Thursday, March 13, 2008

Teaching Grammar

I have spent part of the afternoon in a primary school discussing with Claudine, a primary school teacher, her recent classroom experiences. She has switched her teaching style from a teacher, textbook and instruction centered approach to a child, activity and reflection centered approach. With all the difficulties she is still facing (she has to give marks at the end of a term for instance and base these mark on some sort of testing) she stresses how motivated her students have become and that the learning outcomes are better or at least not less than before. For example this has been the case for some grammar points. How is this possible, what does she do? She gave this example which illustrates quite well her strategy : Under her guidance (not her formal instruction) her students explore and discover grammatical forms that occur in their writings (free texts on personal or common topics). Then they reflect on these grammatical forms, and apply them in their next or revised text productions. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So what's so exceptional about this approach? Well first of all the teacher has to know, to see and to accept that students "use grammar" while they use language. You can't use language without using grammar - that's a fact. The next thing that a teachers has to admit, is that children can think and want to know things sometimes even about grammar. They also like to discover how things work and most of all - they want to express themselves or should I say, they need to express themselves. And somebody who expresses him or herself does it for natural human reasons not for school purposes alone. Even if it sounds odd, students understand very well the fact that grammar is a means to better master language, to help them clarify and communicate their thoughts and standpoints and to share their understanding of themselves, of others and the world around them.

I know that many teachers will have difficulties to accept that language production should come before language formalization because it's not the way by which they were taught. But what they ignore is that during writing for example students already make grammatical choices and think about grammar even if its not in a formalized technical language.

Inspired by today's discussion I searched on the net and found this interesting website called "The essentials of Language Learning" by the National Capital Language Resource Center and this video on YouTube entitled "You can't SAY you can't PLAY" which is inspired, according to their authors, by Vivian Gussin Paley's books "White Teacher" and "Kwanzaa and Me" (and the title "You Can't Say You Can't Play").

Thanks Claudine for giving me this opportunity to reflection ! I really like this video :

8 comments:

  1. I think that grammar should be learned while "doing language", not be taught apart from language, which is often the case.
    The described way sounds interesting to me and I really aproved when you said : "Even if it sounds odd, students understand very well the fact that grammar is a means to better master language, to help them clarify and communicate their thoughts and standpoints and to share their understanding of themselves, of others and the world around them."
    By showing the meaning of grammar, the acquisition of it becomes more important in the eyes of the students. After all, grammar can be considered as a tool and one should understand the meaning of this tool, whcih can only be done while doing language.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey,
    there's a problem with the video, I can't watch it...??

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think that grammar should be learned while "doing language", not be taught apart from language, which is often the case.
    The described way sounds interesting to me and I really aproved when you said : "Even if it sounds odd, students understand very well the fact that grammar is a means to better master language, to help them clarify and communicate their thoughts and standpoints and to share their understanding of themselves, of others and the world around them."
    By showing the meaning of grammar, the acquisition of it becomes more important in the eyes of the students. After all, grammar can be considered as a tool and one should understand the meaning of this tool, whcih can only be done while doing language.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Marylène, Cindy & Sonia (uni.lu)April 22, 2008 at 9:43 AM

    We think that this teching style is really interesting, therefore we would like to get mor details on how her teching style works. We were always told, that it is easier to learn something completly new, than to overcome mistakes we used to make regularly. So, how does she avoid this kind of problems?

    ReplyDelete
  5. The reason, why I have read this post is the image of a book that I have worked with during my educational studies. Vivian Gussin Paley has published a lot of interesting literature, that helps me reflecting about education and about children's learning process. I discussed some of her topics with my mother, who is a preschool teacher. Inspirated by Paley and my experiences during an internship, she decided to play her childrens storys. Which means, that every child has his own book, in which they have the possibility to paint any drawing. After completing his picture, the teacher writes the child's story down. He uses the children's words, which are not always grammatically correct. This detail plays not the most important role at that age, the fact, that they communicate is more important same as the telling process.

    After collecting some stories, the hole class assemble in the middle of the classroom. They create a stage, which is not limited, it can include the hole classroom. Every story needs different roles, which are distributed to the children, after the teacher has told the contend to everyone. Now they play it together in front of the other children, who got no role.

    All in all it is a procedure, that can be repeated twice a week, less or more. But what can I do, when one child refuses to collaborate? Has he a personal reason, why he doesn't want to play a role? Or does he refuses because he wants to do something else? Do they exist a reason, why he doesn't want to play?

    I don't expect a perfect, complete answer to my questions, but only want to express my thoughts. I'm also sure, that the recipe don't exist...

    ReplyDelete
  6. The vid should be ok again. Thanks for the hint, France.

    ReplyDelete
  7. To Marylène, Cindy & Sonia
    To get in touch with a person I mention in my post - please contact me by email. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  8. To Anne's questions and the acting out of narratives.
    When I don't want to collaborate, I definitely have my reasons, so does a child. Try to find them out. Make it a topic in a discussion. Does everyone have to take part? Is it ok if I'm not actively participating and if I prefer to be a spectator?
    Let's see what reasons X could have, if he doesn't want to tell us himself? Let's make a guess. If we liked everyone to join in the play, what could we do as a community do make others feel comfortable?
    In the end it could be an ongoing discussion about coping with differences and conformity, and about linking individuality to community. Let the children and your mother join in the discussion and stay with the subject for a while. That's what I would do, and maybe that's also what Paley would do. That's my recipe - but I leave it up to you to choose the spices ;-)

    ReplyDelete

Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967


  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967



Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

About Education on Youtube

Loading...