The PRIME Approach
The following provides the reader with a brief outline of the principles, theory, and implications for practical application of the PRIME Approach. A thorough presentation of the approach will be forthcoming in the book, PRIME Communication in English – A Modern Approach to Facilitating the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language for Young Adult and Adult Students.
Principles and Implications of the PRIME Approach
The PRIME Approach can be seen as taking elements of approaches and methods that have come before as well as of those that are in current practice and placing them in the context of a theory of communication that encompasses developments in Multiple Intelligence/Learning Styles and Learning Strategies research. In other words, the “conceptual development of thought based on a continuously developing set of empirical building blocks” (Hauser 1996 p.33).
The Psychological Tradition, i.e., Audio-lingual, and Cognitive Code Learning, the Humanistic Tradition, i.e., Community Language Learning, The Silent way, Suggestopedia, and the Language Acquisition Tradition, i.e., Total Physical Response, the Direct, Natural, Functional-Notional, Communicative, Lexical Approaches, and Constructivism; each has principles or aspects that support the Prime Approach. (Despite the fact that it is still used in some English as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts, The Grammar Translation Method was not considered as it is widely accepted this method does not have real communicative objectives.)
This synthesis has been accomplished by analyzing these historical and contemporary systems, not as language learning pedagogies, but as frameworks for the facilitation of communication between human beings; frameworks ultimately concerned with the processes and pragmatics of human communication.
The Approach is distinguished by the greater role that students play in developing the substance of the language they acquire, selecting, and applying strategies for their language acquisition, and a general concern for their development across all the dimensions of learning.
The problem the PRIME Approach addresses is that despite many and often intense hours of class time dedicated to English Language Acquisition (ELA) throughout their secondary and post secondary school years, students of English as a Foreign language (EFL) in general have not acquired enough English to engage in meaningful conversation or have limited fundamentals upon which to progress beyond the beginner’s level.
The theory the PRIME Approach presents is that ELA does not take place in EFL contexts unless the language being acquired is Practical and Relevant to the students’ lives; the method of facilitation Integrates all communication skills, both oral and non-oral; the focus of communication is the understanding and conveyance of Meaning; and that the process and outcomes are Enriching to self and society. These concepts are elaborated sufficiently below to give the reader enough information to consider the validity of the Approach.
The PRIME Approach has been in development since 1995 and the theory is rooted firmly in sixteen years of observation, experience, empirical research, and reflection by the author over this time in EFL contexts in Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, China, Malaysia and Oman.
Communication is the primary goal in the facilitation of English Language Acquisition. The implications take us beyond the accepted axiom that we should teach the language, not about the language. English like all human languages, has one general purpose, that is, to convey our thoughts and feelings to other beings, to communicate. English is not the end. It is one means to the end.
Communication is PRACTICAL. People communicate for specific, identifiable purposes. We need to know and understand why people communicate and how English can be used as one means to accomplish these purposes. English is also best learned when students are actively engaged, that includes doing what they are able to do.
Human communication exists when signals are transmitted in the context of the satisfaction of needs and wants, fulfilling purposes. All else is communicatively useless action or noise.
Students acquire English if it is RELEVANT to their lives, that is, if it satisfies real needs and wants, involves them as individuals, addressing their backgrounds, interests, and goals.
The choice of language used in oral and written communication involves interactional uncertainty. The language used in communication is, largely, unpredictable. Providing students with strategies to manage this uncertainty and the unpredictability in discourse is essential to building beginners’ confidence and sustaining their motivation.
Communication is accomplished through a variety of INTEGRATED means that should not be isolated in the learning/acquisition process. Observation takes its rightful place as an essential skill along with Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing. All other motional and emotional means of communication figure importantly in the process. Beginners need as many options as possible to support their efforts to communicate. All communication options should be explored before resorting to their native language and translation.
Communication is context dependent, must be comprehensible, and MEANINGFUL to both sender and receiver. Facilitators must ensure that their communication with students and the language students are engaged in acquiring are both comprehensible and meaningful and that the understanding and conveyance of meaning takes precedence over correctness of form, content, and structure which naturally improve, given the proper means of correction, as students learn to make the meaning of their language production clearer and more effective.
