Interaction, Communication and Deep Thinking

Interaction

Rather than building activities for the collaboration typically encouraged in social science, English or Physical Education classrooms, secondary school foreign language teachers build activities to encourage interaction and meaningful communication.  Rather than group work, they engineer spontaneous partner conversations; instead of problem solving to inspire deeper thinking, they work through the steps of the SOLO taxonomy.  They first teach the discrete components of language, vocabulary and structures (uni and multi-structural), then they ask students to combine and practice those components in order to make meaningful communication (relational).  Finally they supply learners with activities that encourage them to combine newly acquired language in new and creative ways that they haven’t been taught (extended abstract).

Hattie and Yates (2013, p.26) defined learning as: “the process of developing sufficient surface knowledge to then move to deep or conceptual understanding.” This movement from surface to deep knowledge requires considerable effort on the part of the language learner and the teacher. It involves intentionality and reciprocity (Feuerstein & Feuerstein, 1999) where the teacher designs practice activities that are achievable but sufficiently challenging (Vygotsky, 1978) and the learner repeatedly and purposefully engages in the practice activities and responds to teacher feedback by refining language output.

It is really important, therefore, that as well as valuing the deep knowledge which is the goal of collaboration, education stakeholders also value the surface knowledge on which it is built (Hattie & Yates, 2013).  Often students bring that surface knowledge with them into the classroom, but in a foreign language context, this is not usually the case.  Surface knowledge has to be taught.

In the language classroom considerable time needs to also be spent on what Hattie and Yates (2013) insist is necessary in every classroom for learning to occur: “conscious monitoring… concentration and persistence such that there is stretching to take on new challenges until these challenges become automatic.” (Hattie & Yates, 2013, p.28).

If the teacher wants to flip the language lesson with Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), then this conscious monitoring and stretching occurs.  However, it only works where students have some prior language knowledge with which to work.  In a TBLT context, instead of the sequential process described above, learners are provided with a task to complete.  As they complete task, they might need to use language not necessary used or formally taught yet so they are stretched.  However, not without support , which might come from pre-tasks or from working on reception tasks (Listening or Reading) long before  production tasks (Speaking or Writing) (Nunan, 2004).

So, with TBLT, language learning occurs when learners notice new forms, rehearse those forms in working memory, and assign meaning to those forms.  As they do this, they notice the gap between their own language and the language they need to complete the task so they begin to formulate linguistic rules as a result of that comparison.  Finally, as they endeavour to complete the task, they integrate the new linguistic forms into their implicit memory (Nunan, 2004).

  • Biggs, J. & Collis, K. (1982).  Evaluating the Quality of Learning: the SOLO taxonomy.
  • Feuerstein, R., & Feuerstein, S. (1999). Mediated learning experience: A theoretical review.
  • Hattie, J., & Yates, G. (2013). Understanding learning: Lessons for learning, teaching and research.
  • Nunan, D. (2004). Task-Based Language Teaching.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1978). In Cole M., John-Steiner V., Scribner S. and Souberman E. (Eds.), Mind in society : The development of higher psychological processes (A. Luria Trans.).
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