Content-Based Instruction – A Cognitive Approach
Most of us would agree that a second or a foreign language is learned not as much by direct instruction of its rules as by using it in meaningful context, especially when the students’ experience, interest and knowledge of the world are involved. Content based instruction offers the possibility to use language as a medium of learning. Instead of teaching language in isolation from subject matter, teachers should integrate language development with content learning.
A cognitive approach
According to current development in cognitive psychology, information is stored in memory in two forms:
- declarative knowledge – what we know about a given topic,
- procedural knowledge – knowing how to do.
In the content-based instruction, the content component represents declarative knowledge, while the language component aims at teaching the procedural knowledge students need to use language as a tool for learning. In addition to this a third component comes at play to train learners autonomy through teaching learning strategies.
Thus, the model includes:
Helping our students use language to learn requires us to go beyond language domain to all subject areas and beyond language learning to education in general. A content based approach is more interesting to our students than language classes that focus on language alone and are not challenging from an academic point of view. This approach helps students use English to solve problems and develop concepts that are appropriate to their grade and achievement level.
Language instruction provides students with practice in using language as a tool for learning academic subject matter. Content based instruction provides opportunity to contextualize language. It provides learners with contextual cues to solve problems and assist comprehension so that even cognitively demanding tasks become easier.
- Learning strategies
The instruction of learning strategies assist learners to be autonomous. Instead of simplifying tasks to our students, it would be more authentic to train learners (especially, intermediate and advanced learners) in such skills as inferring meaning from context, relating new material to previous concepts or skills…
There are three major categories of learning strategies:
- Metacognitive Strategies: planning for learning, monitoring one’s comprehension and production, evaluating how well learning objectives have been achieved.
- Cognitive Strategies: interaction with material by physical (grouping, taking notes, making summaries…) and mental (making mental images, relating new information to previous concepts and skills) manipulation .
- Social-Affective Strategies: interaction with others to assist learning.