After reading what felt more like a psychology journal, as opposed to a language journal, my head is spinning. It is rather implied that language acquisition and usage affect the brain and development of an individual heavily, but it is rather interesting to examine it from another perspective. We all learned our primary language in relatively the same way: immersion and trial and error. We struggled through the nuances of our native language, and fought against the oddities and exceptions displayed within grammatical structures from dative and accusative case, all the way to the strangeness of plural forms of words. In English, we learned that they are "eyes," not eyeses. When we learned about "boxes" and "foxes," "oxes" appeared to be a logical extension of grammatical rules, only to realize that we should have said "oxen."
What makes learning grammatical rules interesting, is that we often operate from implicit or explicit reasoning and knowledge. When we simply just know, and often times have a gut feeling about the correctness of a grammatical structure, we are working from our implicit knowledge and reasoning. If we are explaining and reasoning through a grammatical nuance, then we are accessing our explicit knowledge and/or reasoning. For instance, when asked when they know to use dative or accusative case in a sentence, Germans often shrug their shoulders and say that they don't know, it's simply what feels and sounds correct. However, if a German were to go into detail in regards to direct objects receiving the verb's focus dictating whether to use accusative or dative case, or the rules applied to prepositions, then we would be working from explicit knowledge.
As outlined by Xavier Gutierrez in the journal "Studies in Second Language Acquisition" (Volume 35 Issue 03), he noted that many educators are interested in gauging the progress students are making, when handling grammatical rules. Although he did not expound much upon it, in my understanding and opinion, implied reasoning and understanding would be considered the natural form of language, whereas explicit is the more understanding of the two, in which a language user is able to share information about the rules used in a particular grammatical query. He argued that, in order to measure how much of either form of reasoning is used, a timed or untimed test would be administered to two different groups to gauge the results/responses. By needing more time on a problem, during the timed test, subjects were deemed to be operating from explicit reasoning, whereas, if they automatically knew whether or not the sentence was grammatically sound, then the subject was operating from an implicit reasoning pattern.
Similarly, on the untimed version of the test, subjects were asked to explain why a sentence was correct or grammatically incorrect. This allowed to highlight explicit reasoning, however, if a participant left the comment section blank, he or she was deemed to be working from implicit reasoning. Although there were limitations in fluency, factors in stress, and many other outside influences, this study can give us some interesting information, especially for in the classroom.
When giving a test to students, what should we be testing for? Should we test for correct grammar, and not worry about what level of reasoning and knowledge that they are working at, or would it be best to administer a speed-test, and gauge how well our students are able to spot errors? Would we rather have our students fill out a grammar sheet, and explain how each and every item on the test is correct or incorrect, to see if he or she has mastered/memorized the rules? Personally, I would rather have the students be able to use both forms, depending upon the situation, and formative testing would be a good marker as to the progress students are able to move through. In slower test, without much of a time limit, having students explain what grammatical rule is being violated or upheld allows for deeper thinking and reflective processing. However, as I am often in trouble for doing, students can over-think many aspects, and trick themselves into finding fallacy where none lays, or even thinking that everything is perfectly okay, because deductive and/or inductive reasoning led them to that conclusion. How often do we stare at a test sheet and waiver between two possible answers on a multiple-choice questionnaire? The same could happen here.
If we were to use an explicit style of test, students could show their thoughts on paper, and then work towards deeper understanding and contextualizing of the rules. From there, simple "yes/no" tests could be administered quickly to see if the students have deeply ingrained the information. In my opinion, I would say that this should be the approach to any form of grammar instruction in an secondary language classroom. Modeling and scaffolding are some of the things that I use as tools in almost any area of teaching, and it only makes sense when discussing complexities such as this. I'll show you the rules, apply them with you to certain circumstances, then we'll do them together, then you do them with a partner while I watch and guide you, then you guys do it yourselves, then you reproduce it and show me. This is the basis of how I run most of my lessons, and it allows the student to drive the speed of instruction. With this in mind, students can be slowly released into the language, when discerning correct or incorrect grammar from reasoning out the rules, to automatically knowing them.
From here, another article within the same journal, tied into implicit learning and reasoning nicely. Ronald P. Leow and Mike Hama discussed the intricacies of testing for implied learning, that is, learning done without even knowing it. The factors in conducting any experiment to test for implied learning consistently only expound upon themselves. How does one keep the subject from responding to being examined, when he or she is supposed to be learning without knowing it? However, when teaching for the test, or even integrating classroom management into a lesson, students are unable to recognize that they are learning certain skills.
From what I understand, if the class rules state that all speaking must be in the target language, students will recognize it, and be able to follow the implicit rule without even thinking about it. That being said, although this is behavior modification, the students would then be more able/willing to learn more of the target language, just by speaking only in that language. This then primes the brain for learning without being forced to do so. New words are learned based on context alone, pauses in learning are diminished, and students can forge ahead. However, how does one gauge something that isn't even supposed to be noticed?
One thing that I have seen in classrooms is the constant checking for understanding on topics, rules, vocabulary and other items from previous lessons. Students automatically know certain words and ideas well before they even know it themselves. Simply think back to when you were last immersed in a foreign country in your target language. How often did you use words properly, without even knowing the English counterpart, but you gained the implied meaning, and could work from there? The answer should normally be "a lot." So it should be in any language classroom.
In the end, how we learn and use a language matters little, when the end result is self-evident in our daily usage. What matters is how our students learn to use the language. Simply using my father's "read the f***ing book" approach will not work, and implied learning is the best kind. How often do we enjoy things that we didn't know were happening to/for us? How often do our unexpected surprises turn out to be a blessing? So it should be in learning. From what I feel is akin to "learning shouldn't be work," students will learn more, if they don't even know that they are learning it.