Embattled Teachers

In a recent exchange on flteach we discussed the sense of embattlement felt by teachers who believe grammar must be taught explicitly. In one instance, a teacher reported personal harassment. That got me to thinking about other possible sources.

What I thought of was how so many of the most highly touted books, websites, workshops and seminars promote what I will refer to generically as ’communicative’. So if you go to workshops, to recommended websites, sit through in-service trainings, or read books for a course, you might be pardoned for feeling a trifle embattled.

My recommendation is a ringing call to provide your own support for your method, which I have generically labeled explicit grammar instruction (the theoretical basis for this could be, most likely, cognitive code, or behavioral/structural or even grammar/translation and other less commonly know theories of SLA). This EGI has much more research behind it than one might think, given the noise many of us who support communicative teaching make.

Besides citing research, one could cite one’s own and others’ professional experience. As someone who believes EGI does not work, I would challenge you to rely on assessments of proficiency rather than on textbook tests or tests you have designed to reflect only what you teach. This is one tactic which confounds those of us who question the EGI method; teachers report success based on their students’ high performance on tests of……… grammar. Of course, they’ll do well. That’s not the question.

The question is: how do we account for the failure of American foreign language instruction over the decades if EGI works? My question begs the question of failure, but I really hope those who take up this challenge do not fall into the trap of blaming the students and praising those long gone, whether they be one’s earliest students or students of yore, as somehow harder working or more dedicated or more intelligent.

If indeed you do feel that fl instruction in this country has not been a failure, that demands a great deal of discussion. I, for my part, fail to see how anyone can support the success of fl instruction, given the almost universal cry of inarticulateness in the fl studied – “Four years of French and I can’t say a word!”

I look forward to a good discussion.

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