Formatively speaking…

TECHNIQUE 14:  Format Matters

tshirtWell, comma, then, comma; this next technique is truly an arbiter of high expectations.  I do like the fact that this section, intelligently discusses the matter of using poor grammar in all the wrong places; literally and figuratively.  Albeit morally, socially, or linguistically controversial the relevant point here is a well formed knowledge and ability to use language well, correctly and articulately is a means to Success.  Referred to in this section as “the language of opportunity” or “the language of college”; whatever one may refer to good grammar as, the expectation that it will be employed at all times in the classroom is the heart of this theory, and practice as well.  As foreign language teacher, some of the components of this technique seem very useful.  How to re-orient students’ grammar in the”second” language classroom requires a little less tact than correcting grammar in one’s native language.

This technique is comprise of three components:  Grammar Format, Complete Sentence Format, and Audible Format.  Here’s how they work!:

  • Grammar Format:  Two very straight forward means to correct an individual’s grammar:  Identify the error:  Repeat the error in an interrogative tone.  “We was walking down the street?”.   Or, Begin the Correction:  When the student makes a grammatical error, repeat or rephrase the statement in a grammatically correct fashion; “We were…..”, expecting the student to repeat and/or finish the statement.   This is very, very useful in the World Language classroom.
  • Complete Sentence Format:  I’m always striving, as a Spanish teacher to create the expectation that students reply in complete sentences.  They key is to set the expectation that responses must be in complete sentence format.  Here is a great example of how to “positively” reject the one word answer:
Teacher: James, how many tickets are there?
James:  Six.
Teacher: There are….
James:  There are six tickets in the the basket.
Or:    Teacher:  What was the year of Caesar’s birth?
Student:  100 B.C.
Teacher: ” Complete sentence“.
Student:  Julius Cesar was born in 100 B.C.
  • Audible Format:  To avoid “nagging”, with in the Format matter technique, keeping request, reminds, and the “re-set” simple is also key.  A one word cue should suffice.   Students’ responses are more valuable if their audience can hear them, their audience is more likely to respond and comment if they are audible, and what an individual says matters.  The teacher simply says, “Voice“.  This cue, if used consistently is an effective reminder for the student to be audible.

Format Matters‘ is based on an ethos of rigorous and high grammatical expectations incrow the classroom; what is written and said.  The technique is primly defined as: “Help your students practice responding in a format that communicates the worthiness of their ideas.”¹,(p.116).   Minus the sarcasm, I do feel that attitude and sentiment behind this deconstruction  of poor grammar is the idea that everyone deserves the opportunity to acquire language skills that truly represent that individual in the best possible manner.  As a foreign language instructor, the affirmation of learning grammatical structures correctly and the value of possessing excellent language skills makes excellent sense to me.  Here’s a quick video clip from Uncommon Schools, teacher Darryl Williams demonstrates the technique:

ethicpuzzThe three target categories for ‘Format Matters‘.  Grammar, Sentence, and Voice give the teacher to simple tools for “re-directing” grammar without implying that anyone’s language is not good enough.  Teacher’s, I believe, genuinely do not want to intentionally appear to be negative, judgmental nor disparaging toward students.  Inevitably there are issues of social and class “distinction” wrapped up in the modes through which people choose to communicate.  I love that this section points out that most people “know” what “college language” refers to;  Where and When factors largely into the type of language, formal or informal, that one uses.  It is up to the teacher to strongly insist that when students are in the classroom there is a certain expectation of language usage and the responsibility of the teacher to provide cues or assistance as to how to improve language skills.   Maintaining the expectation is the “big deal”.

Here is a video clip of a more expanded; I’d say more “aggressive” use of Format Matters in the classroom.  That being said; the expectation is transparent.  “No matter what you tell your students about how they speak elsewhere, making the determination to prepare them to compete for jobs and seats in college by asking them to self-correct in class is one of the fastest ways to help them.”¹, (p.118).








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