The most important criteria in assessing students’ progress are first, the degree to which the student is actively engaged in the process of English language acquisition and secondly, how effectively s/he comprehends, negotiates, and conveys meaning, not the correctness of form or grammar.
Facilitators of language acquisition have the responsibility of providing students with the tools necessary for progress. These include an array of strategies for learning in general and language learning specifically. Language learning strategies, direct and indirect, must be incorporated into the curriculum.
Students will acquire the English they want and to which they agree are necessary (Practical and Relevant). Therefore, they must Initiate, Direct, Control, Monitor, and Evaluate (SIDCME) their learning (the PRIME Method as described in the following section). Facilitators provide the framework and guideposts, students provide the substance. The most significant implication of this principle is in the facilitator’s acceptance of the role as ‘guide on the side, not 'sage on the stage’. To achieve the objective of students becoming autonomous learners, the facilitator must have patience, resolve and be flexible, resourceful, engaging (motivating) and enriching (FREE) in taking this Approach.
Language acquisition is an indefinite process with characteristics distinct from other subject matter learning. The psychological and emotional factors in language acquisition must figure largely in the approach facilitators and students take to the process because communication is the expression of self, one’s identity, in the process of fulfilling its purposes. Students cannot be expected to achieve goals set out on a continuum of grammatical structures, forms, and functions. The content they need and want to express in achieving relevant purposes will require different and varied structures and forms at different times. The facilitator must have sufficient command and knowledge of English usage to be an effective model for the students and provider of the information they need.
The facilitator’s language and classroom material are known and perceived by the students to be models for their own language development.
The process must be enjoyable and ENRICHING to self and society. As questioned earlier in this paper and it bears repeating: Is it not our ultimate goal, as facilitators of the acquisition of language for its practical use in achieving meaningful purposes, to help people understand each other so they can help each other progress towards a better life and world? This principle will guide facilitators and students in the selection or development of material for classroom modelling and practicing.
Language acquisition is a process tangent to and reflective of the student’s development and growth across all the dimensions of learning. The next section takes a closer look at this important concept.
The Dimensions of Learning
ESL standards articulated by such organizations as TESOL, USA and most commercial ESL programs pay little attention to the progress of students across all the dimensions of learning. It is important that the facilitators be aware of the students’ progress along these dimensions as it is likely they correlate directly to their progress in the language acquisition process."Learning occurs across complex dimensions that are interrelated and interdependent. Learning theorists have argued that learning and development are not components of an assembly line that can be broken down into discrete steps occurring with machine-time precision, but an organic PROCESS* that unfolds along a continuum according to its own pace and rhythm... (The facilitator and student) should be actively searching for, and documenting positive evidence of the student’s development across the five dimensions... These five dimensions cannot be separated out and treated individually; rather, they are dynamically interwoven and interdependent." (Syverson 1995-2006)
The dimensions of learning commonly articulated (1) are:
Confidence and Independence
Growth and development occur when learners’ confidence and independence become coordinated with their actual abilities and skills, content knowledge, use of their experience, and reflective of their own learning. It is not a simple case of ‘more is better’. The overconfident student, who has relied on faulty or underdeveloped skills and strategies, learns to ask for help when facing an obstacle; the shy student begins to trust his/her own abilities and begins to work alone at times, or to insist on presenting her own point of view in discussions. In both cases, students develop along the dimension of confidence and independence.
Skills and Strategies
Specific skills and strategies are involved in the process of language acquisition as well as other areas of learning that require instruction and the active participation of the students. These skills include technological skills for computer communication for all students if they are to become active participants in the global village. ‘Skills and strategies represent the “know-how” aspect of learning.’ How well students actually learn (performance ability or mastery of any given content ) or acquire, in the context of second language acquisition, depends on how well they know and use the skills and strategies laid open to them for their personal use.
