Studies Showing the Ineffectiveness of Grammar Instruction

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How effective is studying these “rules?” Research shows “not at all!” What was lurking beneath all that studying for those claiming it did, in fact, work? Comprehensible Input (CI).

**Updated 7.3.18**
with Doughty (2004) & Norris/Ortega (2000)

All of this research has been shared by Eric Herman, either in the Acquisition Classroom Memos, or from my direct requests. Thanks, dude! As you’ll see, there is very little support (none?) for explicit grammar, or traditional rule-based language instruction. Even effectiveness aside, it should be clear that the practice has no place in inclusive K-12 classrooms (and probably beyond), since affective factors—alone—are shown to result in enough negative consequences. N.B. The highly-motivated independent adult learner can, and probably will do anything they want, and/or feel is helping them regardless of any proof. K-12 students are NOT those people.

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The Problem with Non-Targeted, Targeting 1, and Targeting 2

In 2013, Stephen Krashen wrote an article, The Case for Non-Targeted, Comprehensible Input, about the problems of the traditional “rule of the day” grammar syllabus. Krashen not only wrote how this “targeted” grammar and vocabulary has disadvantages, but also how TPRS reduces such problems, even ending the section with:

“Although TPRS probably succeeds in reducing the problems of the grammatical syllabus, there is another possibility: Non-targeted comprehensible input.”

At this point, it appears that the “targeted” nature of TPRS and non-targeted are—probably—on par, and that it’s really just an option of what appeals to you…

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Unit Test “Mastery” (UTM)

Unit Test “Mastery” (UTM) is a symptom many teachers and students suffer from. The teacher:

  1. presents content (Present)
  2. provides a learning experience (Practice)
  3. announces an assessment
  4. assesses students (Produce)
  5. chooses remediation based on low performance, or moves on
  6. repeat

The consequences of UTM is that students appear to “master” the content either right away or after the remediation, which itself is usually misinterpreted as assisting a “struggling student.” The teacher then moves on, and students seldom run into the same content, even from what you might expect from cumulative courses (e.g. one-off math/science concepts, or that perfunctory “transportation unit” in which students are given a vocabulary list for all possible—and likely outdated—ways to get around Madrid, etc.).

This symptom seriously misleads the teacher. It’s one source of validating teaching practices that don’t actually produce results they seem to be producing. For example, most language teachers attribute their understanding of language to how they were taught, yet they’ve probably just been exposed to the language daily over time, teaching similar (same?) content year after year. This looks like proficiency, yet is probably just daily recall of translated and memorized information!

In reality, communication isn’t really something anyone can master, at least not in the subject-matter-learning sense used in other content areas. There’s a lot of pressure to make language courses fit what’s expected in school, but the model fails when we have inclusive classrooms based on universal human traits, and not intellectualizing language. The best teachers are able to resist that, educating their administration, or at least find the wiggle room to provide input and encourage interaction in a second language during the school day—something all humans are hardwired for.

I encourage everyone to find alternatives to traditional units accompanied by lessons with limited flexibility. Instead, meet students where they are, and move forward. One way to think about curriculum is basing it on vocabulary frequency, but not thematic (e.g. Greetings, Getting Around, Sports, etc.). Chris Stolz has shares how Mike Peto’s entire department has taken this to an extreme with fantastic results! All of these ideas are supported by what Eric Herman has coined “Forward Procedure:”

Forward procedure is process-oriented. It focuses on where students are. That doesn’t mean you can’t have tests, but those are not pre-determined. They are created in response to what has happened in class and tailored to where students are. If there had to be an element of “standardization” between sections, this would be to agree to use the same test format, but not the same content (e.g., sections hear a different story and do a timed rewrite). Rather than focus on something to cover, it focuses on giving students what they want and need in that moment to learn. It is the approach that makes a teacher most responsible to the learner. In a second language, communicative classroom, this is a much better fit. To quote Savignon (1976): “Above all, remember that for it to be real, communication must be a personalized, spontaneous event. It cannot be programmed – but you can make it happen” (p. 20).

All You Need Is One: Text, Sentence, Word

I agree with Justin Slocum Bailey that something great can come from nothing. Most teachers fall into the habit of planning waaaay too much. Even if all that planning is enjoyable, somehow, it often results in insignificant gains in student happiness and/or proficiency. In the spirit of “no fail no burnout,” then, plan whatever you have to in order to sleep well at night, but begin class ready for any compelling diversion to take you away from those plans! Sometimes a sentence is all you need, and depending on the content, a single word (e.g. One Word Image, or One Word Drawing).

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Latin Stories Videos Series: Pygmaliōn

Pygmaliōn is the second video in the series after Mīnōtaurus. I wasn’t familiar with this myth until reading* Ovid with last year’s students. They voted to read it before Daedelus & Icarus, Pyramus & Thisbe, or Orpheus & Eurydice. My personal contribution here is calling Pygmalion “creepy” (i.e. infestus), which was inspired by student comments. I begin retelling the myth after the point when Ovid gives us Pygmalion’s reason for living alone, which downright bothered my students. Misogyny is completely unacceptable, and at an age when image is a sensitive topic, students weren’t comfortable with what the Pygmalion (i.e. Ovid) had to say about the nature of women, as well as how he sculpted a figure “more beautiful than a woman possibly could be.” Go ahead and add that part if you welcome the discussion, which could easily be connected to contemporary advertising industry and its use of Photoshop, as well as the negative social affects, but I kept the story more focused. Here’s Ovid’s Pygmalion myth retold using 31 unique words. The story is 221 words total in length.

1) Class
2) Story (link to Google Doc text found in YouTube video description, but also here)
3) Questions

*I say “reading,” but I definitely wasn’t reading Ovid with ease. I was certainly interacting with the text, reading the notes to establish meaning, consulting the L & S when necessary, and analyzing it closely for themes. After doing all of that in order to create simplified tiered versions for students, I will say that I had a better understanding, yet, as I “read” the poem now, I’m not sure I’m even reading still! Instead, I’m remembering what I translated during the interaction. I think this is what most Classicists do—recall what they’ve already translated, or discussion (in English) in the past.

Latin Stories Videos Series: Mīnōtaurus

This video series is inspired by Mike Peto’s straightforward Story Listening videos in Spanish, and Eric Herman’s structured English Class videos, both shared by John Piazza last month in an effort to get ones like these in Latin. Here’s the Minotaur myth retold using 21 unique words. The story is 229 words total in length.

Mīnōtaurus
1) Class
2) Story (Google Doc link found in YouTube video description)
3) Questions

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“Teaching practice X is at least as supported as Y.”

I read this statement somewhere recently about researched teaching practices:

“X is at least as supported as Y.”

Since we’re talking about something that affects students, I’d begin by asking the kind of questions Eric Herman includes with each of his memos. Then I’d move away from data, and instead consider practical classroom applications, as well as personal observations and reflections (of both practices X and Y when applicable).

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