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Chapter 3 Communicating in the Classroom In this chapter we explore: The process of learning to communicate The nature of communication The informational-cognitive purpose of communication The discourse that results from using communicative drills Developing information-exchange tasks

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Chapter 3 l.jpg

Chapter 3

Communicating in the Classroom


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In this chapter we explore:

  • The process of learning to communicate

  • The nature of communication

  • The informational-cognitive purpose of communication

  • The discourse that results from using communicative drills

  • Developing information-exchange tasks

  • Non-Atlas roles for instructors


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Learning to Communicate

  • In 1972, Savignon published a study that compared three groups learning French in a first-semester college classroom.

    • Group1 received classical ALM training 4 days and one lab day per week.

    • Group 2 received the same ALM training 4 days and one cultural studies day per week.

    • Group 3 received 4 days ALM training, but day 5 was devoted to training in communication.


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Savignon’s tests

  • Savignon subsequently gave students from all groups a test of communicative competence that involved 4 kinds of activities.

    • Discussion with a native speaker

    • Interview with a French person

    • A monologue on a topic

    • Narration

  • In addition, all students were given the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) tests for listening and reading in French



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Results continued…

  • The learners in the third group, the “communication” group, scored significantly higher than the others on the tests of communicative competence (no surprise).

  • The control ALM group scored quite low on the tests of communicative competence.


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Practice makes perfect

  • One learns to communicate by practicing communication.

    As Savignon states,

    “Those students who had been given the opportunity to use their linguistic knowledge for real communication were able to speak French. The others were not.” (1983, pp.78-79)


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Other studies

  • Hatch (1978a) suggests that during communication, learners “negotiate” and even “regulate” the kind of input they receive so that they obtain input suited to their individual needs.

  • Swain (1985) argues that communicative production encourages learners to attend to input better since they themselves need to use language they are hearing around them.

  • Others suggest that some aspects of grammar and syntax cannot be acquired through everyday communication (Sato, 1986).


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Language ability

  • Communicative language ability-the ability to express one’s self and to understand others-develops as learners engage in communication and not as a result of habit formation with grammatical items.


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Communication and communicative language ability

  • The act of communication in most settings involves the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning (Savignon, 1998).

  • A person wishes to express an idea to someone else and does so.

  • The other person must understand both the message and the intent of the message.


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Expressions

  • Sometimes interpretation is partial, and some negotiation is needed.

    • I’m sorry. Did you say…?

    • I’m not sure what you mean.

    • I don’t get what you’re telling me.

    • What are you getting at?

    • Say what?


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Communication breakdowns are likely

  • Learners might not have the resources to express themselves easily or to interpret a message of the second language because of:

    • Missing vocabulary

    • Missing grammar

    • Pronunciation is a problem


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An example

  • Leeman Guthrie (1984) provides an excellent example of an exchange between a classroom learner and his instructor in which a problem in communicating an idea leads to negotiating the meaning.

  • Both the instructor and the learner are negotiating meaning.


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  • I: Roger, vous venez de faire la conaissance d’un Français. Quelles sont vos impressions?

  • Roger: Ah… c’est…. C’est ne Français typique.

  • I: Il n’était pas typique?

  • Roger: Ne personne est typique

  • I: Personne n’est typique? C’est à dire qu’il n’est pas posible de généraliser, cést ça?

  • Roger: Oui.


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English translation

  • I: Roger, you have just met a French person. What are your impressions?

  • R: Ah…. It is.. It is no typical French.

  • I: He wasn’t typical?

  • R: No person is typical.

  • I: Nobody is typical? That is to say that it isn’t possible to generalize, is that so?

  • R: Yes.


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Analysis of example

  • Roger realizes from the instructor’s response that he must reformulate his utterance, and say it in another way.

  • Eventually the two work out what Roger means to say.

  • Both Roger and the instructor demonstrate a certain strategic competence: Instead of abandoning the idea, they attempt to get it across in another way.


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Negotiation

  • Although negotiation occurs as a result of partial interpretation and incomplete comprehension, it can also be a natural part of a communicative exchange.

