On The Grammar Model And How It Is Doomed

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28 thoughts on “On The Grammar Model And How It Is Doomed”

  1. Do you really believe it will go this way? It sounds good, but at the same time it scares me to read this “vision”, because it makes me more aware of all the resistence that exists against TPRS. Whenever I read anything visionary, I feel resistence myself. Maybe because there are so many visionaries, who can have very contradictive opinions and still both (or all) think they are the ones who are right.

  2. That’s why I like blogs. They are places to feel safe in saying anything. And yes, my vision (though I wouldn’t call myself visionary) is that this old way of teaching will one day crumble to dust. I asked Dr. Krashen this past summer about how long he thought it would take, and he said you have to imagine a mountain one hundred miles long and wide, and a bird with a soft scarf in its beak flies over the mountain daily letting go of the scarf – that it would take that long (to change the language teaching mindset as it would take) to wear that mountain away. Hyperbole or not, I have taught way too long and seen far too much in far too many classrooms and have seen far too many kids think that they cannot learn a language because of visionless hubristic teachers who lack passion for what is possible for their students. Thank you again, Blaine, for at least taking a big hammer to that. I really don’t care how long it takes in a way, because I will be long gone, but my efforts to make learning fun for kids won’t be gone. Kids deserve that. Kids deserve to be happy, and they are not happy – in fact they are suffering – when they learn from within the confines of the old grammar model. That reminds me of another thing Dr. Krashen said this summer. We were talking about something connected to this topic and I remember at a very convoluted point in the discussion he just paused and said these words, which I will never forget – “This is about suffering.” So my opinion is safe here on my blog. Am I right? I guess it depends. For me I’m right.

  3. I am on page 188 of Teaching With Love and Logic (Fay and Funk). They are discussing the importance of developing the attitude of relearning and that people who are not able to relearn become confused or rigid. “They become unhappy at best and dysfunctional at worst.” They discuss the importance of the teacher as the magic person in student’s lives and our ability to model relearning. “…if we have the skills to relearn, change is anticipated, frustration is reduced, and we are more likely to reach our potential. This is so important for today’s teachers. How many of us knew teachers who had one set of handouts and had used them for the past twenty years of their career? How many of us know teachers who are trying desperately to teach in a way that was successful for them even a decade ago but are facing burnout and frustration every time they enter the classroom today?” TPRS – the antidote. Powerful!

  4. Why do we continue to teach grammar and mechanics with a strategy (Daily Oral Language) that simply does not work? Why do we force students to rehearse errors and teach grammar exclusively out of the writing context? Would love to hear your responses. More points at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/why-daily-oral-language-d-o-l-doesnt-work/ and, more importantly, a grammar/mechanics warm-up/opener/bell-ringer that uses a balanced approach of error analysis and model writing is detailed at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/sentence-lifting-d-o-l-that-makes-sense/.

      1. This is the mystery ingredient in the grammar based soup – the lack of proof. We have Krashen who vehemently argues against it to the tune of 900 published articles over thirty years and some major mojorific hypotheses and books, and they got nothing. Mystifying. Makes one want to follow the money trail to figure out what has driven us into the grammar corral.

        1. The problem is first that most teachers are or were 4%ers. So when they get stuff “explained” to them and fire up the meta-language editor, it works, and it’s natural human bias to assume that what works for us works for others.

          The second is institutional weight and tradition: any rookie teacher who goes to see their neighbour for resources will– guaranteed– get handed a wad of grammar sheets.

          Third is the I-need-a-break factor: the appearance of learning via kids quietly beavering away at worksheets takes stress off a teacher.

          There’s also the ego that Ben has pointed out: grammar = “look at me KNOWING!”

