结构是可以被学习者进行加工处理的,它对英语、德语、瑞典语和日语的形态句法学的二语习得作出正确的预测。据文献佐证,具有二语习得顺序规律性的语法结构包括疑问结构、否定式、关系代词、控制结构(control structures)、代词、主句和从句中的词序以及词素。

理论研究与实践教学相结合:注重语言形式(focus on form

在研究中,除了注重语言意义以外,在交际性课堂教学中还应考虑的另一方面是注重语言形式。注重形式这一概念是从是否应该以及如何进行二语教学的争论中产生的。适当注重形式能提高以语意为中心的二语教学效果。这一提议引起了教师的争议,也引起一系列的反响,它遭到了坚决提倡交际教学法的教师的反对,而那些想回到离散项目语法教学(discrete-point grammar instruction-老套的纯语法教学?)反倒正中下怀(Doughty&Williams,1998)。“focus on Form”一定要与 “focus on forms”区分开来。“Focus on forms”是传统的教学观念,它强调语法知识,脱离了语境或交际活动。 “focus on forms” 的主要的教学组织原则是单一语法要素的叠加(比如,形式方面的有动词的结尾或一致性特征,功能方面的又问候或道歉等)。这二者的区别在于:focus on form的先决条件就是语意的关注,而后才是对语言特征的关注,这样才会收到理想的效果。Michael Long 提供了focus on form 的两种鲜明特征,一是:“学生在课堂上首先把注意力在语意和交际活动上,此时教师应明确地引导他们关注语言要素 ”(Long,1991,pp45-46);二是:“ focus on form” 通常是通过师生或生生互动,学习者不经意地发现语言编码特征,这种注意的转移是由理解或应用过程中所感知到的问题引发的。”(Long&Robison,1998,P23).(-4-)。不断发展的研究显示:加强对形式的关注很可能导致语法知识的改变,这种改变只在学习者的行为上表现出来。尤其提出了以下以语言形式为基础的语言知识使用建议:

1.计划监控输出,尤其是对于较为复杂的结构而言。

2关注输入中的语言特征

3.关注他们自己言语产出与目的语之间的差距

4.通过发展顺序加快进程,以及打破僵化形式(埃利斯,1993,Fotos,1993,Fotos&Ellis,1991;Long& Crookes,1992; White,1991 as cited in Williams,1995).

对于关注语言形式的优点,另一更为直接的阐述是:它加快了学习的速度,也可能以更利于形成长效准确性的方式影响着习得过程,而且似乎还提高了最终达到的水平。(1991)

教师和日常实践

教师理解了关注形式的基本理念,也产生了付诸实践的愿望,那他应如何做?目前,大多数SLA研究者都赞同这一看法,即在某些学生的某个学习进程中,对于某些形式一定程度上的关注语言形式是有效的。(DeKeyser,1995; N. Ellis, 1993;R.Ellis, 1993; VanPatten& Cadierno, 1993)。除此之外,尚不能确定,让学生关注什么形式,如何且何时关注。然而,有些实用的理论能在教师制定计划时,贯穿其中。

为什么有些形式可能习得,已有多种解释,大多数归于以下几个范畴:

1语言输入的突显性,也就是说,无论出于何种原因,如果学习者注意到某些形式或结构,出现频繁或罕见异常,学习者则更可能习得他们。

2交际功能及输出的意义性——即使学习者注意到某一形式,甚至教师讲解点到,假如他们不需用此形式进行交流,习得可能会延后。

3规则内在的难度——学习者倾向于习得较容易的规则,而难度大的甚至可能永远不会习得,不过,何为“容易”,定义各有不同。(Doughty & Williams, 1998)

“有意注意”是学习者在查阅过或听到他们所感兴趣的单词的意思后,产生了语意通达。——即突然发现它无所不在。施米特(cited in Harley, 1998)把有意注意的意识过程定义为“刺激物在意识层面上的注册登记,而后在长期记忆中贮存。”(P.179)。他也指出目前的一个共识——即目的语形式只有在有意注意的情况下才能被习得,让教学行之有效的一个重要途径是提高目的语语言形式在输入中的突显性,以便更能引起学习者的注意(P.195)[-5-]

那引起学习者注意语言形式的最佳途径是什么?在课堂上可供选择的范围很大,考虑到学习者的个体差异,教师应尽可能进行多种尝试。一些固有的方法,如大量输入,加强形象输入,或用语调体现对学习者错误的关注(一种听觉上的加强输入方式),已被认为是收效甚微的(J. White, 1998).,然而,一些研究又显示:强化的输入(如在文本中用大字号或上颜色来突显某一形式)无疑是一种行之有效的隐性的注重形式的方法,至少对于成人学习者来说。(Doughty & Williams, 1998).

