LEARNING IN SLA

Stage 1: Input to Intake

Several of the theoretical underpinnings postulated to account for the L2 learn-ing process have only addressed fully the early stages of this process, namely, the input to intake phase (Stage 1) and/or the intake processing phase (Stage 3). Let us begin with Schmidt’s (1990, 2001) Noticing Hypothesis.

Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis

Schmidt’s (1990 and elsewhere) Noticing Hypothesis (modified during later years) was the first theoretical postulation in the SLA field to address the role of attention in direct relation to the construct of awareness at the early input-to-intake stage (Stage 1) of the L2 learning processing. Drawing from works in

cognitive psychology (e.g., the notions of the learner as a limited capacity pro-cessor and selective or focal attention) and his own personal experience while learning Portuguese (Schmidt & Frota, 1986), Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis agrees with the notion that attention controls access to awareness and therefore is responsible for noticing. Schmidt (1994) defines noticing as “the registration of the occurrence of a stimulus event in conscious awareness and its subsequent storage in long-term memory” (p. 166), and operationalizes this construct as availability for self-report either during or immediately after exposure to the input, with the caveat that lack of self-report does not necessarily imply lack of awareness, since certain subjective experiences may be difficult to verbalize due to memory limitations and to lack of metalanguage. According to Schmidt, to learn any linguistic feature of the L2, for example, sounds, words, grammar, pragmatics, etc., this feature in the L2 input must be noticed, that is, paid focal attention to with minimally a low level of awareness by learners, even though they may lack understanding of the underlying rule associated with this lin-guistic feature. Drawing on the prominent theoretical assumption in most 19th-century literature in cognitive psychology that focal attention and awareness are two sides of the same coin (cf. Neumann, 1996, for a review), Schmidt rejects the idea of learning without awareness.

To ground his hypothesis more firmly on what comprises consciousness, Schmidt points out the terminological confusion in cognitive psychology and in the SLA literature regarding the constructs of awareness and consciousness (cf.

Chapter 4 and McLaughlin, 1990). To address this confusion, Schmidt states that his hypothesis is solely based on the last perspective of consciousness, namely consciousness as awareness (which refers to the issue of acquiring knowledge within or outside awareness at the point of learning), and strongly argues against the possibility of implicit learning when this term is understood as an abstraction that takes place outside of awareness and without the help of conscious processes such as hypothesis formation and testing (Schmidt, 1994).

According to Schmidt’s (1994) early postulation of his Noticing Hypothesis, attention controls access to awareness and is responsible for the subjective experi-ence of noticing, which is “the necessary and sufficient condition for the conver-sion of input to intake” (p. 209). His position is that focal attention is isomorphic with awareness and that learning without awareness must be ruled out. In other words, whereas Schmidt (1995) admits the existence of processes that stand out-side of awareness (e.g., implicit learning), he rejects the possibility of abstraction without awareness and contends that abstraction is always associated with con-scious cognitive functions.

In order to support his hypothesis that only L2 data that are noticed can be converted into intake, Schmidt (1990) provides evidence from his own experi-ence as a learner of Portuguese (Schmidt & Frota, 1986). In this diary study, the researchers found a close correspondence between the elements that Schmidt had noticed and entered into his diary and the items that he produced in a series

of tape-recorded interactions with native speakers. However, as Schmidt (1993, 1994) notes, as well as others (e.g., Leow, 1997), evidence coming from diary studies alone is problematic in that “making a record in a diary requires not only noticing but also a higher level of self-awareness—awareness that one has noticed and needs to make a record of that noticing—which no theory claims as neces-sary for learning. It appears unlikely, therefore, that diary studies can resolve the zero-point problem” (1993: 211). In Schmidt’s view, even though Schmidt and Frota’s (1986) study provides strong evidence for an association between notic-ing and emergence in production, it does not show that noticnotic-ing is sufficient for learning (there were numerous cases where a form was noticed and momentarily used, but never appeared again in his production), nor does it show that notic-ing is necessary for intake (some forms that appeared in production were never mentioned in the diary as having been noticed).

