Promoting Process-Oriented Listening Instruction in the ESL Classroom.
Quand les enseignants de langue seconde enseignent l'ecoute, ils ont tendance a se fier aux approches orientees sur le produit qui evaluent la capacite de leurs eleves a identifier des mots et a repondre a des questions de comprehension. Pourtant, cette methode ne contribue que tres peu a l'amelioration des habiletes d'ecoute des eleves (par ex., Vandergrift & Goh, 2012). Pour aborder cette question, les chercheurs recommandent des approches alternatives qui guident les apprenants au fil du processus d'ecoute de sorte a ameliorer la comprehension et les competences. Un examen de 6 manuels populaires d'anglais langue seconde ou etrangere pour adulte a revele que la plupart des activites d'ecoute sont orientees sur un produit (evaluation de la reconnaissance des mots ou la comprehension a l'ecoute) plutot que sur un processus (directives pour aider la reconnaissance des mots et la comprehension). Pour mettre en valeur l'integration des approches axees sur le processus dans l'enseignement de l'ecoute, nous offrons des suggestions d'activites pour enrichir les activites crees par les enseignants ou provenant des manuels et qui sont axees sur le produit. Nous commencons par un survol de la recherche et de la theorie qui portent sur l'ecoute en langue seconde et qui justifient l'integration dans les cours d'ALS d'approches pedagogiques axees sur le processus. Ensuite, nous presentons les resultats de notre examen de manuels et recommandons des exemples de types d'activites que les enseignants et les auteurs de manuels pourraient incorporer dans leur materiel pedagogique pour offrir une approche equilibree a l'enseignement de l'ecoute.
KEYWORDS: adult ESL listening instruction, intermediate ESL/EFL textbook analysis, listening activity types
Listening is a complex skill that involves understanding the meaning of spoken messages (i.e., input), and the language input received via listening plays a key role in language learning (Vandergrift & Tafaghodtari, 2010). Many second language (L2) instructors find that listening is a challenging skill to teach and for learners to acquire (Brown, 2011; Lynch, 2009; Vandergrift, 2007), mainly because of the connectedness (Goh, 2000), speed, accentedness, and "unplanned nature of spoken discourse" (Richards, 2015, p. 373). In comparison with the other skills of reading, writing, and speaking, "the development of listening receives the least systematic attention from teachers and instructional materials" (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012, p. 4). When teaching listening, English as a second language (ESL) instructors typically rely on the use of comprehension questions and the adoption of a "listen, answer, check" testing pattern in the classroom (Siegel, 2014), rather than teaching learners how to listen. As a result, it is not surprising that listening is the skill over which learners usually feel they have the least control, and therefore it often triggers high levels of learner anxiety (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012).
A typical listening lesson consists of three stages: pre-listening, listening, and post-listening (Underwood, 1989); however, there is a tendency for instructors to overextend the first stage because they often think they need to prepare learners as much as possible prior to listening (Field, 2008). Unfortunately, the incorporation of extensive pre-listening activities does little to prepare learners for real-world authentic listening contexts where pre-listening activities do not actually occur. Textbook writers are also inclined to introduce excessive "superfluous scene-setting prior to listening" (Field, 2008, p. 83), which may result in learners anticipating much of the information they should initially be listening for in the passages. Most importantly, an overemphasis on pre-listening reduces the time available for the most fundamental stage in the lesson-the listening stage, thereby limiting the opportunities for formative assessment, feedback, and remediation (i.e., limiting the possibility of teachers identifying learner difficulties and providing instruction in how to resolve the problems).
In this article, we describe a model of L2 listening and related research to guide the design and delivery of research-informed listening instruction that extends the listening stage by focusing on the listening process. We then report the results of a textbook analysis of the types of listening activities found in six popular adult ESL textbooks to determine to what extent they include listening activities that either test or teach listening skills. Finally, we present a number of activity types that could be used to promote a balanced approach to listening instruction in the ESL classroom.
