As indicated in the study by Tajmel and Starl (2009), Vygotsky can be considered the leading, most progressive representative, and the greatest supporter of the social constructivism theories and concepts. “Two important concepts for Vygotsky are thought and language” (Tajmel & Starl, 2009, p. 181).
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This means that the child begins to understand the meaning of cultural patterns he/she encounters in the process of using language and thinking about the events that happen around with regard to the language patterns and situations in society. From Vygotsky’s perspectives, the learning and development are reviewed in the context of social learning and can be understood with the help of the language acquisition paradigms.
The abbreviation ZPD refers to zone of proximal development explained by Vygotsky through the relationship between the actual level of development and potential level of development in the process of problem solving based on adult guidance or “in collaboration with more capable peers” (Tajmel & Starl, 2009, p. 181).
In other words, the zone of approximate development can be found out when a student is assessed comparing to other students of the same age and similar skills.
The main principles of development and learning indicated by Vygotsky include scaffolding, social environments, and collaboration between a teacher and students or guidelines as the method to advance learning.
In terms of Vygotsky’s concept, Pinter (2006) claims that all pupil’s learning take place through conversations with social interactions introducing a perfect theory for theme-based learning because the themes suggest social context in which different language patterns occur.
Scaffolding is regarded as one of the major roles of a teacher in class with regard to the constructivist theory of education used for language acquisition instruction (Jonassen, 1999).
In addition, the scaffolding is viewed as the method which changes the support level the teacher provides to mentor students. In the lesson plan, interaction patterns clearly illustrate how pupils and teacher work together.
Collaboration between students and teacher is regarded as one of the integral parts of educational activity in terms of constructivism theory where a teacher should mentor students in a democratic manner (Jonassen, 1999). Vygotsky (1978) believes that the knowledge is gained through practical implementation of certain theory. In other words, experience is the main way to learn something.
This constructivist approach suggest a good background for the theme-based learning activities because students can learn new concepts (in this case, students acquire a foreign language and learn new vocabulary units and language patterns) through some hypothetical situations.
The study by Piaget and Inhelder (1969) also reviews the knowledge acquisition as the practical activity that takes place in specific learning environments.
The advantages of pair work and group work were discussed in different studies (Doff, 1988; Martine, n. d.). As such, Doff (1988) claims that more active involvement and higher level of interest are the main advantages of using group work and pair work (p. 140) while Martine (n. d.) lists such advantages as “more secure and positive classroom atmosphere” and “increase [of] students’ talking time” (p. 35).
At the same time, the role of a teacher in class may shift from guiding and assessing to scaffolding which is the basic role suggested for constructive development learning classes.
The impact of such theorists as Vygotsky (1962), Bruner (1966), Piaget(1967), and Garner(1983) on childhood education is enormous because each of these researchers contributed to understanding of applicable patterns to facilitate and advance effectiveness of learning.
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Bruner (1966) outlined the basic principles of education where one of the major roles belongs to conceptualisation of objects. In other words, all activities should be conceptualising according to Bruner.
In the light of Vygotsky’s concept, Bruner’s model of representation can be considered the one introduced in the lesson plan discussed because action-based learning includes role-playing and games whereas image-based learning includes pictures and visual images; at the same time, the lesson plan uses symbolic/language representation in the activities because learners try to associate the words in the foreign language with certain symbols and words in the native language.
The concept of scaffolding for lesson plans was discussed by Bruner and other researchers (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). The lesson plan includes basic format and routines whereas warming up activities are regarded as routines because they are essential and cannot be excluded from the plan; at the same time, basic format includes a number of activities that can be either addressed or not during the lesson.
Piaget’s perspectives are largely based on the theories by Vygotsky and are similar to those. The study by Sigelman and Rider (2011) focuses on the four stages of cognitive development suggested by Jean Piaget because he saw the cognitive development process as the way people adapt to the social environment.
As such, the four stages of development include the following periods and typical tasks children can accomplish:
- sensorimotor (from birth to approximately 2 years) is characterised by senses in combination with motor actions used by children to learn the world;
- preoperational (from 2 to 7 years) when symbolic meanings are addressed regardless of lack of logical thinking to build the patterns;
- concrete operations (from 7 to 11 years) characterised by acquisition of logical operations used for knowledge acquisition and data processing and evaluation with regard to reference to the real world problems and solutions;
- formal operations (from 11 years to older) when hypothetical and abstract concepts/problems are suggested to be solved (Piaget, 1977; Sigelman & Rider, 2011, p. 49).
Different levels of development and problems related to their recognition were also reviewed in the studies by Patterson (2008) and Erikson (1968).
According to Piaget, pupils in this class are at concrete operational stage. At this stage, children are able to fulfil assignments that are based on concrete instructions as opposed to the abstract tasks where hypothetical or abstract situations are suggested and abstract solutions should be found to abstract problems. In this respect, the children of 7-11 years old can accomplish the task where every stage is understandable and clear.
Criticism of Piaget’s thought includes the ideas about limit of the levels and concepts applied. “The developmental theory of Jean Piaget has been criticized on the grounds that it is conceptually limited, empirically false, or philosophically and epistemologically untenable” (Lourenco & Machado, 1996, p. 143).