  • There are many everyday scenarios during which we negotiate meaning.

    • Getting the best price when trading in a car

    • Consulting a sales clerk when buying shoes (comfort, style, price)


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Purposes of communication

  • The psycho-socialpurpose of language involves using language to bond socially or psychologically with someone or to engage in behavior in some way.

  • The informational-cognitive use of language involves communication for the purpose of obtaining information, generally for some other task.


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Examples

  • Psycho-social example

    • Asking someone “How’s it going?” might be less a desire to know the actual details of someone’s life than a means of exchanging pleasantries.

  • Informational-cognitive example

    • Stopping and asking someone “Do you have the time?” if we think we are running late.

  • Psycho-social and informational-cognitive uses of language can and often do co-occur.


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The language classroom

  • The instructor may use language for both psycho-social and informational-cognitive purposes.

  • It is doubtful that the learner would use language for many psycho-social purposes.

  • The classroom does lend itself exceptionally well to the use of communicative language for informational-cognitive purposes.


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Classroom discourse

  • Communicative drills differ in terms of who controls the response and what types of messages they contain.

  • The learner controls the response and provides new information for communicative drills.

  • The differences are summarized on the next slide.



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Communicative drills

  • Although communicative drills might have the semblance of real communication, they fall short of providing learners with opportunities that allow them to work at expressing themselves.

  • Such drills fall short of providing an extended exchange between two or more people because once an answer is given, the learners simply move on to the next question.


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In a revealing study…

  • Brooks (1990) found that learners reproduce in pairs those behaviors that the instructor uses at the whole class level.

    “Rather than use the exercise to participate in a communication simulation activity, as originally intended by the teacher, the students seem to have turned the activity into another change to reinforce the rules of Spanish grammar, thereby getting ready for the subsequent quiz… It appears as though the two students have learned through imitation and reference, rather than explicit instruction, an acceptable manner for doing this type of activity.” (Brooks, 1990, p. 162)


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Pattern of interaction

  • The following two exchanges from Brooks’s study demonstrate his point. Note the pattern of interaction between instructor and learner in A that is subsequently played out between two learners in B.


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A. Teacher-fronted activity

I: ¿Es antipática?

L: (several together) No.

I: No es antipática.

L: Es muy simpático.

I: ¿Simpático? (said loudly with rising intonation)

L: Simpática.

I: Sí, es muy simpática.


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A. Teacher-fronted activity

English translation

I: Is she mean?

L: (several together) No.

I: She isn’t mean.

L: He is nice.

I: Nice? **

L: She is nice.

I: Yes, she is very nice.

** The Spanish adjective is influenced for gender as well as number.


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B. Paired-student activity

A: Ah, ¿cómo son Carolina y Luz?

B: Carolina y Luz es… no…. Son rubiØs (final vowel inaudible)

A: Son rubi….a…rubias

B: ¿<<a>> o <<as>>?

A: <<as>>

B: <<as>>, sí. Rubias (prosodic stress on “as”)


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B. Paired-student activity

  • A: Ah, what are Carolina and Luz like?

  • B: Carolina and Luz is… no… are Blonde

  • A: are… blo..n…d

  • B: <<a>> o <<as>>?

  • A: <<as>>

  • B: <<as>>, yes. Blonde.


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In sum…

  • Brooks demonstrates that as far as communicative drills go, whether led by an instructor or carried out by pairs of learners, communication and negotiation of meaning may well not be taking place.


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Teacher-fronted versus Paired or group interaction

  • There is quantitative research on interactional patterns and communication in the language classroom.

  • This research reveals that teacher-fronted activities provide few opportunities for the expression and negotiation of meaning among participants.


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Rulon and McCreary (1986) report:

  • Small group work produced twice the number of content confirmation checks.

    • I got it. Then what?

  • Small group work produced 36 times the number of content clarification requests.

    • Right? Do you follow? So… you mean?


