To No A-Vail

I am not sure any of us sees the answers. We have no evidence that distance learning, on-line courses, computer assisted learning and all other methods that eject living persons from the process actually produce proficient students. But then we can’t agree on what proficiency is; today i had lunch with my department and shuddered as I made notes through it as I heard comments like, “i told the kid he didn’t need to know what it meant, it’s a verb exercise”. Great. Only newer approaches, ci, Krashenian, tprs, communicative teaching, etc. are asked for iron-clad proof thatthey work; traditional memorize-the-endings-and-practice-them approaches are given free ride, silly evidence is never asked of them. Mike and many others this listserv (flteach) over years have testified to the utter uselessness of grammar instruction. At the SWCOLT conference in April I could find no teacher who would defend teaching grammar. My own students had 8 years of Spanish instruction and, despite high motivation and good student skills, never learned to say anything beyond “puedo ir al bano” b/c all they were ever taught was conjugations. Yet still defenders of this method insist it works. i’ll bet a good teacher can reach and teach using those methods – relay races, conjugation chants, etc., so i’m faulting no method or approach per se, but rather noting the stultifying effect of expecting people to memorize abstract rules and apply them to producing sentences in the TL. For years, i’ve been labeled on this list both as a shill for or whatever for communicative methods and as insincere. What I insisted on was that list members at least get their descriptions right of methods they denigrate. It seems as if no one is willing to listen to those detailing the failure of grammar-driven classes. Instead, they get lectures about being motivated. One teacher at my school calls her students lazy, even though these are highly motivated, very hard-working prep school students. Mike’s point was that we should look at why it is so easy for districts to replace human teachers and replace them with computers. He described a common experience: complete failure to achieve some level of proficiency in grammar-driven classes. He gets his motivation questioned. I would like to submit all students to a true proficiency exam, not fill-in-the-blank tests. Just how much students can function in the TL is the issue. Why don’t we have universal language exams? Test publishers know the tests will be rejected by teachers if grammar does not predominate. I’ve seen list members write that they do give questions in a contextualized manner: they put the words in a sentence! Thus we see how fl teachers may not even know what contextualized means. They can teach grammar till the cows come home as long as their students emerge proficient.

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