L2 Listening Comprehension
Vandergrift and Goh (2012) proposed a theoretical model of L2 listening comprehension that incorporates the constructs of bottom-up and top-down processing (Eysenck, 1993) and metacognition (Flavell, 1979; Wenden, 1998). Bottom-up processing is defined as the "segmentation of the sound stream into meaningful units to interpret the message" (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012, p. 18). It is a mechanical process in which listeners utilize their knowledge of the segmentals (sounds/phonemes) and supra-segmentals (rhythm, stress, intonation) of the target language to construct meaning from the sound stream. Top-down processing involves the use of the listening context and background knowledge to interpret the message. Research has indicated that these two processes rarely operate independently, but rather interactively, and the context of and purpose for listening determines the extent to which listeners may use one process more than the other (Davis & Johnsrude, 2007). Accurate, fluent listening relies on listeners' metacognitive knowledge of both bottom-up and top-down processing strategies and their ability to orchestrate appropriate "strategies in a continuous metacognitive cycle" (Vandergrift & Tafaghodtari, 2010, p. 470). This metacognitive cycle "involves the use of planning, monitoring, problem solving and evaluating to effectively regulate listening comprehension" (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012, p. 23).
It is apparent from Vandergrift and Goh's (2012) model of L2 listening that in order to be successful listeners of an L2, learners have to automatically engage several interactive strategic processes to construct meaning. Therefore, it would be beneficial to learners if teachers and textbook writers adopted a balanced L2 instructional approach that includes both process- and product-oriented listening instruction that teaches learners how to regulate their listening comprehension in addition to assessing their listening skills.
The Dominance of Product-Oriented Approaches
According to Field (2008), L2 instructors typically rely on product-oriented approaches that focus primarily on the learners' abilities to answer listening comprehension questions. Similarly, Vandergrift and Goh (2012) stated that "listening in many language classrooms tends to focus on the outcome of listening," with listeners being asked "to record or repeat the details they have heard, or to explain the meaning of a passage they have heard" (p. 4). While such activities provide learners with listening experience and exposure, Field (2008) argued that when teachers merely focus on the product of listening, they do little to help learners develop their listening competence, as they are testing listening rather than teaching it. "Teaching entails providing models and support, demonstrations of desired behaviors, and a how to element" (Siegel, 2015, p. 52; emphasis in original). Therefore, listening instruction should help "learners develop abilities to cope with aural L2 input" (p. 51). The identification of individual words in the speech stream (i.e., phonological decoding) may also be viewed as a product-oriented or testing approach because phonological decoding is generally restricted to word identification and does not imply comprehension (Woore, 2009). For example, when learners are asked to complete single word fill-in-the-blank listening activities, they may be able to decode and spell a word such as "supercilious," but this does not mean that they understand the word.
Siegel (2014) provided empirical evidence to support Field's (2008) and Vandergrift and Goh's (2012) claims that instructors tend to rely on product-based approaches when teaching L2 listening. Siegel (2014) examined the listening activities that L2 teachers used in their university English as a foreign language (EFL) classes in Japan. He found that although the teachers utilized a range of techniques in their lessons, comprehension questions were employed much more frequently than any of the other techniques: 70% of the classroom listening activities involved checking comprehension. These results indicated that the instructors primarily relied on product-oriented approaches, which test students' listening skills, rather than process-oriented approaches, which assist students in improving their listening skills. However, the extent to which product- and process-oriented approaches are utilized in ESL/EFL textbooks remains to be explored.
Process-Oriented Approaches to L2 Listening Instructional Materials
Three main process-oriented approaches to teaching L2 listening that have been discussed in the literature include bottom-up (Siegel, 2013; Vandergrift, 2007), metacognitive (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012; Vandergrift & Tafaghodtari, 2010), and a dual focus on listening-for-comprehension and listening-for-learning (Richards, 2007). Each of these approaches is described below and example activities are included under the subsequent section titled Example Listening Activities.
Bottom-up. As previously defined, bottom-up processing relies on the listeners' knowledge of segmentals and supra-segmentals to identify words and construct meaning (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012). Therefore, bottom-up activities include "work on phonics, reduced speech, dictation, and simultaneous listening and script reading" (Siegel, 2014, p. 6). When combined with a focus on meaning, these activities can help develop learners' bottom-up processing skills (Goh, 2000) and are viewed as alternatives to product-based approaches that test L2 listening. Studies such as Al-Jasser (2008) and Siegel and Siegel (2015) have indicated that explicit bottom-up listening instruction may actually lead to improvements in learners' listening comprehension and lexical segmentation skills.
