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THE ROLE OF COGNITIVE ACTIVITY AND COGNITIVE INTEREST IN INTEGRATED ESP COURSE AT TECHNICAL SCHOOLS
Borisova Polina, Ph.D., associate prof.
Saint-Petersburg State Mining University
В статье обосновывается необходимость интеграции программы обучения иностранным языкам студентов технического вуза в общий курс профилирующей дисциплины. Кроме того обосновывается роль английского языка для специальных целей в техническом вузе, подчеркивается важнейшая роль познавательного интереса в процессе изучения английского языка. Предлагается система упражнений, развивающая познавательные интересы студентов.
Ключевые слова: Английский для специальных целей, познавательный интерес, активность, мотивация, геодезия, технические вузы.
The paper justifies the necessity to integrate the syllabus of foreign language training of students at higher technical schools with their majors. The role of ESP in higher technical schools is reviewed; the importance of cognitive interest during the English language acquisition is explained. Principles of selecting teaching materials developing cognitive interests of students are suggested.
Кеуwords: ESP, cognitive interest, activity, motivation, geodesy, higher technical schools.
To start with it not a secret that nowadays if a technician wants to find a well-paid and prestigious job s/he has to know at least one foreign language (usually it’s English). Furthermore, speaking English very often becomes the key point to hire a specialist. Professionally oriented approach in teaching foreign languages is highly significant now and former students should be able to use English (or other foreign languages they’ve been studying) in their professional career. But the question is if they are capable to do it.
Traditionally the process of ESP (English for Specific Purposes) teaching in Russia looks like that: because of the absence of original ESP textbooks (which is quite normal as printing textbooks is business and no one will invest money in a textbooks, say, on Hydrogeology, which is supposed to be bought by a hundred of students annually) teachers of English at Technical schools have to serf in the Internet to find some texts close to their students’ major. As a result typical activities at ESP lessons are: “read and translate the text”, “answer the questions”, and “retell the text”. No doubt, reading and retelling are very important in language acquisition but if used too often they kill motivation and students get bored. And although students realize that English (especially technical English) is highly important for their future career, this understanding is not enough to stimulate their everyday work and keep them active during the lessons.
It’s widely known that it’s impossible to teach English if it’s wanted only be a teacher because one must acquire foreign language himself (herself) and teacher’s role is just to help and stimulate students’ interest to the subject. And ESP has got all resources for stimulating the cognitive interest as the cognitive interest is the most effective motive in studying. At technical schools motivation to acquire English helps to treat English not only as a final goal but as means of learning. First of all, at ESP lessons students have a chance to get new information on their major (or they can see different approaches to the same issue in Russia and, say, in US). It’s quite interesting for them. Secondly, if a teacher has opportunity to develop some special tasks such as crosswords, chine words, role plays, etc. (I will be returning to these tasks shortly), if a teacher invents problem-centered tasks that it increases students’ interest. As a result they study not because they have to do it, but because it is interesting for them. Cognitive interest is a powerful source of motivation but teacher should see the difference between cognitive interest and curiosity. Curiosity is “situational” and a teacher can “win” students’ attention due to unusual and interesting task and students can be involved in doing it and they can be active but when they finish this task they’ll be bored again. Cognitive interest is stable and is believed to be the strongest motive of learning as it sound like: “I learn because I feel like doing it”. I need to mention that nowadays cognitive interest as a motive has a tendency to cohere with pragmatic component and now it sounds like: “I learn because I feel like doing it and, yes, I’ll need this knowledge in my future career”.
It’s also worth mentioning that a good ESP course should not only provide students with knowledge on their major (although it’s supposed to be one of the primary goals of ESP) but also it should stimulate them to do their own research and give them a key how to do it. I’ll write about it in detail later but now I just mention that this ESP course could include such unit as “Being at the conference”. The similar unit can be found in “Cambridge English for Scientist” – a book that would have been perfect for the Mining University if it hadn’t been devoted to medicine and similar topics.
Speaking about motivation of studying English in technical schools it’s easy to notice that it differs depending on the students’ level of English. In groups where beginners prevail the motivation is very low and if students’ level is upper intermediate or advances their motivation to study and cognitive interest are strong. Typically ESP course is oriented on intermediate students and teachers still need to develop their cognitive interest to stimulate efficient language acquisition.
