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Reading Passage

Reading Passage

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  • 1. Unit 3-Interaction in the Language Classroom – One Step Beyond In this unit: 3.1 The Teacher’s Action Zone 3.2 Interactional Competence 3.3 Learner Interactional Patterns 3.4 Grouping Arrangements One of the main ways in which students learn languages in a classroom is through taking part in activities. But this does not happen automatically. We need to set up conditions which will enable students to learn. We have an important role in creating these conditions and then managing what goes on in order to maintain those conditions. The aims of this unit are to raise your awareness of the conditions which support language learning, in particular the creation of positive teacher-student relationships and the effective organization of groups; to explore how these conditions can be set up and maintained; and to examine how the decisions and choices you make as a manager can affect students’ learning. For many teachers, when we talk about classroom management, discipline or classroom organization springs into mind. But an important part of managing classrooms is the development of effective teacher-student interactions. These issues will be explored through examining the teacher’s action zone within the class, learner’s interactional competence, learner’s interactional styles, and the effects of grouping arrangements on classroom interactions. 3.1 The Teacher’s Action Zone The following notes were written by a teacher after teaching a lesson: “Today I taught a lesson around a discussion on an environmental issue. The lesson went very well. First, I introduced the topic by talking about environmental problems in our city and got students to give examples of the major environmental problems we face. This got lots of comments from the class and everybody had an opportunity to say something and express an opinion. After ten minutes I divided the students into small groups and asked them to come up with a solution to one of the problems we talked about. During this time I moved around the class, monitoring students’ language use and giving feedback. After twenty minutes I got the group leaders to report their groups’ recommendations and I wrote key points on the board.” The following comments on the same lesson were written by an observer: “When you were speaking to the whole class, the students in the middle front row seats answered most of your questions.
  • 2. When you moved around the class you spent much more time with some groups than with others.” These different perceptions of the lesson highlight the fact that despite a teacher’s best intentions, teachers sometimes interact with some students in the class more frequently than others. Although teachers generally try to treat students fairly and give every student in the class an equal opportunity to participate in the lesson, it is often hard to avoid interacting with some students more than others. This creates what is referred to as the teacher’s action zone. An action zone is indicated by:  Those students with whom the teacher regularly enters into eye contact;  Those students to whom the teacher addresses questions, and  Those students who are nominated to take an active part in the lesson. These students are located within the teacher’s action zone and are likely to participate more actively in a lesson than students who fall outside the action zone. In many classrooms, this zone includes the middle front row seats and the seats up the middle aisle. If a teacher is teaching from the front of the class, students seated there are more likely to have the opportunity to participate actively in the lesson because of their proximity to the teacher (Adams and Biddle 1970 in Richards and Lockhart 1998). However, teachers have their own personal action zones, for example, a teacher may:      Look more often to the right hand side of the class than to the left, Call on girls more often than boys, Call on students of one ethnic background more often that those of another, Call on brighter students more often than others, Call on students whose names are easy to remember, Figure 1 shows a teacher’s action zone as recorded by an observer who marked on a seating plan the number of times the teacher addressed the whole class and individual students in the class, as well as the number of times individual students interacted with the teacher. Although a teacher may feel that all the students in the class have an equal opportunity to participate in the lesson, Figure 1 shows that this is not always so. During this lesson, the teacher addressed the whole class nineteen times and interacted with only twelve of the twenty-two individuals. It also seems that the teacher overlooked the students sitting in the right and left rows, and had an action zone located in the center of the room. If active participation is important in learning, then those students not within the teacher’s action zone are at disadvantage.
