Learning theories in practice/Content-Based Learning

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Content-Based Learning[edit | edit source]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Content-based instruction has been used in a variety of language learning contexts for the last twenty-five years, though its popularity and wider applicability have increased dramatically in the past ten years. Early versions of content-based instruction (CBI) were used in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) programs, second language immersion programs for K-12 students, early foreign language magnet classrooms, and a variety of second language (L2) vocational and workplace instructional contexts. More recently, content-based language instruction has extended into other settings. For instance, it has become a widespread approach in K-12 classrooms (in both first language (L1) and L2 contexts), in university-level foreign language instruction, in various bilingual education contexts in Europe, and in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs. In short, the development of content-based language curricula is gaining prominence in a wide range of contexts. A number of factors account for the rise in popularity of CBI. (Stoller, 1997)

Purpose[edit | edit source]

Content-based learning is not a new methodology in the U.S.; however, for Asian students, such as those Taiwanese students, it’s still an unfamiliar learning approach. For instance, teachers in Taiwan tend to ask students to learn the vocabularies, grammar, and pronunciations by memorizing, instead of providing a vivid explanations, activities, or relative circumstances. The other reason is that Taiwan is an EFL(English as Foreign Language)context, rather than ESL (English as Second Language)setting. Hence, students regard learning English as a boring, tiring, and torturing task. As a result, even though Taiwan government has been promoting and practicing English education for a long time, to most citizens, English is still a foreign language, not a second language. This chapter’s purpose is to make the cotent-based pedagogy widely known to educators in Taiwan.

What is content-based instruction?[edit | edit source]

The focus of a CBI lesson is on the topic or subject matter such as global warming, the Civil War, science, math, or social studies. During the lesson, students are made to focus on learning about something. This could be anything that interests them, from a serious science subject to their favorite pop star, or even a topical news story or film. They learn about this subject using the language they are trying to learn, rather than their native language, as a tool for developing knowledge, so they develop their linguistic ability in the target language. This approach is thought to be a more natural way of developing language ability and one that corresponds more to the way we originally learn our first language.

What does a content-based instruction lesson look like?[edit | edit source]

There are many ways to approach creating a CBI lesson. Listed below is one possible way.

Preparation:[edit | edit source]

1. Choose a subject of interest to students.

2. Find three or four suitable sources that deal with different aspects of the subject. Be aware that these could be websites, reference books, or audio or video of lectures or even real people.

During the lesson:[edit | edit source]

1. Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a small research task and a source of information to use to help them fulfill the task.

2. Then once they have done their research they form new groups with students that used other information sources and share and compare their information.

3. There should then be some product as the end result of this sharing of information which could take the form of a group report or presentation of some kind.

Teachers' perspectives[edit | edit source]

Teachers in content-based instruction may be content specialists who use the target language for instruction, or language specialists who are using content for language instruction. To be effective in their roles, they will need the knowledge, skills and concepts required for content delivery in the target language. All teachers in content-based instruction have similar professional needs, but the degree to which they will need certain knowledge or skills may vary by their assignment. To be successful, it will be helpful for teachers to be well prepared in the following areas.

Content knowledge:[edit | edit source]

Obviously, it will be hard to teach content if teachers do not know it themselves. While content teachers will be prepared in their own disciplines, it may be particularly challenging for teachers trained as language specialists who are not familiar with the content. Some language teachers are uncomfortable teaching content in fields they may have struggled with themselves, such as mathematics.

Content pedagogy:[edit | edit source]

There are identifiable strategies that make content instruction more effective. Some content specialists have had no training in pedagogy, particularly at the postsecondary Level. Because learning content in a new language can pose difficulties for students, it is essential that teachers (regardless of their content or language orientation) have a repertoire of strategies at their disposal to give students multiple opportunities to access content in meaningful,and comprehensible ways. Language specialists, in particular, will need opportunities to become skilled in content-appropriate instructional strategies if they are to teach or use content appropriately. For example, while few secondary school art teachers would deem it appropriate to lecture students as slides of famous works of art paraded on the screen, some language teachers have used this approach when incorporating art into language lessons.

Understanding of language acquisition:[edit | edit source]

All teachers in content-based instruction will benefit from an understanding of the processes involved in second language acquisition. Selecting and sequencing appropriate learning experiences will be facilitated if teachers understand how language develops in instructed settings.

