Holistic Grammar Through Socratic Questioning

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Holistic Grammar Through Socratic QuestioningAnnie K. Koshi City College, The City University of New YorkABSTRACT When teaching grammar to second language (SL) learners, teachers should takethe new direction of aiming at grammatical consciousness-raising. One way to achieve this is to have learners discover grammar rules inductively, the teachersjob being to facilitate this grammar discovery process by providing appropriate techniques. Socratic questioning is an effective technique for facilitating the discovery process. This article discusses an approach that uses Socratic questioning to instill grammar awareness in advanced, academically bound SL learners. The article begins with a short review o f the recent controversy of natural vs. formal (conscious us. unconscious) teaching/learning o f language forms. The second part discusses the theoretical framework of the approach. The third part explains the pedagogical concepts on which the approach is based. The linal part examines the approach in detail. The approach will help learners look at the study of grammar as a means to receive and share information-the purpose of academic language learning. Language is presented holistically-as whole-pieces-in the form of reading materials, not in isolated sentences. Paying selective attention to specific structural features in the reading material, students answer higher order, critical thinking (Socratic) questions, which help them discover relevant grammatical rules inductively. The outcome is grammar awareness, which will help learners extend their grammar learning beyond the classroom.Second Language Acquisition @LA) Theories and Grammar Teaching To teach or not to teach grammar is a dilemma that has faced second language and foreign language teachers for about two decades. The pedagogy of teaching grammar has been greatly influenced because o the dichotof mous theoretical concepts SLA researchers have introduced into the field. Some o them f are learning vs. acquisition (Krashen), explicit vs. implicit instruction (Bialystok), declarative vs. procedural learning (Anderson), controlled vs. automatic processing (Schneider, Shiffrin), capacitydemanding vs. capacity-free (McLeod, McLaughlin), conscious vs. unconscious learning (Rutherford, Schmidit, Sharwood Smith), and similar concepts. For the purpose o this article, 1 classify the fAnnie K. Koshi (W.D., Teachers College, Columbia f University) is Associate Professor o ESL at City College, The City University o New York. f

current theorists into two groups: naturalists and formalists. A key issue o debate among f these two groups o theorists is whether the f two dichotomies are completely different from each other or whether one converts into the other. Krashen (1981), a naturalist, maintains that the two kinds o knowledge are t e f tally different, and under no circumstance can learning become acquisition or explicit knowledge become implicit. Therefore, according to him, formal instruction in grammar is not helpful. Other naturalists, supporting Krashen, hold that formal classroom instruction, which promotes conscious, cognitivebased learningof grammar, is not useful because its effect is peripheral, fragile, and short-lived. No matter how intense the practice is, the learners take their own time translating the formal grammatical rules into their applied interlanguage rules. According to Krashen and his supporters, the only thing that counts is the amount o comprehensible f

Foreign Language Annals, 29, No. 3, 1996


input, which will automatically lead to grammatical competence. Formalists, on the other hand, argue that learning must somehow precede and cause acquisition, or that learning and acquisition at least overlap (McLauglin 1978). Long (1983 and 1988) argues that formal instruction facilitates acquisition. Schmidt (1990) argues that nothing in the target language input becomes intake for language learning other than what learners consciously notice. He rejects the possibility for adults o incidental learning, in f the sense o picking up target language forms f from input, when they d o not carry information critical to the task at hand. Sharwood Smith (1981) claims that explicit knowledge may aid acquisition via practice.

