1-72 LETTING GO OF GRAMMAR, Allison Moore

Letting Go of Grammar
Allison Moore, Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning
Bentley School
CAIS Southern Regional Conference
March 3, 2014
A language teacher’s dilemma…
Overview for today:
1. What is proficiency-based instruction?
What does the research say?
2. If we know proficiency-based instruction is
so great, why aren’t we all doing it all the
time? What are the obstacles to a
proficiency-based curriculum?
3. How can we tackle some of those
1. What is proficiency-based instruction? What does
the research say?
Some sources of this research:
Lee and VanPatten Making Communicative Language
Teaching Happen. McGraw Hill, New York 1995.
Omaggio Hadley, A. Teaching Language in Context.
Heinle & Heinle. 2001
“Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New
Structures for a Changed World” MLA Ad Hoc
Committee of Foreign Languages. 2007
Daily routines and reflexive verbs
Daily Routines and Reflexive Verbs
Lee and Van Patten asked university students to
describe their daily routines and what they found was
something like this:
“I get up in the morning around 9:00. I sometimes eat
breakfast but usually I just go to my first class. In the
afternoon, I have classes and often go to the library to
study. I eat a quick snack when I can. In the evening I
work until 11:00 at night. I study a little when I get
home, but sometimes I just watch “Nick at Night,”
then go to bed. “
From Lee and Van Patten again, “The point, then, is that
topicalized or contextualized grammar is not equivalent to a
communicative or proficiency orientation. True
communicative and proficiency-oriented instruction cannot
be grammar driven. Moreover, in many cases a
communicative goal cannot be equated with (or reduced to) a
particular grammatical item. In those textbooks in which
communicative goals are apparently equated with grammar,
the linguistic tools provided might not be what is needed to
realize the stated communicative goals. What is evident from
the preceding examples on daily routines is that the stated
communicative goal is actually a window dressing for a
predetermined grammatical point; communication is actually
at the service of grammar rather than the other way around”(
p. 76).
Are you sold on proficiencybased teaching?
A little
Not at all
How closely aligned are your philosophy
and what’s happening in your
A little
Not at all
2. What are the obstacles to a
proficiency-based curriculum?
Let’s look at a case study*
“Finding 1: There was more of a focus on linguistic
competence rather than communicative competence.
Finding 2: Some communicative activities were implemented,
but English dominated those activities, thus not aligning to
the National Standards on Communication.
Finding 3: There were conflicts between what instructors said
their goals were for their students’ language acquisition and
what was actually possible with the language department.”
* Bryan Waite “Exploring the Development of
Communicative Competence” Connections October 2010 v. 4
pp. 5-24
angry students
How would you address the concerns of this
student while still maintaining a communicative
approach to teaching?
Write for 2 minutes.
Then, discuss with a colleague.
Grammar-based objectives
Students will know how to use
• Preterite tense
• Double object pronouns
• Verbs like gustar
• Present subjuntive
Proficiency-based objectives:
Student will be able to
• Order food in a restaurant
• Comfort a friend
• Give directions to her house
• Describe the plot of his favorite movie
Take a few minutes to write 4-5 proficiency
goals for an upcoming unit in one of your
What is a communicative
• It’s authentic
• It’s task-based
• It requires negotiation of meaning
• It’s contextualized
Your best communicative
Write for 5 minutes individually. Describe one
of your best communicative activties that
you’ve designed.
What textbook do you currently use (if any)? What do
you like about it? What do you dislike about it?
Are the textbook’s units organized around vocabulary
and grammar?
Does it have grammar-based activties? Communicative
activities? Or a combination?
What about assessment?
If your class activities and homework assignments are
communicative, but then students take a grammarbased unit test or final exam or placement test for the
next level, your students will feel like you didn’t
prepare them.
If you’re using a communicative approach, assessments
and grading ought to be communicative too.
Some questions to discuss about assessment:
• What has been your most successful communicative
• Have you ever given a communicative assessment, but then
graded it for grammar accuracy? How might you grade
• Are there any assessments at your school that are not in
your control to design, e.g. placement tests? How can you
reconcile your approach and the larger school context? At
these ever at odds?
Connecting with families
What opportunities are there in your school to connect
with parents and families? Is there a Back to School
Night? A Newsletter?
Brainstorm at least 3 ways you can communicate with
parents about your teaching methods.
How will you respond to a parent who asks why you
don’t teach grammar?
Omaggio Hadley has in her book, Teaching
Language in Context, a chapter devoted to how
to implement this approach. It’s called
“Plannng Instruction for the ProficiencyOriented Classroom: Some Practical
Guidelines.” I recommend it.
• Some obstacles to teaching a proficiency-based
language class
• Some strategies for dealing with those obstacles

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