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Teaching Thinking Through ESP
Olga Almabekova, Krasnoyarsk State Technical University, Institute of Management and Business Technologies,
Head of Business Foreign Languages Chair, Participant in ESP Project Russia (RESPONSE)
Teaching English to non-linguistic students means achieving a variety of objectives: acquiring knowledge about the language, developing and practicing all four language skills, getting language and cultural awareness, integrating specialist knowledge and communicative skills and even enriching overall knowledge. Recently I have come to the conclusion that one more aspect of teaching ESP is of vital importance teaching thinking.
The importance of this issue can be proved by needs analysis showing that employers put skills in making prompt decisions in changing situations, deductive thinking, application and evaluation among the most essential requirements while recruiting engineers, managers, etc. Unfortunately, in the secondary schools thought processes are not developed to an extent to make logical reasoning. So developing creative thinking university teachers can help students to make a success in the employment market.
But the problem is that in the curriculum of economic students (for example) there are very few subjects (if any) providing something more than mere rote learning. So future managers, marketers, financial specialists lack logical thinking, reasoning, ability to find the relations between ideas and make conclusions.
This discrepancy between a high level of specialist knowledge and gaps in thinking skills struck me when I began teaching ESP as a selective course to 3rd and 4th year students of the faculty of Economics.
The Faculty has a unique programme of teaching Foreign languages during four years versus two years according to the Ministry standards, because the Faculty has strong and diversified relations with higher schools and organizations in Germany, Britain, the USA, Sweden and other countries, and students are encouraged to take part in international educational programmes, conferences and so on. The main objective of teaching ESP as a selective course is to enable students communicate in the environment of their specialism, using all four language skills. Those, who choose English as a selective course, are mostly bright students, highly motivated to learn a foreign language, but sometimes they are unable to formulate their ideas in the right way even in their native language.
I started with a hypothesis that an ESP lesson can provide a favourable environment for teaching thinking if a teacher pays more attention to intellectual objectives of learning English by applying learner- and learning-centered approach, encouraging learner autonomy, taking into account multiple intelligences, etc. But it appeared not to be enough.
It became clear to me that it is necessary to use special materials to learn students think. I began looking for them. The first ones I have found were more or less similar and mostly entertaining in character.
One of them, called cinq lignes (five lines in French) was kindly presented to me by my younger colleague. The idea is to process the information from any text, even a very specialized one in a short poetic form having a very strict structure, thus concentrating on the main idea and on your own attitude to the issue. Here is an example of employing this technique to the text on telephoning selling:
Inconvenient and persuading
Intrude, annoy, depress
Drive me mad
One more sample was found among the poems of Lee Maurice:
Eye halve a spelling chequer
I came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin not sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word
And weight four eat to say
Weather eye am wrong or write
It shows me strait a weigh
Owed Two A Spell Checquer was helpful not only to check spelling but also to develop ability to guess, analyse and compare.
Soon a collection of interesting, appealing and useful techniques was gathered. But not all the attempts were a success, not always students were ready to get rid of traditional thinking, it became obvious that the materials need to be systematised to provide consistency in developing creative skills. And a real discovery was to read an article by Diana E. Adams Smith, an assistant professor of English in Kuwait University (4), whose ideas about intellectual objectives of learning English completely coincide mine.
The article presents a useful model for designing thought-provocative and thought-developing materials from the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives by B.S. Bloom (Longman, 1956), provides a reader with a sequence of categories of thinking, encompassing the intellectual objectives of education. In a modern interpretation of Norris M. Sanders these categories can be demonstrated as follows:
1. Memory: the recall or recognition of information.
2. Translation: changing information into a different symbol or language.
3. Interpretation: the discovery of relationships among facts, generalizations, definitions, values and skills.
4. Application: solving a lifelike problem that requires the identification of the issue and the selection and use of appropriate generalizations and skills.
5. Analysis: solving a problem in the light of conscious knowledge of the parts and forms of thinking.
6. Synthesis: solving a problem that requires original, creative thinking.
7. Evaluation: making a judgment of good or bad, right or wrong, according to standards design of the students.
Since the categories of thinking are sequential to make a success in teaching students think it would not be reasonable to give tasks requiring synthesis before the students have some practice in translation or interpretation.