在显性的加工方面,有一种名为信息加工的教学法。这是一种语法教学,其目的是要影响学习者对输入信息的关注方式。它是相对输出理论而言,以输入理论为基础的,是与一般的二语习得理论和交际教学法相一致的。(VanPatten, 1996, p. 2)Doughty和 Williams,声称,“在输入加工过程中,要告知学习者什么是特别留心的,什么是该注意的,还有为什么必须改变加工过程。” (1998, p. 240).

尽管输入对有意注意很有必要,研究又指出输出也起着重要作用。说:“正是当学习者试图要运用目的语时(不管是口头的还是默念的),他们可能会注意到他们不知如何确切地说出(或写出)他们想要表达的意思。”(P67)这就可能要用到一些输出技巧,包括协同任务法,元谈话法和增强意识法。协同任务法能鼓励学习者输出语言,来获得交谈方的反馈。元谈话涉及到谈论这门语言。语法听写法就是一种鼓励元谈话的方法,也就是用正常速度给学习者朗读一篇短文,学生边听边记录单词和短语,然后以小组为单位合作重组这篇文章(Swain,1998)。增进意识法则是有意识地引导学习者关注形式,例如在小组的交互活动中解决语法问题(Doughty & Williams, 1998).。

除了输入和输出方法,教师还要考虑反馈和互动。反馈方面,教师可运用重建式换码的矫正方式(corrective recasting)和输入加工技巧来介入并引导学习者关注语言形式。重建式换码,或者重塑学习者话语的更正方式已证明比呈现同一语法信息的范例更为有效。有一种名为增强互动的方法,指的是教师鼓励二语学习者产出语言,并提供互相纠错的机会,以引导学习者注意到他们的中介语语法和目的语语法搭配不当之处,使他们能修正输出的错误(Doughty & Williams, 1998)。

对注重形式一些可行方法的概述,给教师提供了广泛的选择以供课堂尝试。从课堂研究结果看,经整合后的注重形式法可能是最有效的。一些已证实可行的整合理念正推动着以下方法的实施:感知突出性与大量输入相结合,引导学习者关注显著的或频繁出现的语言特征,语调关注和重建式换码纠错方式相结合及互动增强。(1998,P243)。[-6-]

材料的选择

在决定把SLA研究理论和注重形式方法运用到课堂实践之后,在选择材料方向,教师又能得到什么帮助呢?大部分现行交际教材都提?┝耸质涤玫牟慰迹员憬淌ρ≡癫牧系某氏炙承颍伪局薪樯芰司咛宓哪谌莅才牛昃〉母拍詈陀锓ń馐停沟媒淌δ鼙涠滩乃承蛞苑献约喊嗉堆亩锵暗盟承颉=炭剖橛泻艽蟮牧榛钚裕扇媒淌νü罅康目翁没疃喝缡犹缃萄Щ疃⒅匦问椒ㄈ谌氲浇患市钥翁媒萄е腥ァ?/p>

结论

本文旨在给教师们提供了一个可能的框架,使他们把SLA理论运用到交际课堂环境中去,它揭示了语言习得知识对教师的重要性,同时也指出这项研究并非要提供直接的指导以供操作。文中描述的方法是指教师在交际课堂里把知识和对学生可学状态的关注与语言形式的关注结合起来。记得二语中介语发展的可预测路径,教师应该有办法从可学性角度了解学生发展到什么阶段,教师的教学要能够适合最大多数学生的水平。许多研究者认定注重语言形式这一理念是二语学习者习得语法的有效方法。注重语言形式的好处就在于有大量教学方法可利用来鼓励学生关注语言形式。这就使得教师有大量机会进行多种实践,并考虑到他们班上学生各样的学习方式。令人鼓舞的是现今大多数成人ESL教材都是有灵活性,很明显是要满足不同学习方式和教学方式的需要。只要经过些许努力,些许尝试,可能还要走些许弯路,教师应该会有所领悟。

 

Applying SLA Research and Theory To Practice: What Can a Teacher Do?

