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I want to present the outline of an ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course for students of Information Design drawing upon John Maeda’s book "The Laws of Simplicity", illustrating how a text can be used in a threefold manner, as a source for information and ideas, as an example of language usage, and as the basis for developing and/or selecting teaching materials.
Thus, the goal to achieve true integration of language (form) and content (meaning) should be achieved by putting an emphasis on language in order to understand, develop, and discuss the content. Simultaneously, the students reached a high level of discourse largely imparting, developing and constructing knowledge themselves.
Having selected a book written in a simple but witty style with a content easy to understand for future information designers, not too specialized but rather covering a wide range of potential application fields, the reading was supposed not to generate resistance as other deliberately chosen texts might have done before, but should rather make them talk with commitment showing genuine interest.
The subject and genre-specific text should be the key trigger to create lively discussions among students. One precondition for felicitous conversations, however, is that the students have already reached a fair amount of language competence as reading, understanding, and furthermore discussing the subject in question is definitely a certain challenge to language learners, even in their 4th semester. Thus, the challenge for the teacher should be to find a fair balance between discourse practice and the teaching of lexicogrammar.
Im praxisnahen kompetenzorientierten fachbezogenen Sprachunterricht vermittelte ich Informationsdesign-Studierenden Fachsprachenkenntnisse in einer Verbindung aus studienrelevanten Designthemen und Sprachkenntnissen in einem kreativitätsfördernden Methodenmix. (Content and Language Integrated Learning)
Als authentisches Lernmaterial wählte ich das Buch „10 Laws of Simplicity“ von J. Maeda. Nicht nur der ansprechende Schreibstil, sondern der für Designstudierende passende Inhalt sprach die Studierenden an, sodass das Interesse an fremdsprachiger Fachlektüre geweckt wurde (intrinsische Motivation).
Didaktik Vorgangsweise: Wir diskutierten Inhalt und Sprache, wobei die Studierenden als Design- und ich als Sprachexpertin fungierte und somit die Rolle einer Mentorin einnahm, was zu einer lernfördernden gewinnbringenden Wechselbeziehung führte.
Themenrelevante Diskussionen und die Vokabelerarbeitung ohne Hilfsmittel standen im Vordergrund. Ziel: englische Fachliteratur ohne Zuhilfenahme von Wörter- oder Grammatikbüchern verstehen, reflektiert betrachten und darüber sprechen können.
Didaktische Ziele: die englische Sprache ist nicht alleiniges Lernziel, sondern dient als authentisches Kommunikationsmittel = konstruktivistischer Ansatz: interaktives Lernen verlangt soziale Interaktion. Die Lernziele sind in ein kommunikatives, kreativitätsförderndes und motivierendes Setting integriert.
Didaktischer Nutzen: Der Spracherwerb ist nicht nur Lernziel, sondern Mittel zum facheinschlägigen Austausch. Der Sprachgebrauch passiert auf natürliche Art, die mündliche Kommunikationsfähigkeit wird inhärent verbessert: Sprache als medium of learning und nicht als object of learning
My main aim is to show viable methods of teaching English as a foreign language to students whose main subject and also centre of interest does first and foremost not lie in the acquirement of a foreign language.
In my project I want to present the outline of an ESP course for students of Information Design drawing upon John Maeda’s book "The Laws of Simplicity", illustrating how a text can be used in a threefold manner, as a source for information and ideas, as an example of language usage, and as the basis for developing and/or selecting teaching materials. In this paper, however, I want to explain the theoretical background and primarily focus on the benefits the methodology I used offers for English as a foreign language learning and teaching since the use of varying tuition methods fosters learner autonomy and motivation through interactivity and multimedia.
Using subject-specific authentic texts clearly raised the learners’ motivation which was further increased through fun in the activities, curiosity as the subject matter was of interest to students, multimedial learning material, and social interaction. The learners were automatically involved in making choices and in modifying and adapting their goals which is typical of CLIL classrooms. This constructivist approach to learning where the learners are offered content dependent possibilities promote learner autonomy and therefore guarantee a better outcome.
In combining content and language issues certain questions on the relation of those two come up. Is one more important than the other? In my lessons, issues concerning the language are more dominant than those concerning the content as the course itself is called Professional English and is defined as a language class. However, to break open the boundaries of teaching mere language skills which the students were taught in their first three semesters at university anyway (and before that at school), I decided to give the course a different direction and rather focus on content issues using the English language as a means of communicating these issues. According to the fundamental principles of CLIL, potential synergies are built and thereby learning is made more effective. I highly value a constructivist approach to learning, especially fostering learning methods where learners use both cerebral hemispheres. This kind of interactive and mediated learning requires social interaction between the teacher and the learners.
In the project at hand, the guidance was provided by myself in helping the students to cooperate and collaborate with each other effectively in order to construct their knowledge on their own. Being design students, these learners are by definition creative – creativity is tested in the admission exam in several ways before they are even admitted to the degree programme – and this creativity is highly discernible in their ways of problem solving and overall thinking which in turn made it a really enriching experience for both sides.
The traditional goals of foreign language teaching such as the learning of grammar and the reading of texts are successfully integrated in the communicative setting of the CLIL classroom. The students are motivated to use the English language as a tool for communication where ideally language use and language learning go hand in hand. This motivation can be drawn from the integration of content issues into the language classes where controversial discussion topics (such as the design of Apple products, etc.) led to lively, emotional discussions where the use of the language happens automatically and naturally, therefore inherently improving the oral communication skills immensely. The language is regarded as a medium of learning and not entirely as the object of learning, although this aspect is – in contrast to real CLIL classrooms – not completely negligible since the course itself is still labelled an English course.
