Grammar Issues

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18 thoughts on “Grammar Issues”

  1. ok — love your thoughts, Ben!! however, I need ways to clarify comments that come at me……
    #1. “we need to teach grammar, because ACTFL says we need to ‘compare’ the languages. Therefore we need to teach them the difference between the grammar and parts of speech of the two languages.” My answer: sure, but don’t dwell on it – make it quick, because we’re just COMPARING, not teaching the parts of speech …that they learned (supposedly) in ENGLISH class; we compare when we translate; when we teach idiomatic expressions.
    SO, question: How else to rebut that comment?

    #2. “The accreditation team, when they come, are going to want to know how you vary your instructional methods, and how much technology you incorporate. ”
    I, mb, LOVE the simplicity of CI; however, when working with non-CI colleagues who don’t understand the philosophy behind it, do not feel that I am meeting the instructional needs of the department, and therefore will not meet the standards of the visiting team if I do not vary my instructional methods.
    Ben, I am also seeing that in my second half of Spanish 1, I have students who do not know the basic regular verbs. ALTHOUGH in my other class of this same level, THEY know them! I have been teaching both classes pretty much the same all year – no, maybe I haven’t! The kids who ‘know’ the verbs are getting more stories — the other class always gets assemblies and pull outs during their class time! (thank you — writing this just let me flesh out that problem!) But, honestly, I DO feel like a failure myself when the kids are not getting it – and I am afraid that my colleagues will blame it on CI, when it DOES take time. SO, how do I address THAT?
    Sorry All – I am not trying to whine….I just came out of a Curriculum/Instruction/Assessment meeting and my head is spinning!

    1. I want to address primarily issue #1. The fallacy is the second statement. Let’s look at that in its entirety. we need to teach grammar, because ACTFL says we need to ‘compare’ the languages. Therefore we need to teach them the difference between the grammar and parts of speech of the two languages. The “therefore” statement is simply and utterly wrong because if confounds, confuses and conflates “grammar” as the skeletal structure of a language with “grammar” as a set of formally stated rules couched in a certain jargon. I can and do teach grammar without using “grammar terminology”; I also compare English and German grammar without using “grammar terminology” (at least until level 3). For example, if I want to compare the way German forms the simple past and the way that English forms the simple past, the exchange might follow something like the following path:
      er spielt means “he plays”
      But what about yesterday?
      er spielte means “he played”
      How did I show that this is something that already happened? (Class will usually recognize what happened – especially if it is written on the board.)
      “So, in German we add -te to show something already happened, just like English adds -ed to show something already happened.”
      BTW, this exchange usually follows lots of repetitions of both “plays” and “played”, so grammar instruction follows manipulation of the language – just like Foreign Language Annals (ACTFL’s official publication) says it should, and I did it all without resorting to grammar terminology or identifying parts of speech. (There is a place for that in upper levels, but as you point out, time spent on it needs to remain limited.) People who follow the “therefore” statement in mb’s post are simply being too lazy and lacking in insight to present grammar properly, i.e. first embedded, then in context and finally in meaning-based short non-jargon explanations.

      As far as the second issue is concerned, I believe your colleagues are misinformed about what the accreditation team is looking for. They are looking for a variety of instructional methods across the curriculum; if they go into every class and see only lecture, they will be very concerned. However, they recognize that all they will see in each classroom is a snapshot of instruction, so they want to see variety from classroom to classroom. Having the students engaged in a story is far different from having them take notes for a lecture. Also, the accrediting team is looking for “best practices”, so during your face-to-face discussions you can present the research on CI as a best practice. Furthermore, your instructional method varies , depending on whether you are co-creating a story, giving a dictation, listening to a song, reading (in a variety of ways), doing Movie Talk or practicing any of a number of other ways of delivering CI. Movie Talk, playing a song, showing a music video, and using a PowerPoint are all ways of incorporating technology.

      Once again, the problem is that everyone is so used to being squeezed into those little multiple-choice boxes that they fail to see and cannot understand something that is genuinely outside the box. I see this in my own district as well; if we are not doing the “prescribed steps”, we must not be doing it right. The untrained eye cannot perceive what is happening. (A great way to illustrate this would be to have someone who is unfamiliar with a particular sport, such as fencing, and someone who is an expert both describe what they just saw in a bout. The two descriptions would be radically different because the untrained observer would not understand or even know about right-of-way, remise, riposte, etc., let alone be able to see it when it happened.) That is one reason why education of administrators is so important to us; they must learn 1) to know what to look for and 2) to recognize it when they see it.

      1. What Robert said. Seriously. The man has it.

        If it helps, check out my adaptation of the Danielson rubric at Even if your accreditation team does not use the Danielson rubric, you will see how you can correlate what you are doing with “adminispeak”. It grew from using Bryce and Susie’s administrative checklist with my colleagues.

