Spanish SLA Research, Classroom
Practice, and Curriculum Design
Joseph Collentine Northern Arizona University
The study of second language acquisition (SLA) and its pedagogical practices for fostering learner development are underscored by theoretical premises that reflect both general learning theory and SLA-specific theories. While there is overlap in terms of the basic premises of the theories and their implications for Spanish educators (e.g., constructivism and sociocultural theory), each has uniquely contributed to investigative and instructional practices. In considering the lines of theoretical and applied research that prevail in SLA (and related fields), three general strands impact how we design both our curriculum from the beginning to more advanced levels and individual sequences/tasks. The consideration of curriculum design issues along with (particular) task design issues necessitates an understanding of not only how Spanish educators establish the linguistic and sociolinguistic foundations of communicative competence but also how we promote advanced communicative abilities. The lines of research are (1) the general learning theory of constructivism, (2) psycholinguistics and cognition, and (3) social and sociocultural cognition.
Up until the late 1970s, the traditional learning theory that informed curricular and classroom practices was objectivism, which assumes that the essential elements of instruction are communication and deduction. The objectivist approach to education supposes that new knowledge is delivered to learners. Once a construct has been (properly) explained to learners, they are to infer its application to both concrete and abstract phenomena. In many educational settings this approach to instruction is termed teacher-centered education (cf. Shane 1986). The cognitive code method is one of the best examples of the manifestation of objectivist principles of learning in the second and foreign language classroom. This method normally encourages teachers to present grammar rules to students in the clearest fashion and allow for ample, controlled practice; the premise is that once this information becomes catalogued in learners' minds, they—helped by their powerful, innate language-processing abilities (Boey 1975)—will be able to extrapolate the applications of those rules (Chastain 1969). Textbooks contained exhaustive descriptions of, say, the uses of por and para, which were followed by largely decontextualized practice items in which students were to infer which preposition was most appropriate.
In the 1980s constructivism—the theoretical antithesis of objectivism—became increasingly important in dialogues on educational practice, as researchers brought