teaching for transfer

By Denise Knight,2014-12-03 21:03
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teaching for transfer

teaching for transfer

作者;陈燕飞 文章来源;本站原创 点击数;527 更新时间;2009-3-5

    Abstract: language is a tool for communication. Language teaching, as an important way of cultivating students‟ ability, is not only a comprehensive science, but also a profound art. All

    aspects of English teaching embody the rules of pedagogy and psychology. Transfer is a universal phenomenon of study. It‟s regarded as a conception of cognitive psychology, which belongs to category of non-intelligence factors. In English teaching, emphasizing the influence and function of transfer, thoroughly understanding and mastering the phenomena of transfer, scientifically evaluating the transfer play an inestimable role in improving students‟ cognition and memory in language study. However, transfer doesn‟t happen automatically, it is subjected to many factors, such as similarity, generalization, structure of curriculum material and the teachers‟ instruction. In order to understand these factors well and to practice using transfer effectively in English teaching, teachers should know strategies of how to deal with the teaching procedures and how to instruct students to study. Only when teachers teach English based on the theory of transfer and regard transfer as their main target, can they finally reach the ideal state, that is “students learning by



    1. introduction 1

    2. what is transfer 2

3. factors influencing transfer

     3.1. similarity between the existing skills and the new skills

     3.2 generalization of the previously obtained skills

     3.3 structure of curriculum material

     3.4 teacher‟s instruction

4. strategies of teaching for transfer

     4.1 know how to deal with the teaching procedures

     4.1.1 make a conscious similarity study

     4.1.2 attach importance to skill teaching

     4.1.3 emphasize the basic rule teaching

     4.2 instruct students how to study

     4.3 teach within curriculum context

5. conclusion

6. references

Teaching English for transfer

1. introduction

     phenomenon one

we have often encountered third year students in senior high school, after six-year‟s study of

    English, who cannot express themselves clearly in a composition; they cannot use proper tenses or correct personal pronouns. Sometimes they cannot even express their ideas in a complete sentence. As a result, most of the compositions written by those students in the National College Entrance Examination are inferior to the required level. What‟s more, in China it is not unusual to find a university students who claimed to have passed the CET-4(College English Test Band 4) cannot speak a sentence in English. So I think that English is a skill rather than simply a subject. It‟s

    really disappointing to find that after so many years‟ study students still make little progress in using English to communicate.

Phenomenon two

Today, it seems that the teachers pay more attention to students‟ marks and they are even

    accustomed to cramming all the knowledge into students‟ brains, without considering whether they can digest it or not. The result is the, on the one hand, the students are buried under piles of homework. They have no spare time. As a result, their individual interest are ruthlessly impeded. On the other hand, teachers are complaining of their heavy work and to some extent, their enthusiasm for teaching is reducing. In my opinion, this undermines the general education principle of “learning how to learn” or “teaching for transfer”. So, we can see that in practice relatively little has been done to provide students with appropriate techniques which they can apply to the learning of another language.

Phenomenon three

    In English class, the teacher is trying to promote students‟ interest in English. If students could be kind enough to take some notes, the teacher feels consoled. But what‟s the result? Whatever effort he makes, there are still some students who are absent-minded or give the teacher a sleepy-looking face. If you were the teacher standing in front of the blackboard, how would you feel? Disappointed, confused, helpless? Whatever feeling you may have, you will eventually try to find

    out the reason. The reason may be various, but I believe that one of the main reasons is that the curriculum materials lack flexibility, coherence or relevance.

    I conclude that these phenomena are mainly attributed to the teaching, not to the students‟ study, because the enhancement of students‟ abilities depends on teachers. Mrs.Shaoruizhen, an

    authoritative Chinese educator, points out that the cultivation of the capability and the development of the intelligence are regarded as the most credible ways to examine whether teaching has achieved the target or not and transfer is the best way to realize the target. If teachers stress the positive function of transfer in teaching English, they can not only effectively enhance the students‟ interest in study but also improve their ability in listening, speaking, reading and writing and finally reach the goal of making students learn how to learn for themselves.

2. what is transfer

    The object of teaching is to help the students get along without the teacher. This is the essence of Chinese educational theory and also the ideal state pursued by our educators. However, it is impossible for teachers to prepare students for all the demanding tasks they will encounter in the future, simply with the knowledge they get from class. So the question arises: how to teach in order to reach a state in which there is no necessity to teach? Educational psychologists direct us to a scientific way: teaching English for transfer.