        Stay strong people!! We are in the right place going the right direction!! Everyone else is looking in the rear view mirror. Eventually they will crash and be forced to figure out they’ve been backasswards. By then we will be even farther down the road AND we will have created a path for them to follow.

        with love,

        1. I love it, Laurie. Not just “further down the road” (that is the rebel in us), but “we will have created a path for them to follow” (that is the pioneer)

      2. …they fail to see and cannot understand something that is genuinely outside the box….

        Our Lincoln High School administration has been completely supportive of us for years but they still don’t get it. Just today my principal and a district person were in the hallway before a class and I asked them to come in and they sat literally right next to the big blown up jGR and from their reaction to a lot of things I could see that, in spite of how supportive they are, they don’t get how far outside of the box we really are. Thye loved everything about it – it was a homerun class of a Matava Script, but they didn’t fully get it. I don’t even think we get it. Now that’s outside the box. I have always sensed that in Krashen. Kind of a deep acceptance that he is so far out there and yet so spot on at the same that that he won’t be heard by the world anytime in the near future. He harbors no illusions about that.

  2. Sorry ….but more questions! (not sure what topic to put this under, but will need answers DEFINITELY by Tuesday! – meeting on Wednesday, and I want to talk to principal about it before department meeting)

    Yesterday’s meeting -which I left with my head spinning- was also to clarify common assessments within departments in the school. I understand math, English, Science, SS, et al having “common” assessments — these classes SHOULD have the kids at the same academic ability (give or take); however, we are learning and espousing the fact that people learn languages at DIFFERENT rates, right? SO, half of my department wants to have projects as common assessments that measure all three modes: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. (yes, even in Level 1 – because they HAVE to show ALL three modes) Not only do we need one common assessment of this sort, but yesterday we were told that we need TWO.
    This does not seem to jive with “comprehensible input” – because to do a “project” of this magnitude, it would take days of work and out of school preparation, not to mention probably the necessity of Mom and/or Dad running to Walmart for supplies! and….if it IS a project, it can not take place during one class period, thus negating the validity of a COMMON ASSESSMENT in COMMUNICATION (they would have access to translators outside of the classroom).
    Can you all PLEASE share what you use as common assessments in your departments? — this is also to be aligned with ACTFL’s alignment to the Common Core Standards.
    I am sorry if this is not clear enough – if you need clarification, just ask. (I wanted to hurry and get this sent out for your help!)

  3. Since I am the only German teacher in my entire district, I can’t talk much about common assessments, but perhaps I can offer an idea or two.

    First a question, though. Does your school offer more than one language? If so, it may be to your advantage to get on the “common assessment bandwagon” and suggest developing a common assessment that covers all languages taught. (By doing that alone you strip the ability to make it a grammar-based common assessment; German grammar is very different from Spanish or French grammar. Chinese grammar is even more different. How can you test students for the “he/she/it form” when the concept doesn’t even exist in the language? In many Asian languages the verb never changes, so there is no conjugation.)

    I think some form of the ACTFL/jGR rubric would make a great “common assessment” for Interpersonal Communication.

    For Interpretive Communication, perhaps you can get them to go along with something similar to what I did last year for the first semester final in several classes. Give students an extended text, such as a couple of chapters from a reader. Students then choose 10-12 Essential Sentences* to tell the story of the text. Then they illustrate those sentences to show that they understand them.

    *Essential Sentences is a nice buzz term. It has the weight of administration behind it. This assessment genuinely allows students to demonstrate higher-level thinking skills without having to know sophisticated language. They weed out the extraneous “window dressing” to get to the essentials.

    Here is the rubric I used in my level 2 class:

    Read chapters 1-2 of Die Reise seines Lebens

    Choose 10-12 Essential Sentences that tell the story so far
    -An Essential Sentence contains basic, necessary information
    -An Essential Sentence is often the main sentence of a paragraph

    Copy the Essential Sentences onto your paper
    -One sentence per square and set of lines
    -Write the sentence on the lines (the squares are for drawing)
    -You may edit sentences from the book – but be careful doing so

    Illustrate the sentences
    -The drawing must show that you understand the essential sentence
    -The drawing needs to be clear
    The drawing does not need to be great
    Stick figures are wonderful

    Grading based on
    -Relevance and pertinence of sentences
    –Do these sentences tell us something essential?
    –Do these sentences reveal something about the characters?
    –Do these sentences move the story forward?
    –Do these sentences speak to the theme of the story?
    -Accuracy of writing
    –Are the sentences written correctly on your paper?
    -Depth of understanding as shown by drawings
    –Do the drawings show that you understand the sentences?
    –Do the drawings show that you understand connotations?
    –Do the drawings show that you are making connections?
    N.B.: The drawings do not have to be great artwork – that isn’t the point. They do have to convey your understanding of the reading.

