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Teacher actions that promote student learning

Creating a supportive learning environment

‘Effective teachers attend to the cultural and linguistic diversity of all their students. The classroom culture exists within and alongside many other cultures, including the cultures of the wider school and the local community, the students’ peer culture, and the teacher’s professional culture.’

(The New Zealand Curriculum)

iCLT acknowledges and responds appropriately to diverse learners and learning contexts (Principle 5)

Teaching a language interculturally entails recognising and embracing diversity, especially as it relates to students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds – a crucial consideration, given our increasingly culturally diverse classes.

Research on teaching for diverse learners highlights the effectiveness of instructional practices that match the ‘culturally shaped ways of knowing’ that learners bring to the classroom. The Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling BES identifies two principles of effective teaching that align closely with intercultural language teaching:

  • Student diversity is utilised effectively as a pedagogical resource.
  • Quality teaching respects and affirms cultural identity (including gender identity) and optimises educational opportunities.

In a genuinely supportive learning environment, teachers and students operate as a partnership, collaborating to identify and select contexts and resources and negotiate intended learning outcomes.

This sort of partnership embodies the concept ako, which is grounded in the principle of reciprocity: teaching and learning is a reciprocal activity; students and whānau cannot be separated; and culture counts.

Ellis’s Principle 9, ‘Instruction needs to take account of individual differences in learners’ further emphasises the importance of recognising the diversity of the classroom.

For example, in New Zealand schools, teachers and students are:

  • finding out each other’s linguistic and cultural backgrounds using student learning profiles such as the Know the Learner profile. They then use this information to make comparisons and connections between cultures and languages that go beyond monolingual and mono-cultural perspectives.

Encouraging reflective thought and action

‘Students learn most effectively when they develop the ability to stand back from the information or ideas that they have engaged with and think about these objectively. Over time, they develop their creativity, their ability to think critically about information and ideas, and their metacognitive ability.’

 (The New Zealand Curriculum).

iCLT encourages and develops an exploratory and reflective approach to culture and culture-in-language (Principle 3)

Culture defies easy description. For this reason, teaching that focuses largely on learning about ‘facts’ – visible culture – misses a large part of cultural experience.

Intercultural communicative language teaching shifts the focus from transmission of objective cultural knowledge to exploration by learners of both visible and invisible culture, and, most importantly, to exploration of ‘culture-in-language’. Exploring culture involves constructing knowledge from experience and reflection. Factual information has its place, but students interrogate this information to gain insight and understanding about the experience of others.

As students begin to understand the concept of culture and cultural differences, they begin to understand that culture learning involves observing and analysing what Byram calls ‘social processes and their outcomes’. In other words, they develop ‘critical understanding of their own and other societies’, an awareness of what constitutes culture, and how it affects everybody’s behaviour and use of language.

In the words of The New Zealand Curriculum:

"As they move between, and respond to, different languages and different cultural practices, [students] are challenged to consider their own identities and assumptions."

Teachers also engage in this process of exploration as they encourage their students to explore and discover new information and ideas and make comparisons with what they already know. This is congruent with the concept ako in kaupapa Māori.

Ideally, learning about a country, its institutions, society and history will go hand-in-hand with exploration and reflection, provided that students are encouraged to see cultural information as subjective and dynamic. Learning NZSL and about Deaf culture helps to strengthen and maintain the vitality of the language.

For example, in New Zealand classrooms, teachers and students are:

  • communicating with young people elsewhere in the target language

    Students at Green Bay High School exchange emails with German students from Hamburg. The New Zealand students write emails in German and receive replies in English. Besides practising their German, this gives them the opportunity to reflect on their own cultural identity and to gain understanding and experience of their partners’ home country, town, and cultural identity.

  • writing reflective journals about their language learning.

    Each week, students at Westlake Boys High School write in Chinese about what they’ve enjoyed or haven’t enjoyed in class or something that has happened to them that week, using the vocabulary and language structures they have learned during the previous week.

Enhancing the relevance of new learning and facilitating shared learning

Teachers look for opportunities to involve students directly in decisions relating to their own learning. This encourages them to see what they are doing as relevant and to take greater ownership of their learning.

"Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations with other people, including family members and people in the wider community. Teachers encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such a community, everyone, including the teacher, is a learner; learning conversations and learning partnerships are encouraged; and challenge, support and feedback are always available."

(The New Zealand Curriculum)

iCLT engages learners in genuine social interaction (Principle 2)

Note how this principle supports development of the key competency relating to others, which involves students ‘interacting effectively with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts’.

iCLT views any interaction involving the target language and culture as an opportunity to explore linguistic and cultural boundaries and for students to become more aware of their own – as well as others’ – ways of communicating and maintaining relationships, and deal with cross-cultural misunderstandings and communication breakdowns.

Interactions are also used to directly explore the cultural worlds, beliefs, values, and attitudes of others through topics that provide opportunities for explicit discussion of cultural comparisons.

From an intercultural perspective, interaction is not simply a tool for developing fluency; it provides opportunities for students to confront their culturally constructed worlds and cultural assumptions, and so to learn more about themselves. In the words of The New Zealand Curriculum, ‘through their learning experiences, students will learn about [among other things] their own values and those of others’.

Personal communication with native speakers/signers and interaction and exploratory talk with teachers and others – particularly talk or interaction that involves tasks and role plays – provide opportunities for learners to notice and explore culture-in-language and to develop communicative awareness.

iCLT integrates language and culture from the beginning (Principle 1)

Intercultural communicative language teaching highlights the way culture permeates our everyday lives and interactions. It does this by integrating the learning of cultural knowledge and language knowledge from the beginning.

