Integrating the Teaching of Language As and For Communication in the EFL Reading Class: A Case Study

| August 5, 2007
Integrating the Teaching of Language As and For Communication in the EFL Reading Class: A Case Study

Keywords: reading comprehension English language teaching communication

Pedro Luis Luchini & Adolfo Marti­n Garci­a

Bio Data
Pedro Luis Luchini graduated from Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (UNMDP), Argentina. He holds an MA in ELT and Applied Linguistics, King s College, University of London. He is the Head of the Language Department at Universidad CAECE, Argentina. He teaches Language III and Language IV classes in the Legal English/Spanish Public Translator Program, Universidad CAECE. He also teaches Oral Discourse II, Advanced Communication I and II in the Teacher Training Program, UNMDP and Phonetics and Phonolgy III and IV in the Teacher Training Program, IDRA Institute.

Adolfo Marti­n Garci­a holds a degree in Technical-Scientific English-Spanish Translation from MDPCC-CAECE University (Mar del Plata, Argentina). He currently holds the chairs of Computer-Assisted Translation and Specialized English III at the Technical-Scientific Translator Course and also works as an Assistant Teacher for the chair of Comparative English/Spanish Grammar at the Public Translator Course within the same university. He is an active researcher currently working for the Grupo de Investigaciones Educativas y Estudios Culturales and the Grupo de Aniálisis Epistemoli³gico at Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (departments of Pedagogy and Philosophy, respectively).

This case study reports an investigation carried out by two EFL teachers at a secondary school in Argentina. The aim of this work is to classify the properties differentiating the teaching of language as communication from the teaching of language for communication (as presented by Widdowson, 1980). This classification will be subsequently used to critically analyze the participants’ teaching approach to reading in the L2 class. The instruments employed for data collection were class observation reports, a questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews. Based on the results obtained, we contend that a pedagogical sequence based on a for-as-for progression constitutes the most desirable teaching procedure towards second language acquisition in the reading class.



This case study reports an investigation carried out by two EFL teachers at a secondary school in Argentina. The aim of this work is to classify the properties differentiating the teaching of language as communication from the teaching of language for communication (as presented by Widdowson, 1980). This classification will be subsequently used to critically analyze the participants’ teaching approach to reading in the L2 class. The instruments employed for data collection were class observation reports, a questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews. Based on the results obtained, we contend that a pedagogical sequence based on a for-as-for progression constitutes the most desirable teaching procedure towards second language acquisition in the reading class.

Key words: reading comprehension English language teaching communication.

1. Introduction
Comprehending a text is not just understanding the meaning of the vocabulary and the grammatical structures present in it; in fact, reading comprises the interpretation of signs, the realization of complex cognitive operations, and the understanding of inherent conventions belonging to different discourse communities, be they academic disciplines or social groups. Indeed, reading comprehension is a highly demanding cognitive and selective process which involves the readers background knowledge, their linguistic proficiency, their strategy choices, and the text (Hedge, 2000).
This reading interaction is linked to specific reader purposes which, in turn, are connected with situational contexts as well as social expectations. This complex procedure is a unitary and selective process which becomes even more difficult when readers have to cope with L2 (second language) written texts. Some L2 reading researchers have suggested that it is not likely to recognize precise skills which can be developed hierarchically to create effective readers. In fact, they claim that what mainly distinguishes effective readers is their unitary capacity and readiness to reflect on what they read.
The purpose of this paper is to determine the variables characterizing and distinguishing teaching language as communication from teaching language for communication (Widdowson, 1980). Thereupon, based on the taxonomies presented, an evaluation will be made of how the categories postulated are actualized in the EFL reading class. For this purpose, data will be collected from class observations, questionnaires and interviews. After analyzing the information gathered, some recommendations will be given on what constitutes good teaching praxis in the L2 reading class.