  • 3. DISCUSSION 1. If you are teaching a class, do you think you have a clearly defined action zone when you teach? Does it favor some students in the class more than others? If so, how could you change your action zone? 2. Some learners are often eager to be within the teacher’s action zone because they like to play an active and public role in the lesson. Others are happy to be outside the teacher’s action zone. Should all be active and public participants in lessons? Why or why not? 3.2 Interactional Competences While teachers need to be able to manage their interaction with the class in a way which allows all students equal opportunities to participate, learners also need to learn how they are expected to interact in the classroom. This has been described as learner’s interactional competence (Tikunoff 1985a, b), which involves learning particular patterns of interaction and behavior both vis-à-vis the other student in the class as well as with the teacher. Interactional competence includes several dimensions of classroom behavior.
  • 4. • Knowing the Etiquette of Classroom Interaction Teachers establish their own rules for appropriate classroom behavior. For example, in some classrooms, when the teacher enters the room at the beginning of a lesson, students stand at attention, greet the teacher in unison, and sit down to wait for instructions. When they wish to ask a question, they raise their hand. When asked a question, they stand to give the answer. At the end of the lesson, they wait for the teacher to dismiss them before leaving the room. In other, less traditional classrooms, however, students are often engaged in classrooms tasks before the teacher enters the room. If so, the teacher waits for a suitable moment to introduce a new teaching point. Students do not raise their hands when asking a question, but get the teacher’s attention by calling out, “Excuse me.” When students wish to leave their desk to consult another student, they do so without asking the teacher’s permission. At the end of the lesson, students leave when they have completed their assignments, without waiting for a formal dismissal from the teacher. • Knowing the Rules for Individual and Collaborative Work Students also need to know when they should work individually on a task and when it is appropriate to seek other students’ assistance or cooperation. Individual teachers establish their own rules and procedures for class work. However, when students are unclear as to what the teacher’s rules are, they may behave in ways that the teacher finds inappropriate. This is seen in the following comments by teacher. “Some of my students can be a problem because they like to get up and wander around the room when I ask them to do an assignment. They seem to be more interested in talking to other students about their assignments than in getting help from me.” These learner behaviors may be influenced by cultural factors. For example, Phillis (1972: 37 in Richards 1998) noted the following differences between the classroom behavior of American-Indian children and non-Indian children: There is, on part of Indian students, relatively less interest, desire, and/or ability to internalise and act in accordance with some of the basic rules underlying classroom maintenance of orderly interaction. Most notably, Indian students are lees willing than non-Indian students to accept the teacher as director and controller of all classroom activities. They are less interested in developing the one-to-one communicative relationship between teacher and student, and more interested in maintaining and developing relationships with their peers, regardless of what is going on in the classroom. While some teachers establish expectations and procedures for appropriate classroom behaviour very early on with a new group of students, others do not make their
  • 5. expectations clear, which can lead to confusion on both the teacher’s and the learners’ parts. • Knowing When to Ask and Answer Questions Teachers generally expect learners to ask questions during a lesson, although the extent to which they encourage active student participation may differ from one teacher to another and form one culture to another. On entering a new class, a priority for learners is to establish what their expected level of participation is and when and how they should interrupt the teacher to ask questions. Teachers may have their own preferences for when students should or should not ask questions. For example, some teacher prefer setting aside a particular question segment within a lesson, rather than allowing the flow of the lesson to be interrupted by questions. Other teachers prefer students to ask questions as they arise. Students may also have different expectations about how to answer questions form their teachers. In some cultures, students are expected to wait until called on and to answer only when they are sure of being right. In language classrooms, however, students are generally expected to participate actively, since answering questions is often regarded as a way of practicing the language. • Knowing How and When to Get Assistance or Feedback in Completing a Task Learners also have to learn what rules operate for getting help during a lesson. Should they ask the teacher? Should they turn to another student? Or should they keep silent to avoid disrupting others? Tikunoff (1985) studied students in bilingual classrooms in the United States to see how students knew if they were doing well in completing a class task and where they went for help in the case of difficulty. Successful students seemed to be aware of when they needed help as well as how to get it. This is seen in the following comments from learners: “When I don’t know how to do something, the teacher helps me, but it’s OK not to go to the teacher if you don’t need help.” “The teacher helps me when I need it, but it’s OK for friend to help too.” “The teacher helps me during recess as well as after school if I need it” • Knowing Appropriate Rules for Displaying Knowledge Although classroom are places where students are expected to learn, there are rules which govern how one should display the result of what one has learned. Some teachers, particularly teachers from a Western culture, encourage learners to display what they have learned in front of their peers. When a teacher asks a question and a student in the class knows the answer, the teacher normally expects the student to answer the question. However, students from some cultures may feel that publicly displaying one’s knowledge
