Explicit grammar instruction: A critique

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After weeks of providing a “rich diet” of comprehensible input for my students, I decided to squeeze in a day of explicit grammar instruction.  I put a lot of creativity, energy and passion to providing a memorable experience for my students.  The instructional objectives were pertaining to preparing level one students for ser/estar along with subject pronouns for an upcoming textbook exam.  I believe that students acquired most of this material by now with the exceptions of nosotros and vosotros forms.

Using super hero music, a super hero voice, a cape and some tights I provided a memorable experience for my students.  Ultimately, I am concerned with the results of student learning, not just an entertaining or fun experience.  If my students enjoy learning…GREAT!  However, are they learning how to use language when I present this way?

I am not convinced.


Critique 1

During this lesson I presented about Spanish language in English. I can honestly say I spoke more Spanish on the first day of class than I did here on about day 40. Speaking so much English does not align with the recommendations from ACTFL (American Council of Teaching Foreign Language) which states that target language proficiency is based on the amount of time of immersion provided in the class.


Critique 2

The grammar notes were isolated “factoids” about the conjugations of ser and estar (to be).  In a very entertaining way, I lectured/presented using conjugation charts and various examples. After presenting, students were to work in pairs to a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet. I noticed much more frustration because there were words within the activity that students either didn’t remember or didn’t know.  I spent a lot of time going from group to group answering questions.


Critique 3

The instruction I gave was the same instruction and worksheet activities for all 175 of my students.  There was nothing very personal about the grammar notes or the worksheet itself.  I could not figure out a very good way to apply this worksheet to the lives and interests of the people in the room. I did a lot of pointing to the notes on the board and asked for student responses but not too much off topic discussions or target language usage.


Critique 4

The worksheet activities had three sections, one part for just ser conjugations, another for just estar conjugations, and a third with a mixed section of ser and estar conjugations.  At the end, I wanted students to turn in work but some did not have enough time to finish or had individual questions that did not allow them to complete this task. I will have to find time outside of class to answer their questions.  I really dislike that students have to wait for me to explain something I did not have time to help them with during class time.


Conclusion

I overheard students talking about the novelty of seeing a teacher in tights and listening to super hero music and doing something fun and exciting.  I love hearing positive feedback, there were no complaints (that I heard).  One students said something that will be staying with me for a while.  With a smile on her face she said, “You can’t fool us Señor, you are making us take notes and do a grammar worksheet!” My response with a smile was, “tú eres muy inteligente, that’s exactly what I am doing!”

It was a very casual comment but it speaks volumes about a 14 year old understanding the difference between learning about a language and learning how to actually understand and use it.  I have been spending the last 7-8 weeks constructing language with personalization, storytelling, short stories, and a leveled reader; this student saw that my costume and efforts were just a gimmick.  With the notes and worksheet, I was doing the opposite of putting language together, I was deconstructing the language. The comment reinforces that putting the language together using comprehensible input is appreciated and is affective for my students.

I love grammar and I love grammar notes.  My interest in grammar is not shared by the 14-17 year old students in my classes.  They care more about messages they can understand about topics they are interested in.  That being said, it is not my job to be Mr. Entertaining either.  Nonetheless, if I want students to be motivated or to care about the classes I teach… it is imperative that I find ways to relate to the content to them in a variety of ways.

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2 Comments

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  • Interesting anecdote. Brave of you to wear tights.

    Tomás Blair 2 years ago Reply


    • Hey Tomás,

      Doing things like dressing as a super heroe makes class an event and an experience for the students. From a pedagogical standpoint my hope is that we lower the affective filter. Being silly in this way is not for everyone but I am a big nerd!

      Michael Coxon 2 years ago Reply


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