(move to jota) Views of Teaching and Learning

Strategies for Teaching English Learners, Third Edition

Chapter 3: Views of Teaching and Learning

Second-language acquisition (SLA) is difficult, for it requires attaining linguistic and cultural proficiency, precise control of meaning, careful attunement to intonation, and mastery of behavioral subtlety.

The particular nature of English as a target language compounds this difficulty. The huge vocabulary is a burden. Cultural invention of all kinds promotes continuous linguistic and cultural innovation, making learning English like swimming after a moving ship. Spelling is a learner’s headache (compare come and home). Idiomatic verb–particle combinations provide challenges (compare “put up with” versus “put down” versus “put on”).


In the twentieth century, education in the United States was influenced by John Dewey’s progressivism, which sought to embody in educational practices the American ideals of individual rights, freedom, and creativity.


However strong an influence Dewey has had on education, traditional schooling persists. Traditional schooling features an emphasis on the authority of the teacher and school administration; learning is based on the discipline of bodies and acquisition of a predetermined body of authorized knowledge.

Educational Psychology: Behavioral Methods

Drawbacks to traditional behaviorism: First, students have little choice in what they might find motivating. Rewards are limited to those aligned with success in the native culture, even if a separate set of rewards may be a vailable in the target culture. Second, grammar translation as a methodology goes against the intrinsic nature of cognition: stimulation of curiosity, playfulness, and exploration. Third, there is often little independent language acquisition. Limited access to the target language and culture means little social interaction with actual speakers of the target language.

The Audiolingual Method

Based on behavioral principles, audiolingual instruction was designed to create correct pronunciation in a second language through oral practice.

Total Physical Response

Total physical response (TPR) was invented by Asher (1982) based on the association between language and body movement. Eventually, the number of commands is increased, and novel commands are given that combine previously learned commands in a new way. For example, if the students learn “run” and “touch the chair,” they may be given “run to the chair.”

Direct Teaching

In direct teaching, the instructor maximizes learning time by careful classroom management, makes clear and organized presentations, and moves at a steady pace to cover key topics. This type of behavioral learning emphasizes explicit instructional objectives for students and promotes the learning of facts, sequenced steps, or rules.

Mastery Learning

Another type of behaviorist instruction is mastery learning. A course of study is divided into small units with specific objectives. Students progress at their own rate and demonstrate mastery of each unit before proceeding to the next, thus developing basic skills before moving on to more complex skills.

Advantages of Behavioral Methods

Methods that focus on training the body (oral language behavior as well as kinesthetics) continue to be used in TESOL education. The strength of the audiolingual method is its focus on correct pronunciation. The strength of TPR is the reinforcement to memory provided by physical action. The strength of direct teaching and mastery learning is the ability to build discrete skills.

Disadvantages of Behavioral Methods

A weakness of grammar-translation pedagogy is that it limits exposure to target culture and self-motivated language acquisition. The weakest feature of audiolingual instruction is that learners pressured to perform accurately under classroom or laboratory conditions often find it difficult to communicate spontaneously with native speakers. The drawback of TPR is the tendency to focus on sensorimotor actions. The weakest part of direct teaching is students’ lack of ownership of the goals of learning, even though mastery learning may permit students to control their own instructional pacing. Balancing the strengths and weaknesses of behavior-based pedagogy, one might conclude that these teaching techniques have a distinct, yet limited, role in instruction.

Practices for Teachers: Using Behavioral Approaches to Second-Language Acquisition

    * Direct teaching is useful for teaching such topics as precise mastery of grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation.

    * Careful alignment of instructional objectives, direct teaching, and assessment is useful for mastering a highly structured curriculum.

    * Mastery learning supplements direct instruction by encouraging students to achieve incremental, precisely defined objectives.

Educational Psychology: Cognitive Methods

Cognitive psychologists studied human thinking directly, rather than basing principles of behavior on animal studies.

Generative Grammar

(Chomsky, 1959) claimed that language is not learned solely through a process of behavioral reinforcement, but that the mind contains an active language processor, the language acquisition device (LAD), which generates rules through the unconscious acquisition of grammar.

interlanguage describes the language created by second-language learners. Inter-language researchers look for ways in which the rules of both the first and the target language influence language learning, as well as asking what rules, and what kinds of rules, are universal to the human mind.

