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Integration of the Self and Awareness (ISA) in Learning and Teaching

A case study of French adult students learning English the Silent Way

Patricia Benstein

The successful acquisition of a second or foreign language requires focus, motivation, and positive feedback. This case study of French adult students of English illustrates that Gattegno’s Silent Way is more than a teaching methodology. It is a science of education that integrates the self and awareness in the learning and teaching processes. This integration facilitates the personal evolution of Gattegno’s ‘pre-human’ to the ‘universal human’ who is permanently aware of his/her awareness. The resulting experience of ‘flow’ leads to a positive feedback loop that in turn contributes to the student’s enjoyment of acquiring a second language.

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There are many methods used in the teaching of foreign languages. One method that is unique and different to both the traditional as well as the current approaches is the Silent Way. The Silent Way is the direct application of Caleb Gattegno’s theories in the area of foreign language teaching.

Gattegno (1911–1988) observed that all learning requires the investment of energy. He created the concept of “ogdens”, which are units of energy that are necessary for students to learn something. According to him, both learning and teaching have to aim for the most efficient use of energy. Therefore, teaching methods and materials must be mindful of the economical investments of ogdens by the learners. He posited that teaching is effective, if it is subordinated to learning. This implies that teachers need to understand how people learn. They have to present challenges that trigger awareness in students, because, according to Gattegno, only awareness is educable. The Silent Way can be defined as the teaching method for foreign languages, by which teachers observe their students to assess when a new act of awareness can be triggered.

Gattegno invented specific Silent Way teaching materials, such as colour coded charts to produce the sounds of the foreign language. The grammar is often taught using Cuisenaire rods. The preference for silence supports focus and motivation in the classroom. Since the teachers subordinate their teaching to learning, they focus on the awarenesses of their students as they master the...

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