Treated this way, culture is an important aspect of the teaching of all language macroskills (reading, writing/signing, listening, speaking/signing, viewing, and presenting), not a separate macroskill.

See principles 3 to 5 for how teachers apply this principle in their teaching. They

  • encourage learners to be experientially involved with other languages and cultures through communication and interaction (principle 2)
  • explore culture-in-language (principle 3)
  • discover connections with other cultural worlds through comparison (principle 4).

The adoption of an intercultural communicative language teaching approach promotes a fuller realisation of communication by focusing the students’ attention on the effects of the implicit messages conveyed in their choice of linguistic forms and communication strategies.

It is not difficult to attend to culture and interculturality, even in the early stages of language learning, because rich cultural content is to be found even in apparently simple language such as forms of greeting and attendant behaviour. Similarly, the coding of family relationships, the naming of rooms in a house, and expressions of politeness and respect are all appropriate topics for new learners, yet also rich topics for intercultural exploration.

For example, in New Zealand classrooms, teachers and students are:

  • choosing contexts and activities that provide opportunities for genuine social interaction

    Many senior language students go on trips to target language countries. In one school, all those going on a trip to China are designated ‘tour guide’ for a day. They are responsible for completing research on the place, city, or activities they will be visiting or doing that particular day. Then, on the actual day, they are in charge of finding the way, buying train or bus tickets, and negotiating prices.

  • establishing ‘language corners’ where ESOL students and learners of languages can meet at lunchtimes or after school and participate in language exchanges.

Making connections to prior learning and experience

‘When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximise the use of learning time, anticipate students’ learning needs, and avoid unnecessary duplication of content. Teachers can help students to make connections across learning areas as well as to home practices and the wider world.’

(The New Zealand Curriculum)

iCLT fosters explicit comparisons and connections between languages and cultures (Principle 4)

Comparing languages and cultures is fundamental to intercultural language learning. Byram and Kramsch, two leading scholars in intercultural language learning, have written extensively on the insights into self and others that can be gained through guided comparisons of cultures.

Tomlinson and Matsuhara suggest that teachers begin and end each activity ‘in the minds of the learners’, by encouraging them to think about an experience in their own culture and then providing them with a similar one in another culture, or ‘getting [learners] to ‘translate’ a new experience in another culture into an equivalent experience in their own culture’.

To be effective, comparison should be both reflective and interpretive, drawing on the students’ current knowledge and on the new knowledge they are encountering.

iCLT acknowledges and responds appropriately to diverse learners and learning contexts (Principle 5)

A student’s ability and willingness to learn a new language is influenced by attitudes that have their origins in family, community, upbringing, and schooling experiences. Evidence from educational psychology and second language acquisition research shows that it is important for teachers to have strategies for creating motivating learning conditions, and for maintaining motivation.

Each of the 14 languages taught in New Zealand schools is uniquely positioned by virtue of the relationship that exists between communities where the language is a native tongue or lingua franca, communities in the wider New Zealand context, and schools. Intercultural language teaching uses these relationships (i) to facilitate interaction and cultural experience and (ii) as topics to be explored and learnt about.

For New Zealand’s two legislated official languages, te reo Māori and New Zealand sign language, connections and opportunities are shaped not only by proximity to target language speech communities, but also by the political momentum derived from their status as official languages. In the case of te reo, this status is derived directly from the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Pasifika languages (gagana Sāmoa, Tongan, vagahau Niue, Cook Islands Māori, and gagana Tokelau) have substantial speech communities located in New Zealand. Tokelau is administered by New Zealand and Niue and the Cook Islands have special relationships with New Zealand. People from these communities are New Zealand citizens. Many Pasifika students learn these languages as heritage languages.

Students learning Chinese and to a lesser extent, Japanese and Korean, have opportunities to interact with native speakers studying as international students or recently arrived residents.

For some languages, especially those associated with more distant speech communities (most notably French, German, and Spanish), telecommunications opens up a wealth of opportunities for intercultural communication.

The New Zealand Curriculum states that the interactions and learning experiences that take place in a school should encourage students to learn about, ‘the values on which New Zealand’s cultural and institutional traditions are based’, and ‘the values of other groups and cultures’. An intercultural approach to learning languages provides many opportunities for students to do exactly this.

For example, in New Zealand classrooms, teachers and students are:

  • calling on the knowledge of native speaker international students

    At Hamilton Girls High School, language teacher Masa Ogino regularly offers students the chance to interact with native speakers and international students, saying, ‘The more native speakers are around, the more natural it becomes to use the target language.’

  • inviting 'mystery' guests to class.

    Anna Pallares, a Spanish teacher at Wentworth College, invites Spanish speaking friends from the local area along to her language classes. The students are given advance notice of a visit and tasked with preparing questions in Spanish to ask the visitor. The students really enjoy being able to communicate in Spanish, particularly in authentic conversations with a native speaker. Their confidence grows as they discover they can make themselves understood.

Providing sufficient opportunities to learn

‘Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practice, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different tasks or contexts. It also means that when curriculum coverage and student understanding are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less, but cover it in greater depth.’

 (The New Zealand Curriculum)

Many of the principles of effective second language acquisition rely on providing students with extended opportunities to engage with the language they are learning. In particular, principles 1, 6, 7 and 8 require teachers to consider how such opportunities can be created.

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Last updated May 20, 2016