Go Back   Teacher Talk > Teaching Grammar

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 02-08-2008, 06:16 PM
Betty Azar's Avatar
Betty Azar Betty Azar is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 22
Default WANTED: Questions about grammar teaching

Dear Teachers,

I need questions about grammar teaching! I'm on a panel at TESOL this year (along with Michael Swan, Keith Folse, and Kent Hill) called "Teaching Grammar in Today's Classroom." We're hoping to give grammar teaching a good airing--dust out the attic a bit.

For much of the session, we're going to answer questions emailed to us. So I'm looking for questions! Can you help me?

Here are some samples:

---How are ESL and EFL contexts different as regards grammar teaching? Is it a good idea to use mother-tongue explanations in EFL settings?

---What does recent research tell us about explicit grammar teaching? Is it "in" or "out" these days?

---I teach an advanced writing class in an intensive program. I occasionally mark grammar errors, but let most of them pass. I myself think I should include grammar instruction, but our curriculum director disagrees. What can I say to convince my director that my students need some grammar instruction?

---What should teachers do if they find some grammar they don't agree with in a textbook they've been assigned to teach?


It'd be great to hear the kinds of grammar teaching questions we teachers are mulling over these days. Please send your question here by responding on Teacher Talk so others can join the conversation. I'd love to hear how other teachers would answer the questions. That would really help me prepare for the panel. Or you can email a question to me at betty@azargrammar.com .

If you're going to be at TESOL, our session is Saturday, April 5, in the New York Ballroom at the Sheraton at 9:00. Would love to see you there. If you're not going to be there, you'll be able to see a video of the session here on the site after TESOL -- and maybe hear us answer your question!

Thanks in advance!
__________________
Betty Azar
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 02-09-2008, 06:17 PM
eslincanada eslincanada is offline
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 2
Default When has this ever been done in Teaching English?

On one of the Teaching Newsletters this question was posed.

Why do we *really* teach grammar to those who want to learn a language?

Pardon my subject transfer over to sports. I love sports. Sports are easy to see, diagnose and clearly separate issues and outcomes.

In sports you have two divisions - recreation is for participation and competition is for challenges. In sports you never mix recreation and competition sports programs.

Teaching English methodologies have never been clearly divided into the two divisions of competition and recreation. There are English teachers who still try to teach retired travelers the same way as hyper-active 20 something's trying to get a perfect TOEFL to enter the Harvard MBA program.

In competitive basketball you can equate dribbling, passing and shooting to the English parts of speech. In competitive basketball you can equate "plays construction and strategy" to English grammar.

In competitive sports the winning coaches are praised. Winning Coaches are praised about superior skills instruction, strategy, team work, cooperation, execution, used strengths of individual players in a team concept etc. etc. Winning coaches use both dribbling, passing and shooting skills and plays construction and strategy to create superior performances.

When has this ever been done in Teaching English?

I would like to see all the we don't need grammar promoters show us how many of their students entered Harvard. How many of their students easily landed their first job, received the raise and were promoted.

The recreational teaching English as a second language methodologies are great for kids, leisure, non-credit and general interest programs. In the competitive world of finding jobs, entering competitive university programs and having a future using the recreational English teaching methodologies will just make your student a loser.

Why do I really teach grammar?
I want to give my competitive students every skill available.

I will also post comments and suggestions to
http://teachenglishblog.blogspot.com/

Ross
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 02-10-2008, 05:19 AM
Sam Simian's Avatar
Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 61
Default Why are teachers sleepwalking in class?

I’ve been trying to think of a good grammar question. In the meantime, here’s a response to one of the example questions that Betty gave:

What should teachers do if they find some grammar they don't agree with in a textbook they've been assigned to teach?

The question is a bit infuriating to me because I think that the answer is obvious: Tell the students that you don’t agree with the grammar! And if it’s something that you don’t know well (or even if you do know it well), I hope that you have some time to do some research: e.g., read books, search the internet, or talk to native speakers. The question is a grammar question (which is what Betty is trying to solicit), but my response would be the same if the question were about vocabulary, usage, punctuation, or the price of tomatoes. It seems obvious to me that the teacher should be one of the students’ resources. If the teacher is just going to do what’s in the book, why — other than a chance to use the language — should the students bother coming to class?