Metacognitive. Vandergrift and Goh's (2012) metacognitive approach to L2 listening instruction assists learners in understanding the processes and strategies underlying successful listening by engaging "learners in listening and thinking about their listening through an active iterative process, while they practice listening skills, within an integrated holistic approach to learning" (p. xiii). The goal of this approach is to develop self-regulated learners who accept responsibility for their learning and control their own learning processes. Central to the metacognitive approach is Vandergrift's (2004) research-based pedagogical cycle, which consists of five stages of listening instruction. The cycle includes a short prelistening planning/predicting stage; three listening verification stages where students listen to the passage, verify their understanding, select and use listening strategies to address their comprehension problems, and evaluate their strategy use; and finally a reflection stage where students write about or discuss what they have learned about their strategic listening processes, and then set goals for improving their strategy use in future listening tasks.
Dual focus on listening-for-comprehension and listening-for-learning. Richards (2007) recommended an approach to teaching listening that involves a two-part cycle of activities in listening lessons and materials: a comprehension phase and an acquisition phase-where the former focuses on extracting meaning, and the latter includes either form-focused noticing activities or restructuring activities. A form-focused activity is "any planned or incidental instructional activity that is intended to induce language learners to pay attention to linguistic form" (Ellis, 2001, pp. 1-2). Form-focused noticing activities involve using the listening text to develop language awareness, while restructuring activities are oral or written tasks that involve productive use of selected items from the listening text.
An analysis of the listening activities included in six popular intermediate adult ESL/EFL textbooks (see Appendix) was conducted to determine the extent to which the activities reflected the product- or process-oriented approaches to instruction described in the preceding section. The texts were selected due to their availability and use in local intermediate adult ESL programs.
Figure 1 provides an overview of the listening activity types. Detailed descriptions of these activities and examples that were developed specifically for this article are provided in the next section. The listening activity types found in each textbook, as well as the frequency and percentage of the total number of listening activities in each text, are presented in Table 1.
The frequencies in Table 1 indicate that the range of activity types differs greatly across texts, with NorthStar 3 containing seven activity types and Interchange 3A only two. With the exception of one text (Lecture Ready 2), testing comprehension or decoding skills consistently represent the most common activity types, occurring in approximately half the number of listening activities in Active Listening 3, NorthStar 3, American English File 3, Top Notch 3, and almost 100% of the activities in Interchange 3A (33 out of 36 activities).
Follow-up dual focus speaking/reading/writing activities represent the second most common type of activities. Planning/predicting activities are also a frequent category. Activities that are included in at least one of these textbooks but with lower frequencies are monitoring comprehension, evaluating listening/problem solving, follow-up grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, and supra-segmental activities. Supra-segmental bottom-up activities occur only three times, while segmental activities and problem solving are the two activity types that are not represented. Therefore, it is apparent that product-oriented approaches are employed much more frequently than are process-oriented approaches in these six textbooks.
The four processes (planning, monitoring, problem-solving, and evaluation) in Vandergrift and Goh's (2012) metacognitive pedagogical sequence are also disproportionately represented in the textbooks, with planning/predicting being the most common and problem solving being the least common. The high frequency of planning/predicting activities is actually not unexpected, given that this process roughly coincides with the pre-listening stage in the popular three-stage model typically employed by many teachers and found in most textbooks (Field, 2008). However, as discussed earlier, this stage should be the briefest stage in the lesson, and most of the time should be spent on the second listening stage.
It is important to stress that the results of this textbook review are not entirely discouraging. Although researchers (Field, 2008; Vandergrift & Goh, 2012) have criticized product-oriented approaches, it is the over-reliance on activities that test learners' listening comprehension and decoding skills that is the problem. These activities can provide a valid means for teachers and learners to monitor learners' progress and to verify the effectiveness of instruction. Therefore, instructors need not (and should not) abandon product-oriented approaches altogether, but they should find ways to limit these in favour of more enabling, process-oriented approaches, and to use comprehension questions and decoding activities in combination with at least one process-oriented approach as a way to ensure that the learners develop their listening skills and strategies.