Language pedagogy:[edit | edit source]

Promoting language growth can and should be done by content-based teachers, even those who work in settings where content, not language, is a primary program goal (Snow, Met, & Genesee, 1989). Language learning can be planned as part of every content lesson, and teachers can use strategies drawn from language pedagogy to help students gain language skills. In fact, in doing so, they will further the goals of content instruction, since the better students know the language, the more easily they can learn content through it.

Knowledge of materials development and selection:[edit | edit source]

When students learn content through a new language they will need a variety of instructional materials. Print and non-print resources developed for native speakers may need modification or adaptation. Teachers may also need to develop their own materials. Criteria for selecting and developing materials include accessibility of language, text organization that facilitates comprehension (e.g., headings and sub-headings), availability of non-linguistic supports to meaning (illustrations, graphs, and diagrams), and degree of cultural knowledge required for comprehension.

Understanding of student assessment:[edit | edit source]

Teachers will need to understand the principles that undergird assessment across disciplines. It will be helpful for teachers to be familiar with a range of assessment options, and the contexts in which they are most likely to provide answers regarding student progress. These options may also need to integrate language and content assessments as well as allow learning to be measured independently.

Students’ perspectives[edit | edit source]

Motivation:[edit | edit source]

CBI can make learning a language more interesting and motivating. Students can use the language to fulfill a real purpose, which can make students both more independent and confident.

Developing wider knowledge:[edit | edit source]

Students can also develop a much wider knowledge of the world through CBI which can feedback into improving and supporting their general educational needs.

Academic purpose:[edit | edit source]

CBI is extremely popular among EAP (English for Academic Purposes) teachers as it helps students to develop valuable study skills such as note taking, summarizing and extracting key information from texts.

Transferable skills:[edit | edit source]

Taking information from different sources, re-evaluating and restructuring that information can help students to develop valuable thinking skills that can then be transferred to other subjects.

Improving social skills:[edit | edit source]

The inclusion of a group work element within the framework given above can also help students to develop their collaborative skills, which can have great social value. By social interaction, they can learn from each other and bring their strengths into their groups.

Assessing students' progress[edit | edit source]

What determines student progress in content-based instruction? What are some appropriate approaches to assessing what students have learned? The answers to these questions are likely to reflect course priorities and where on the continuum a program lies. In content-driven programs, it is important to ascertain whether students are gaining mastery over the content. This issue may be of particular concern if content is important and students are learning it in a language in which they are not proficient.

It is possible that students will know content relatively well, even if they cannot demonstrate the depth of their understanding through language. Since good content teaching uses strategies that allow learners to access content even when their language skills are limited, students may be able to show rather than explain their understanding. To demonstrate their academic progress, students may call on the same strategies that teachers use during instruction, using concrete objects, diagrams, body language, or other paralinguistic supports to convey meaning. For example, students may understand how simple machines work, or be able to carry out complex algebraic tasks, but not be able to explain how they arrived at their answer. Teachers will need to decide when content learning should be assessed independently of language. Often, however, it may be desirable for content and language to be assessed in an integrated manner. The need to verbalize thought frequently requires more precise control over concepts than does demonstrating understanding. Writing requires clear thinking, and helps pinpoint fuzzy understanding. Some advocates of cooperative learning have argued that it is through the verbal interactions of peer teaching that students begin to deepen their own understanding of content (Davidson & Worsham, 1992). Thus, it may be important to require that students in integrated content/language programs be assessed on content through the target language. For example, content learning is the ultimate goal for ESL learners, and academic English is the key to success. For these students, it can be important to assess language and content learning together. In the adjunct model, language and content share equal importance and may need to be assessed together.

In contrast, teachers are more likely to assess language growth than content mastery in language-driven courses. Since content is a vehicle for promoting language outcomes, teachers and students do not usually feel accountable for content learning. However, some aspects of content may need to be integrated into language assessments. Good and equitable assessment tasks mirror those used for instruction. Since language cannot be used in a vacuum, and must be used to communicate about something, it is likely that language assessment will need to be based on the topics and tasks used in instruction. As a result, while content mastery may not be a focus of assessment in theory, it may be difficult in practice to separate content from language.

Weakness[edit | edit source]

The benefit of such a program from an instructor's point of view is that motivation levels of students are high. The student needs to understand language in order to get the vocational skills. However, as has been said, it is important that the student is at a language level which is close enough to comprehend. If this is the case, the student is in a position to improve language skills within the context of pursuing a career path. On the other hand, if the language skills are not at a level where the student can comprehend the input, he will be in a double-bind: he cannot improve his language and he is missing out on the content. The administrators and instructors must be careful to ensure that all students in a classroom are at a level where the cognitive load of language and content learning is not too great.

