Design Successful Learning

Holistic Approaches to Language Teaching

Holistic approaches to teaching communication

Michael Rost

University of California, Berkeley

Holistic approaches to language education take into account the learner’s personal, social, and professional growth in addition to their linguistic development. Research into the nature of spoken language and second language acquisition has assisted us in characterizing successful communication as an integration of fluency, accuracy, complexity, and interactivity. However, even these robust definitions of communication tend to leave out another component that I feel is needed in a holistic approach to communication. By including and prioritizing this fifth component, which I call “presence”, we can help students find their “authentic voice.” This article presents four tangible steps for achieving this sense of presence in communicative teaching. The article also provides sample thematic activities that incorporate these steps.

BACKGROUND: BEEFITS OF A COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH  

In my own career as a language teacher, I often ask myself at the end of a class: What made this particular class or a specific activity in the class work well? And what may have prevented it from working even better? Through many of these reflection episodes over the years I have discovered that often the ingredients that lead to successful classes involve “holistic” approaches to communication. When we bring learners’ total growth as individuals into our classroom activities and take account of their emotional investment in learning, we often have richer results.

The process of discovering and articulating these “holistic” elements in communication was gradual for me. I was fortunate to have begun my career during the rise in what was known as the communicative language revolution, a period when new ideas were shared constantly and experimentation was widely encouraged.

Among the many shifts in thinking about communicative teaching, there are two key trends that serve as a springboard toward holistic approaches to teaching: qualitative assessment and task design. 

Assessment

One key trend in the communicative teaching movement was the shift toward characterizing communication as anintegrated skill that simultaneously involves fluency, accuracy, complexity, interactivity. This characterization, brought forward through research in discourse analysis (see Schiffrin et al., 2001) and second language acquisition (see Markee, 2000), encouraged language teachers to evaluate students’ progress in qualitative terms. Qualitative scales evolved and are now used widely in assessment and curriculum planning. (See Little, 2007; Cheng et al. , 2004; Pierce, 2002 for a review of oral communication scales.)   

A framework for assessing communication would look something like the band scale in Figure 1. This scale provides four general categories and number of descriptors of particular behaviors and attitudes that contribute to a “proficient” communicative performance. Someone speaking with near-native ability and performing well on a particular communicative task, such as an interview or discussion or oral presentation, might receive a “5” in each category (Fluency, Accuracy, Complexity, Interactivity).  Most students would be rated lower in each category, with a “1” for the most minimal performance. 

We can take advantages of this representation of communication proficiency.  First of all, this type of qualitative scale depicts communication as an intentional and integrated action by the speaker, not just as an additive combination of correctly produced linguistic utterances. Secondly, using communicative scales like this can help learners graduallytarget higher goals in each of the categories. For assessment of achievement of communicative goals in class, scales need to be modified to fit the target group. Feedback can be fine-turned in order to motivate students toward incrementally reaching their communicative goals (Han, 2001). 

[Insert Table 1 around here] 

Task Design

With a new focus on communication as an integrated skill, the “communicative task” gradually became the new unit of instruction, replacing “practice activities.” To me, looking back at the history of language teaching, this is a welcomed shift in the nature of pedagogy. The underlying principle in this design shift is that students at all levels of proficiency need engagement in authentic or quasi-authentic tasks in order to make progress and to be able to transfer their skills to the “real world.” Because of this directional shift in methodology, teachers are now expected to employ a wide repertoire of interactive activities. In addition, teachers need to know how to guide their students toward successful communicative outcomes and deal with learning obstacles, not just “teach the language” (Dornyei, 2002; Deweale, 2005).

The essential tenet of this approach is that tasks enable students to learn language through communication. The development principle is that as instructional tasks become more authentic and as demands on students for more accurate and more complex language increase, students will become more communicative.

A modern teacher’s “menu” of communicative activities might look something like Table 2. Tasks that we use can be divided in terms of their authenticity.  Communicative activities – sometimes referred to as “quasi-communicative tasks” – are based on “authentic” tasks, but contain modifications and simplifications to make them more accessible to students.  The modifications also make the “skills focus” more transparent to students (Lochana and Deb, 2006; Luchini, 2004). Communicative tasks are those that resemble what actual users of the language do with language for transactional or interactional purposes outside of the classroom.  Some tasks are more suitable to beginning learners, while others are more suitable to advanced students. The key is that for students at all levels the focus is on activity – active processing of language – and context – a situation and goal for using the language. With a shift toward tasks, teachers can also evaluate students qualitatively, in terms of communicative effect:  are they able to complete the task successfully?

The positive influences of this shift in classroom activities and norms for assessment can be seen in classrooms around the world. ESL and EFL students are getting more exposure to communicative tasks and are becoming more comfortable and confident in speaking English.  

[Insert Table 2 around here] 

MOVING FORWARD: WHAT’S MISSING ?

The developments in assessment and activity design have clearly boosted the potential effectiveness of communicative language teaching. In my view, developments in communicative teaching methodology have moved us toward a constructivist perspective of learning.  

A constructivist might say that students learn to communicate through:   

• activity – following procedures that involve complex skills 

• engagement – connecting with and collaborating with others 

• challenge – being “pushed” to give their maximum effort 

• progression – attempting progressively more demanding tasks 

I think there is something beyond this cognitive, psycholinguistic view of development. To help students find their “authentic voice” in communication, I think we need to develop these notions further. Students also learn to communicate through: 

• feedback – understanding how their performance compares to standards 

• reflection – evaluating learning, planning and using learning strategies, goal-setting

When we merge feedback and reflection into our communicative approach we are helping our students to claim their “essential” self.  We know that communication is more than language. We understand that mastery of communication is more than mastering linguistic structures. Progress in communication involves expression of one’s “essence” and appreciation of this “essence” in others. 

There are many ways to discuss this notion of personal essence. It is commonly accessed in terms like “emotional investment” and “cultural identity” (cf. Shaules, 2007; Tsui, 2007). When learners feel that their identity is congruent with the goals and style of the class and when they are able to deal with the personal emotional shifts that take place in second language learning, they are likely to participate more and experience more authentic progress (Norton, 1995; 2004; Pavlenko, 2006). On the other hand, when learners  lack an understanding of how the acquisition of the L2 will change them and will change their own and others’ perception of them, they  can experience “identity conflicts” and “emotional barriers” (Inozu et al. 2007).   These identity conflicts lead to conflicting motivation (“feeling pulled in different directions”), and learners tend to shut down and feel marginalized.  In this state, their essential, “authentic voice” cannot be developed.   

The notion of “presence” in communication 

If we are to help learners engage more fully in learning to communicate, I believe we need to address the issues of emotional investment and personal identity as openly as we can.  One way to do this is by including a fifth element in our characterization of communication. I call this element “presence.”  After experimenting with various approaches to overcoming affective barriers to communication and helping students access their “authentic voice”, I have synthesized the approach down to Four Steps.  

Step 1: Be Silent 

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness

– Mahatma Gandhi 

In teaching communication, we might think that being empty of sound and words, even empty of thought, is an abhorrent state – something to be avoided at all costs! As language teachers, we have been trained to value fluent speech, judging our students negatively if they don’t speak quickly enough or if they “go blank.” Being caught in a silent moment can make students feel ignorant and ashamed. It seems that both we and our students are afraid to be silent, without words.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the first step toward establishing “presence” in a communicative approachis to be still and allow silenceThe purpose of silence is to stop all of the chatter that surrounds rehearsal, to help the students connect with themselves, to find their inner resources, to get to know who they are independent of words (Hamilton, 2008).  The goal of Step 1: Be Silent is to ease anxiety about speaking in front of others, to start to erase the fear of inadequacy when speaking in a foreign language We can introduce this step in many phases of communicative teaching. 

Ways of incorporating Step 1: Be Silent in communicative teaching:

 (1) At the beginning of communicative activities or any new segment of the class, incorporate formal “silent time” for planning. Research has shown that planning time increases fluency, accuracy, and complexity (Skehan, 2007). 

 (2) For interactive speaking tasks, teach students, when they are in the speaker’s role, communication strategies for slowing down, to manage the conversation and buy time to think. Sample gambits are: Hold on… I’m thinking… I need to think for a second… Research has also shown students who use compensatory communication strategies like “slowing down” increase both complexity and fluency in communication (Nakatani and Goh, 2007). 