2. Language, Communication and the L2 Classroom
Up to the 1970s, the most widely diffused language teaching paradigms were preeminently form-oriented (e.g. the audio-lingual method). After the so-called cognitive revolution championed by Chomsky, foreign language teaching experienced a radical change of direction. As the creative dimension of language was brought to the fore within the field of linguistics, language teaching scholars were compelled to favor creativity in their methodologies. Wilkins (1972, in Miki Kondo, Ferniández and Higueras, 1997, p.117) distinguished between notional categories – such as quantity, cause time and space – and functional categories – such as rejection, offering, identification and suggestion. The former are semantic and grammatical in nature, whereas the latter are exclusively pragmatic. The need to combine notional and functional categories in the elaboration of syllabuses and language teaching textbooks gave rise to the Notional-Functional Approach, which, in turn, paved the way for the emergence of the now widely used Communicative Approach.
In the field of didactics, the emergence of communicative approaches’ called for a comprehensive redefinition of the notion of communication. Canale (1983, in Ferniández and Sanz, 1997, p.19) defines communication as the exchange and negotiation of information between at least two individuals, via the use of verbal and non-verbal signs, relying on oral and written/visual modes as well as on productive and exegetic processes (T.: A.M.G.). Canale expands upon this definition stating that

We agree with Breen and Candlin (1980), Morrow (1987) and Widdowson (1978) in considering that communication comprises the following features:

it is a form of social interaction and, as such, is acquired normally and used through social interaction;
it implies a high level of unpredictability and creativity in terms of both form and content;
it takes place in discursive and sociocultural contexts which govern appropriate language use while offering references for the correct interpretation of expressions;
it is carried out under psychological constraints and other restrictions such as mnemonic limitations, fatigue and distractions;
it always has a purpose (for instance, establishing social bonds, persuading or promising);
it implies an authentic language, as opposed to the artificial textbook language; and
its success is measured on the basis of concrete results…
In this sense, communication entails meaning negotiation and continual evaluation on the part of the participants (Canale, 1983, in Ferniández and Sanz, 1997, pp.19-20) (T.: A.M.G.).
The characterization of meaning provided by Canale verifies the fact that communication constitutes a complex, multidimensional phenomenon. Moreover, from a methodological stance, it represents a starting point towards the comprehension of the varied factors at play in teaching L2 students to efficiently communicate in a foreign language – which is the ultimate goal of the Communicative Approach. Unlike previous language teaching methods which focused on grammatical structures and vocabulary, the Communicative Approach advocates the development of the ability to use language in specific communicative contexts. Thus, pursuant to the premises of the Communicative Approach, the main objective of L2 teaching is to foster the capacity to communicate in L2, as opposed to guaranteeing the assimilation of linguistic structures.
In its crusade to integrate language teaching and the communicative needs of the students, this approach calls for the exposition of learners to raw data – recordings of speech, chunks of written text (Widdowson, 1980). However, the mere utilization of real texts in the classroom does not guarantee that students will learn how to use language to fulfill their communicative needs. Widdowson (1980) establishes a contrast between the teaching of language as communication and the teaching of language for communication. He explains that the goal of the L2 class should be to teach language for communication – that is to say, to promote the development of the communicative abilities needed for satisfactorily dealing with real-life situations requiring the use of L2, rather than to teach language as communication which caters for little less than the mere incorporation of notional-functional items. The following chart, based on Widdowson (1980), summarizes and confronts the main concepts involved in each of the two constructs under discussion

Teaching language  ascommunication  Teaching language  forcommunication
Contributes to the development of competence (a state of knowledge stabilized by rules; an idealized representation of reality). Fosters capacity (a dynamic set of procedures for exploiting knowledge, for creating meaning which has reference to rules but is not determined by them).
Focuses on the nature of the phenomenon to be taught. Emphasizes the activity of using language to achieve communicative ends.
Suggests that there are aspects of language itself which are communicative and that these should constitute the essential content of courses. Is mainly related to learning objectives, referring not to what is actually being taught in the classroom but the desired outcome of that teaching activity.
Delineates course content with reference to the communicative properties of language (organization in notional and functional categories). Should provide for the development of abilities for coping with real life subsequently.
Caters for the idealization of language. Caters for the linguistic realization of notional-functional categories.
Highlights language as input. Highlights language as output.
Lower level skills (phonology, morphology and syntax) do not figure very prominently. Lower level skills (phonology, morphology and syntax) prove crucial to its goals.

Chart 1. Teaching language  as  communication and teaching language  for communication

Chart 1 above reflects that, although both constructs are communicative in nature, they are radically different. In teaching language as communication, the L2 teacher might be successful at having his students incorporate new linguistic tokens, but he will be doing nothing to help learners employ those tokens in actual communicative situations. In this respect, Widdowson claims that
Our aim is to teach language for communication… The presentation of language as communication will not automatically trigger off the use of language for communication. But communication is not a simple matter of acquiring a knowledge of language items, however they are labeled. It must involve the use of procedures for negotiating meaning within predictable routines (Widdowson, 1980, pp. 243-44).