What should be done to make lessons interesting? First of all they can’t be boring – ESP does not mean only reading and translating. Thanks to Internet any teacher can find a number of short videos helping to explain some difficult issues. For example, when we were reading some texts about history of geodesy we were watching some videos from utube.com close to the topic. It’s not a hard task to find a good video as you can use videos from discovery.com (you need to have good Internet connection if you plan to watch them at the lessons as you cannot download them). Reading a text about circumference students knew some extra details about Erastothenes from this video http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/assignment-discovery-navigation.html and from another one provided be NASA Connect (explaining questions about Erastothenes, the Earth's circumference, parallel lines, angle relationships, and a transversal). While watching these short videos students are supposed not just sit and passively watch, they are offered to answer the questions and compare information from the text with information form the video.
Speaking about the positive effect of videos on cognitive interest I need to mention the positive effect of videos promoting some professions in schools. English in these videos is not too difficult and they are very visual, showing the basis of profession making them especially valuable in the beginning of the English course. Speaking about geodesy I like a video promoting land surveying in school (http://www.lsrp.com/videopres.html) produced by the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors. Planning such lessons you’d better start from activities checking background knowledge of your students (they can be very easy, e.g. a question: “What does a professional surveyor do?”; or more difficult “What are educational requirements to become a professional land surveyor in the USA? Do they differ from the same in Russia”). Of course you’d better explain some difficult words and word combinations before watching a video. For first watching it’s good to choose such tasks as: “multiple choice”, “cross the odd one out”, “fill in the gaps with missing information from the film”, etc. Second watching suppose more complicated tasks as: “There are several types of land surveying. Put them in the same order they appear in the film. Can you translate them after watching the film?” or “What equipment has not been mentioned in the film?” After watching the video and doing these tasks students can play a role play (my students adore role plays). The example of the role play can be the following: One player: You’ve visited your former school and your teacher asks you to explain to the first year student what it is like – to be a professional land surveyor. You have 5 minutes to prepare your presentation. You should say at least 8 sentences (you may need to write down a short plan). Others: Imagine that you are 1st your pupils. Your task is to write at least five questions about a surveyor’s work, duties, equipment, etc. don’t be afraid to ask both simple and sophisticated questions. Example: Can I be a surveyor if I don’t like math? Is it possible to survey under water? A good move to finish this lesson is to provide students the script of this movie and the video to do their homework which will be, yes, boring retelling which is actually not so boring when you can watch the video and read script.
As we can see it now, watching video is a good way to stimulate students but my good news is that it’s not the only one. The experience shows that students like challenging tasks. For example, free writing task. The first time I heard about it was at John Mark King’s distance course devoted to teaching writing. I fell in love with, no, not with John Mark, but with the introduced technique. I would not anyway call “writing” as it looks like a modified version of jigsaw reading but no matter how it’s called it works pretty well. You should not practice in the very beginning of your course as students should be both relaxed and have some ideas about their major. To make a long story short free writing should look like this: students watch the picture (generated in http://www.wordle.net/) for 3 minutes and write their ideas what the text is about, later they discuss it in groups, and then they’ll regroup and read the text different for each group and ask and answer the questions. The visual result of this activity which usually takes about 40 minutes is one or two sentences summarizing the difference between two texts and strengthened cognitive interest is a pleasant bonus to it.
Even control for the level of language acquisition can be done in the interesting manner: you can do a crossword puzzle or chine words, even matching word combination is more interesting for students then a typical dictation-translation. You can check if your students know lexical units by means of a snowball game or a word definition game (it should not be done too often or they’ll get used to doing it).
As a conclusion I’d like to say a few words about professional burn-out. All teachers may encounter this phenomenon it sooner or later. But it’s possible to avoid it. If you will develop the cognitive interest of your students, if you keep your students active and make their lessons interesting, all these prevent you from being bored. Interesting lessons give you feedback, you see students interest and progress and it makes you to develop your teaching skills and as a result it makes you happy.
1. Borisova P.V. Special features of cognitive activity of senior pupils in educational process (based on data collected in different types of schools).//PhD dis., S-Pb., 2004.