Literary Texts and Grammar Instruction: Revisiting the Inductive Presentation

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This article outlines an approach to explicit grammar instruction that uses literary texts as comprehensible, meaning-bearing input. In this approach, which employs strategies from the teaching of grammar and the teaching of reading, literary texts serve as the basis of the inductive presentation of new grammatical forms and as a springboard for communicative practice of these forms after explicit instruction. The goal is to provide learners with meaning-bearing input to assist their acquisition of grammatical forms, to raise students' consciousness about the target language, to encourage meaningful communication among learners, and to develop skills and strategies in the reading of literary texts. The presentation of the proposed technique is followed by an example of teaching French relative pronouns based upon Prévert's (1949) poem "Le Message."

Introduction

A great deal of research in foreign language methodology (e.g., Celce-Murcia, 1985; Doughty & Williams, 1998; Herron & Tomasello, 1992; Lee & Valdman 2000; Shaffer, 1989) has addressed the role of grammar instruction in the communicative classroom, focusing in particular on the debate regarding implicit versus explicit instructional strategies. Proponents of implicit grammar instruction, relying in large part on Krashen's (1981) learning-acquisition theory, have argued that learners acquire language naturally when provided with sufficient comprehensible input, and do not require any explicit focus on form. Proponents of explicit grammar instruction, on the other hand, have argued that direct teacher explanation of forms is essential for successful acquisition. Much of the discussion suggests that some form of explicit grammar instruction does indeed have its place in the foreign language classroom. According to Adair-Hauck, Donato, and Cumo-Johanssen (2000, pp. 147-8), the rationale for teaching grammar explicitly is multifaceted. First, learners draw on both automatic (nonanalyzed) and controlled (analyzed) language knowledge for communication. Second, literate adult learners have established expectations regarding language instruction, and include explicit grammar instruction within these expectations. Finally, grammar instruction raises learners' consciousness concerning differences between their hrst language (L1) and the foreign language.

Assuming that explicit grammar instruction does have a place in the foreign language classroom, it is important to determine how best to teach that grammar. According to VanPatten (1993, p. 435), language acquisition begins with comprehensible, meaning-bearing input; consequently, this type of input must play a role in the teaching and learning of grammar. Indeed, if we are teaching grammar for communicative purposes, then beginning grammar instruction with comprehensible input that is both meaningful and contextualized is intuitive. As VanPatten suggested, allowing students to hrst comprehend and manipulate meaning-bearing input that targets specific grammatical forms should facilitate the acquisition of these forms.

This article presents an approach to grammar instruction that uses literary texts as comprehensible, meaning-bearing input. In this approach, which employs strategies from the teaching of grammar and the teaching of reading, literary texts serve as the basis of the inductive presentation of new grammatical forms and as a springboard for communicative practice of these forms after instruction. This approach is consistent with Barnett (1991, p. 9), who claimed that "The teaching methods [for language and literature] are also comparable: Inductive presentation of elementary grammar follows a pattern not unlike the apparently sporadic1 questioning that guides students to define central themes of a novel." The goal of the proposed technique is to provide learners with meaning-bearing input to assist their acquisition of grammatical forms, to raise students' consciousness about the language they are learning, to encourage meaningful communication among learners, to develop strategies and skills in the reading of literary texts, and to allow students to see the essential link between literature and language. …