posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany
Improvisations are task-driven learning opportunities (Lerngelegenheiten; Hartmut von Hentig 1993) designed to stimulate spontaneous peer interaction in the target language. The focus is on the natural reciprocity of comprehension and production in communication, on the functional and collaborative practice of the target language in flexible learning environments, on ‘transformation of participation’ rather than on (measurable) ‚outcome‘ and individuals‘ possessions of concepts and skills (see Rogoff 1998).
In order to accomplish an improvisation task, learners need to do more than process target language input and produce output. (The computer metaphor of learning is inadequate to capture the psychosocial complexity of negotiated interaction in secondary school EFL classrooms). Nevertheless, viewed from a purely psycholinguistic perspective, there is supportive evidence that improvised speaking is necessary and beneficial, and that spontaneous negotiation of meaning in increasingly less scripted target language (peer) interaction can contribute to improving ‘language processing abilities’. As Legenhausen (1999) states, “Transfer from code-focused exercises to free communicative practice is not as successful as envisaged by designers of traditional language courses. Traditionally taught learners heavily rely on a limited number of memorized and/or automatized structures, which then act as ‘islands of reliability’ in communicative interactions. … Deliberate instruction of forms does not ensure their accessibility and use in communicative situations. … In order for learners to fully exploit their language processing abilities, they need to be given ample opportunity for experimenting with linguistic forms in authentic communicative situations.”
More to come (for instance on task rehearsal and feedback, the teacher’s role, etc.). Stay tuned.
Hentig, Hartmut von (1993). Die Schule neu denken. München: Hanser.
Legenhausen, Lienhard (1999), “The emergence and use of grammatical structures in conversational interactions – comparing traditional and autonomous learners. In: Mißler, Bettina & Multhaup, Uwe (Eds.). The Construction of Knowledge, Learner Autonomy and Related Issues in Foreign Language Learning. Essays in Honour of Dieter Wolff. Tübingen: Stauffenberg, 27-40.
Rogoff, Barbara (1998), „Cognition as a collaborative process.“ In: Damon, William (Ed.). Handbook of Child Psychology. Fifth edition. Volume II: Cognition, Perception, and Language. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 679-744.