Example Listening Activities
It is possible to teach listening in a way that not only tests learners' comprehension and decoding skills, but also teaches learners how to use meta-cognitive strategies to deal with comprehension problems, to monitor their progress, to recognize and interpret prosodic elements appropriately, and to notice and acquire target language forms. In this section, example activities corresponding to the approaches in Figure 1 are presented to increase instructors' and textbook writers' awareness of the wide range of research-informed listening activities that should be incorporated into ESL lessons and texts.
A. Typical classroom and textbook activities that test listening comprehension or decoding skills
Product-oriented approaches use a set of questions, or a task, that tests either the learners' understanding of a recorded passage or their ability to decode the passage into smaller units (i.e., phonemes, syllables, words). In the examples below, the first activity tests decoding skills while the second activity tests listening comprehension.
I. Listen to the interview and fill in each blank with the correct word:
1. Terry was the ___________ child in the family.
2. His parents were ___________ to their family, and his mother was especially of her children.
II. Listen again, decide if each of the following statements is true or false, then circle T for true or F for false:
1. As a child, Terry loved distance running. T / F
2. He was a very competitive boy. T / F
While it is necessary to use these types of activities at times to test students' skills, it is also important to address some of the processing difficulties that learners are likely to face when listening to authentic texts, as opposed to the semiauthentic and scripted texts typically found in textbooks. The inclusion of teaching activities such as those in the ensuing section can assist learners with particular processing problems.
B. Recommended activities for teaching listening comprehension
Process-oriented approaches to teaching listening may or may not include comprehension (testing) questions, but they differ from product-oriented approaches in that they guide learners through the listening process toward comprehension and/or promote language development.
I. Bottom-up activities. Bottom-up activities help learners achieve comprehension of a recorded passage through "translating the speech signal into speech sounds, words and clauses, and finally into a literal meaning" (Field, 2008, p. 125).
1. Segmental. Segmental activities are bottom-up activities that take place at the phoneme, syllable, or word-form levels. The following example activity would precede a listening task where learners listen to a speech about programs of study at a university. Through this activity, the learners will be able to recognize nouns that denote fields of study by listening for the following suffixes: -logy or -ics. First, the instructor explains that the names of many study subjects take either -logy or -ics as suffixes, and asks learners if they know any words with either suffix. Then, to familiarize learners with these suffixes, the instructor has them add the correct suffix to the following roots to form nouns that denote fields of study:
anthropo- econom- linguist- psycho- bio- geo- obstetr- pediatr-
2. Supra-segmental. Bottom-up supra-segmental activities take place beyond the segmental level, and include syntactic parsing, sentence stress, and intonation. Syntactic parsing includes "recognising where clauses and phrases end, anticipating syntactic patterns, [and] checking hypotheses" (Field, 2008, p. 115). The following syntactic parsing example activity is designed to increase learners' awareness of the use of pauses to recognize where clauses and phrases end: The instructor asks learners to listen to some radio broadcasts, paying attention to pauses. Then the learners listen again and mark the pauses on a transcript of the passage. Finally, in pairs or small groups, learners discuss how paying attention to pauses helped them understand the recording.
Stress and intonation activities include "making use of sentence stress, recognising chunks of language, [and] using intonation to support syntax" (Field, 2008, p. 115). The following example activity highlights the fact that different meanings are signaled by rising or falling intonation. The instructor asks learners to listen to a dialogue and mark on a transcript the rising and falling intonations using lines and arrows, then choose the answers below that best describe the intended meaning.
1. What have I done wrong?
a. I have done nothing wrong.
b. I want to know what I have done wrong.
a. I'm really excited.
b. I'm very angry.
When asked with falling intonation at the end, which is the typical intonation contour that is used for wh- questions, the question "What have I done wrong?" simply means that the speaker wants to know what s/he has done wrong. However, when the question is asked with rising intonation at the end, it is like an announcement (often combined with a confrontational attitude) that the speaker has done nothing wrong.
In the second example, speaking the exclamation "Great!" with a rising intonation shows excitement, as when the speaker likes an idea very much. When the intonation falls on this word, however, it may mean that the speaker is angry or not happy. In this case, the word "Great!" is being used sarcastically.
