The Language Arts lesson intended for Kindergarten and 1st grade was drafted based on the major theories of language acquisition. There are several theories in language development introduced to rationalize the process involved in language learning. This paper will provide a rationale to the lesson presented herewith based on the tenets of major language acquisition theories. In order to clearly stipulate the concept of language development from which the lesson based from, the theories to be discussed will be compared and determine apparent contradictions between their concepts. Nativists and Behaviorists are two different ideas and theoretical foundation that define the process of language learning. It is apparent from this lesson that children can learn language through operant behavior demonstrated in the lesson plan, thus constitutes an idea that language is a learned behavior.
The topic of language acquisition extends to the debate whether it is a natural phenomenon or a sort of skill that can be developed. There two specific influences regarded to the development of language among people particularly on children. Other theorists believe that language is biological in nature, which means the ability to utilize it for communication is already embedded in the human genes. On the other hand, others believe that learning and constant nurturing encompasses language development. The two important theories such as nativists and behaviorists will be discussed herewith explores the tenets of each theory, which will provide a rational to the concept of the drafted lesson plan on Language Arts. It is apparent that language is something that can be learned, thus defeating the argument that it is natural.
Comparing Behaviorists and Nativists
Behaviorists B.F. Skinner (1950) introduced the Operant Conditioning theory encompassing an assumption that animal and human behaviors alike are determined by reinforcement and learning. The major proponent of the concept is that language is something that can be acquired by conditioning that includes, reinforcement, association, and imitation (Gewirtz and Pehlez-Nogueras, 1992). In language learning, the theory is applied as teaching children to learn words and syntax by means of imitating the instructor, associating sounds with objects and reinforcing correctness. However, critics argue to the concept of theory on the grounds that the vast number of words in a certain language is impossible to be learned rapidly through imitation alone. In addition, children then to break the rules of grammar by incorrectly adding elements such as suffixes and or simply not pronouncing the sound of the letter correctly, which is regarded as a result of imitation.
The contradiction in the behaviorists’ theory is backed by the concepts of nativists’ theory such as Chomsky’s accomplishments in linguistic studies. Samuel’s (2002) described how the nativists theory encompasses the theoretical concept that language acquisition is innate in all humans, that every children are biologically designed toe learn language with or without reinforcement (Palmer, 2000). Furthermore, the theory suggests that children have the special capability to discover the system of language. It is also argued that the human brain possesses an innate mechanism called LAD or language acquisition device that allows human to develop language skills. There is an existing universal grammar among children that makes them receptive to the common components of all languages.
Nativists and behaviorist’s theory are differentiated by the concepts they entail in relation to language acquisition and development. In the nativist’s theory, children are believed to have the capability to produce infinite number of sentences. However, these sentences were not relatively taught because they have posses LAD. On the other hand, the behaviorist’s theory insinuates that children learn language because of operant conditioning found in learning environments such as school. That there are environmental influences involved that hones the children’s capacity to adapt to the rules of language. Other contradicting principles between the two theories are that nativist is innate while behaviorist is reinforced. Furthermore, LAD provides the fundamental structure needed by children to develop language under the nativist theory while behaviorist principle incorporates imitation as part of the learning process.
In between the two theories emerge the idea that during the children’s early stage of language development, imitation is involve in process. Moreover, the phonological and semantic factors of language learning are somehow acquired through environmental influences. The Venn diagram below explains the relationship between the theories.
Theoretical Influence to the Lesson
Given the principles described in each of the theories in language acquisition discussed earlier, it is apparent that the lesson was made under the conceptual basis of the behaviorist theory. This is because the theory itself offers a more specific perspective when it comes to language learning (Collins-Eaglin, 2002). There were some considerations made in incorporating the theory to the drafted lesson plan such as measurable learning outcomes, specifying desired performance and emphasizing practice in align with an authentic context (Collins-Eaglin, 2002). The principles of the behaviorism were practically used in facilitating the classroom activity intended by the lesson plan. For instance, the behaviorist approach indicates that there should be a form of imitation and reinforcement in the learning process in order for the student to comprehend the lesson. The approach employed in the lesson includes sounding of the letters and allowing the student to imitate the sound in order for them to identify the corresponding letter to the sound made. It is possible that the children already have innate language skills, but correctness must also be emphasized to develop the language skills. Imitating the correct sound of the letters would enable the students to accurately point out sound relationship to its visual form represented by the letters of the alphabet. Furthermore, reinforcement would help the students to apply the learned language and ensure maximum retention.
Language acquisition is a phenomenon that theories are trying to rationalize. However, finding the right approach to ensure the student’s optimum language development involves identifying a theory that will work best during practical applications. Operant conditioning was considered as the most effective approach due to the nature of the lesson’s learning context and sounding letters would require imitation to achieve optimum language skills development.
Collins-Eaglin, J. (2002). From Theory to Practice: Behaviorist Principles of Learning and Instruction. The Office for Teaching and Learning Newsletter, 7(2), 1-5.
Gewirtz, J. L., & Pehlez-Nogueras , M. (1992). B. E Skinner's Legacy to Human Infant Behavior and Development. American Psychologist Inc, 19(6), 1411-1422. Retrieved from http://www2.fiu.edu/~pelaeznm/publications/files/51.%20B.%20F.%20Skinner's%20legacy.pdf
Palmer, D. C. (2000). Chomsky's Nativism: A Critical Review. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, (17), 39-50. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2755455/pdf/anverbbehav00028-0039.pdf
Samuels, R. (2002). Nativism in Cognitive Science. Mind & Language, 17(3), 233–265.
Skinne, B. F. (1950). Are theories of learning necessary?. Psychological Review, (57), 193-216. Retrieved from http://www.isac.psc.br/wp-content/uploads/skinner/Skinner_(1950)_Are_Theories_of_Learning_Necessary.pdf