Holistic Grammar Through Socratic Questioning (HGSQ): Theoretical Considerations Holistic Grammar is defined as grammar presented holistically-in whole piece reading materials-in contrast to grammar presented through isolated sentences as in traditional grammar teaching. Socratic questioning, in the context o HGSQ, involves f higher order critical thinking questions, answering which help learners discover grammatical rules by paying selective attention to specific formal features of the language as presented in the reading materials. Holistic Grammar through Socratic Questioning (HGSQ) is eclectic in the sense that it integrates concepts from both formalists and naturalists. It operates within the following theoretical assumptions: 1. Sources of L2 knowledge cannot be divided into independent binary categories. Classrooms should provide opportunities for both acquisition and learning, both explicit/ declarative and implicit/procedural knowledge. The amount o comprehensible input, f meaning stretches o language containing an f understandable message (even when it is embedded in subject-matter content), is insufficient for learners to acquire all the grammatical forms for effective communication (Swain 1985). Input may or may not facilitate second

language development, since only a small portion o this input serves as intake (Scarcella f and Oxford 1992,36). 2. In the case o adult learners, especially f those interested in academic work, we cannot assume that grammar will simply emerge on its own, given sufficient input and practice. (CelceMurcia 1991, 477) For them, formal instruction in grammar is needed so that their output characterizes structural features acceptable to the academic world and the professional/corporate world outside the academy. 3. Formal instruction in grammar is as important as input, if not more so (Higgs 1984 and Higgs and Clifford 1982). Teaching discourse without reference to the accurate use o gramf matical structures is tantamount to encourag ing students to exhibit the +rhetoric/- grammar syndrome. In other words, students writing, though coherent, may be incomprehensible to native speakers because o morphosyntactic f errors (CelceMurcia 1990, 145146). 4. For acceptable output, adult learners need, in addition to comprehensible input, awareness of linguistic features-language awareness (LA). Recent empirical studies (Allen, Swain, Harley, and Cummins 1990) show that LA-based strategies are more effective than strictly grammar-based ones. LAbased activities can speed up the rate of learning while their absence can contribute to fossilization (Kumaravadivelu 1994,37). 5. When learned as a decontextualized, isolated sentence-level system, grammar is not very useful. Learners should be provided with the context of the discourse within which the grammatical system works. If we teach grammar without reference to discourse, our students will fail to acquire the discourse competence so vital for developing effective reading and writing skills (Celce Murcia 1990, 145). 6. Grammar tasks that focus on consciousness-raising rather than practice facilitate second language acquisition by providing both implicit and explicit knowledge about the structural features of the language. In the words o Fotos and Ellis: f



Grammar tasks which emphasize consciousness-raising rather than practice appear to be an effective type o classf room activity, and their use is supported by what is currently known about the way a second language is acquired (1991,623). 7. Grammar tasks that require learners to use discovery techniques are a very effective way to actively involve them in the learning process because they can be highly motivating and extremely beneficial for the students understanding o English grammar (Harmer f 1987,39). 8. Inductive learning facilitates retention, especially in adult learners. Cognitive research has shown that discovering rather than being told underlying patterns favorably affects retention (Shaffer 1989,401). 9. Students enjoy and prefer the experience o inductive learning because they find it chalf lenging, not threatening (Shaffer 1989 and Fortune 1992). 10. The process of incidental intake of grammar-picking up grammatical formsa byproduct of exposure to comprehensible input, is accelerated when tasks demands f force attention on relevant features o the input because intake is that part o the input f that the learner notices (Schmidt 1990, 139). 11. Adult learners will be able to automize or proceduralize (Ellis 1990, 95) their explicit/ declarative knowledge o L2 grammatif cal features if the instructors lead them through input enhancement (Sharwood Smith 1991) grammar activities that function as pointers helping learners to pay attention to specific grammatical features in the input and to notice the gap between these features and the ones they generally use in their output (Ellis 1993,91). 12. Selective attention to formal features o f the language acts as a catalytic agent in the f cognitive process o grammatical consciousness raising (Rutherford 1987; Rutherford and Sharwood Smith 1985), which is an important factor in Adult Second Language Acquisition (ASLA). ASL learners are in a better

position to comprehend the input when they are able to identify specific grammatical features that signal specific meanings. This is b e cause incidental learning of grammatical features is most unlikely to happen in ASL learners when the input does not carry information crucial to the task (Schmidt 1990, 149). Paying selective attention to language forms facilitates