Teaching Languages to young learners: Learning languages through Tasks and Activities

"Teaching Languages to young learners: Learning languages through Tasks and Activities" (By Lynne Cameron)

Chapter II

We need to take the tasks from a learning perspective: that takes account in the young learner´s social and cognitive development..

The classroom tasks/activities: are the "environment" in which the growth of skills in the foreign language takes place.

The idea of task will need to be adapted from the "Task-based" way (approaches to language teaching and with a Vygotskyan slant)

The Children: as a (mentally) active learners, who will try to find a meaning/purpose for activities (that are presented to them) Young learners: work hard to make sense of what teachers ask to them to do (and come to tasks with their own understanding of the purposes/expectations of adults)

This urge to find meaning/purpose can be very helpful language tool for teachers to exploit.

The are problems:
-Of making sense of some of the activities because the combined affect of the activity + new language can be very mysterious to them.
-Because the children are anxious to please the teachers,so they act as if they understand (with the repetition of words from the teacher, giving an illusion of understanding. Also by doing writing/matching task without really understanding what they are doing)

This is a clear example of the importance of a learning perspective instead of a superficial evaluation of classroom activity.

Task is taken in a sense to bring a classroom event that has conherence and unity, in which learners take an active role:
If learners are not required to play an active role in the lessons, then we don´t have a task, because task works when we allow to the student to get involve.
For example: motivated them by playing games. Always with the participation of the student (their speaking and thinking are importants). So where there are a student who doesn´t speak in class, the teacher must involve him or her.

The classroom task provides a unit to develops understanding of language learning + teaching proceses (in the training context).


Activity in terms of:

Demands on learners
(( A task demand is related with te things that a task needs to be solved by a student ))

Supports for learning
(( A task support is what the teacher expected to do to help children to master the news skills and knowledge ))

Learning opportunities can be constructed by adjusting the balance between demands and supports.
It´s very important to have a balance between them because without a demand there is no support, and they have to be connected all the time because with that balance the students can develop their skills, learn and use the language to create discourse.


Task Demands

The demands on the pupils can be divided into two types of demands: Cognitive and language demands.

The Cognitive Demands: are related to concepts, and to the understanding of the world-people.
Vary with the degree of contextualisation of language and difficulty of concepts.
For example= The use of graphics, colours and telling the time.

The Language Demands: are related to the use of the foreign language, and to uses of mother tongue (in connection with learning the foreign language).
Vary with whether the language is spoken or written, the understanding or production, the extended talk or conversation, with vocabulary and grammar needed and also with the genre.

There may be other demands on the pupils beyond the language and cognitive.

Types of Task Demands

Interactional Demands: Vary with the type of interaction required.
If they are required to do the activity in pairs, then each pupils needs to listen to his or her partner, paying attention to the particular box on the grid being talked about.
For example= Pair work, participants in talk-adult, with the peers and question + answer.

Metalinguistic Demands: Would require pupils to understand or use English (to talk about the language).
For example= If pupils were instructed to "use the past tense of the verb".
May include the use of technical terms about language in production or comprehension.
For example= In instructions and freedback.

Involvement Demands: Refers to the demand on the child to keeps enganged with the task for a long as it takes to complete it (and will vary with how interesting the task is to the child).
Also vary with the ease and difficulty the learners has in engaging with the task.
For example= Leght of the task stages, links to the child´s interest and concernsm and also with humour and suspense.

Physical Demands: Vary with how long the child must sit still for (with actions and skills needed).
We need to remember that classroom task will present in physycal demands, sitting still long enough to do the task, or using the motor skills required to manipulate a pencil to write, draw or tick boxes.
For example= to write or draw.

The analysis of the demands is a key to assess its learning potencial but also need to look at how the child is supported in achieving the goals of the task.

Task Support

When we do an activity, we can provided support in many ways. For example= by pictures (that provide meaning, contextualising the language to be used) or by the structure of the activity (by grid, supporting concepts, or just by using a graphical way instead of a grammar-language way).

