Response to Marilyn’s post on flteach

And herein lies the glitch in communication (yeah, communications R us) on this List. I’ll bet you anything that Marilyn’s class is awash in Spanish. I’ll bet that she does not belabor students with long-winded explanations (my specialty) of grammar points. I’ll bet that her students do not do 4 and 5 worksheets a week, nor does she spend all class period with a transparency of the worksheet on the overhead, checking each and every blank with the students (I’ve seen this more than once). I’ll bet her students hear a lot of Spanish. And, most important, I’ll bet that in a million tiny ways Marilyn conveys to her students that Spanish is NOT a school subject to be “gotten through? but a medium of communication in which you can flirt, insult, insinuate, compliment, trick, and so on; all the things they do in their native tongue.

And I’ll bet her students don’t finish her class with the image of Bolivians worrying about stem-changing verbs and selecting ser or estar.

But what I hear from Marilyn is that we have to teach grammar –

fair enough.

But what comes out of that is the teacher who is determined to get the students to be able to select the right answer for that blank and when they don’t get it, there’s more explanation, more drill, and more worksheets, + a lot of anger and resentment.. What this person hears is TEACH GRAMMAR and he misses all the other stuff Marilyn does. All the testing reinforces this b/c it’s not based on communication needs but on artificial manipulation of language material not for communication but to demonstrate mastery of an analytical skill.

And when the students can’t speak L2, the excuse used is that it’s the students? fault. In school I wrote dirty stories, tried to touch the girl next to me (inappropriately), read catalogues, drew lewd and violent pictures, made funny noises, and so on, all to stave off the utter boredom I encountered. When I got to college, I just skipped classes – lots of them, esp the semester my buddy and I decided shooting an arrow accurately was a good use of our time. People fight uselessness in their own way. Some conform, some rebel. I don’t see students seeking “no effort’; I see students who?ve been conditioned (read Alfie Kohn) to repeat endless pointless exercises with no meaning (this is in all their classes) and what is promised is even more, years and years and years of it. that’s what they’re avoiding; not effort, not meaningful work. Catch them doing something they see meaning in: they work their butts off.

I’ll bet Marilyn’s students are too busy and too excited to even imagine being bored. I think that’s the part she leaves out, leaving the impression that she makes sure the students “know their grammar?. Does “knowing their grammar? prove effective in producing speakers of L2? And we’re back to square one.

Haven’t I seen you here before?

If hard work and dedication were effective in producing students proficient (at ANY level) in L2, we wouldn’t even have this List. Large numbers of our students fit this category, despite avowals that there has been contamination of the gene pool (OK – don’t flame me; I know there are many reasonable explanantions for why students “these days? seem so different from what they were when “we? were young – whether it’s me thinking about the 40s and 50s or some of my graduated students thinking about 2003, when kids REALLY knew how to study). They dutifully do all the work and then some…. and still are not proficient AT ANY LEVEL. (I mean by this that students in the first month of the first year of study should be proficient at that level, just as students, after 4 years of study, should be proficient at that level i.e. they should know what they?ve been taught and it should be testable).

We too often point to that odd duck that went off to college, majored in Italian and minored in French, went to live in Italy, and became a rep for a large corporation – look, we say, see what can be done with languages, begging the question: did that student learn Italian through verb charts or through use of the language?

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