College Grammar Demands

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22 thoughts on “College Grammar Demands”

  1. You should direct this guy to BVP. I wish I could remember which episode. Multiple episodes, where he states unequivocally that it is the college’s job to get on the CI train.

    Not to mention that the CI kids who “speak write and communicate beautifully” will pick up those grammar chart expectations in like 30 seconds because they already speak the language. Even if it takes them a bit longer, no big deal. All the kids coming out of traditional programs mostly forget all that stuff and have to review it anyway, so…no big deal.

    There is a BVP paper I think it is called “Where are the experts?” He sent it to a bunch of colleges so there is data on the composition of college language departments by specialties. What percentage of the language departments consist of Language Acquisition specialists?” Practically zero. I am exaggerating, not having it in front of me, but….

  2. It is also a fact that the time in class we have is so limited that we cannot afford to teach any grammar early on. And this is being said by a person, me, who loves French grammar far more than anything in the world with the possible exceptions of Mozart and Steinbeck.

    Those interested can search the term “grammar” here or look in the Grammar category to the right of the page here to read more. There is a wonderful story about one of Anne Matava’s kids some years ago who learned about verb conj. charts in April of her senior year after winning the top score on the National German Contest in Maine and said, “Oh Frau Matava! That is such a cute little chart! All those verbs fit right in there!” The point being that she knew all the verbs, in all the tenses, from hearing and reading them in meaningful context for four years. (50% at least of all CI instruction in my view needs to be spent reading – that is where they really learn the grammar. We can even get our own grammar jollies in during the readings. See my “Reading Options” 21 step format – Step #3).

    Any minutes lost in the classroom not doing listening or reading are minutes that can’t be regained and the language gains will go down proportiately to the amount of time spent in conscious analysis of language. Grammar is a function of the conscious faculty and language acquisition is a function of the unconscious mind and that fundamental disconnect is the cause of our failures as a profession for all these years. Anyone who may question that is advised to go read the work of Stephen Krashen and Beniko Mason first and THEN try to argue in favor of grammar. You won’t want to. It’s all about understanding how people learn languages.

  3. If students take their minimum number of high school language it is likely they are not planning to pursue language in college, if they even have room in their schedules. Often the AP kids are taking Spanish AP to get college language credit and be done with it.

    While professors may complain about how ungrammatical this year’s crop of students is, they do seem to love it when students can read, write, and listen to their lectures on literature.

    Are we sure that a particular college is still grammar-based? Some are turning to more of a proficiency focus. While it may seem unlikely, especially given BVPs “Where are the experts?” (see Jen above), we should still see whether our assumptions about college are based in fact before being overly concerned about the issue.

    1. Conclusion: There is very little basis for concern about what colleges think. We need to do what is best for language acquisition so students can be life-long learners rather than college-bound terminal learners.

  4. How can we find out what they are doing Nathaniel? I think it’s the decades-old business as usual method from the old days, pretty much. It is geared toward four percenters. It shames the rest. I know because I did it a long time ago. I will add that a number of state winners in different classrooms of members of this community have ended up quitting their college language classes in disgust and disappointment. This includes many of mine and also of Anne Matava and Robert Harrell and quite a few others just in our small group here.

    The college literature classes are conducted in English because the whiz kids with four years of high school and whatever 201 type classes they have can’t understand the TL. My mind would love to get more some solid information on what they are doing, but my heart just doesn’t care. When Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg’s little kids get to college, however, change will be forced, just as her kids now at New Trier HS in Chicago are in programs that have abandoned the book due to pressure from below. She has written superbly on how they deal with that at New Trier, the articles is somewhere here from about eight months ago. They have put in a “CI” program, but to hear her describe it because she has visited the school, it is more like boot camp and very geared to the privileged college bound kids who have to take notes in class furiously on the input for tests. Input, they call it. Consistent with the research. Uhhh, no. Proper input doesn’t destroy the confidence of 90% of the kids in the school. Here we are, back on the equity piece. I can’t wait to hear Anna and John on this topic this summer in Portland.

    Really, as long as high schools keep sending top tier kids to college the colleges will not change. Until the little elementary kids get up there. We’re not there yet. But I think that on some level the college teachers know that they will soon be sprouting horns, big tails and their front arms will shrink as they head for extinction. The time of the dinosaurs is over. Vive Le CI!

  5. I also think it is not our job to try to guess what the next teacher will be doing and be constrained by that. Kids will leave our classrooms suddenly because their parents up and move. Others go to college. Or not. We can’t control what happens next. I am so tired of people asking me “What if they go to a different school?” OR when they tell me “If they are in Spanish 2 here they should be able to go to school XYZ in the next town and be able to fit right into their program.Bull#$%!!! Call me subversive, selfish, whatever. Why do I have to plan what I do around what might come next. I don’t have control over that. I want to enjoy the time I have with the kids I have NOW. They can only acquire what they understand and what they are ready for.

    Ben said: “we must do what we think is best and what is right for the kids. So many kids aren’t privileged to attend college – they just want something or someone to tell them they are good at something before they set out on a lifetime of minimum wage jobs. We can do that. ”

    I say YES to this! Everyone is so worried about “what if a kid wants to do x y z in college?” Well, that kid will figure it out. 1) Like Ben said, a lot of our kids are not even going to college. Language is universal. They can take 1 or 2 courses with us and gain some confidence and a foundation that stays with them. 2) Even if they go to college, who said they are going to major in the language we teach? If they do, great! They will have a head up bc they will have a base level of proficiency and the fact that they want to major means they have a specific drive toward the details. If they don’t, great! They have a skill they can use anytime.

    1. Jen said:

      …what if they go to a different school?”….

