Two replies to posts on fl teacher listservs

I’m replying here to your response b/c I’d like to make sure those reading this thread take one thing into account: for many teachers (and others) this is a moral issue. They have moralized learning and cast anyone having difficulties as not trying hard enough, not having what it takes, or not caring. All of these are framed as a matter of morality. Then people like us come along and "give up", meaning we no longer wish to impose the moral law on these students and instead are willing to trust "natural" processes of language acquisition. I can just imagine a medieval inquisitor with red-hot tongs in his hand asking, "Once more: why did you think it so worthy to surrender to your students’ base natures rather than elevating them through the agony of noun-adjective agreement?"
If you doubt this, assuage your doubt by sitting in a teachers’ lounge for a few minutes and listening to the carping about lazy students who just don’t care: "But I taught it over and over; we covered the material. They just don’t get it b/c they are too lazy." I recall one teacher storming in saying her students had bombed a verb test and boy, were they going to get more worksheets now! I muttered, yeah, b/c they worked so great the first time. But I’ve always been immoral. I don’t think you will ever make inroads into the thinking of teachers who see this as a moral issue; any attempt to discuss it as learning psychology, applied linguistics, or basic teaching practice is blocked by the moral dimension. The thinking is: here is a rule (about noun/adjective agreement or, better yet, some mysterious thing called "concord"); rules are given to us so we may lead better lives; by not applying the rule, you, the student, are being rebellious, and we all know who the Original Rebel was, so that’s who you are siding with by not learning and applying MY rule.
Exaggerated? I think not. Pat Barrett
-----Original Message----- From: Bex_Martina Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2012 3:25 PM To: FLTEACH@LISTSERV.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Re: Grading Dilemma: Scoring Adj. agreement
I’m with Pat, I think! See my response here:
Great topic to discuss, though!! But now I need to go bake some cookies or something to bring my blood pressure down. I get seriously stressed out when I remember the agony that I put myself through before I switched my grading system.
On 9/1/12 1:20 PM, "Pat Barrett" <pbarrett@COX.NET> wrote:
Gee, Daniel, you smoked me out. I’m usually so shy about responding to these things. Howsomever, let me ask a few questions:
#1 Are applying learned patterns or imitation of what is read or heard the basis for building a model of L2 in the student’s head? If applying learned patterns is assumed to "work", what is the evidence for that? "I think it’s great you are trying to get the students to apply these patterns instead of just imitating what they are reading or hearing."
#2 Don’t most learners of a L2 go through a long period of gradually building that model in their heads before they begin to approximate the model of a native speaker? Are not grammar concepts quite abstract as opposed to using L2 to receive or convey meaning? Adjectival agreement, the example here, is often not achieved for some time, despite functional ability in communication; in fact, I know lots of people for whom English is a L2 who routinely make errors while functioning at a fairly high level in the society. Don’t you? If you agree, why would you insist young learners at the very beginning of their experience with L2 achieve 100% accuracy in grammar? "I get frustrated when my students aren’t applying the grammar concepts they are learning or should already know. I want my students’ responses to be accurate,"
#3 Is there evidence that people acquire a L2 via some sort of point system? I’ve studied a number of languages and I can’t remember any experience doing so where giving me points helped me know how to use something like noun/adjective agreement. If I could get my students to learn the L2 I’m teaching them by giving them points, lot of the students I deal with would turn themselves inside out for those points, but somehow that doesn’t lead to competence in such a grammatical feature. "- student knows the word in Spanish (can translate the right word) - each word is worth a point for correct word placement - each word is worth a point for number agreement - each word is worth a point for gender agreement "
It seems to me that assuming too much leads to a great deal of frustration for both teacher and students. I heard a fascinating comment from a colleague the other day and I have an appt with her to follow up on it: she mentioned in a meeting at the opening of school that one of her goals for the year would be to see our fl students be "more fluent". She got blank stares from the 3 other teachers in the dept who teach grammar only and expect students to produce L2 based on learning these rules. Being a prep school, our students are good at learning rules; what they can’t seem to do is use L2 and it appeared to me that that is what this one teacher was asking for. That way lies madness, b/c if you want someone to be "more fluent" in L2, you have to use L2 in contextualized meaning with the learner and that’s not what we do at my school (except ol’ stupid me). The new Latin teacher is livid about the kids she inherited from me b/c they don’t know their grammar. The fact they read Latin seems to have eluded her, but I don’t think that is her goal (I know what her goal is: high test scores on national tests - she said that). Under comprehension in her sylabus she has "translate".
Frankly, I don’t care anymore; this is my last year and if people want to teach grammar till the cows come home, let them. I just wish that some day someone would give their students a proficiency exam.

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