 (3) Similarly, for interactive speaking tasks, teach students, when they are in the listener’s role, communication strategies for slowing the conversation down, to give them time to think and ask clarification questions. Sample gambits are: Wait a second, would you mind slowing down? Hold on…can you go over that again? Research again has shown that listeners who use strategies for “stopping the noise” and “clarifying uncertainty” become better listeners (Vandergrift, 2006).  

 (4) At the end of communication tasks, include quiet reflection time and time for structured review. Research has shown that for uptake of feedback, it is essential that the learner be in a “receptive” mode, ready to process corrective feedback, rehearse corrections, and retry the task (Han, 2001; Simard et al., 2007).

Teaching Tip: 

Encourage your students to “slow down”, to think and plan before they start in on any task. Encourage an appreciation of “think time”.  Help your students calm down when they’re anxious about speaking.   


Step 2: Be Engaged 

 What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most students feel that to become better communicators they simply have to practice speaking. Practice, practice, practice! Speak with classmates, speak by themselves, in front of mirrors, and so on.  I have nothing against practice – and it is well-known that practice is essential for progress (DeKeyser, 2007).  However, I am against the kind of practice that is motivated by the fear of “I’m not good enough.” Too much emphasis on practice can lead students to feel they are not adequate now. The need-more-practice attitude often prevents students from being able to “stay in the moment” when they are speaking. They will become anxious or fearful and naturally want to retreat to a safer place where they will not be exposed.

Fear and anxiety often intrude on our present activities because of past negative events that we have experienced, especially being ridiculed or misunderstood, and by future negative events that we imagine, such as being corrected in front of our peers (Finch, 2001). To help students dissipate this fear and begin to expose their authentic voice, we need to create a conscious shift away from a sense of pre-occupation with correctness, pre-occupation with self. 

One way to bring about this shift is again counter-intuitive. We do this by helping students focus on their listeners, not on themselves, and not on their English. We want students to develop the attitude that communication occurs through connection with listeners, not through delivery of speech.  Success is measured by how much I engage in the moment with my listeners, how well I can make an authentic connection with them

Ways of incorporating Step 2: Be Engaged in communicative teaching: 

 (1) In all communication tasks, aim to provide listeners with clear goals. For example, they may be asked to summarize what a speaker has said, or provide other specific feedback.  (See Rost, 2006; Helgesen and Brown, 2006 for a list of interactive tasks.) 

 (2) Teach “active listening strategies”: focus on the speaker, stay involved – give feedback, lean forward to show your curiosity and interest, check your understanding, express your appreciation, respond to the speaker’s ideas and feelings, ask clarification and expansion questions. (See Engraffia et al. 1997 for a list of active listening strategies.) 

 (3) Coach students, when they are speaking, to maintain eye contact with their partners.  (Don’t speak until your partner is ready to listen… If you need to look down at your book or paper, that’s OK, but look back up when you’re ready to speak… Focus on your partner, not on yourself… Wait for your partner to look at you before you begin.   (See Aitchison, 2007 for other suggestions on eye contact.) 

 (4) Encourage students when they speak to a group of three or more to make eye contact with one listener at a time. Focusing on one listener at a time rather than on the whole group helps alleviate anxiety and actually increases connection with the group (Glickstein, 1998).

Teaching Tip: 

Encourage active listening during all communicative activities. Be sure that the listeners always have something to do. Avoid having students focus on books and notes when they are actually speaking and listening. Encourage eye contact between speakers and listeners. Talk to your students about the sense of “having a connection” between the speaker and the listener. 

 Step 3: Be Positive 

Praise invariably implies a reference to a higher standard.

 – Aristotle

In many language classes, students and teachers focus so much on progress that they lose sight of a very important learning principle. As Piaget and other constructivist educators have long noted, building on success is a fundamental learning principle. Scaffolding students’ efforts toward success leads to more success (Bhattacharya and Han, 2001; Bereiter and Scardamalia, 2006). Unfortunately, many teachers focus too much on correction – what is notadequate – in students’ communicative performance rather than on positive effect – what is adequate. We do know that correction, recasts, and “negative feedback” (i.e. feedback about errors or incorrect hypotheses) have an important role in language acquisition (Doughty and Varela, 1998). But we also know from research that most correction and other “negative feedback” is often misplaced in classroom teaching, and is subsequently ignored or misinterpreted by learners (Han, 2002). 

Because of the tenuous value of real-time “negative feedback”, and because of the substantial value of real-time “positive feedback”, I feel it is important for our feedback to focus first and foremost on giving positive regard to learner’s efforts and intentions. The goal of Step 3: Be Positive is for students and teachers to identify positive qualities in themselves and others and to generate and radiate genuine warmth and support for others.

When put into practice consistently, this step goes a long way toward creating a supportive environment that nourishes students’ success in communication and motivates them to improve. The teacher as role model here is very important. We need to realize that during communicative activities and tasks, students are listening most of the time. And teachers, who are monitoring student communication, are essentially listeners most of the time as well. The listener’s practice with Step 3: Be Positive is to be absolutely supportive toward the person who is speaking. You aim to construct a “judgment-free zone” in which you do your best to focus on the speaker’s positive features and practice detecting his or her deeper traits, such as strength, sincerity, or vitality. When the speaker has finished speaking, give some positive feedback about how the person affected you. Avoid commenting on what they were talking about or on their language proficiency.  

For the speaker, there are also specific things to do to “be positive.” When a student is the center of everyone’s attention in a communication task, he or she needs to learn how to receive the support of the group – to let the group see and feel their “presence”. This can be a challenge, for a variety of cultural and personal reasons.    Some students may feel it is culturally inappropriate to accept praise openly.  And some students might imagine that the group is looking for their faults. The purpose of this step is to train ourselves to refocus on the positive qualities in others, to see and hear the person first, not simply notice their language. 

Ways of incorporating Step 3: Be Positive during communicative teaching:

 (1) In all communication tasks, encourage listeners to focus on the best qualities in the speaker. Work on “positive talk” yourself, as a teacher, and show students some useful expressions like: You were awesome! That was great! Very inspiring!

 (2) Encourage students to provide positive feedback to each other at the end of collaborative speaking tasks. Teach simple expressions and gambits like: I really enjoyed talking with you. Nice talking with you. Look forward to talking with you again later. 

(3) Encourage the student, when speaking, to feel the support and interest of the group, and to receive the positive feedback given to them. In many cultures, this may seem unnatural, but remind your students that the classroom is a kind of “learning laboratory” to try out new ideas. 

 (4) With your students, explore differences in cultural teaching and learning styles. Talk about the difference between feeling “supported” by your teacher and classmates vs. “competing for good grades” and being “afraid of correction or judgment.”  (See Shaules, 2007 for a discussion of the cultural differences in learning styles.) 

Teaching Tip: 

Focus on “positive feedback” to students during and following communicative activities. Comment first on each student’s “spirit” or “participation”, not on their English. Generally, think in terms of an 80:20 ratio – 80% of feedback is “positive” and 20% is “corrective.” Use collaborative activities and add game elements to activities to encourage a sense of enjoyment of communication tasks. 

Step 4: Be Yourself

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

 – Maya Angelou

Ultimately, the central goal of a holistic approach to teaching communication is to encourage each student to “be yourself.” When students find a “comfort zone” for expressing themselves in the classroom, they start to develop an authentic voice.  They also develop their autonomy and begin making permanent progress in communication. 

A recent student in one of my recent conversation classes, May from Taiwan, illustrated to me the notion of “authentic voice”. I usually encourage students to keep a journal during my communication classes, since I have consistently found that reflection, particularly on issues of identity and “life story lines”, can help open doors to learning. May wrote this: 

When I came to the States, everything changed about the way I learn English.  It had to change, and I’m glad it did. 

In Taiwan I was a good student – I always got top grades, top evaluations from teachers. I think I was an ideal student. I always thought that being a good student meant to take notes, read the textbook, memorize words, so I always studied hard. 

But when I got to the States I found it very hard to communicate with people. I was very frustrated. One guy in our class told me, “May, you know, you’re too serious… you got to be able to open up a little bit… We don’t really know who you are.” (Ouch!) I was very shocked actually, because I thought I was very open and willing to learn.