      This really is a bogus point. It is a stupid point. For one thing, it’s about the child, not the teacher. One child could move to another school and do great and another could do poorly. We can’t control any of that. The statement implies that we teach all the kids the same material at the same time in the same way. And yet each child acquires in their own non-predictable ways according to how much input, not memorization, they have experienced. That is what the research says. Comprehensible input is the source of language gains, not memorization.

      Moreover, even the kids who are in those classes where everything is memorized and forgotten don’t transfer well to other schools. That is because they forget stuff that they memorized for the test. So grammar/memorization trained kids don’t do any better than ours when they go to a new school. The whole argument is so tiresome. Than the high and mighty teachers, who love an excuse to say how bad other language teachers are (it’s just human nature, no blame) get these new students, and instead of welcoming them into their classes with open arms and a nice story, which is what those kids are used to with us, say how they are lacking. The kids just give up the minute they hear the teacher fault their previous teacher (us) and bad mouth us. They literally give up. What else can they do? They have been found wanting by their new teacher.

      The whole thing reeks of this elitist “Some people can learn a language (the few) and most can’t” position that I was guilty of doing myself for 24 years.

  6. Nathaniel said:

    …if students take their minimum number of high school language it is likely they are not planning to pursue language in college….

    This shows that the system is elitist. We need to change that. All students, not just those who are good at mechanical manipulation of concepts and memorization, who are generally those who come from privilege and going to college as a result of that privilege, should have a chance to enjoy learning a language. The problem we have faced for so long, soon to be solved I feel, is one of cultural background clashes in classrooms that get swept under the rug. The few want to rule. They can’t anymore. This is one of our big topics in Portland.

    Moreover, the pressure on the teacher to have to “deal with” those kids who are not going to college is just too much. Why not teach in a way that allows bridges of trust and communication to be built with ALL the kids in the room? We know how to do that now. Isn’t it about time that language teachers stop thinking that some of the kids in the room are “stupid” and “lazy”? We know that it is not true now.

    Don’t teachers have a right to not hate half of the kids in their class? The kids don’t hate naturally, but when a teacher instructs in such a way that they feel stupid, one can’t really blame a child who is just trying to grow up and be good at something. This shift that we are in away from elitism in language education is massive.

  7. I’ll chime in. I was admitted to a University of California school and took a placement test. I believe it was the general test for all UCs i could be wrong. None of it was grammatical. It was cloze exercises and translations of cultural idioms. This was about 15 years ago. So CI would have helped me out tons. Fortunately, my teacher taught us an idiom every week, i recalled a few of those so those helped. I tested into the last part of the 2nd year French. AP was never offered.

  8. My prayer is that some day we all get together and decide on how the curriculum, the instruction and assessment can all align with the research. It is and always has been way out of whack on that point. Fear of not aligning with a curriculum (that too often aligns with a textbook program) has hurt a lot of teachers and kids over the years.

    Usually instruction must align with and reflect a curriculum, but that has failed in our case in languages. The curriculum has failed to align with the research, being aligned instead with corporate interests. So what is needed is for us to not align with the curriculum and instead align with the research. Then the people who write the curricula will have to change what they write to align with the research.

    Once that is done we can put to rest all the conflict between us and align with a curriculum that actually reflects the research, and a new day can start, one with less enmity among us professionally, which has been just ugly not just between traditional teachers and TPRS people, but now between TPRS people themselves. Kind of a shit show, really.

  9. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    It’s not just the traditional grammar and vocab syllabus. Some places, as you mentioned, have taken up the 3 modes cause from ACTFL and are doing more proficiency-oriented instruction in their classrooms. This means that if we counted up all the minutes of straight up comprehensible input, there’d be more than say, when I was in high school Spanish in the late 70’s early 80s. But now one of the new darlings is rigor, which this PLC has written about extensively. The takeaway seems to be that if the class doesn’t feel hard and challenging like AP Chemistry, then something is terribly wrong! So much ignorance driving big decisions. Classes with flow, comfort, and humor are highly suspect. Where’s the homework? Where’s the memorization and proof?
    What I saw at New Trier was an astonishing amount and level of L2 language use. But the interactions were all ‘transactional.’ The T’s had a tracking system, whereby every student response got a participation tally, as if to say, don’t raise your hand unless you can ‘get something’ out of it. Don’t bother listening to anyone else’s answer, cuz you’re not on the line for it. Whew.
    I found it degrading and cynical, though I do understand the pressure on Ts to prove how they grade, and to make their grading ‘visible’ and accountable. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to do that SH*%T.

  10. Wonderful comment Alisa. Every point you make is spot on with the research and spot on in terms of my own views that we are here less for language gains in our students and more for their confidence and appreciation of life via our instruction.

    I highly recommend three related articles found in the Primers hard link collection of super posts from over the years here (click on the Primers link above to find them):

    Nathaniel Hardt – Power Point on Rigor
    Robert Harrell – Rigor U.S. Dep’t. of State
    Robert Harrell – Advice on Rigor to an Embattled Teacher

      1. I just clicked on the link (11:00 pm on Thursday, 14 April 2017), and it downloaded a Word document with a link to a PowerPoint and a summary of the PowerPoint. I didn’t try the link to the actual PowerPoint. Did you check your download folder to see if the browser simply dumped the Word document there?

          1. I did a bit of looking on Teacher Web (the host website). Nellie Coffman Middle School no longer appears in its list of represented schools, so my guess is that they no longer are part of Teacher Web.

            That means that there is nothing Ben or Nathaniel can do about fixing the link. The document to which it connected no longer exists. Further research indicates that Mr Grainger is no longer at the school.


  11. To quote Susan Oglesbee, the principal under who I first taught using TPRS,”I don’t know why we have to teach ineffectively just because the next level does.”

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