Development of Children’s Language Awareness in English Teaching Materials
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The paper will focus on the concept of language awareness in the context of young learners. The whole language approach, inductive approach and implicit grammar teaching are advocated in early language education as children by the age of 10 are not able to understand abstract rules and principles. However, for languages to develop naturally grammatical categories have to be present in the instructions. Namely, YL encounter chunks, phrases and sentences, which are learnt in chants, rhymes, songs and stories, to express functions. Then, early foreign language education, including grammar teaching, can be viewed as consciousness raising process or discovery learning through particular activities. What are the ways in which language awareness is being interpreted in English materials for YL? The idea is to analyse syllabuses and course books to identify the latest approaches to teaching grammatical categories in primary schools. The project will involve the analysis of activities that support children’s development of language awareness at their level of cognition.
1. Introduction: teaching grammar to YL
Young learners (YL) develop meta-cognitive awareness, which according to Ellis, is an umbrella term involving language awareness, cognitive awareness, social awareness and cultural awareness. Teachers help YL to understand how they can learn a foreign language with the help of observation, analysis and comparison. Still, they do not benefit from this process of reflection as children by the age of 10 are not able to understand abstract rules and principles (cf. Brewster, Ellis, Girard, 1992:7). A period of learning in primary school can be divided into two stages: early grades and subsequent grades as learners differ in terms of their holistic development, their intellectual and social maturity, ability to read and write, ability to reason logically and develop abstract thinking. The stages are reflected in teaching materials suggested for primary school. The first stage refers to learners in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades who become sensitize to English and experience this language through games, plays, songs and rhymes.
They also begin to experience the process of schooling. The second stage refers to learners in 4th, 5th and 6th grades who are to experience more organized process of foreign language learning, including more systematic teaching of grammar. They have already known the process of schooling. The whole language approach, inductive approach and implicit grammar teaching are advocated in early language education and highlighted in instructional materials for YL. In practice, they encounter grammatical categories in the instructions. Namely, YL encounter chunks, phrases and sentences, which are learnt in chants, rhymes, songs and stories, to express functions. Consequently, early foreign language education, including grammar teaching, can be viewed as consciousness raising process or discovery learning through particular activities.
In Ur’s opinion, there is a number of aspects, which are taught to learners while they are encountering grammatical structures. All of them may be presented in the form of a table (cf. Ur, 1988:6): |Skills |Form of structures |Meaning of structures | |Listening |Perception and recognition of the spoken form of the |Comprehension of what the spoken structure means in | | |structure |context | |Speaking |Production of well-formed examples in speech |Use of the structure to convey meanings in speech | |Reading |Perception and recognition of the written form of the|Comprehension of what the written structure means in | | |structure |context | |Writing |Production of well-formed examples in writing |Use of the structure to convey meanings in writing |
Tab.1. Aspects of the teaching/learning structures according (cf. Ur, 1988:6).
English teachers are supposed to concentrate on the receptive skills in a primary classroom as the official document – Polish core curriculum focuses, first of all, on the comprehension of foreign languages in early language education. The aims of learning foreign languages include psychological, linguistic and cultural preparation. The detailed objectives generally accepted in teaching materials for YL are classified in four following points (cf. Brewster, Ellis, Girard, 1992:5, 54):
a) learn to communicate in English
b) develop a positive attitude to English language learning
c) develop a positive attitude to culture
d) raise awareness of mother tongue and English.
The development of the whole child and her/his meta-cognitive awareness involve: language awareness, cognitive awareness, social and cultural awareness. As far as language awareness is concerned the idea is to stimulate children’s interest and curiosity about language (cf. Hawkins, 1984:4) in order to develop understanding of the mother tongue and other languages. The process requires the implementation of meta-language (in L1 or L2) to discover rules about a language, describe it, and compare rules between L1 and L2. Still, formal teaching of grammar is not a major objective in teaching English to YL but teachers can try to develop language awareness through basic sentence patterns (for example imperative constructions) and attention to the forms of a target language. Namely, it is suggested to introduce discovery grammar activities (problem solving activities), for example YL listen to a story and sequence pictures in the correct order.
