Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beth's Reading Journal

Reading Journal: Structured Input and Issues with teaching Grammar

The logic behind these three chapters was very interesting, and it addressed an issue I’ve always had with linguistic instruction – GRAMMAR! I liked the premise, “that people learned languages before institutionalized education existed. “ I believe that institutionalized education can maximize our learning capacity more effectively than incidental learning. However – the idea that structured grammar drills are creations of that institution and are not necessarily required for acquiring fluency creates a more open-minded approach to classroom grammar.

It was a long article and I’m just going to move chronologically through it and mention some of my marginalia. A reason behind teachers perpetuating the methods of their teachers (page 118 book/280 CP) is logically explained – that they learned things through certain means, and, since they’re fluent, those means must have worked – and the book correctly notes the possibility of misplaced cause-and-effect labels. This allows us to consider their proposed method of grammar instruction, despite it being different from the widely-accepted route.

Chapter Seven addressed an issue with grammar drills, that “if meaning can be retrieved elsewhere and not just from the form itself, then the communicative value of the form are diminished.” If, in grammar drills, students can identify past tense through other markers, they don’t process the past-tense form of the verb. That makes a lot of sense to me, and it makes students realize a meaning and importance to grammar, and not just view it as necessary rules to follow by rote.

Great outline for their school of thought:

· Present one thing at a time

· Keep meaning in focus

· Move from sentences to connected discourse

· Use both oral and written input

· Have the learner do something with the input

· Keep the learner’s processing strategies in mind

They make grammar lessons relevant to the language itself. Content is important, speaking, interaction, and grammar isn’t simply a list of rules to follow; it imparts meaning. Keeping the learner’s processing strategies in mind allows me to reshape their method to my individual students – as opposed to some schools of thought which have rather strict structures.

I like their alternatives to the traditional grammar drills, particularly the worksheets in which the student must understand the content of both their answer and the question in order to answer (and yet the focus of the worksheet is still a specific aspect of grammar). Despite having studied German for years, I still struggled with the grammar until I went to Germany, heard and identified the grammar forms being used there, and then learned by copying my German friends. I’m willing to try a system of teaching that bypasses the busywork, fill-in-the-ending worksheets.

I would also believe that those worksheets have their time and place. I believe they’d still be beneficial to older students, who are comfortable enough with the vocabulary and content of the language to be able to focus purely on the grammatical pieces.

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