II. Metacognitive listening activities. Metacognitive activities that involve planning for listening, monitoring comprehension, solving comprehension problems, and evaluating listening "increase learner awareness about the listening process" (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012, p. 105) and assist learners in becoming more strategic listeners.
1. Planning for listening. Prior to listening, learners can be encouraged to activate their background knowledge of the passage topic and genre. For example, students could be asked to predict how the information may be sequenced and organized, or predict words, phrases, or ideas they will likely hear in the passage (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012). The following example activity would precede a listening passage about the results of a survey about the most popular leisure activities among Canadian youths: With a partner, make a list of five leisure activities that you think are most popular among Canadian youths.
2. Monitoring comprehension. Listeners should be encouraged to continually evaluate their comprehension by checking "for consistency with their predictions, for appropriateness with world knowledge, and for internal consistency" (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012, p. 107) of information and ideas. For example, following the planning stage in the example activity above (Section II.1), the instructor could have learners listen to the results of the survey. To encourage monitoring while listening, the instructor has learners place check marks beside those activities that are in their lists and were also mentioned in the text, and add any other activities that were mentioned but are not in their lists. Then students could be asked to compare/explain/discuss their answers with a partner.
3. Solving comprehension problems. To assist learners in solving comprehension problems, they should be encouraged to activate appropriate strategies, make inferences about sections of the passage they are unsure of, or ask for clarification (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012). Because problem solving will be required only when there are parts of the passage learners do not understand, it is often difficult for instructors and textbook writers to anticipate the sources of comprehension problems that students may have. Nevertheless, problem-solving activities should not be neglected. An example bottom-up problem-solving activity follows.
While completing the listening activity described in II.1 and II.2 above, learners may have problems discriminating between numbers that correspond to particular figures referred to in the text, for example, the figures thirty and thirteen. To assist in identifying the correct figure number in the recording, the instructor can direct learners to pay attention to word stress patterns and explain that thirty is stressed on the first syllable while thirteen is stressed on the second syllable.
4. Evaluating listening and problem solving. Listeners should be encouraged to "reflect on difficulties encountered, what went wrong, and why," "confirm comprehension with a transcription of parts or all of the text," or "reflect on the success of problem-solving efforts" (Vandergrift & Goh, 2012, p. 107). An evaluation activity that could be added to the end of the listening activity in the example about leisure activities follows. The instructor provides learners with a transcript of the passage and asks them to confirm that they have written down all the activities included in the survey results. Then, if they missed any of the activities, the instructor asks the learners to determine why they missed them and to discuss in small groups what strategies they could use to rectify their problems in future listening tasks. Examples of these strategies as outlined in several studies such as Chen (2009) and Graham, Santos, and Vanderplank (2011) include directed attention, selective attention, listening for gist, inferencing, and visualization.
C. Dual-focus follow-up activities
Dual-focus activities emphasize both listening-for-comprehension and listening-for-learning by building upon the topic or salient features of the listening passage. In most textbooks, these activities are presented within the listening section of each unit, following the main listening activities. They may be categorized as follow-up speaking, reading, writing, or grammar/vocabulary activities.
I. Follow-up speaking/reading/writing activities. Example: After the completion of listening activities about traditional celebrations in some Western and Eastern cultures, the instructor could introduce a follow-up speaking activity by asking learners to discuss a few relevant questions in small groups (e.g., What do most of the traditional celebrations mentioned in the recording have in common? Do you think immigrants should adopt their host country's traditions?).
For a follow-up reading activity, learners could read a short passage about the Chinese New Year and answer a few comprehension questions.
For a follow-up writing activity, learners could be asked to write a paragraph to describe a traditional celebration in another country.
II. Follow-up grammar/vocabulary/pronunciation activities. Example: After a listening activity where a person named Edward tells a story about his trip to Bali, Indonesia, the instructor could draw students' attention to the superlative form of adjectives by asking learners to listen and complete the following sentences from the recording.
1. It was the ____________ hut I had ever seen.
2. We didn't use the ____________ bedroom.
3. It was our most ____________ trip.
In small groups, students could then discuss the rules for forming the superlatives in sentences 1-3.