Schmidt (1994), however, concedes that the crucial role of noticing in input processing is controversial, since there is a widespread belief that we can some-how pick up elements of the language without being aware of it (cf. Krashen, 1989; Tomlin & Villa, 1994, and a slew of visual attention studies in cognitive psychology, cf. Chapter 3 ). Given the methodological problem of establishing zero awareness at the point of noticing or processing, Schmidt has withdrawn from his original postulation of noticing as “the necessary and sufficient con-dition for the conversion of input into intake” (Schmidt, 1993: 209) to one of

“more noticing leads to more learning” (Schmidt, 1994: 129), underscoring the facilitative nature of noticing in the early stages of the learning process.

Besides noticing, Schmidt (1990) distinguishes a higher level of awareness that he calls understanding, and which is related to the ability to analyze, compare, and test hypotheses about the linguistic input. In the researcher’s view, whereas notic-ing is necessary for intake to take place, understandnotic-ing may act as a facilitator for learning, but its presence is not necessary. The crucial difference between notic-ing and understandnotic-ing is that, accordnotic-ing to Schmidt (1993), the former results in intake and in item learning, while the higher level of awareness promotes deeper learning marked by restructuring and system learning and is underscored by learners’ ability to analyze, compare, and test hypotheses at this level. In other words, understanding seems to be a more sophisticated process than noticing, although they both allow for storage of linguistic material in long-term memory.

Schmidt writes:

I use “noticing” to mean conscious registration of the occurrence of some event, whereas “understanding” as I am using the term, implies recogni-tion of a general principle, rule or pattern. Noticing refers to surface level phenomena and item learning, while understanding refers to deeper level of abstraction related to (semantic, syntactic, or communicative) meaning, system learning.

(Schmidt, 1995: 29)

Key Features

Here are the key features of Schmidt’s hypothesis:

1. Attention is crucial for intake and, as an extension, for learning;

2. Focal attention is accompanied by a low level of awareness called noticing ; 3. What is noticed in the L2 input becomes intake;

4. Intake does not take place without some level of awareness associated with such a process at the preliminary stage of the learning process; and

5. While not necessary for subsequent processing of the input, there is also a higher level of awareness involved during the learning process, namely awareness at the level of understanding.

Comments on Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis

It is well accepted that Schmidt’s (1990 and elsewhere) Noticing Hypothesis is arguably one of the most inf luential theoretical underpinnings in SLA over the last two decades. Like new candy, several researchers became attracted (addicted?) to the hypothesis and began to probe deeper into the operationalization and mea-surement of the constructs of attention and awareness in an effort to understand better the cognitive processes involved during the early stages of SLA and, more specifically, intake. Interestingly, Schmidt’s hypothesis has been, with or without researchers’ awareness, adopted in several major strands of research that include input enhancement, learning conditions, interaction, feedback, and instruction.

Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis has been well tested in the SLA field (I will elaborate on this in Chapter 9 ) and, like most popular postulations (recall Krashen?) also critiqued (e.g., Leow, 2013; Truscott, 1998; Truscott & Sharwood Smith, 2011). Truscott (1998) and Truscott and Sharwood Smith (2011), from a modular perspective of the learning process based on Jackendoff’s (1997, 2002) view of the architecture of the language faculty, underscored the vagueness or confusion of what comprises both noticing and consciousness, the boundaries between awareness at the level of noticing and awareness at the level of under-standing, what specifically learners notice in the L2 input or, more specifically, the contents or objects of consciousness, the status of meaning during noticing, and the contrast between the noticing issue and implicit learning.

I ref lected on the Noticing Hypothesis from three perspectives, namely the-oretical, methodological, and terminological. Theoretically, like Truscott and Sharwood Smith, I viewed the Noticing Hypothesis as being relatively coarse-grained, but more from the perspective that it does not appear to acknowledge that there may be several other variables potentially associated with the process of noticing. I also noted that while noticing is empirically supported to be facilita-tive of subsequent intake and potential learning, there is no hard evidence that all such noticed intake is logically processed further and, indeed, learned or

internalized in the internal system. In addition, the construct of intake is clearly in need of further elaboration in the field. As discussed above, concurrent data appear to suggest that there may be different types or levels of intake depen-dent upon the levels of processing or amount of cognitive effort involved while attending to L2 input.