Marjorie Hall Haley
George Mason University
<mhaley@infi.net>

Patricia Rentz
Fairfax County Public Schools Adult Education
<rentzpj@aol.com>

Abstract

Teacher education programs preparing students to become English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers devote large quantities of time and coursework to exploring second language acquisition (SLA) research. How and when is that information actualized in a classroom? This article examines a descriptive method for teachers of English as Second Language. The method incorporates second language acquisition research in a communicative classroom. A discussion of the importance of SLA research to teachers is followed by the selection of learner readiness and focus on form as two areas that a teacher might want to apply in an adult ESL classroom. Finally, some suggestions are made regarding selection of materials that may be of use to classroom teachers. It is the writers' intent to encourage readers to experiment in their classrooms with the application in practice of some ideas gleaned from SLA research and theory.

Introduction

The field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research is an active, growing and fascinating one. As in many ongoing research areas, there are more questions than answers. For most teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL), at least one course in SLA is required to receive certification. There is currently much discussion about the relationship between research and practice in the classroom. This article looks at how teachers might choose some aspects of SLA research to apply in an adult ESL classroom and what information might be found in ESL textbooks to help. The assumption is made that the teacher is using communicative language teaching in the classroom since this is considered by many to be the current mainstream, particularly in ESL (Williams, 1995).

Why Look at SLA Research?

Manfred Pienemann (1995) poses the question, "Why is it important for language teachers to know about language acquisition?" (p. 3). He points out that the study of SLA takes the perspective of focusing on the learner rather than the learning environment. Looking at the learner and the language acquisition processes provides information on what learners normally do or do not do and what can and cannot be taught. Based on normal patterns of acquisition, teachers should be able to evaluate where their students are in the acquisition process. The study of SLA will also enable teachers to examine a syllabus to determine if the content is geared towards the learner's level of ability. Pienamann states: "It is important to know what is learnable at what point in time" (1995, p. 4). This is, of course, easier said than done. Lightbown (1998) notes that the heterogeneity of levels in classes is a well-known reality and developmentally targeted teaching would be very difficult to organize. Ellis (1997) points out that SLA research findings do not provide straightforward guidance for the teacher and probably never will. These findings are not generally presented in ways accessible or meaningful to teachers and SLA research agendas do not necessarily match the areas in which teachers are most concerned. [-1-]

However, SLA research does offer a wide variety of concepts and descriptive accounts that can help teachers interpret and make better sense of their own classroom experiences, as well as provide ideas for classroom use. For example, SLA research has provided descriptive accounts of the course of interlanguage development showing that, while learners follow relatively invariant routes of learning, these routes are not linear and during phases of interlanguage restructuring apparent regression occurs. Accounts such as these can help teachers to understand patterns of learner error and its inevitability and to accept the indirect nature of what is taught and what is learned (Mitchell & Myles, 1998).

Narrowing the Research Field

How does a teacher choose an area of focus from among the many facets of SLA research? A research survey provided by Lightbown and Spada (1993) describes research efforts to specifically investigate the relationships between teaching and learning. They examine five proposals for classroom teaching and research associated with each. They are:

methods based on the behaviorist theory of language learning emphasizing accuracy and form and not allowing errors;

methods based on the interactionist theory giving learners the opportunity for conversation where they receive meaningful input from teachers and students, which will in turn lead to acquisition of the grammar and words of the second language;

methods based on the "comprehensible input" theory most closely associated with Stephen Krashen, where the emphasis is not on the interaction, but on providing input through listening and/or reading;

methods based on teaching what the learner is ready to learn, most closely associated with Manfred Pienemann; and

methods that "recognize a role for instruction, but also assume that not everything has to be taught" (Lightbown & Spada, 1993, p. 97). On the basis of the research results reported extensively in this article, Lightbown and Spada conclude that the last two proposals appear to have the most promise in terms of guiding teaching decisions:

Classroom data from a number of studies offer support for the view that form-focused instruction and corrective feed back provided within the context of a communicative program are more effective in promoting second language learning than programs which are limited to an exclusive emphasis on accuracy on the one hand or an exclusive emphasis on fluency (1993, p. 105).