          But mostly I think it has to do with the absurdly misplaced idea that the essence of learning– in all areas– involves endless self-awareness. Yes, you These are pretty good debates. Our school has been going through an “assessment for learning” kick the last 2 years and the “mark results, not attitude or behaviour or practice” thing comes out of that. I’m as committed to AFL as I am to CI but I do get that there may be kids out there who need to have every inch of their behaviour evaluated

          Btw I have a couple of boys in level 2 Spanish who are failing and this week I am using the jGR rubric in discussions with them and the parents. It is going to be interesting and I like the fact that I have a tool where I can show the parents “look, Johnny is failing because by virtue of not being tuned in– and look, here is the “how to tune in” rubric [jGR] right in the course outline he got on Day 1– and it is paying attention to comprehensible input that will drive his learning.”

          I think it’s also important to recognise that diff strokes for diff folks: jGR (for example) may not work for everyone, or it may work differently for different people. It’s still useful. And even if you never use it, it NEVER hurts to think about a diff point of view/tool/whatever. must learn… to edit your English essay, to play your scales properly, to set your feet properly for a free throw…but most learning involves seeing, hearing, “feeling” what works and soaking that up

  5. Here’s another cool quote from MLK:

    …everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love….

  6. My kids go to a school for the gifted/egg-heads (they’re my adopted kids; no way am I gifted in any way, but their amazing Mom sure is). At this school, the French teaching is frikkin’ pathetic. The other day my oldest came home with a grammar sheet. Fifteen sentence all using “doit” and they had to change to “il faut” + subj. She said it was easy to do. She then said “I wish I could write better and speak better.” She then said that her teacher had– numerous times– wondered aloud why the kids were so damned good at their grammar worksheets and so awful at saying or writing anything useful. Then our youngest came home, saw the worksheet, and said “I’m dropping French ingr 11 and 12– if it’s only grammar I might as well do it online.”

    An awful– yet perfectly logical– decision.

    1. For me, that would be the ultimate low in being a foreign language teacher. To know that a kid decides to stop learning because of the way that I’ve driven the instruction. Isn’t our biggest goal to inspire our students to continue learning language long after they leave our class? I feel that CI gives us that great power to inspire our students.

      1. I am in that ultimate low you describe. But the student is dropping because she says “I don’t learn like you guys teach.” It is the opposite problem. She is a 4% and has hated not having lists and drills and such. So she is going to do Spanish online I think. Or else she is dropping it altogether. I don’t remember. I did not do a good job of accommodating her. I was too hell-bent on getting this group to engage in person, in conversation without a textbook or worksheets to read from so I went way too far in the other direction and it backfired.

        I learned my lesson. Ben has repeated it over and over: do not try to remedy upper level classes who have not had CI. Ok I get it now.

        Thing is, she is so solid now, speaking and listening. Huge increase in confidence and comfort level negotiating meaning and making herself understood. Like light years. But she doesn’t see that. Or else that is just not what she was looking to get out of this. Oh well.

        1. I have a 4%er in my level 2. She whined about verb charts for awhile, and then the lack of hwk won her over. She also takes French and has twice the skills in Spanish– after 2 years– that she has in French, which she’s taken for four. But she doesn’t realise it.

  7. If anyone has the most recent “French Review” from AATF, I commend to you the article on p.1122 entitled “Saying Our Final Goodbyes to the Grammatical Syllabus: A Curricular Imperative” . For the PLC, I think we could safely say, a moral imperative! The author gives the following reasons for why the grammatical syllabus has lasted so long. I quote:
    1. The grammatical syllabus is the defining characteristic of our history. At one time fl teachers had to legitimize their field in the canon of school subjects . In order to do so, they turned to linguistics as a way of making their subject more “scientific”.
    2. Schools are highly conservative institutions and the US lags behind other countries when it comes to innovation in fl teaching. (I don’t think we are the only ones. Judy just posted a link to an article about the difficulties the French have with English!)
    3. The “quantifiability” of the grammatical syllabus is attractive to teachers who are responsible for assigning grades to students with very little turn-around time and who find comfort in the “right” or “wrong” nature of quantitative forms of evaluation. It is much easier to calculate a grade based on the number of verb conjugations a student correctly provides rather than on the fluency, accuracy. or complexity of her speech via more innovative and authentic means of assessment.