Nowadays, with the advent of globalization and the instauration of English as an international language, EFL students’ needs definitely compel teachers to focus on the teaching of language for communication. However, the presentation of language as communication is not to be neglected, inasmuch as the apprehension of the formal properties of language proves crucial to the conveyance of meaning and, subsequently, to the achievement of efficient communication.
The following section presents a case study conducted so as to evaluate the classes of two EFL teachers on the basis of the taxonomies presented above.

3. The Case Study
The case study configures an appropriate procedural method for school-based research, as it consists in an in-depth investigation of a single event or a collection of connected cases over a defined time period. In other words, what characterizes case studies is the focalization on a particular incident within a specific temporal, spatial and contextual framework (Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995).
The important feature of case studies is not the methodology orientation used in studying it, but rather the object which is being explored. As opposed to what markedly seems to be the only way to carry out research, where representative samples of a large kind are analyzed using a rather quantitative design, what is vital in case study work is the complexities of the case itself, which offers the teacher-researcher an important step forward in terms of its design and schematic structure. The case study researcher typically observes the characteristics of an individual unit (a student, a teacher, an institution or a community) with the intention of analyzing intensively the diverse phenomena that constitute the life cycle of this unit with the object of establishing generalizations about the wider population to which that unit belongs (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000).
This case study set out to critically analyze two teachers of English in charge of two different groups of learners at a private secondary school in Argentina. The purpose of this work was mainly to determine those variables which characterize and distinguish teaching language as communication from teaching language for communication in their reading class. The degree of the generalizations arising from this qualitative research will depend to a large extent on the wealth and quality of the data collected, and, equally, on the context from which these generalizations arise.

3.1. Context and Participants
Daniela, Raiºl, Pedro and Adolfo were the teachers and evaluators who participated in this project. (These were the names assigned to the participants to safeguard their identities.) Daniela is a teacher of English graduated from Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, and has been teaching EFL for over 15 years. For his own part, Raiºl holds a degree in translation from the Mar del Plata Community College, and has been working as an EFL teacher for three years. At the time this research was carried out, both of them were working at CADS (Colegio Atliántico del Sur), a private secondary school in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Their students, whose L1 is Spanish, ranged from 13 to 17 years old. In general terms, they all presented a level of language proficiency medial between low-intermediate and intermediate. Pedro, who is the supervisor of the English Language Department at CADS, has been a member of the teaching profession for more than fifteen years. He was responsible for observing the classes, administering the questionnaires, and conducting the interviews. Once the process of data collection was completed, he worked hand in hand with Adolfo in the analysis and interpretation of the information, and the elaboration of the present paper. Altogether, the project extended throughout a period of eight weeks.

3.2. Instruments for Data Collection
The instruments employed in this project comprised class observation reports, a questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews which were tape-recorded (the tapes are available).

3.3. Data Analysis
This section will analyze the information gathered via class observation and interviews. Based on the data collected, the evaluators established six analytic categories, created to explore the participants teaching approach to L2 reading. Thus, this study focused on the teachers perceptions of reading in the L2 class, their treatment of reading in exams, their selection of reading materials, the specific materials they used in the classes observed, the activities they devised for these classes, and their approaches to reading in the L2 class.

3.3.1. Teacher’s Perception of Reading in the L2 Class
RAišL: He considers reading as a skill that promotes critical thinking and may help learners develop cultural awareness. He adds that he selects the reading texts according to the lexico-grammatical content to be covered in his classes. He thinks that reading plays a vital role in the learning process as it significantly contributes to the development of language skills in general.

DANIELA: She thinks that reading plays a central role in the English class, as long as it does not lead to ignoring the development of other language skills, such as speaking. In her interview, Daniela explains that people learn by reading with some kind of assistance and guidance. The reader needs to put himself in the author s shoes. She states that she received this reading assistance and guidance during her teacher training course.

3.3.2. Treatment of Reading in Exams
RAišL: He thinks that it would be unreasonable not to include a reading section in the exams he gives to his students, as most of his classes revolve around the development of reading skills. Besides, a reading text as part of a reading test can also be used to generate further activities aiming at assessing the development of other language skills.

