Those who have gone before….

I would love to print out a post I read but I think it would make the writer self-conscious in an unfair way; he was pouring out his heart and his frustration at trying to use tprs in a school whose fl dept insisted on grammar instruction. What bothered me about the post was that he seemed to expect the students to do well on grammar tests when he wasn’t focusing on grammar.
Because grammar is such an abstract subject it boils down principally to memorizing formulas. That was the theory behind cognitive psychology’s approach to language learning; they said, “Language behavior can be reduced to a set of rules and since language users apply these rules, all we have to do is find out what the rules of each language are, teach those rules to learners, have learners practice applying the rules, and… voila… they’ll “know” the language.” This is what Krashen calls “learning” L2.
A good many of us, but apparently not enough to reach critical mass yet, noticed an odd thing: almost no one, no matter how assiduously they learned those rules, was able to put them to use in using L2. They could painstakingly construct a sentence, read text only by translating into L1, and understand the spoken language only in set pieces ( gave this definition of set piece and it states exactly what I mean:
A situation, activity, or speech planned beforehand and carried out according to a prescribed pattern or formula.”
Recently I posted an item describing the teaching by a nun in the 60s, and the resultant competency of her students in contrast to the incompetence of the students of other teachers in the same school in “getting along” in various European countries. The nun’s method was to start in with German right away in all 4 competencies and sing a lot; grammar was presented but “only in context” (this expression was used by a naive person and so was very telling). As the person told the story, it became clear that the nun was using a CI and communicative approach some 20 years before it became a movement in the field.
There have always been fl teachers like that. In sorting through papers, I noticed a phrase I had copied down that reminded me that when the teacher and the tests focus on grammar, it doesn’t matter how much CI is offered, the students will miss it b/c they are focused on the grammar.
If only laying out the well-described rules of languages like Spanish and German really worked in teaching those languages. How easy that would be for the teacher. But no, we have to create a new world for our students. Very hard work.

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