mardi 16 novembre 2010

Constructivism in Foreign language teaching


As Standards for Foreign Language Learning by ACTFL ACTFL American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages suggests, communication skills are essential in foreign language/L2 acquisition. The author of this article identifies a constructivist con·struc·tiv·ism
A movement in modern art originating in Moscow in 1920 and characterized by the use of industrial materials such as glass, sheet metal, and plastic to create nonrepresentational, often geometric objects. approach as a useful and effective tool for improving communication skills in foreign language/L2 education. Although the aim of this article is not to overwhelm o·ver·whelm
tr.v. o·ver·whelmed, o·ver·whelm·ing, o·ver·whelms
1. To surge over and submerge; engulf: waves overwhelming the rocky shoreline.

a. readers with the complicated paradigm of constructivism constructivism, Russian art movement founded c.1913 by Vladimir Tatlin, related to the movement known as suprematism. After 1916 the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner gave new impetus to Tatlin's art of purely abstract (although politically intended) , it hopes to present a practical option in applying a constructivist approach in basic lesson plans.

One of the prerequisites in foreign language/L2 acquisition is to become good communicators using the target language. Accordingly, Standards for Foreign Language Learning established by ACTFL (Standards, 1996) emphasizes the importance of communication skills in foreign language/L2 learning. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3. the standards (1996), although recognizing the value of grammar and vocabulary is important, the ultimate goal of today's foreign language students is to acquire the ability to communicate with others in meaningful and appropriate ways. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , foreign language learners must become critical thinkers who know how to apply language or convey their thoughts in a variety of situations.

Effective classroom instruction strategies require more than an understanding of the significance of communication skills. To foster students to become proficient pro·fi·cient
Having or marked by an advanced degree of competence, as in an art, vocation, profession, or branch of learning.

An expert; an adept. communicators, instructors must provide foreign language/L2 learners with conditions for applying and practicing the language they have just learned, yet, "language classes limit adequate practice opportunities for each student" (Lee, 1995, 11). Although various factors affect this problem, this paper identifies three issues: (1) overcrowded o·ver·crowd
v. o·ver·crowd·ed, o·ver·crowd·ing, o·ver·crowds
To cause to be excessively crowded: a system of consolidation that only overcrowded the classrooms. classrooms; (2) limited availability When customers of the PSTN make telephone calls, they commonly make use of a telecommunications network called a switched-circuit network. In a switched-circuit network, devices known as switches are used to connect the caller to the callee. of target language speakers; and (3) conventional foreign language textbooks based on behavioristic be·hav·ior·ism
A school of psychology that confines itself to the study of observable and quantifiable aspects of behavior and excludes subjective phenomena, such as emotions or motives. learning. A constructivist approach is one way to address those issues.

This paper will first briefly explain constructivism. Next this paper will present the instructional experiment in which a constructivist approach was applied to a fourth-semester Japanese language Japanese language

Language spoken by about 125 million people on the islands of Japan, including the Ryukyus. The only other language of the Japanese archipelago is Ainu (see Ainu), now spoken by only a handful of people on Hokkaido, though once much more widespread. course, along with discussion of its effects in the foreign language classroom. Finally, the paper will present student feedback concerning their classroom experience. The aim of this article is not to overwhelm readers with a complicated discussion of constructivism, but rather to present a practical option in applying a constructivist approach to even simple classroom lessons. Moreover, the students' positive feedback following this experimental lesson will hopefully encourage foreign language/L2 educators to experiment with their lesson plans and discover a more creative and active learning environment.


The development of constructivism in education is attributed to such psychologists and philosophers as Jean Piaget Noun 1. Jean Piaget - Swiss psychologist remembered for his studies of cognitive development in children (1896-1980)
Piaget , Lev lev-,
pref See levo-. Vigotsky, John Dewey, and Jerome Brunner (Matthews, 2003). It is understood as a complex combination of learning theory, philosophy, pedagogy, and psychology (Goldberg, 2002). In the area of foreign language/L2 education, constructivism is often associated with the use of technology in the classroom (e.g., Chuang, & Rosenbusch, 2005; McDonough, 2001; Ruschoff, & Ritter rit·ter
n. pl. ritter
A knight.