Based on this reported research, a combination of methods that would incorporate attention to "learner readiness" and "focus on form" in a communicative program would seem to be a mixture that a teacher should try to develop in the classroom. With this goal as a starting point, what does current research show that would help develop such an approach? [-2-]

Review of the Literature: Learner Readiness

In the literature on learner readiness and timing, there seems to be general agreement that there is a natural developmental sequence for a learner's interlanguage (the interim grammar formed by learners while learning a second language). As Ellis states:

The existence of developmental sequences is one of the most important findings of SLA research to date. There is now general acceptance in the SLA research community that the acquisition of an L2 grammar, like the acquisition of an L1 grammar, occurs in stages. (1994, p. 21)

The problem is that "variations in the specific order in which particular features occur have also been found" (Ellis, 1994, p. 21). So, while none of this is decided definitively, making use of some of the data regarding developmental sequences and learner readiness can provide a starting point for a teacher to look at applying such research in the classroom.

The most extensive pedagogical recommendations following from research on developmental sequences are those of Stephen Krashen and Manfred Pienemann. In terms of matching instruction to the stage of a learner's development, while Krashen and Pienemann both base their conclusions in part on the findings that learners of a second language proceed through predictable stages, their teaching proposals are quite different (Lightbown, 1998).

Krashen's "Natural Order Hypothesis" outlines rules of language that are acquired in a predictable order, but claims that this order is independent of the order in which rules are taught in language classes. Krashen recommends that teachers not attempt to time instruction to match learners' development, but emphasizes the value of language teaching methods based on the provision of "Comprehensible Input." In his Input Hypothesis, Krashen defines comprehensible input as L2 input just beyond the learner's current L2 competence, in terms of its syntactic complexity. If the input is understood and there is enough of it, the learner will automatically acquire the necessary grammar. He does not believe that focusing on any particular form will alter language acquisition (Krashen, as cited in Lightbown, 1998 and Mitchell & Myles, 1998).

Similarly, Pienemann's (1995) research has also shown that learners' interlanguages tend to develop along predictable paths. In his opinion, however, this fact can be used in syllabus construction, language assessment and error correction in a teaching context. Pienemann's studies involved attempting to teach a structure to a large group of learners at a particular stage that was two steps ahead of the current level of development. The intent was to determine if instruction would enable learners to skip a stage of acquisition, concluding that skipping a stage is not possible. On the other hand, there was evidence that when learners were given instruction at a level of only one step above their current level, then the speed of acquisition and accuracy in usage of the form is improved. This is what Pienemann calls the "Teachability Hypothesis," in other words, the teacher should teach what the learner is ready to learn targeting the next stage of development. Interestingly, these studies also show that teaching of the more advanced stages did result in learners' ability to use the new structures in written exercises and to explain the rules, but inability to produce the structures spontaneously. [-3-]

The latter result would be an example of what Stephen Krashen would call "learning" as opposed to "acquisition." While this concept is still the subject of much debate, it should be kept in mind by the teacher in observing learning processes in the classroom. Krashen contends that acquisition and learning are separate processes. Acquisition is subconscious and the result of natural interaction with the language via meaningful communication, while learning is conscious and the result of classroom experience (Krashen, cited in Mitchell & Myers, 1998). One aspect that is very problematic in this regard is that Krashen claims that learning cannot turn into acquisition (Krashen & Scarcella, 1978 as cited in Mitchell & Myers, 1998). Lightbown (1998) has challenged Krashen's viewpoint on not targeting a particular form to teach, citing recent classroom-based research as providing evidence that learners not only benefit from, but may sometimes require, focus on form to overcome incorrect or incomplete knowledge of specific structures (e.g. Lightbown & Pienemann, 1993; Lyster, 1994; Swain, 1991; L.White, Spada, Lightbown & Ranta, 1991).

