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Upgrading Communication Skills

Upgrading Communication Skills
Hwang, Hyeung Hong
Issue Date
외국어교육특수대학원 TESOL학과
이화여자대학교 외국어교육특수대학원
Introduction English learning courses in Korean middle schools place great emphasis on developing the ability to achieve high scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (KSAT). The test is designed to assess reading comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar knowledge. It also contains a few questions to assess listening ability. Accordingly, a considerable portion of English language teaching in Korean middle schools is devoted to vocabulary and grammar learning in order to improve their reading comprehension on limited types of texts such as academic and technical texts. The most often used teaching practice is line-by-line translation of test texts, while the memorization of vocabulary from the target text is a common technique for gaining translation ability. The KSAT does not include speaking and writing components, thus leading to very little, if any, teaching of speaking and writing at middle schools. It has been an open secret that students as well as teachers do not bother to deal with productive skills in middle school classrooms (Choi, 2008). In other words, most Koreans students rarely have a chance to develop speaking and writing skills in class, which is attributed to the unbalanced language development between receptive and productive skills. In consideration of this current situation, the textbook aims to make receptive the skills of reading and listening interact with the productive skills of speaking, and writing, while employing meaningful and practical tasks. The target learners are a group of middle and high school students of 15-17 years of age participating in an extra-curricular class for two hours per week over a period of four months. Their level of language proficiency is lower intermediate according to ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe) or B1 in CEF (Common European Framework of Reference for Language). They have never learned English in English speaking countries, and have seldom been exposed to authentic language learning environment in during their secondary education. Through observing the performance of placement test, it was found that they have already learned basic vocabulary and sentence patterns to express themselves in everyday situations, and they can understand general ideas from listening to familiar topics when strongly supported by text context. However, in regards to their productive language skills, it was found that their written sentences were not only limited to a short length with simple connectors, but also their spoken sentences are limited to a simple description of events and feelings of everyday life. Lack of practice in speaking and writing was obviously detected in from their performance. Since the target learners voluntarily choose to enroll in the extra-curricular class, most of them are self motivated and their language goals were clear. Interviews with the students showed that they want to express their voices through oral and written communication skills outside of classroom. Considering their expectations and needs, the teaching syllabus focuses on developing the students’ practical and fluent speaking/writing skills by providing the students’ with opportunities to use language resources available for communicative purposes. Method and Rationale The textbook adopts the view of language from Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and it employs its organizing principle based on Task Base Language Teaching (TBLT). Richards and Rodgers (2001) state that the aim of CLT is to make communicative competence the goal of language teaching, to develop procedures for the teaching of the four skills, and to acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication. Compared with approaches that are primarily or even exclusively form-focused orientation, CLT is designed to engage learners thru pragmatic, functional, and authentic use of the target language. In addition, CLT does a much better job in improving learners’ fluency and communicative confidence in the L2 (Lightbown and Spada, 1990). To support the communicative approach, the textbook adopts the theory of TBLT. According to Willis (2007), the proponents of task-based teaching argue that the most effective way to teach a language is by engaging learners in real language use in the classroom. This is done by designing tasks (e.g. discussion, problems, games) which require learners to use the language for themselves (p. 10). Ellis (2003) defines a task as a work plan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that can be evaluated in terms of whether the correct or appropriate propositional content has been conveyed (p. 35). To this end, it requires them to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance, direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language activities, a task can engage productive or receptive skills, oral or written skills and also require various cognitive processes (p.16). With this concept of ‘task’, the textbook takes into account the seven steps of developing units of work suggested by Nunan (2004, pp. 29-31): schema building; controlled practice; authentic listening practice; focus on linguistic elements; provide freer practice; and introduce the pedagogical task. The textbook is designed for each activity to provide scaffolding for the consecutive step. For instance, a “Warm Up” section activates student’s prior knowledge related to the topic of a lesson and it leads to the activation of skills and knowledge for listening and reading. “Listen Up” and “Reading Challenge” provide language models for speaking and writing. The “Language Focus” section analyzes the grammar structures used in the listening and reading so as to scaffold the speaking and writing tasks. The next step, “One Step Further” helps learners with rehearsal before they tackle the communicative task. In the final task, “Group Project”, students are challenged to use all language skills they have developed from each activity. The reasons the textbook adopts Nunan’s (2004) task-based teaching are twofold: the location where the focus of language form appears in his cycle and the rational for a pedagogical task. According to Willis (2007), instead of a teacher-initiated focus on form, learners explore the language in response to a need to express required meaning (p.21) It indicates that learners indirectly experience language forms through listening activities and reading passages, not by following some of the forms that the teacher focuses at the beginning stage. Particularly, in Nunan’s cycle, language analysis comes before the pedagogical task. This helps learners to reflect the language structure they have explored and prepare them for the following pedagogical task. Furthermore, Nunan’s pedagogical task at the end of sequence has learners reintegrate formal, functional, and meaningful aspects of language. Nunan defines pedagogical task as a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulation, producing or integrating the target language in order to express meaning, and in which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form. His concept of what should happen in the classroom goes beyond performing the task which caters specifically to what learners will need to do in the real–world. He places emphasis on the transformation of real world tasks into pedagogical tasks- incorporation of more rational, or principled connections between real world needs and knowledge of psycholinguistic processes involved in language learning. This textbook is framed with a wide range of real world and pedagogical tasks such as a making a flyer, designing a blog, role-play, creating a brochure, designing a robot, simulation, information gap, and problem-solutions, all which involve less cognitively challenging (e.g. listing, classifying, ordering, matching, comparing) to cognitively complex tasks (e.g. solving problems, sharing opinions, creative project). In addition, these tasks can provide learners with the opportunity to interact with others in pairs and group. For example, learners discuss the topic in pairs and negotiate meanings to reach a group consensus and they are expected to incorporate what they learned into communicative tasks while working in groups or pairs. Reading and listening skills are integrated into a variety of activities and tasks, which prepares students to perform the communicative speaking and writing tasks. It this way, students can make the most use of learned language to express their thoughts or opinions. Furthermore, since student’s learning preference and degree of intrinsic motivation differ, the textbook varies the difficulty of language input and output, and includes a variety of interesting activities like information gap filling and quiz-games. The textbook also covers topics relevant to students’ life styles such as making a personal blog and recruiting new members for their hobby club, with the aim to keep students engaged with the learning process. Expected outcomes From the textbook activities, by the end of the program learners will be have improved their fluency in oral communication through discussing a variety of topics, sharing experiences, and working on the group projects. Furthermore, they will have strengthened their writing ability through practical writing tasks. As they become aware that fluent speaking and writing skills are as important as accuracy in English language learning, students can acquire useful communicative skills and gain the confidence to effectively communicate and interact with others in spontaneous situations. Conclusion Given that English teaching in Korean public middle and high schools is focused on developing receptive skills and grammar knowledge, teaching practical writing and speaking skills have been neglected in the English classroom. This results in stifling students’ attempts to enter universities or their plans to study abroad. The textbook is designed to develop oral and written communication skills while interacting with others in a purposeful context. Therefore, students are given ample opportunities to practice using language resources for a variety of functions. Especially, they can understand and create messages while understanding knowing the importance of meaning rather than the form of language they use. As students gradually acquire the language through the textbook’s cognitive learning process, they can develop well balanced language skills. Also, the cooperative learning through doing tasks can facilitate them to negotiate communicative meanings.
석사학위를 수여받기 위해 제출된 포트폴리오임;☞ 이 논문은 저자가 원문공개에 동의하지 않은 논문으로, 도서관 내에서만 열람이 가능하며, 인쇄 및 저장은 불가합니다.
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