[German, from Middle High German riter, from Middle Dutch ridder, from r
..... Click the link for more information., 2001). Constructivism emerged in reaction to the traditional educational approach widely practiced in eighteenth--and nineteenth-century Europe and America (Matthew, 2003). The teacher-centered traditional instruction strategy, also called the information transmission model, is an instructional approach in which a teacher transmits information to the students with relatively little emphasis placed on the practicality or significance of the content (Sercu & Bundura, 2005). In traditional education, instructors are able to predict the outcomes of the instruction based on the notion that they control what students will learn by linking student responses from lower level to higher level skills (Ruschoff, & Ritter, 2001). Although instructors determine learning outcomes for students (Roblyer, Havriluk, Edwards, & Havriluk, 1997), traditional education falls short in preparing students to be critical thinkers. In many instances today, "entrenched en·trench also in·trench
v. en·trenched, en·trench·ing, en·trench·es
1. To provide with a trench, especially for the purpose of fortifying or defending.

2. and passive traditional practices persist" (Marlowe & Page, 2005, p.21). Proponents of constructivism, Marlowe and Page summarize sum·ma·rize
intr. & tr.v. sum·ma·rized, sum·ma·riz·ing, sum·ma·riz·es
To make a summary or make a summary of.

sum the foundation of a constructivist approach as:

1. about constructing knowledge, not receiving it

2. about thinking and analyzing, not accumulating and memorizing

3. about understanding and applying, not repeating back

4. being active, not passive. (Marlowe & Page, 2005)

Thus, a constructivist approach teaches students to discover their own answers and produce their own concepts and interpretations (Marlowe & Page, 2005). In addition, a constructivist approach includes interactive and collaborative learning Collaborative learning is an umbrella term for a variety of approaches in education that involve joint intellectual effort by students or students and teachers. Collaborative learning refers to methodologies and environments in which learners engage in a common task in which each as well as a flexible curriculum (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). Although there are various interpretations of constructivism, the basic concept is to offer student-centered learning with an emphasis on experiences, knowledge construction and learning process (Ali, 2004). "A constructivist approach" as the model used in the lesson should be distinguished from constructivism as a theory because, in addition to being subdivided into numerous categories (Matthews, 2000), the paradigm of constructivism involves complex intersections of "different founders and advocates, schools, foci, and disciplinary approaches" (Richardson, 2003, p.1624). Consequently, it is not possible to simply define this experimental lesson as total constructivism. Therefore, the author determines that "a constructivist approach" is more appropriate for the purpose of this paper.

Project Procedure and Discussion

In order to address the three issues identified earlier, the author created a lesson that involved an active, creative, and socially interactive learning process in which students would construct their own knowledge using their prior knowledge, a process governed by basic constructivist theory as discussed in the preceding section. This experimental lesson plan employed the theme of Hanami, a Japanese custom of cherry blossom viewing. Although students did not use the regular textbooks, the new sentence structures and grammar in the textbook were included in the hanami lesson. This theme was chosen simply because this experimental lesson was conducted in March, which is hanami season in Japan.

The intermediate Japanese course met three times a week for fifty minutes each. Because of the limited scheduling, we completed this lesson in a period of one week, one hundred fifty total minutes of class time. Five major lesson objectives were established as follows. By the end of this lesson, students will learn:

1. Japanese culture: cherry blossom viewing

2. New sentence structure, use of verbal gerund ger·und
1. In Latin, a noun derived from a verb and having all case forms except the nominative.

2. In other languages, a verbal noun analogous to the Latin gerund, such as the English form ending in -ing + shimau and its contraction form, cyau

3. New sentence structure, use of verbal gerund + kara

4. The use of the ni particle as expression of purpose; with nominal referring to activity; with a verbal of motion

5. Practice and review nominal, verbal, adjectival ad·jec·ti·val
Of, relating to, or functioning as an adjective.

adjec·ti words.

In a constructivist lesson, objectives are only guidelines guidelines, a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks. . If students show interest in learning something more, they should be encouraged to pursue their own research, as constructivism promotes a flexible curriculum. Prior to the first day, students were divided into small groups. Breaking students into small groups provides more opportunity to practice the target language, as well as reinforcing their knowledge through group discussion and collaboration. Each group was then given an assignment to find out information concerning hanami. They were encouraged to use any type of resource, such as the internet, books, and magazines. They were also instructed to prepare a list of verbal, nominal, and adjectival words, both in English and Japanese, from their findings.

Day one: Each group reported their findings in class, along with their vocabulary list. To avoid any duplicate information, each group took turns. Then, the master vocabulary list was produced. The instructor prepared various pictures of hanami scenes and projected them on the large screen in class. Group research and presentation of hanami visuals were necessary for students to gain prior understandings and facts before actual readings in the target language took place. Marlowe and Page (2005), and Buschoff & Ritter (2001) describe a constructivist learning as "an active process in which learners construct new knowledge and awareness based upon current and past knowledge and experience" (p. 221). Although hanami is one of the most widely practiced customs in Japan, a majority of students will never have heard of the word hanami. Without any prior knowledge, students will struggle to make sense of this popular culture in their initial reading.