Krashen’s natural order hypothesis asserted that language rules are acquired in a predictable order. Children acquire correct usage of grammatical structures in their first language (L1) gradually, as do children acquiring a second language (L2).

The monitor hypothesis postulated that the mind employs an editor, the monitor, which scans utterances for accuracy.

The input hypothesis claimed that language is acquired in an “amazingly simple way—when we understand messages” (Krashen, 1985, p. vii). Simply immersing a learner in a second language is not sufficient. Second-language learners are challenged by language that is slightly more complex than they can themselves easily understand. Peer conversation that mixes more and less skilled speakers is the chief means of accelerating a student’s SLA.

Teachers may vary their speech to make comprehensible input for students, using shorter sentences, simple sentence structures, and restricted vocabulary and range of topics; focusing on the message and its relevance for the language learner within the environment; and using a variety of modalities, including visual and kinesthetic, to ensure that speech is comprehensible.

Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis described the mental and emotional blocks that can prevent language acquirers from fully comprehending input. People acquire a second language only if their affective filters are low enough to allow them to receive adequate input.

Krashen’s monitor model provided the theoretical base for the Natural Approach, which has had a great impact on second-language instruction in the United States.

Stages of Development

Recommendations for managing multilevel classes (those that contain students at different levels of proficiency) are the following: Plan a curriculum in which daily lesson plans feature a variety of activities geared toward different skill levels. Use assessment frequently and flexibly so that students receive instruction matched to their skill levels. Group students cooperatively and heterogeneously so that skill levels can be combined for effective peer language input or, alternatively, homogeneously so that students at the same skill level can be taught using the same materials and expectations. Vary the size of groups, from pairs to whole-class activities. Provide individual self-access material so that students can work alone. Ask tutors and volunteers to work with students in need of additional mediation.

Information-Processing Theories of Mental Functioning

For information-processing theorists, the computer serves as a metaphor for human mental activity: The mind processes information by gathering and recognizing it, storing it, retrieving it when needed, and generating responses. The perception (input/recognition), short-term memory (information encoding), and long-term memory (storage) work together during learning.

Stating the purpose of a lesson helps students to focus on how the material will be useful or important to them. Giving lessons that require students to touch, smell, or taste shifts sensory channels. Using movements, gestures, and voice inflection (speaking softly and then more emphatically) stimulates perception (see Table 3.1).

Multiple Intelligences

A popular form of brain-compatible teaching is Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner (1983) defined intelligence as the ability to solve problems or make things that are culturally valued. According to Gardner, children possess different abilities that naturally direct them to learn in different ways and have at least eight separate kinds of “intelligences”: linguistic (verbal), musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal (understanding of others), intrapersonal (understanding of self), and natural (using cues from nature). Gardner (1993) further stated that teachers who respect multiple intelligences offer a variety of materials and help to ease children into activities they may find threatening.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a construct proposed by Salovey and Mayer (1990) and popularized by Goleman (1998). According to Goleman, emotional intelligence is “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships” (p. 317). EI consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social skills, and empathy. The term EI is a useful shorthand for discussing competencies that need to be encouraged in educating English learners.

Practices for Teachers: Involving the Whole Brain in Learning

    * Vary methods and media for presentation of new information and problem solving.

    * Provide opportunities for students to develop skills in areas of strength and weakness, especially using both heterogeneous and homogeneous groupings of students based on strengths.

    * Invite role models to visit the classroom to offer students contact with someone in their area of strength.

Cognitive Teaching Means a Focus on Learning

In summary, cognitive psychology studies how people transform, elaborate, store, and recover information. According to this view, active learners are people who initiate experiences, seek out information, and reorganize what they already know to achieve new insights, pursue goals, solve personally relevant problems, and attempt to make sense of the world. Various automatic mental control processes, schemata, and other mental mechanisms help the brain to deal with both familiar and unfamiliar situations.

