EuroCALL 2002, Aug. 14-17

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The Harm Whole Language Has Done to Our Students
Grammar-less Curriculum Leaves Learners Incompetent

Blaze Ryan, with 30 years of experience as a language-arts teacher, believes that the students in her high-school Italian classes are being failed by a curriculum based on "whole language" concepts. She agreed to share his recent FLTEACH listserv remarks with the readers of ESL MiniConference Online in the following article. (Also read Lynn Dosch's counter-argument.)

About 10 - 12 years ago our system bought into the whole language approach to language arts. I felt from the beginning that this was going to be a disaster and was going to impact greatly on the students' ability to acquire foreign language skills. Of course, I was proven correct.

Now we are faced with the class of students who don't know what a subject pronoun, prepositional phrase or a nominative are. Can they communicate - yes, but only to an extent. Should we not be doing so much grammar? Perhaps, but anyone who has had to teach transitive vs intransitive verbs knows full well the problems that are encountered.

I would like to ask the members of this wonderful group how they handle some of these problems. I'm very tired of having to teach the English before I can teach the Italian. Some days I feel very sorry for the kids because I think we did them a great injustice. Yes we raised their self esteem by not correcting their grammar when they made errors, but I think what we created was a group of students who think very highly of themselves but can't put together a decent paragraph or essay. Oh for the days of the old Warriners grammar books!

By the way I was an English teacher before I became an Italian teacher so you can imagine how strongly I feel about this issue. Looking forward to hearing from many of you. I would be especially interested in hearing from some college instructors about how they feel about this situation.

Comment by Blaze Ryan
Shelton High School
Shelton, Connecticut

2002 ESL MiniConference Online