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Rod Ellis (2006): Current Issues in the Teaching of Grammar: An SLA Perspective , in TESOLQuarterly, vol.

40, Num 1, online 04/08/2011, 12h05 GMT Eight questions relating to the teaching of Grammar in the light of findings from SLA. A summary by Siwou Martin Bolivar

1.DEFINING GRAMMAR TEACHING Traditionally, grammar teaching is viewed as the presentation and practice of discrete grammatical structures. Why is this overly narrowdefinition? Grammar teaching can(1) Consist of presentation without practice and reversely;(2) Involve learners in discovering grammatical rules for themselves neither presentation nor practice (3) be conducted simply by exposing learners to input contrived to provide multiple exemplars of the target structure.(4) Be conducted by means of corrective feedback on learner errors whenthese arise in the context of performing some communicative task. Denition Grammar teaching involves any instructional technique that drawslearners attention to some specic grammatical form in such a way that it helps them either to understand it metalinguistically and/or process it in comprehension and/or production so that they can internalize it. 2. SHOULD WE TEACH GRAMMAR? (Or should we simply create the conditions by which learners learnnaturally?)Early research into L2 acquisition showed: (1) that learners appear to follow a natural order and sequence of acquisition (i.e., they mastered different grammatical structures in arelatively xed and universal order and they passed through asequence of stages of acquisition on route to mastering each grammaticalstructure) [[[Communicative ability is dependent on acquisition]]] (2) However, instructed learners generally achieved higher levels of grammatical competence and more rapidly than naturalisticlearners but instruction was no guarantee that learners would acquirewhat they had been taught. (3) Teaching grammar is benecial but that to be effective,grammar had to be taught in a way that was compatible with thenatural processes of acquisition. [[[ Many studies measure learning in terms of constrained constructed responses (e.g., ll in the blanks, sentence joining, or sentencetransformation), which can be expected to favour grammar teaching.There is only mixed evidence that instruction results in learning when it is measured by means of free constructed responses (e.g.,communicative tasks)]]]

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Grammar teaching can contribute to interlanguage development.

3. WHAT GRAMMAR SHOULD WE TEACH? In general, syllabus designers and teachers have not found suchmodels useful and have preferred to rely on modern descriptivegrammars, such as Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freemans (1999)Grammar Book. This resource is especially valuable because it not only provides a comprehensive, clear, and pedagogically exploitabledescription of English grammar but also identies the kinds of errors thatL2 learners are known to make with different grammatical structures.As Van Patten, Williams, and Rott (2004) emphasise, establishingconnections between form and meaning is a fundamental aspect of language acquisition. Thus, any reference grammar that fails todescribe the form-meaning connections of the target language must necessarily be inadequate Which grammatical structures should we teach? Two opposed opinions: -On the One pole : Krashen (1982) advocates for simple rules like the 3rd person s or past form ed ; complicated rules being notlearnable or beyond students ability to apply through monitoring. However, this position is not warranted. -On the other pole :teach the whole of the grammar of thetarget language. ii Nevertheless, most teaching contexts have limited timefor teaching grammar, so some selection is needed. The selection should be based on the inherent learning difficulty of different grammaticalstructures but how can these difficulties be determined? (a)understanding a grammatical feature or (b) internalising a grammaticalstructure so as to be able to use it accurately in communication.Ellis suggests two approaches to delineate cognitive difficulties:1. Teach those forms that differ from the learners rst language(L1): a contrastive analysis approach. Focus is on known commonlearner errors.2. Teach marked rather than unmarked forms iii. The general idea isthat we should teach the marked features and leave the students to learn the unmarked forms naturally by themselves.

4.WHEN SHOULD WE TEACH GRAMMAR? Two competing answers to this question: 1.Emphasise the teaching of grammar in the early stages of SLA. -error like sin needs to be avoided at all costs (Brooks,1960; behaviourist theory). This premise holds that once learners haveformed incorrect habits, they will have difficulty eradicating them andreplacing them with correct habits. Thus, it is necessary to ensure thatlearners develop correct habits in the rst place.

