I experienced two “moments” while teaching this week, both related to teaching grammar.
In the first class the present perfect +ing was introduced in a text about music. I asked the pupils who played an instrument and elicited a few phrases to write on the board, along the lines of “John has been playing the piano for 6 years”. We touched on the difference between “for” and “since” and I may have briefly compared these phrases with ” Jane played the piano for two years”.
I told the pupils they would be tested on this later, to read the grammar explanation I gave them.
Then I bottled out, threw a few exercises at them and told them to do them at home if they wanted.
To make things worse, I didn’t even photocopy the right exercises the first time, and gave some on past perfect +ing, just to make things even more confusing.
Looking back on this lesson I can see that I only did half my job if that, why?
With another class we looked at quantifiers, much, many, (a) few, (a) little. This is relatively simple and often a case of working out the rules concerning count and uncount nouns.
For this reason I gave a “grammar sheet” with gaps for the pupils to fill in the rules themselves and let them get on with it.
Cue vacant stares, picking of finger nails and a bit of doodling.
I could tell they were just waiting for me to correct the work with them so they could fill in the correct answers directly without making a mess of their sheets, or more importantly, without having to think.
That’s why I told them that I would not be correcting this and that they would be tested on it next week.
So now I am stuck with two classe who have tests coming up on grammar points that I’m not sure they have grasped. The students feel unsure because I haven’t done the normal teacher thing ” here is the correct answer, learn it”. This is normal I suppose, but irritating, I do try to encourage my students to think for themselves and learn in a more independent manner, but French secondary school is not the ideal place for that.
The scary thing is that this situation also makes me unsure and uncomfortable. Is it fair to test them without directly teaching something first? Do I have to teach the grammar in the traditional way?
These situations have made me reflect on my beliefs about teaching grammar. I now realize my awkward feelings are because I’m not comfortable with what is perceived, by pupils, parents, and many colleagues as the “normal” wway of teaching grammar. I prefer a more communicative approach, if I had my way we would never “do grammar”. I can’t abide the phrase, it makes no sense, how can you “do” the present?
However, I teach in a secondary school system where the pupils are expected (and expect) to be marked weekly and these marks (out of 20) determine whether they pass into the next school year in June ( 12/20 needed in our school).
This has also made me realize, that while I openly prone a communicative approach ( look I did it just a couple of lines ago and I’m repeating it again already,) I’m actually influenced by the way I learnt at school, and how I have seen so many colleagues teach various subjects in the secondary school system. If so many teachers teach that way, “my” way can’t be right, or can it?
I need to find a compromise, a way to help the pupils acquire the necessary language and skills to do what is required
to jump through the hoops pass the tests I mean.
I need to find the third way of teaching grammar so to speak. Although what I really need to do before I do that is to reassure my students, and help them accept that making mistakes is ok, that it’s the best way to learn, except in tests of course where it can cost you bigtime.
I also need to assure myself, that “my” way is the best way that I can help my students learn English.