Various theories in language instruction are used in developing curriculum and often they are used in conjunction. In examining these methodologies, it rapidly becomes clear that all have merit. The Language Experience method of teaching enables teachers to take the personal experiences of their students and integrate them into the lesson plan. Students relate their experiences in oral reports and the instructor is then able to use these references to illustrate various teaching points, allowing the child to see how the lesson relates to them personally. Students relate experiences and then break those experiences down into the symbols we call letters and sentences, in order to communicate ideas. The underlying theory of such instruction is that of Language Acquisition.
“In Language Acquisition,” according to Echervarra and Graves, “language usage is driven by what feels like the correct and appropriate usage, without the learner being consciously aware of the rules. Students are given the opportunity to learn and use the new language by a teacher who makes the language intelligible through simplified speech, gestures and context. Students learn the language through modeling and usage, not overt correction by the teacher.”
Differentiated Instruction is the anti-“one size fits all” approach. Rather then having students gather at the same educational starting line and having them compete against each other for good grades, this approach stresses the concept of challenging students to be the best that they can be, not the best anybody can be, and the idea that students learn in a variety of different styles – none of which is wrong. It is a highly individualized method of teaching, and a very Humanistic approach, enabling all students to feel successful and to reach their full potential, without making them feel inferior to students who are more gifted in a particular subject being studied.
This Humanistic approach is marked by a cornerstone of my personal teaching philosophy – our students must be taught not simply as a class but as individuals. It requires us not simply to teach students facts, but how to conduct themselves in social interactions and thereby to become successful social beings. It prepares them for more than simply taking a math or spelling test. This requires more of us as educators, but is the very foundation of being the best possible teachers and obtaining the best possible results for our students. In words I wish I’d been wise enough to write first, Echervarra and Graves state, “The Humanistic teacher is one who desires students to learn to interact well with others and to feel as good as possible about themselves. The affective e well being of students is the primary focus of this approach and is always a consideration when planning the school day. Personality development, including cooperation and consideration, is a primary value and is the focus of this education.”
In this regard, Cooperative Learning also owes its foundation to the Humanistic approach. It allows each student to realize the importance of team accomplishment. Students are assigned individual tasks within the framework of a larger group project. Students learn how to work with each other, to recognize the strengths and challenges of their classmates, and to realize that they themselves have something of value to add in a collaborative learning environment. It uses our desire to socialize – which can often be a distraction to younger students – to fully engage us in the learning process, and to thus feel part of a team success.
In a sense, all three of these methods, Language Experience, Differentiated Instruction, and Cooperative Learning owe a debt to Vygotsky’s Social Interactionist Learning Theory. Again quoting from the text, “Vygotsky viewed language as a child’s first tool for social interactionÃ¢Â?Â¦ Children can often be seen talking aloud during play, and directing their own actions, which eventually leads to language directing thought.” This is enabled, “Ã¢Â?Â¦because interaction with both teachers and peers has both cognitive and affective consequencesÃ¢Â?Â¦ The social interaction adds a verbal level to their understanding.” This is true when a student is relating their own experiences in an oral report in front of their classmates, or listening to such a report, as is required in the Language Experience approach. It is true when a student observes that the way they are being taught is highly individualized and differs from their classmates, in the Differentiated classroom. The very act of observing and commenting upon and appreciating these differences requires social interaction and verbalization. And clearly, there can be no cooperative learning without the social interaction Vygotsky describes.
Thematic Teaching integrates literature related vocabulary into all areas of the curriculum and allows students to learn language usage even while they are studying other subjects, such as math, social studies and science. The language instruction is interwoven into the school day and permeates the curriculum, giving students a chance to absorb language skills even as they gain valuable knowledge of other subject areas. It relies heavily on students receiving reading and writing opportunities in all subject areas and insinuates the desired knowledge almost subconsciously into their day. In this way, language knowledge and usage is always being reinforced.
Echervarra, Jana, Graves, Anne, (2003), Sheltered Content Instruction (2nd
Edition), Boston, Allyn and Bacon, 37, 40, 42