Day two: Having some kind of understanding of hanami, students read a short paragraph about hanami in the target language which included some familiar vocabulary words as well as some of the new sentence structures from the lesson objectives. Students read in the group first, then with the whole class. During group readings, the instructor advised students to discuss the meaning of the story and to identify the new structural patterns. In the class reading, the instructor asked the students to point out the new sentence structures while they read out loud. Afterwards af·ter·ward also af·ter·wards
At a later time; subsequently.

afterwards or afterward

later [Old English æfterweard]

Adv. 1. , the instructor finally explained the new sentence structures and vocabulary words. Each group then proceeded to read and to practice sample dialogues. The sample dialogues were created by the instructor, as was the short paragraph, to ensure that each contained the new sentence structures and some of the new vocabulary. These dialogues offered different contextual use of the newly-learned sentence structures. However, these dialogues were intentionally in·ten·tion·al
1. Done deliberately; intended: an intentional slight. See Synonyms at voluntary.

2. Having to do with intention. kept short with two exchanges per dialogue, in order to give students an opportunity to continue and complete them. Each group acted out one of the dialogues in class.

Day three: On day two, each group was directed to create a three--to five-minute short skit, whose only requirement was to include the new sentence structures introduced in the hanami lesson. The instructor did not specify topics for the skits. The groups presented their skits on day three. They produced creative and interesting skits on topics ranging from Star Trek Editing of this page by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled due to vandalism. , Japanese restaurant, and hanami at a park. The variety of topics reflects Alesandrini and Larson's (2002) observation that "Outcomes of constructivist activities are unique and varied." (p. 119) Providing students such creative freedom allows them to relate to the learning material in a way that is understandable and meaningful to the individual student. At the end of the third class meeting, students were given the worksheet with sample sentences and exercises for practice writing. After the hanami lesson, the students had to post their response to the question "What did you learn this week?" on the Blackboard (1) See Blackboard Learning System.

(2) The traditional classroom presentation board that is written on with chalk and erased with a felt pad. Although originally black, "white" boards and colored chalks are also used. , a web-based course management system. Answering this question enabled the students to reflect and review their learning. It also helped instructors to assess students' learning to help plan future lessons. Most of the activities took place through group collaboration See collaborative software. . As Goldberg (2002) suggests, "students learn best through concrete experience, dialogue, [and] active learning" (p.53). Thus, a collaborative group project such as skit production offers the most concrete experience possible in a typical American classroom setting. Moreover, through collaborative learning students can actively engage in dialogues that provide more opportunity to use the target language.

Questionnaire Summary

A week after the hanami lesson, the instructor conducted a survey to seek feedback from the students. Students answered the questionnaires by reflecting on the Japanese lessons from the past two weeks (textbook based lesson in week one; hanami lesson in week two). Fifteen students out of twenty responded to the questionnaires. Of the fifteen, thirteen answered that they noticed differences between the first week and the second week. Two answered that they did not really notice difference. Those who answered "Yes" explained as follows:

* "Learned the contents based on the textbook without using the textbook."

* "Integration of the grammar lessons into a cultural lesson."

* "The class was much more group oriented o·ri·ent
1. Orient The countries of Asia, especially of eastern Asia.

a. The luster characteristic of a pearl of high quality.

b. A pearl having exceptional luster.

3. ."

* "The emphasis was on learning through experience more so than just learning by reading the book."

* "More interaction with speaking and role playing role playing,
n in behavioral medicine, learning exercise in which individuals assume characters different from their own. The individual may also be asked to simulate a particularly difficult situation and apply the characteristics that are common to his through group projects."

* "Had to use the new grammar learned in these projects. So the grammar became applied."

* "The activities seemed to be more engaging for students and creativity."

* "The students actually created some of the materials to be studied."

Asked whether they would remember more from the first lesson, the hanami lesson, or neither, fourteen students answered that they would remember the contents of the hanami lesson more. Only one student answered "neither"; and no one chose the first week's lesson. However, asked which lesson approach they preferred, eleven students chose the hanami lesson, but three chose both, and one student answered, "I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. ." The students gave similar explanations for the questions concerning preference and retention:

* "It was something different from the norm."

* "I find cultural ideas and customs fascinating."

