(Originally posted 9/12/10)
Last night I got very wound up over a post on Ben Slavic’s blog (http://www.benslavic.com/blog/ sorry…my hyper link feature is a bit off today…) . Anne Matava, an incredible teacher, received a letter from a former student and shared it. It was the kind of thing that I have heard before from my own students and it hit hard. Our students leave our rooms, head off to college, score well on placement tests, end up in upper-level language classes and feel completely unprepared for the grammar-based instruction and texts that they now face. Here is my response this morning…
This post has been in my head all night. Why? Well…I’ve been in the same place as Anne with this…and my students in the same place as hers. So in level 4 I have built in additional time devoted only to strategies on how to attack these grammar assignments. Even with additional exposure and explanation, my students still struggle. Here’s why:
These exercises make no sense.
I know, I’m talking heresy here..but go ahead and get out the stake. Have you looked at them lately? They are completely out of context. Try translating a few to English. What native speaker of English do you know is capable of answering this: Mark_____________(to find/3rd person singular future tense) the book. ??? And what would a native speaker of English learn about his/her own language by filling that in correctly. There are better ways to identify and work with language structures.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the lessons are taught so that students focus on the rules. And then at least one third of the work/test is focused on the exceptions to the rules. It is simply poor pedagogy.
The first four semesters of college study are marketed for students who will go no farther in their language studies…yet…they are designed for students who will major in the study of the language. Native speakers who “test” into the upper levels of these classes face the same struggles as our students. Why? Because they are designed for someone else. For someone who speaks “linguistics” as well as the language of study. The type of practice demonstrated above has no bearing on level of fluency….nor does it even promote a deeper understanding of the structure and beauty of a language.
So, frankly, I’m tired of hearing that /feeling like TPRS is to blame for students’ inability to do well on these types of assignments. The truth is that very few students will do well. That is how they are designed. Even fewer will enjoy any of it.
What hurts our kids the most is that they are not familiar with the feeling that language class is supposed to be painful. When they write to us and let us know that they wish that we had “done more grammar” they don’t understand that that would mean “cause more discomfort and pain” in high school language classes.
Because we DO “do grammar”. From the very first day, in level 1. But it is so much a natural and logical part of the instruction that it is comfortable, logical and supportive. What we don’t do is give them practice in feeling stupid. That is what other kids are used to that our kids aren’t. And I’m not about to add that to my curriculum.
Not sure if I feel better or if I’m even more fired up now. :o)
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