Throw OUT the Grammar!

This year, I’m throwing the grammar out of levels 1 and 2 completely (and majorly toning it down in 3, because I can’t change all of my classes completely in one year). Yes, there will be NO explicit grammar teaching planned for either year!

I am reading your thoughts right now: “What are you thinking???”

The fact of the matter is that IT DOESN’T WORK and there are decades of research to back me up. Despite all of this research, however, and many successful teachers trying to illustrate this point to me over the years, it took my slow development and experimentation in my classes to finally let go of the rules over the last two years. Well, that and a little push from Tea with BVP that made me reflect on my own fluency.

In one of the early episodes, Walter gave the example of grammar rules as trying to say a sentence while consciously thinking about removing all of the letter “n” from every word, and how what would’ve been communicative beforehand has now been inhibited by thinking about rules.

Y’all, this really resonated with me.

I’m not a perfect French speaker, but my comprehension is very, very high in listening and all written texts except literature (which I struggle with in English as well), and when my affective filter isn’t high, my speaking flows quickly and easily in multiple tenses with high levels of accuracy (writing is much better as I have the opportunity to revise and read what I’ve read as I go along). When I encounter words I don’t know, I can nearly always use context clues or word parts to figure it out in a few seconds unless it’s something highly technical. I do struggle with producing the correct gender of nouns and the correct prepositions sometimes as these were things that were always presented to me in a grammatical manner that I never cared about memorizing, so I (knowingly) ignored them when learning; these are things to which I try to pay a lot of attention now when receiving input to further increase my accuracy. Also, I’ve worked VERY hard on my accent, and I’m very proud to say that it’s pretty great especially for never having been abroad. It’s always fun to have a native speaker say that my accent is great and ask me where I studied, and to watch their jaws drop when I say that I didn’t.

However, my work with the AF means that I spend time with native Francophones at least 2-3 times per month for several hours in addition to teaching and my own personal enrichment. Most of the time, I just let everything flow and don’t think about how I sound (resulting in better accuracy and self-corrections). Sometimes, though, I speak with someone I’m not yet comfortable or someone I know is very concerned about accuracy and I CLAM UP, y’all. I forget basic vocabulary or I start thinking about rules and over-applying them (especially with past tense forms or subjunctive). Most of the time I’ll participate handily in in-depth, advanced, technical discussions on topics with which I’m not familiar, and sometimes I’m freaking out on the inside because while I understand every.single.word. being said to me, I don’t want to respond incorrectly or make myself look like an idiot and therefore I become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is what grammar rule practice does to your brain.

Of course, when a student has a high enough level of proficiency, grammar instruction definitely does play a part, and pop-up grammar when asked for can be fabulous. But this explicit grammar stuff has to go.

Last school year, I cut most of the grammar from my level 1 classes and they retained just as much as my previous classes had. What’s more, they felt more comfortable using the language and playing with it. I have a lot of work to prep appropriately for next year, but I’m going to shift to IMPLICIT GRAMMAR INSTRUCTION as the only means of incorporating grammar for levels 1 and 2 this coming year. I also intend on doing as much as I can in level 3, but I can’t tackle the entire world in one year! I don’t generally do anything but revision and review grammar in AP as I’m much more concerned with tons and tons and tons of input on the themes with practice talking and writing about what they encounter.

I’ll give you an example of why I think this is going to be incredibly beneficial to my classes. Last year in level 2 I wanted to try more IPA-based instruction so when we returned from Winter Break, I used Lisa Shepard’s daily routines unit modified to fit my kids’ needs and to add some explicit grammar. I used a ticketing system to help motivate my reluctant learners to participate actively and take risks, which worked very well especially with my lowest students or my students with very low buy-in across the board. Just from our practice and daily input, my students were producing reflexive verb-pronoun combinations remarkably well, including not over applying them too much to verbs that didn’t need pronouns or to the incorrect subject pronoun. Then I handed out a vocab list full of possible routine words/phrases/items and we constructed the grammar rule together with some extra help from me. We practiced and tried to apply — and their previously fantastic speaking and writing came to a halt. They were so worried about THINKING about the grammar that their acquisition was also halted and maybe even pulled back a bit. This unit was still much more successful than in the past and my students retained so much more when the final exam came around in May than they normally would have, but I learned several valuable lessons.

This year, I continue on my journey.
This year, I am much more purposeful on my use of embedded, IMPLICIT grammar through input and modeling.
This year, I will choose my targeted structures much more intentionally while I’m building my curriculum.
This year, I will learn a lot more about PACE and how to better implement it in my classroom.
This year, I will help my colleagues see how much better actual acquisition is by demonstrating these implicit grammar models in my class.

It’s a scary thing to let go of that last remnant of what I thought I knew about language teaching, but at the same time I know that THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE INVIGORATING.

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