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Informational content

  • At the same time, these researchers found no statistical difference between group and teacher-fronted activities in terms of the amount of informational content covered.

  • There seems to be more communication occurring in paired work than in teacher-fronted activities, with just as much content covered.


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Porter’s findings

  • Porter (1986) also found that learner-to-learner interactions in the classroom resulted in increased opportunities for self-expression for the learner.

  • Advanced-intermediate pairings resulted in increased negotiation for both learners compared to intermediate-intermediate pairings.

  • Porter reports only one “negative” finding: that sociolinguistic competence is not something that can be developed in the absence of native-speaking interlocutors.


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Lee’s study

  • Lee (2000) conducted an experiment comparing the participation and content remembered by different groups of learners.

    • Two classes participated in a teacher-fronted discussion, answering questions.

    • Two classes performed group work developed from the discussion questions.


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Lee’s findings

  • Lee’s findings support Porter’s and Rulon & McCreary’s findings.

  • Only 11 of 42 learners spoke during the Q&A teacher-fronted discussion.

  • 46 of 46 learners spoke during group work.

  • The learners who participated during group work recalled almost twice as many ideas as did those who participated in the teacher-fronted discussion.


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Conclusions

  • Teacher-fronted activities may not be optimal for providing opportunities to develop communicative language ability.

  • Paired and group work, on the other hand, do seem to provide these opportunities.


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Classroom communication as information exchange

  • We focus now on creating classroom activities that allow for communication within the context of the language classroom.

  • “Information-based” tasks require learners to obtain information from each other that is then put to use in some way.


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Construction of information-exchange tasks

Identify the topic or subtopic to be addressed

Design an appropriate immediate purpose

Identify the information sources


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Identifying the topic

  • Identifying a topic or subtopic for a task is best achieved when a concrete question can be asked.

  • The topic can be explored by questions that learners will eventually answer with the information they obtain.

  • Certain questions rely on personal experience, whereas others involve the world outside our own.


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Time and material management

  • What needs to be kept in mind is lesson planning, that is, time and material management.

  • When moving their classes toward communication through information exchange, instructors need to ask themselves such questions as “What topics can be treated in a 50-minute class period?”


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Designing an appropriate purpose

  • Once a topic is selected and a question is developed, an appropriate immediate purpose needs to be designed.

  • The immediate purpose can take the form of a task that learners must complete.


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These tasks include:

  • Filling in a grid, chart, or table

  • Completing a drawing

  • Completing a table with missing information


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The purpose of the task

  • It is important not to mistake “getting or exchanging information” as the purpose of the task.

  • Learners will not only get and exchange information- they will do something with it.

  • What they do with the information is the true purpose of the task.

    • Writing a paragraph for comparative purposes

    • Making an oral report

    • Answering questions


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Comparing two versions of the same activity

  • On the next slides, two versions of the same activity are given.

  • In the first version, even though learners exchange information, the activity lacks an end: the learner is not given a purpose for obtaining the information.

  • In the second version, the learner is asked to fill in a chart and make a comparison. The learner now has a reason for getting information and knows what to do with it.


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Version 1: Compare your birthday experiences

  • Working with a classmate, compare how you have celebrated your birthdays by asking and answering the following questions:

    • How did you celebrate your birthday two years ago? 5 years ago? 10 years ago? Where did you spend your day and with whom did you spend it? Was it fun? Were a lot of people present? What kind of food was served?


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Version 2: Compare your birthday experiences

Step 1: Fill in the chart as you interview a classmate.

Step 2: Now write a paragraph in which you compare and contrast your birthdays.


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Comparison of the versions

  • If two learners were given the list of questions in Version 1 to ask and answer, they might fall into perpetuating the teacher-fronted dynamic described by Brooks.

  • In the second version, the learners become task-oriented; they must work together to fill in the chart.


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Identifying information sources

  • A reading or listening text is another source of information for classroom communication.

  • Rather than ask and answer questions of each other, learners can get information from a text for the purpose of completing a task.


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The information source

  • The purpose of the task will often clarify if not dictate the information source required.