What are the potential problems?[edit | edit source]

• Because CBI isn't explicitly focused on language learning, some students may feel confused or may even feel that they aren't improving their language skills. You can deal with this by including some form of language focused follow-up exercises to help draw attention to linguistic features within the materials and consolidate any difficult vocabulary or grammar points.

• Particularly in monolingual classes, the over use of the students' native language during parts of the lesson can be a problem. Because the lesson is not explicitly focused on language practice, students find it much easier and quicker to use their mother tongue. Try sharing your rationale with students and explain the benefits of using the target language rather than their mother tongue.

• It can be hard to find information sources and texts that lower levels can understand. Also the sharing of information in the target language may cause great difficulties. A possible way around this at lower levels is either to use texts in the students' native language and then get them to use the target language for the sharing of information and end product, or to have texts in the target language, but allow the students to present the end product in their native language. These options should reduce the level of challenge.

• Some students may copy directly from the source texts they use to get their information. Avoid this by designing tasks that demand students evaluate the information in some way, to draw conclusions or actually to put it to some practical use. Having information sources that have conflicting information can also be helpful as students have to decide which information they agree with or most believe.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

While CBI can be both challenging and demanding for the teacher and the students, it can also be very stimulating and rewarding. The degree to which teachers adopt this approach may well depend on the willingness of students, the institution in which one works, and the availability of resources within the environment. It could be something that the school wants to consider introducing across the curriculum or something that teachers experiment with just for one or two lessons. Whichever you choose to do it should be beneficial to try to involve other teachers within your school, particularly teachers from other subjects. Such involvement could help you both in terms of finding sources of information and having the support of others in helping evaluating the work.

Lastly, try to involve the students. Get them to help you decide what topics and subjects the lessons will be based around and find out how they feel this kind of lessons compares to your usual lessons. In the end, they will be the measure of your success.

Scope[edit | edit source]

Students in the 12-20 age brackets coincide with a time of rapid transition and change, both mentally and physically. As teenagers begin to develop more cognitive ability, they can be exposed to language learning techniques that require more logical and/or abstract thinking. Probably the most important considerations for these learners are "affective" ones. Issues related to ego and self-esteem are at their height, and teenagers can be incredibly sensitive to the ways others see their physical, mental, and emotional development. Teachers of these students need to be able to find ways to draw on and develop cognitive, analytical, and logic skill. In view of this, content-based learning provides mental and cognition mature students a more effective and significant learning approach in acquiring vocabulary, reading, listening and writing. They will not only learn the subject knowledge but also the language usage in that field in academic way and day-to -day way.

References[edit | edit source]

Beckett, G.H.. “Content-based esl writing curriculum: a language socialization model.” 11/01/2007, from http://njrp.tamu.edu/2004/PDFs/Beckett .pdf

Content (adj) or Content (n) With Your English Classes? 11/02/2007, from http://www.contentenglish.org/data/dickey-ei.pdf

Stoller F. L..” Content-based instruction: a shell for language teaching or a framework for strategic language and content learning?” 11/02/2007, from http://www.carla.umn.edu/cobaltt/modules/strategies/Stoller2002/READING1/stoller2002.htm

“Subject-matter content: How does it assist the interactional and linguistic needs of classroom language learners?” 11/02/2007, from http://www.contentenglish.org/data/dickey-ei.pdf

Michael K. (1998). “Integrating technology across the curriculum: internet/computer writing resources for a content-based curriculum” 11/01/2007, from http://www.lclark.edu/~krauss/tesol98/home.html

Shih, M. (Dec., 1986) Content-Based Approaches to Teaching Academic Writing. TESOL Quarterly, 20,(4)., pp. 617-648.

Dong, Y.R. (2002) “Integrating Language and Content: How Three Biology Teachers work with non-english speaking students”

Davidson, N. & Worsham. T. (eds.), 1992. Enhancing thinking through cooperative learning. New York: Teachers College Press.

Snow. M. A, Met. M., & Genesee. F. (1989)A conceptual framework for the integration of language and content in second/foreign language instruction

Snow. M. A. (1988). Trends and Issues in Content-Based Instruction