In formal context of instruction, there are two subjects who interact in the process of teaching and learning. The former – the teacher – was described in the section above. The focus of this section is the characteristics that shape a language learner.
LEARNERS vs. STUDENTS
The word “learner” is much better than “student” for several reasons:
1. First, the word“student” is an institutional identity. It really only has meaning in contrast to “teacher.” It’s like the identity pairs son/father, patient/doctor, worker/boss. In this relationship the teacher identity has the power.
2. As teachers we should be interested in “learning” and not just “studying.” What is the difference between learning and studying? Consider these sentences:
* Istudied for 3 hours.
* I learned for 3 hours this sentence doesn’t sound right.
* I studied the information (but I still don’t understand)
* I learned the information (so now I understand)
3. People often “learn” a language without a teacher. But they rarely “study” a language without a teacher.
THE ROLE OF THE SECONDARY STUDENT
The role of the students is also evolving in thesecond language classroom. Students are becoming more active in their role as learners and are playing a major part in many aspects of the class.
One significant development is the amount of student input and decision-making that naturally occurs in the development of the unit. In the initial phase of a unit, students are asked for their input and the knowledge that they possess on aparticular subject. It is this input phase that begins to motivate the students. Students are encouraged to make a number of decisions. They need to decide what vocabulary and structures are important for their activities and projects. The decisions that are made regarding the projects reflect the interests and strengths of the students. Although there are specific objectives and guidelines that need tobe met in the second language classroom, students who are allowed some freedom to move within the parameters are more likely to remain motivated and on task.
The experiential goal at the end of the unit gives the students the opportunity to work toward their potential. The students become aware of this project in the early stages of the unit. They are then able to tailor their vocabulary,their activities and their thinking toward the final task. As the students realize that the work they do within the class leads them toward their final goal, they are much more inclined to stay on task. Students are able to personalize their projects and use their personal abilities and talents. Students with a strong French background may wish to expand on the oral or written aspect of theprojects. Students with artistic or creative talents may wish to add an original dimension to the finished product. Students with a lesser degree of language skill will also be able to work toward their own potential. Students learn in different ways and at a different pace and their final projects will reflect these unique differences.
As students become more responsible for their own languagelearning, their success in the second language class increases. The work that students do in class takes on new meaning as the students work toward a final task. Student self-evaluation becomes more common as the students reflect on what they have learned, how they have learned and what they still need to learn.
There are four categories of learner characteristics:cognitive, physiological, affective, and social. Each of these categories is important and may or may not be used all at one time in a learner analysis.
General aptitudes, Specific aptitudes, Developmental level, Language development level, Reading level, Level of visual literacy, Cognitive processing styles, Cognitive and learning strategies and general world knowledge....