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Part of the process of vetting abstracts for the Fluency in EFL book project Steve and I are currently working on has involved clarifying for myself just what we mean by a fluency-based approached to teaching English, and what that could look like in the classroom. Having gone through this process of defining and refining what I conceive fluency in the classroom to be with the other editors and authors on the project, I think those thoughts are ready to share with others interested in EFL teaching and research. The conclusions we’ve come to is that in a fluency-oriented classroom the focus is on students understanding and processing language extensively, or with a focus on meaning and understanding, rather than intensively, with focus on form and formal lexicogrammatical rules.

The practical classroom implications can be understood by considering how here in Japan the majority of language education is intensive, focusing on sentence and grammatical structure. This leaves students at a loss when they are expected to use or consume language outside of the classroom, as comprehension of grammatical rules does little to help students read a fiction novel, for example. By contrast, one of the fluency-based approaches that largely has its origins in Japan is extensive reading. Using the example of novels, the foundation of the extensive reading philosophy is that there are genre and discourse organization rules that they follow and exposure to reading books written in that genre is critical to developing student ability to read and comprehend those books. Thus an important part of language education should involve encouraging students to read books written at their current language level in order to develop awareness of writing conventions. On our project so far, we've had two or three abstracts submitted dealing with this theme of evaluating the potential benefits of extensive reading, and are looking forward to reading how extensive reading influences the language abilities of students in some of those researches.

Our concept for fluency--what we're calling a focus on fluency--is a focus on consumption or production of more text than has been included in language classrooms in many contexts to date. This is somewhat related to Nation's four strands, of which fluency is one. The question that remains unanswered is whether such focuses on fluency are effective in the classroom, and how to go about measuring fluency in research. We hope that our book project will address both of these, but are more interested in the former than the latter. As an example, the research I would like to include in the book investigates whether classroom time devoted to free writing increases the writing rates of my students.

Our call for papers is closed, but if you are interested in joining this exciting project and feel you have some research to contribute, please feel free to contact me directly.

All the best,
Theron Muller

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Now THIS is interesting. An excerpt from James Dean Brown (2003) at http://jalt.org/pansig/2003/HTML/Brown.htm

Promoting Fluency

". . . teaching fluency is different from teaching other aspects of language. In teaching fluency, we must be willing to let go of some of the control in our classrooms"

Can we really teach fluency? I think so, but we may have to modify the traditional ways in which we conceive of teaching. We can certainly teach fluency by giving lectures that help expand our students' knowledge of the choices, tools, and strategies at their disposal. However at a certain point, we will have to admit that teaching fluency is different from teaching other aspects of language. In teaching fluency, we must be willing to let go of some of the control in our classrooms; we must be willing to let the students have some of the control and let them do some of the work; we must be willing to set up situations in which fluency can develop, and then encourage the students to actually communicate. I'm not saying that we need to teach fluency all of the time, but I am saying that some of the time students need a little guided communication time during which their knowledge of the many aspects of the language can develop into fluency.
Unlike language knowledge, fluency is about automatizing the language knowledge. As Schmidt (1992) said, "Fluent speech is automatic, not requiring much attention, and is characterized by the fact that the psycholinguistic processes of speech planning and speech production are functioning easily and efficiently." Such automaticity can only occur when the students themselves are trying to use their language knowledge to actually communicate, and we can only help the students become fluent by creating opportunities for them to practice communicating and then stepping out of the way (for example, see the principles set out by Gatbonton and Segalowitz, 1988).

Having taught speaking in China and elsewhere, I have learned that teachers can promote the ease and efficiency associated with automaticity in speech production. As I explained at some length in Brown (1996), teachers can promote fluency if they: (a) encourage students to go ahead and make constructive errors, (b) create many opportunities for students to practice, (c) create activities that force students to get a message across, (d) assess student's fluency not their accuracy, and (e) talk openly to the students about fluency.

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