“cognitive pruning” or systematic forgetting in Second/Foreign Language Classroom

Cognitive pruning involves the process of eliminating unnecessary clutter from and allowing more important aspects to fill in the gaps into the cognitive field of a learner (Brown, 1972). Very interestingly, some of the small aspects learned already gradually lose their value and identity in their own right and become subsumed into a single larger aspect or structure. These small aspects are thus pruned out and the larger aspect assumes the role of all the small aspects combined together.

In the beginning stages of learning a language, based on teaching/learning approaches, learners are encouraged to study some definitions, such as parts of speech in grammar, rules, such as changing verbs into progressive forms with the addition of +ing, and certain greetings, such as good morning/hello/hay. These things facilitate subsumption and learners at a later stage are able to converse on a particular topic, say ‘Having a conversation with a friend about attending a marriage ceremony’ in the target language. When learners become able to converse easily on certain topics in the target language, the greetings learned earlier individually are gradually pruned out and the conversation as a whole becomes a larger and more important aspect. Though learning greetings is a meaningful learning in the beginning, forgetting intentionally takes place. Now, learners do not have to learn greetings individually as it becomes unnecessary and as they have better achieved the goal of communicative competence.

When teachers find that learners are making progress in learning a language, they might tend to prune out unnecessary, small things being practiced individually by their learners by directly asking learners to remove certain aspects of what they have already learned and to become more specific. Sometimes even learners themselves naturally, in the process of conversation, ignore such less important or sometimes unnecessary aspects already learned and make their language learning a better experience.

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About Raj Khatri

I have always enjoyed facilitating both adult and K-12 English for Academic Purposes  (EAP) classes that include international, immigrant and refugee students and mentoring ESL/EFL pre-service teachers for over fifteen years in a variety of settings across North America and South Asia. The opportunity to work as a TESL Practicum Supervisor at the Department of Linguistics of the University of Victoria has further helped me share with and learn from colleagues and enhance my knowledge and expertise in the field.  I had served as an ESL Instructor III at the University of Regina for two years and a half before joining Camosun College as an ELD Instructor in the fall of 2014. I always appreciate the opportunity I was provided with to facilitate EAP, ESL, LBS and LINC classes in various capacities, including Professor at Centennial College, Instructor at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Seneca College, and Centennial College in Toronto, and Lecturer at Padma Kanya Multiple Campus (Tribhuvan University affiliated) in Kathmandu. Awarded the University of Victoria Fellowship (2014) and the Geoffrey & Alix O'Grady Scholarship in Linguistics (2015/016) for Academic Excellence, I am currently working with Dr. Huang on my doctoral studies in linguistics, with a major focus of research in applied linguistics, while still continuing to facilitate EAP classes and supervise TESL practicum students in BC. Before I completed my Special Education program with Honors at Queen’s University in Ontario and got certified to teach in the K-12 public education system as an Ontario College teacher (OCT), as well as to teach adult ESL classes as a TESL Ontario accredited instructor in 2009, I had worked with Dr. Haulman and earned my second Master’s degree in TESL at the University of Central Oklahoma, where I had received the President’s Honor Roll for four consecutive semesters and graduated Summa Cum Laude. I was deeply honored when Brad Henry, then Governor of the State of Oklahoma in the United States, recognized my public input about college safety and public education in 2007 and 2008. Holding the belief that it is important to give back to the community, I have always been engaged in voluntary activities, both in professional and other community-related areas, and have been enjoying working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. My voluntary services extend from donating books to school libraries and financially supporting schools in Nepal to facilitating ESL/EAP classrooms at various settings, including at the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and Regina Public Schools and supporting voluntary organizations, such as the Regina Food Bank, the Salvation Army (Regina), the Regina Green Patch, and Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. I have been an accredited member of TESL Canada (Professional Standard III Permanent, since 2009), and Ontario College of Teachers (OCT; since 2010), and I hold Saskatchewan Professional 'A' Certificate. As well, as a member, I have been participating in professional development activities at TESOL and BC TEAL since 2007 and 2013 respectively. My areas of research interests are second language reading strategies, second language writing, intercultural communication and classroom practices, and adult ELLs with disabilities. Thank you for visiting! Happy Exploring!
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