It is both the process of solving tasks and teaching grammar as the consciousness-raising process (cf. Ellis, 2002, 167-174 in Richards and Renandya). The idea is to provide opportunities for meaning-focused language use – communication. Development of language awareness in primary schools can occur in three following stages: 1) Noticing new language structures: teachers focus children’s attention to the forms of the target language so they perceive the structure and meaning. 2) Structuring knowledge of the target language system: YL manipulate forms and meanings of the structures in controlled practice (for example drills). 3) Proceduralizing: YL use the target language fluently and communicate in the controlled context (cf. Batstone, 1994:51-54). 2. Research aims
The idea is to analyse a selected number of syllabuses and course books to identify the latest approaches to teaching grammatical categories in primary schools. There is one major aim: 1. To analyse English instructional materials (syllabuses and course books) for YL in terms of raising their language awareness and teaching grammatical categories. The analysis of syllabuses involves three detailed aims:
a) to analyse principles and guidelines for developing children’s language awareness b) to investigate contents in English syllabuses in terms of grammatical categories c) to analyse procedures offered in English syllabuses for teaching grammar. The analysis of course books involves four detailed aims: a) to indicate English contents in terms of grammatical categories b) to indicate the most popular tendencies for grammar presentation c) to indicated the most popular tendencies for grammar practice d) to indicated the most popular tendencies for grammar revision. The research project includes 2 stages:
1. An analysis of English syllabuses for grades 1-3 and grades 4-6 to indicate guidelines for development of children’s language awareness. 2. An analysis of English course books for grades 1-3 and grades 4-6 to investigate tendencies in teaching grammatical categories. 2.1. Research questions
There is one major question and there are two sets of detailed questions that direct this research project: What are the ways in which language awareness is being interpreted in teaching materials for YL? The syllabus study involves the following detailed questions: 1. What do English syllabuses offer for raising children’s language awareness? a) What are the principles concerned with children’s language awareness? b) What are the most popular grammatical categories offered in their content? c) What procedures are suggested in syllabuses for teaching grammar to YL? The course-book study involves the following detailed questions: 1. What are the latest tendencies in teaching grammatical categories in course books? a) How grammatical categories are indicated in contents?
b) What are the most popular tendencies for presentation of grammatical categories in course-books? c) What are the most popular tendencies for practice of grammatical structures in course-books? d) What are the most popular tendencies for revision of grammatical structures in course-books? 2.2. Research tools
Two research tools are designed correspondingly for each stage of the investigation. A syllabus evaluation chart is designed for the first stage and composes of five sections such as code of the syllabus, principles and guidelines for teaching grammar, grammatical categories, procedures for teaching grammar and extra comments. A course-book evaluation checklist is designed for the second stage and includes a list of fourteen questions. The answers are restricted to yes/no answers plus remarks on teaching grammar.
The checklist is divided into seven groups of the following questions: – questions about contents: relate to the grammatical categories indicated at the beginning of course-books; – questions about approaches: relate to the theoretical tendencies suggested in course books for teaching grammar; – questions about grammar selection: relate to the grammatical categories selected for children’s course-books; – questions about grammar sequence: relate to the gradation of the grammatical categories selected for children’s course-books; – questions about grammar presentation: relate to the introduction of new grammatical structures in children’s course-books including issues linked with explanation, examples, terminology and languages (L1, L2); – questions about grammar practice: relate to the context of practising structures in children’s course-books including issues linked with instructions, examples and type of activities; – questions about grammar revision: relate to the review of grammatical structures in children’s course-books. 2.3. Research procedure
The investigation was performed in the spring 2012. It was initiated by syllabus and course book sample selection. Syllabuses and course-books had to fulfil the following criteria (cf. Williams, 1983:251-252): • Practical consideration: materials should have already been implemented in primary schools. • Up-to-date methodology: materials should reflect various psychological, pedagogical and linguistic approaches. • Needs of YL are grouped in two categories: for grades 1-3 and grades 4-6. For the purpose of the investigation 10 syllabuses were selected and coded: S1, S2, S3, S4, S5 (implemented in the early grades) and S6, S7, S8, S9 and S10 (implemented in the subsequent grades). Similarly, 10 course books were selected and coded: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5 (implemented in the early grades) and C6, C7, C8, C9 and C10 (implemented for the subsequent grades). The first stage of this investigation was divided into two levels: evaluation of three syllabuses for grades 1-3 and evaluation of three syllabuses for grades 4-6.
