If teachers were to just stop grading grammar…

Here’s the third post this week with thoughts on assessment in addition to Friday’s on self-grading & batch assessments, and Thursday’s on averaging & delayed assessments.

If teachers were to just stop grading grammar, Latin (and other languages) would instantly become more accessible to students, as well as afford more planning time for teachers.

This is no joke.

There are some teachers excited about grammar and want to share that with students. Go ahead! I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I’ve observed many (all?) of the negative effects of doing so, especially in K-12 public education, which mostly begin with grading. If you want to teach grammar, just don’t grade it. Here’s why…

When grammar is graded, there must be some kind of quiz/test. For there to be a quiz/test, there needs to be content. Let’s take a look at how all of this affects the teacher and student:

The Teacher must:

  • prepare or select the quiz/test
  • present the content
  • provide exposure to the content (exercises, activities, tasks)
  • administer the quiz/test
  • score the quiz/test
  • provide any feedback they wish
  • enter scores into the gradebook

Students must:

  • understand the content (this is NO small feat when it comes to grammar)
  • apply knowledge of the content (also no small feat)
  • study for announced quizzes/tests, or study daily if quizzes/tests are unannounced
  • attend to grades

As you see, one decision creates a host of requirements. Without the need to grade grammar, however, there’s no need for the quiz/test, which means the content of Latin class could be grammar-independent. That’s the start of a comprehension-based communicative classroom right there. Let’s say you still want to teach grammar. Fine. Continuing to teach grammar, yet not grading it, still frees up quite a bit of time, as well as lowers the demand on students, as shown below:

The Teacher:

  • prepares or select the quiz/test
  • presents the content
  • provides exposure to the content (exercises, activities, tasks)
  • administers the quiz/test
  • scores the quiz/test
  • provides any feedback they wish
  • enters scores into the gradebook

Students:

  • understand the content (this is NO small feat when it comes to grammar)
  • apply knowledge of the content (also no small feat)
  • study for announced quizzes/tests, or study daily if quizzes/tests are unannounced
  • attend to grades

Notice how not grading grammar affects students differently, shown  in orange and not red; there’s no longer any requirement for students when not grading grammar. That is, understanding and applying grammar is no longer necessary for students to be successful, although it might occur. Some students will certainly continue to understand and apply grammar rules, but no more or fewer than when that grammar was being graded, because regardless of grading, student understanding remains the same. In other words, the act of grading grammar (along with all the requirements needed) doesn’t cause students to understand grammar. 

If you’re unconvinced you should stop grading grammar, read on…

Pedagogical Implications
Grading grammar knowledge usually benefits only one kind of learner. This is the learner who’s a sponge, likely to commit rules to memory and recall them quickly, likely to score a 4 or 5 on the AP, and likely to be “good at school” overall. Sadly, this kind of learner doesn’t usually achieve much, if any, communicative ability in the target language. Sure, they received CI, albeit accidentally, but the focus on explicit knowledge about the language is enough to shift focus away from the processes of understanding when listening, or reading. These processes happen to be something every human is hardwired for. Some teachers reading this aren’t going to be happy, but it’s not hard to argue that grading grammar robs the non-spongy student of a human right to acquire language in favor of rewarding the intellectualization of rules that don’t even psychologically exist in our minds when reading! It turns out that most students are non-spongy learners, or if they are spongetastic, they just don’t care. Some people recently were calling for evidence that these spongy folks exist. What an absurd request! The evidence can be found in ANY interaction with a human who doesn’t know formal grammar features of their native language, or can’t remember how to conjugate a verb from high school Spanish back in the 80s. Whether spongy people possess some inherent quality that allows them to benefit from grammar study—which I find highly unlikely—or that spongy people are just the few who care, doesn’t matter. The existence of *few* people who enjoy, study, retain, and reproduce explicit grammar knowledge is overwhelmingly available without the need of a single study. Also, the majority of those spongies became language teachers, or the non-spongified language teachers had some intense motivation to muster through their grammar-based language education. Either possibility still results in a person that doesn’t represent most students. To deny that is silly, and to seek evidence creates a straw man.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.