The use of consciousness-raising activities to improve English grammar and language use

Abstract. The approach to grammar instruction that is commonly seen in English classrooms is the teacher-led approach, where teachers play the role of knowledge presenters and learners’ role is limited to the receivers. Such a way of teaching grammar is tiring for teachers for they have to spend most of lesson time presenting and explaining grammatical knowledge, thus leaving little time for learners to use English. Using inductive consciousness-raising activities is a good solution to help teachers reduce the burden of talking and enhance learner talk because in an inductive Consciousness-Raising grammar activity, learners have to interact with their partners most of the time to work out the target grammatical rule, and teachers just plays their role when help is needed. This paper purports to introduce the concept of consciousness-raising and present one example of an inductive consciousness-raising activity that is expected to improve student’s ability to use The English language, particularly with regards to grammar.

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JOURNAL OF SCIENCE OF HNUE Interdisciplinary Science, 2013, Vol. 58, No. 5, pp. 143-149 This paper is available online at THE USE OF CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING ACTIVITIES TO IMPROVE ENGLISH GRAMMAR AND LANGUAGE USE Ta Thanh Binh Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. The approach to grammar instruction that is commonly seen in English classrooms is the teacher-led approach, where teachers play the role of knowledge presenters and learners’ role is limited to the receivers. Such a way of teaching grammar is tiring for teachers for they have to spend most of lesson time presenting and explaining grammatical knowledge, thus leaving little time for learners to use English. Using inductive consciousness-raising activities is a good solution to help teachers reduce the burden of talking and enhance learner talk because in an inductive Consciousness-Raising grammar activity, learners have to interact with their partners most of the time to work out the target grammatical rule, and teachers just plays their role when help is needed. This paper purports to introduce the concept of consciousness-raising and present one example of an inductive consciousness-raising activity that is expected to improve student’s ability to use The English language, particularly with regards to grammar. Keywords: English language, English grammar, grammar instruction. 1. Introduction According to Ellis [3;101], the teaching of grammar has held and continues to hold a central place in language learning. This explains why grammar continues to occupy considerable space in current language course-book materials. The question of how grammar should be approached has been in the arena for discussion for a century, proving that the teaching of grammar is a matter of great concern to second language theorists. In Vietnam, grammar instruction in English classrooms is commonly teacher-led, meaning that the teachers give information and the students are to write it down and remember it. Teachers find this manner of teaching grammar tiring in that they spend most of lesson time talking, explaining and correcting grammar practice exercises. At the Received June 29, 2012. Accepted April 20, 2013. Contact Ta Thanh Binh, e-mail address: binh.tathanh@gmail.com 143 Ta Thanh Binh same time, students find it boring to have to attend long lessons in silence, listening and writing only. With this, students are expected to learn more about reading and writing, but not how to use the language as a form of verbal communication. As a result, students may become quite knowledgeable with English grammar and yet not be able to communicate verbally in English. Using inductive consciousness-raising when teaching grammar rules is one solution to the problem discussed above. This would relieve teachers of the dreadful burden of speaking, create a motivating learning environment, improve information retention and enhance language. In an inductive grammar lesson, students work with each other most of the time and the teacher steps forward only when help is needed, enabling him/her to relax. Furthermore, inductive consciousness-raising should involve problem-solving activities which are stimulating and motivating to the majority of the students. In terms of information gained, inductive learning involves great mental effort and students are actively engaged in the process of determining meanings and are therefore more attentive and can better retain new grammar information. Last but not least, consciousness-raising exercises require students to interact using English. According to Long’s Interaction Hypothesis and Swain’s Output Hypothesis (Mitchell & Myles, 1998), interaction in the target language facilitates language acquisition. 2. Content 2.1. Literature review 2.1.1. Different approaches to grammar instruction According to Ellis [2;167], the two main questions which have been debated in the field of language pedagogy are: 1) Should we teach grammar at all? 2) If we should teach grammar, how should we teach it? The difference in the approach to grammar teaching stems from how the two above questions are addressed. Ellis [1;229] presented three possible positions for the first question: 1) the non-interface position; 2) the interface position and 3) the variability position. The non-interface position, which was advanced by Krashen [5], distinguishes between two types of knowledge: that which is learned and that which is acquired, but not through learning. Krashen maintains that “formal instruction in grammar will not contribute to the development of acquired knowledge - the knowledge needed to participate in authentic communication,” and therefore, there is no point in teaching grammar. The interface position lends credence to the teaching of grammar by postulating that these two types of knowledge are not entirely separate [1;234]. A weak interface position was proposed by Seliger, who states that formal instruction facilitates language acquisition. Seliger believes the leaning a grammar rule makes internalization of the rule easier and may facilitate the use of features which are acquired, but are still only ‘in the 144 The use of consciousness-raising activities to improve English grammar and language use shadows’. A strong interface position states that the two types of knowledge can interact, and explicit knowledge can turn into implicit knowledge through practice [1;235]. The