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- Many teachers believe that beginning-level learners cannotengage in meaning-centred activities because they lack the necessaryknowledge of the L2 to perform tasks. Thus, a formfocusedapproach is needed initially to construct a basis of knowledge thatlearners can then use and extend in a meaning-focused approach. - Before implementing implicit learning processes based onmassive exposure to the target language (immersion programmes), N.Ellis (2005) has suggested that learning necessarily commences with anexplicit representation of linguistic forms, which are then developedthrough implicit learning. He suggests that teaching grammar early isvaluable because it provides a basis for the real learning that follows.The idea here is that understanding how grammatical features work facilitates the kind of processing required for developing truecompetence. 2.Emphasise meaning-focused instruction to begin with and introduce grammar teaching later, when learners have already begun to form their interlanguages Research on immersion programmes shows that learners in such programmes are able to develop the prociency needed for uentcommunication without any formal instruction in the L2. Why then bother to teach what can be learned naturally? -Early interlanguage is typically agrammatical (e.g.:Me no; MeMilkman; Dinner time you out ) which rely on context and the use of communication strategies. embedded communication. This lexicalised knowledge provides the basis for the subsequent development of thegrammatical competence needed for context-free communication. This, then, is a strong argument for delaying the teaching of grammar until learners have developed a basic communicative ability.Ellis favours the second position in that: Task-based language teaching is possible with complete beginners if the rst tasks emphasise listening (and perhaps reading) asks] and allow for nonverbal responses. However, it is possible thatsuch an approach can be usefully complemented with one that draws beginners attention to some useful grammatical features (e.g. Pasttense ed in English) that they might otherwise miss. 5.SHOULD GRAMMAR TEACHING BE MASSED OR DISTRIBUTED? Collins and colleagues (1999) report their own study of three intensive ESL programmes in Canada, one (the distributed programme) taught over the full 10months of one school year, one (the massed programme) concentrated into 5months but taught only to above average students, and the third (the massed plus programme) concentrated into 5 months, supplemented with out of classopportunities to use English and taught to students of mixed ability levels. Themain nding was that the massed and especially the massed-plus studentsoutperformed the distributed programme

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students on most of the measures of learning, including some measures of grammatical ability, although thisnding might in part be explained by the fact that the massed programmes provided more overall instructional time vi . 6. SHOULD GRAMMAR TEACHING BE INTENSIVE OR EXTENSIVE Difference between Intensive and extensive grammar teaching Intensive grammar teaching refers to instruction over a sustained period of time (which could be a lesson or a series of lessons covering days or weeks) concerning a single grammatical structure or, perhaps, a pair of contrasted structures (e.g., English past continuous vs. past simple). Extensive grammar teaching refers to instruction concerning a whole range of structures within a short period of time (e.g., a lesson) sothat each structure receives only minimal attention in any one lesson.It is the difference between shooting a pistol repeatedly at the same targetand ring a shotgun to spray pellets at a variety of targets. Instruction can be intensive or extensive irrespective of whether it is massed or distributed. Difference between massed/distributed and intensive/extensive Themassed-distributed distinction refers to how a whole grammar course is staged, while the intensive-extensive distinction refers towhether each single lesson addresses a single or multiple grammaticalfeature(s). The intensive approach Grammar teaching is typically viewed as entailing intensive instruction.The present-practise-produce (PPP) model of grammar teaching assumes an intensive focus on specic grammatical structures. Thus the idea that practice makes perfect is the primary justification of the intensive approach.

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Practise , however, must involve both drills and tasks (i.e.,opportunities to practice the target structure in a communicative context). Teaching a marked structure intensively can help learners learnassociated, less marked structures even if it does not result inacquisition of the marked structure.---Intensive instruction also helps learners to use structures theyhave already partially acquired more accurately.

Intensive grammar teaching Extensive grammar teaching Time-consuming: thus, time (andlearners stickiness) will constrain thenumber of structures to be addressedAffords the opportunity to attend tolarge numbers of grammaticalstructures. The present-practise-produce(PPP) model of grammar teaching assumes an intensivefocus on specic grammaticalstructures. Many of the structures will beaddressed repeatedly over a period of time (involving a response to theerrors each learner makes) Practise , however, must involve both drills viii and tasks (i.e.,opportunities to practice thetarget structure in acommunicative context). It is not possible to attend tothose structures that learners do notattempt to use (i.e., extensiveinstruction cannot deal effectivelywith avoidance).It does provide the in-depth practise It does not provide the in-depththat some structures may require before they can be fully acquired. practise that some structures mayrequire before they can be fullyacquired. 7.IS THERE ANY VALUE IN TEACHING EXPLICIT GRAMMATICAL KNOWLEDGE? Explicit vs implicit grammatical knowledge Explicit knowledgeImplicit knowledge Consists of the facts that speakers of a language have learned. Theyconcern different aspects of languageincluding grammar.Is proceduralIs held consciously, is learnable andverbalisable,Is held unconsciously, and can only be verbalized if it is made explicit.is typically accessed throughcontrolled processing when learnersexperience some kind of linguisticdifficulty in using the L2.It is accessed rapidly and easilyand thus is available for use in rapid,uent communication. NB: A distinction needs to be drawn between explicit knowledge as