Graphics can often concretise ideas without requiring the use of language, and can support understading of ideas for second language learners.
For example= the use of a rising-full-and setting suns -graphics- in the top row, can give added support to recall of the meaning of Morning-Afternoon-and Evening.

The Task includes language support through the use of words and phrases (already encountered in earlier lessons). Explanation/modelling of the task by the teacher will provide support to pupils.

When we think in termns of support, we try to use what the children can already do, to help them master new skills/knowledge.

Types of Task Support

Cognitive Supports: The contextualisation of the language from the use of cocepts (already developed). For example= from familiar formats of graphics/activities or familiar topics/content.

Language Supports: The re-use of language (already mastered) from moving to a easier domain to more difficult. For example= Spoken to written/ from using known vocabulary-grammar to help with the new.

Interactional Supports: The type of interaction. For example= pair work or from helpful co-particpants.

Metalinguistic Supports: Can came from familiar technical terms to talk about the language (with clear explanations)

Involvement Supports: Content and activity that is easy for the learner to engange with. For example= links to child´s interest or from mixing physical movement and calm.

Physical Supports: variation in sitting/moving, or the use of familiar actions. For example= To write and draw.

Balancing the Demands and Supports

-If the demands are too high, the learners will find the task to difficult (and not finish the task or inclusive to finish it but without using the language intended)------- (Children may appear to have completed the task but may not have understood it or learnt from it)

The desire of young children to please the adults is a positive side of teaching but also it can hide a multitude of problems (andd because of that, the teacher need to be aware).

-If there are too much Support, for example: if the teacher use the first language to explain (in the meaning of a reading text), then the learners don´t need to think about the foreign language or use more than single words.

The teacher must set up clear and appropiate language learning goals, to ensure the balance of demands-supports.
(The course book may dictate what is to be tought, but what is to be learnt can only be planned by a teacher).

In setting clear and specific language learning goals, teachers are scaffolding (programming) the task for children, and can involve:
breaking down tasks into manageable steps; (the teacher takes responsability for the whole task while learners work on each step).
The Sub-goals of the task should help ensure success at each step and the task as a whole.


Defining "Task" for young learner classrooms

The Tasks as a unit of activities (that can be used for lessons planning/evaluation). As a unit that would try to bring the classroom and "real life" activities closer together (with task-based learning).

Activities: There are a contrast between the kinds of activities the learner did in classrooms and the kind of the activities the needed English for in their lives outside the classroom.

Language for young learners raise more problems with the notion of "real" and "authentic" language use.

A aim for dinamic congruence: choosing activities/contents that are appropiate for the children´s age and social-cultural experience.

Task can be defined as a Classroom Activities.

Task= Goals + Action: Unified Whole.

Activity= Can be any kind of event that children participate in (children as a active learner).

A Classroom Task=

*For the learner: clear beginning/end + clear purpose + clear meaning

*For the teacher: clear language learning goals

It has to have:

-Coherence + Unity

-Meaning + Purpose

-Clear language learning goals

-Beginning and end

-Involve the learner actively

Stages in a classroom task (according to Cameron)

The preparation to speak, write, read and listen to. and also to prepare the learner to be able to complete the Core Activity successfully.
(With the Preparation, the teacher can prepare the student to work with their skills).

Core Activity:
It is cetral to the task; without the Core, the task would collapse. Here is the set up of the language goals and the production of sentences (orally and then in writing).
(The Core is the heart of the task because the student has to apply their skills to solve what the teacher provides).

Follow Up:
It builds on successful completion of the Core or the work done in the Core. Also may be the preparation stage of the next task.
(Finally the follow up is to see in action what the student can do. If they use and recognise the language).

Cameron´s contribution is related to the concept of task.
She sustains that a task is a classroom event (and a unit of classroom activities) which has coherence and unit, with a beginning and end, where students take an active role in the process of learning the language.


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