A maximum-efficiency model for the teaching of L2 grammar in a foreign-language, non-intensive context

 

Waldemar Marton (Poznań College of Modern Languages)

 

 

For over a decade now, since the publication of Long’s (1991) seminal article, the problem of learning and teaching L2 grammar has been widely researched and discussed under the guise of focus on form. Yet, in spite of a plethora of publications, conferences and discussions devoted to this topic, all the teaching suggestions and pedagogical recommendations presented so far have been fragmentary in nature and have not resulted in the development of a comprehensive, holistic model of teaching L2 grammar. This paper is an attempt at the development of such a pedagogical model.

 

This model is meant only for a certain typical language-teaching context, characterized by three important features: first, the object of instruction is a foreign, rather than second, language; second, learners are adolescents or adults; third, language teaching is of a non-intensive nature, usually involving from two to four 50-minute class periods per week, extended over a long period of time (usually from four to six years). Precisely this organizational format obtains in most secondary schools in Europe and in many high schools in the US.

 

The model presented here is based on relevant, classroom-oriented SLA research and it incorporates a selection of research-motivated procedures suggested by the particular researchers. It is based on three theoretical assumptions and it consists of six organizing principles (or general teaching strategies) and five executive principles, which make up an orderly sequence of recommended pedagogical procedures. The three underlying assumptions state that (1) second language learning is not like first language acquisition, (2) second language learning in our particular context is best seen as the acquisition of a complex skill and, accordingly, can be analyzed in terms of John Anderson’s skill acquisition theory, (3) the best approach in this particular context involves a focus on formS (in terms of Long’s distinction) first and a focus on form later.

 

The organizing principles claim that (1) L2 grammar is to be taught deliberately and systematically, (2) the teaching of grammatical structures must always involve their forms, meanings and functions, (3) the primary goal of grammar teaching is related to the use of the targeted structures in planned (in contradistinction to unplanned or spontaneous) discourse, (4) teaching L2 grammatical structures is not supposed to respect developmental sequences and orders as revealed so far by SLA research, (5) learners’ L1 should be systematically taken advantage of in the process of L2 grammar teaching, (6) the grammar teaching process should consist of a logically arranged sequence of classroom procedures and activities.

 

The executive principles specify the particular stages in the grammar-teaching sequence and can be described as follows: (1) the first stage should emphasize the noticing of the target structure and the establishing of the form-meaning relationship, (2) the second stage should involve the proceduralization of relevant declarative knowledge through various types of production practice, (3) the third stage should involve the automatization of proceduralized knowledge through comprehension and production practice, (4) providing learners with corrective feedback is an essential feature of all the stages in the teaching sequence, (5) systematic revision of the learnt items is an indispensable feature of the model.

It is believed that this model can be of substantial assistance for language teachers and can serve as a basis for their own experimentation with grammar-teaching procedures.