ISSUES IN LEARNING AND TEACHING GRAMMAR
“PROCESSING INSTRUCTION AND STRUCTURED INPUT vs.
MEANING BEARING INPUT”
“Culture and Technology”
Before I started this course, I had the idea that the only way to teach Spanish to beginners consisted in following the instructions in a textbook and giving the students a list of words and short sentences for them to memorize, starting with the verb to be, some basic nouns and adverbs, which they were to repeat over and over until they pronounced all correctly. After several weeks during the semester, I realized that this method was really not very effective and that to teach a second language required a more creative approach. I whish to now summarize how I arrived at new and better approaches, methods and concepts.
There have always been several schools of thought regarding the best and most effective way of teaching a second language. Some of the best critics are teachers who were at one time learning a second language and exposed to the difficulties and/or advantages of certain methods used. Others, as Musumeci (1997) and Van Patten (2002), have researched the subject extensively and shared the results with educators. Also to be taken into consideration is the concepts of “hallway English” and “critical concept learning English”. Hallway English does not require critical thinking skills, just mimics.
Many believe Immersion is the best solution while others believe that since Grades would be in jeopardy of suffering, immersion is not the perfect solution. Concepts and cultural identify plus a high level of “stress” makes immersion an ineffective method of learning a second language. If the classes were not “graded” and the stress removed, immersion would be more effective. In the previous paper I wrote regarding immersion I seemed to believe that it was a good method of learning. This new information, however, has made me doubt its effectiveness.
Of all the readings that I had to study this semester in the textbook, chapter six and seven were my favorites and also the most controversial. Lee and Van Patten have studied traditional methods of learning a second language and it did not turn out to be very effective. Many make the point of saying that formal classroom is the superior method of language acquisition, but while formal classroom education may provide more vocabulary, the concepts and relevancy are sometimes lost. This causes low self esteem, stress and failure and many drop out due to the frustration. It has been shown that it takes at least 4 to 5 years to become a little proficient in a second language, but the colloquial terms, idioms and daily conversational skills are not mastered that easily.
In chapter six and seven, I learned that they related to the “old method” of teaching and learning, plus the new method of teaching and receiving meaningful input. Personally, I believe that what works is what is learned, and not memorized. The teacher’s method of teaching also has so much to do with it since if the student is not learning the way a teacher teach, then the teacher has to adapt and change to how the student learn. No longer can one say, “well he/she understood me, why didn’t’ you?” Language learners come in all sizes and shapes and cognitive learning levels. I believe that reaching ALL of them is important. Anyone can teach the perfect, quite, well behaved student, but we need to reach all of them. There are too many variables in teachers and learners and even a hungry, sleepy, distressed student will block out any perfect lesson.
Learning Grammar by means of using Technology has been one of the most effective ways of reaching second language learners. This method teaches to all the senses and allows all the students to participate and understand in one way or another. Since not all students are auditory learners, one must reach the visual learners and the rest by reaching out to them with technology.
Technology must be used “properly”, not as a “babysitting” tool. Pausing the video, or tape or c.d. or power point presentation will enable the teacher to probe for questions and answers regarding the effectiveness of the lesson. Teaching in “chunks” has been found to work well since everyone has organizational problems and the listening span of even adults is only 15 – 20 minutes. The mind will then begin to wander and block out the instructor.
Meaningful input relates to allowing the student’s CULTURE and experiences to be integrated in the lesson. This is what provides “relevancy” and makes the learner interested and can bond to the activity. I believe relevancy will give personal meaning to any example or explanation. Also, allowing the student to lead a section of the class and to even teach a short part of the lesson will be so effective in the learning process. Students learn best from other students and when one can teach a subject, be it grammar or sentence structures, one can say they learned it. The input coming from the student, related to his personal experience is what causes learning. Even this presentation that you asked us to make in front of our peers was very effective and while challenging, learning was taking place in an effective way.
I believe it is not necessary to exclude all the old methods of teaching, but it is important to integrate the new findings and effective methods of teaching to the old. Using the learner’s CULTURE and using TECHNOLOGY is one of the most meaningful methods of involving a student into the lesson and actually giving them a stake in the outcome of the lesson. Teach and Drill alone is not working. However, “teacher generated drills” and handouts have been found to be more relevant to the lesson, the class and the learning process. I believe one should teach students to keep all the handouts for studying purposes in the future. For example, a Final Exam will be easier to study for when all the handouts are available to review. Many students throw them away or lose them and then cannot review for the final exam. Teaching and learning should be
enjoyable, learners can have fun learning, especially another language, which often involves a new culture.
Returning to the power point presentations, I mentioned in my previous paper that there are many critiques to using this method of Technology because many teachers complain that students do not feel comfortable with its use in the classroom. I mentioned that the Team-Based Learning point out that power point causes loss of track on how fast or slow to present to students. However, most has found it be a positive technological method of teaching. It, however, should be kept simple and not overpower the presenter. I have seem overwhelming power point presentations where words and pictures fly in , flip over and drop or rise from every which point of the screen. Too busy is not a good thing. In addition, if the student has a question or comment in relation to the presentation, most instructors don’t feel comfortable stopping at that point to explain and would rather continue on, not allowing any interruptions. This is not an appropriate method of teaching with technology. The instructor should control the technology, not the technology control the instructor, or lesson.
On a more personal note, I appreciate the fact that you do not lecture entirely in the class, or use power point presentations so often. You have allowed us to listen to the presentations of our peers and motivate us to prepare activities to share with each other. This, to me, has been invaluable because I can compare the presentations, contrast them and learn from others mistakes, including my own. Another skill I have learned from you as an instructor is that you vary your presentations to the point where they are very interesting and stimulating. You use so many different sources of materials, including articles from magazines and books, deviating from the textbook. This makes learning effective and motivates me to do the same when I am instructing a lesson.
You asked me to write on what I learned from your class. I think all the above mentioned have apparently made an impression on me and caused me to write about it. I have had only positive experiences in this class, from you as my instructor, as well as from my peers. It was obvious that everyone was really enjoying the class and learning. You encouraged sharing of material and each other’s knowledge and motivated involvement, which is what we, as instructor’s should be doing with our classes.