    Maybe the parents that Ben is talking about like this kind of black and white assessment – they understand it because that’s the way they “learned”. The author is not for TCI or TPRS rather he promotes CLI and CLIL – learning through content – like teaching science, math, or social studies in the TL. The article makes some good points and flirts with the TCI concept, but never quite gets there. They just cannot seem to give Krashen his due!

    1. Is there any way that we can access and/or share this article without copyright infringement? It is ridiculous that, not only are these journals inaccessible and relatively unavailable to most people, but when people want to access such an article, they run into all kinds of barriers. It’s no wonder the world of academia is so often viewed as obscure, inaccessible, elitist, and irrelevant.

    2. Chill, I thought maybe I breezed through the article too fast and needed to go back and read it again to try to reading through the lines to find TCI. But, I don’t think so. I was excited to see the title of the article, especially in the French Review, but I think the title was misleading. The article is really ONLY about learning a language through content, isn’t it? Since this is the case, shouldn’t the title of the article specify this? I.e., ““Saying Our Final Goodbyes to the Grammatical Syllabus: The CLI Classroom” or something like that.

      CLI has been around for a long time, especially in elementary schools. There are dozens if not more in New York and I’ve even heard of several here in “old-fashioned” North Carolina. These kinds of classes are all about NOT following a grammar syllabus -not at all, or just not explicitly. So, why does this article in French Review make the lack of a grammar syllabus seem like a newish thing? It would be a new thing in traditional language classes, but the article isn’t aimed at traditional language classes, which is where the grammar syllabus most needs a good-bye.

      I think it’s a great article, but I’d like to see an article in the future about saying good-bye to the grammar syllabus in foreign language classes (not CLI classes, where the grammar syllabus is already a non-issue). Is it not in traditional, non-CLI language classes that the majority of the Review’s readers teach?

      Again, it’s a great article, but everyone already knows about the language gains that happen in CLI classes. We need an article like this geared toward teachers of “pure” language classes. My naive hope is that some people in charge of the French Review already know this, but they’re just trying to warm the die-hard grammarians in their readership up to the idea of ditching their grammar syllai, so they figure they’d start by publishing an article about CLI classes before moving on to pure foreign language classes where the real problem is. Naive?

  8. Greg, probably misstated when I said they “flirt” with the idea – they admit the grammar syllabus should be eliminated, but instead of coming up with TCI as their answer, they come up with CLI . So they know something is not working but they have latched on to the wrong cure for what ails them. I did appreciate their comments on how the grammar syllabus does not work and the historic perspective on how it came to be was interesting. I too was encouraged by the title, but when I saw Met cited, I sighed a little inside. Alors, il y a du bon et du mauvais. Maybe it will be a conversation starter.

  9. Yes, the historical perspective on the roots of the grammar syllabus shed a lot of light on the situation for me. And you’re right about it being a conversation starter I think (Although the real conversation’s already happening here and wherever else it’s going on). Maybe for the die-hard grammarians this is where the conversation has to start -in a respected, elitist journal. Sort of like training wheels for people for whom it would be very upsetting (or mentally impossible) to all of a sudden dismiss everything they know about language learning and what that would mean for their long-standing teaching habits. Especially if they are happy with their teaching (even if only because of high test scores/high-activity classrooms that mask little to no acquisition in their students). In that way success (even though it’s not really success), is a dangerous thing. People who believe and feel they are successful are the most resistant to change even if what they are doing is a complete fail, which is a sobering thought!

