The Plasticity of Teaching Language- Constuctivism and the Communicative Approach
The entrenchment of globalisation and the rapid speed of technological development, has prompted questions concerning the future of language. On the one hand English is becoming more and more the standard language for global communication, yet on the other hand the dissemination of ideas and information has never been more frequent nor more rapid. Resulting in the constant exchange or translation of different languages. Therefore there is a case to be made that the ability to learn different languages, quickly, is becoming increasingly more important. At the centre of the debate concerning language and globalisation is teaching. How should we teach language in today's, rapid, ever changing, information saturated world? This essay will make a case that the fusion between a constructivist and communicative approach is perhaps the most effective and amicable way to teach language in our current times.
Constructivism holds the premise that students learn more effectively through meaning creation. In other words students should play an active role in their own learning process and learning material should be relevant and contextualised, in order for students to create meaning from the activities and materials given to them, and therefore retain information easier and for longer periods of time.This is because students construct data around them into meaningful information, rather than simply acquire knowledge from a resource. This implies that students should take an active role in their own learning process, learning to self -assess and reflect and to communicate their needs and goals to the teacher. Under constructivism, the role of the teacher should be to adapt learning materials and activities to the students needs, goals, and prior knowledge and socio-cultural experiences. Therefore the teacher is more of a facilitator, guide and playmaker, rather than the previously traditional and rather outdated role of authority figure and sole source of information.
Through meaning creation that is facilitated by the constructivist approach it is believed that students develop an intrinsic motivation to learn the language, and through the role played by the teacher as a guide and facilitator, student are stimulated with activities and material that are compatible with their prior knowledge and socio-cultural capital that generate into an extrinsic motivation to learn. In other words constructivism presents the opportunity for the lesson to be a spatial-temporal space where students are intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to learn. This is especially important when teaching adults, who naturally have more prior knowledge and socio-cultural experiences to work with as opposed to children. Therefore a teacher who utilizes the constructivist approach can create the adequate materials and activities necessary to engender an extrinsic motivation pertinent to each student, by taking into account the students prior knowledge, and socio-cultural experiences. Moreover by students playing more of an active role in the learning process and teachers fulfilling the role of a facilitator and guide, a two-way transaction is formed between the student and the teacher.
The students present their needs and goals and demonstrate their preferred learning method, which the teacher notes and responds adequately, with pertinent materials and activities that are compatible with the different ways in which different students learn. In other words constructivism fosters a two-way relationship between teacher and student, in which materials and activities are developed either according to Howard Gardner’s theory on ‘Multiple Intelligences’ or the VAK model. Both theories specify that different students have different ways and methods in which they learn better. For example: the VAK Model states that some students either learn better through visuals, audio, or through kinesthetic activities. Constructivism accounts for the notion that different students have different methods of learning and through the premise of engendering an active role that students play in their own learning, teachers can receive information about the students learning pattern and habits that allows them to create material and activities that foster effective learning.
However the question arises how can a teacher effectively utilize constructivism, in order to foster meaning making, adapt to multiple intelligences and effectively teach a language? This essay posits that a communicative approach to teaching languages, is the most compatible approach to constructivism and the two taken together form the most effective teaching methodology. The communicative approach are a set of principles which similar to constructivism, take into account the agency of the student and the importance of meaning creation in the process of learning. The communicative approach emphasises learning languages through the communication of target language. The approach states the importance of introducing material and activities that link the target language, with language activities outside the classroom and the provision of learning material that draws on students interests and personal experience. Finally the communicative approach advocates for languages to be taught based on their function. This means that students are taught target language that is useful for them, therefore the syllabus created using the communicative approach is function based. Therefore through the communicative approach classes will be structured through the teaching methods of: content based instruction, task based instruction and the participatory approach.
Content based instruction, take into account the students socio-cultural experiences and prior knowledge in order to provide stimulating and engaging language dependent activities. Unlike the Callan method, Students are taught language through meaningful, contextualised discourse, rather than isolated fragments, or fast paced repetition. Furthermore the content is adapted to the students needs and goals rather than following a strict rigid structure. Due to the process in which content is generated through the two- way transaction between student and teacher, lessons are more engaging both parties and the content can be adapted to cater for a class with mixed abilities or proficiency of language use. Furthermore due to the rapid exchange of information as a product of globalisation, a diverse array of content can be created that students are easily aware of, or information about the topic can easily be provided prior to discussions through online article or videos. Moreover content based instruction allows for students to be taught content that is reflective of everyday life, allowing students to use the language learnt outside of the classroom, which not only improves the retention of the knowledge disseminated but can stimulate intrinsic motivation in students. Tasked based instruction and the participatory approach are used in collaboration with content based instruction to get the most out of the communicative approach.
Task based instruction entails the development of activities that translate easily into real-life experiences. This can be in the form of asking students to place themselves in different situations where they would use the language learnt. For example, students can be taught target language necessary to perform the function of ordering at a restaurant. Afterwards students are required to go to a restaurant of their choice and use the language learnt to order their meal, and come to class the next day to communicate their experience. The participatory approach urges teachers to create content that stimulates conversations, or debates that are important to the students lives. The teacher acts as a facilitator by providing the content that will spark discussion and moreover guides the discussion through the use of question and answer techniques that allow for the appropriate target language to be taught and used. Teaching in this manner ensures that every activity follows the ESA method- engage, study and activate.
Both the constructivism and the communicative approach account for affective factors and ensure efficient learning of a language. This is because both methodologies provide and extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for the students due to the active participation student s have in their own learning process and through the use of materials that are pertinent to students goals, needs, capabilities and socio-cultural experiences. Due to the fact that the communicative approach relies upon a two-way transaction between student and teacher, target language can be effectively graded so as to maintain the optimal zone of proximal development. Furthermore both methodologies when applied to teaching language would emphasize vocabulary and pronunciation over grammar and writing, therefore students are in an environment where they can be taught the necessary target language and are always verbally communicating, hence using words that they have learnt inside and beyond the classroom creating the environment necessary to produce language without inhibition. Thus reaching fluency first and then focusing on accuracy later. Moreover because content should be created that accounts for each students socio-cultural experiences, in order to stimulate learning, teachers are naturally compelled to assess the different personalities of each student to create content that is both engaging and appropriate. In addition constructivism and the communicative approach relies upon formative assessment, rather than summative, due to the the function and content based syllabus that both methodologies require. Allowing for both students and teachers to track the progression of language proficiency, and it creates the necessary environment for students to feel comfortable making mistakes, which is a fundamental aspect to learning a new language.
To conclude, the entrenchment of globalisation and the development of technologies, has resulted in an information saturated world. The rapid exchange of ideas and products has changed the way in which we learn. As our phenomenological reality becomes increasingly multi-faceted so does the way in which we absorb and process information. Teaching like everything else has had to adapt to our present social condition, and has had to become multi-faceted itself. The marriage between constructivism and the communicative approach allows for language to be taught, in a manner that accounts for multiple intelligences. The two way transaction that is essential to both methodologies allows for the stimulation of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in students as they take active roles in their learning, providing the environment necessary to engage study and activate.