The last several months have been fascinating because I have spent half of my time teaching a second language class and the other half helping Nina to teach how second languages are learned to pre-service teachers at the University of Toronto.
I would spend a morning immersed in sharing what is known about the processes involved in second language acquisition, and then in the afternoon, I would witness those processes in motion. For example, on one morning, we went over White’s (1998, 2008) stages of development of the acquisition of possessive determiners for French-speaking learners of English. White found that the learners in her study went through several stages of development in learning how to use “his” and “her” in English. In the pre-emergence stage, the learners often used “your” instead of “his” or “her” and in doing so avoided the need to assign gender to the determiners. I was tickled to watch the same pattern appear in many of the paragraphs I assigned to my ESL class that afternoon. This phenomenon occurred in the work of several of my Spanish-speaking students but not at all in the work of my Chinese-speaking students.
Similar occurrences happen often in my work at Centennial, and I get quite excited about them. (Even though my colleagues always listen with a smile to my incessant babbling about such things, I have to wonder if they secretly suspect that the polar vortex is beginning to affect my mind; not everyone gets really excited about possessive determiners you see!)
Anyway, I am finding that my current work is affording me the opportunity to put the ‘applied’ into ‘applied linguistics’. I thought that I would make a few posts to share how this is going. This first one is related to noticing.
When learners are taught grammar through communicative activities, it is easy for learners to miss the grammar and attend only to the meaning. Richard Schmidt’s (1990, 1995) noticing hypothesis states that noticing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for learning. However, L2 teachers would be ill-advised (to say the least!) to assign Schmidt (1995) as reading homework for intermediate-level ESL learners.
Nonetheless, I was eager to share with my students how important it was for them to occasionally shift their attention to the grammar in the communicative activities they were doing. Thus, after reading a fairly interesting text about Voyager 1, I asked the learners to watch the following youtube clip. (All of our classrooms at Centennial are smart classrooms. These rooms provide a wide array of excellent pedagogical opportunities!) Anyway, I invite you to watch the clip. before reading any further.
Hello again. So, did you notice the moonwalking bear? None of my students did, and they were quite taken by their own lack of awareness. (They enthusiastically had me play the clip a few more times during our coffee break!)
After we watched the clip, I asked them to think back to the Voyager 1 story and tell me if they remembered any uses of the present continuous tense. The text is seeded with them, but very few of the students could be certain if they had seen any. Of course, I then allowed them to return to the text and find some examples of the tense, which they did with ease, but it was an eye-opener for them about how easy it was to fail to pay attention to the grammar when focusing solely on meaning. Since that day, when I wish to be sure that they will pay some attention to the grammar in what we are doing, I remind them to remember the bear. Sometimes, I merely have to moonwalk across the front of the classroom, and I see the lights go on in their eyes.