Methodologically, Schmidt’s notion of focal attention being isomorphic with awareness, the two constructs comprising the two sides of noticing, is currently raising the issue of whether it is possible to separate these two constructs. I have personally employed think aloud protocols to operationalize and measure both attention and awareness, with the premise that whatever is verbalized necessar-ily needed to be paid attention to. At the same time, it is well accepted that not everything that has been attended to is verbalized. Perhaps employing concur-rently both eye-tracking measures and think aloud protocols (I will elaborate on these two measures in Chapter 8 ), while controlling for reactivity, would be the more appropriate methodological procedure to minimally establish the process of attention (via eye-tracking) and (levels of) awareness (via think alouds). In this way, the internal validity of the study is promoted and the strengths and limitations of the two procedures are addressed (cf. also Leow, Grey, Marijuan, &

Moorman, 2014).

Finally, there may be some unfortunate terminological confusion regarding what stage of the learning process the original Noticing Hypothesis (as pos-tulated by Schmidt in 1990) was targeting (cf. several references made to the Noticing Hypothesis and learning , e.g., Truscott, 1998, and Truscott & Sharwood Smith, 2011, above). Schmidt’s hypothesis was clearly premised on the input-to-intake stage (Stage 1) of the learning process.

I pointed out that this terminological confusion was perhaps promoted by Schmidt himself as he elaborated his Noticing Hypothesis in many instances in terms of learning (“more noticing leads to more learning” (Schmidt, 1994: 129)) and indirectly postulated that whatever data were noticed were subsequently processed (“the registration of the occurrence of a stimulus event in conscious awareness and its subsequent storage in long-term memory” (Schmidt, 1994:

166)), most likely not paying attention to or being aware of the stage of the learn-ing process originally postulated in his hypothesis. In addition, concurrent data gathered in several empirical studies also indicate that noticed intake may or may not be further processed, and what appears to account for this is whether further processing of such intake does take place. I shall elaborate on this issue of further processing in Chapter 11 .

Tomlin and Villa’s Model of Input Processing in SLA

While concurring with Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis on the important role of attention in learning, Tomlin and Villa’s model of input processing in SLA dif-fers sharply from Schmidt’s regarding the role of awareness in the input-to-intake

process (Stage 1). Before presenting their model, Tomlin and Villa first critique previous SLA theoretical postulations for adhering to a coarse-grained per-ception of attention (gleaned from cognitive psychology), inf luenced by four different conceptions of attention: (a) The limited-capacity metaphor, which maintains that the human mind can only process a limited amount of informa-tion at one time and that the atteninforma-tional resources of the mind are also limited (e.g., Kahneman, 1973); (b) the notion of selective attention, by which attention selects only critical information for further processing (Wickens, 1989); (c) the automatic versus controlled processing dichotomy, according to which auto-matic processes require little or no attention whereas controlled processes require attention and interfere with other simultaneous attention-demanding processes (e.g., Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977); and (d) the notion of control of information and action, according to which control of linguistic processing depends on the individual’s ability to intentionally focus attention on relevant parts of a problem (e.g., Allport, 1988). In Tomlin and Villa’s (1994) view, these conceptions are too coarse-grained and do not specify how exactly attention is allocated to the different aspects of a given task. So, given the limitations of psychology-based foundations, these researchers drew from works in neuroscience (e.g., Posner &

Petersen, 1990) and summarized in Posner (1995) that attention is carried out by a network of anatomical areas, and that the areas involved in attention carry out different functions.

First, there exists an attentional system of the brain that is at least some-what anatomically separate from various processing systems. By data-processing systems , we mean those that can be activated passively by input or output. Second, attention is carried out by networks of anatomical areas. It is neither the property of a single brain area nor is it a collective function of the brain working as a whole. Third, the brain areas involved in attention do not carry out the same function, but specific computations are assigned to different areas.

(Posner, 1995: 617) Based on the evidence of different attentional networks (the source of which will be divulged below in a critique), Tomlin and Villa (1994) then propose a functionally based, fine-grained analysis of attention for input processing in SLA

“that integrates these related conceptions of attention into a system that allows investigation of SLA data at the moment of acquisition” (p. 190). In their model, attention has three components (all of which have neurological correlates):

(1) Alertness (an overall readiness to deal with incoming stimuli whose function is related to the speed of information selection), (2) orientation (the direction of attentional resources to a certain type of stimuli), and (3) detection (the cogni-tive registration of stimuli or the process that selects, or engages, a particular and specific bit of information). According to Tomlin and Villa, it is detection alone

that is necessary for further processing of input and subsequent learning to take place. The other two components can enhance the chances that detection will occur, but neither is necessary.

