Helping students develop the range of literacies they need to enter and succeed at various levels of the academic hierarchy and subsequently in the workforce requires a pedagogy that facilitates and hastens linguistic proficiency development, familiarizes students with the requirements and conventions of academic discourse, and supports the use of critical thinking and higher order cognitive processes. A large body of research conducted over the past decade (see, e.g., Benesch, 1988; Brinton, Snow, & Wesche, 1989; Crandall, 1993; Kasper, 1997a, 2000a; Pally, 2000; Snow & Brinton, 1997) has shown that content-based instruction (CBI) is highly effective in helping ESL students develop the literacies they need to be successful in academic and workforce environments.
CONTENT-BASED INSTRUCTION AND LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
CBI develops linguistic competence and functional literacy by exposing ESL learners to interdisciplinary input that consists of both "everyday" communicative and academic language (Cummins, 1981; Mohan, 1990; Spanos, 1989) and that contains a wide range of vocabulary, forms, registers, and pragmatic functions (Snow, Met, & Genesee, 1989; Zuengler & Brinton, 1997). Because content-based pedagogy encourages students to use English to gather, synthesize, evaluate, and articulate interdisciplinary information and knowledge (Pally, 1997), it also allows them to hone academic and critical literacy skills as they practice appropriate patterns of academic discourse (Kasper, 2000b) and become familiar with sociolinguistic conventions relating to audience and purpose (Soter, 1990).
The theoretical foundations supporting a content-based model of ESL instruction derive from cognitive learning theory and second language acquisition (SLA) research. Cognitive learning theory posits that in the process of acquiring literacy skills, students progress through a series of three stages, the cognitive, the associative, and the autonomous (Anderson, 1983a). Progression through these stages is facilitated by scaffolding, which involves providing extensive instructional support during the initial stages of learning and gradually removing this support as students become more proficient at the task (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994). Second language acquisition (SLA) research emphasizes that literacy development can be facilitated by providing multiple opportunities for learners to interact in communicative contexts with authentic, linguistically challenging materials that are relevant to their personal and educational goals (see, e.g., Brinton, et al., 1989; Kasper, 2000a; Krashen, 1982; Snow & Brinton, 1997; Snow, et al., 1989).
In a 1996 paper published in The Harvard Educational Review, The New London Group (NLG) advocated developing multiliteracies through a pedagogy that involves a complex interaction of four factors which they called Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing, and Transformed Practice. According to the NLG, becoming multiliterate requires critical engagement in relevant tasks, interaction with diverse forms of communication made possible by electronic technologies, and participation in collaborative learning contexts. Warschauer (1999) concurred and stated that a pedagogy of critical inquiry and problem solving that provides the context for "authentic and collaborative projects and analyses" (p. 16) that support and are supported by the use of electronic technologies is necessary for ESL students to acquire the linguistic, social, and technological competencies key to literacy in a digital world.
According to a 1995 report published by the United States Department of Education, "technology is an important enabler for classes organized around complex, authentic tasks" and when "used in support of challenging projects, [technology] can contribute to students' sense ... that they are using real tools for real purposes." Technology use increases students' motivation as it promotes their active engagement with language and content through authentic, challenging tasks that are interdisciplinary in nature (McGrath, 1998). Technology use also encourages students to spend more time on task. As they search for information in a hyperlinked environment, ESL students benefit from increased opportunities to process linguistic and content information. Used as a tool for learning, technology supports a level of task authenticity and complexity that fits well with the interdisciplinary work inherent in content-based instruction and that promotes the acquisition of multiliteracies.
THEORY INTO PRACTICE
These research findings suggest that in our efforts to prepare ESL students for the challenges of the academic and workforce environments of the 21st century, we should adopt a pedagogical model that incorporates information technology as an integral component and that specifically targets the development of the range of literacies deemed necessary for success in a digital, information-oriented society. This paper describes a content-based pedagogy, which I call focus discipline research (Kasper, 1998a), and presents the results of a classroom study conducted to measure the effects of focus discipline research on the development of ESL students' literacy skills.
As described here, focus discipline research puts theory into practice as it incorporates the principles of cognitive learning theory, SLA research, and the four components of the NLG's (1996) pedagogy of multiliteracies. Through pedagogical activities that provide the context for situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice, focus discipline research promotes ESL students' choice of and responsibility for course content, engages them in extended practice with linguistic structures and interdisciplinary material, and encourages them to become "content experts" in a subject of their own choosing.
It can be seen that it is difficult and probably undesirable to attempt to determine the difficulty of a listening and viewing task in any absolute terms. By considering the three aspects that affect the level of difficulty, namely text, task, and context features, it is possible to identify those characteristics of tasks that can be manipulated. Having identified the variable characteristics of tasks in developing the model, it is necessary to look to the dynamic interaction among, tasks, texts, and the computer-based environment.
Task design and text selection in this model also incorporate the identification and consideration of context. Teachers can make provision for their influence on learner perception of difficulty by providing texts and tasks that range across these levels, and by ensuring that learners with lower language proficiency can ease themselves gradually into the more contextually difficult tasks. This can be achieved by reducing the level of difficulty of other parameters such as text or task difficulty, or by minimizing other aspects of contextual difficulty. Thus, for example, learners of lower proficiency who are exposed for the first time to a task based on a broadcast announcement would be provided with appropriate visual support in the form of graphics or video to reduce textual difficulty. The task type would also be kept to a low level of cognitive demand (Hoven, 1991, 1997a, 1997b).
In a CELL environment, this identification of parameters of difficulty enables task designers to develop and modify tasks on the basis of clear language pedagogy that is both learner-centred and cognitively sound. Learners are provided with the necessary information on text, task, and context to make informed choices, and are given opportunities to implement their decisions. Teachers are therefore creating a CELL environment that facilitates and encourages exploration of, and experimentation with, the choices available. Within this model, learners are then able to adjust their own learning paths through the texts and tasks, and can do this at their own pace and at their individual points of readiness. In sociocultural terms, the model provides learners with a guiding framework or community of practice within which to develop through their individual Zones of Proximal Development. The model provides them with the tools to mediate meaning in the form of software incorporating information, feedback, and appropriate help systems.
By taking account of learners' needs and making provision for learner choice in this way, one of the major advantages of using computers in language learning--their capacity to allow learners to work at their own pace and in their own time--can be more fully exploited. It then becomes our task as researchers to evaluate, with learners' assistance, the effectiveness of environments such as these in improving the their listening and viewing comprehension as well as their approaches to learning in these environments.
- Adair-Hauck, B., & Donato, R. (1994). Foreign language explanations within the zone of proximal development. The Canadian Modern Language Revie