The typical claim is that teachers cite Krashen—and only Krashen—when talking about, or defending, comprehension-based teaching practices. In the past decade or so, that’s also expanded to include Bill VanPatten. One reason teachers might do this is that they have day jobs, and that day job certainly isn’t researching Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theories. Seriously. The fact that anyone demands evidence from comprehension-based teachers to justify their practices is insulting. Furthermore, the fact that language teachers have *any* awareness of research is amazing when you compare the state of teacher preparation programs/licensing paths with the responsibilities of a classroom teacher. Sometimes I think how INSANE it is that I even blog about teaching in addition to teaching!
Now, time—alone—doesn’t invalidate research, but bad research certainly invalidates bad research. When it comes to science, Krashen hasn’t been all that technical, but you know what? Who cares?! Eric Herman brought up that bad research could have very good implications for teaching, while at the same time good research could have very bad implications for teaching. His example was that if it were replicated study after study that 100% error-correction all the time were effective, just imagine a classroom in which the teacher corrected every utterance/writing of the students! That’d be a messed up, top-down, authoritarian, walking-on-eggshells kind of class for most kids in the room.
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…
This is the fourth year I’ve been writing about classroom practices that make languages more comprehensible for all students. Recently, one of my replies got quite a bit of support. I’m a little surprised because I haven’t changed my tune, but something in the following simply clicked for people. Perhaps the message contains enough of everything all in one place. I’m not sure. Regardless, I’m sharing it here in case it gets lost in the ether. For context, I replied to comment about both teaching grammar, and providing input:
“Yes it is possible to do both, but you just have to recognize what’s happening when you do. If you like to teach grammar, teach grammar, just don’t expect it to cause acquisition. Input does.
They are two different data sets. In very specific conditions, we can use the grammar data to help communicate. Most people never do. Some people like that. Some hate that. No one actually needs it.
The “grammar is evil” or related message refers to teaching in a way that excludes students, like grading on that separate data set that isn’t necessary for all (but maybe enjoyable for some). Grammar itself isn’t evil, but many teachers unknowingly exclude students because of it.
So, if you include everyone you can, and teach grammar, and they get it, and they’re acquiring, go ahead, please! The message of avoiding grammar is a good one for most teachers until they get to a point of providing enough input and focusing on meaning.”
Someone recently had this to say about a colleague:
…they’re interested in the CI things I talk about, but I guess they’re so busy with traditional teaching that they don’t have time to research and change practices…
This is a common problem, and I’ve figured out a solution…
I’ve used DEA as anywhere from 0% (i.e. just rules) to 100% of a student’s grade, including a sliding scale throughout the year. While a few have referred to DEA as a “behavior system,” I prefer to look at it as habits that promote an ideal environment for input and interaction. Whatever you want to call it, students who do DEA, or DEA-like things acquire language (adjusting for neuro-diversity, of course), and those who don’t, make it harder for themselves and/or others. Some schools forbid grading behavior altogether, others report them as “Life Skills,” etc. Still, others implement elaborate behavior systems more closely tied to discipline, etc.
My school has implemented a streamlined version of their behavior system. If you’re wondering why it exists in the first place, there’s good reason. Some of our students had never done a homework assignment in middle school (eso si que es), yet they are all college-bound, so we need to support them. For me, DEA is just rules this year, but many of the behaviors in the streamlined behavior system address my version of DEA (i.e Look, Listen, Ask). As such I’ve decided to begin class with another Call/Response routine (popular this year). Now, this is the kind of thing I would typically do in English, like giving instructions, but it’s just another opportunity for more input using common words, while at the same time supporting students with a school policy:
Among the many misconceptions about CI, such as some mission against the Classics, “not teaching grammar while providing CI” is probably the most-cited, yet misinterpretissimus of misconceptions.
We teach grammar, oooooooh do we, although mostly in the context of complete Latin messages since even words/phrases contain grammatical information. There’s even explicit instruction, too, though brief student-initiated pop-up grammar explanations (e.g. “Mr. P, why does that word end with nt and not t?”) comprise most of this in a comprehension-based communicative classroom.
Still, even after all that, we do give explicit instruction when students are ready, usually in years 3 or 4. That’s right—even CI-advocating teachers explicitly teach grammar, and they do so using a host of methods and method-free strategies—all grammar-translation alternatives.
Someone on Facebook posed a couple questions to those at the college/university level regarding the preparedness, and subsequent placement of incoming students.
These are excellent questions.
One comment reported that most incoming Advanced Placement (AP) students retake a lower level grammar course in college. Most! These AP students were successful in high school because of significant memorization, but aren’t prepared for grammar the way colleges expect them to be. Perhaps we should look at exposing students to grammar a different way, no?
I’ve asked these questions, myself, yet the few Classics Departments I solicited years ago didn’t collect any of that data beyond a handful of students they could remember from the current year. Oh, would that they had done so!
Lance Albury just left a comment on my post, “Can’t Read Greek—Unsurprised but Angry.” I must say that I get a Highlander kind of feeling whenever I cross paths with another Lance—which is quite rare—so I’m not surprised that Lance and I hold opposing views. We have different definitions and assumptions about the nature of language, language teaching, and education, more generally. This post highlights those differences.
Not meaning to be insulting, but I believe your position on reading ancient Greek is simply naive.
Lance is not off to a great start. He thinks that I have a lack of experience, or poor judgment, which means any response I give is likely to be dismissed. This is the reality of supporting your practices when someone already believes you have no idea what you’re talking about—one of the greatest obstacles against mainstream acknowledgement of CI.