    For Presentational Communication – if you absolutely have to do it – perhaps you could get them to go with something that would allow your students essentially to do a re-telling of a story or a scene from a story you are reading. To be honest, assessment of Presentational Communication is entirely out of place in a first-year class because there hasn’t yet been enough input for students. But you have to work within the constraints of your system.

    1. Thank you for posting this Robert! I have been looking for the details about this assessment but couldn’t remember where to find it.

      Question: Do you do this in class? I am asking because this seems like it would take awhile. I am really bad at gauging how much time things take, and was thinking of doing something similar next week to have the kids “review” a novel we are reading, just to get things to click in a bit more deeply. I would like to do this in class, so if you can guide me a bit it will help. I don’t want to give them a task that ends up being impossible. I would like to do this in a 90 min. block class, and I’d like it to feel challenging enough that they really have to focus, and I want them to feel like they finished. Any advice?

      1. If you want to know what students genuinely can do, it has to be during class time. Otherwise they will get help from friends or family or go to an online translator.

        This is never the first time the students have seen the text. We will have read and discussed the chapters in class but will probably have moved beyond those two chapters. That means students can’t simply rely on what they remember because they usually don’t remember events by chapter. Also, they have to copy sentences from the text. (It’s interpretive, not presentational.) You can make the assigned text as long or as short as you wish. For practice we will often do this with a class-created story, and students pick out 4-6 Essential Sentences rather than 10-12.

        This is easily doable in a 90-minute block. I usually allow two class periods (50 minutes each) for the assignment, and I collect the papers at the end of each day. If students need more time, they are welcome to come in outside of class to work on it, but they must do it in my room with me present. (It’s amazing how many students have next to nothing on the first day but manage to get it finished before the end of the second day, just because they don’t want to come in on their own time. Of course, it shows in the quality of their work.) BTW, the offer of more time is a standing offer to all of my students, not just those with IEPs or 504s (Individualized Education Plans).

        1. Thank you! I would never have them do this outside of class, but just trying to imagine how much time it would take for 12 sentences. I think I will split it up over 2 days bc 90mins doing the same thing might be a bit much.

          I will let you know how it goes. I will do this early in the week as a recap of 2 previously read chapters. I want to make them go back in the text one more time before moving on.

          I’ve tried this in a shortened form as a “sub plan” where they had to do just one chapter, 4-6 sentences. The ones who “didn’t have time to finish” were messing around chatting (I suspected this and it was confirmed by the sub). No big deal. I graded them by percentage completion so that got their attention. I also “took off points” for not copying the sentence, as the directions were very specific. But this time I will go over your rubric with them beforehand. Can’t wait to try this more extensive version!

          1. And Robert I also tried this Essential Sentences activity today. It worked beautifully.

            People might object that the kids are “just copying” the text. But in my view they are reading closely and practicing writing. Rote copying in my view is not a bad thing at all. And this kind of close reading is obviously a total winner.

          2. My kids, as young as they are (11 and 12), have always had to write “essential” sentences or dialogue–copied from the text to help fill out their illustrations of text (novels or written stories). Part of my insistence that they do that is that their drawing skills can be pretty limited at their age. I was spending too much time trying to figure things out.

            They figure out pretty quickly which pieces of text are essential and which are not when they have to draw “meaning”–some interesting brain stuff is occurring which I don’t totally understand. I just get the benefit of watching it take place. This is the most “differentiated” activity on the planet in my opinion. I can certainly see how this idea can be tailored/ramped up for different levels and ages.

    2. Now that we’ve slain the interpersonal beast, here you are Robert offering us ideas to attack the other two of the 3 modes.

      I especially love the interpretive idea. It sounds like the kids are just copying those essential sentences but they are doing far from that – they are reading (interpreting) with a vengeance, moving around inside each sentence they choose to make sure they have it right. I am doing this today. Love it. Thanks so much.

      I completely agree with no presentational stuff in the first year. So key. We need to stand our ground on that one.

      I love that we are now talking here in terms of those three skills and no longer in vague terms about the old four skills. Grammar teachers for years got away with teaching grammar only by saying that they were doing “writing” and they would ignore the absolute need to provide their students with tons of comprehensible input in the form of listening and reading and their results showed it in the form of extremely low acquisition and oceans of bored kids.

      Let’s make it a point to focus on interpersonal and interpretive instruction as we continue through the year together here. It’s the meat and potatoes of what we do.

    3. I like this. I’ve had my Spanish II students write a summary of a chapter of 7-10 sentences, but they were to use their own words. I think they would find it a relief to be able to choose essential sentences and to illustrate them. I used a chapter we had just read; I see the value in using an older chapter/story so that they could not rely on memory. I will definitely be doing this with our next reader.

  4. Jennifer, I’m not sure which query you mean. It’s probably just me, but I only see mb, Ben, Lori and Laurie (besides me) in this thread. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

    1. Pie. On. Face.

      I thought I was in jGR update. It’s been a long week and I’m not sure where I am, haha. In any case, I’d still love your feedback over there!

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