  • 6. in this way would be seen by their peers as showing off; hence, they might avoid answering the question. Public display of knowledge, however, was found to be highly valued by some students in a reading class studied by Bondy (1990). She found that public demonstration of the ability to read was a source of status for some students in the class. They made comments in front of other children which drew attention to the fact that they could read and successfully engage in reading activities. “Reading seemed to be an activity done for praise, reward, and public recognition”. The process of arriving at a shared understanding of the appropriate rules for displaying knowledge in a classroom is clearly an important issue for teachers and learners. It may take some time for teachers and students to discover what assumptions govern the other party’s behaviour. DISCUSSION 1. What rules govern the etiquette of classroom interaction in your institution? 2. If you are teaching a class, do you have a code of etiquette for your classroom? In what ways does it reflect your view of your role as a teacher? 3. Can you give further examples which show how cultural factors in a context you are familiar with influence the interactional competence of language learners? 3.3 Learner Interactional Pattern The concept of interactional competence refers to the rules that students are expected to follow in order to participate appropriately in lessons. However, because of individual differences in learners’ personalities and their individual learning style, different patterns of interaction can often be observed among learners in any one class. Good and Power (1976) describe six different interactional patterns. The first four of these can be seen to reflect how the learning styles discussed in unit two can lead to a particular classroom behaviour. The last two interactional styles describe negative reactions to schooling and hence cannot be linked to the learning styles discussed earlier. Task-oriented Students These students are generally highly competent and successful in completing academic tasks. They enter into learning tasks actively and generally complete tasks with high degree of accuracy. They enjoy school and learning. They seldom need a teacher’s help, but if they feel they need it they do not hesitate to ask for it. They are cooperative students and create few discipline problems. Phantom Students These students may not often be noticed or heard in the classroom, although they are generally good students who work steadily on classroom tasks. However, they participate actively in lessons only infrequently, and rarely initiate conversation or ask for help. Because they do not disrupt the class or other students, teachers and other students do not know them very well.
  • 7. Social Students These students place a high value ob personal interaction. Although they are competent in accomplishing classroom tasks, they tend to value socializing with friends more than completing class assignments. They enjoy tutoring others in the class and participate actively in the lesson, although their answers may not always be correct. They tend to be popular with their classmates, but they may be less popular with their teachers because their approach to learning can create classroom management problems. They sometimes talk too much and do not hesitate to seek assistance from the teacher or other classmates when they need it. Dependent Students These students need the teacher’s support and guidance to complete class tasks and tend not to maintain engagement on tasks without frequent reinforcement and support. They need structure and guidance in completing tasks and tend not to work well in large groups. They often depend on the teacher or other students to tell them if their learning has been successful and if not, how to remedy the problem. Isolated Students These students set themselves apart from others and withdraw from classroom interactions. They maid avoid learning situations by turning away from activities such as peer or group work. They show reluctance to sharing their work with others or allowing others to respond it. Consequently they tend to be less proficient in completing learning tasks. Alienated Students These students react against teaching and learning and are often hostile and aggressive. They create discipline problems and make it difficult for those around them to work. They require close supervision, and their learning problems are often related to personal problems. While classifications such as these capture some useful generalizations about students interaction patterns in the classroom, most systems of this kind are somewhat arbitrary, and students may not be classified easily in one category or another. They may favor one interactional style for one particular learning task and then adopt a different style for a different task, for example. The usefulness of classification systems such as this is simply to serve as a reminder that individual students may favor different interactional styles and that there is no single interactional style that can be regarded as ideal for all students. DISCUSSION 1. Do you think the differences between Task-oriented, Phantom, Social, and Dependant students apply to students in a class you are familiar with? If not, what other kinds of differences in interactional style occur among the students? 2. Reflect on your own approach to learning. How would you describe your own interactional style? 3. What type of interactional style do you encourage among students in your class? Do you think you tend to behave differently to students according to differences in their preferred interactional style?
