ELTABB Journal Volume 1 - Page 6

The program was based on the principle that ‘less is more’ (ibid.: 189), and that effective writing instruction involves simply: Motivating students to want to practise and improve Giving students control of decisions about their work Limiting teaching to what students need or want to learn. Teaching ‘at the point of need’ is, of course, a principle that underpins the whole language learning movement, including ‘reading recovery’ programs. Courtney Cazden (1992: 129), for example, writes about ‘recognizing the need for temporary instructional detours in which the child’s attention is called to particular cues available in speech or print’ (emphasis added). It would also seem analogous to the reactive focus on form promoted by proponents of task-based learning, described by some researchers as ‘leading from behind’ (e.g. Samuda 2001), whereby the teacher intervenes to scaffold the learners’ immediate communicative needs. As Long and Norris (2009: 137) write: Advantages of focus on form include the fact that attention to linguistic code features occurs just when their meaning and function are most likely to be evident to the learners concerned, at a moment when they have a perceived need for the new item, when they are attending, as a result, and when they are psycholinguistically ready (to begin) to learn the items. ‘Point of need’ teaching also shares characteristics of what are known as ‘just in time’ (JIT) interventions, as when the user of unfamiliar computer software refers to a Help menu or seeks online support. Thus, in noting how video games embed sound pedagogical principles, James Paul Gee (2007: 142) identifies what he calls the Explicit Information On-Demand and Justin-Time Principle, which goes: ‘The learner is given explicit information both on demand and just in time, when the learner needs it or just at the point where the information can best be understood and used in practice.’ This is a principle both of good video games and of good teaching. Gee makes the point that ‘Learners cannot do much with lots of overt information that a teacher has explicitly told them outside the context of immersion in actual practice. At the same time, learners cannot learn without some overt information; they cannot discover everything for themselves’ (ibid.: 120). Gee gives the example of good classroom science instruction, where ‘An instructor does not lecture for an extended period and then tell the learners to go off and apply what they have learned in a group science activity … Rather, as group members are discovering things through their own activity, the good science instructor comes up, assesses the progress they are making and the fruitfulness of the paths down which they are proceeding in their enquiry, and then gives overt information that is, at that point, usable’ (ibid. 120). How does this principle apply to grammar teaching, as in the hypothetical case we started with? I.e. Teacher 2: ‘Tell me something I don’t know, and I’ll help you to say it better.’ In teaching one-to-one, it is relatively straight-forward and easy to manage. The learner performs a task (perhaps something they will need to do in their work), and the teacher provides corrective feedback, either during or immediately afterwards. The corrective feedback may be overt (‘You said X, but you should have said Y’) or covert, in the form of a recast: Student says ‘He go to work by bus’. Teacher says, ‘Ah, he goes to work by bus’. The feedback may involve explanation (‘We use –s on third person simple present verbs’), or it may not. And the lesson sequence may require the student to repeat the task, incorporating the corrections. But with a single student, none of these procedures is necessarily very difficult to engineer. 6