A Mild Crush on Steven Krashen
I think that there are several factors that impact language learning, and that they vary in their impact both inherently and on a student-to-student basis. Some factors, like the availability of comprehensive input and the opportunity to produce meaningful output, are inherently essential to language acquisition and generally will remain important to all learners’ ability to acquire language. Without comprehensible input and the opportunity to produce meaningful output, language acquisition would be nearly impossible. Things like human interaction are also generally considered to be essential and have a significant impact on language learning, although now with the availability of computer programs and smart technology, the role of interaction for some learners may not be as significant as it once was, as people are finding new outlets through which to practice their language skills. I’ve seen both of these utilized (and not utilized) in field placements and service learning opportunities, and it’s interesting to see the ways in which they impact language learning. In my current 494 placement, students used to have the ability to interact with each other socially both surrounding class content, and purely recreationally at different points during class. While this was not always productive to their schoolwork, it did have a noticeable effect on their comfort and fluency speaking the language, especially for emergent multilingual students in the early phases of their English acquisition. Recently, however, my mentor teacher has enacted a policy where students are no longer allowed to speak in class, unless it is to ask questions of an MSU student or the teacher. I’m interested to see the effect that this policy might have on how quickly her students acquire English and their confidence levels participating in class and interacting with peers. In the same classroom, I also get to see the teacher’s efforts to make the input and output that her students receive in class meaningful and comprehensible. She utilizes strategies like pictures and hand gestures to help make her lessons and instructions comprehensible, and makes them meaningful by using real examples and stories from her own life so that she is both teaching content, and connecting with her students and offering them information that is authentic and socially valuable. She does the same thing when she asks the students to produce output - they write and speak about things that are relevant to them and their lives, with their peers, in a way that is relaxed and allows for lots of negotiation of meaning and mutual learning by everyone involved in the conversation.
Perhaps the most well-known and influential of Krashen’s theories is the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis, which is the idea that “acquired” language - language that is the product of a subconscious process - is different from “learned” language that is consciously and effortfully remembered. He argues that the “learned” system is far less important than the “acquired” system, and I am inclined to agree with him. While learned language concepts that are learned explicitly, like certain vocabulary words and verb conjugations, are important parts of language and need to be paid attention by teachers, research has shown that communication through meaningful input and output and interaction with peers is the most effective way for learners to developing language skills and be able to maintain them long-term and use them fluently. This theory is relevant to teachers who work with emergent multilinguals because it reminds us that while it is important to teach students the English language, it is more important to allow them to utilize that language in a meaningful and authentic way, and that this social interaction that is so often de-emphasized is actually a crucial aspect of language acquisition. I plan to support this theory in the future by adopting classroom practices that encourage students to interact with both the classroom content and with each other and their experiences as learners. Researchers Garcia and Wei (2014) wrote a book called Translanguaging about a concept of the same name, which is the idea that language learning is intimately intertwined with the development of identity, and that our experiences with language shape our perceptions of the world just as much as our perceptions of the world shape our language use. By adopting a translanguaging approach in my future classroom and encouraging students to find meaningful ways to interact with the world around them as they build their language skills into their identity and their identity into their language skills, I hope to encourage the behaviors that encourage acquired language abilities, not just learned ones.
The second language acquisition theory of Krashen’s that I feel is important to bring up is the Affective Filter Hypothesis. This one states that there are several variables that impact students’ language learning, such as motivation, confidence, and anxiety. Things like anxiety about grades or self-consciousness about getting answers wrong or not learning fast enough can put up a “mental block” that makes it harder for learners to take comprehensible input and utilize it for language acquisition. On the other hand, students who are confident, motivated, and have low levels of anxiety related to learning are able to process and incorporate input into their linguistic systems much more easily. This theory is relevant to teachers because it seems that too often learning takes place in high-stakes environments that are more likely to turn into “mental blocking” situations for learners who may be anxious or self-conscious about their learning abilities. Something that educators can do to combat this, and that I plan to do in my classroom, is to put emphasis on developing positive classroom norms and expectations that alleviate some of the anxiety related to learning. Some of these are easy to do, like emphasizing that learning is about making connections and not just about final answers, and allowing students time and opportunities to work with peers and collaborate in their learning efforts. The most important one I plan to implement, though, is explicit instruction on types of learning and fixed vs growth mindsets for intelligence. If students can be taught to view themselves as having the ability to grow and learn, and to view their mistakes as valuable steps on the way to knowledge instead of as detrimental things that are to be avoided; this could help to lower their affective filters and contribute to a productive and positive learning environment.
García, O., & Li, W. (2014). Translanguaging language, bilingualism and education. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
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As an educator, Abigail Johnson reflects on several relevant topics impacting today's students in mainstream classroom settings.