* "The parts where we do things in groups help me to learn more."

* "Hand on learning and class participation helps me learn more because I am an auditory auditory /au·di·to·ry/ (aw´di-tor?e)
1. aural or otic; pertaining to the ear.

2. pertaining to hearing.

adj. learner."

* "By applying the lesson in real conversation, that my peers and I came up with, gave me a better understanding of the subject matter than the memorization mem·o·rize
tr.v. mem·o·rized, mem·o·riz·ing, mem·o·riz·es
1. To commit to memory; learn by heart.

2. Computer Science To store in memory: of the materials in the textbook."

* "As for the skits, I enjoyed them because they were funny and when you enjoy learning, you remember more."

* "Group projects make learning more enjoyable."

* "It was more practical use for learning Japanese."

* "It was stealth stealth

Any military technology intended to make vehicles or missiles nearly invisible to enemy radar or other electronic detection. Research in antidetection technology began soon after radar was invented. learning: The class was focused on the hanami story that we didn't realize that we were learning some new grammar in the process."

The student who answered "Neither" commented, "The topic based is more fun, but the more drills is easier to study and remember," while one student who answered "I don't know" said, "They both teach us well in different ways." The following student comments were significant enough to be mentioned:

* "Although culture based topic is good, I don't like to make skit because other groups skits doesn't help me."

* "Personally, I think your "experiment" was pretty successful. I'm not sure if it's the ultimate method to follow, though."

* "I do think we have great textbooks for this class, but learning about Hanami seemed more practical. I was able to communicate better with Japanese students (both on campus and those that I know who are living in Japan). And, it gave me a little bit more insight into Japan's culture, instead of CC's about working in the office."

* "I felt like I could converse (logic) converse - The truth of a proposition of the form A => B and its converse B => A are shown in the following truth table:

A B | A => B B => A ------+---------------- f f | t t f t | t f t f | f t t t | t t with my Japanese friends much more after this lesson than I have in the past."

With a few exceptions, most students enjoyed the lesson with the hanami story. Their reasons can be summarized as follows: (1) they enjoyed cooperative/collaborative learning; (2) studying about culture makes language learning more engaging and interesting; (3) applying the lesson to the skits student produce enables them to understand the concepts better. However, we must also recognize that not everyone favors such a non-traditional approach. Some students do prefer the drills and memorization of teacher-centered behavioristic learning.


A constructivist approach makes it possible to alleviate some of the obstacles to developing good communication skills for foreign language/L2 learners. In overcrowded classrooms, where instructors have difficulty giving personal attention, students may assist each other in understanding new information through group discussion and investigation; thus, students become active participants instead of passive learners, waiting to receive information. Skit creation enables students to gain knowledge by applying new information in a variety of situations; in addition, students tend to create skits that are related to their own experiences, making the skits more meaningful and interesting for the whole class.

In summary, a constructivist approach fosters creative and autonomous thinkers who are able to convey their thoughts in a wide variety of different situations. The students' constructive feedback also suggests that a constructivist approach to even a simple lesson plan can exert a positive influence on foreign language/L2 learning. Such application of constructivism enhances the ability of foreign language educators to develop better communicators.


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ASCD Association of Service & Computer Dealers International
ASCD American Society of Computer Dealers
ASCD All Source Correlated Database
ASCD Advanced Software Concepts Department
ASCD Asset Status Card

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goes to Wizard of Oz to get brains. [Am. Lit.: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz]

See : Ignorance


can’t live up to his name. [Am. Lit.: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; Am. Press.

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* Saddle River, New Jersey, a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey
* Saddle River (New Jersey), a tributary of the Passaic River in New Jersey

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Sercu, L., & Bandura ban`dur´a

n. 1. A traditional Ukrainian stringed musical instrument shaped like a lute, having many strings. , E. (2005). Foreign language teachers and intercultural competence Intercultural competence is the ability of successful communication with people of other cultures. This ability can exist in someone at a young age, or may be developed and improved due to willpower and competence. . An international investigation. Clevedon: Multilingual mul·ti·lin·gual
1. Of, including, or expressed in several languages: a multilingual dictionary.

2. Matters.

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Yuko Prefume, Baylor University Baylor University, mainly at Waco, Tex.; coeducational; chartered and opened 1845 by Baptists (see Baylor, Robert E. B.) at Independence, moved 1886 and absorbed Waco Univ. (chartered 1861). The library has a noted Robert Browning collection. , TX

Yuko Prefume is Lecturer in Japanese at Baylor University