DANIELA: She includes a reading section in the exams she gives to her students as she believes that it is through this skill that she can better assess the different learning strategies her students use to achieve the desired linguistic aims. Since her students work towards the achievement of the First Certificate in English degree, the type of reading skills assessed in this exam are the ones that she works on with her students.

3.3.3. Teaching Materials
RAišL: In the questionnaire, this teacher explains that he often uses the teaching materials present in the coursebook provided by the school authorities. However, he adds that he oftentimes brings authentic material to class, with the intention of promoting personal reflection on the part of the students. He usually chooses controversial topics, and he relies on both canonic and arguably innovative ideas to trigger of debates or discussions. He explains that he habitually splits up his class into different groups to promote student interaction and negotiation of meaning. Among the different text types he has successfully used in his class, he mentioned abridged news reports, which though adapted to suit his students linguistic level and needs, preserve the schematic structure and overall style of the original.

DANIELA: In the interview, she points out that she always tries to choose texts containing stories that trigger off controversial and debatable issues. She selects texts on the basis of two premises: (1) her students should not have worked with them before; (2) she looks for characters in her stories with whom her students can feel somehow identified. She further explains that she works on reading skills in almost every class. When her students read, she reports, they interact with the text by connecting their background knowledge with the topic under discussion. She considers that the purpose underlying this reader-text connection is basically to make the readers predict, associate and establish meaningful connections between the text and their own life experiences. She adds that sometimes she even brings to class texts written in the students L1 to promote their motivation and raise their interest in the subject matter. Among the different text types this teacher usually brings into her reading class, she mentions advertisements, magazines articles, short stories, and novels, to name but a few. She goes on to explain that she seldom uses the written texts present in the course books as they are often discouraging and demotivating.

3.3.4. Specific Materials used in the Observed Class
RAišL: In the class observed, Raiºl used an adapted version of a news report to meet his learners linguistic competence level. The topic of this news report revolved around the different dynasties around the globe, in particular, those related to former USA presidents. On this occasion, the purpose underlying the inclusion of such report was to generate a discussion among the students so that they would be pushed to establish a meaningful link between their background knowledge and the information presented in the article. Likewise, the students were expected to use several reading strategies (skimming and scanning, among others) in completing a battery of staged activities in a reading guide. This activity aimed at having them identify different linguistic resources present in the text, as an understanding of such resources could prove crucial to the goal of full grasping the overall meaning of the text.

DANIELA: During the observation period, this teacher and her students analyzed the novel To Kill a Mockingbird . In one of the classes observed, they referred to part of a chapter which catered for the exploitation of the students background knowledge and experiences as they dealt with historical, political, geographic, economic and social issues and tried to connect them with current national and international affairs.

3.3.5. Activities
RAišL: During the interview, the participant described the different types of activities he often carries out in his reading classes. He said that most of his tasks generally focus on cultural references where students are encouraged to put forward, share, and confront, their ideas with their partners and to associate their thoughts with their surrounding context.

DANIELA: At the interview, Daniela explained that she often carries out pre- while- and post-reading activities. Pre-reading activities include questionnaires and the exploitation of key words related to the topic under discussion. The interviewee maintained that during the reading process she favors the use of different techniques such as reading aloud, silent reading and group discussions, to assess the students overall understanding of the text. (In the observed class, she relied on one of the chapters discussed to introduce modals, the grammatical backbone of the unit she was working on.) Lastly, she evaluates the students’ reading comprehension by having them carry out small-scale research projects and by giving them pertinent written exams.

3.3.6. On the Teachers’ Approach to Reading in the L2 Class
RAišL: Raiºl explained that he usually has his students identify, and discriminate between, main and secondary ideas in the texts analyzed. (In the observed class, he turned to True/False exercises to help his students determine the general purpose of the text.) He went on to say that, in order to verify whether his students have gained a global understanding of the text, he frequently asks them to write summaries, infer the meaning of unknown lexical items via intra and extra-textual elements, and orally re-elaborate the main points of selected paragraphs. Later on in the interview, Raiºl considered that any reading and/or exegetic activity entails the interaction of both previous and new knowledge. He stated that he tries to establish a clear connection between the new contents and the information the students already handle, so as to activate certain concepts that may aid them in interpreting the text. Finally, the participant manifested that he tends to focus on the students inferences and personal interpretations rather than on having them determine what the purpose of the author was.

