Is it still about grammar, not grammaring skills?

In the several teacher education programmes I have designed, taken part in, or observed, a discussion about whether students enjoy or want to study grammar or not has arisen at some point. Most teachers say their students don’t enjoy grammar and therefore don’t want to study it and I have always asked myself: true, why should a student want to or enjoy learning grammar when their communication needs are easily met apparently without any of it , especially in these days of instantaneous communication, Instagram stories and where the most common length of a tweet is 33 (now that the limit is 280 characters)? Being passionate about the ingenuity of teaching the language, especially grammar teaching, I have always asked myself “Does the grammar instruction that I provide match what learners think is useful?

While the Do you enjoy teaching grammar? discussion inevitably happens in these meetings too, and not surprisingly most participants answer yes, I am intrigued by an increasing number of teachers who say no, which prompts What kind of struggle with grammar work might these teachers be going through? What kind of experience are they having to have developed such a feeling?

One more thing to notice is that, as a CELTA instructor for more than 15 years now, I have noticed a decline in candidates’ interest and performance in language analysis tasks, even when the candidate is new to the profession, compared to when I started in teacher education.

From experience, I can say that maybe the answer lies in examining if teachers are teaching their students how to use grammar, or providing information about grammar. For at least some teachers, the distinction is not always clear and is an intricate one. Discussing grammar and providing information about it is definitely useful, and naturally many teachers enjoy it, as well as many students, whose love for the language provide intrinsic motivation to do so, but still the question remains: what kind of grammatical knowledge does a student want? Please note that the question, simply put, goes beyond approaches, methods or techniques. It is essentially not about teaching, but about learning. It is about what kind of grammatical competence students find useful. It is about students and why they sign up for language courses in the first place. And is especially relevant when one thinks about how grammar teaching has adapted to 21st century communication needs.

Diane-Larsen Freeman and CELCE-Murcia provide a nice, tri-dimensional model of grammar in their important textbook called The grammar book, now in its third edition. In their model, besides meaning and form,  there is also the dimension of use. In my next post, let’s investigate the dimension of form so as to see how this has possibly affected what students are getting in terms of grammar instruction.

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