I realized I was so afraid of making mistakes that I only studied to avoid being embarrassed. I didn’t really have a positive motivation to communicate with other people. I had to open up myself to making mistakes, to just be me and not worry what everybody thinks. When I did that, I finally became myself when I speak English. 

What we are trying to do in a holistic approach to teaching communication is give our students the tools to learn to be good communicators – beyond the classroom and beyond our own class timeline. If we can encourage students to practice Step 4:  Be Yourself when they speak in our classes, they may take away a valuable tool for their future.

Ways of incorporating Step 4: Be Yourself in communicative teaching:

(1) Encourage students to reflect on the learning process. Allow time at the end of class for “quiet reflection” and then, if possible some discussion of the learning value of the class. This allows students to state their preferences for future class activities, and greater personal “buy in” to the goals of the class.

(2) Have students keep journals with ongoing entries in English, gradually telling their “life stories, and sharing some of their future hopes and dreams. You can suggest a weekly theme for journal entries. Personal writing by the students – with personal feedback from the teacher – allows students to feel acknowledged by the teacher. 

(3) Build in time during your course for students to give personal presentations, about their interests (in music, movies, etc.) and goals in life, as part of the class activities. Aim to “be positive” in evaluating their presentations. 

(4) Keep a class blog, or a class wiki that serves as a portfolio for student contributions to the class. When students feel they belong to the class, and their contributions are valued, they tend to be more open during communicative activities. 

Teaching Tip:

Find multiple ways to let the students “be themselves.” Work in personal time with the students to get to know their real interests, not only their interest in learning English. Find ways to “personalize” class activities by including student presentations and other kinds of sharing.  When you involve students on a personal level, you energize your classroom and get your students more committed to learning. 

SAMPLE ACTIVITIES FOR PROMOTING “PRESENCE”  

     Incorporating the principle of “presence” into communicative teaching entails only adding awareness of the “4 Steps” at various points during classroom activities. In this section, these sample activities show how this can be achieved. 

Speaking Circles 

            Speaking Circles is a communication activity in which students work in groups, usually 4 or 5, but you can increase the size if you like. The larger the group, the more you are encouraging “listening as support.” Each person has a speaking turn of equal length, such as two minutes. During a person’s speaking turn, the listeners do not say anything, and don’t take notes. They are “available” for making eye contact with the speaker (Glickstein, 1998; Hamilton, 2008). 

            Create a topic for each Speaking Circles activity. Topics I’ve had success focus on personal themes such as  “My Passion” or “My Future” or “My Hero”, or “values topics” such as, “Who influenced you more, your mother or your father?” Allow students quiet time to prepare, but don’t encourage them to rehearse exactly the sentences they want to say. When it’s the speaker’s turn, he or she stands up in front of the group and takes his “turn”. I encourage the students not to use notes because I want them to “be silent”, and find their “inner resources” for speaking. For your first turns, it’s perfectly OK to say very little, or even nothing at all! The turn should be in English, but it’s OK if the speaker inserts some native language. The key is to focus on helping the speaker relax and even feel a sense of enjoyment about being in front of others. The listeners – and the teacher – simply keep engaged with the speaker. The speaker attempts to maintain eye contact, one person at a time, throughout his or her turn. 

            For this activity I have found it’s important to have a time keeping device, to keep turn-taking equitable. At the end of the speaker’s turn, the time keeper (usually the teacher) says, “OK, it’s time.” People in the group can applaud, and also give sincere, positive comments about their impressions of the speaker. “Great”, “Inspiring”, “Flowing”…anything that conveys an appreciation of the speaker, not the content of what he or she said. 

     At the end of everyone’s speaking turn, the teacher can give some global feedback about the presentations of the group. Or the teacher can also take a turn, talking about the same topic (e.g. “My Passion”), for the same amount of time, to give the students a closer glimpse into his or her life. If you wish, you can record the students turns on audio or video files, to give each student his or her own “presentation.” No other formal feedback is needed, and language correction by the teacher is generally not needed here. 

First-person presentations

            First-person presentations are an activity that involves one or more students giving a prepared presentation on a personal topic in front of a group, or in front of the entire class. There are four steps in the activity, involving increasing levels of commitment to the activity (Day et al., 2008).    

• Choose: Students choose a topic to talk about from a small set presented by the teacher. The topics are related to a given theme or a topic the students have recently read about.  The choices for topics give students a chance to decide on a theme that connects to their own lives, experiences, and points of view. Choosing a topic, as opposed to being given a required topic, clearly helps personalize the presentation.

• Prepare: Students are given very specific guidelines to help them prepare for their presentations. For example, they prepare outlines or speaking notes to guide them on 

what they want to say, not exactly how they are going to say it.  For example, students list key words or phrases, rather than writing out full sentences.  It is important that the students plan the overall structure of their talk, but not rehearse the exact words, in order to better engage with the audience.  

• Rehearse: This third step provides students with an opportunity to practice their presentations interactively—and without feeling pressure—before presenting to a wider audience. Students work in pairs, and take turns rehearsing their talk.  The listener should be given a specific task to do to help the speaker, but above all should aim to be supportive. This Rehearse step can be repeated multiple times with different partners. Each repetition tends to encourage the students to “push output” a bit more, by increasing depth and complexity and by promoting greater facility and fluency (Parviz, 2008; Batstone, 2002).  

• Present: This is the final step, in which students share their ideas with a different group or a wider audience. Again, the listeners should be given specific tasks to help them feel involved in each student’s presentation.  Speakers should aim to “be engaged” and connected with their audience, rather than try to “deliver” a speech.  At the end, encourage “positive feedback” about each student’s presentation.  Film the presentations for the presenters to review by themselves, if possible.  

Interactive Listening 

   Interactive Listening activities focus attention on the role of the listener in creating meaningful communication (Rost, 2006). There are many possible starting points for this type of activity, but the general structure is that the speaker prepares cues and the listener asks questions to uncover the speaker’s idea (see Helgesen et al., 2008 for examples). In one variation I call “The Date Game,” each person writes five important dates in their own lives on a card (e.g. October 1, 2005), but doesn’t indicate why each date is important. 

Students work in a group of 3 or more. One person is the designated speaker for each turn. One person is the designated listener. And the third person is the monitor. These roles will rotate.  

The listener points to one of the dates on the speaker’s card and asks, “Why is (this date) important to you?” The speaker answers and the listener tries to ask 5 follow up questions about the same date, such as “What happened on that day?” Any questions are OK. The purpose is for the listener to show curiosity toward the speaker. 

The monitor’s job is to listen to both the speaker and the listener. At the end of the activity, the monitor will give “feedback” to the speaker and the listener individually.   Keeping with the principle of “Be Positive”, I usually specify that the feedback should be positive. They should tell their partners what they did well, in terms of fluency, accuracy, complexity, and interactivity.  

CONCLUSION: ADVANTAGES AND CHALLENGES OF HOLISTIC APPROACHES

         This article has outlined the kinds of emphases that should be included in a holistic approach to teaching communication.  They can be summarized as follows:

• Put the students’ overall growth and development – linguistic, personal, social, professional – as the focus of the course. 

• Use communication tasks and projects as the basis of the course. Aim to make the tasks as personalized as possible, involving input from the students themselves.  

• Build a “classroom culture” of support and trust, in which the students work collaboratively and cooperatively.   

• Focus on qualitative feedback and assessment – fluency, accuracy, complexity, interactivity – and show how these factors lead to communicative success

• Include the notion of “presence” in communication activities.  Help each student find his or her “authentic voice” in the target language.

            If we include “presence” in qualitative assessment, our scheme for assessment and feedback would include a “fifth element”, as represented in Table 3. 

[Insert Table 3 around here] 

Holistic approaches to teaching communication have both potential advantages and possible drawbacks.  The advantages are many:  students are more interactive, they take more responsibility for the success of the course, they become more autonomous, they develop more of an “authentic voice” than they might in a typical language course.  The possible drawbacks concern the risks that teachers need to take initially to introduce non-linguistic ideas – such as “presence” – that may feel unfamiliar to students. Some students may resist participating at first in a more “holistic” concept of communication, and the teacher may be incline to “retreat” into a more comfortable, more traditional model of communicative language teaching (Tsui, 2007).  There is also a risk that as the class becomes more “holistic”, there will be less attention paid to language itself, and students may receive fewer presentations on grammar and vocabulary, and get less explicit correction than they expect. This could slow down their linguistic development in the short run.  

