Jul 17, 2009

input vs. output

As much as I believe that we learn through input and not through output, we are scored on the output of our students, and our students are judged by their output. Dictations and Free Writes my way of appeasing those who believe spelling and grammar are the be all and end all in foreign language education, and it is one less thing to fight about.

TPRS students, and the method itself, are frequently judged by how well the students can jump through these hoops that have nothing to do with communication. As I explain to my students at the beginning of the year:

When my toddler tells me "Mommy, look my foots." The fact that he is missing a prepositional phrase and has incorrectly conjugated an irregular verb does not impede my understanding. In fact, my comprehension is not bothered at all. In fact, a foreigner can come up to me on the street corner and ask, "Where hotel?" And although the questions contained no verb, I can understand the phrase completely. On the other hand, somebody could approach me and with perfect diction say something like, "Appear! It is ruling on the west! We should take blankets now before it strikes us and we are watered." The verbs in this section are conjugated correctly. The pronouns are correct. There are no missing words. And yet, communication has been lost.

Students in output oriented classrooms are lauded for their diction, for their conjugation, for their flawless subject/verb agreement. But those things are worthless if the underlying message doesn't make sense. (2 extra credit points for the first person to figure out what I was trying to say in that quote above).

Students in comprehensible input oriented classrooms, on the other hand, are encouraged to stay silent until they are comfortable. They are allowed to make mistakes without fear of reprisal. They say things like they have two foots. But, they say things (which is probably yet another blog).

And then, when they leave my classroom, and they go to Mr. Grammar's class, they are told that they have not learned Spanish because they cannot conjugate and they cannot spell. (Mind you , they can write a 120 word essay in 10 minutes flat and they aren't scared to put themselves out there and try to communicate). And then, Mr. Grammar goes back to the teacher's lounge and says something like, "See? I told you this TPRS thing didn't work. Can you believe these students still say two foots in their second year?" And then, sadly, the kids are slowly weeded out of foreign language.

So, I give dictations, and I use the vocabulary from the textbook, and I teach them their verb charts (kind of), and there are a lot of good things that come out of these activities, but I wonder if I might not see the same gains in spelling and grammar if I just let the kids have fun and read?

1 comment:

  1. Output is important, but the output must be of high quality. Worksheets on grammar are not high-quality output. Essays are. The best way--I believe--to introduce grammar is to present an authentic text, note the grammar in situ, put it in a larger context, play with it a bit....and go on, drawing attention to it later but keeping it out of drill-and-kill and in texts that can develop an ear for the language. The point of grammar is to develop the ear faster and more skillfully, but the ear, not grammar rules, will be the only reliable guide in the future.


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