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Teaching Learner Strategies for Vocabulary Acquisition by Darron Board - 3

She suggest that there are a number of factors which problematise the implementation of SI:

cultural differences
age
educational background of students
students' beliefs about language learning
teachers' beliefs about language learning
varying cognitive styles

Rees-Miller also questions whether the effects of SI (if any) are long-term and suggested that longitudinal research to measure this was necessary. She also voiced a concern that is directly applicable to my personal situation: how teachable are learning strategies? (1993:687).

Strategy Instruction Frameworks
If I am to encourage my learners to develop a repertoire of strategies, what exactly am I supposed to do? A number of theoretical frameworks have been developed by SI researchers, of which two of the most influential will be highlighted here.
Chamot and Rubin (1994) (responding to Rees-Miller's critique) outlined a "broad" approach, which is summarised in Cohen (1998:108):
Making SI effective involves:

1. discovering and discussing strategies that students already use for specific learning tasks e.g. learning and reviewing vocabulary
2. presenting new strategies by explicitly naming and describing them
3. modelling the strategies
4. explaining why and when the strategies can be used
5. providing extensive practice

Chamot and Rubin also argue that this framework has to be considered with other factors such as the length of time spent on instruction, the degree of integration of the instruction into the regular curriculum and normal classroom activities and the extent to which the teacher has been trained in strategy instruction.
Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary and Robbins (1996) went on to develop a more elaborate version of this framework. The basic idea behind the framework is that SI is "scaffolded" so that in the early stages of instruction teachers have responsibility for explaining and modelling the strategies. Gradually students increase their responsibility until they can independently use the strategies being taught.

Teaching Strategies
Many current strategy instruction materials put particular emphasis on cognitive and metacognitive strategies. Cognitive strategies can be described as those which "involve interacting with the material to be learned, manipulating the material mentally or physically or applying a specific technique to a learning task" (O'Malley and Chamot 1990). Metacognitive strategies "involve thinking about the learning process, planning for learning, monitoring the learning task and evaluation how well one has learned" (ibid.). Metacognitive strategies involve both knowledge about learning (metacognitive learning) and control or evaluation over learning (i.e. metacognitive strategies). Metacognitive knowledge refers to knowledge of one's own cognitive processes. According to Brown et al (1983), it is stable, this it is retrievable for use with learning tasks. It is also stable in that it can be reflected on and used as the topic of discussion with others. Nevertheless, it may be fallible, so that what one believe about one's cognitive processes may be inaccurate, such as the belief that simple rote repetition is the key that underlies all learning. It seems to appear late in development, since the ability of learners to step back from learning and reflect on their cognitive processes may require prior learning experiences as a point of reference. With advanced learners, therefore, the process should be more straightforward and may be more an exercise in getting them to reflect on their previous learning experiences.
It is all very well to talk about the advantages of teaching strategies and of the nature and use of them, but the teacher needs to develop an awareness of the nature of learning and teaching. This very often requires the teacher to shift conceptually in his/her way of thinking about teaching and learning. Nyikos (1996) argues that the shift requires teachers to:

· understand the learning process from the point of view of the learner
· change their teaching strategies to "assist learning strategy development among students" (1996:110)

As a teacher interested in the area, I found Nyikos' grouping of teachers very illuminating. She found that not all teachers were simply able to take the principles behind SI on board without any problem and devised the following grouping:

Teacher type
Description
assimilators
· teachers who are able to effectively adapt their teaching practice to promote strategy instruction
middle-grounders
· teachers who manage the conceptual shift to a certain extent, but not entirely
resisters
· teachers who are unable to let go of a transmission model of teaching

 

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