            My own experiences is that, if we can remain sensitive to the cultural, academic, and professional context of the students we are teaching, it is beneficial to move toward a holistic framework for teaching communication. For most students who wish to improve their communication ability and who are willing to invest themselves in the process, a holistic approach makes sense and leads to greater progress – in fluency, accuracy, complexity, interactivity, and “presence” – and deeper satisfaction for both the teacher and the students.   

REFERENCES 

Aitchison, S.  (2007).  Ways to improve your eye contact skills.

www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/blog/2007/08/11/ Retrieved August, 2008. 

Batstone, R. (2002). Contexts of engagement: a discourse perspective on  intake  and  pushed output. System, 30, 1-14. 

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (2006). Education for the knowledge age: Design-centered models of teaching and instruction. In P. Alexander & P. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed., pp.695–713). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bhattacharya, K. & Han, S. (2001). Piaget and cognitive development. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Athens, GA: University of Georgia. Retrieved August, 2008, from http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/piaget.htm.

Cheng, L. , Rogers, T., and Hu, H.  (2004). ESL/EFL instructors’ classroom assessment practices: purposes, methods, and procedures,  Language Testing, 21,  360-389. 

Day, R., Shaules, J. and Yamanaka, J. 2008. Impact Issues, new edition.  Hong Kong: Pearson Education. 

DeKeyser, R (2007). (Ed.) Practicing in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dewaele, J.-M. (2005). Investigating the psychological and the emotional dimensions in instructed language learning: Obstacles and possibilities. In L. Ortega (ed.) Reconceptualizing research on L2 learning across education contexts, Special issue of The Modern Language Journal 89, 3, 367-380.

Dornyei, Z. (2002).  The motivational basis of language learning tasks.  In P. Robinson (Ed.) Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp.137-158).  Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 

Doughty, C & Varela, E. (1998). Communicative focus on form. In Doughty, C & Williams, J. (Eds.), Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition (pp.114-138). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Engraffia, M.   Graff, N., Jezuit, S., & Schall, L. (1997). Improving student listening skills through the use of teaching strategies.. ERIC Dissertations ED409537. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/ Retrieved August, 2008

Finch, A. (2001). The non-threatening learning environment. The Korea TESOL Journal, 4, 133-158. 

Glickstein, L.  (1998).  Be Heard Now.  New York: Broadway Books.   

Hamilton, D. (2008). Essential speaking. New York: Doubleday.

Han, Z-H. (2001). Fine-tuning corrective feedback. Foreign Language Annals, 34,582-599.

Han, Z-H. (2002).  Rethinking the role of corrective feedback in communicative language teaching . RELC Journal, 33,   1-34.   

Helgesen, M., Wiltshier, J. & Brown. S. (2008). English Firsthand series. Hong Kong: Pearson Education.  

Helgesen, M. & Brown, S. (2006). Practical English language teaching: Listening.  New York:  McGraw Hill.  

Inozu, J., Tuyan, S. & Cakir, E. (2007). Overcoming affective barriers for continuous language learning. Asian EFL Journal, 9 (4/11).

Little, D. (2007). The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Perspectives on the making of supranational language education policy. Modern Language Journal, 91, 645-655.  

Lochana, M. & Deb, G. (2006). Task based teaching: learning English without tears. Asian EFL Journal8(3), 140-164.

Luchini, P. (2004).  Developing oral skills by combining fluency- with accuracy-  focused tasks:  A case study in China.  Asian EFL Journal, 6 (7), 1-20.

Macaro, E. (2006).   Strategies for language learning and for language use: Revising the theoretical framework. Modern Language Journal, 90, 320-337. 

Markee, N. (2000). Conversation Analysis. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Nakatani, Y &   Goh, C. (2007). A review of oral communication strategies: Focus on interactionist and psycholinguistic perspectives In E. Macaro & A. Cohen  (Eds.) Language learning strategies. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.  

Parviz Birjandi, P. (2008). Effect of task repetition on the fluency, complexity and accuracy of Iranian EFL learners’ oral discourse. Asian EFL Journal, 10 (3), 1-12.

Pavlenko, A. (2006). (Ed.) Bilingual minds: Emotional experience, expression, and representation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Pierce, L. V. (2002). Performance-based assessment: Promoting achievement for English language learners. ERIC/CLL News Bulletin, 26,1. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.

Rost, M.  (2006). Areas of research that influence L2 listening instruction. In E.  Uso &  A. Martinez (Eds.) Current trends in the development and teaching of the four language skills.  Berlin:  Mouton de Gruyter.

Schiffrin, D.,  Tannen, D. & Hamilton, H. E. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shalues, J. (2007). Deep culture: The hidden challenges of global living.  Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 

Simard, D., French, L, & Fortier, V. (2007). Elicited metalinguistic reflection and second language learning: Is there a link? System, 35,  509-522.

Skehan, P. (2007).  Task research and language teaching: reciprocal relationships.  In S. Fotos & H. Nassaji (Eds.), Form-focused instruction and teacher education.  (pp.55-69).  Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Tsui, A. (2007). Complexities of identity formation: A narrative inquiry of an EFL teacher.  TESOL Quarterly, 41, 657-680. 

Vandergrift, L. (2006). Second language listening: Listening ability or language proficiency? Modern Language Journal, 90, 3-17.

Tables

Table 1.  A framework for a qualitative assessment scale

 FluencyAccuracyComplexityInteractivity
5Speaks with little or no hesitation; Takes long speaking turns when necessary; has appropriate things to say in a variety of contexts  Pronunciation and intonation are almost always very clear and accurate; Uses vocabulary specific to the task;Has consistent grammatical controlSustains substance of communication; Has excellent range and flexibility of vocabulary; Works to  develop coherenceParticipates fully and effectively; Responds appropriately; Stays on task 
4ÝßÝßÝßÝß
3ÝßÝßÝßÝß
2ÝßÝßÝßÝß
1Speaks only in words or very short utterances; hesitation interferes with communication Pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar control problems consistently interfere with communication Can maintain communication only on basic topics Does not take active role in communication; depends on others for task completion 

Table 2: Activities and tasks used in a communicative approach 

  Communicative activities  Communicative tasks 
For advanced students • Structured interviews • Topical  presentations• Debates• Digital Story-telling• Free conversation• Contact projects (involving out of class research)• Extemporaneous speeches• Scenarios and case studies  
For intermediate students • Structured interviews • Situational role plays• Topic-based discussions • Collaborative story-telling  • Problem-solving tasks • Speaking circles • Contact assignments (involving out of class research) • Jigsaw activities 
For beginning students • Scripted dialogues• Model conversations • Picture-based questions• Logic puzzles • Information-gap tasks• Collaborative tasks• Structured interviews• First-person presentations

Table 3.  A framework for a qualitative assessment scale, adding “Presence”

 FluencyAccuracyComplexityInteractivityPresence
5Speaks with little or no hesitation; Takes long speaking turns when necessary; has appropriate things to say in a variety of contexts  Pronunciation and intonation are almost always very clear and accurate; Uses vocabulary specific to the task and ideas; Has consistent grammatical controlSustains substance of communication;Has excellent range and flexibility of vocabulary; Works to  develop coherenceParticipates fully and effectively; Responds appropriately; Stays on task Controls emotions during communication;  Is quiet and reflective at appropriate times; Remains engaged with listeners; Maintains a positive attitude when speaking and listening; Displays a strong sense of “self” when communicating
4ÝßÝßÝßÝßÝß
3ÝßÝßÝßÝßÝß
2ÝßÝßÝßÝßÝß
1Speaks only in words or very short utterances; hesitation interferes with communication Pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar control problems consistently interfere with communication Can maintain communication only on basic topics Does not take active role in communication; depends on others for task completion Is not able to control emotions during communication tasks; Does not engage with listeners; Displays a negative attitude toward communication; Unable to communicate a sense of “self”  
Holistic approaches to teaching communication
 
Michael Rost
University of California, Berkeley
 
Holistic approaches to language education take into account the learner’s personal, social, and professional growth in addition to their linguistic development. Research into the nature of spoken language and second language acquisition has assisted us in characterizing successful communication as an integration of fluency, accuracy, complexity, and interactivity. However, even these robust definitions of communication tend to leave out another component that I feel is needed in a holistic approach to communication. By including and prioritizing this fifth component, which I call “presence”, we can help students find their “authentic voice.” This article presents four tangible steps for achieving this sense of presence in communicative teaching. The article also provides sample thematic activities that incorporate these steps.
 