Constructivist Learning

Constructivist learning in the elementary years helps students to maintain their curiosity and zest for learning. English develops as students talk, listen, read, write, and are involved with authentic tasks. At the middle and high school levels, students use research resources featuring various types of information representation. Project-based learning (PBL), for example, is a constructivist technique in which teams of students pool resources and expertise in the service of large undertakings (see Chapter 15).

Practices for Teachers: Promoting Students’ Construction of Knowledge

    * Ensure that instructional objectives involving authentic learning are both compelling and comprehensible.

    * Realize that complex problems require teachers as well as students to become learners. Constructivism is not for teachers who already know everything!

    * In schools where students are exposed to a variety of representational formats for knowledge (text, visual, oral, figurative, etc.), students can choose to which modes they are most receptive and in which modes they are most productive.

    * Facilitate working in teams and develop students’ conflict resolution skills.

Humanistic Education: Affective and Emotional Factors


Motivation can be seen as being a trait that is relatively consistent and persistent or as a state, a more temporary condition that can be influenced by the use of interesting materials or activities, reward, or punishment. Much depends on a teacher’s definition of motivation. The belief that motivation is a trait may lead teachers to blame the student, parents, or culture for low student interest or achievement. Conversely, teachers who believe that motivation is a state may be motivated to alter their teaching if students appear unmotivated, to make lessons more interesting and involving.


Anxiety about language learning resembles communication anxiety, that is, feelings of self-consciousness, desire to speak perfectly, and fear of making mistakes. SLA anxiety is like other feelings of tension that students may experience in the classroom. Using a foreign language can threaten a person’s sense of self because speakers know they cannot represent themselves fully in a new language or understand others readily.

Practices for Teachers: Reducing Student Anxiety

    * Monitor activities to reduce undue pressure.

    * Give students in competitive tasks a reasonable chance to succeed.

    * Avoid making anxious students perform in front of large groups.

    * Give examples or models of how the task is done when starting a new type of task.

    * Teach skills explicitly and provide study guides.

    * Vary assignments over different modes of language learning.

    * Energize students by giving them a chance to be physically active.

Attitudes of the Learner

Attitudes toward the teacher and the classroom environment play an important role. Families’ positive attitudes toward school can influence their children’s success. However, Ogbu and Matute-Bianchi (1986) stated that parents who have had negative experiences at school may subconsciously pass along these attitudes to their children. Students may cling to language behavior that characterizes their group, as opposed to the language group represented by the school, and engage in resistance in the form of misbehavior, vandalism, and poor relationships with teachers (Nieto, 2008). Self-esteem-building techniques can counteract resistance and foster positive attitudes.

Motivating Students Humanistically

Humanistic education places emphasis on the worth of the individual, trusting and accepting the strengths and weaknesses of learners and empathizing with their thoughts and feelings. Good teachers target a level of performance that is within the learners’ skills and abilities. They give positive feedback as often as possible as students pursue personal inquiry and collaboration, and offer the chance for input into course design so that students can explore issues that interest them.

Evidence shows, however, that promoting self-esteem and a warm relationship between teacher and student is not in itself enough to achieve effective education. A caring classroom cannot entirely overcome the negative quality of dehumanizing “get tough” administrative policies of inner-city schools, or the negative messages that students may receive about their home cultures.

Communicative Competence

Hymes (1972, 1974) introduced the term communicative competence, meaning the ability that enables language users to “convey and interpret messages and to negotiate meanings interpersonally within specific contexts” (D. Brown, 1994, p. 227). Rather than merely knowing grammatical forms, the competent speaker is recognized as one who knows when, where, and how to use language appropriately.

Social Contexts for Language Learning

The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky emphasized the role of social interaction in the development of language and thought: Language joins with thought to create meaning (Wink, 2000). Interaction occurs in a cultural, historical, and institutional context, which shapes the availability and quality of the tools and signs that mediate higher mental functions.

According to Vygotsky, teaching must take into consideration the student’s “zone of proximal development,” defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development. . .under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (1981, p. 86). Social interaction between adults and students operates within this zone.

Communities of Practice

Learning is not a separate and independent activity of individuals, but an integral part of participation in a community (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Children return to dynamic and interactive communities after a day of school. Teachers must come to know and respect what the community offers students and encourage knowledge to travel a two-way path as it circulates from school to home and back to school.

