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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

TEACHING GRAMMAR YES OR NOT?

TEACHING GRAMMAR YES OR NOT?

Related Tags: World Languages
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Hi all,

This is the first time I am opening a discussion in the forum. I am a Spanish teacher for English speakers. I ve been teaching my own language for nearly 3 year, not much but... since I started I have been struggling with the questions should I teach Spanish grammar or not with in my class¿ when I say grammar a mean pure grammar lesson where the students need to learn what is an adjective, verb, the use of the pronouns etc.
I understand grammar as the foundation and skeleton of the language. I would compare it with the steel and foundation that Architects design and measure for their building.
what do you thinks about it? sometime I feel I come from other planet trying to teach students the inside of a language, but if they do not studying in English what is an adverb how i am going to make them identify it in a foreign language.
how do you teach pure grammar like the ending for conjugations in Spanish, or the relative pronouns etc? I am going mad thinking about how to include my grammar teaching in to a fun project that students are always requesting.
I really need your opinions! thank you!!!

Rebeca

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Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center
Blogger
Facilitator

Welcome to Edutopia, Rebeca! And thanks for posting your question. This space is intended to be for the purpose of collaboration about our reflections on teaching World Languages, so thanks again for posting, and feel free to do so anytime!

I have a few ideas to share, but in addition, I will be tweeting out the conversation we are beginning to encourage other language teachers to share their ideas as well.

I think that grammar can have a useful place in out curriculum, but it is questionable how much value there is to sytematically including it in every lesson, especially in the first couple years. Why? I think students need a certain amount of acquired language learned through comprehensible input (see Stephen Krashen) to have a sense of what works in the language being studied, and then to be able to reflect on how it works. I think it can help improve students' accuracy, especially in writing, to include a brief, simple explanation, when needed - that is, as identified by the students, when they ask for it.

Once students reach intermediate level fluency, around the third year, they will understand much more about a grammar explanation, but even then, I would suggest taking an inductive approach to looking at language samples, rather than outright grammar explanations. As students see authentic language use, in readings of many kinds of text, they will naturally acquire the patterns of the language in an authentically communicative manner.

The point? Grammar is not an end unto itself, but rather a tool for improving accuracy of expression in writing. Even so, it is only one tool, and not sufficient unto itself. We can certainly provide input in more interesting and natural ways than purely grammatical approaches. Our aim is not to make grammarians, but to help students become proficient communicators. Even if they make mistakes, they will be understood by the sympathetic native speakers to whom we refer in our standards.

Hope this helps!

And now, let's find out what other language teachers think! Please post your thoughts as well!

Best wishes,

Don

Andrea Petri's picture
Andrea Petri
Community College Instructor from San Diego, California

Hi Rebeca,
I think it depends what is your definition of grammar. If grammar is a set of rules that come from observing the language produced by native speakers (what we usually find in our textbooks), then I agree with Don that it does not help much. It is teaching about the language.
But if grammar is the meaning that a native speaker gives to the forms s/he produces, I believe it is absolutely necessary to teach it. And not only for the writing production, but also for the oral production. From this point of view, grammar is very much like vocabulary where every form has a meaning. And nobody would ever propose to not teach vocabulary. Llopis-Garcia, Real Espinoza and Ruiz Campillo explain it very well in Que gramatica ensenar, que gramatica aprender. Worth it for all languages, but especially for Spanish.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY
Blogger

Don and Andrea bring up some great points. Grammar is a tool used in verbal and written expression. Grammar is tied to meaning.

As an English teacher, I wear a different hat with grammar instruction. Because I mostly teach students with at least a high level, if not native, proficiency in English, take my thoughts as an outsider looking into your situation. I believe it is not valuable to teach grammar out of context. It is usually more valuable to my students within the context of their own writing or pointed out as a result of a piece of literature we are reading. However, I know many colleagues who teach foreign language in high school who bemoan the fact that their students are having a difficult time with the intricacies of learning a second language because they do not know the grammar of their own language well enough.

I found this digest from the Center for Applied Linguistics that addresses several claims about grammar that I hope can help you (http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/larsen01.html).

Rebeca Lozano's picture
Rebeca Lozano
Spanish Language Teacher , PYP and IBDP International Baccalaureate & IGCSE

Dear All,
Thank you so much for your comments, They are very help full. But Just one thing you talk about teaching grammar with a meaning. I don't understand what do you mean grammar with a meaning. How is possible teaching grammar with a meaning when for example the ending of verbs it is the meaning which tell you with is the subject. Could you explain a bit what would you understand by teaching grammar without/with a meaning and also teach grammar out of a context.
looking forward hearing from you! have a lovely week end!
Rebeca

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