Language Awareness – an article summary

It’s the end of another extraordinary year and many people are making their New Year’s resolutions and hoping to stick to them at least until the end of January. I consider myself one of them, so I have decided to set the wheels in motion before 2017 comes to an end. Then I’ll be able to say I kept my resolutions for about two months – which is not half bad.

All joking aside, I have taken upon myself to learn more about a topic I’m very passionate about: language awareness for teachers. After asking some more experienced ELT professionals for recommendations, I came across plenty of riveting articles on the topic. This month I’d like to share my thoughts on one of these articles, as I believe it might generate food for thought. For the sake of briefness, this will be a two-part post.

Background

Tony Write and Rod Bolitho have discussed language awareness (LA) for English teachers at great length. Having an active interest in teacher education, they have examined language awareness activities in teacher education courses and suggested a methodological framework for LA activities. They argue that LA plays an important role in connecting teachers’ knowledge of the language and their practices in teaching the language. Consequently, the more aware a teacher is of language and how it works, the more confident they will be carrying out tasks such as preparing lessons; evaluating, adapting, and writing materials; testing and assessing leaners’ performance, as well as other duties which require a sound knowledge of the language.

Language Awareness activities

The authors explore a set of LA activities designed for use in an in-service teacher education session. The sequence of activities begins with the analysis of an authentic text accompanied by questions which prompt teachers to reflect on the use of reported speech. This kind of task provides the participants with an opportunity to draw on their previous knowledge which potentially leads to insights based on everyday contemporary use of the language.

The second activity encourages teachers to think of why the writer chose to use direct or indirect speech. Guessing, hypothesizing, and brainstorming are processes participants are likely to go through while discussing and sharing their ideas in small groups.

After that, teachers consult a reference grammar and compare data sources on the use of direct and indirect speech. At this point, the insights from earlier analysis and discussions can be applied to new data, which could be regarded as the first step towards bridging the gap between LA and teaching practice.

The fourth activity invites participants to evaluate exercises taken from grammar practice books. Teachers are asked to consider a) what learners are likely to learn about reported speech by doing the exercises; b) what learners are likely not to learn; c) which of these exercises, if any, they would use with their learners, and why. Now introduced to yet another source of data, they will employ not only their previous knowledge but also the ideas exchanged during the previous stages. Their previous knowledge will, therefore, be polished.

The last activity requires course participants to write a language learning exercise based on their insights into reported speech yielded in activities 1-4. Teachers could then trial and evaluate their own exercises in the classroom. Write and Bolitho suggest that this approach fosters classroom activity and can contribute towards a greater awareness of classroom processes by teachers.

 

Write, T. and Bolitho, R. (1993) Language awareness: a missing link in language teacher education? ELT Journal, Volume 47 (Issue 4), 292-304.

Leandro Zuanazzi

Leandro Zuanazzi has been working as a teacher since 2011. He holds the CELTA and the CPE. He is very passionate about professional development for teachers.

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