While this research is inconclusive on whether or not targeting a particular stage of development for teaching will actually improve a learner's progress, the fact that the developmental sequences for many structures have been discovered makes such an effort worthwhile. Pienemann is continuing to research this area and has developed a "Processability Theory," which formally predicts which structures can be processed by a learner at a given level of development. The theory makes correct predictions for the L2 acquisition of morpho-syntax in English, German, Swedish and Japanese (Pienemann, 1998). The grammatical structures with documented uniformity of L2 acquisition orders include interrogative structures, negation, relative clauses, control structures, pronouns, word order in main and embedded clauses, and morphemes (Zobl, 1995).

Connecting Theory and Research to Practice: Focus on form

The second aspect of research to be factored into the communicative classroom is a focus on form in addition to the attention to meaning. The concept of focus on form comes out of the debate on whether and how to include "grammar" in second language instruction. The suggestion that second language teaching that is primarily meaning-focused could be improved with some degree of attention to form has proved controversial among some teachers, and has led to a range of reactions from rejection by wholly communicative teachers to misguided embrace by those who want to return to discrete-point grammar instruction (Doughty & Williams, 1998). Focus on form must be distinguished from "focus on formS." Focus on formS is the traditional notion of teaching with a focus on the elements of grammar, in isolation from context or communicative activity. With focus on formS, the primary organizing principle of course design was accumulation of individual language elements (for example, forms such as verb endings or agreement features, or even functions such as greetings or apologies). The primary distinction is that "focus on form" entails a prerequisite engagement in meaning before attention to linguistic features can be expected to be effective. Two definitions of focus on form provided by Michael Long: "focus on form...overtly draws students' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication" (Long, 1991, pp. 45-46), and "focus on form often consists of an occasional shift of attention to linguistic code features--by the teacher and/or one or more students - triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production" (Long & Robinson, 1998, p. 23). [-4-]

A growing body of research suggests that an increased focus on form is likely to lead to a change in grammatical knowledge insofar as it is manifested in learner behavior (Williams, 1995). In particular the following uses of form-based knowledge have been suggested:

planning and monitoring output, especially of more complex structures;

noticing features in the input;

noticing the gap between their own production and the target;

speeding passage through developmental sequences; and

destabilizing fossilized forms (Ellis, 1993; Fotos, 1993; Fotos & Ellis, 1991; Long & Crookes, 1992; White, 1991 as cited in Williams, 1995).

A more direct statement of the advantages of focusing on form is that it speeds up the rate of learning; it affects acquisition processes in ways possibly beneficial to long-term accuracy, and it appears to raise the ultimate level of attainment (Long, 1991).

Teachers and Their Everyday Practices

Armed with an understanding of the basic concept and a desire to put a focus on form into effect, how should a teacher proceed? The majority of SLA researchers now support the idea that some kind of focus on form is useful for some forms, for some students, at some point in the learning process (DeKeyser, 1995; N. Ellis, 1993; R. Ellis, 1993; VanPatten & Cadierno, 1993). Other than that, there is little certainty regarding what forms students should be made to focus on and how and when. There is, however, some useful research which can help inform a teacher's decisions.

Various explanations have been offered as to why certain forms may be acquired. Most of them tend to fall in the following categories:

Salience in the input ?that is, if learners notice certain forms or constructions, for whatever reason, for example frequency or unusualness, they are more likely to acquire them;

Communicative function or meaningfulness in the output -- even if learners notice a form, or it is pointed out through instruction, if they have no communicative need for the form, acquisition may be delayed;

Inherent difficulty of rules -- learners tend to acquire "easier" rules early and may never acquire "hard" rules. The definition of what is "easy", however, varies (Doughty & Williams, 1998).

The concept of "noticing" is one that should resonate with those who have experienced looking up or hearing the meaning of a new word they were curious about--suddenly the word seems to be everywhere. Schmidt (cited in Harley, 1998) defines the conscious experience of noticing as the "registration of the occurrence of a stimulus event in conscious awareness and subsequent storage in long term memory" (p. 179). He also points out that it is now conventional wisdom that "target language forms will not be acquired unless they are noticed and that one important way that instruction works is by increasing the salience of target language forms in input so that they are more likely to be noticed by learners" (p. 195). [-5-]

What is the best way to get learners to notice a form? There is a wide range of possibilities for the classroom and, taking into account different learner styles, the teacher should probably try more than one. The implicit approaches such as input flooding, visual input enhancement, or intonational focus on learner errors (an auditory version of input enhancement) have been minimally effective (J. White, 1998). Some studies, however, have shown that input enhancement (such as using larger fonts or colors in text to highlight a form) could be an effective implicit focus on form technique, at least for adult learners (Doughty & Williams, 1998).