  • 8. 4. With a partner, develop a questionnaire that could be used to identify the preferred interactional style of learners. 3.4 Grouping Arrangements While learners ay have individual preferences for the kind of interactional style they favor in the classroom, the interactional dynamics of a classroom are largely a product of choices the teacher makes about the learning arrangements he or she sets up within a lesson. Most teachers use the following learning arrangements depending on the kind of lesson they are teaching, though teachers use some more frequently than others. Whole Class Teaching The teacher leads the whole class through a learning task. For example, the teacher conducts a class discussion of an article from a newspaper, asking questions about it and eliciting comments around the class. Pair / Group Work Students work in pairs / groups on learning tasks. Individual Work Each student in the class works individually on a task without interacting with peers or without public interaction with the teacher. For example, students complete a grammar exercise by going through a worksheet. Choosing grouping arrangements that are appropriate for specific learning tasks is an important decision. Some of the factors which affect grouping arrangements will be now considered. Group work vs. whole-class activities Group and pair work (henceforth group work) are so much a part of our everyday teaching routine that we hardly pause to think before partitioning the class to tackle some particular communicative task. But group work may not always be the best option. There will be a time and a place for whole-class activities in the English language classroom, just as there's a time and a place for group and pair work. • • • • • In praise of group work In praise of whole class discussion Tact and sensitivity Repertoire Variety adds spice to the classroom In praise of group work Group work came into the standard EFL teaching repertoire with communicative methodologies in the 1970s. At that time, studies of contemporary foreign language classes revealed that as much as 80% of lesson time consisted of the teacher talking to (at) the students. In a class of, say, 30 students, it is evident that the learner hardly got a chance to practice the language. Teacher Talking Time (TTT) became taboo and ways
  • 9. were devised to stamp it out and train the students to actually perform in the language they were learning. Group work was thus introduced into the EFL repertoire to come to grips with a particular problem. Group work made it possible for the teacher to devote more time to the students' oral production, which perhaps before had not been a priority of the foreign language classroom. Thanks to group work, less confident students get the chance to put their knowledge of the new language into practice in a non-threatening environment, away from the critical eye and ear of the teacher. Instead of being dependent on the teacher, students get used to helping and learning from each other. Meanwhile, the teacher is left free to discreetly monitor progress and give help, advice and encouragement where and when it is needed. In praise of whole class discussion An important aspect of whole-class discussion is the welding together of the whole group and the camaraderie that comes about when a whole group works together towards a common goal. Moreover, there is diversity in numbers; the larger the group, the more variety there is in the ideas, opinions and experiences which can contribute to the learning process. This can stimulate a greater involvement in each member of the class. Furthermore, whole class discussion is likely to be content based, rather than form based, encouraging fluency and a more memorable and meaningful exchange among the participants. It might also be more appropriate for the introverted and reflective learner. Finally, if we are talking about classes of 15 students or so, there are likely to be many opportunities of letting the whole class function as a single unit instead of dividing it into groups. The two techniques can go hand in hand. After a session of group work, a whole-class feedback phase will give cohesion to the learning process. Ideally, the group work that has gone before will ensure that everyone has something to say, and also a reason for listening. Having "rehearsed" in a more intimate context beforehand, students may face the whole class with more confidence in their ability to handle the target language. Tact and sensitivity Dealing with whole-class discussions requires the experience and sensitivity to strike the right balance between neutrality and commitment, the tact to deal with explosive situations and domineering students, the knowledge and the analytic mind demanded by the topic under discussion, and the diplomacy to ensure a fair discussion with maximum participation. Dealing with group work demands just as much tact and sensitivity. The teacher may have to decide whether to intervene to bring an enthusiastic discussion onto a more linguistically fruitful path, or to stay in the background to allow the students to make their own
