Monday, April 19, 2010

Integrating the Four Skills

Historically, the four skills were taught separately. The trend today in a lesson is to integrate the four skills which is listening, reading, writing and speaking. In this way, the lesson models for the students the real life integration of the language skills, and allows the teacher more flexibility to create interesting lessons. However, there are certain specific purposes for which students are studying English that may best be labeled by one of the four skills, especially at the high-intermediate and advanced levels.
It is utilised because production (speaking/writing) and reception (listening/reading) go together. Interaction involves more than one skill which is sending and receiving messages. There is a relationship between written and spoken language that reflects language, culture & society. So we teach the students how to use the language, not just the forms. Skills reinforce each other: we learn to speak from what we hear, and to write from what we read.
There are several models that have been brought upon; the first one is the content-based instruction, model that is integrating learning subject content with learning of a language. Curriculum dictated more by subject than language forms. The second language is just the medium for conveying informational content of interest to the learner. Learners are focused on useful, practical objectives as the subject matter is perceived to be relevant to long-term goals. This increases intrinsic motivation. As you teach a content based program you need to think of the best way to present the topic; it would be difficult to do so without using all four skills such as reading, discussing, solving problems, analyzing data, writing opinions and others.
The second model is the task-based language teaching, which organises a course around the communicative tasks learners need to engage in outside of the classroom. Implies several integrated skills in its focus on language in the real world. Focus is not the form of the language, but the functional purposes for which language may be used. Content–based focused on subject matter, but it focuses on a whole set of real world tasks such as exchanging opinions, reading newspapers and menus, writing letters and e-mails. These tasks usually involve several skills, not just one.
The third model is theme-based instruction, which is not the same as content-based instruction. It is a weak form of content-based instruction. It places equal value on content and language objectives. Curriculum is still organised around subject-matter area, but the teacher and students realize language has an equal role. Students learn by focusing on the content with peripheral attention paid to language. Numerous ESL texts use this approach especially intermediate to advance learners.
The fourth model is experiential learning, which involves giving students concrete experiences through which they ‘discover’ language principles (even if subconsciously) by trial and error, by processing feedback, by building hypotheses about language, and by revising these assumptions in order to become fluent. Teachers do not tell students how language works; they give students opportunities to use language as they go through a variety of experiences. It is also a direct contact with the subject matter or topic rather than reading or talking about it.
The last model is the episode hypothesis, which believed that the presentation of language was enhanced if students receive interconnected sentences in an interesting episode rather than disconnected sentences. Stories are universal, so students from around the world can understand their organisational structure and identify with characters. Episodes and integrated skills teaching: the episodes can be spoken, read aloud, read silently, or students can write their own, or they can act them out, etc.
All the models discussed here have several advantages which are that they are a crucial elements in learning, a good procedure for teachers to implement in the classroom. All the four skills reinforce each other and can be utilised in wide ranges of activities where all the skills can be used. With careful reflection and planning, any teacher can integrate the language skills and strengthen the tapestry of language teaching and learning. When the tapestry is woven well, learners can use English effectively for communication.


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