    Dr.Odlin says the term „transfer‟ is borrowed educational psychology where it has served for many ears to describe the human tendency to generalize what has been learned in one situation to other situations. (Terence Odlin, 1989:26) I give the definition like this: transfer is the influence resulting from similarities and differences between the target language and any other language that has been previously acquired; in brief, that is the influence between new skills and existing skills. But the crucial question is that under what kind of conditions is the learning of new skills impeded or facilitated by skills that have already been learned. As nearly all new skills are learned on the basis of existing of skills, skill researchers have already transitionally shown a keen interest in transfer and they made a distinction between pro-active and retro-active transfer. Pro-active transfer is the transfer of existing skills or previous skills onto new skills and retro-active transfer is the transfer of new skills onto existing skills. In both cases, transfer may be positive or negative. Positive transfer, or facilitation, is transfer of a skill X which facilitates the learning or has a positive influence on the command of skill Y, because of similarities between both skills. For example, the mastery of reading skill improves your writing ability. Similarities between vowel systems can make the identification of vowel sounds easier: learners who are speaking a language with syntax that is similar to that of the target language usually tend to have less difficulty with articles, word order and relative clauses. Negative transfer, or interference, is transfer of a skill X which impedes the learning or has a negative influence on the command of a skill Y, because of difference between both skills. For example, an English learner will find the negative language pronunciation always influence the target language‟s pronunciation, which seems that negative transfer tends to be equated with production error. We, therefore, distinguish ( in figure 1) between four types of transfer on the basis of direction and effect of transfer.

     Positive transfer

     Negative transfer

Pro-active transfer

     Pro-active facilitation

     Pro-active interference

Retro-active transfer

     Retro-active facilitation

     Retro-active interference

     Figure 1 Four types of transfer (Els and Theo Van, 1977:18)

    From these four types of transfer we know that what we call “teaching for transfer” means trying to promote the influence of positive transfer, meanwhile impeding the influence of negative transfer.

3. Factors influencing transfer

Transfer doesn‟t happen automatically. On the contrary, it needs a lot of complex cognitive

    activities and it also has many restrictions from different kinds of conditions. Research shows that in English study there are four main factors influencing the process of transfer, they are similarity, generalization, curriculum materials‟ structure and instructions in study.

3.1 Similarity between the existing skills and the new skills

    Transfer, to some degree, depends on the degree of similarity between what we have already learnt or the existing skills and what we will learn, or the new skill. If there‟s a similarity between the materials, they will produce the same reaction and transfer takes place. A special experiment make by R.S Woodworth proved that the more similarities between materials, the more positive transfer will take place. That awareness is evident from time to time in opinions that people have about foreign language study. Many people believe that the study of one language (e.g. Latin) will make easier the study of a closely related language (e.g. French). Similarly, people often believe that some languages are “easy” in comparison with others. For example, many English-speaking

    university students see European languages such as French as less difficult than oriental languages such as Chinese. Since the similarities between English and French seem to be relatively numerous, French is often considered “easy”.

    In our English study we also find that it is easier to form similar associations by making use of the words‟ phonetic characteristics or structure. For instance, when students learn the word “flight”, they will associate it with words which have similar functions and the same phonetic sound /ait/, such as light, night, bright. Thus the phonetic transfer and word-order transfer make a deep

    impression on them, which make it easier to remember the words and make distinctions. Phrases also have such transfer. For instance, be glad to do something, be pleased to do something, like to do something, love to do something, all of which have the same meaning as being happy to do something. So, I prefer to say that language teacher should associate different ways to explain the same concept effectively.

3.2 Generalization of the previously obtained skills

    Rubinstan, a famous Russian Psychologist stresses that generalization is the foundation of transfer. The reason why previously obtained skills can permeate into the later skills is that we get basic principles from the previous ones, thus, transfer is substantially the process of making the obtained skills or experience concrete. The better the generalization capability you have, the greater the possibility of transfer will exist, and then the better result you will get (Terence Odlin, 1989:22). A famous American educator once pointed out that almost half of the understanding of new objects depends on the learners‟ clear and stable concepts which exist in cognitive structure form. For example, in the listening comprehension class, before asking the students to listen to the tape, if the teacher can give them the general idea of the dialogue, it will be really helpful in improving students‟ listening comprehension in a limited time. Rubinstan thinks that transfer is not something that people take for granted, but it is something that is produced by way of analyzing and generalizing from previous knowledge.