Nevertheless, Piaget’s thoughts are helpful for teachers to select appropriate tasks and activities for students from different age groups and help them develop certain skills.
Gardner’s perspective is largely based on the theories existing before in education though the major contribution of this author is the variety of intelligences that were believed to be developed through experience.
Four learning styles listed by Reid (1987) introduce the differences in preferences of learning activities chosen by native speakers and foreign language learners to facilitate the process of choosing the most appropriate activities for the lesson plan. In the lesson plan, activities are designed in different ways to fit different pupils.
Cameron (2001) addressed theme-based teaching and included visualisation as one of the main factors of effective learning. Studies by R. Dunn (1983, 1984) and Reinert (1976) identify the major four learning channels of students. In this respect, the current lesson plan s based on the theories aimed at making the learning more effective.
As there is not perfect lesson plan, every plan designed with regard to certain theories and aimed to meet the needs of certain categories of students, is sure to have some advantages as well as disadvantages. In this respect, the current lesson plan is designed for students aged 9-11 who acquire foreign language in Taiwan with the help of learning activities created using theme-based learning.
The main advantages of the current lesson plan include variety of materials used by the teacher to foster the discussion in class. Besides, every student may be interested in various activities which mean that the same activity for the entire period of the lesson would not be appropriate for the language acquisition class.
In this respect, the variety of materials such as various games, description of pictures, story-telling, storybook reading, and role-playing contribute greatly to the effectiveness of comprehension of the taught materials and effective acquisition of the foreign language.
The analysis of games may be carried out with regard to appropriateness or inappropriateness of this type f activity to language acquisition lessons. According to the study by Tough (2009), Vygotsky advocated the appropriateness of using playing games because it contributed greatly to the development of children.
Pictures can be used in a lesson so that students can describe them using their inner speech patterns first and them applying the inner text into the spoken words (Santrock, 2001). In this respect, the pictures used for learning activities are aimed at serving as preparation models for students to formulate what they want to say with the help of their inner speech and then represent their descriptions of pictures.
This can sometimes be difficult for foreign language learners because they may formulate their inner speech in their mother tongue whereas the oral descriptions are made in the foreign language. On the other hand, this activity would help students to use the foreign language for their inner speech as one of the main principles and tools for foreign language acquisition because students are taught to think in foreign language.
Storybook reading and role-playing appear to be of special importance for the lessons aimed at mentoring students aged 9-11 years old because children have to be interested in the learning process and take active part in the process. Pictures can motivate learners and bring fun to learning due to the age of participants. Games can bring motivation to young learners as well as bright pictures used for guiding the learners.
In the lesson plan, teacher will introduce a story to the whole class while every pupil may have a specific perception of the characters and events presented in the story. A teacher may ask several comprehension questions from the storybook in order to assess the understanding of the text and the events including the relationship between different objects/concepts outlined in the story.
Group work as well as work in pairs can be encourage for pupils because they may feel confused when asked to talk independently but contribute greatly to collective projects.
The role-playing may be challenging and encouraging for students at the same time because they are asked to select a role and act it out using specific behavioural patterns typical of the subjects that are chosen for role-playing.
As such, different social roles as well as professions, family relations, and other interrelations may be taught with the help of role-playing for foreign language learners. On the other hand, there are some disadvantages of this lesson plan based on constructive development theory.
The main disadvantage of the current lesson plan is that students mostly use foreign language in class whereas they should have more opportunities in real life environment to apply their knowledge skills in practice.
On the other hand, the current lesson plan can be considered a good method to overcome this disadvantage because the teacher may include more different topics related to everyday life into the lesson plans in order to develop students’ knowledge of language units and patterns that can be applied to various situations.
To evaluate a language programme, many aspects have to be taken into consideration. If a teacher plans to include student’s evaluation with regard to the results of observations, certain assessment criteria and standards should be previously established.
The current lesson plan seems to be structured in accordance with the theories and principles suggested by such theorist of constructive development models for learning as Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, and Gardner. All these researchers contributed greatly to the establishment of specific principles that can be used in class.
As such, the lesson plan includes playing as one of the ways to develop a child while inner speech patterns are taken into account in the activities aimed at requiring answers to some questions: Students are asked to answer the question and they start formulating the answers by applying the inner speech patterns to the oral presentation.
In this respect, the current lesson plan suggests a set of theme-based learning activities in order to involve the learners into acquisition of language patterns used in different social environments. At the same time, the activity has such disadvantage as the fact that learners do not use foreign language in everyday life when they rather use their mother tongue.
The future plans for the theme-based learning activities include a number of detailed sets that would reflect the everyday life of learners so that they could associate the topics taught in class with some patterns and concepts encountered at home and while communicating with friends outside the class.
In other words, the class activities should aim to reflect the needs and interests, preferences and concerns of students they experience outside the class.
As such, feelings and emotions as well as fears and concerns should be addressed during foreign language acquisition classes so that students could communicate effectively in foreign language. In addition, different types of activities should be included in order to cover all types of memory and perception of students.
Bruner, J., 1966. Toward a theory of instruction. Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press.
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