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How Grammar Can Help to Maintain
Motivation of Advanced Learners
by Greg Gobel
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Consciousness-raising (C-R)

C-R tasks are ‘designed to make students aware of features of the language – to notice them…’(29) Batstone asserts that learners ‘need to notice grammar, because if they do not, they will never learn it very effectively.’(30) There are at least two key aspects of noticing(31):

  • ‘1. Learners must attend to linguistic features of the input…
  • ‘2. Learners must “notice the gap”, i.e., make comparisons between the current state of their developing linguistic system, as realized by their output, and the target language system, available as input.’

Batstone cautions that learners ‘often manage to complete a presentation task without attending to the target form at all.’(32) Because of this we need to make sure task design does, in fact, prompt noticing and requires them ‘…to process grammar in order to complete the task successfully.’(33)

Practical noticing activities include reformulation and reconstruction tasks. Reformulation tasks progress from fluency to accuracy and involve learners encoding meaning and then the teacher re-encoding the meaning for the learners to notice the difference.(34) For this, Johnson proposes a test-teach-test (‘mistake occurrence – corrective action – retrial’) sequence(35), which I have found quite helpful, especially for advanced learners. This is motivating because learners tangibly see an improvement in their output. Reconstruction tasks progress from learners reading/hearing the teacher’s text to remaking the text, then matching the two.(36) Thornbury says reconstruction is valuable because the noticing done in the matching ‘provides…positive evidence of yet-to-be-acquired language features.’(37)

Another goal of C-R is described by James: ‘…we have to show learners that large parts of the FL grammars are already theirs, and they its.’(38) Although, in my experience, this is easier at lower levels, it is still possible with advanced learners, especially regarding elements of spoken grammar. I think this can be quite motivating for advanced learners, because if we can present, or they can find, similarities that they had not known before, it opens up new ways of communicating in a way that is fairly immediate to access and use. One example is using present simple for oral narrative. For example, in both Czech and Spanish, the equivalent of the present simple can be used for telling jokes or anecdotes to make the story more immediate and engaging, just like in English. Practical classroom ideas to focus on similarities include using translation tasks or tasks where learners consciously find language expressed in the same way as in their own language.

Language Awareness (LA)

Thornbury defines LA as ‘…knowledge that teachers have of the underlying systems of the language that enables them to teach effectively.’(39) I think teachers can draw on aspects of LA meant for training teachers and apply them to advanced learners because in my experience doing both teacher training and EFL teaching, I have found that advanced EFL learners often have more awareness and ability to clearly explain grammatical concepts than inexperienced teachers, and given the opportunity, can productively supplement experienced teachers’ knowledge about language. Edge proposes three major roles of a language teacher(40):

  • language user,
  • language analyst, and
  • language teacher.

I see no reason why these roles cannot be transferred to high-level learners participating in classroom settings. If teachers draw explicit attention to these roles, who they were originally meant for (EL teachers), and encourage their learners to approach grammar from these three perspectives, the learners will likely feel they have more control over their own learning, will be more likely to help each other to discover grammar, and perhaps more willing to risk attempting newly discovered forms and meanings, all of which can be intrinsically motivating. This directly links to Dornyei’s strategies 28, 29, and 30, which encourage teachers to increase

  • ‘student motivation by promoting cooperation among the learners,’(41)
  • ‘student motivation by actively promoting learner autonomy,’(42) and
  • ‘the student’s self-motivating capacity.’(43)

In practice, the role of the learner-teacher may describe learners from short instances of teaching themselves and helping each other through self-discovery to preparing and peer-teaching specific language points they have determined would be useful. Wright and Bolitho propose other practical LA processes and tasks which I believe are transferable to C-R: (44)

  • analyzing texts,
  • comparing data with previous knowledge,
  • identifying specific features of the language point,
  • negotiating joint responses,
  • guessing,
  • hypothesizing,
  • brainstorming,
  • reflecting,
  • comparing with a grammar reference,
  • evaluating exercises, and
  • writing a language learning exercise.
All of these are highly cognitive tasks demanding a lot from learners while keeping them thoroughly involved in the discovery process of learning grammar and are thus likely to be highly motivating. Dornyei’s strategies 18 and 19 suggest that making tasks challenging can increase their attractiveness while requiring the learners’ mental effort ‘by enlisting them as active task participants.’(45)

29. Thornbury, 2001: 36
30. Batstone, 1994a: 101
31. Thornbury, 1997b: 326
32. Batstone, 1996: 273
33. Batstone, 1994a: 100
34. Thornbury, 1997b: 328
35. Johnson, 1988: 94
36. Thornbury, 1997b: 330
37. bid: 330
38. James, 1994: 213
39. Thornbury, 1997a: x
40. Edge, 1988: 10
41. Dornyei, 2001: 102
42. bid: 108
43. bid: 116
44. Wright and Bolitho, 1993: 294-297
45. Dornyei, 2001: 77-78

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