Content-Based Instruction in the Foreign Language Classroom: A Discourse Perspective

By Pessoa, Silvia; Hendry, Heather et al. | Foreign Language Annals, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Content-Based Instruction in the Foreign Language Classroom: A Discourse Perspective


Pessoa, Silvia, Hendry, Heather, Donato, Richard, Tucker, G. Richard, Lee, Hyewon, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract:

Although a substantial amount of professional literature argues for the potential benefits of content-based instruction, limited research exists on how this type of instruction actually is appropriated, understood, and carried out in practice by foreign language teachers. This study examines the role of two sixth grade Spanish teachers' discursive practices in content-based instruction, the goals of instruction, and the students' proficiency. Through classroom observations, discourse analysis, teacher interviews, and student writing assessments, this study shows the significance of teacher talk in engaging students in learning both language and content, an overarching goal of content-based instruction. Several implications for instruction in content-based instruction programs and the professional development of teachers emerge from this study.

Key words: classroom discourse, content-based instruction, literacy, teaching language and content

Language: Spanish

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

Although a substantial amount of professional literature argues for the potential benefits of content-based instruction, limited research exists on how this type of instruction is actually appropriated, understood, and carried out by foreign language teachers. Foreign language teachers are often grounded in language teaching methodology and knowledgeable about language and cultures. However, when faced with a foreign language course that draws on the school's academic curriculum as the vehicle of language instruction, teachers often lack the content knowledge and the pedagogical approaches to support exploring academic subject matter. As Stoller (2002) correctly points out, "many language programs endorse [content-based instruction] but only use course content as a vehicle for helping students master language skills" (p. 112). Conversely, some teachers may focus on academic content without providing explicit language instruction, hindering students' abilities to fully develop the modes of communication as presented in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (National Standards, 1996). This study seeks to inform the literature on content-based instruction, show how teachers in one school district integrate or isolate language and content, and increase understanding of how classroom talk and tasks shape a content-based foreign language course.1

The Benefits of Content-Based Instruction

Over the past several years, foreign language educators (Crandall, 1993; Short, 1997; Snow, 1998; Stoller, 2004) have promoted the benefits of content-based instruction, stating that such instruction fosters academic growth while also developing language proficiency. According to Curtain and Pesola (1994), ". . . in content-related instruction, the foreign language teacher uses concepts from the regular curriculum to enrich the program with academic content . . . The curriculum content is chosen to provide a vehicle for language learning and to reinforce the academic skills needed by the students" (p. 35). Content-based instruction is intended to foster the integration of language and content, viewing "language as a medium for learning content and content as a resource for learning and improving language" (Stoller, 2002). In addition, content-based instruction is beneficial because classroom tasks provide a context for language learning, are more cognitively demanding, and reinforce the existing school curriculum.

The Study

In this study, we examined the role of the teachers' discursive practices on content-based instruction, the goals of instruction, and the students' linguistic development. We analyzed discourse data from two sixth grade content-based Spanish classrooms in the same school taught by two different instructors who used the same curriculum. The insights gained from this analysis shed light on how content-based instruction is realized in two classrooms and the relationship between teachers' talk, classroom tasks, and students' language development.

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