Response to Chen (1995): In Search of an Effective Grammar Teaching Model

This post is from a course that I took. I had to make blog posts for the course and I decided to move the posts over here when the course finished.

Chen, T-Y. (1995). In search of an effective grammar teaching model. English Teaching Forum, 33(3), 58-60.

I love grammar, and I love teaching grammar. While I agree that “only a small portion of the total grammatical properties of a language can be consciously learned” (p. 59), I still think that a sound basis in grammar is necessary for language learning to be successful. I also agree that grammar alone is not enough.

From my experiences teaching English in Japan, I can say unequivocally that a purely communicative approach, with very little regard for grammar, is doomed to fail. My students in Japan were asked to memorize conversations, but they had little understanding of what they were saying, and they were not taught to tease out the patterns in the language in order to make new statements. They were never taught, for example, how to conjugate the verb “to be”, so they were constantly saying things like “he am…” and “they is…”. This was not a simple problem of performance error (knowing the rule, but making an error in an utterance), but a more serious competence error (not knowing the rule, and therefore making an error).

When I learned French in grade school, the approach was purely grammatical. Because of that, I need to be careful not to let my own teaching slip back into a “comfortable” (probably only to me) pattern of explicit grammar instruction (EGI). I also have the above-mentioned experience teaching English in a communicative way, and I know that that does not work alone, without being enhanced with grammar instruction. I am going to need to think about this some more, and visit some classrooms to see how other teachers approach language learning so I have more paradigms at my disposal to adapt to my own classroom.

I liked the idea in the Storch (1998) article of comparing the effectiveness of multiple choice, rational deletion (cloze), text reconstruction, and composition tasks at eliciting language-specific talk and focusing the students’ attention on form. I noticed that there was a mention of a “theoretical taxonomy of tasks” (p. 188), though I couldn’t locate the article that was cited. I would like to look into this idea of taxonomy more and see what sort of research has been done on various communicative tasks so that I can come up with the most effective tasks for my classroom. I feel that this is an area that I need to improve in.

Also mentioned:

Storch, N. (1998). Comparing second language learners’ attention to form across tasks. Language Awareness, 7(4), 176-91.