Three Influential Views on Learning

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B.F. Skinner viewed human learning through a behavioral perspective and that we are governed by behavior consequences. Skinner emphasized reinforcement. These reinforcers strengthen behavior and increase that behavior’s reoccurrence. In a language classroom, positive reinforcement might take the form of something as simple as a smile or a compliment. This positive attention encourages students to repeat such desired behavior such as participating, putting in effort, or being helpful.

David Ausubel viewed human learning through a cognitive lens. He describes learning as a meaningful process of relating new material to already existing cognitive structures. Under the Ausubel view, students will better remember new material if they can relate it to what they already know. For example, my school uses an American textbook for their second grade science curriculum. One chapter is about hurricanes. Trying to describe hurricanes to Taiwanese ELLs would be futile without a comparison to typhoons and a map. When introducing this word I started by asking students what happens during typhoons. We then took out a map and I labeled the areas of the world where typhoons and hurricanes form. I emphasized that they are the same type of storm they just start on different areas of the globe. Since the students showed understanding, I also marked up the map further to illustrate where they are called cyclones.

Carl Rogers brought us a social constructivist perspective. Rogers emphasizes learning over teaching and teachers are facilitators in the classroom. Probably having the work of Rogers and other social constructivists in mind the school district I grew up in approved an alternative high school in the 1970s that allowed students freedom to control their own education and write their own contracts setting individual goals and measures of achieving them. Outside of normal subjects, students also had options such as organic farming and witchcraft to choose from. Lack of organizational structures caused enrollment to plummet and the school was eventual incorporated into the district’s other alternative high school.

These three views provide a foundation for my personal view of language learning. From Skinner: The enthusiasm and care that I bring to the classroom for all students encourages individual participation and learning. From Ausubel: Knowing my learners’ backgrounds helps me relate new material to their prior knowledge so they can better learn new material. Finally, from Rogers: I create activities that allow for students to discover patterns before explicitly teaching them and design classwork in which students can work in groups largely independently from me and learn through discovery.

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The Fossilization of Ms. Hsu’s English

Introduction

This project analyzes the language produced by someone who speaks English as a second language. Analysis of a learner’s errors can help shed light on how individuals acquire or fail to acquire a second language. Corder maintained, “A learner’s errors… are significant in they provide evidence of how language is learned or acquired, what strategies or procedures the learner is employing in the discovery of language” (1967, p. 167). This study investigates the speaker’s errors and performance, the sources of these difficulties, social distance, psychological distance and address possible reasons for the speaker’s fossilization. Continue reading The Fossilization of Ms. Hsu’s English

A Reader Who Struggles – A Case Study of Steven

The following case study is a paper I submitted to the graduate faculty of Southeast Missouri State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in TESOL degree.

Abstract

This case study investigates what an individual struggling student’s reading difficulties are and how to remedy these difficulties. Steven (whose name has been changed for anonymity) is a second grade English language learner living in central Taiwan whose English reading ability is far below his classmates. Qualitative data was gathered through surveys, screenings and diagnostic reading tests. Information gathered from these tests helped pinpoint what this struggling student’s reading difficulties are. Using this information a series of teaching strategies are suggested to better meet this student’s instructional needs. One such strategy is differentiated instruction which varies rates of instruction, rates of complexity, and use of support systems to better meet the instructional needs of all learners. Explicit instruction using several research-backed strategies to teach phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension while addressing reading motivation are also essential to closing the reading performance gap for all readers.

Keywords: literacy, differentiated instruction, English language learners Continue reading A Reader Who Struggles – A Case Study of Steven

Encouraging Literacy through Pen Pals

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Last fall my grades one through four English language learners in central Taiwan began writing to their ELL pen pals in southeast Missouri. The slideshow below is just a sample of the more than 40 letters that are sent at a time between our students. The project has been met with a lot of enthusiasm on both sides of the Pacific! On my side I’ve noticed my students have been highly motivated to put a lot of effort into their work and frequently ask for updates about whether or not their letters have been received and how much longer I expect for new letters to arrive.

 

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Professionalism in Taiwan’s Native English Speaking Teacher Population

The following work is research I conducted for my final project in my Problems in TESOL course at Southeast Missouri State University during the fall 2018 semester. A survey was designed and disseminated to gather data about Taiwan’s native English speaking teacher population. Survey responses reveal that a majority of NESTs in Taiwan are male, North American, have more than five years of teaching experience, and rarely have any professional certifications beyond a TEFL certificate. Data also indicates that schools are not supporting their teachers to become better educators as half of all respondents stated that their schools never provide opportunities for professional development. Recommendations are designed based on research by Patten, Parker, and Tannehill (2015) on the importance of professional development. Additional recommendations are made using findings by Kelch (2011) to improve the state of English language teaching in the Far East context.
Continue reading Professionalism in Taiwan’s Native English Speaking Teacher Population

What is Fossilization?

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Fossilization occurs when a learner reaches a plateau in second language acquisition and stops making progress. In fossilization, nonstandard linguistic forms become seemingly permanently incorporate into an individuals L2 competence (Brown, p. 264). Vigil and Oller explain positive feedback as the cause of fossilization. For example, my daughter, whose first language is Mandarin, after seeing a doctor may tell me, “I need to eat this medicine before each meal.” I understand that she means take medicine rather than eat medicine. Eat medicine is a direct translation of the Chinese [chī yào (吃藥)]. I respond by telling her I will remind her before dinner. This positive feedback of my daughter’s utterance could be reinforcing an incorrect form of English. Am I hindering my daughter’s development of English by not correcting her at that moment? I don’t think so. I’m just delighted she chose to speak to me in English over Mandarin so I don’t correct her. When it’s time to take her medicine, I can model the proper form by telling her, “It’s time to take your medicine.” Perhaps by the time her prescription runs out she will internalize the proper form.

I think that fossilized language forms can be corrected. A change of environment such as a student studying abroad could present the language form enough times during the day to internalize the correct form. Enrolling in a class surrounded by other motivated individuals could give the speaker enough practice using the correct form to undo fossilization. I agree with H. Douglas Brown, author of Principles of Language Learning and Teaching in that stabilization may be a more appropriate term over fossilization. Fossilization implies non-changing afterwards. Fossilized trilobites will at no time come back to life but a person’s second language acquisition can reach plateaus and break through them in the correct learning environments.

Reference:

Brown, H. D. (2014). Principles of language learning and teaching: A course in second language acquisition. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.