    According to Rubinstan‟s opinion, what we should keep in mind is that similarity between materials is necessary, but if you cannot master the basic principle and the nature or rules of the objects by generalizing, transfer will rarely occur.

3.3 Structure of curriculum material

    Curriculum material is the basis of study and its scientific structure facilitates the transfer. Stern, one of Canada‟s most distinguished educators, thinks that the mastery of the structure of

    curriculum material makes students not only understand more easily the meaning and the content, but also makes the transfer more like to take place (H.H.Stern, 1992:140). So, I want to advocate that teachers should familiarize their students with the material, which may simplify the knowledge and provide a flexible way of mastering skills, thus making transfer more possible. To realize it, we must know the relationships between the materials and present them in context.

    The traditional curriculum-oriented methodology cannot provide the students with the best chance to understand the material in all contexts; thus the meaning of the subject may become quite vague because the students study independently, and because in this methodology teachers focus on the specifications of the material ignoring the materials which are similar to students‟ real life conditions. I suggest that teachers should always help the students understand the whole view of the subject. The textbook of “Junior/Senior English for China” is relatively scientific and concentrates on the different kinds of students, and is accompanied by a series of exercise books. The book centers on dialogues and the function-structure theme runs through the whole material. What‟s more, relations between language acquisition and practical application as well as

    classroom teaching and extra-class activities are properly dealt with in the book.

3.4 Teacher‟s instruction on study

    Because the process of transfer is a complicated activity, even if you master the cognitive technique and have high generalization ability and the objects have similarity, transfer may not happen. Take a mistake in spoken English for example, although people know how to express themselves properly in English in their mind, they unavoidable make mistakes when speaking. Similarly, apart from their own hard work, the students need instructions from teachers while they are studying, including study goal, study attitude and ways of study, all of which have an important effect on transfer. Attitude is a stable tendency to study. Ways to study to achieve the goal can also be regarded as a strategy to solve problems. In fact, good ways of study need instructions from teachers as well as mastery of practical ability by themselves. So, to some extent, instruction means helping students to learn how to learn for themselves. Once they master this skill, transfer will produce the expected effects.

4. Strategies of teaching for transfer

    Transfer is crucially important to English study and English teaching, so I advise teachers to take advantage of the transfer to improve the education quality.

4.1 How to deal with the teaching procedures

4.1.1 Make a conscious similarity study

    Teachers of English should realize the similarity between the study goals and study process and then try their best to make the study conditions similar to the conditions that the students will meet in the future and make sure that the students are able to apply their previous knowledge or skills. So, while teaching English, situation transfer plays an important role, which can be divided into two kinds: concrete situation transfer and abstract situation transfer. Then how to make concrete situation transfer? Here I will give you an example: in an English class, the teacher is to give a lesson titled “the Great Wall of China”. There is a picture of the Great Wall on the text. I think the teacher should let students observe the picture and give them a short period of time to look and think. At the same time, the teacher should take this chance to raise some related questions, such as, what kind of things are there on the Great Wall and near the Great Wall? What does the Great Wall look like? etc.. During the question-answer activity, the teacher produces the new words naturally, “wind”, “dragon”, “watchtower”, etc and then writes them on the blackboard, and the teacher can also ask the students to fill in the new words in the proper places of the picture according to their memory and understanding, which can consolidate their memory of there new words.

4.1.2 Attach importance to skill teaching

    As skill teaching is one of the most important things in education, teachers should try to create

    different kinds of environment for the students to use such skills, and to transfer what they have learned. We know that transfer needs a lot of preconditions, so if students want transfer to take place, they need a lot of exercises; just as an expert should accumulate much experience before he becomes professional. By doing a lot of relevant exercises, the students will gradually form the habit or cultivate the ability of generalizing the abstract characteristic from the concrete ones. As we mentioned before, by doing exercises, students will find similarities between the materials which will help the positive transfer to happen. For example, when the teacher teaches the word “animal”, he should present the words “dog”, “cat”, “horse”, “chicken”, “bird”, “fish”, “man” one by one and at the same time the teacher asks the students to find the identical feature among them. The more various presentations you give, the more typical features the students will generalize, which greatly help the students understand the internal and external meaning of the word “animal”,

    and also make students transfer more easily in the future. Another example, while teaching the drills, we can also use the rule of transfer. If we teacher the positive sentence and interrogative sentence of present tense, we can use declarative sentence with “to be” form. If we want to change

    the positive sentence into interrogative sentence, we only need to put the verb at the beginning of the sentence and capitalize it. The verb “to have” can be used in the same way.

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