variability position holds that different kinds of knowledge are used in different types of language ability performance. For example, formal instruction presumably develops the type of knowledge that is required to perform well in “discrete-point” tests [1;237]. Therefore, Bialystok suggests “instruction must consider the specific goals of the student and attempt to provide the appropriate form of knowledge to enable the student to achieve those goals” [1;234]. If one ignores the non-interface position, the question of whether or not grammar should be taught depends on students’ specific needs. The three positions support very different approaches to language teaching [3;97]. The non-interface position leads to zero-grammar approaches such as the Natural Approach and the Total Physical method while the interface position provides a strong base for form-focused approaches. The weak interface position makes use of techniques that induce learners to focus on grammar. Examples of these techniques are Content-based Instruction and Task-based Language Learning. Lastly, the strong interface position is grounds for the Presentation-Practice-Production model [3;97]. Finally, the variability position supports a combination of various methods appropriate to specific teaching contexts and serves as a base for Context-based Language Teaching and Post-method pedagogy. 2.1.2. Consciousness-raising The concept of consciousness-raising Linguistically, the term consciousness-raising, “consciousness-raising” is understood as “the deliberate attempt to draw the student’s attention specifically to formal properties of the target language” [9;274]. Ellis [2;168] states that “consciousness raising involves an attempt to equip the student with an understanding of a specific grammatical feature to develop declarative rather than procedural knowledge of it.” Both definitions given by Rutherford & Sharwood-Smith [9;274] and Ellis [2;168] are brief and broad. They mention the goals of consciousness-raising but do not mention how these goals can be reached. In their definition, Richards, Platt & Platt [8;78] give more information on how to draw students’ attention. As they put it, consciousness-raising is “an approach to the teaching of grammar in which instruction of grammar (through drills, grammar explanation and other form-focused activities) is viewed as a way of raising learner’s awareness of grammatical features of the language. This is thought to indirectly facilitate second language acquisition. A consciousness-raising approach is contrasted with traditional approaches to the teaching of grammar in which the goal is to instill correct grammatical patterns and habits directly” [8;78]. Consciousness-raising and different approaches to grammar instruction It’s sometimes claimed that consciousness-raising is the “middle-ground position” between two extreme approaches to grammar teaching [7;151], one extreme being 145 Ta Thanh Binh the zero-grammar approach advocated by Krashen and the other being the traditional grammar based approach . Consciousness-raising could be seen as a pendulum swinging back but taking into account more recent findings of second language acquisition research as well as the benefits of communicative approaches. It has to be pointed out, however, that grammatical consciousness-raising should not be considered a “back to grammar” move because there are several important differences to the older approaches. First of all, it focuses on long-term and not short-term learning objectives. Secondly, it’s not necessary that grammar be taught using explicit rules. Students may be led to grammatical insights implicitly. Thirdly, the focus on meaning of the communicative movement is not abandoned and texts that have been produced for communication are preferred over concocted examples. The role of consciousness-raising in second language learning There is no consensus of opinion on the role of consciousness in second language learning. As Schmidt [10;130] puts it, “the most common attitude towards consciousness is one of skepticism.” Schmidt [10;129] devalues the role of consciousness and states that “it is at the unconscious level that language learning takes place.” Krashen [5] insists that there is little use of conscious learning in actual language production and comprehension. Gregg, one of Krashen’s harshest critics of Krashen’s opinion that learning can never be ‘acquired’, does agree with the concept that most language learning is unconscious. According to Schmidt [10;130], consideration of the role of consciousness in cognition and learning has been respectable in recent decades. The most prominent supporters of consciousness-raising are Rutherford and Sharwood. Rutherford & Sharwood-Smith [9] examine the role of consciousness-raising in the light of Universal Grammar. They believe that “the sequence of language features as well as the pace at which they are learned is given by the student, not the curriculum or a textbook, and certain language features can only be learned in a fixed sequence.” Hence, in their opinion, the function of grammar consciousness-raising is to highlight certain grammatical features that the student can use to develop his or her awareness of them, and when he or she is ready to insert these specific features into to second language, they will do so. Furthermore, Rutherford insists that language learners already have a broad knowledge of language which is both specific and universal to build on and he calls the language learning process “an interaction of the universal with the specific.” He consequently sees grammatical consciousness-raising as a means of “illuminating the student’s path from the known to the unknown.” might be taken to mean, “a facilitator for the acquisition of linguistic competence” [9]. Characteristics of consciousness-raising activities Ellis [2;169] points out that consciousness-raising activities are only directed at acquiring explicit information with the expectation that students will not, in actual communication, make use of any particular feature that has been brought to their attention through formal instruction. He contrasts consciousness raising with practice and concludes that the main difference between the two is “a consciousness-raising task 146 The use of consciousness-raising activities to improve English grammar and language use does not require of the student repeated production.” Below are main characteristics of consciousness-raising tasks pointed out by Ellis [2;168]. 1. There is an attempt to isolate a specific linguistic feature for focused attention. 