The process required a precise identification of feedback and analysis of data. The following criteria were deigned for the analysis of data in terms of syllabuses (cf. Ur, 1999:33): principles for teaching grammar (raising language awareness), grammatical categories and procedures suggested for teaching grammar. The results from the syllabus evaluation were recorded and compiled on two charts: the first for grades 1-3 and the second for grades 4-6. The final step involved a comparison of the answers collected in the respective stages. The second stage of the investigation was also divided into two levels: evaluation of five course books for the early grades and evaluation of five course books for the subsequent grades. The process also required the analysis of data. The following criteria were deigned for the evaluation of course books (cf. Ur, 1999:33): amount of grammar in contents, approaches to teaching grammar, selection of structures, sequence (gradation) of structures, presentation of grammar (examples, terminology and language used), practice of grammar (context and activities), revision of grammatical categories. 3. Interpretation of the results
The results gathered at all levels of the research lead to a number of the interpretations. As far as the first stage of the investigation is concerned, English syllabuses normally offer a covert way of teaching grammar as the major principle for raising children’s language awareness. In particular, all language syllabuses in the early stage of primary school focus on development of communicative skills, comprehension of the target language (functions e.g. instructions), holistic child development with the integrative approach to knowledge. In terms of teaching grammar, three syllabuses out of five offer a clear principle to teach grammar with any formal explanation of rules. One syllabus does not offer principles on teaching grammar or development of language awareness.
The last syllabus includes the additional objective to the core curriculum statement which relates to development of children’s language awareness, for example to show similarities and differences between languages (in a comparison with L1). The principles concerned with language awareness in syllabuses for YL in the second stage of primary education seem to be much more accurate. All the investigated syllabuses for the subsequent stage of primary school focus on teaching the basic grammar structures and communicative functions as well as competencies such as the ability to ask questions. The idea is to develop language awareness gradually with the increasing number of vocabulary, structures and functions. Moreover, the principle is to develop learner autonomy and cultural awareness as well.
As it is illustrated in the table no. 2 a range of the grammatical categories is presented in a detailed list where all differences are underlined. The major discrepancies relate to the group of nouns, verbs and numbers. A scope of nouns, a selection of tenses (plus conditional sentences or passive construction) as well as numbers are extended in the second stage of primary education in a comparison with the first stage of education. A smaller number of differences occurs in other categories such as pronouns, determiners or conjunctions. The eclectic approach is recommended in terms of procedures for the first stage of primary school. Additionally, mechanical learning of structures is highlighted including model sentences, Q-A drills, fill-in-gaps, songs, chants, puzzles, stories and correction. Grammar is not included in the assessment charts designed for children at this level. Similarly, the syllabuses in the second stage of primary school follow the eclectic approach to teaching YL.
In particular, grammatical categories are taught through dialogues, drills, model sentences stories, fill-in-gaps, role-plays and games. However, both inductive and deductive approaches are suggested for learning/teaching grammar including an analysis of rules and an introduction of terminology such as parts of speech/parts of sentences in L1 or even L2. Grammar is included in the assessment charts designed for the subsequent stage of education. Considering the selected course-books, differences in teaching grammar and raising awareness seem to be even more clear and obvious between the first and second stage of primary education. In particular, grammatical categories as such are not indicated in contents of the course books for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades which are mainly dominated by topics. Still, grammatical categories are pointed clearly in contents of the course books for the 4th, 5th and 6th grades and grouped in various sections, for example entitled “Language Focus”.
As a rule, the implicit and covert way of teaching grammar supports the development of language awareness in the first part of education while more analytical, in/deductive approaches stimulate this process later. The best idea is to compare a range of grammatical categories presented in the table number 2. Then, the basic structures such as imperatives are characteristic for the first part of primary school while more complex structures such as present, past, future structures, or in other words everyday English, are typical for the subsequent stage of learning English. The most popular grammar sequence in the early stage involves the modular and storyline sequence whereas the spiral and modular in the subsequent stage of education.
Introduction of the grammatical categories in all selected course books follows the same pattern in all grades. Initially, structures are presented orally, later their meaning and form and finally structures are re-written (in grades 4-6). The most popular are imperatives and short sentences in the first part of primary education while Q-A sentences and dialogues are the most frequent constructions in the second part of primary school. The grammatical terminology is not included in the course books for the early education whereas the course books for the subsequent education include more (or less) complex grammatical terms that are provided either in L2 or L1, both L1 and L2 depending on authors or tradition of the publishing house.