Culture and Schooling

Schools, as institutions of learning and socialization, represent the larger culture. Culture, though largely invisible, influences instruction, policy, and learning in schools.

The Study of Classroom Discourse

Schools, as institutions of learning and socialization, are representatives of a particular society, a macroculture. Moreoever, each classroom has a unique microculture.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Intercultural educators have a repertoire of teaching and learning strategies available for use in a given context. Should students outside the mainstream change their cultural patterns to match those of the society at large, and should they seek success in mainstream terms? This is an assimilationist view. Other teachers believe in accommodating instruction to facilitate learning for such students. Culturally responsive teaching strategies help teachers to use the students’ own cultures to support their learning.

Looking Forward: Postmodernism

Modernism versus Postmodernism

Schools are among those institutions that discipline and shape daily life. Education has gained in importance as daily life has become ever more knowledge-driven. Formal schooling may eventually be replaced by more powerful modes of interactive learning. However, at this moment schooling still retains its role as the chief means by which society produces leaders and reproduces followers.

sidenote: Megastrategy 3.6

Place learning in the context of contemporary social change

Applying ideas adapted from postmodern theory may enable us to learn enough about schools to change them, just in time to preserve them. Apart from public schooling, there is no other shared institution in which all become citizens together. As society pulls people deeper into enclaves separated from common ideals, public schooling is at risk.

The modern world encompassed the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. The Enlightenment led European cultures to a new freedom to pursue scientific questions using rational methods without fear of reprisal from religious authorities. Individuals took on surnames that permitted them to be known outside their village and were thus able to carry this identity forth to trade goods and knowledge, and to build empires capitalized by wealth resulting from new worlds of exploitable raw materials, cheap labor, and mechanization, served by an increasingly large managerial class.

Based on these trends, mass marketing spread the belief that mass consumption results in a secure, middle-class existence and access to a mass culture for everyone, underpinned by a number of specific certainties: that there exists a unified, centered self; that hierarchies based on social class are natural and inevitable; that the possession of “original” and expensive objects and experiences defines “value,” whereas analysis and access to these objects and experiences constitutes “culture”; and that books contain knowledge.

However, one by one these beliefs have been challenged by developments that have taken place in the twenty-first century: an awareness of the limitations of rationality, a shift in what constitutes identity, a loss of belief in progress. It has become difficult to sustain a consistent view of change and growth.

Postmodernism is a movement in arts and culture that contradicts, subverts, or resists the prevailing assumptions of modernism. The term postmodern recognizes that globalization of cultures, races, images, and products has eroded national, linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identities, resulting in a global mixing of cultures on a scale unknown to societies before the information era. The individual is often adrift as multiple, conflicting identities, housed in alternative family units, combine with bionic mixes of organic and inorganic, human and electronic, to create a consciousness beyond reality saturated by images that may never have been “real.” People may no longer identify solely with one native culture or language.

Implications of Postmodernism for Educators

Teaching English in a postmodern world is a career predicated on uncertainty. Like colonized people, those who learn English as a second or foreign language may simultaneously love and hate the colonizer, English. The mother tongue that has nurtured them is no longer sufficient in and of itself, and it cannot be protected from the cultural change that has brought the learner to the point of needing a second means of communication. Modernity has caused tensions and contradictions, yet postmodern pedagogies offer possibilities. The four most important implications of postmodernism for teachers of English learners are in areas of teachers’ and learners’ identities, technologies of knowledge, understandings about power, and changes in the English language.


In the modern world, one’s identity was imprinted by one’s primary socialization and encoded in one’s native language. In the postmodern shift, identity is investment (see B. N. Pierce, 1995). Identity is seen as an internal resource. What time, energy, and personal characteristics is the learner willing to invest in L2, and how is this done?

Postmodern identity is flexible, multiple, and extended (Weedon, 1987). Postmodern learners are polycultural, as identity boundaries dissolve and people resonate in brotherhoods and sisterhoods that are self-created.