 
BACKGROUND: BEEFITS OF A COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH  
 
In my own career as a language teacher, I often ask myself at the end of a class: What made this particular class or a specific activity in the class work well? And what may have prevented it from working even better? Through many of these reflection episodes over the years I have discovered that often the ingredients that lead to successful classes involve “holistic” approaches to communication. When we bring learners’ total growth as individuals into our classroom activities and take account of their emotional investment in learning, we often have richer results.
The process of discovering and articulating these “holistic” elements in communication was gradual for me. I was fortunate to have begun my career during the rise in what was known as the communicative language revolution, a period when new ideas were shared constantly and experimentation was widely encouraged.
Among the many shifts in thinking about communicative teaching, there are two key trends that serve as a springboard toward holistic approaches to teaching: qualitative assessment and task design. 
 
Assessment
 
One key trend in the communicative teaching movement was the shift toward characterizing communication as anintegrated skill that simultaneously involves fluency, accuracy, complexity, intearactivity. This characterization, brought forward through research in discourse analysis (see Schiffrin et al., 2001) and second language acquisition (see Markee, 2000), encouraged language teachers to evaluate students’ progress in qualitative terms. Qualitative scales evolved and are now used widely in assessment and curriculum planning. (See Little, 2007; Cheng et al. , 2004; Pierce, 2002 for a review of oral communication scales.)   
A framework for assessing communication would look something like the band scale in Figure 1. This scale provides four general categories and number of descriptors of particular behaviors and attitudes that contribute to a “proficient” communicative performance. Someone speaking with near-native ability and performing well on a particular communicative task, such as an interview or discussion or oral presentation, might receive a “5” in each category (Fluency, Accuracy, Complexity, Interactivity).  Most students would be rated lower in each category, with a “1” for the most minimal performance. 
We can take advantages of this representation of communication proficiency.  First of all, this type of qualitative scale depicts communication as an intentional and integrated action by the speaker, not just as an additive combination of correctly produced linguistic utterances. Secondly, using communicative scales like this can help learners graduallytarget higher goals in each of the categories. For assessment of achievement of communicative goals in class, scales need to be modified to fit the target group. Feedback can be fine-turned in order to motivate students toward incrementally reaching their communicative goals (Han, 2001). 
 
[Insert Table 1 around here] 
 
Task Design
 
With a new focus on communication as an integrated skill, the “communicative task” gradually became the new unit of instruction, replacing “practice activities.” To me, looking back at the history of language teaching, this is a welcomed shift in the nature of pedagogy. The underlying principle in this design shift is that students at all levels of proficiency need engagement in authentic or quasi-authentic tasks in order to make progress and to be able to transfer their skills to the “real world.” Because of this directional shift in methodology, teachers are now expected to employ a wide repertoire of interactive activities. In addition, teachers need to know how to guide their students toward successful communicative outcomes and deal with learning obstacles, not just “teach the language” (Dornyei, 2002; Deweale, 2005).
The essential tenet of this approach is that tasks enable students to learn language through communication. The development principle is that as instructional tasks become more authentic and as demands on students for more accurate and more complex language increase, students will become more communicative.
A modern teacher’s “menu” of communicative activities might look something like Table 2. Tasks that we use can be divided in terms of their authenticity.  Communicative activities – sometimes referred to as “quasi-communicative tasks” – are based on “authentic” tasks, but contain modifications and simplifications to make them more accessible to students.  The modifications also make the “skills focus” more transparent to students (Lochana and Deb, 2006; Luchini, 2004). Communicative tasks are those that resemble what actual users of the language do with language for transactional or interactional purposes outside of the classroom.  Some tasks are more suitable to beginning learners, while others are more suitable to advanced students. The key is that for students at all levels the focus is on activity – active processing of language – and context – a situation and goal for using the language. With a shift toward tasks, teachers can also evaluate students qualitatively, in terms of communicative effect:  are they able to complete the task successfully?
The positive influences of this shift in classroom activities and norms for assessment can be seen in classrooms around the world. ESL and EFL students are getting more exposure to communicative tasks and are becoming more comfortable and confident in speaking English.  
 
[Insert Table 2 around here] 


MOVING FORWARD: WHAT’S MISSING ?
 
The developments in assessment and activity design have clearly boosted the potential effectiveness of communicative language teaching. In my view, developments in communicative teaching methodology have moved us toward a constructivist perspective of learning.  
A constructivist might say that students learn to communicate through:   
• activity – following procedures that involve complex skills 
• engagement – connecting with and collaborating with others 
• challenge – being “pushed” to give their maximum effort 
• progression – attempting progressively more demanding tasks 
I think there is something beyond this cognitive, psycholinguistic view of development. To help students find their “authentic voice” in communication, I think we need to develop these notions further. Students also learn to communicate through: 
• feedback – understanding how their performance compares to standards 
• reflection – evaluating learning, planning and using learning strategies, goal-setting
When we merge feedback and reflection into our communicative approach we are helping our students to claim their “essential” self.  We know that communication is more than language. We understand that mastery of communication is more than mastering linguistic structures. Progress in communication involves expression of one’s “essence” and appreciation of this “essence” in others. 
There are many ways to discuss this notion of personal essence. It is commonly accessed in terms like “emotional investment” and “cultural identity” (cf. Shaules, 2007; Tsui, 2007). When learners feel that their identity is congruent with the goals and style of the class and when they are able to deal with the personal emotional shifts that take place in second language learning, they are likely to participate more and experience more authentic progress (Norton, 1995; 2004; Pavlenko, 2006). On the other hand, when learners  lack an understanding of how the acquisition of the L2 will change them and will change their own and others’ perception of them, they  can experience “identity conflicts” and “emotional barriers” (Inozu et al. 2007).   These identity conflicts lead to conflicting motivation (“feeling pulled in different directions”), and learners tend to shut down and feel marginalized.  In this state, their essential, “authentic voice” cannot be developed.   

The notion of “presence” in communication 
 
If we are to help learners engage more fully in learning to communicate, I believe we need to address the issues of emotional investment and personal identity as openly as we can.  One way to do this is by including a fifth element in our characterization of communication. I call this element “presence.”  After experimenting with various approaches to overcoming affective barriers to communication and helping students access their “authentic voice”, I have synthesized the approach down to Four Steps.  
 
Step 1: Be Silent 

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness
– Mahatma Gandhi 
In teaching communication, we might think that being empty of sound and words, even empty of thought, is an abhorrent state – something to be avoided at all costs! As language teachers, we have been trained to value fluent speech, judging our students negatively if they don’t speak quickly enough or if they “go blank.” Being caught in a silent moment can make students feel ignorant and ashamed. It seems that both we and our students are afraid to be silent, without words.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the first step toward establishing “presence” in a communicative approachis to be still and allow silenceThe purpose of silence is to stop all of the chatter that surrounds rehearsal, to help the students connect with themselves, to find their inner resources, to get to know who they are independent of words (Hamilton, 2008).  The goal of Step 1: Be Silent is to ease anxiety about speaking in front of others, to start to erase the fear of inadequacy when speaking in a foreign language We can introduce this step in many phases of communicative teaching. 
 
Ways of incorporating Step 1: Be Silent in communicative teaching:
 (1) At the beginning of communicative activities or any new segment of the class, incorporate formal “silent time” for planning. Research has shown that planning time increases fluency, accuracy, and complexity (Skehan, 2007). 
 (2) For interactive speaking tasks, teach students, when they are in the speaker’s role, communication strategies for slowing down, to manage the conversation and buy time to think. Sample gambits are: Hold on… I’m thinking… I need to think for a second… Research has also shown students who use compensatory communication strategies like “slowing down” increase both complexity and fluency in communication (Nakatani and Goh, 2007). 
 (3) Similarly, for interactive speaking tasks, teach students, when they are in the listener’s role, communication strategies for slowing the conversation down, to give them time to think and ask clarification questions. Sample gambits are: Wait a second, would you mind slowing down? Hold on…can you go over that again? Research again has shown that listeners who use strategies for “stopping the noise” and “clarifying uncertainty” become better listeners (Vandergrift, 2006).  
 (4) At the end of communication tasks, include quiet reflection time and time for structured review. Research has shown that for uptake of feedback, it is essential that the learner be in a “receptive” mode, ready to process corrective feedback, rehearse corrections, and retry the task (Han, 2001; Simard et al., 2007).
 
