Grammar for Grammar’s Sake.

If Mr. Polo can re-visit, then so can I. This topic is so much more interesting than the July 31st deadline I have for the module 4 essay on Written Discourse and somehow in my warped little mind, writing this may help me to ‘get in the mood’ to write (there’s no limit to the lengths my mind can be stretched to procrastinate, and seeing as my entire office, the depths of my desk and even my bedroom can’t be cleaned any further, I’ve only this blog to fall back on.)

Anyway…

I noticed a parallel the other day between my NT ORAL class and the JTE GRAMMAR class. The need to use English in order to improve speaking/listening (communicative competence) is equal to the need to use grammar to improve conveying meaning through reading/writing (“conveying meaning” competence – haha) 

I am often harping lately to my students that there is a big difference between STUDYING English (to pass tests) and LEARNING English (to convey meaning). I continue to harp because I think students need to cognitively see the difference between the two and then consciously decide which path they choose to take. If they opt to learn English, then they must commit to doing what it takes to learn English: 1) make an effort, 2) study the grammar,  and 3) use the language.

In my lesson the other day, the thing that shocked me was that the students were struggling with a children’s story that was clearly below their grammar level. I literally ran into the next room with one of the books to confirm the level with the JTE who has the unfortunate burden of sitting next to me and discussing much of this whether she really wants to or not. She (veteran, good GT teacher) said it was relatively easy Chu 2 (grade 8) grammar yet my Chu 3 girls were working their little brains into overdrive trying to understand the stories! Then I had an epiphany:

  1. The JHS students only study grammar in discrete sentences. It is rarely contextualized.
  2. The JTE teachers only teach grammar to help students to pass grammar tests.
  3. I’m a big dummy for ever assuming that studying grammar for grammar’s sake should enable a student to pick up a book and use those grammar skills to easily process the meaning.
  4. Skills, like muscles, demand practice in order to develop.

Therefore, Mr. Polo, it doesn’t surprise me at all that supposed high-level students can’t do what they’ve been asked to do, even if it is well within their grammatical level. Getting to their “high-level” may have never included getting beyond memorizing word lists, studying grammatical patterns and translating til the cows come home. USING grammar (and lexis) to cognitively process meaning and then convey meaning may be as foreign to them as ________________________ (fill in the blank).

Finally, I suspect that MOTIVATION may play a large part in what is or isn’t happening for them in their study of English. Recently, I’m wondering if there is any more important task for us as JSHS teachers than to motivate our students (more on that later).

Phew… back to the essay,

Steve

P.S. I’d almost like to send anyone the children’s books that led to this discovery (as an action research type collaborative experiment) just to see if other students respond as mine did. Any takers?

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