    1. Greg, you make an important point about the “indicators of success” that teachers and administrators look for when evaluating classes. There is a lot of work being done on this topic by institutions funded by people like George Lucas and Bill Gates. They talk about hiring experts who know “what an effective classroom looks like.” My worry here is that the corporate/start-up/technology-based models that drive their corporate visions are influencing the criteria by which they evaluate teachers and classrooms. I’m sure there are thousands of language classrooms which have the “hum” or “buzz” of a Silicon Valley start-up, with lots of project based learning, lots of tech use, and high test scores. But they are not acquiring any language. Who is going to have the authority or the guts (or an authentic assessment rubric) to step in and dismantle that class, and tell the teacher to change their ways or be fired? I just got the latest ACTFL magazine, and the glossy pages with powerpoint layouts and graphs and boardroom-style photography (not to mention the ads) show me pretty clearly what their vision is of the ideal classroom of the future. What does all this have to do with acquisition? The freaking cover has teachers in astronaut suits training for a spacewalk!

  10. Easy way to find out if students are happy… ask them.
    Easy way to find out if students are learning… ask them.
    Give them a survey.

    I did a great survey with our HooverCam (a camera that grades multiple choice tests on the fly, where each kid generated a random ID number so I wouldn’t know who it was.)

    I hope that this survey catches on in my department. Our principal said that she loves the idea of survey and handed it out at our leadership meetings.
    When I gave the survey to my students at semester 1 the results were overwhelmingly positive. I know that students can’t evaluate teachers, but if there is a claim made that “Teacher X isn’t doing his job,” I have the word of 160 students and their writing samples to back me up.

    Course Evaluation

    Please rate your level of agreement of the following statements as they pertain to the instructor, the course, and yourself as a student. This evaluation will remain anonymous and hand-written comments are optional.

    Use the following scale:
    A Strongly Agree
    B Agree
    C Disagree
    D Strongly Disagree

    1. I am satisfied with this class.
    2. I am satisfied with the courses in this department.
    3. My instructor is knowledgeable.
    4. The structure of the course matches the objectives.
    5. Course content is relevant and current.
    6. Assignments, exams, and resources enhance learning.
    7. Course objectives are communicated.
    8. The level of difficulty is appropriate to this course and level.
    9. Feedback is received in a reasonable timeframe.
    10. Testing and evaluations are thorough and fair.
    11. Classes stimulated involvement, interest, and achievement.
    12. The instructor made effective use of time.
    13. Attention is given to enhance writing, learning and critical thinking skills.
    14. I am able to communicate in Spanish.
    15. I have invested effort into this class.
    16. My grade reflects my ability to communicate in Spanish.
    17. I feel prepared for the next semester.

      1. Please do. It bolsters our efforts. When our clients, our students, assert that they learn, it validates our efforts in becoming better teachers.

  11. Ben, your article is a great explanation of doing grades differently, as well as teaching differently. I might read a bit of it to my class next year, if you don’t mind. I have been working hard to get across the concept of grades reflecting ability in the language, but kids have been raised with a videogame-like concept of grading. “Ca-ching! You are at level B! (extra credit done) Ca-ching! You are at level A-!”

    Your thoughts also made me think of an article linked in the ACTFL brief this week, about resistance to teaching English in early grades in Japan. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/features/news/20130529p2a00m0na015000c.html

    The saddest point was that they don’t want to teach English in elementary school because it will “make the students hate the language.” Funny, I taught grades 1-8 Spanish for 20 years and thought my job was to make them fall in love with Spanish.

    1. Many teachers claim to use CI and still they trot out the extra credit grading thing about it all being about things that kids do. You do things, and you get a grade, you don’t and you will fail. It’s about doing tasks.

      That contrasts with Angie’s beautifully written passage here:

      …yes, we understand how analytically-oriented high schoolers can be, but does that mean we play to that tendency in language class? Or is this where we encourage the aspect of ourselves that learns through a unique kind of paying attention…not taking apart and analyzing, but rather opening to something huge and beautiful and just becoming a part of it? Becoming a part instead of taking apart?…

      Such teachers who motivate students extrinsically have a long way to go on that point. We don’t learn languages by doing exercises or homework. Thank you Rita. The posts we have here under the Rigor category, one of the great things we created together this past year, explain it clearly, how crazy it is right now.

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