DANIELA: Daniela explained that she often puts her students to work on different types of activities which aim at discerning between main and secondary ideas and identifying the overall purpose of the text as well as the underlying intention of the author. Her main objective in the observed class, in which she analyzed a chapter from the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird , was for students to recognize, and reflect upon, controversial issues such as racism, discrimination, inequality and poverty. Thereupon, the students were asked to establish connections between the topics addressed and their own context. Daniela also presented her students with a set of questions whose answers were subsequently used to complete a timeline, with the intention of helping them gain a global understanding of the text. Besides, throughout the whole session observed, the teacher guided the students through oral questions aiming to establish links between the material dealt with and their previous knowledge. Finally, Daniela pointed out that she often engages her students in activities promoting the use inferential strategies without her passing judgment on the students viewpoints.

4. Evaluation of Teacher Orientation
This section will analyze the information gathered in the light of the taxonomy presented in section 2 so as to explore the teachers orientation in terms of Widdowson s dichotomy between teaching language as communication and teaching language for communication.
In views of the findings emerging from the interview and the class observation sessions, it can be argued that Raiºl exhibits a clear tendency towards the teaching of language for communication. The reading materials selected, the type of activities he carries out in his class, and his overall approach to L2 reading suggests that he constantly seeks to exploit the students knowledge by fostering critical thinking and cultural awareness. For this purpose, he delineates course content highlighting the communicative properties of language in both notional and functional terms, as indicated by the importance he attaches to the lexico-grammatical content presented in class. His concern for the identification of different linguistic resources contributes to the development of competence, which is crucial for the development of the abilities necessary to successfully operate in real-life situations. In general terms, Raiºl s approach to teaching reading skills in the L2 class emphasizes the activity of using language to achieve communicative ends, on the basis of a for-as-for pedagogical progression.
Although Daniela is also clearly slanted towards the teaching of language for communication, she uses techniques and strategies different from those favored by Raiºl. Unlike Raiºl, she is interested in developing the students awareness of the purpose of the text and the author s intention. Furthermore, she is concerned with the provision of guidance and assistance to her students in the reading process. A final key difference between the two participants lies in the means of assessing the students level of reading comprehension. Whereas Raiºl uses True/False activities and questionnaires, Daniela proposes the undertaking of small-scale research projects and written exams. These differences can be traced to the particular objectives set for their respective courses. In spite of the procedural dissimilarities pointed out, Daniela also centers on the use of language to achieve communicative ends. Daniela s approach is mainly related to learning objectives (in her case, those proper to the FCE exam) which prioritize the overall development of linguistic abilities rather than the apprehension of specific content areas. The fact that she capitalized on the material used for the idealization of notional-functional categories (in her case, related to modal verbs) indicates that she assumes that there are aspects of language itself which are communicative and, as such, should constitute the essential content of courses. From an overall perspective, it could be said that Daniela s approach to teaching reading in the L2 class pursues the development of procedures for creating meaning which is not independent from rules, but is not entirely determined by them. The above analysis reveals that Daniela also teaches reading following a for-as-for pedagogical sequence.

5. Conclusion and Afterthought
Widdowson is unquestionably right in claiming that the aim of the L2 class is to teach language for communication. However, a distinction must be made between aims and procedures. If our goal is to get our students to communicate effectively in L2, the procedures through which our goal is to be attained should exhibit a balanced combination of both the teaching of language as and for communication. Exposition to real communicative situations, or real texts, is not enough to achieve this goal; but it remains as an indispensable component of any EFL class.
Based on recent, influential studies on second language acquisition and on our own teaching experience, we consider that, although it is possible to establish clear-cut dichotomies between teaching language as and for communication, the two need not be mutually exclusive. Indeed, as suggested in section 4 of this paper, these two perspectives can be complementary and, as such, they can be fruitfully integrated in the reading class. Furthermore, the positive results obtained by the teachers who participated in the case study point to the fact that the sequenced integration of both perspectives can be most effective. Consequently, as far as the teaching of L2 reading skills is concerned, we advocate a pedagogical sequence based on a for-as-for progression, for it seems to constitute the most desirable teaching procedure towards the learning and acquisition and subsequent exploitation of a foreign language.
However, to fully substantiate the above claim, it would be necessary to carry out further studies along these lines, including a greater number of participants, contemplating a wider variety of teaching contexts and evaluating the impact that this pedagogical sequence may have on the students’ outcome. We consider that a pre- and post-test technique might yield statistical data which would help further validate our assumptions.

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Category: Teaching Articles, Volume 22