    • From the learners’ personal experience

    • From a reading

    • From a guest speaker to the class


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Negotiating Meaning

  • Lee (2000) identifies six reasons for the emphasis on negotiation as an important element in communicative language ability.

  • Negotiation takes place in various everyday contexts.


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Definition of negotiation

“Negotiation consists of interactions during which speakers come to terms, reach an agreement, make arrangements, resolve a problem, or settle an issue by conferring or discussing; the purpose of language use is to accomplish some task rather than to practice any particular language forms.”

(Lee, 2000 p. 9)


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Information-gap activities

  • One type of activity that promotes negotiation is the information-gap task.

  • The gap refers to information that one person possesses but others do not.

  • Gaps create the absolute need to communicate as well as the need to cooperate.

  • Information-gap activities may be based on sources of information other than texts.


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Activity: The garden

  • Step one: Each person in the group except one will receive part of a picture of a garden. No one is to show his or her picture to anyone else.

  • Step two: Each person in the group then describes his or her picture to the others using only the target language.

  • Step three: As a group, describe what the original garden looked like in such a way that the person who did not receive a picture can draw the garden.


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Group decision activities

  • Activities can also encourage learners to collaborate in solving a problem, reaching a consensus, or making some other kind of decision.

  • Learners must negotiate to reach a consensus.


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Relieving Atlas: When tasks dictate roles

  • Under ALM and early CLT the role of the instructor dictated the tasks given to students.

  • However, the contemporary communicative era is now incorporating tasks that encourage communicative language development.

  • The major roles that instructors are beginning to assume are those of resource person and architect.


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Instructor as Resource person

  • In the classroom, the instructor describes a visual and the students respond with the appropriate vocabulary word.

  • The following listening activity is a fairly common one for practicing vocabulary.


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Activity: What food is it?

Look over the food chart, getting a sense of serving size, weight, and calories for the various foods listed. Your instructor will read a description twice. Listen carefully and then identify the food being described.

Model: (you hear) A cup of this dairy product contains 125 calories.

(you say) Yogurt.


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Analysis of the activity

  • This activity reflects the assumption that the instructor is responsible for teaching and learning.

  • The Atlas Complex is a difficult mindset to alter because both instructors and students are generally willing to allow this type of dynamic in the classroom.


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More analysis

  • In order to share the responsibility with the instructor or to shift it entirely, students must be given certain tools.

  • In the next activity, the instructor has the information and is willing to supply it- but only when asked.


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Activity: What food is it?

Look over the food chart, getting a sense of food groups, serving size, weight, and calories for the various foods listed. Your instructor will read a description of a food item. Listen carefully and try to identify the food.

Model: (you hear) A cup of this dairy product contains 125 calories.

(you say) Yogurt.


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Activity continued…

If you cannot identify the item, then you should ask any or all of the following questions, depending on what you did not understand.

-What quantity did you say?

-How many calories, please?

-What was the food group?


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The difference

  • In the previous example, the students negotiated meaning for themselves.

  • They initiated part of the interaction.

  • When the instructor’s role is that of a resource person, the student’s role is that of information gatherer and negotiator of meaning.


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Instructor as architect

  • If you have observed many language classes, particularly the more traditional ones, you may have seen an example of the open-ended discussion question.

  • The open-ended discussion question format is not really designed for students to learn about the topic or from each other; it is simply a speaking exercise.


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Instructor as architect continued…

  • A discussion is a multilayered communicative event, that is, an interaction requiring various steps and tasks.

  • When the instructor takes on the role of architect, the one who designs and plans but is not responsible for the final product, then students become builders or coworkers, who put it together.

  • Students begin to share some of the teaching functions that instructors ordinarily assume for themselves.


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Summary of chapter 3

  • Discussed the important role of meaningful communication in learning a second language.

  • Communication involves the expression, interpretation, and most important, negotiation of meaning within a particular context.

  • In moving away from teacher-fronted to teacher-assisted interactions, instructors will necessarily behave in less Atlas-like ways.


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