  • 10. discoveries about the language and the best way to learn it. Should groups be of mixed ability, so the more able language learners help the weaker ones, or would same-ability groups be preferable, so that faster learners can progress at their own pace, while the teacher gives extra help to individual learners in the slower groups? Repertoire Like any kind of praxis, group work can lose its meaning if it is handled in an automatic and unthinking way. It was developed under particular circumstances to solve a particular problem and it is not per se intrinsically better than any other technique. No technique is the panacea for all our teaching problems and its value should be reviewed from time to time. We are advised to take a regular look at the techniques we are using and, if one, such as whole-class discussion activities for example, has fallen out of our active repertoire, we should ask ourselves: Is there a good reason for this? It worked before; can it work again? Although we build up a repertoire of tried and tested techniques and we cannot be constantly 'reinventing the wheel', we also need to be wary of unimaginative and ritualistic routine. Just as old numbers from our past teaching praxis may be found to have a value; parts of our current repertoire may prove to have none. So from time to time it is worth putting our group work practice under scrutiny and asking ourselves the same question: Is there a good reason for doing this? Badly handled group work can be as detrimental for the learning process as any other inappropriate technique. Variety adds spice to the classroom It is generally recognized today that individual learners have different learning styles, strategies and preferences. It is also generally accepted that to be effective lessons need a change of pace and focus to maintain the concentration of the learners. For both these reasons it is important that we teachers have as wide and flexible repertoire. And for this reason, asked to choose between group work and whole class activities, my inclination is to say: Both! Individual Work Individual work, or “seatwork”, is generally the second most frequently used technique patter in the classroom (just behind whole-class teaching). It includes such activities as completing worksheets, reading a comprehension passage and answering questions, doing exercises from a text or workbook, and composition and essay writing. Among the advantages of individual work are: • It provides learners with the opportunity to progress at heir own speed and in their own way.
  • 11. • It provides learners with opportunities to practice and apply skills they have learned. • It enables teachers to assess students’ progress. It enables teachers to assign different activities to different learners based on individual abilities and needs. It can be used to prepare learners for an up-coming activity. • • Among the disadvantages are: • It provides little opportunity for interaction, both with the teacher and with other students. • It is sometimes difficult to monitor what students are actually doing during individual work. • Students may complete a task at different times and run out of things to do, creating a classroom management problem. For individual work to be accomplished successfully, a number of characteristics of successful individual work have been identified (Good and Brophy 1987): • • • • It should be planned so that it relates to other kinds of learning arrangements, rather that being an isolated “filler” activity. Students should be given specific tasks with clear goals. There should be monitoring and follow-up to determine if students understand the task or are completing it accurately. Tasks should be at the right level of difficulty. Students should know what to do when completing the activity. DISCUSSION 1. What procedures can be used to minimize some of the potential disadvantages of whole-class teaching? 2. Learners sometimes resist pair or group activities because they prefer to learn from the teacher rather than from one another language learner. Do you think this is a legitimate objection? How can I be addressed? 3. What are some of the implications of moving away from whole-class teaching to small group or pair activities? In what ways are the teacher’s and learner’s roles (a) threatened, and (b) empowered? CONCLUSIONS The interactional dynamics of a lesson can thus be viewed as resulting from the interplay between the teacher’s and the learner’s interactional styles, the moment-to-moment demands of instruction, and the grouping arrangements that have been set up to facilitate teaching and learning. Lessons thus have a constantly changing interactional structure, which can either hinder or support effective language learning.