To develop learners' vocabulary, the instructor could ask them to (a) list all the adjectives mentioned in the recording that are used to describe a landscape (e.g., beautiful, spectacular, stunning), (b) look up the words they don't know in a dictionary and create word cards with definitions/translations on the back, and (c) work in pairs to test one another's understanding of these words.
An example follow-up pronunciation activity is to introduce/review the pronunciation of the schwa sound (/?/, as in aloud or bigger). The instructor could explain that the schwa is a central vowel sound that is the most frequent vowel sound in English and is mainly found in unstressed positions (i.e., in unstressed syllables or words) (Derwing & Munro, 2015). Then the instructor could give a few examples from the listening passage and have students identify the other schwa sounds in a transcript of the passage.
Although listening instructional practices and textbook exercises often feature comprehension exercises or fill-in-the-blank decoding activities like those in Section A above, the recommended alternative approaches and activities included in Section B that are more process-oriented have the greatest potential to improve learners' listening skills (Field, 2008; Lynch, 2009; Richards, 2007; Vandergrift & Goh, 2012).
Our survey of the listening activities found in popular adult ESL/EFL texts revealed a heavy emphasis on product-oriented approaches for teaching listening. A greater integration of process-oriented approaches is required to move beyond the dominance of comprehension and fill-in-the-blank questions that test learners' abilities to comprehend or decode a text. Instructional material developers and instructors should be encouraged to supplement product-oriented approaches with process-oriented ones that teach learners how to monitor comprehension, use strategies to solve bottom-up processing and comprehension problems, and evaluate the outcomes of strategy use. The integration of activities that focus on the process of listening can facilitate the development of effective listening skills. In addition, listening passages and transcripts should be exploited to a greater extent in follow-up activities to promote more form-focused learning. By balancing approaches to listening instruction, textbook writers and instructors can increase learners' understanding of their own thinking and strategic listening processes, and their ability to effectively orchestrate and transfer a combination of appropriate listening strategies to new listening tasks and contexts.
We wish to thank Dr. Marian Rossiter for her invaluable feedback on a previous, extended version of this article and Sarvenaz Hatami for piloting the textbook coding schema.
Huong Nguyen is an English language instructor at Hanoi University, Vietnam. She earned her Master of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alberta in 2015.
Marilyn Abbott is an associate professor in the TESL program at the University of Alberta.
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Table 1 Frequencies and Percentages of Listening Activity Types in Each Textbook Active Listening 3 Lecture Ready 2 NorthStar 3 Listening Activity n % n % n % Testing (a) 86 46 38 27 52 49 Planning/Predicting 33 18 79 57 10 9 Monitoring 0 0 10 7 9 8 Evaluating 1 1 10 7 3 3 Supra-segmental 0 0 2 1 1 1 Follow-up S/R/W 36 19 0 0 32 30 Follow-up G/V/P 32 17 0 0 0 0 Total Listening 188 100 139 100 107 100 Activities Total 86 46 38 27 52 49 Product-oriented Activities Total 102 55 101 72 55 51 Process-oriented Activities American English Top Notch 3 Interchange 3A File 3 Listening Activity n % n % n % Testing (a) 45 50 32 46 33 92 Planning/Predicting 15 17 32 46 0 0 Monitoring 12 13 2 3 0 0 Evaluating 0 0 0 0 0 0 Supra-segmental 0 0 0 0 0 0 Follow-up S/R/W 17 19 4 6 3 8 Follow-up G/V/P 1 1 0 0 0 0 Total Listening 90 100 70 100 36 100 Activities Total 45 50 32 46 33 92 Product-oriented Activities Total 45 50 38 55 3 8 Process-oriented Activities Note. The activity types in this table reflect our analysis of only those activities found in the six intermediate adult ESL/EFL textbooks and therefore are not an exhaustive list. S/R/W = Speaking, reading, and writing. G/V/P = Grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. (a) l.e., testing comprehension or decoding.
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|Title Annotation:||In the Classroom|
|Author:||Nguyen, Huong; Abbott, Marilyn L.|
|Publication:||TESL Canada Journal|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2016|
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