PRINCIPLES OF INTERACTIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING , WILGA M. RIVERS
Principle 7: Every possible medium and modality is used to aid learning
In 1966, Carroll made the point that "the more numerous kinds of association that are made to an item, the better are learning and retention." In communicative interaction, language learners need to draw on all kinds of unpredictable items to express their meaning _ items they learned the previous day, even items they learned on the first day they had contact with the language. What they have learned of the language must be firmly established in their memory networks with many associative triggers, so that it becomes readily available, in some cases for recognition in speech or writing and in others for retrieval for active use.
Context is an important factor in recall, as well as being a guide to possible and appropriate meanings; context, it must be remembered, may be linguistic or non-linguistic; it may be aural, visual, kinesic, olfactory, or tactile; it may be situational or emotional (often perceived as relevant only by individuals themselves). Language teaching or learning that restricts itself in the main to presentation and practice in one modality (e.g., the visual in a traditional grammar-translation approach) does not prepare the learner for the full array of contexts in which items may recur. For these reasons, interactive learning needs to draw on every type of experience to reinforce what is being learned: physical response, aural input, spoken output, reading materials, written expression, word puzzles, the act of drawing what is meant, the manipulation of objects (in the Pestalozzian tradition), interpretation of pictures, acting out of scenes, music, song, dance, purposeful tasks (e.g., making things, preparing and eating them), gestures, facial expressions, communicative interludes, and so on. Gattegno emphasizes the importance of breathing and kinesics, Lozanov the suggestive impact of paintings and music, Asher the kinesic associations of physical movement, Terrell the affective, and Curran calls for the involvement of the "whole person."
At the present time, it is much more possible than in the past for the learner to have a well-rounded experience of the language: to see, hear, and live it in all kinds of ways. Teachers are no longer limited to the book, the chalkboard, their own vocal apparatus, an occasional picture or chart, and a few objects to be handled to bring a sense of reality and a broader context to the elements of the language and how they combine to create meanings. First came the gramophone record, then radio, film, television, magnetic tape (on reel and then on cassette), videocassettes, the computer with possibilities for videodisc, CD-ROM, and the Internet, as well as the camcorder for recording and evaluating the students' own performance in and out of class. From ready availability of foreign-language newspapers, magazines, and films, we have moved to audio and visual material beamed by satellite, and the possibility of downloading a multiplicity of culturally informative materials from around the world via computer and modem. Students can communicate with speakers of the language any time of the day or night through their own computers via e-mail and chat rooms. Student exchange programs have proliferated, and most schools, even in isolated situations, now have some contact with a visiting native speaker of the language. Each new medium has presented additional opportunities for teachers to provide multiple associations with language as used by native speakers and insights into their ways of thinking and reacting, as well as opportunities for students to view and hear themselves as they attempt to use the language in authentic ways.
In 1921 Palmer, that most enduring of methodologists, advocated that "we select judiciously and without prejudice all that is most likely to help us in our work;" he called this "the multiple line of approach." Now is the time for teachers to investigate, experiment, and use judiciously the many possibilities for increasing language impact for the learner and opportunities for interaction, in order to increase motivation to communicate among their students. The sparsely distributed master teachers of less commonly taught languages can extend their teaching to many more students via television, satellite, and computer networks in distance learning, often supplemented by individual telephone conversations with the teacher. Auto-didacts and students far from their teachers now have access to many of the same advantages for language contact as those in more formal situations, and students of their own initiative can expand their contacts with the language, without waiting for structured assistance.
Despite these formerly undreamed of opportunities for contact with the language, all is not sunshine and light in language-learning land. We return to Palmer's phrase "select judiciously." Much that is available ostensibly to "help us in our work" does not promote or encourage that interaction that leads to communication through language. Much attention, time, and energy need to be devoted to what passes over the airwaves or is stored on disc, film. or cassette. "Garbage in, garbage out" is still as true as it ever was, and time is a precious commodity. Material that is not integrated in some way into the student's progressive learning experience (material that is inaccessible, for instance, because of level of difficulty) can be suffocating and discouraging. Teachers need to reflect very carefully on how to use, or help students to use, this almost mesmerizing variety of materials, so as to insure that it increases opportunities for learning and improves quality of learning. For us all, the watchword is cavete ("Y'all watch out now").
Six areas need careful consideration if we are to draw the most
benefit for language learners from the present rapid development
of resources. For them, as for us, open access to chaos can
be more confusing than consolidating.
1. In what ways do the programs available for use with the new technologies fit in with the aims, content, and approaches of the courses we feel our students need in light of the goals they have set themselves?
2. What can technology-based courseware accomplish as an aid to learning that cannot be achieved at lower cost, monetarily and in time and energy, through other means? (In other words, how much is enough to enhance learning?)
3. How can we ensure that teachers wholeheartedly and advisedly cooperate in incorporating the latest technological resources into the language program, facilitating individual student access to them? (Are we providing sufficient orientation, training, and retraining to build up their confidence and expertise?)
4. Do we have research evidence that incorporation of the latest technological adjuncts leads to more efficient and effective language learning and use, and are we making the adjustments indicated by what has been learned to date?
5. How do we adjust our course design, materials, and teaching so as to incorporate and supplement most usefully what the student has access to outside of the classroom? (See also Principle 10.)
6. What steps must we take to ensure that teachers who devote much time, energy, and expertise to developing effective materials using new media are suitably recognized and compensated for these efforts?
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