The most popular activities used for presenting grammar are chants, songs and stories in the first part of education while dialogues, stories and charts in the second part of education. As far as the practice of grammar in the course books is concerned, the most regular type of activities involves fill-in-gaps, puzzles, complete sentences and games with the frequency of 2/3 tasks per lesson in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. The most common type of activities involve drills, dialogues, corrections, fill-in-gaps and multiple-choice with the frequency of 2 up till 6 tasks per lesson in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades.
Finally, a revision of grammar is not provided in the course books for the early education. Later, revisions are provided more and more frequently, for example after each 1, 2 or 3 units in the last part of primary education. At this level course books also offer a summary in L1 or L2. 4. Conclusions
As far as raising of language awareness in primary school is concerned is should be stated that English materials for YL are divided in two groups: for the early grades 1-3 and the later grades 4-6. Consequently, the instructional materials follow the national core curriculum statement and present two different approaches to teaching grammar, which is reflected first in syllabuses and then course-books. It is clear that the amount of grammatical categories in the first stage of primary education is more limited in the comparison with the number of structures introduced in the subsequent years of learning.
In particular, there is a huge “jump” or gap between these two periods of education in terms of teaching grammar and raising language awareness. Namely, presentation and practice of grammar in the subsequent grades is more systematic and highlighted in course-books selection of content then in the previous years. The approach to teaching English is more accuracy-based with the explanation and analysis of rules in L1 or L2 including parts of sentences or speech. At this stage of learning English YL are able to comprehend such details. Then, English teaching materials seems to support more the process of raising language awareness in the second stage of primary education.
1. Batstone, R. 1994. Grammar. Oxford: OUP.
2. Brewster, J., Ellis, G., Girard, D. 2002. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Harlow: Penguin English Guides. 3. Cameron, L. 2001. Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: CUP. 4. Ellis, R. 2002. Grammar Teaching – Practice or Consciousness-Raising? In: J.C. Richards, W.A Renandya (eds.) Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP. 167-174. 5. Hawkins, E. 1984. Awareness of Language. Cambridge: CUP.
6. Komorowska, H. 2005. Metodyka nauczania języków obcych. Warszawa: Fraszka Edukacyjna. 7. Lewis, M. 1986. The English Verb. Hove: Language Teaching Publications. 8. Nagy, P. 2002. Issues and Contexts in Teaching Young Learners. On: http://www.philseflssupport.com/younglearners.html (available on 02/06/02). 1-12. 9. Piechurska-Kuciel, E. 2005. The Importance of Being Aware. Advantages of Explicit Grammar Study. Opole: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Opolskiego. 10. Scott, W. A., Ytreberg, L. H. 1990. Teaching English to Children. Harlow: Longman. 11. Stec, M. 2007. Evaluation Criteria of Foreign Language Methodology Programmes for Primary Teacher Education. In: J. Arabski (ed.) Challenging Tasks for Psycholinguistics in the New Century. Katowice: Oficyna Wydawnicza WW. 639-652. 12. Szpotowicz, M. Szulc-Kurpaska, M. 2009. Teaching English to Young Learners. Warszawa: PWN. 13. Ur, P.
1988. Grammar Practice Activities. A Practical Guide for Teachers. Cambridge: CUP. 14. Ur, P. 1999. A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP. 15. van Lier, L. 2001. Language Awareness. In: R. Carter, D. Nunan (eds.) The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: CUP. 160-165.
 The classification of young learners’ (YL’) age varies in professional literature. Namely, Scott and Ytreberg divide children into two groups: 5-7 year-olds and 8-10 year-olds according to their skills (cf. Scott and Ytreberg, 1990:1-3). Nagy identifies three groups: 5 year-olds, 8 year-olds and 10 year-olds, following such criteria as experience of formal schooling, knowledge of the world and ability to read and write (cf. Nagy, 2002:4). Komorowska distinguishes two groups: 4/5-7/8 year-olds and then 8/9-11/12 year-olds, considering their intellectual and social development (cf. Komorowska, 2005:31-32).