Knowledge and Understanding
Content knowledge refers to the extent students understand the theory of new or revealed methods, techniques, and topics and the relationship between theories and practice. It is measured by how effectively the knowledge (ideas) is conveyed by facilitators of learning as well as by how well students demonstrate their understanding of the ideas through formal and informal presentations (examinations, writings, practical and relevant use of the knowledge). This dimension of learning is the most familiar as it has been the most quantifiable and justifiable in terms of historically modern educational systems. What is the simple past of the verb ‘to think’? What is a “web site” on the World-Wide Web? These are typical content knowledge/understanding questions.
Use of Prior and Emerging Experience
Use of prior and emerging experience involves the students’ awareness of the importance and relevance of their own experience, the ability to draw on this experience and connect it to their engagement in the process of learning. ‘A crucial but often unrecognized dimension of learning is the ability to make use of prior experience in new situations’ or when confronted with new learning challenges. It is necessary to overtly encourage and value learners’ experiences and more over to help them incorporate their experiences into the process of learning and acquiring a new language in that case. ‘Observing learners over a period of time as they are engaged in a variety of activities will allow this important capability to be accounted for.’ This dimension of learning is, after all, at the heart of new imaginings and their realization. In structured, inflexible, predetermined curricula we cannot discover, nor can the student, how his/her prior experience might help build new or greater understandings, or how ongoing experience shapes the content knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, indeed, the confidence and independence he/she is developing. Imagine you have no imagination.
Reflection - Contemplative and Critical
It is important to contemplate our own learning process and to analyze how we are progressing in the process of acquiring our knowledge or a second language. How well are we using the skills and strategies available to us to communicate better our thoughts and feelings? Are our students and we developing the ability to distance ourselves enough from the process to reflect on it in the general terms of the extent we are engaged in it and how important it is to our development as human beings and as a global society? Is our ability to think critically of the specific aspects of the process, i.e., how well we using the skills and strategies we need? How much effort are we putting into developing our confidence? How courageous are we becoming in validating our own experiences and using them to build our futures on? This overview thinking and recognition of limitations and obstacles provides the impetus for continued progress and is a necessary dimension of learning and acquisition of language for stronger, clearer communication.
As learners gain confidence and independence, knowledge and understanding, skills and strategies, ability to use prior and emerging experience in new situations, and reflectiveness, they generally become more playful and experimental, more creative in the expression of that learning. This is true not only in "creative" fields such as the arts, but in nearly all domains: research, argumentation, history, psychology, mathematics. In all fields the primary contributions to the field at the highest levels are the result of creative or imaginative work. Even in the early stages of learning in a discipline, exploration and experimentation, taking new or unexpected perspectives, and playfulness should be recognized and encouraged as a natural part of the learning process. This optional dimension may be adopted as part of the Learning Record by teachers or schools to make explicit the value of creativity, originality, and imagination in students' development and achievement. Among other things, it recognizes the value of creative experimentation even when the final result of the work may not succeed as the student may hope. If we hope to foster this quality in students’ thinking and development, it is important to encourage it, to document it, and to explicitly make it a value. We make this dimension optional because there are certain classes that depend on the transfer of information (as in human anatomy, for example) or the acquisition of fundamentally technical skills (calculus, for example) where creativity and imagination may not play a significant role.
- (1) Source: M.A. Syverson (http://www.learningrecord.org/dimensions.html)
Facilitators in a PRIME Program must monitor all the factors articulated in the learning outcomes section of this site because language cannot be acquired effectively without the management of and accomplishment in these areas. In the context of the program’s application, while students are expected to achieve some of these minimum standards or learning outcomes, their efforts and progress will be the most important factor in assessments and evaluations, not the quality or quantity of English they have acquired. (See the section on Evaluation) This is according to the unique nature of second language acquisition.
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While great progress has been made in expanding and understanding the scope of factors that affect ELA facilitation in recent years such as in Multiple Intelligence and Thinking Styles Theories and Language Learning Strategies, there is a need for more research of the relationships among emotion, the psychology of learning, social and political contexts and language acquisition.