Grammarphobe: Emergent versus Explicit Focus
October 18, 2012 6 Comments
After reading the #ELTchat summary of the “Do you teach grammar explicitly? If so, how? If not, why not?” I started to ponder explicit grammar teaching versus clarification and practise of emergent grammar. One of the reasons for this was that as teachers I’m not sure if we have concrete information on which to base our conclusions; we base a lot of it on our experience in the classroom. In addition, I also spent some time thinking about what ‘explicit’ meant to me.
In the summary, the term was discussed and defined by many in different ways:
The early part of the discussion focused on what was actually meant by the term ‘explicit’. @AlexandraKouk asked if was referring to an inductive vs. deductive approach while @ louisealix68 interpreted “explicit” as inductive followed by deductive. @teflgeek wondered if ‘explicit grammar teaching’ was just telling the learners “we’re going to do some grammar today” as opposed to teaching grammar by stealth. @michelleworgan asked if asking students for or give examples of grammar and try to get students to notice the rules/differences counted as explicit.
Forgive me for being facetious, but I’m going around in circles trying to define this for myself. Explicit is defined in my dictionary as “stated in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt”. Such an explanation suggests that a teacher tells learners what the grammatical aim is and explain it, leaving no cracks for misunderstanding. Again, flippant, but does this refer to the aim or the teaching of that aim?
Let’s say for the sake of debate that this is the aim: stated before the lesson and followed through on in the lesson. The polar opposite of this would seem to me to be a focus on emergent grammar during the lesson, different from or with no specific aim given.
Explicitly teaching the present perfect:
Context: relationships, anniversaries and breaking up
Aim: clarify and provide practice of the present perfect simple for unfinished time periods connect to the present; to highlight the aspect’s focus on unfinished time.
1. Asked students to write questions to ask their partners on romance.
2. Students asked each other questions and came up with some definitions of what the word means and what it doesn’t.
3. Looked at emergent vocabulary, clarified and elicited examples of use.
4. Gave students two letters (separated in a jigsaw reading style), from two different partners to the other. Learners put the letters together. Checked answers.
*one letter concerned one couple that had broken up and the other one that was still together. The use of the present perfect showed that they were still in a relationship and celebrating their anniversary.
5. Directed students’ attention towards guided discovery questions to elicit the above mentioned information.
6. Clarified answers.
7. Gave students the task of writing a love letter to a partner. The class commented on if they thought the couple was still together or not.
Focusing on emergent present perfect
1. Students are chatting about their preferred careers and how they focus on career development. The conversation drifts in one group to one student’s past and how she lived in a squat. They talk about how Berlin is now a very different city from its past self. A few students get involved and the conversation moves to purchase power, rent, wages and concentration of immigrants in the community.
At this point I noticed a lot of language missing to describe changes until the present (yep, you got it: present perfect).
2. Noted down some of the vocabulary they are using and clarify it on the board.
3. Drew four graphs on the board that represent the changes and put the vocabulary on the board in boxes for students to grammar up, making sure they knew the time axis on the graph was until now.
4. Learners copied graphs and wrote some descriptions to explain and then explain to their partners. I monitored and pushed students to give reasons for their grammatical choices.
5. Give students simulation on the original topic of career development. Throughout the simulation they use present perfect simple and continuous to describe developments until now.
Gauging results is so difficult in this case; I prefer teaching in the second way. Nevertheless, I’m not 100% convinced of its benefit to students. One reason for this is student expectations of focused, explicit grammar tuition. In fact, after the first lesson type a student came to me and complimented my teaching style and expressed her satisfaction from the lesson. Another reason is that I am not certain I can recreate the same conditions time and time again. Anyway, back to results. I noticed much more fluent and accurate language use in the second lesson type than in the first. Does this mean type 2 is more conducive to learning and the first to learner expectations?