"Advanced" Grammar Classes – What To Do?

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9 thoughts on “"Advanced" Grammar Classes – What To Do?”

  1. As this is my first year teaching with TPRS, I find myself in a similar position with my upper level 3/4 class. My German 1s didn’t know anything different, so there was no problems there. My German 2s had few problem adapting to the game, and were mostly grateful for the sense that everybody could play and meaningfully contribute this year. One thing that helped was that I made a specific effort to include my upper 4% grammarheads the same way I would have approached a problem student; which they would have been otherwise. I gave them an Identity of “ringer” or “expert” and then the peer forces at work of other people enjoying themselves helped them slide in.
    My German 3/4s, however, have mostly fought me tooth an nail. I can’t rail on their former teacher too much, because that was me. I don’t have all superstars in this class either (several of my 3s were pushing themselves to get in, for which I was grateful). But my 4s mostly backed off, described the stories as “stupid”, and were mostly humoring me. Because I didn’t have the same peer forces at work in my 3/4 class as I did in my 2s to ease the transition for my grammar dependent students, they felt that they should be dictating terms (love that senior mindset!).
    For that group this year, I mostly backed off of stories altogether, because it was rare that I could get an actor involved without calling in favors or pulling teeth. I could do PQA fine enough (because they love hearing about themselves), but they never let me build anything out of that energy. As a result, the current discussions and experimentation with embedded readings has been a Godsend. I can run extended reading situations without any actors! They are more comfortable with written words than spoken, so I’ll throw things up on the LCD projector as much as I can, and they have adapted pretty well to that.
    I can base extended readings on films or books that are “non-game” related and they do okay with that. I’ve had to build here, and I too made the mistake of going too hard-core TPRS with them too soon (they weren’t used to speaking, only analyzing and making carefully calculated comments) so the immediacy of TPRS was/is kind of threatening to them. Our class has a set of personal whiteboards, and they will work with those all day long, so I’ll go to those at least once a week to get them back into their comfort level there.
    One of the things I keep reminding myself about traditional grammar classes from my previous life as a grammar teacher: grammar wasn’t the end goal of those classes either. You wanted to get them reading books and talking, but grammar was the prerequisite. The level of the books and conversations were dictated by the amount of grammar they had covered, but it was the application and end goal. The problem, of course, is that you prepare for talking by talking. You prepare for reading by reading. I have always done several novels and cultural conversations as part of my 3/4 class; that is a proper focus of upper division language classes in high school just as it is in college. The difference is that even this crabby, recalcitrant, reluctant 3/4 group I have this year is better at reading and talking than my 3/4 groups of past years. My earlier 3/4 groups didn’t like reading or talking any better than this group does, but TPRS has actually given them some skills in these areas the other groups never had. (My German 2s are about as good as they are at it right now, but that’s another story).
    So, sorry for the extended ramble/vent. As I teach in a small district and I am the only German teacher, I have the luxury of watching my previous grammar-fixated groups graduate and be replaced with a new TPRS trained crew. I’ve learned to be happy with compromise, though, and am satisfied that overall the 3/4 class is in better shape this year than last.
    Nathan

  2. “…I gave them an identity of “ringer” or “expert” and then the peer forces at work of other people enjoying themselves helped them slide in…”.
    Brilliant move, Nathan!
    “…as a result, the current discussions and experimentation with embedded readings has been a Godsend…”.
    Well said. When a class for whatever reason rejects our auditory CI advances, we can offer them something they know – the visual piece, and then, as I alluded to above, we can spring some CI in on them based on what THEY wrote (keyword “they”, as per Martin’s post and all of the things that Laurie has taught us about embedded readings).
    “…the immediacy of TPRS was/is kind of threatening to them…”.
    This reminds me of the line in Le Petit Prince: “J’aurais dû deviner sa tendresse derrière ses pauvres ruses. Les fleur sont si contradictoires!” The fact is that they know how little they can understand and speak relative to the amount of time they have spent in the classroom, so they put out their thorns and hope that we stay away from them. The only answer for me on that problem with my own group has been to soften my heart, slow down, and understand how scared they are, just like me. The importance of SLOW is never more important than with this kind of “advanced” class. And Skill #22 becomes the most important of all, and always is, in my own opinion.
    “…the level of the books and conversations were dictated by the amount of grammar they had covered, but it was the application and end goal. The problem, of course, is that you prepare for talking by talking. You prepare for reading by reading…”.
    Again, this is so well said. Congratulations on standing in front of the heatblast back from them and teaching them something, Nathan. Such a fine post and thank you so much!

  3. I really liked your analogy of learning to ride a bike forward. Maybe you have mentioned it before, but this was the first time I caught it. I mean, it seems pretty ridiculous for a person to learn how to ride a bike facing backwards, yet this is what happens a lot in the World Language classroom. I am sure there are a few that can learn how to ride a bike facing backwards, but I bet it is a small percentage — like 4%. However, this is usually the progression of the other students that are not in that 4% . In the beginning they are excited to ride the bike. They think, “Wow, I’ve never been on a bike before. This will really be fun and think of all the places I could go.” Unfortunately that quickly vanishes and they find themselves thinking, “This doesn’t feel right” or “Why do I keep falling down? I must be terrible at riding a bike.”
    The sad thing is that when we enter classrooms that have started to learn this way, the students don’t know any other way and think that you are supposed to ride a bike facing backward. So, many of them balk at the idea of trying ride facing forward. Eventually, some see it and others don’t. What’s worse is that the teachers are still teaching students to ride the bike facing backward.
    Ah, but here we are and all I can say is that as the program changes, so do the students. Next year will be so much better! I have experienced that it is way easier the second year, but it is hard to know that when you are still experiencing the first year every day. Keep it up! We are nearing the end and soon the students will be riding the bike as it was designed to be ridden.

