Contrasting strategies in the teaching of a foreign language grammar and their effects
At the centre of this thesis is the question whether the grammar of a foreign language is more effectively delivered to the learner by implicit or by explicit means. The researcher has explored the question, which is essentially one concerning teaching method, in an action research project which conceptualises the essential contrast as that concerning the presence or absence of explicit summaries of grammar met by pupils first in action. The project has spanned the three years of a GCSE course of study in French, leading to the relevant examination in the High School where she works as Head of the Modern Languages Department. This action research has been placed as an empirical enquiry of the method-related hypothesis (conveniently embodied in the recent National Curriculum subject advice) in perspective with a study of the history of Modern Languages teaching from its early times to the present day. The researcher's interest in pursuing the research at both of these levels arose from the following needs: 1. her personal need to take stock, through reflection (ie. research), of her own position and involvement in Modern Languages teaching, after a lengthy career which has witnessed frequent changes in subject design resulting from the pertinacious dissatisfaction towards the teaching methods used and the courses offered to learners, articulated yet again, currently, in the terms of the National Curriculum's subject plan; 2. her acknowledgement of the increasing desirability for classroom teachers of Modern Languages to investigate the teaching methods which each time of change imposes upon them for use in their practice, as is again the case now, as the latest National Curriculum policies assert their influence. The researcher was a lone participant in her research for the majority of its design and run. The historical research was a journey which she made alone and applied alone in the form of the 'Review Of The Literature' as the background to her action research. The action research itself evolved as a two-instalment project, in its first phase incorporating a broad departmental representation of pupil and teacher participants, and in the second phase featuring only the researcher and the two GCSE examination classes for which she was personally responsible between the years 1991 and 1994. This practical exercise intended to set local insights in a wider perspective and to identify aspects which might have more general significance. The action research took the format of a longitudinal study, which focused upon the question of the advantages or disadvantages attaching to either explicit or implicit grammar teaching at various stages of the participant pupils' GCSE course. The aim was to observe effects of the broadly distinct teaching strategies, made contrastive by the presence or absence of explicit grammar-summaries delivered in English (as a concession agreed in the National Curriculum Non-Statutory Guidance to the policy outlined above). Data were gathered on both classroom processes and learning outcomes at various points, including final GCSE scores. Lessons and discussions were recorded and analysed, as were also regularly administered questionnaires. The pupils' MFL learning was closely and consistently monitored; their and their teachers' reactions were also considered and taken into account. All of the information which was accessed via such channels as these was collected by the researcher and entered systematically into her research diaries, of which she had 1 8 at the close of her three year action research project, namely 6 per academic year, therefore. These and some 55 filled audio cassettes became the principal material legacy of the practical investigation from which the thesis emerged. The research brought results. On the one hand, the historical study and the broader related reading provided the desired rationale on Modern Languages practice and the tenacious problem associated with teaching methods and the place of a grammatical agenda in particular. The historical MFL teaching tradition was illuminated as the matrix of the contemporary developments. On the other hand, the action research concluded its contrastive study of (implicit and explicit grammar) teaching methods by disclosing a perspective on the relative importance and value of the grammar-summary principle which had been investigated as a case study in her local departmental setting and in the GCSE context. The hypothesis that grammar summary conveyed in the native language might have made a significant difference to enhance the learners' performance was not substantiated. Finally, the evolving practical research disclosed a number of associated themes suitable for further research to benefit the work done in Modern Languages classrooms, especially in relation to the issues of methodology.