Teaching Tip: 
Encourage your students to “slow down”, to think and plan before they start in on any task. Encourage an appreciation of “think time”.  Help your students calm down when they’re anxious about speaking.   

Step 2: Be Engaged 


 What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
Most students feel that to become better communicators they simply have to practice speaking. Practice, practice, practice! Speak with classmates, speak by themselves, in front of mirrors, and so on.  I have nothing against practice – and it is well-known that practice is essential for progress (DeKeyser, 2007).  However, I am against the kind of practice that is motivated by the fear of “I’m not good enough.” Too much emphasis on practice can lead students to feel they are not adequate now. The need-more-practice attitude often prevents students from being able to “stay in the moment” when they are speaking. They will become anxious or fearful and naturally want to retreat to a safer place where they will not be exposed.
Fear and anxiety often intrude on our present activities because of past negative events that we have experienced, especially being ridiculed or misunderstood, and by future negative events that we imagine, such as being corrected in front of our peers (Finch, 2001). To help students dissipate this fear and begin to expose their authentic voice, we need to create a conscious shift away from a sense of pre-occupation with correctness, pre-occupation with self. 
One way to bring about this shift is again counter-intuitive. We do this by helping students focus on their listeners, not on themselves, and not on their English. We want students to develop the attitude that communication occurs through connection with listeners, not through delivery of speech.  Success is measured by how much I engage in the moment with my listeners, how well I can make an authentic connection with them
 
Ways of incorporating Step 2: Be Engaged in communicative teaching: 
 (1) In all communication tasks, aim to provide listeners with clear goals. For example, they may be asked to summarize what a speaker has said, or provide other specific feedback.  (See Rost, 2006; Helgesen and Brown, 2006 for a list of interactive tasks.) 
 (2) Teach “active listening strategies”: focus on the speaker, stay involved – give feedback, lean forward to show your curiosity and interest, check your understanding, express your appreciation, respond to the speaker’s ideas and feelings, ask clarification and expansion questions. (See Engraffia et al. 1997 for a list of active listening strategies.) 
 (3) Coach students, when they are speaking, to maintain eye contact with their partners.  (Don’t speak until your partner is ready to listen… If you need to look down at your book or paper, that’s OK, but look back up when you’re ready to speak… Focus on your partner, not on yourself… Wait for your partner to look at you before you begin.   (See Aitchison, 2007 for other suggestions on eye contact.) 
 (4) Encourage students when they speak to a group of three or more to make eye contact with one listener at a time. Focusing on one listener at a time rather than on the whole group helps alleviate anxiety and actually increases connection with the group (Glickstein, 1998).
 
Teaching Tip: 
Encourage active listening during all communicative activities. Be sure that the listeners always have something to do. Avoid having students focus on books and notes when they are actually speaking and listening. Encourage eye contact between speakers and listeners. Talk to your students about the sense of “having a connection” between the speaker and the listener. 
 
 Step 3: Be Positive 
 
Praise invariably implies a reference to a higher standard.
 – Aristotle
 
In many language classes, students and teachers focus so much on progress that they lose sight of a very important learning principle. As Piaget and other constructivist educators have long noted, building on success is a fundamental learning principle. Scaffolding students’ efforts toward success leads to more success (Bhattacharya and Han, 2001; Bereiter and Scardamalia, 2006). Unfortunately, many teachers focus too much on correction – what is notadequate – in students’ communicative performance rather than on positive effect – what is adequate. We do know that correction, recasts, and “negative feedback” (i.e. feedback about errors or incorrect hypotheses) have an important role in language acquisition (Doughty and Varela, 1998). But we also know from research that most correction and other “negative feedback” is often misplaced in classroom teaching, and is subsequently ignored or misinterpreted by learners (Han, 2002). 
Because of the tenuous value of real-time “negative feedback”, and because of the substantial value of real-time “positive feedback”, I feel it is important for our feedback to focus first and foremost on giving positive regard to learner’s efforts and intentions. The goal of Step 3: Be Positive is for students and teachers to identify positive qualities in themselves and others and to generate and radiate genuine warmth and support for others.
When put into practice consistently, this step goes a long way toward creating a supportive environment that nourishes students’ success in communication and motivates them to improve. The teacher as role model here is very important. We need to realize that during communicative activities and tasks, students are listening most of the time. And teachers, who are monitoring student communication, are essentially listeners most of the time as well. The listener’s practice with Step 3: Be Positive is to be absolutely supportive toward the person who is speaking. You aim to construct a “judgment-free zone” in which you do your best to focus on the speaker’s positive features and practice detecting his or her deeper traits, such as strength, sincerity, or vitality. When the speaker has finished speaking, give some positive feedback about how the person affected you. Avoid commenting on what they were talking about or on their language proficiency.  
For the speaker, there are also specific things to do to “be positive.” When a student is the center of everyone’s attention in a communication task, he or she needs to learn how to receive the support of the group – to let the group see and feel their “presence”. This can be a challenge, for a variety of cultural and personal reasons.    Some students may feel it is culturally inappropriate to accept praise openly.  And some students might imagine that the group is looking for their faults. The purpose of this step is to train ourselves to refocus on the positive qualities in others, to see and hear the person first, not simply notice their language. 
   
Ways of incorporating Step 3: Be Positive during communicative teaching:
 (1) In all communication tasks, encourage listeners to focus on the best qualities in the speaker. Work on “positive talk” yourself, as a teacher, and show students some useful expressions like: You were awesome! That was great! Very inspiring!
 (2) Encourage students to provide positive feedback to each other at the end of collaborative speaking tasks. Teach simple expressions and gambits like: I really enjoyed talking with you. Nice talking with you. Look forward to talking with you again later. 
(3) Encourage the student, when speaking, to feel the support and interest of the group, and to receive the positive feedback given to them. In many cultures, this may seem unnatural, but remind your students that the classroom is a kind of “learning laboratory” to try out new ideas. 
 (4) With your students, explore differences in cultural teaching and learning styles. Talk about the difference between feeling “supported” by your teacher and classmates vs. “competing for good grades” and being “afraid of correction or judgment.”  (See Shaules, 2007 for a discussion of the cultural differences in learning styles.) 
 
Teaching Tip: 
Focus on “positive feedback” to students during and following communicative activities. Comment first on each student’s “spirit” or “participation”, not on their English. Generally, think in terms of an 80:20 ratio – 80% of feedback is “positive” and 20% is “corrective.” Use collaborative activities and add game elements to activities to encourage a sense of enjoyment of communication tasks. 
 
Step 4: Be Yourself
 
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
 – Maya Angelou
 
Ultimately, the central goal of a holistic approach to teaching communication is to encourage each student to “be yourself.” When students find a “comfort zone” for expressing themselves in the classroom, they start to develop an authentic voice.  They also develop their autonomy and begin making permanent progress in communication. 
A recent student in one of my recent conversation classes, May from Taiwan, illustrated to me the notion of “authentic voice”. I usually encourage students to keep a journal during my communication classes, since I have consistently found that reflection, particularly on issues of identity and “life story lines”, can help open doors to learning. May wrote this: 
 
When I came to the States, everything changed about the way I learn English.  It had to change, and I’m glad it did. 
In Taiwan I was a good student – I always got top grades, top evaluations from teachers. I think I was an ideal student. I always thought that being a good student meant to take notes, read the textbook, memorize words, so I always studied hard. 
But when I got to the States I found it very hard to communicate with people. I was very frustrated. One guy in our class told me, “May, you know, you’re too serious… you got to be able to open up a little bit… We don’t really know who you are.” (Ouch!) I was very shocked actually, because I thought I was very open and willing to learn.
I realized I was so afraid of making mistakes that I only studied to avoid being embarrassed. I didn’t really have a positive motivation to communicate with other people. I had to open up myself to making mistakes, to just be me and not worry what everybody thinks. When I did that, I finally became myself when I speak English. 
 
