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The Foreign Language as a Cross-Curricular Content

El siguiente texto reflexiona sobre algunos temas básicos en la enseñanza del inglés: el establecimiento de objetivos, la selección de contenidos, la secuenciación y la evaluación.


In this text we'll be focusing on topics such as setting of objectives, content selection, sequencing and evaluation. In general, there is a sharp line between syllabus design –what to teach– and methodology – or how to teach it.

David Nunan says that
such a separation has led in the past to such aberrations as the teaching of courses whose input was specified in alleged (supposed) communicative terms through an audiolingual methodology.

What does Nunan mean? That the contents might have read something like «Unit 1: Introducing oneself. Getting to know each other.» But then the methodology proposed involved repetition and substitution. That is to say, a mechanistic, behaviouristic, approach.


Where did the communicative part come in?
Were the learners learning how to communicate?


To avoid this type of separation –a dichotomy– we'll explore ways in which both aspects can be integrated. If they're all properly integrated, all of them will interact and influence each other. In what way? Objectives may be modified, expanded or simplified, in terms of learners' needs during the development of the learning process.

As teachers, we make decisions on the spot, in real time, as our lessons unfold. We all know that not everthing in our lesson plans will happen in the classroom. Often we must «negotiate» with the institutional requirements, the pre-specified objectives, the textbook, and the task, together with our learners' needs, interests and demands..., and our commonsense: we must also negotiate with our own beliefs, approach, and knowledge of what is feasible, possible and probable.

Not an easy task...


And this task becomes all the more complex if we want to promote acquisition in the classroom.

Several researchers have been experimenting with techniques to promote acquisition in the classroom. One key aspect is providing learners with varied and meaningful input, as we have seen before. But how can we determine that input is varied and meaningful?

And relevance is a notion that depends on age, and cultural and social background, among other variables; relevance often has an unstable status among adolescents as we have also seen before.

Activities, in which two partners must share information to complete a task or solve a problem, are effective in stimulating the development of communication skills. In particular, such activities provide an environment for the development of fluency and the negotiation of meaning, essential for acquisition.

For example, as part of pair work, two partners must interview each other to fill in a grid to find out about each other’s favourite band. These grids can be discussed within the group, and finally there could be a rounding off class-as-a-whole with a profile of oneself as a good friend , with statement like, ‘What do I have to offer for the development of a good friendship?’, in which the most popular/boring band of the whole group is proclaimed, and the best friend can be appointed.

Due to its nature, this type of activity will generate a number of different mini tasks involving different strategies of group dynamics, a bit of research into different musical bands, their musical production; in turn, this will allow learners to come into contact with different discourse types, participate in debates, thus learning to argue for and against, and the list could go on in definitely. Ideally, as the topic is interesting, learners will be trying to express their ideas, and hopefully using English to express them.

If there is communicative stress –the only kind of stress that can be said to be positive– that is, if there's interest and motivation, there will be stimulation of learner linguistic and communicative resources, and their linguistic knowledge will be «squeezed» to the limit.

Another important factor that stimulates interest and hence acquisition is the degree to which tasks reflect the world outside, so to speak. The lesson should include valuable information that will help the learner get to know about other peoples, ways of life, cultures and traditions. Luckily colourless Johns' and 'Marys' have been replaced by real life characters.

This does not definitely mean that there should not be fiction. Access to literary discourse, comic cartoons, legends, myths and the like stimulate the learner’s imagination. A good «companion» is an audio, with stories retold against a musical background akin to the text type.

Fact and fiction should thus be clearly defined. Learners should be able to access true, updated information. Discourse types should reflect this as well, together with the accompanying imaging. A Maori legend on tape, with aesthetic but functional illustrations to guide the listener, could serve to trigger not only the structure of the legend as a text but also the meaning of the legend as a text but the meaning of the legend in the context of the source culture. In turn, this will broaden our learners’ conception of diversity and will expand their minds.

What kind of teaching sequence should follow from these assumptions?

Rather than choosing the linguistic contents to teach and then adapt the thematic contents to that sequence, the priority is the choice of thematic contents in accordance with learner interests and cognitive, affective and social needs. This done, the linguistic and pragmatic contents will manifest the themes chosen. And it is here that selection and gradation-sequencing-play an essential role in the promotion of acquisition and learning.

Next comes the choice of a final task. The final task is the culmination of a number of mini tasks, all of them leading to the steady development of skills and subskills, which in turn will help perform the final task. For example, if the final task consists in designing a profile of a group's favourite musical band; throughout the project, there should be enough instances of exposure to discourse types such as biographical data, advertisements, CD labels, concert ads newspaper articles, reviews of musical albums and the like.

Another possibility might be for learners to design a brochure of a tourist resort in their local area. This will entail the inclusion of local maps, photos, typical costumes and traditional music, a short history of the place, an invitation to visit the area, a description of the main sites, entertainments and interviews with the locals, to mention just a few possibilities.

The path towards the final task does involve language work, guided practice, process writing and listening comprehension. The aim is to allow learners to rehearse tasks and develop enabling skills needed for communicating outside the classroom.

What do we mean? That there will be repetition to practice new words, correction of errors, systematisations on the blackboard, crossword puzzles to practise past tense forms, fill-in-the-blank exercises, comprehension questions, the design of personal word banks to recycle vocabulary, and many other guided-practice activities that you may be familiar with.

David Nunan points out that
this type of methodology brings together proven aspects from classroom acquisition research and principles of learner-centred curriculum design.

As you can see, in this chapter we have brought together thematic and linguistic contents, knitting a series of lesson strategies that take account of learner needs. This is what is normally referred to as a task-based content-based approach.

It would be ideal if you brought together some of the concepts discussed in this chapter and bring them down to your classroom situation.

  • Some of the following questions might help you:
  • What topics are your learners learning in the other curricular subjects?
  • Can you ask your colleagues?
  • What aspects could be learnt in English?
  • Do you know of any materials that might help develop your task? Why?
  • What common decisions have you arrived at with your colleagues?

Reference

NUNAN, D. (1997). The Learner Centred Curriculum. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Publicado: 20 de enero de 2015

Última modificación: 03 de marzo de 2015

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