The enlargement of the lexicon happened partly intuitively by reading the book mentioned above, but partly also through especially designed vocabulary activities. My students were asked to read two chapters weekly, from one lesson to the next, without using a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. As Maeda’s style is – as the title of the book suggests – easy to read and the content was easily comprehensible for my design students, they understood the subject matter well enough to be able to debate on the respective passages each lesson. These fruitful discussions, where I considered myself the language expert and them the design experts (which was a win-win situation for both sides) were then followed by a pair-work activity to figure out still unknown words, again without using a dictionary. I tried to show them that there are several ways to “guess” these words, whether from the context, use in a well-known song or poem, the word stem, the Latin or Greek root, the similarity to the first language or by looking at the meaning and function of certain affixes. These exercises, not only once, but repeatedly resulted in Eureka moments as the success rate of the vocabulary guesses obviously reduced students' anxiety towards English specialist literature. They were able to discern meanings without having to carry around a dictionary, or a laptop, or smartphone, with the right dictionary app. Again, the decisive factor which made students even like a vocabulary exercise was to place it into the right context, where right is to be understood as comprehensible when it comes to the use of foreign language as well as appealing when it comes to the subject matter to students.
In a communicative teaching approach, students are above all the communicators. In the ideal case they are more motivated since they will feel they are doing something useful even in compulsory language classes. They can express their individuality by sharing their own beliefs, ideas and opinions and should therefore consider themselves as co-communicators managing their own educational process to a certain extent rather than being mere learners. With regard to educational processes and roles, individuals should think critically and strategically in approaching learning as well as be self-directed in implementing and sustaining collaborative learning tasks. Authentic communication and collaboration depend upon mutual respect and personal responsibility. In such an environment, education becomes an exciting journey where teachers and students together explore new perspectives.
But what exactly is the role of the teacher respectively the learner in such a constructivist setting? The learners were automatically involved in making choices and in modifying and adapting their goals. Additionally, the aim of learnercenteredness is also to make the learner aware of the pedagogical goals and content of the lessons. Two types of attractive goals are hereby combined: content goals and learning process goals since not only learning material is transmitted but the learner is also shown what it means to be a learner by allowing him/her to actively take part in the process of learning. The broad variety of exercises I used in the CLIL classroom mentioned above integrate two important aspects for learners: (1) individualized learning is fostered and (2) the development of a community is promoted between the learners and thus they develop a collaborative sense of community.
With this transfer of responsibility for learning from the teacher to the learner, the role of the teacher has to be redefined as well. It is changing from being a transmitter and presenter of the learning material to a facilitator, knowledge base, resource, helper, coordinator, counsellor, and advisor. Herein the role of the teacher is expanded, teachers undertake additional competences which enhance their role and make it more complex than ever before. However, the idea of using content in language courses is not a new one and the content naturally varies from course to course and from department to department. What most of these language courses have in common, though, is that the learning of the language is integrated into the learning or dealing with relevant content, and vice versa. The interesting content here proves to be useful for language acquisition. And of course, it is the language teacher's task to supply the missing language in case of trouble.
In order to keep the discussion flowing, it is vital not to interrupt students whenever they make a mistake, but rather pay attention to the students themselves and create a feeling of self-esteem amongst them. The focus should thereby clearly lie on fluency, not accuracy. The language is used for communication, for social interaction with the fellow students and the teacher. The goals of language learning are reached automatically since the students internalize what was said as knowledge and competence later.
Teachers should attempt to promote autonomy by trying to keep the balance between preparation and spontaneity. When it comes to preparation, we have to focus on specially designed exercises. Creating meaningful exercises comprising a certain social aspect, since the learner should be motivated to interact with other learners and the teacher, undoubtedly demands great commitment of the teacher. These exercises should ideally support the learner in developing better language skills as well as in approaching content issues intelligently, critically questioning them, originally and independently expanding them and reflecting upon them. The exercises have to be organised as learner-centred activities so that they sensitise the learner to an awareness of factors that affect his/her learning, such as the above mentioned vocabularyguessing task. These exercises can easily and effectively be combined by integrating new media into language lessons. Accordingly, I often used short video clips, mostly talks given by the author John Maeda himself, as a trigger for discussion.
When using a text which is of substantial interest to the learners, these conversations reflect real-world communication even though the interaction takes place in a classroom, resulting in a nearly natural conversation situation. The activity types should of course be carefully selected and be relevant. I varied between whole class interaction, group work, pair work, individual work, student monologue and teacher monologue. This variation allows for having different ways in which students get to use the foreign language as each activity type certainly has its own potential for interaction. The subject and genre-specific text was the key trigger to create lively discussions among students. One precondition for felicitous conversations, however, is that the students have already reached a fair amount of language competence as reading, understanding, and furthermore discussing the subject in question is definitely a certain challenge to language learners. Thus, the challenge for the teacher is to find a fair balance between discourse practice and the teaching of lexicogrammar.
The students seemed to enjoy the use of multimedia, valued the authenticity and up-to-datedness of the material I chose and as a result indulged in lively discussions on previously seen clips, authentic examples given and chapters read.