Identity is a powerful engine for SLA because cultural resistance is acknowledged in the postmodern shift. Many learners nurture a secret fear that conflicting loyalties between L1/culture 1 versus English-language target cultures will disrupt family life or cause irreversible change. Teachers can openly discuss fears of cultural detriment and/or change or loss of identity. English is not the enemy of tradition, but rather a vehicle for cultural change. Something is lost and something is gained when cultures change. Dealing with resistance directly makes new identity investments possible, for both the learner and the teacher. Intercultural educators benefit greatly from becoming bicultural, achieving what J. M. Bennett (1999) called “dynamic in-betweenness.”

By acknowledging inner resistance, the learner is free to adopt a more flexible orientation toward identity. This can foster additive rather than subtractive identity. Teachers of L2 embrace identity 2 and nourish multicultural hybrid identities that activate and energize SLA and create new connections between motivation and methods.

Technologies of Knowledge

Technologies of knowledge will dramatically change in the postmodern world. The four major components of postmodern techniques of knowledge are constructivism, intercultural positioning, metarational thinking, and cybertutorial technologies (Díaz-Rico, 1999b). Constructivism endorses interactive creation of meaning. In the postmodern world, teachers leave behind one-size-fits-all methods and negotiate activities and objectives based on the needs of the learner, using knowledge of learning styles and multiple intelligences, and encouraging meta-cognition and self-reflection.

English teachers will find increasingly powerful ways to incorporate the primary language and the primary culture of the learner. This new emphasis—intercultural positioning—radically repositions the teacher and learner in the postmodern classroom. Educators who become learners about the language and culture of the students will serve as a model for learners.

Metarational thinking acknowledges that postmodern technologies do not engage solely the rational mind. Good teachers dip into the imaginary to teach, to use that primordial realm of “prepossibility” where dreams originate. This protects the learner from the belief that rationality is the only desirable mode of thinking, permits the yoking of emotion to logic, and sanctions solutions that are neither wholly right nor wholly wrong (see Chapter 8).

Cybertutorial technologies will characterize the computer–learner connection. They offer learner-managed information access, with project-based learning at the core. Students who surf the Web to complete projects for class can process English purposefully and independently, becoming, in effect, their own tutors.

New Conceptions of Power

Postmodernism will circulate altered understandings about power. In classrooms of the monolingual era, students spoke one language or remained silent. The institution controlled the goals and purposes of students’ L2. In the postmodern world, however, power circulates, as dual-language acquisition rotates power between peoples and among cultures. Students now have the power to speak and to use a public voice toward their self-determined ends.

Box 3.5: How Is the Identity of a Young Child Affected by Learning a New Language?

Researchers who study English learners within a critical and sociocultural perspective view identity as socially situated. Their position is that the learner is a social agent, located with a network of social relations, using language as a social practice. Within this matrix, language helps to forge a complex identity that changes over time and space. Table 3.5 offers a synopsis of five identity-related research findings.

English as a Language Will Become Postmodern

English will become not “world English” but “the world’s English.” English as an international language has multiple vernaculars, and speakers have their own dialects and purposes. This notion may be liberating, expanding the rights of others to access English. The best teachers are not necessarily native speakers, but rather those who love English.

Just the fact that English as an international language has multiple purposes, however, does not mean that all of these purposes are noble. Some, indeed, may not be democratic, may not be benevolent, and may not promote human rights. One would hope that the English that is learned favors humanity, equality, and environmental sustainability.

New Roles for English Educators

English-language teachers are poised at the edge of new opportunities; they are teachers with a truly global mission. Dedication to local learning means taking on flexible identities, affirming primary socialization while adopting a polycultural repertoire. Exploring the mind deeply, evoking its potential for self-regulatory and accelerated learning, and honoring the English of international speakers frees teachers of English learners to embrace postmodernism. Tomorrow calls!

Practices for Teachers: Postmodern Education

    * Help learners accept that having a second language means developing a more complex identity, and nurture that complexity.

    * Encourage the learner to find meaning using new techniques of imagination, intercultural communication, and computer technologies.

    * Examine the social relations of the classroom to see if learners have equal access to power and are treated fairly by the institution.

    * Embrace polyvarietal English as equal in status to native speakers’ or standard English.

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