In the area of explicit input processing there is a technique called processing instruction. This is a type of grammar instruction whose purpose is to "affect the ways in which learners attend to input data. It is input-based, as opposed to output-based, is consonant with both general second language acquisition theory and communicative language teaching" (VanPatten, 1996, p. 2). According to Doughty and Williams, "In input processing, learners are told what to pay attention to and what to notice and why they must change their processing" (1998, p. 240).

While input is clearly necessary for noticing, research has also shown that output plays an important part. As reported by Swain (1998), "it is while attempting to produce the target language (vocally or subvocally) that learners may notice that they do not know how to say (or write) precisely the meaning they wish to convey" (p. 67). Some of the output techniques that may be employed include negotiation tasks, metatalking, and consciousness-raising. Negotiation tasks are ways to engage learners in output that attracts feedback from a peer interlocutor (Doughty & Williams, 1998). Metatalking involves talking about the language. One procedure used to encourage this is a dictogloss, where a short text is read to learners at normal speed, students write down words and phrases as they hear them, and then work together in small groups to reconstruct the text (Swain, 1998). Consciousness-raising tasks deliberately direct learners to attend to form, for example working interactively in small groups to solve grammar problems (Doughty & Williams, 1998).

In addition to input and output methods, consideration must be given to feedback and interaction. In terms of feedback, teachers may intervene in order to direct learner attention to form by using corrective recasting or input-processing techniques. Recasts, or a corrective reformulation of learners' utterances have been shown to be more effective than presenting models which contain the same grammatical information (Long & Robinson, 1998). One interaction technique is called interaction enhancement, where a teacher encourages L2 learners to produce output and provides them with interactional modifications in order to lead them to notice a mismatch between their interlanguage grammar and that of the target language. They are then led to modify the incorrect output (Doughty & Williams, 1998).

This broadbrush overview of some of the techniques possible in focus on form should give teachers an idea of the range of possibilities available to try in a classroom. It has been shown from classroom studies that combinations of (rather than individual) focus on form techniques are likely to be most useful. As Doughty and Williams state: "Some proven combinations are promoting perceptual salience plus input flooding, directing learner attention to salient or frequent linguistic features, intonational focus plus corrective recasting, and...interaction enhancement" (1998, p. 243). [-6-]

Selecting Materials

Having decided to apply aspects of SLA research and focus on form techniques in the classroom, what kind of help can teachers find in selecting materials? Most modern communicative textbooks provide very useful information that enables a teacher to select the order of presentation of materials. Detailed tables of contents and explanations of concepts and grammar to be presented provide information that allows a teacher to adapt the order to an acquisition sequence the teacher has chosen for the class. Textbooks that offer flexibility to an instructor desiring to introduce some focus on form in the communicative classroom include those that incorporate a variety of activities--video, audio, and Internet-based activities.

Conclusion

This paper was written as an effort to provide a possible framework for teachers to apply some aspects of SLA research in a communicative classroom setting. The importance of knowledge of language acquisition to teachers is demonstrated, as well as the fact that the research does not provide straightforward guidance to follow. The approach proposed in this article is for teachers to incorporate a knowledge and attention to learner readiness with a focus on form in a communicative classroom. Keeping in mind the relatively predictable paths of L2 interlanguage development, teachers should be equipped to understand where their students are in terms of readiness. They should also be able to teach at the level appropriate for the greatest number of their students. The concept of focus on form is proposed as a method many researchers believe is an effective way for L2 learners to acquire grammar. The benefit of focus on form is the wide range of possible teaching methods that can be employed to encourage students to "notice" the forms. This gives the teachers the opportunity to experiment with a number of methods and to take into account the different learning styles in their classrooms. It is also very encouraging that the most current adult ESL textbooks are clearly aimed at allowing the flexibility to address different learning styles as well as different teaching styles. With a little effort and trial and error, teachers should be able to discover for themselves some useful new insights.