What we are trying to do in a holistic approach to teaching communication is give our students the tools to learn to be good communicators – beyond the classroom and beyond our own class timeline. If we can encourage students to practice Step 4:  Be Yourself when they speak in our classes, they may take away a valuable tool for their future.
 
Ways of incorporating Step 4: Be Yourself in communicative teaching:
(1) Encourage students to reflect on the learning process. Allow time at the end of class for “quiet reflection” and then, if possible some discussion of the learning value of the class. This allows students to state their preferences for future class activities, and greater personal “buy in” to the goals of the class.
(2) Have students keep journals with ongoing entries in English, gradually telling their “life stories, and sharing some of their future hopes and dreams. You can suggest a weekly theme for journal entries. Personal writing by the students – with personal feedback from the teacher – allows students to feel acknowledged by the teacher. 
(3) Build in time during your course for students to give personal presentations, about their interests (in music, movies, etc.) and goals in life, as part of the class activities. Aim to “be positive” in evaluating their presentations. 
(4) Keep a class blog, or a class wiki that serves as a portfolio for student contributions to the class. When students feel they belong to the class, and their contributions are valued, they tend to be more open during communicative activities. 
 
 
Teaching Tip:
Find multiple ways to let the students “be themselves.” Work in personal time with the students to get to know their real interests, not only their interest in learning English. Find ways to “personalize” class activities by including student presentations and other kinds of sharing.  When you involve students on a personal level, you energize your classroom and get your students more committed to learning. 
 
SAMPLE ACTIVITIES FOR PROMOTING “PRESENCE”  
 
     Incorporating the principle of “presence” into communicative teaching entails only adding awareness of the “4 Steps” at various points during classroom activities. In this section, these sample activities show how this can be achieved. 
 
Speaking Circles 
 
            Speaking Circles is a communication activity in which students work in groups, usually 4 or 5, but you can increase the size if you like. The larger the group, the more you are encouraging “listening as support.” Each person has a speaking turn of equal length, such as two minutes. During a person’s speaking turn, the listeners do not say anything, and don’t take notes. They are “available” for making eye contact with the speaker (Glickstein, 1998; Hamilton, 2008). 
            Create a topic for each Speaking Circles activity. Topics I’ve had success focus on personal themes such as  “My Passion” or “My Future” or “My Hero”, or “values topics” such as, “Who influenced you more, your mother or your father?” Allow students quiet time to prepare, but don’t encourage them to rehearse exactly the sentences they want to say. When it’s the speaker’s turn, he or she stands up in front of the group and takes his “turn”. I encourage the students not to use notes because I want them to “be silent”, and find their “inner resources” for speaking. For your first turns, it’s perfectly OK to say very little, or even nothing at all! The turn should be in English, but it’s OK if the speaker inserts some native language. The key is to focus on helping the speaker relax and even feel a sense of enjoyment about being in front of others. The listeners – and the teacher – simply keep engaged with the speaker. The speaker attempts to maintain eye contact, one person at a time, throughout his or her turn. 
            For this activity I have found it’s important to have a time keeping device, to keep turn-taking equitable. At the end of the speaker’s turn, the time keeper (usually the teacher) says, “OK, it’s time.” People in the group can applaud, and also give sincere, positive comments about their impressions of the speaker. “Great”, “Inspiring”, “Flowing”…anything that conveys an appreciation of the speaker, not the content of what he or she said. 
     At the end of everyone’s speaking turn, the teacher can give some global feedback about the presentations of the group. Or the teacher can also take a turn, talking about the same topic (e.g. “My Passion”), for the same amount of time, to give the students a closer glimpse into his or her life. If you wish, you can record the students turns on audio or video files, to give each student his or her own “presentation.” No other formal feedback is needed, and language correction by the teacher is generally not needed here. 
 
First-person presentations
 
            First-person presentations are an activity that involves one or more students giving a prepared presentation on a personal topic in front of a group, or in front of the entire class. There are four steps in the activity, involving increasing levels of commitment to the activity (Day et al., 2008).    
• Choose: Students choose a topic to talk about from a small set presented by the teacher. The topics are related to a given theme or a topic the students have recently read about.  The choices for topics give students a chance to decide on a theme that connects to their own lives, experiences, and points of view. Choosing a topic, as opposed to being given a required topic, clearly helps personalize the presentation.
• Prepare: Students are given very specific guidelines to help them prepare for their presentations. For example, they prepare outlines or speaking notes to guide them on 
what they want to say, not exactly how they are going to say it.  For example, students list key words or phrases, rather than writing out full sentences.  It is important that the students plan the overall structure of their talk, but not rehearse the exact words, in order to better engage with the audience.  
• Rehearse: This third step provides students with an opportunity to practice their presentations interactively—and without feeling pressure—before presenting to a wider audience. Students work in pairs, and take turns rehearsing their talk.  The listener should be given a specific task to do to help the speaker, but above all should aim to be supportive. This Rehearse step can be repeated multiple times with different partners. Each repetition tends to encourage the students to “push output” a bit more, by increasing depth and complexity and by promoting greater facility and fluency (Parviz, 2008; Batstone, 2002).  
• Present: This is the final step, in which students share their ideas with a different group or a wider audience. Again, the listeners should be given specific tasks to help them feel involved in each student’s presentation.  Speakers should aim to “be engaged” and connected with their audience, rather than try to “deliver” a speech.  At the end, encourage “positive feedback” about each student’s presentation.  Film the presentations for the presenters to review by themselves, if possible.  
 
 
 
Interactive Listening 

   Interactive Listening activities focus attention on the role of the listener in creating meaningful communication (Rost, 2006). There are many possible starting points for this type of activity, but the general structure is that the speaker prepares cues and the listener asks questions to uncover the speaker’s idea (see Helgesen et al., 2008 for examples). In one variation I call “The Date Game,” each person writes five important dates in their own lives on a card (e.g. October 1, 2005), but doesn’t indicate why each date is important. 
Students work in a group of 3 or more. One person is the designated speaker for each turn. One person is the designated listener. And the third person is the monitor. These roles will rotate.  
The listener points to one of the dates on the speaker’s card and asks, “Why is (this date) important to you?” The speaker answers and the listener tries to ask 5 follow up questions about the same date, such as “What happened on that day?” Any questions are OK. The purpose is for the listener to show curiosity toward the speaker. 
The monitor’s job is to listen to both the speaker and the listener. At the end of the activity, the monitor will give “feedback” to the speaker and the listener individually.   Keeping with the principle of “Be Positive”, I usually specify that the feedback should be positive. They should tell their partners what they did well, in terms of fluency, accuracy, complexity, and interactivity.  
 
   
CONCLUSION: ADVANTAGES AND CHALLENGES OF HOLISTIC APPROACHES
 
         This article has outlined the kinds of emphases that should be included in a holistic approach to teaching communication.  They can be summarized as follows:
• Put the students’ overall growth and development – linguistic, personal, social, professional – as the focus of the course. 
• Use communication tasks and projects as the basis of the course. Aim to make the tasks as personalized as possible, involving input from the students themselves.  
• Build a “classroom culture” of support and trust, in which the students work collaboratively and cooperatively.   
• Focus on qualitative feedback and assessment – fluency, accuracy, complexity, interactivity – and show how these factors lead to communicative success
• Include the notion of “presence” in communication activities.  Help each student find his or her “authentic voice” in the target language.
            If we include “presence” in qualitative assessment, our scheme for assessment and feedback would include a “fifth element”, as represented in Table 3. 
 
