A Focus-on-Fit Approach: The Explicit Instruction of Grammar to TOEFL Candidates in an EFL Context

By Shirazi, Masoumeh Ahmadi | International Journal of Linguistics, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Focus-on-Fit Approach: The Explicit Instruction of Grammar to TOEFL Candidates in an EFL Context


Shirazi, Masoumeh Ahmadi, International Journal of Linguistics


Abstract

This study reports how to teach grammar depends on students' needs. Focus-on-form may not be useful for teaching-to-testing programs like preparation for TOEFL test with a limited time frame during which grammar cannot be learned through extensive communicative tasks. Instead, they need an intensive explicit grammar instruction. Hundred and fifty TOEFL candidates underwent explicit grammar instruction during 20 sessions. The result showed students performed better after explicit grammar instruction. Besides, a good performance prior to explicit grammar teaching predicts better performance after an intensive grammar instruction. These results value focus-on-fit rather than focus-on-form approach when teaching is directed towards testing.

Keywords: Focus on Fit, Explicit instruction, Grammar, EFL learners

1. Introduction

The controversy on the priority of focus on form over focus on forms (henceforth FonF & FonFS respectively) has long occupied the minds of scholars involved in language teaching. With Long (1988, 1991) introducing the divide between FonF and FonFS, this lack of consensus gained momentum. There have been many who strongly supported FonF leaving little or no space for explicit formal grammar instruction; also, some believe that efficacy of each perspective (or inefficiency thereof) may be contingent on the context of language learning, individual differences, age, level of proficiency, students' views about which approach would best fit their needs, and the goal of second language learning.

Long (1988) is among the first to suggest that teaching linguistic items separately supported by behavioral and structural linguistics is quite ineffective. That's why he introduced FonF which combines grammar instruction with communicative language use. In fact, he views FonF as directing "students'' attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication" (p. 45-46). FonFS, on the other hand, concerns the teaching of discrete grammatical features in separate lessons. Ellis (2005) differentiates the two; with FonFS involving in "systematic teaching of grammatical features in accordance with structural syllabus", and FonF "involving attention to linguistic features in the context of communicative activities derived from a task based syllabus or some kind of combination of the two" (p. 210).

Perhaps, for the advocates of FonF, the significance lies in the meaning rather than form. Just as children learn language to express a certain meaning, L2 leaners need language to communicate. This is the reason why people like Doughty and Varela (1998), Doughty and Williams (1998), Krashen (1993), Lightbown (1998), Skehan (1996) and Truscott (1996, 1998) have supported FonF approach without much of interrupting communication on the part of teachers. Meaning is, in fact, highly valued and all pedagogical activities should be in tune with negotiation of meaning rather than mastery of structures. There are a number of questions the answers to which may clarify the need to reconsider the efficacy of FonF as an approach irreplaceable by other pedagogical perspectives. The first question is: do all FonF proponents disregard |FonF completely?

There are few scholars who believe that teaching grammar is quite "peripheral and fragile" (Krashen, 1993, p. 725). If FonFS is a periphery, then what can be taken as the core? As was previously stated, if meaning is not the core, then we may follow a communicative based instruction with several shifts to grammatical features when necessity arises (e.g., Dekeyser, 1998; Doughty & Williams, 1998, Ellis, 1990, 1993, 2005; Ellis, Basturksmen, & Loewen, 1995; Fotos, 1994, 1998; Hayashi, 1995; Lightbown & Spada, 1990; Long, 1988, 1991; Long & Robinson, 1998; Loschky & Bley-Vroman, 1993; Muranoi, 2000; Nassaji & Fotos, 2004; Schmidt, 1990, 1993, 1994, 2001; Swain, 1995). …

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