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What Contrastive Analysis Is , Its Implication In Teaching And Learning In Nigeria


A contrastive analysis describes the structural differences and similarities of two or more languages. As an area of inquiry, contrastive analysis (CA) is concerned with the principles and uses of such descriptions. It implies a belief in language universals; as in any contrast, if there were no features in common, there would be no basis for comparison. (A cuckoo and a crow can be compared more easily than a cuckoo and a cough.) Broadly defined, contrastive analysis has been used as a tool in historical linguistics to establish language genealogies, in comparative linguistics to create language taxonomies and in translation theory to investigate problems of equivalence.



In language teaching it has been influential through the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) which claims that difficulties in language learning derive from the differences between the new language and the learner’s first language, that errors in these areas of difference derive from first language interference and that these errors can be predicted and remedied by the use of contrastive analysis. The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis was widely influential in the 1950s and 1960s, but from the 1970s its influence dramatically declined. This was due in part to the supplanting of structuralist linguistics, with which it was closely associated. The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis was also at odds with the views in SLA and inter-language theory that only a small proportion of errors derived from first language




The best college teachers have generally cobbled together from their own experiences working with students conceptions of human learning that are remarkably similar to some ideas that have emerged in the research and theoretical literature on cognition, motivation, and human development (from Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do).

Theories of learning, whether explicit or tacit, informed by study or intuition, well-considered or not, play a role in the choices instructors make concerning their teaching. The major trend in understanding how students learn has been a movement away from the behaviorist model to a cognitive view of learning.




In this section we use some ideas from ‘variation theory’ (Pang and Marton, 2003, 2005) to develop some implications for teaching. The main pedagogic principle derived from variation theory is that the lecturer should draw the learner’s attention to simultaneous variation in the features of a phenomenon that are critical to the desired conception (i.e. the way of understanding something that the lecturer wants the student to achieve). This has led to the proposal of four principles for teaching (Davies and Mangan, 2008), which we reproduce here with discussion and examples:

1.            Highlight variation to ensure there is a sufficient foundation of basic concepts to make it possible to work towards acquisition of the threshold concepts

Students need to acquire certain basic concepts before they can move on to acquire the integration provided by the threshold concepts and although, as we considered above, they are unlikely to achieve a full, deep understanding of these at this stage, progress cannot be made without acquiring some initial knowledge. Highlighting variation in understanding of a conception and giving feedback on what dimensions are useful and what are not may provide a foundation for the deeper study. For example, Pang and Marton (2003) distinguish various conceptions of price held by students in terms of what is related to the inherent value of the commodity concerned, the demand conditions, the supply conditions, and the demand and supply conditions.


2.            Expose the way in which scholars in the discipline use modeling threshold concepts by highlighting variation in the use of key procedures

This is concerned with developing an understanding of the way models are used in the discipline; why we set up models as we do. Given the complexity of the relationships in the economy, economists use economic models to understand the important interrelationships in the economy. Comparative static analysis is a procedural device developed by the discipline to portray these relationships. Students need to understand why we use such models, the importance of key aspects of such modeling and how this relates to the diagrammatic (or mathematical) representation. An important aspect of this is in understanding the nature of equilibrium in economic reasoning, in terms of it being a final resting point to which markets will move after a shock and also importantly in terms of the forces that resolve the disequilibrium in the model being considered. For instance, without an understanding of this, students may understand the multiplier as simply a never-ending process of interrelationships where an increase in income leads to increased consumption without recognizing that in the model there is a limit, with the rise in withdrawals, where the new equilibrium point is reached.


3.             Help students to integrate their understanding by re-working their understanding of previously acquired concepts in the light of threshold concepts

This helps students to think of their learning in terms of building a coherent structure. For instance, students may initially consider various ‘marginal’ concepts such as marginal cost, marginal revenue and marginal utility just as isolated ideas, but their understanding of the relevance of these may be enhanced as they acquire an understanding of welfare economics. In macroeconomics, the relevance of the distinction between money and income may only become clear when students start to understand the interaction between the goods and money markets in developing their understanding of the macroeconomy with models.

We need to design activities that both highlight the role of threshold concepts and procedures and allow the revisiting of previously acquired concepts (both basic and previously ‘acquired’ threshold concepts, given our arguments about the web of concepts above). It is only when students do this that can they progress in their understanding and we need to encourage them to do this both in formal teaching situations and in their independent learning.


4.            Help students to regard their understanding as provisional and to tolerate uncertainty

Students have to learn ‘incomplete’ conceptions in order to make more ‘complete’ conceptions accessible to them and be happy to move on. Since the acquisition of threshold concepts transforms understanding of previously acquired subject knowledge, students need to be ready to accept that at each stage in their learning their understanding is provisional. This problem becomes most intense when the acquisition of a new threshold concept transforms understanding of a previously acquired threshold concept: an inevitable outcome if threshold concepts work together in a web to define the way of thinking and practising in a subject.



Teaching can be more effective if teachers determine what it is they really want students to know and do as a result of their course – and then provide activities designed to develop the performance they desire. Appropriate assessment needs to be incorporated into the learning process so that teachers and students can determine whether the learning goals are being achieved – in time to do something about shortcomings before the course is over. Teachers need to consider the implications of research findings and determine how they relate to particular courses, students, and available resources. There is not just one blueprint for change.

Educators should think about and continually assess their personal theories of learning and teaching in light of the evidence classroom experience provides. Teachers should experiment with different teaching approaches and activities and monitor the results, not only by using conventional tests but by carefully listening to students and evaluating information reflecting different aspects of their learning. In this way, teachers may continually analyze and refine their theories of how students learn statistics.

Finally, students should be encouraged to assess their own learning as well as their notions of how they learn, by giving them opportunities to reflect on the teaching/learning process.



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