The question is infuriating, but it is not surprising. When I run into former students of mine, I almost always ask them about the class that they are in now, and they almost always tell me that their teacher only does what’s in the book in the order that it’s presented. Even if I didn’t care about my students, that just sounds boring to me. And it sounds impractical, too. To take one example, despite all this emphasis on the so called communicative method, it seems to me that most ESL textbooks are still structured grammatically; each chapter revolves around some topic, but each chapter also revolves around some grammatical structure, and it’s the grammatical structure that determines the order of presentation — the more difficult the grammatical structure is, the farther back in the book it is. In the lower levels (which is what I teach lately), the past tense is toward the back of the book. Well, have you ever tried to have a conversation for very long without using the past tense? It’s not only unrealistic; it’s exhausting! And my students are officially measured by a standardized test (the CASAS: Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System) that uses the past tense, too, so I can’t wait until the end of the class to teach the past tense. Even when I do have students do exercises in the textbook, I choose the chapters (or subchapters) that I think are most relevant.

I know that everyone thinks that their opinions are “common sense,” and differing views are “crazy” to the extent that they differ from yours, but am I missing something? Is it in anyone’s interest to, just, passively “teach” what’s in the book, only what’s in the book, and in the order that it’s in the book? Perhaps I’m dreaming, but it seems to me that many teachers are just sleepwalking through classes that could be both more fun and more rewarding — for the students and the teachers — if the teachers woke up and became an active participant in their own classes.

Whad’ya think?

Sincerely,
Sam Simian

Last edited by Sam Simian; 02-10-2008 at 07:08 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 02-12-2008, 05:56 AM
Sam Simian's Avatar
Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 61
Default OK, I’ve got some grammar questions.

Dear Betty,

I talked to a teacher about the topic of my rant above (Why are teachers sleepwalking in class?). He said that he, basically, only does what’s in the book in the order that it’s presented. When I asked him why he did that, he said that he thought that the grammatical structures towards the back of the text are more difficult than the structures towards the front of the book. I think that, within reason, the distinction between easy and difficult is somewhat arbitrary.

For example, this session I piloted a new text that my school may use in the future. Instead of introducing the simple past in the next to the last chapter, this text introduces the simple past about half way in. And even if it were possible to show that one grammatical structure is easier than another, wouldn’t that knowledge need to be tempered by more pragmatic concerns, like the likelihood that a nonnative speaker will need to use certain grammatical structures?

When I try to remember what I studied in college, I believe that the so-called “natural order studies” were still quite popular. If memory serves, Krashen et al said that nonnative English speakers (regardless of their language background) acquire, more or less, the same morphemes in English — things like the “-s” in regular plural nouns and the “-ing” in the present progressive — in, more or less, the same order that native English speakers do, and then, of course, later papers found fault with the earlier papers. I’m sure that now linguists have moved on to newer and better ways to skin this cat.

So, here are my questions:

1. Is there any currently accepted way to “rank” the difficulty of grammatical structures?

2. Is there any currently accepted way to rank how common a given grammatical structure is — for example, corpus studies?

3. If the answer to either one is “yes,” what role should they play in designing a grammar based (or partly grammar based) syllabus?

4. Isn’t this whole division between communicative based and grammar based ESL instruction as ridiculous as the division between whole language and phonics in reading instruction? In other words, even if I were possible to focus on one to the exclusion of the other — something I don’t believe, why the #%@*! would you want to?

Sincerely,
Sam Simian
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 02-15-2008, 12:40 AM
Maria's Avatar
Maria Maria is offline
Moderator
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 130
Default code-switch

Quote:
Originally Posted by eslincanada View Post
On one of the Teaching Newsletters this question was posed.

I would like to see all the we don't need grammar promoters show us how many of their students entered Harvard. How many of their students easily landed their first job, received the raise and were promoted.........

Why do I really teach grammar?
I want to give my competitive students every skill available.

Ross
Here, here! Sometimes I think my remedial classes of native English speakers are full of students who came from high schools where the teachers threw away all grammar instruction in favor of whole language. Students had a lot more fun in K-12, but college, or TRYING to get into college credit courses, has been no fun at all for them!

I just mentioned in another discussion that our ESL/EFL learners in the US, Canada, and other English-speaking countries are no fools. Even in their own countries, they know that speaking and writing well, using language well, is one key to success and a characteristic that divides those with power and those without. Students need the code to enter those halls of power. If I just let them speak "hood" or the blue collar "dialect" they pick up on the factory floor because I don't want to "over-criticize" them or "stunt their creative development", or "negate their cultural self-expression", I am just keeping the code a secret.

I teach my students to code-switch. Yes, this is what you hear in the lunch room, but THIS is what you hear in the boardroom. Use both as appropriate.