[Insert Table 3 around here] 
 
Holistic approaches to teaching communication have both potential advantages and possible drawbacks.  The advantages are many:  students are more interactive, they take more responsibility for the success of the course, they become more autonomous, they develop more of an “authentic voice” than they might in a typical language course.  The possible drawbacks concern the risks that teachers need to take initially to introduce non-linguistic ideas – such as “presence” – that may feel unfamiliar to students. Some students may resist participating at first in a more “holistic” concept of communication, and the teacher may be incline to “retreat” into a more comfortable, more traditional model of communicative language teaching (Tsui, 2007).  There is also a risk that as the class becomes more “holistic”, there will be less attention paid to language itself, and students may receive fewer presentations on grammar and vocabulary, and get less explicit correction than they expect. This could slow down their linguistic development in the short run.  
            My own experiences is that, if we can remain sensitive to the cultural, academic, and professional context of the students we are teaching, it is beneficial to move toward a holistic framework for teaching communication. For most students who wish to improve their communication ability and who are willing to invest themselves in the process, a holistic approach makes sense and leads to greater progress – in fluency, accuracy, complexity, interactivity, and “presence” – and deeper satisfaction for both the teacher and the students.   

 
 
REFERENCES 

Aitchison, S.  (2007).  Ways to improve your eye contact skills.
www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/blog/2007/08/11/ Retrieved August, 2008. 
Batstone, R. (2002). Contexts of engagement: a discourse perspective on  intake  and  pushed output. System, 30, 1-14. 
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (2006). Education for the knowledge age: Design-centered models of teaching and instruction. In P. Alexander & P. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed., pp.695–713). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bhattacharya, K. & Han, S. (2001). Piaget and cognitive development. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Athens, GA: University of Georgia. Retrieved August, 2008, from http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/piaget.htm.
Cheng, L. , Rogers, T., and Hu, H.  (2004). ESL/EFL instructors’ classroom assessment practices: purposes, methods, and procedures,  Language Testing, 21,  360-389. 
Day, R., Shaules, J. and Yamanaka, J. 2008. Impact Issues, new edition.  Hong Kong: Pearson Education. 
DeKeyser, R (2007). (Ed.) Practicing in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dewaele, J.-M. (2005). Investigating the psychological and the emotional dimensions in instructed language learning: Obstacles and possibilities. In L. Ortega (ed.) Reconceptualizing research on L2 learning across education contexts, Special issue of The Modern Language Journal 89, 3, 367-380.
Dornyei, Z. (2002).  The motivational basis of language learning tasks.  In P. Robinson (Ed.) Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp.137-158).  Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 
Doughty, C & Varela, E. (1998). Communicative focus on form. In Doughty, C & Williams, J. (Eds.), Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition (pp.114-138). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Engraffia, M.   Graff, N., Jezuit, S., & Schall, L. (1997). Improving student listening skills through the use of teaching strategies.. ERIC Dissertations ED409537. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/ Retrieved August, 2008
Finch, A. (2001). The non-threatening learning environment. The Korea TESOL Journal, 4, 133-158. 
Glickstein, L.  (1998).  Be Heard Now.  New York: Broadway Books.   
Hamilton, D. (2008). Essential speaking. New York: Doubleday.
Han, Z-H. (2001). Fine-tuning corrective feedback. Foreign Language Annals, 34,582-599.
Han, Z-H. (2002).  Rethinking the role of corrective feedback in communicative language teaching . RELC Journal, 33,   1-34.   
Helgesen, M., Wiltshier, J. & Brown. S. (2008). English Firsthand series. Hong Kong: Pearson Education.  
Helgesen, M. & Brown, S. (2006). Practical English language teaching: Listening.  New York:  McGraw Hill.  
Inozu, J., Tuyan, S. & Cakir, E. (2007). Overcoming affective barriers for continuous language learning. Asian EFL Journal, 9 (4/11).
Little, D. (2007). The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Perspectives on the making of supranational language education policy. Modern Language Journal, 91, 645-655.  
Lochana, M. & Deb, G. (2006). Task based teaching: learning English without tears. Asian EFL Journal8(3), 140-164.
Luchini, P. (2004).  Developing oral skills by combining fluency- with accuracy-  focused tasks:  A case study in China.  Asian EFL Journal, 6 (7), 1-20.
Macaro, E. (2006).   Strategies for language learning and for language use: Revising the theoretical framework. Modern Language Journal, 90, 320-337. 
Markee, N. (2000). Conversation Analysis. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
Nakatani, Y &   Goh, C. (2007). A review of oral communication strategies: Focus on interactionist and psycholinguistic perspectives In E. Macaro & A. Cohen  (Eds.) Language learning strategies. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.  
Parviz Birjandi, P. (2008). Effect of task repetition on the fluency, complexity and accuracy of Iranian EFL learners’ oral discourse. Asian EFL Journal, 10 (3), 1-12.
Pavlenko, A. (2006). (Ed.) Bilingual minds: Emotional experience, expression, and representation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Pierce, L. V. (2002). Performance-based assessment: Promoting achievement for English language learners. ERIC/CLL News Bulletin, 26,1. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.
Rost, M.  (2006). Areas of research that influence L2 listening instruction. In E.  Uso &  A. Martinez (Eds.) Current trends in the development and teaching of the four language skills.  Berlin:  Mouton de Gruyter.
Schiffrin, D.,  Tannen, D. & Hamilton, H. E. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.
Shalues, J. (2007). Deep culture: The hidden challenges of global living.  Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 
Simard, D., French, L, & Fortier, V. (2007). Elicited metalinguistic reflection and second language learning: Is there a link? System, 35,  509-522.
Skehan, P. (2007).  Task research and language teaching: reciprocal relationships.  In S. Fotos & H. Nassaji (Eds.), Form-focused instruction and teacher education.  (pp.55-69).  Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
Tsui, A. (2007). Complexities of identity formation: A narrative inquiry of an EFL teacher.  TESOL Quarterly, 41, 657-680. 
Vandergrift, L. (2006). Second language listening: Listening ability or language proficiency? Modern Language Journal, 90, 3-17.
 
 

Tables
 
Table 1.  A framework for a qualitative assessment scale
 
 
Fluency
Accuracy
Complexity
Interactivity
5
Speaks with little or no hesitation; Takes long speaking turns when necessary; has appropriate things to say in a variety of contexts 
 
Pronunciation and intonation are almost always very clear and accurate; 
Uses vocabulary specific to the task;Has consistent grammatical control
Sustains substance of communication; Has excellent range and flexibility of vocabulary; Works to  develop coherence
Participates fully and effectively; Responds appropriately; Stays on task 
4
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
3
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
2
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
1
Speaks only in words or very short utterances; hesitation interferes with communication 
Pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar control problems consistently interfere with communication 
Can maintain communication only on basic topics 
Does not take active role in communication; depends on others for task completion 
 
 

 
 
Table 2: Activities and tasks used in a communicative approach 
 
 
 Communicative activities  
Communicative tasks 

For advanced students 
• Structured interviews 
• Topical  presentations
• Debates
• Digital Story-telling
• Free conversation
• Contact projects (involving out of class research)
• Extemporaneous speeches
• Scenarios and case studies 
 
For intermediate students 
• Structured interviews 
• Situational role plays
• Topic-based discussions 
• Collaborative story-telling 
 
• Problem-solving tasks 
• Speaking circles 
• Contact assignments (involving out of class research) 
• Jigsaw activities 
For beginning students 
• Scripted dialogues
• Model conversations 
• Picture-based questions
• Logic puzzles
 
• Information-gap tasks
• Collaborative tasks
• Structured interviews
• First-person presentations



                                                                                     

Table 3.  A framework for a qualitative assessment scale, adding “Presence”

 
Fluency
Accuracy
Complexity
Interactivity
Presence
5
Speaks with little or no hesitation; Takes long speaking turns when necessary; has appropriate things to say in a variety of contexts 
 
Pronunciation and intonation are almost always very clear and accurate; 
Uses vocabulary specific to the task and ideas; Has consistent grammatical control
Sustains substance of communication;Has excellent range and flexibility of vocabulary; Works to  develop coherence
Participates fully and effectively; Responds appropriately; Stays on task 
Controls emotions during communication;  Is quiet and reflective at appropriate times; Remains engaged with listeners; Maintains a positive attitude when speaking and listening; Displays a strong sense of “self” when communicating
4
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
3
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
2
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
Ý
ß
1
Speaks only in words or very short utterances; hesitation interferes with communication 
Pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar control problems consistently interfere with communication 
Can maintain communication only on basic topics 
Does not take active role in communication; depends on others for task completion 
Is not able to control emotions during communication tasks; Does not engage with listeners; Displays a negative attitude toward communication; Unable to communicate a sense of “self”