2. Students are given information which illustrates a targeted feature and they may also be supplied an explicit rule that describes or explains the feature. 3. Students are expected to make an intellectual effort to understand the targeted feature. 4. A misunderstanding or incomplete understanding of a grammatical structure by a student must be followed by a clarification in the form of additional information plus a description or explanation. 5. Students may or may not be required to articulate rules describing the grammatical structures. 2.2. A sample consciousness-raising activity With reference to the above-mentioned characteristics of consciousness-raising and the idea of inductive consciousness-raising, we have developed the following procedure for devising consciousness-raising activities. Step 1: Set the scene (students listen to or read a text in order to grasp basic meaning); Step 2: Comprehension questions (students answer comprehension questions after they listen to or read a text); Step 3: Observation (students examine a form, and then match the form to a meaning); Step 4: Make a hypothesis (students generate their own hypotheses); Step 5: Check the hypothesis (students test their hypotheses against other examples); Step 6: Confirm the hypothesis (students confirm their hypotheses with the help of the teacher). Below is an example of a consciousness-raising grammar lesson that is designed in accordance with this procedure: 2.2.1. Target students This lesson is suitable for adult learners of English at pre-intermediate level. 2.2.2. Target grammatical feature This lesson aims at introducing the use of “would” with past habit meaning. 2.2.3. Duration This lesson should be conducted within 45 minutes. 2.2.4. Procedure Step 1: Setting the scene: 147 Ta Thanh Binh Students work in pairs answering the following questions: a. How did you usually spend your summer holidays when you were small? b. Where did you use to go to? c. What did you use to do? Step 2: Dictation The teacher is going to tell you how his/her family used to spend their summer holiday. Students listen and write down any words, phrases or sentences they can remember. Students work in groups of four, compares what each of them has written, and then tries to reconstruct the text. Step 3: Noticing Students compare what they have written with the original text below and underline the differences. Original text: “When I was a child we used to go camping every summer. We’d choose a different place each year, and we’d drive around until we found a beach we liked. Then we’d pitch our tent, as near as possible to the beach we liked. We’d usually spend most of the time on the beach or exploring the country round about. We never went to the same beach twice.” Step 4: Hypothesis-making Students work in pairs to comment on the use of “would”. Step 5: Checking the hypothesis Students read this passage and then work with their partners answering the following question: Does the passage talk about real past habits or does it refer to “an imaginary situation”? “From the time he was very young, Gerald used to spend all his spare time collecting birds, animals and insects of all kinds. Every morning he would get up early and go first to the beach. There he would catch small crabs and sometimes small fishes, which he would put into a large jar and take home with him. On the way home, he would always go to a ruined fisherman’s cottage where he would often be lucky enough to find some unusual insect that he had never seen before.” Step 6: Confirming the hypothesis Students revise the usage rule of “would” that they have worked out in step 4 with the help of the teacher. 3. Conclusion It seems that consciousness-raising activities would help students learn in terms of both grammatical knowledge gain and language acquisition. However, they may encounter several problems if they are not familiar with the process of discovering a grammatical 148 The use of consciousness-raising activities to improve English grammar and language use rule by themselves. After they get enough experience with consciousness-raising, they will acquire the necessary skills to work effective with consciousness-raising activities. Once equipped with proper skills, students will avoid getting lost on their way to find the target rule. Another suggestion is that the texts from which the target rules emerge should be rich in contextual information from which rules can be induced. The target features should also appear several times in the texts, or several examples of the features should be provided so that students could get more exposure, thus enabling them to capture the target rules. Because the effectiveness of consciousness-raising activities for students who are not competent enough to discuss the rules in English is limited, it is suggested that these students be allowed to use their mother tongue. However, once they become familiar with consciousness-raising lessons and equipped with sufficient grammatical terminology, they should be encouraged to use English in the course of doing consciousness-raising activities. This should be done because using English promotes negotiated interactions, hence enhancing students’ communicative competence [4]. REFERENCES [1] Ellis R., 1985.Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford University Press, Oxford. [2] Ellis R., 2002. Grammar Teaching – Practice or Consciousness-raising?, in Richard J. and Rennandya W. (Eds.), Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice, pp. 167 – 174, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. [3] Ellis R., 2006. Current issues in the Teaching of Grammar: an SLA Perspective. TESOL Quaterly, Vol. 40, pp. 83- 107. [4] Fotos S., 1994. Integrating grammar instruction and communicative language use through grammar Consciousness-raising tasks. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 28 (2), pp. 323- 350. [5] Krashen, S., 1982. Principles and Practice in Second Acquisition Language. Pergamon Press, Oxford. [6] Mitchell, R. & Myles, F., 1998. Second Language Learning Theories, (2nd). Oxford: Oxford University Press. [7] Nunan D., 1991. Language Teaching Methodology. Prentice Hall, London. [8] Richards, J. C., Platt, J. and Platt, H., (Eds.), 1992. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Pearson Education Limited, Harlow. [9] Rutherford, W. E. & Sharwood-Smith M., 1987. Grammar and Second Language Teaching. Newbury House: New York. [10] Schmidt R., 1990. The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, Vol.11, pp. 129- 158. 149
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