Sunday, 28 July 2013

Uncovering Grammar - Chapter 3 -Form Focus v Meaning Focus

Thornbury here picks out 2 broad approaches within ESL. One that promote learning  and the other acquisition. The first, with an emphasis on learning, values a presentation / input and then output model. Students are told the grammatical forms, then they do them! The second, with the emphasis on acquisition, has it that students should be given a whole load of comprehensible input and when ready, will notice the importance of grammatical indicators and slowly but naturally be able to learn the language without the need for guidance in pointing out the structures of language.

But really we need a tandem of the focus on form and meaning. The problem with instruction plus activities (those where students are given a lot of explicit information about the language) is that they presume that you can present a language point which leads the students to a grammatical structure and then they will drink. But students often confound us by being unable to transfer their knowledge from classroom when doing real life tasks. So it's often bouncing out of students' minds.
So to get around this we need to make them “notice” grammar by conscious raising activities that don’t demand immediate production. Instead, we give activities in which students only have to become aware of the importance of “grammarizing” lexis and get lots of intake . And then, with a small amount of time, we are leaning on the right mental handles to trigger a mental process that re-organizes or clarifies the students grammar rules.
So there is an element of instruction minus (lots of exposure to the language without specific direction) and instruction plus. So, apart from a formal presentation of a language point, what can we do?

The answer- Grammar interpretation activities (coined by Rod Ellis?)- where students recognise and see the importance of grammar in affecting meaning and have to make decisions based on their observations. Here, output isn’t an immediate requirement for teachers to judge a student’s success.  Neither is the teacher explicitly dissecting the language with rules, but is focusing more on the meaning and form and slowly waits for re-organization.

When students notice the connection between meaning and form and are able to recognize the importance of a certain piece of language, they will be better equipped during feedback sessions to compare their interlanguage with examples of proficient language that the teacher provides.

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