A uniform approach to presenting the units of study not only makes sense, but helps reinforce learning. A common mode of organization is a hierarchical module—sections—lessons—supportive activities approach. Within each learning activity, uniformity also helps to guide students through the content (Kaminski & Currie, 2008, as quoted in “Blended Content and Assignments,” Ch.4, BlendKit Reader, 2nd ed., ed: Kevin Thompson, Ed.D.)
When I read this quote in the Week 4 readings for the BlendKit2015 course, I took it to mean “theme-based” approach to learning. I whole-heartedly support theme-based approach to teaching as I see how easily it is to incorporate different learning styles and levels within one theme. My field is in ESL, and presenting material according to themes is one of the best ways to help learners achieve the language they need to progress along the continuum of language learning.
As with any course, in language learning there are certain skills that must be learned before others can be addressed. For example: students can not learn about the future perfect if they don’t understand the simple present and simple past. A teacher could try to teach the class the higher level skills without the foundational skills; however, that would be an exercise in frustration on both the part of the teacher and the learners.
Adopting a theme and basing the skills to be taught around that theme allows for any level of learner to gain the skills they need at the point on the continuum where they are. By this I mean that one theme could be used in a beginner class and that same theme could be used in an advanced class. For many language instructors, there’s a wide combination of skill levels within one class, and a theme-based approach allows the instructor to address all the levels. It’s the skills within the theme that determine the level of teaching, not the theme itself.
Furthermore, the theme-based approach allows a smooth and easy integration of technology. Within chapter four of the BlendKit Reader, the authors provided a table (“Table 2: Learning activity types with technology-integration ideas,” adapted from Littlejohn & Pegler, 2007, based it on Laurillard’s Conversational Model) showing examples of learning activity types and the technology that could be used to integrate the learning within a blended course. Integrating this chart into my theme-based teaching approach will greatly contribute to my ability to address different learning styles and maintain interests and motivation in the skills being taught.
One thought to be extremely mindful of when integrating technology into any approach is the fact that, “Online technologies can be useful, but they introduce even more variables.” (“Blended Content and Assignments,” Ch.4, BlendKit Reader, 2nd ed., ed: Kevin Thompson, Ed.D.). Some of the technological examples given in Table 2, such as “Second Life,” have value only if they do not increase the barriers for the learners. For ESL learners, a tool like “Second Life” would require another set of skills to be addressed first before students could even use the technology, and, ultimately, would not contribute much to their actual learning of the language.
As with any tool or resource, the instructor needs to ask, “How much will this enhance the learners’ knowledge and skill levels?” and “How much scaffolding is required before this tool or resource could be effectively used by the learners?” If the scaffolding outweighs the benefits, the tool or resource is not appropriate.