References

DeKeyser, R. (1995). Learning second language grammar rules: An experiment with a miniature linguistic system. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 17, 379-410.

DeKeyser, R.M. (1998). Beyond focus on form. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 42-63). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughty, C. & Williams, J. (Eds.).(1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, N. (1993). Rules and instances in foreign language learning: Interactions of implicit and explicit knowledge. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology 5, 289-319.

Ellis, R. (1993). The structural syllabus and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 28, 91-113.

Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (1997). SLA research and language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [-7-]

Fotos, S. (1993). Consciousness and noticing through focus on form: Grammar tasks performance versus formal instruction. Applied Linguistics 14, 385-407.

Fotos, S., & Ellis, R. (1991). Communicating about grammar: A task-based approach. TESOL Quarterly 25, 605-628.

Harley, B. (1998). Focus-on-form tasks in child L2 acquisition. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 156-174). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krashen, S. (1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. Harlow: Longman

Krashen, S. & Scarcella, R. (1978). On routines and patterns in second language acquisition and performance. Language Learning 28, 283-300.

Lightbown, P.M. (1998). The importance of timing in focus on form. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 114-138). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lightbown, P. & Pienemann, M. (1993). Comments on Stephen D. Krashen's "Teaching issues: Formal grammar instruction." TESOL Quarterly, 27: 717-722.

Lightbown, P.M. & Spada, N. (1993). Second language learning in the classroom. In How are languages learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Long, M.H. (1991). Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. de Bot, R. Ginsberg, & C. Kramsch (Eds.), Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective (pp. 39-52). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Long, M. & Crookes, G. (1992). Three approaches to task-based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly 26, 27-56.

Long, M.H. & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.) Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 15-41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lyster, R. (1994). The effect of functional-analytic teaching on aspects of French immersion students' sociolinguistic competence. Applied Linguistics 15, 263-287.

Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (1998). Second language learning theories. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Pienemann, M. (1995). Second language acquisition: A first introduction. [Paper] National Language and Literacy Institute of Australia, University of Western Sydney.

Pienemann, M. (1998). Language processing and second language development: Processability theory. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Schmidt, R. (1994). Deconstructing consciousness in search of useful definitions for applied linguistics. AILA Review 11, (pp. 11-26)

Swain, M. (1991). French immersion and its offshoots: Getting two for one. In B. Freed (Ed.), Foreign language acquisition: Research and the classroom (pp. 91-103). Lexington, MA:Heath

Swain, M. (1998). Focus on form through conscious reflection. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 64-81). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

VanPatten, B. (1996). Input processing and grammar instruction in second language acquisition. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

VanPatten, B. & Cadierno, T. (1993). Explicit instruction and input processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 15, 225-243.

White, J. (1998). Getting the learners' attention. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 85-113). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [-8-]

White, L. (1991). Adverb placement in second language acquisition: Some effects of positive and negative evidence in the classroom. Second Language Research 7, 133-161.

White, L., Spada, N., Lightbown, P., & Ranta, L. (1991). Input enhancement and L2 question formation. Applied Linguistics 12, 416-432.

Williams, J. (1995). Focus on Form in Communicative Language Teaching: Research Findings and the Classroom Teacher. TESOL Journal 7, 6-11.

Zobl, H. (1995). Converging Evidence for the "Acquisition-Learning" Distinction. Applied Linguistics 16, 35-56.

About the Authors

Marjorie Hall Haley is Associate Professor in the Center for Multilingual/Multicultural Education in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Dr. Haley received her Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education and English as a Second Language from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has also earned a Master's degree in education and advanced studies certificate from Towson University and Johns Hopkins University, respectively. Dr. Haley teaches courses in Foreign/Second Language Methods, ESL Methods, and Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition Research.

Patricia Rentz received her BA in French from St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY and did graduate studies in National Security Affairs, National War College, Ft. McNair, Wash. D.C. She holds a graduate certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language from George Mason University having retired after 33 years as linguist and administrator with the CIA.

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