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analysed knowledge and as metalinguistic explanation . Analysed knowledge entails aconscious awareness of how a structural feature works, while metalinguisticexplanation consists of knowledge of grammatical metalanguage and theability to understand explanations of rules. Most SLA researchers agree that competence in an L2 is primarilya matter of implicit knowledge. Krashen argues that learners can only use explicit knowledgewhen they monitor, which requires that they are focused on form (asopposed to meaning) and have sufficient time to access the knowledge. teaching explicit knowledge by itself (i.e., without any opportunities for practising the target feature) is not effective. explicit knowledge becomes implicit knowledge if learnershave the opportunity for plentiful communicative practice. Is explicit knowledge best taught deductively or inductively? In deductive teaching , a grammatical structure is presented initiallyand then practised in one way or another; this is the rst P in the present- practise-produce sequence. In inductive teaching , learners are rstexposed to exemplars of the grammatical structure and are asked toarrive at a metalinguistic generalisation on their own; there may or maynot be a nal explicit statement of the rule. A number of studies (seeErlam, 2003, for a review) have examined the relative effectiveness of these two approaches to teaching explicit knowledge. The results have been mixed but simple rules may best taught deductively, while morecomplex rules may best be taught inductively. Learners skilled ingrammatical analysis are likely to fare better with an inductive approachthan those less skilled. 8.IS THERE A BEST WAY TO TEACH GRAMMAR FOR IMPLICIT KNOWLEDGE? To answer this question it is necessary to identify theinstructional options for teaching grammar. Ellis will consider justtwo: the difference between input-based and production based instruction and between different types of corrective feedback.

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The input-based option (Ellis, 2002b) or input processing instruction (Van Pattern, 2003) is based on a computational model of L2 acquisition, according to which acquisition takes place as a product of learners comprehending and processing input . Such approaches,when directed at grammar, seek to draw learners attention to thetargeted structure(s) in one or more ways: simply by contriving for numerous exemplars of the structure(s) to be present in the inputmaterials, by highlighting the target structure(s) in some way (e.g., byusing bold or italics in written texts), or by means of interpretation tasksdirected at drawing learners attention to form-meaning mappings. The output-based option or production option can be seen in bothskill-building theory or a sociocultural theory of L2 learning according towhich learning arises out of social interaction which scaffolds learnersattempts to produce new grammatical structures. Corrective feedback (i.e., teacher responses to learner errors) Implicit feedback occurs when the corrective force of the response tolearner error is masked, for example, a recast, which reformulates adeviant utterance correcting it while keeping the same meaning: NNS: Why he is very unhappy? NS: Why is he very unhappy? NNS: Yeah why is very unhappy? (Philp, 2003)Or, as in this contrived example, a request for clarication: NNS: Why he is very unhappy? NS: Sorry? NNS: Why is he very unhappy? Explicit feedback takes a number of forms, such as directcorrection or metalinguistic explanation. There is some evidence thatexplicit feedback is more effective in both eliciting the learnersimmediate correct use of the structure and in eliciting subsequent correctuse, for example, in a post-test. 9.SHOULD GRAMMAR BE TAUGHT IN SEPARATE LESSONS OR INTEGRATED INTO COMMUNICATIVE ACTIVITIES? Ellis stance is that grammar should be taught in separate classes Instruction needs to ensure that learners are able to connect grammatical forms to the meanings they realise in communication Grammar has held and continues to hold a central place in language teaching.

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ROD ELLIS answers the above questions: CONCLUSION 1. What grammar should we teach? The grammar taught should be onethat emphasises not just form but also the meanings and uses of differentgrammatical structures. 2.Which grammatical structures should we teach? Teachers should endeavour to focus on those grammatical structures that are known to be problematic to learners rather than try to teach the whole of grammar. 3.When should we teach grammar: Grammar is best taught to learners who have already acquired some ability to use the language (i.e.,intermediate level) rather than to complete beginners. However,grammar can be taught through corrective feedback as soon aslearners begin to use the language productively.4. A focuson-forms approach is valid as long as it includes anopportunity for learners to practise behaviour in communicative tasks .5. Should grammar teaching be massed or distributed? Considerationshould be given to experimenting with a massed rather than distributedapproach to teaching grammar. 6.Is there a best way of teaching grammar for implicit knowledge? Use should be made of both input-based and output-based instructionaloptions. 7.Is explicit knowledge best taught deductively or inductively? A case exists for teaching explicit grammatical knowledge as a means of assisting subsequent acquisition of implicit knowledge. Teaching explicit knowledge can be incorporated into both a focus-on-forms and a focus-on-form approach. In the case of a focus-on-forms approach, a differentiated approach involving sometimes deductive and sometimes inductive instruction may work best.8. An incidental focus-on-form approach is of special value because it affords an opportunity for extensive treatment of grammatical problems (in contrast to the intensive treatment afforded by a focus-on-forms approach).9. Corrective feedback is important for learning grammar. It is best conducted using a mixture of implicit and explicit feedback types that are both input based and output based. 10.Should grammar be taught in separate lessons or integrated into communicative activities? In accordance with these beliefs, grammar instruction should take the form of separate grammar lessons (a focus-on-forms approach) and should also be integrated into communicativeactivities (a

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focus-on-form approach). One of the greatest needs is for research that addresses to what extent and in what ways grammar instruction results in implicit knowledge

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