Today is one of those days where I have little energy, but it's important to finish up some of the homework and other tasks I need to, so I can enjoy me week as much as possible. This blogpost is about by perceptions and ideas about grammar instruction in the language classroom, which can often times be a challenge to students and teachers alike. What I find most important to remember, is that grammar instruction needs to be fun and interactive, so as to keep students focused, as well as enable their ability to retain the rules, information and structures for future use.
My professor, Dr. M, talked to us about a U-Curve in grammar understanding and implementation. On the up-swing of the curve, students understand the rules and can use them with great accuracy, but much like any economics graph highlighting a boom and bust cycle will state, students hit a peak in understanding, encounter exceptions to the rules, and then all understanding is shattered once again. Students then need time to re-learn and explore, finding all of the hidden exceptions, memorizing them, and pushing past the irregularities in the grammatical rules.
In my German classroom, I noticed how many of my students were having issues with genders of nouns, and did a short lesson in regards to it. Trying to keep from the direct grammar lessons I received as a student, I attempted to make it as interactive as possible with a video and constant discussions. I also checked for understanding on the rules by feigning confusion and ignorance, asking my students to create their own rules/generalizations. For the most part, the class was engaged, but it wasn't as much as I would have liked. It's sad to say, but I feel as if the students have come to the realization that they don't need to work very hard any more, since the German program is closing after this year at Grandville. With this in mind, however, several college-bound students who WANT to continue with their German really interacted and joined in with the discussions, and helped guide other students.
To me, learning is ALWAYS a cooperative event. Students should be co-teachers and co-learners. I am just the captain on the ship, I set the course, tell the students where we will be going, and hand out tasks for them to complete. Students work together in a number of ways with one another in setting who is to be in charge of what aspect of the task handed to them, and they then are to navigate their own course to our intended destination in learning. Grammar is the exact same way. Having students sit in groups and talk about how the rules apply, what their generalizations are, how they function, etc... helps deepen student understanding, and I've seen how much more readily the students are able to internalize the grammar rules than I was.
The way I was taught verb placement, for example, was that "the verb is always in the second position except for when it is not." This is a grossly, horrible explanation, and when I got to German 301 with Herr A, I was in huge trouble for not knowing the rules. By allowing students to come up with GUIDED generalizations and ideas about the rules, students can help correct misconceptions, and incorrect ideas can be repaired much more easily by the teacher. To me, I feel as if I would have benefited from this style of instruction better, as opposed to a "be free, my little birds" or "these are the rules, learn them" approach. By having structure from the teacher, yet freedom to explore, students are more likely to understand things all the better.
However, we must consider differentiation in instructional methods in regards to grammar. Some structures, such as verb placement, can be open to student interpretation. Having students compile a list of times where verbs are in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc... position is helpful. BUT, when considering genders of nouns, I find that a direct approach, with group activities, helps wonderfully. There are always exceptions to gender in German words. What we need to consider, is how to teach the normal rules, then slowly introduce exceptions, while avoiding gross generalizations. To say that if a word ending in "e" is always feminine is not only misleading, but horribly wrong. Words like "Affe" and "Neffe" are masculine, even though they end in "e." Why? Well there are rules regarding that. All words describing men (family, jobs, etc...) are masculine no matter what, unless they end in -chen or -lein. Neffe, is German for Nephew, and because it is for a man, it automatically is a masculine word. By teaching these rules first, students can identify the exceptions quickly, and keep from saying "die Neffe" instead of "der Neffe."
With this in mind, direct approaches in the beginning help with some grammar rules, while allowing students to compile feedback, generalizations and ideas helps students understand others. It is important to experiment and see what works for what groups of students. Some are just naturally good with grammar, while others struggle. No single lesson plan can work for every class, and it's important to identify when one needs to change tactics to help students succeed.
To quote Robert Jordan in his book series, The Wheel of Time, "The moment the first arrow is nocked and the first sword is drawn, the battle plans have already changed." So it is similar in the language classroom. I generally start my Monday's off on task, but everything changes in an instant after the first warm-up activity, and I have to change activities around for each day. The moment the first question is raised, I already have to shift gears. The students are the focus of my classroom, and I wouldn't change that for anything.
Mit herzlichen Grüßen,