According to Diana E. Smith (4) each category of thinking requires asking right questions, taking into account the objectives of the course on the whole and the lesson in particular, ability and motivation of the students.
Let me demonstrate some examples of questions for developing all levels of thinking based on a text taken from a specialist book (1) and included in a home-made set of materials for teaching English to 3d-year students of the Faculty of Economics.
WOMEN IN THE LABOUR FORCE
The change has been so rapid and fundamental that economists have called it a revolution in the U.S. labour force. A generation ago the "typical" American woman, with or without children, was not employed outside the household. By the late 1980s, however, well over 50 percent of all American women worked outside the home; in the key age group of 25 to 44, the labor-force participation rate was over 70 percent.
Not only do more women have jobs, but they work longer hours, and motherhood is not as much of a deterrent as it used to be. Sixty percent of school-age children have mothers in the labor force, compared to 39 percent in 1970. Moreover, the fastest-growing segment of the labor force consists of women with children under six years old.
The revolution is expected to continue. Now that the baby-boom generation has begun to reach middle age, the pool of young workers is shrinking. As companies cast their nets ever wider to find qualified new employees, the proportion of jobs held by women will continue rising, so that by the year 2000 the total number of working women will nearly equal the number of working men.
This revolution has had and will continue to have - profound social and economic consequences. Day care, for example, has become a burning issue. Some women are dissuaded from working because of a lack of acceptable day care for their children; others lose valuable productivity when they have to deal with such problems as the baby sitter quitting or Johnny catching the flu. Although both the federal and state governments are getting involved, businesses themselves will provide part of the solution. More and more, large companies are realizing that one way to attract and keep women workers is to offer help with day care. As late as 1988 only about 300 corporations sponsored their own day-care facilities, but the number should grow rapidly as companies compete for female employees. Flexible schedules, family leaves, alternative work styles these are other corporate accommodations that allow women to balance the demands of home and work.
Overall the feminization of the work force has proceeded smoothly perhaps surprisingly so for a revolution. But many sensitive issues remain to be dealt with in the 1990s and beyond. Should companies have a mommy track and is this an aid for female employees or a new form of discrimination? Is sexual harassment on the job increasing, and are companies doing enough to prevent it? Should special executive training or mentoring programs be established to offer women a better chance of advancement?
a) Without referring back to the text, describe a typical American
woman a generation ago.
b) Enumerate social consequences of revolution in labor force.
Draw a graph visualizing the dependence of labour market structure
on changes in economics.
What is the relation between the revolution in the US labour force
and sexual discrimination of women on the place of employment?
In newspapers find the statistics of youth involvement in part-time
jobs during the academic year; make conclusions from this data
about the types of industries, range of jobs, size of payment.
Explain the following expression from the text: companies compete
for female employees.
a) Design a company strategy in the conditions of the feminization of the
b) Suggest possible measures to help women balance home and work in
a) Decide, where the situation is more favourable to women employment: in Russia or in the USA. Give your reasons.
b) Evaluate the situation with youth employment in Russia and suggest
measures to improve it.
Looking for materials to develop thinking skills it is important to take into consideration the nature of the texts, e.g. discursive articles are good for interpretation, company reports with much statistic data encourage analysis and evaluation. All types of visuals graphs, diagrams, charts, framework materials (3) are very useful for translation and interpretation.
In conclusion it should be said that an ESP teacher can find appropriate materials and design tasks that require students to think rather than to memorise, thus creating an intellectual atmosphere in the classroom. This approach to learning English could help future engineers and managers develop thinking skills and use them to make prompt right decisions in their everyday activity.
References:1. Begg David, Fisher Stanley, Economics, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1991.
2. Bloom B.S., Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, NY, Longman, 1956
3. Ellis Mark, Johnson Christine, Teaching Business English, OUP, 1994
4. Smith Diana A. Levels of Questioning: Teaching Creative Thinking Through ESP, Forum, Vol XIX-I, January, 1981
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