The 16th FOCI Event: Putting grammar in in its place: alternative curricular approaches
The 16th FOCI event, with the topic of ‘Putting grammar in in its place: alternative curricular approaches,’ was held at TOBB ETU university in Ankara on 20th and 21st of December.
This particular meeting was invaluable as it allowed participants to hear what other preparatory schools do, specifically, how they teach grammar. Approaches to grammar teaching ranged from teaching only grammar in the first 5 weeks of the course to not teaching grammar at all at upper levels. There those who test grammar directly in their proficiency exam; there those who test grammar indirectly through skills tests. Here are a few notes I made about what I found interesting about approaches of some universities:
-Suleyman Demirel University: mid-term exams take three days and on the third day they test speaking. They also use a speaking booklet to have students produce the grammar they have learnt orally.
-TED University: They had a modular system, but due to the lower proficiency level of new students, they changed to the semester-based system. Now they place more emphasis on accuracy and teach grammar explicitly. In the first five weeks of the elementary level, they teach only grammar to students, and they introduce skills after this time. The representative from TED University stated that this new system worked and that after 5 weeks, elementary students are able to write proper paragraphs without any subject-verb-agreement problems.
-Koc University: They follow a semester based system and they have a discrete grammar course, a reading course, a writing course as well as an integrated course. They test grammar in their proficiency exam. They offer one-on-one speaking workshops and have speaking circles in which exchange students take part.
-TOBB University: They have explicit teaching of grammar in upper levels. They organize extra-curricular events. They have student teacher from America to encourage these events.
-MEF University: Teacher prepare videos explaining a grammar point send them students the day before that grammar point is to be dealt with in class. Teachers do a remedial check on the next day to see if they need to do any further work on that point. Another interesting aspect of MEF prep school is what they do in the 2nd half of the last level they have. To maintain student interest and motivation, they offer electives in the last 8 weeks. Examples of elective courses are film history and sustainable development.
We were put into focus groups depending on our interests. Each group had different articles to read and a different aspect of grammar to focus on. A new part that was added to the FOCI event schedule was a panel discussion. The focus groups prepared questions to ask the panel and the first thing on the second day was the panel. Some very though-provoking questions were asked the panel and there were some interesting replies.
Question 1: Should the curriculum team dictate what happens in the class?
Panelists from schools which take experienced teachers said this wasn’t necessary. However, some teachers stated that they have a lot of new teachers aren’t familiar with the school’s approach, so some level of control by the curriculum team is necessary and requested by teachers.
Question 2: How do we ensure that curriculum changes are implemented in the correct way?
The panelists stated that the most efficient way is through teacher development. They also asserted that there needs to be open communication between teachers and curriculum units.
Question 3: How can we make a grammar syllabus a guide rather than a constraint?
There were various answers here, but in the end the idea that was voiced the most was the need for some constraint.
Question 4: How can teacher resistance be managed?
Some answers that came up was having informal meetings with teachers where teachers could share their concerns, problems, and so on and where members of the curriculum team can ask teachers about their opinions. This, the panelists believed, could help teachers see the limitations the curriculum team is facing. Another panelist said this was related to the school culture, and being upfront about the institution’s approach and hiring teachers accordingly would eliminate the problem.
Question 5: When should we teach grammar? How much L1 should be involved?
There was a long discussion about these two questions, but not answers which elicited consensus other than the fact that students at preparatory schools of universities do not have much time to learn English. Since we need to bring them to a level where they can handle academic studies in just under a year, we should be allowed to follow any approach that works for us.
After the panel, groups continued to work on their presentations and finalize them so as to make them ready for the afternoon.
One group focused on developing a principles approach to the role of grammar in the curriculum and the point they came up with are below:
-There are wide ranges of approaches to grammar, so teachers need to be free.
-Grammar syllabus should be a tool, not be a constraint.
-In lower levels, the syllabus focused on grammar, buy it should be tested through productive tasks. In higher levels, there should be explicit teaching of grammar and direct testing of objectives covered. The focus should be on accuracy.
Another group’s focus was ensuring teacher collaboration in implementing an approach to grammar in the curriculum. They talked about the challenges that might be experiences such as teacher resistance, the need to change the assessment as well, teachers’ unofficial curriculum, inconsistency among teachers and the lack of a training unit. They listed what needs to be done during the planning stage (addressing teachers’ beliefs, setting the goals of the school together with the teachers, and writing a curriculum and setting the objectives, philosophy, aims and visions clearly). Then they went on to explain what needs to be done during implementation of the new approach to grammar and here is what they listed:
-Involving different stakeholders for setting goals
-Writing booklets to guide teachers on how to implement the new curriculum
-Obtaining support from the training units for peer observations, sample lessons, workshops/seminars, caring and sharing sessions and exchanging ideas and materials.
The group concluded their presentation with their suggestions about how to evaluate a new grammar curriculum. They stated that the following could be ways to collect feedback:
-Feedback from teacher
-Reflection reports from teachers
-Feedback from departments
-Student representative meetings
-Student performance scores
The last group, of which I was a member, looked at promoting a particular approach to grammar among learners. The one word that came up more frequently in our discussions was learner training. Our suggestion was that the approach the schools is considering needs to be communicated to the students at the beginning of the course, and throughout the year as need arises. Students knowing the school’s approach to grammar is important to ensure their participation and motivation. The main part of our presentation was how to make students aware of the schools’ approach to grammar. Here are the suggestions from our group:
Why do we need to have students on board?
-To raise students’ awareness
-To motivate students
-To meet students’ needs
-To achieve transparency
-To contribute to learner development
How can we promote a particular approach to grammar among learner?
-Raising students’ awareness
-Training (mentoring programmes, teaching study skills, giving + getting feedback, etc.)
-Choosing & writing appropriate coursebook / materials
-Enhancing self-study (materials, apps)
-Having realistic expectations about learner uptake
-Enhancing student motivation
This was truly an inspiring event, which made the participants aware of different approached an institution might have to teaching of grammar. The next FOCI event will be at Istanbul Medipol University where the topic will be action research. I have no doubt that it will be another opportunity where participants from different universities share ideas and see that we are all having similar concerns.