Friday, 9 December 2011

Integrated Skills Integrated Learning

We as teachers often say, Oh I am doing a reading lesson today. This makes it sound like, the skills, reading , listening, speaking and writing are discrete items that do not link with each other. But we all know that these skills are interlinked and reliant on each other. As I type this handout, I am also reading my notes. When I delivered the session I was speaking and listening to your input, reading my notes and making my own notes, engaging all four skills.

Just consider what skills we use when we do the following –

  • open a bank account
  • go to a supermarket
  • go to a lecture
  • read a novel

Why do we teach the skills?

When I used to train completely new teachers I was asked this quite often, the question would be surely people can already read, write, listen and speak in their own language, why do we need to reteach these skills. The problem is that transferring the skills from L1 to a foreign language is often not a natural thing to do. In our own language we don’t worry if we don’t understand a word or miss something someone said, we can piece together the meaning but in a foreign language we become more obsessed with understanding every word or getting a sentence exactly right.

In class then we should be concerned about the process of developing the skills as much as the final product. Learning a language is like doing a jigsaw, putting together a picture in a holistic way rather than building the picture like a brick wall in a linear way. Exposing students to reading and listening texts will allow them to put together that picture for themselves.

English is more than an academic subject, it is a real life tool, so students need to see it as such and be exposed to it in meaningful and communicative ways. We also want out students to develop their critical thinking skills, moving from understanding and remembering to analysing and applying their knowledge.

Of course the skills can be broken down into sub-skills. these are some of them .

Top down processing – bringing your own knowledge and expectations to a text to help get meaning.
Bottom up processing – using the words and structure to decipher meaning.
Editing – reading and analysis what you have written or spoken in order to improve the message.
Circumlocution – the ability to talk around the subject if you don’t have the ability to say exactly what you mean.
Skimming – reading a text without understanding every word to try to get the general meaning or gist.
Scanning – looking at text for key information, the way one might read a pizza menu.
Summarising – reporting what you have read or heard to others in either written form on spoken form.
Negotiating meaning – being able to ask questions to find out what the speaker or writer means, and being able to ask questions to ensure the listener, reader has understood.
Structuring – knowing about the structure of different genres of writing or spoken text.

Stress and rhythm – a listening and speaking skills, hearing, understanding and producing the punctuation of spoken text.

How can we help?

The instructions we give are incredibly important, if we tell students why we are doing something, how we want them to do it, why we want them o do it in that way, etc then they will develop the skills they have in L1.

Letting students know that reading and listening are natural ways of acquiring language and just because the isn’t a grammar focus doesn’t mean they mean they are not learning is worthwhile.

Encouraging students to speak or write with confidence, not being afraid of making mistakes can also help students to develop their English skills.

Giving students a realistic, communicative, reason to speak, read, write, listen can help them feel the activity is worthwhile.

So teaching the skills allows for natural, communicative input that helps students develop their language knowledge and their linguistic and communicative competence.

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