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More on analysing and evaluating

June 11, 2008

Hello again,

Analysing and evaluating help deepen the learning experience. By analysing new language the learner breaks something complex into its basic components. In pronunciation...

... for example, the phonetic alphabet helps this process. What may sound at first like an amorphous sound can be easily demonstrated to be a series of single sounds. And if the phonetic transcription is compared with the orthography, the students begin to understand the strange relationship of sound to spelling in English.
Analysis is especially helpful when dealing with complex verb structures such as conditionals. They can see how certain patterns emerge, for example the if clause takes a finite verb while the main clause contains the conditional.

Analysis is a useful study skill and I think it has a vital role in language learning despite the fact that it involves learning about the language rather learning the language itself (an approach often belittled in direct method). It must be true that at a certain level students will only be able to correct their own errors if they understand how the language works. And I should add that it is not only students who would benefit from analytical skills. A teacher once confessed to me that she had been unable to answer when a student had asked which was the correct form: between you and me, or between you and I. It seemed that the teacher herself was unable to analyse the phrase (or parse it as we used to say). If you know the parts of speech and the usage, the answer is clear. “Between” is a preposition and prepositions govern objects (the accusative) so the first version is correct.

Having said that, analytical exercises do not need to be abstract, cerebral affairs. Transformation exercises require analytical skills so these are one way to help students analyse in a practical way. Transformations could be from active to passive voice, from present to past or future tenses, from singular to plural etc.

Evaluating is essentially the process of justifying a choice. It helps learners think about why they have done something and if it is correct. Evaluation really lends itself to collaborative work in pairs or groups: getting students to give feedback on each other’s work; having each one of a group explain why they think something is correct.

My final plea for teachers to include analysis and evaluation as part of their lesson planning is hat it gives students reflective time. The relentless pressure to produce can be stressful and may be counter productive if students don’t have time to understand and absorb the new material, so the more contemplative forms of learning also have their place.

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