Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

On the Effectiveness of Options in Grammar Teaching: Translating Theory and Research into Classroom Practice

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

On the Effectiveness of Options in Grammar Teaching: Translating Theory and Research into Classroom Practice

Article excerpt


For many years the role of gntmmar instruction in foreign language pedagogy has been subjeet to considerable controversy. Apart from generating a diversity of theoretical positions and models, the issue has resulted in a number of empirical investigations, which have clearly demonstrated that teaching grammar is helpful, or even neeessary, as it not only accelerates the process of language development but also leads to higher levels of ultimate achievement. In addition to contributing to our knowledge concerning the effectiveness of formal instruction, the studics conducted to date have enabled researchers to suggest preliminary guidelines concerning the choice of grammatical structures to be targeted by pedagogie intervention as well as the timing and intensiveness of such intervention.

What is particularly important from the teacher's point of view, research into form-focused instruction has provided us with important information on the effectiveness of different techniques and procedures that practitioners have at their disposal when teaching grammar. The present paper aims to discuss such methodological options in the light of current theoretical positions and research findings, evaluate their usefulness in the Polish educational context, and suggest a handful of tentative recommendations conerning their most beneficial application in the foreign language classroom.

I. Introduction

The question as to whether the teaching of linguistie forms, or, to be more precise, grammatical structures, should be incorporated into language instruction remains one of the most controversial issues in second language acquisition (SLA) theory and research as well as language pedagogy. (1) The last thirty years have seen a heated debate concerning this issue and numerous studies bave been conducted which sought to determine the effectiveness of grammar instruction either to develop and test SLA theories or, less frequently perhaps, to identify what constitutes effective pedagogic practice (cf. Ellis 2001). Although caution has to be exercised about the findings of this research due to the methodological problems from which it suffers and the conflicting nature of the results obtained to date, such studies have brought us closer to understanding the place of grammar instruction in second language development. In particular, empirical investigations have provided us with important insights into the choice of linguistic forms to be taught, the timing and intensity of instruction as well as its place in the curriculum, and the effectiveness of different pedagogic options in teaching grammar (cf. Doughty and Williams 1998; Ellis 2001, 2002).

While acknowledging the significance of research contributions in all of these areas, the present paper focuses on the one that appears to be of greatest relevance to practitioners, and aims to present the options in grammar teaching that researchers have shown to be worthy of incorporation into classroom practice, evaluate their usefulness and, ultimately, offer a handful of tentative suggestions on how they could be combined to enhance the effectiveness of teaching grammar in Polish schools. For the sake of clarity and completeness, the discussion of the pedagogic options in form-focused instruction is preceded by a brief presentation of the changing views on the role of grammar teaching and the reasons why it should be included in the curriculum.

2. From grammar-translation to communicative language teaching

For centuries foreign language pedagogy relied on a sequential presentation of linguistic forms or functions, pre-selected and graded according to their perceived difficulty, frequency or usefulness, and, thus, embodied what Wilkins (1976) terms the synthetic approach to syllabus design. In addition, there was a belief that teaching the selected forms explicitly and more or less in isolation would result in the mastery of the target language, and, therefore, the predominantly analytic teaching strategy was applied, where "the learner (. …

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