Following Allport (1988), Tomlin and Villa (1994) propose a set of criteria to determine the presence of awareness. In order to be considered aware, individu-als must: (a) Show some behavioral or cognitive change due to the subjective experience, (b) report their awareness, and (c) describe the subjective experience.

Methodologically, awareness is usually assessed by noting a cognitive change accompanied by a report that the learner is aware of the experience (lower level of awareness or meta-awareness) or a cognitive change accompanied by a description of the subjective experience (higher level of awareness). According to Tomlin and Villa (1994) and Allport (1988), if an experience cannot be somehow reported or described, then the presence of awareness is suspect.

Here are the key features of Tomlin and Villa’s model:

Key Features

1. Attention is carried out by a network of anatomical areas, and the areas involved in attention carry out different functions;

2. Some level of cognitive registration needs to be involved in the process of detection that allows linguistic data to be taken in;

3. Detected input becomes intake; and

4. Awareness does not play a crucial role in the preliminary processing of input into intake during exposure, that is, intake can take place without the pres-ence of awareness.

Comments on Tomlin and Villa’s (1994) Model of Input Processing in SLA

If you recall, Tomlin and Villa had postulated in their model that the construct of attention has three components: (1) Alertness, (2) orientation, and (3) detection.

According to Tomlin and Villa, it is detection alone that is necessary for further processing of input and subsequent learning to take place. The other two com-ponents can enhance the chances that detection will occur, but neither is neces-sary. I frankly wanted to test whether these researchers from cognitive science were on the ball with regard to their predictions concerning the usefulness of the attentional mechanisms in relation to intake and potential further processing of the L2 (Leow, 1998). I carefully designed a crossword puzzle task to isolate the three attentional functions of alertness, orientation, and detection. The idea for a crossword puzzle was developed during a discussion with one of my assistant directors, who was pursuing a degree in phonology (thanks, Eric). My main aim, then, was to investigate the effects of the different components of attention on intake and written production of a Spanish morphological item. I hypothesized

that detection of the targeted forms would result in superior performance both in a multiple-choice recognition task and in a controlled fill-in-the-blank produc-tion task as compared to simple alertness or orientaproduc-tion.

As I (and Tomlin and Villa) had predicted, the two [+detection] groups per-formed significantly better on both assessment tasks than the [-detection] groups.

This beneficial effect for detection was observed not only in the immediate posttest, but also in two delayed posttests administered five and eight weeks after the treatment, respectively. Therefore, the results of my investigation appeared to support Tomlin and Villa’s fine-grained analysis of attention. In other words, detection was found to be fundamental for processing morphological material into short-term memory, whereas alertness and orientation were not. However, given that the nature of the experimental task and the fact that the construct of awareness was not addressed in this investigation leaves open the question whether I was actually addressing detection or noticing a la Schmidt. In addition, Simard and Wong (2001) critiqued this study, noting (quite correctly) that based on the research design, the three attentional functions were not clearly separated.

Consequently, whether my findings could provide empirical support for Tomlin and Villa’s model remain unanswered.

Simard and Wong (2001) provided a critique of Tomlin and Villa’s model that is quite detailed and underscores what I have commented on in previous chapters regarding the caution needed when relying on non-SLA sources for theoretical or empirical support for language learning. While complimenting Tomlin and Villa for moving the SLA field along in terms of expanding on the nature of attentional processes, Simard and Wong pointed out that “their claim that alert-ness and orientation are not necessary for detection to occur is currently unsup-portable and does not ref lect the complex nature of SLA” (p. 105). In addition, in relation to my study in 1998 testing Tomlin and Villa’s model, they also pointed out that “Leow’s (1998) efforts to provide empirical support for this model fall short of that goal” (p. 105). To support their critique, Simard and Wong made the following observations:

• The neuroscience sources Tomlin and Villa relied on to support the postula-tions of their model for input processing in SLA are inadequate to explicate cognitive processes employed in language learning.

“It is not clear how such systems might inform us about how attention might

“It is not clear how such systems might inform us about how attention might

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