Some Good Questions

I received some good questions from a teacher in Kansas.

Q:  When do corrections in writing happen? I know the point is for comprehension and to make meaning. On our state test, the writing rubric consists of only 1-2 points that come off for tense and spelling, so long as a native speaker could understand it, they get credit. My question is, when does spelling and gender become clarified? I would assume at higher levels once they are more proficient in speaking and listening and reading…

A:  Yes, these things start to sort themselves out in the students’ heads as they gain more input and that builds the mental representation of the language in their heads. I do teach these things explicitly in my second year with my kids, in Spring, before sending them off to the high school which is super grammar focused.

Q:  In the meantime, perhaps I could do spelling tests, like kids do in elementary school? Give some key words they already know (or new words) and have them spell them like we did in fourth grade!  I also saw on Ben’s webpage, he had some resources of benchmarks required by his school. In the sample benchmark test, it was testing meaning of vocabulary (multiple choice style) with some grammar included (ex: noirs/noir when asking about the color of les deux chats…or something like that).

A:  Dictée are also good for teaching/correcting spelling. They are very valuable, according to my students.  Yes you can mix in conscious learning at any time. My advice is to wait till Spring though since the kids will have confidence from almost a year of listening, reading etc.


Q:  I know for me, and my students, I always try to get them to memorize if a word is masculine or feminine once the word is learned. I am still teaching the traditional textbook way (for now), and it seems easiest to memorize the gender when you learn the word. I suppose if students hear the word, they will automatically here the le or la….or un or une…but when does the definition of these words come out?

A:  The students should be able to understand the meaning (definition) when they hear and read the words. If they do not know the word you need to establish meaning. That can be done by writing English by the French on the board, or gesturing, pictures, etc.

My students do not just “pick up” on the genders in general. Because I only have them for two years, and I think that the ability to remember m/f is something that takes a LOT of exposures. So, I teach them the concept along (generally during reading time, when I am reading something back o them that we did for Write and Discuss) by just pointing it out in English as we read. “Hey kids notice this is grand and this is grande. That’s because dog is masculine (see how it says LE Chien) and mouse is feminine (See how it says LA souris or UNE souris). In French everything is either masculine or feminine.” Then

in the end of year two we consciously study that since the HS is traditional. If I had them for years and years and did not feed them to the HS I would likely make less of a deal about this.

Q:  Or the difference to listen in sounds? How do you teach masc/fem? I can say I did watch a video of a native speaker doing circling, and she wrote “le forêt” on the board; I had to double check myself, when I knew it was supposed to be “la” (and it is), I realized natives make mistakes too. They aren’t taught masc/fem as we are, but…when/how is genders taught?!?!

This leads to agreement. I just spent a lot of time with my level 2s on adjective agreement and spelling and pronunciation. They have learned to write with agreement, even though in hindsight I realize how difficult that can be, especially since we don’t have gendered nouns in English. How is this taught, as the pronunciation may come from CI and listening activities, but how is grammar like agreement corrected, and when? It seems like it could be frustrating for students, asking, “Why didn’t we learn this the first time?” (I know I’d be upset as a student, but I’m a perfectionist!)

A:  Most kids are not such perfectionists as we are. I offer the kids the option of having me point out their errors in their writings if they leave me a note to do so. Most kids do not really care but some do like the feedback.

It’s a mind shift to start to allow them to just “pick up” on the genders. But like I said it CAN be explicitly taught in cases of urgency. But if you have them for years I would lay off the grammar and agreement and such till late in their careers. It is a question of equity and student engagement. Most kids just do not care and for a lot of them it is HARD to conceptualize all the grammar stuff, so it impedes their engagement/enjoyment of the class. So, if we teachers can just realize that the agreement/ conjugation errors are really, in my vide at least, merely SPELLING errors, and do not usually impede comprehensibility of the message, then we can relax some unless there are grammar assessments that we simply MUST administer. In that case, I would say just TEACH the stuff. But if it is a question of us just being antsy and feeling like “they should GET this by now” then that means we need to do some inner work on letting go and trusting the natural process of SLA…which can be hard for some of us, like me, who DO love grammar. 🙂


Q:  Lastly. verb conjugations. UGH! Students, of course, are expected to know what a verb chart looks like and need to know the grammatical structures for upper level courses. Besides the issue of having students feed into grammar based teachers, who will be upset at us CI teachers for not teaching grammar, how or when do you do a verb conjugation chart? I’m sure students would get funny looks if they continue French in college and not know what that is (although their speaking and listening/reading skills will be great!).


A:  I do these at the end of the second year, and the kids still struggle with them! Well, most of them are like, “That makes sense” but she of them still just have such a hard time with it conceptually. Historically I feel that languages have been taught to the élite and therefore the kids who struggle with the traditional grammar approach just did not persist with languages. Teaching with CI and putting grammar and conjugations into a minimal place in our courses really does help to level the playing field, equity- wise. So it is a very important issue to me. I do allow them to do as many re-takes as they need, to finally get the grammar concepts. I feel like that is my duty to the kids.

The teacher added on:

I saw the importance of SLOW in a video! I was watching some YouTube videos, and some other circling/ CI videos came up from other teachers. There was a

Spanish (native) teacher doing it, and she was not going slow enough. You could tell the students were a little lost (but the native speaker didn’t pick up, as what she was saying seemed simple to her), I still learned some things and picked up words, but it was not nearly as good as going SLOW…it takes time for the gears to turn and process everything that is going on up there!!! SLOW is where it’s at!

My comments:  Yes, it is the king, the foundational skill of CI. And yet so hard to do!
Sounds like you are on the right track…just need to separate the “gotta do” in your grammar/spelling instruction from the “this just makes me a little uncomfortable” stuff…and try to work to get yourself comfortable with letting go a little, maybe.

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