  4. “…I am sure there are a few that can learn how to ride a bike facing backwards, but I bet it is a small percentage — like 4%….”.
    Got a much needed LOL on that one, Thomas. Thanks.
    “…the sad thing is that when we enter classrooms that have started to learn this way, the students don’t know any other way and think that you are supposed to ride a bike facing backward. So, many of them balk at the idea of trying ride facing forward…”.
    Yes, this would be an LOL but isn’t because of the truth of it.

  5. Thanks for expounding on the bike analogy, Thomas. I really like that. I’ll definitely be using that some when I explain CI and TPRS to people.
    You know, I used to think I was a 4%er. But I’m thinking I might not actually be. I can think of some students (probably 4%ers) in my Spanish classes who seemed to just get it a lot faster than I did. I knew I wasn’t learning as fast as they were, nor as fast as I was expected to. And I was used to being at the top of my classes. I definitely questioned whether or not I could ever learn the language.
    So I sought out lots of comprehensible input on my own outside of class, instinctively. I listened to Spanish music, I utilized my university’s “language partners” not for tutoring, but just to talk. I watched Spanish films and also American films dubbed in Spanish. And I got a job at a Mexican restaurant. When I graduated, I moved to Argentina for six months, ’cause I still didn’t feel “fluent” enough to teach yet.
    I look back on that learning journey and I think I may have been seeking out accommodations because I was not able to learn the traditional grammar based way. I wasn’t a 4%er, so I instinctively found as much CI in other places when I couldn’t find it in the classroom.
    Maybe that’s why TPRS clicked with me so quickly. I want to teach languages but I don’t know how to “ride the bike backwards” myself. How could I possibly teach my kids that way?
    Can someone remind me again what defines a 4%er? Does it mean that they learn through to speak through grammar? Does anyone actually learn that way?

  6. 4%-er: Say in a high school class there are four 25 person sections of French I (100 kids). By French IV, there are about 4 kids left. “We” are those four kids–those who survived/thrived on four years of grammar-based instruction. I really don’t know if these numbers were actually from some research or pulled out of someone’s ear, but if you look around, they actually look pretty reasonable. Level I classes full. Level IV very small, and often combined with Level III so there will be enough students to offer a section. (There were two of us in level IV German in my high school of 2000 or so students back in 1970…)

  7. Thanks, Janet. I think I had a misunderstanding of what a 4%er was referring to. I was thinking it was supposed to mean the people who could actually develop language ability using grammar based instruction. Your explanation definitely works better, as those who survive four years of world language classes. I should have put 2 and 2 together since nobody can REALLY languages without lots of CI. So I guess I am a 4%er after all.

  8. Ben,
    I had the extreme honor, as part of my grad work, to observe some of my colleagues this week. As you know, I am teaching levels 1 and 2 at the high school now. I observed level 3 and 4 classes, looking for instances of creative and critical thinking.
    Here is what I observed. The teachers stayed in the target language. They were talking very quickly. Maybe, at higher levels you can get away with talking that quickly and being understood? But the students were making all sorts of mistakes that they are supposed to have “mastered” in level one and two. Here they were, in upper level, honors classes, these kids are the 4%ers, and they were neglecting basic grammar such as verb conjugation in the present tense and adjectival agreement with simple subjects. In one class they were asked to write about “las chicas de hoy” (Today’s girls) and not one group used correct endings on the adjectives to describe girls. That is one that we hammer and hammer in level one, it’s not upper level vocabulary, it’s not upper level grammar. It’s simple, basic, semester one level one vocab and grammar. And they’re still messing it up. These advanced 4% students who love the language and love the rules.
    Yes, they forget the grammar. Yes, I can relax about “my kids” not getting the rules as quickly as the other teachers’. These kids were not taught with TPRS, they were taught by the rules, and by vocab lists, and they still forget this 🙂
    And, they were still overwhelmed by the speed at which the teachers spoke.
    And, they were asking me to come to their tables to help with simple words I know they have “learned”.
    And, they were extremely dependent on their dictionaries, looking up every other word, sometimes with embarssing results. (Los chicos de hoy son culos.)

  9. Jennifer when you said this:
    …they were taught by the rules, and by vocab lists, and they still forget this….
    …and, they were still overwhelmed by the speed at which the teachers spoke….
    …and, they were asking me to come to their tables to help with simple words I know they have “learned”….
    …and, they were extremely dependent on their dictionaries, looking up every other word, sometimes with embarssing results. (Los chicos de hoy son culos.)…

    you said it all. If, in language education, the ends justify the means, then those kids’ teachers have no case.

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