Has anyone ever done a lesson comparing formal/informal or different codes of language? I'd love to know what you did.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 02-15-2008, 03:59 PM
Betty Azar's Avatar
Betty Azar Betty Azar is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 22
Default Still need questions

We need your help! We need questions for our TESOL panel, questions about grammar teaching. We're going to put them on a PowerPoint screen, so they can only be about 90 words long.

The panel (Michael Swan, Keith Folse, and I) need to know what teachers are thinking about and concerned about regarding the teaching of grammar these days. The effect of corpus studies? The research regarding effectiveness of grammar teaching? Approaches to including a grammar component?

If anything occurs to you, please send it in! And this Teacher Talk section would be a good place to talk some of these questions over as I prepare for the panel. I could get a lot of good information from you!

Thanks again!
__________________
Betty Azar
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 02-25-2008, 06:56 PM
Betty Azar's Avatar
Betty Azar Betty Azar is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 22
Default Teacher Talk looks forward to questions

We'd love to hear your questions about grammar teaching on Teacher Talk. While preparing for the TESOL panel, I've gathered e-mailed questions from several sources -- and it's been terrific to see what teachers have on their minds.

Here are some of the questions we'll be talking about at TESOL on April 5 (a panel with Keith Folse, Michael Swan, and me):

--What is a model argument for the explicit teaching of grammar?
--At what level is it appropriate to teach grammar as a stand-alone topic?
--Our coordinator made us mark every single error. Was this correct?

Those are just three of the 40 or more questions that were sent us. I'll post more of the questions later and try to make available our responses, too. (The video of the session will be on this website after TESOL.)

In the meantime, if you have ideas on how you'd answer these questions, please let me know. Would love to hear your views.

Betty Azar
betty@azargrammar.com
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 02-25-2008, 11:21 PM
Sam Simian's Avatar
Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 61
Default That being said …

Dear Betty

I think that the answers to all questions about grammar teaching should ideally be at least partially informed by some research by applied linguists. Once teachers have the results of that research, they need to discover what does or does not work in their classroom. So I think that “a model argument for the [im]plicit teaching of English grammar” should begin with the results of some empirically based research that implicit instruction in grammar is superior to some other means. (I changed “explicit” to implicit because I am not neutral — I favor explicit instruction, and my example favors explicit instruction.) Once teachers have the results of applied linguists’ research, to the extent that they are able, teachers need to perform their own experiments, in a manner of speaking. Let’s say that research by applied linguists shows that students learn grammatical structures more quickly and retain them longer through implicit grammatical instruction. The teacher should try implicit instruction sometimes, use explicit instruction other times, and, to the extent that he/she can, decide which works better.

The teacher should be the ultimate arbiter of what works best in his/her class. If, for example, a teacher finds that students in his/her class learn better through explicit instruction, to heck with the research! However, I think that the answers to all of the example questions in your last post should be based upon some kind of scientific research, but that scientific research needs to be tempered by anecdotal evidence: teaching experience. And, ultimately, that idiosyncratic teaching experience is more important than what the applied linguists say. That being said, I’d like to know what research by applied linguists has to say about the following:

1. Which grammar teaching methodology seems superior (And how is “superior” defined?) — for example, implicit, explicit, through a discovery processes, through content, through themes?

2. What is the best way to measure a student’s knowledge and/or mastery of a grammatical structure?

3. Does it matter what order grammatical structures are taught in, and, if it does, what should that order be?

4. Are reading, writing, speaking, and listening all “equal” when it comes to grammar instruction?

5. What role, if any, does the student’s native language play in learning English grammar?

6. What is the relationship between grammar and semantics? (Is it really possible to teach them separately, and, if not, how should they be taught together?)

7. Does the “format” of grammar materials play any role in grammar acquisition — for example, book, CD, computer software?

Sincerely,
Sam Simian
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 02-28-2008, 08:39 PM
DebOusey DebOusey is offline
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 1
Default developmental vs. Gen 1.5 writing

Hi, Betty -

As a writing teacher of both native-speaking developmental students and Generation 1.5 students in college freshman Basic Writing courses, I'd love to know the panel's thoughts on the following:

What are the differences between (native-speaking) developmental students' grammar difficulties and those of Generation 1.5 students (particularly in writing)? In what ways do they overlap, and how are they distinct?

Looking forward to your session -
Deb Ousey, Penn State Brandywine
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 02-29-2008, 12:42 AM
Sam Simian's Avatar
Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 61
Default Is “Generation 1.5” very common?

Dear DebOusey,

I’ve studied linguistics in college, and I teach adult ESL, but I’d never even heard of “Generation 1.5.” I Googled it, and I think it’s kind of a neat term. Is this expression very common in academic circles?

Sincerely,
Sam Simian
Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump