No, this does not describe a juniper and coriander-based evening. Ginput is Grammar-based Input. Surprise! Yeah, I played this one pretty close to the vest this year. In fact, I began writing this post on June 13th—2019—knowing it would be months until actually implementing and seeing any results from what was last year’s springtime idea.
The idea for Ginput came shortly after one of those frequent grammar debates online fizzled out. I still know that teaching grammar isn’t necessary, and I certainly won’t test grammar knowledge, but I also know that even really compelling things get boring throughout the year! I started wondering if grammar had a role to play, if only as a break from all the compelling stuff, especially since I had no plans to test or grade it. However, a question remained: “could grammar somehow be input-heavy?“
The Search for Grammar-based Input
Providing CI while teaching grammar is rare, so I began to think…“But what if teaching grammar weren’t the entire syllabus?” and “Could I explore Latin grammar with students knowing that our curriculum is based on their interests (i.e. NOT grammar) under a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach?” I was certainly onto something, but needed a resource for guidance. Oh wait, I wrote one…
Even though pop-up grammar is initiated by the student, I wondered if I could use this reference differently, working our way through the whole text on a weekly basis. That would certainly provide a break to the compelling stuff, and serve as another daily routine, but I still needed a way to keep a focus on input. Then it all came together when Magister Stoa wrote about sorting words into tables. I decided that we could learn about a grammatical feature, then look for that grammar in a text we’re reading. It’s that simple! Since “Magister P’s Pop-Up Grammar” is meaning-based and describes the functions of different grammar features, students would have to process input (i.e. READ) in order to find an instance of what we just learned about. This differs from just searching for an inflected ending that was presented as part of a paradigm in a traditional grammar textbook. Grammar, and input. Ginput!
The Ginput process?
- Read about a grammatical feature of Latin as a class.
- Students read the most recent text individually, and circle/highlight any instances of that grammatical feature.
- Students pair/group-up and compare.
- Review/Discuss as a whole-class, possibly listing words on board, etc.
- *opt.* team-based game to find the most instances after X minutes
With roughly 36 weeks per year, and starting Ginput after Thanksgiving, I figured we’d get to about 20 grammatical features of Latin by working through the book on Wednesdays (just 15 minutes tops), and in order, beginning with parts of speech. Here were other ideas:
- don’t stop with one most recent text…set a timer, and keep students reading older texts from their folder, highlighting instances of the grammatical feature
- instead of starting from the beginning of of “Magister P’s Pop-Up Grammar,” scan the most recent text and pick out a particular feature that class hadn’t learned yet, and flip to that section. N.B. when grammar is unsheltered, this would be a way to work through grammar features more organically, and not systematically. Even the way I did it (i.e. parts of speech, verbs, person, tense, etc.) was systematic. This is probably the best option.
I originally wanted to do some action research, comparing first year comprehension-based students receiving Ginput once a week to second year students receiving more traditional grammar instruction, or at least reading textbook passages written to a grammar syllabus. I went back and forth with Eric Herman, too, running assessment ideas by him, and I even began designing a Google Form test. In the end, I decided not to go through with it.
Also, COVID-19 closure meant we only got through 25 weeks of instruction, not 36. It turns out there were fewer than 10 Ginput days overall since Thanksgiving. That’s certainly not much data, but I can report that students had as little interest in grammar now as they did back in my limited grammar-translation teaching experience before comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT). I’d say one or two kids memorized grammar terms almost immediately, though even they weren’t very enthusiastic. I was also completely unsurprised by students confusing adjectives and nouns—in English—by the fifth class or so that we did Ginput. The positive? We were reading Latin during the Ginput process—way more than those out-of-context example sentences you find in textbooks, too. Also, I noticed that whatever else we had planned that Wednesday became even more compelling because it…well…it was just NOT grammar!
To sum up my results, I’ll quote John Bracey in that “the impact of some, lots, or no grammar is pretty much the same” (i.e. kids with good memory soak it all up, but the rest frustrate). Krashen has also gone on record to say that even if we found results of grammar teaching to be equal to or better than no grammar, the affective factors are clear, and he would still opt for the grammar-free experience. Most students agree. So, Ginput is a better experience and use of time than textbook grammar, by far, but the juice isn’t worth the squeeze when it comes to any thoughts of prioritizing it more. Once a week, maybe even every other week, for 15 minutes max, starting after Thanksgiving, is just enough to give a basic grammar overview, while also providing that break from all the compelling stuff.