An Analysis and Example of Consciousness
Raising in the EFL Classroom
by James Broadbridge
Considering the question of when to turn on the spotlight. We need to do so when a need for ‘negative evidence’ is required to assist in the creation of hypotheses. Also when students have a lack of exposure we can prepare them for acquisition: “It contributes to the processes of noticing and comparing and, therefore, prepares the grounds for the integration of new linguistic material.” (Ellis 1991:238) We should not use CR if fluency of production is the goal, but we can increase understanding and knowledge through highlighting certain areas:
“CR is considered as a potential facilitator for the acquisition of linguistic competence and has nothing directly to do with the use of that competence for the achievement of specific communicative objectives, or with the achievement of fluency.” (Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith 1985)
While not attempting to change the ‘natural order’ of acquisition there is no harm in preparing the student, and if a student is not yet ready to acquire the form, it is believed that it will be stored and used to aid acquisition when the student becomes ready to acquire the structure.
“…if the learner is unable to integrate the new feature as implicit knowledge, she can construct an alternative explicit representation which can be stored separately and subsequently accessed when the learner is developmentally primed to handle it. (Ellis 1991: 239)
The question of what to focus on is a more complex one, The example of a CR activity in Ellis (1991: 240) has been criticized by Willis (1997) for the simplicity of the grammar highlighted. When English has clear rules such as the difference in use between the time expressions ‘for’ and ‘since’ in present perfect sentences, CR is clearly of benefit. A simple rule can be created very easily, through a few example sentences. However, not all rules in the English language are so clear. Appendix 1 is based on the same Ellis (1991) activity, but focuses on a different grammar structure: comparisons with adjectives, usually taught in low-level textbooks. The grammatical structure can be described with a rule that covers longer adjectives requiring ‘more’ and short adjectives the suffix ‘er’ to make comparisons. This is nothing more than a general guide, it does not take a long time to think of an adjective that does not fit this rule. Along with this is the problem highlighted by Shortall (2002) who through research into Corpus Linguistics has found evidence that adjectives are not actually compare in this way, instead we are more likely to compare nouns, ‘Mary has more money than Jane’ being more likely to be used than: ‘Mary is richer than Jane’. Therefore we are left with an exercise that provides the students with a rule that works some of the time for a structure that actual L1 speakers very rarely use. However, by using this style of exercise, the teacher can fulfill the requirements of the course, help students prepare for examinations, and meet the students’ expectations of what constitutes a teacher. All points which will be discussed in the final section of this article.
Consciousness Raising in the Japanese University Classroom
The problem all teachers face is how to best balance the needs of the students whilst fulfilling criteria for testing as laid out by administrators who are looking at the whole department or course as a whole, rather than the needs of one specific group of students. Often the means of testing students will come down to their performance in a final examination at the end of the semester, which focuses on grammar, reading and listening skills. The teacher is then faced with the dilemma of providing students with the knowledge they require to pass the test, but knowing that this might not what is required to increase their interest and motivation to study the language, nor does it provide them with an opportunity to use the L2, which is often lacking from their previous studies of English at High School and Junior High School.
The dilemma the teacher has is one in which he or she must decide how to satisfy the needs of their students. While a lesson, which aids their fluency of production, and gives them the time to talk they require may improve their speaking ability, it might not ultimately help them pass a test in which they are required to display a knowledge of grammar. Coupled to this is the fascination in Japan, both within universities and in the wider business community, with the TOEIC test as a means of rating English ability. Students wishing to succeed in certain companies will be aware that their time might be better spent focusing on improving the skills needed to achieve a high TOEIC score, rather than improve their speaking ability. This clearly leaves the teacher in a difficult position, but CR is a solution to this dilemma, especially if it is of the type described by Fotos (1994): in which Grammar Consciousness Raising Tasks were used, which she described as being communicative, but with “an L2 grammar problem as the task content”(Fotos 1994:325). It engages the students “in meaning-focused use of the target language as they solve the grammar problem” (ibid). By using these tasks in the classroom it would fulfill both the needs of the students communicatively and also meets the requirements of the University and any future employers. Fotos’ study found that there was a significant short-term improvement in her students proficiency in the structures targeted. Whilst making no claims to improving their proficiency in the long-term, the fact that short-term ability is affected by this type of task, highlights a strength when students are working toward examinations. Fotos concludes quite correctly, that there is a need for empirical studies that investigate whether this style of task is more effective for grammar than traditional teacher-fronted grammar lessons, whilst also looking into whether this kind of task is as effective as traditional task based lessons. If the benefits are similar then this is an excellent way to combine the two and have grammar taught in a way that is in the L2 and more fun for the students than the traditional grammar lessons. A very simple grammar CR task can be found in Appendix 2. It is just a simple information gap exercise in which two students would work together to construct a rule, and having done so would then use the rule to construct new sentences. This style of exercise promotes communicative, meaningful discourse, however, whether it successfully brings the grammar to a level of consciousness, and helps students with the acquisition of the grammar, is another thing. As Fotos said, without research, there is no way of knowing this. We need to know if it works in the long term as well as the short term. This style of task however satisfies students desire for a fun, communicative lesson; and also fulfils the students’ needs for both grammar and L2 communication in the classroom, as well as meeting the student expectations as discussed earlier.
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