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'Learning is learner-centred, and it follows that whavever we do in the classroom is conditioned by the learner's individual motivation and need to use grammar.' (Batstone. 1994. pp 79-80)


Towards an approach to the teaching of grammar, which is both more learner-centred and more effective in terms of the learners' long-term acquisition and deployment of the structures concerned by Nicola Holmes
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The reading and research for this assignment, along with the accompanying lesson, has built on an existing gradual shift in my personal perception of grammar and its acquisition, and reflects a broader development in my own teaching techniques, from a rejection of the strongly audio-lingual method employed in the first school I worked at, a feeling of unease and discomfort with the traditional, relatively deductive 'ppp' paradigm I subsequently worked with, and a move into more inductive 'guided discovery' type approaches.

This shift in my own practice was prompted by a feeling that I was imposing rules and structures on my students, with no advance preparation, nor allowance for their engaging with the language themselves and forming their own hypotheses in their own time. I also felt that I was bombarding my students with alienating, counterproductive terminology, when, in fact, grammatical rules were much more likely to be understood, remembered and internalised, if formulated by the students themselves in their own words.

Thus, for me, the issues of learner-centredness and effectiveness in the teaching of grammar have come to be implicitly linked, a conclusion reflected in much of the research carried out into second language acquisition and the development of appropriate methodologies to promote it. What follows is an exploration of several issues relevant to an attempt to render the teaching of grammar both more learner-centred and more effective, and of ways in which this might be achieved.


Towards a more long-term, low-surrender value view of the acquisition of grammar

The traditional 'ppp' approach consisted of a format whereby, by definition, the presentation, controlled and free practice of a new structure all took place within one lesson, each individual lesson also often constituting a relatively discrete entity, not necessarily clearly connected with the next. As mentioned above, the structure to be focused on was also, to an extent imposed on' the students by the teacher, with little if any advance preparation or stimulation of the students' interest in or sense of a need for it (cf Johnson, 1992, ppl8l and l85). Moreover, the relationship between each individual structure and the language system as a whole was not always made sufficiently clear, leading to a relatively analytic view of grammar, where, although some attention was paid to grammar as process in the devising of practice activities (cf Batstone, 1994). perhaps not enough was done to relate the new structure to the students' existing knowledge or to the lexical or discourse systems as a whole, to the detriment of the students' eventual memorisation of the new structure and incorporation of it into their body of active language.

There has since been a move to a more long-term, organic and synthetic view of language teaching, whereby the 'presentation' and practice of a new structure can be spread out over a period of lessons, and students are given more time to assimilate it more fully into their own language systems. Moreover, there have been attempts to integrate and balance grammar work more completely with the other aspects of language, such as the the lexical system, discourse conventions and functions. (cf Skehan, 1994, p 175)

This more global and long-term view of the 'teaching' of grammar has been influenced by Krashen's input hypothesis, in particular by the idea of a necessity for exposure to language of a higher level than the language learners are able to produce, and also, to an extent, by the idea of applying the 'silent period' observed in first language acquisition to second language instruction. Whilst, due to syllabus constraints, I have never felt in a position to allow students a 'silent period' as such, I have come to recognise the value of allowing them more time to process new language, and more passive exposure to it before they can be expected to produce it fluently and easily. As Batstone comments, 'learners may need time to make sense of new language, before they can make sense with it', and, referring to Van Watten (1994), 'recent research suggests tasks which promote the premature production of language may be less effective than tasks encouraging the receptive processing of input.' (Batsone, 1996 and Van Fatten, 1994,)

For Batstone, one of the ways in which this 'receptive processing of input' can be stimulated is through the active use of 'noticing' activities, which 'encourage a more introspective engagement with language, calling for quiet observation which is unhampered by the simultaneous need to manipulate language', whereby 'learners would literally get advance notice of forthcoming and more productive work, rather than being required to instantly produce and manipulate new and unfamiliar language' (Batstone, 1994, pp 54 and 59) also highlights the need for 're-noticing' activities, to assist learners in 'restructuring', ie the development and refinement of the working hypotheses they make about grammar, asserting that 'restructuring is dependent on plentiful opportunities for renoticing, so that re-noticing acts as a kind of gateway to restructuring, the one facilitating the other.' (Batstone, 1994, p 41)

Thus, teachers are beginning to look beyond individual grammar presentations, and to attempt to integrate the acquisition of grammar into the syllabus as a whole, providing learners with Opportunities for advance 'noticing' and subsequent 're-noticing' and recycling of structures in a principled and consistent manner.

Towards a more personalised approach to the teaching of grammar, which is more clearly and immediately recognised as relevant to individual learners, and which involves them as active rather than passive participants in the grammar acquisition process

Batstone comments quite tellingly that 'To be noticeable, language has to be significant to the learner', and that 'It is what is noticeable to them that matters, and it is their hypotheses which count' (Batstone, 1994, pp40 and 41). Thus, to allow learners to truly 'notice', subsequently internalise and eventually produce new structures, teachers need to present them in a clear, relevant context, where equal, if not more, attention is paid to meaning as to form. (See also Keith Johnson's discussion of a 'form-defocus' model of automisation and his identification of the main failing of audio-lingual approaches being the absence of a freer practice stage which links class practice to real-life use, (Johnson, 1994)). What is more, the teaching of new structures, as with any aspect of language, should allow for a high level of personalisation, the issue of student motivation being a key priority.

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