Experiential Learning

Closely related to and overlapping content-based and theme-based instruction is the concept of experiential language learning. Experiential learning includes activities that engage both left and right brain processing. that contextualize language. that integrate skills, and that point toward authentic, real-world purposes. So fr, as Eyring (I99I) points out, experiential learning is word describing everything in the last five chapters of this book. But what experiential learning highlights [r us is giving students ncrete experiences through which they "discover" language principlcs (evcn if subconsciously) b trial and error, b processing feedback, b building hypotheses about language, and revising these assumptions in order to bm fluent (Eyring, I99I:347). That is, teachers do not simply tell students about how language works; instead, they give students opportunities to use language as they grapple with the problem-solving complexities f variety of concrete experiences.

According to Keeton and Tate (I978:2), in experiential learning, the learner is directly in touch with the realities being studied. It is ntrasted with learning in which the learner only reads about, hears about, talks about, r writes about these realities but never comes in contact with them as rt of the learning process. It involves direct encounter with the hnmnn being studied rather than merely thinking but the encounter r only considering the possibilily of doing something with it.

Experiential learning is not so much novel concept as it is n emphasis n the marriage f two substantive principles f effective learning, principles espoused B the famous American educator, John Dewey: (I) n learns best B "doing," B active experimentation, and (2) inductive learning b discovr activates strategies that enable students to "take charge" of their own learning progress. As such it is n especially useful concept fr teaching children, whose abstract intellectual processing abilities r not yet mature.

Experiential learning techniques tend to b learner-centered b nature.

But some teacher controlled techniques m b considered experiential:

. using props, visuals, "show and tell" sessions

. playing games (which often involve strategy) and songs

. utilizing media (television. radio, movies)

Examples of student-centered experiential techniques would include:

. hands-on projects (e.g., nature projects)

. computer activities (especially in small groups)

. research projects

. cross-cultural experiences (camps, dinner groups, etc.)

. field trips and other "on-site" visits (e.g.. to grocery store)

. role-plays and simulations

Experiential learning tends to put n emphasis n the psychomotor aspects of language learning B involving learners in physical actions into which language is subsumed and reinforced. Through action, students are drawn into utilization of multiple skills.


Episode Hypothesis

Over hundred years ago, Frncis Gouin designed method of language teaching called the Series Method. n of the keys to the success of the method lay in the presentation of language in n easily followed story n. u m rmemr the squn of sentences about opening door. In another lesson, Gouin teaches number of verbs, verb forms, and other vocabulary in little story about girl chopping wood:

Mh girl goes and seeks piece of wood.

She takes hatchet.

She draws nr to the block.

She places the wood n this block.

She raises the hatchet.

She brings down the hatchet.

Mh blade strikes against the wood.


In easily visualized steps, the students are led through the process of chopping and gathering wood, at very elementary level f the language.

In som ways, Gouin was utilizing psychological device that. hundred years later, John Oller called the episode hypothesis. According to Oller (I983:I2), "text (i.e., discourse in n form) will b easier to reproduce, undrstnd and recall, to the tnt that it is structured episodically." this h mns that the presentation of language is enhanced if students do nt get disconnected series of sentences thrown at them, but rather sentences that r interconnected in an interest-provoking episode.

The episode hypothesis goes well beyond simply "meaningful" learning,

Look t the following dialogue:

Jack: i, Tn. What do you usually do n weekends?

Tn: Oh, I usually study, but sometimes I go to movie.

Jack: Uh huh. Well, I often go to movies, but I seldom study.

Tn: Well, I don't study as much as Greg. always studies n the

weekends. never goes out, etc.

u n see that this conversation, while easily understood, clearly rsented, and perhaps quite relevant to students learning English, lacks rtain sense of drama-of "what's going to happen next?" Most of ur mmunicative textbooks have many Jack & Tn types of presentation. They often illustrate certain grammatical r discourse features, but they hardly grip the learner with suspense.

But consider the following conversation (Brinton & Neuman, I982:33), and notice how it differs from the above:

Darlene: I think I'll ll Bettina's mother. It's almost five and

Chrissy isn't home yet.

Meg: I thought ttin had the chicken .

Darlene: h, that's right. I forgot. Chrissy didn't go to Bettina's today. Where is she?

Meg: She's probabIy with Gary. has Little League practice until five.

Darlene: I hear the front door. b that's Gary and Chrissy.

Gary: i.

Darlene: Where's Chrissy? Isn't she with you?

Gary: With m? Why with m? I saw her at two after school, but then I went to Little League practice. I think she left with her friend.

Darlene: Which n?

Gary: then nt door ... the n shewalks to school with every day.

Darlene: Oh, you mn Timothy. She's probably with him.

Gary: Yeah, she probably is. Darlene: I'm going nt door to check.


This conversation uses familiar setting and ordinary characters to whet the curiosity of the reader. Because the outcome is nt clear, learners are motivated to continue reading and to bm mr involved in the content than in the language, therefore increasing its episodic flavor. llr notes that the interaction of cognition and language enables learners to form "expectancies" as they encounter either logically episodically linkd sentences. Moreover, "stories" r univrsl, nl therefore students frm mn different cultures n undrstnd their organizational structure and identify with the characters.

u m b wondering how the Episode Hypothesis contributes r

relates to integrated-skills teaching. r r some possible ways:

1. Stories r episodes challenge the teacher and textbook writer to present interesting, natural language to the student, whether the language is viewed as written discourse or oral discourse.

2. Episodes n b presented in either written and/or spoken form, thus requiring reading and/or writing skills n the student's part.

3. Episodes n provide the stimulus for spoken or written questions that students respond to, in turn, b speaking r writing.

4. Students n b encouraged to write their own episodes, r to complete n episode whose resolution r lim is not presented (such as the above conversation).

5. Those written episodes might then b dramatized in the classroom b the students.

Now, it must b noted that the reality of the language classroom is such that not every aspect of language n b embedded in gripping dramatic episodes which have students yearning for the next day's events, as they rhaps do with favorite soap r! Linguistic samples like the conversation between Jack and Tn above are rll quite respectable and pedagogically useful. Drills, writing practice, grammar explanations, essays n the world enm, and mn other non-episodic activities still have viable place in the lssrm. ut to the extent that curriculum allows, episodic teaching and testing m offer quite rewarding alternative to sprinkle into ur daily diet of teaching thniques.

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