One day, a colleague, Sarah, who was relatively new to the ESL teaching field, told me about two grammar questions that one of her students had presented to her. (*If you are curious, you can see the questions and my explanation at the end of this posting.) She said that after class, she had spent quite a bit of time searching for answers on the internet but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask me.
It turned out to be a fun interaction and a kind of puzzle for me to solve. On my drive home after classes that day, I realized that I was feeling great, but I didn’t think that there was any specific reason for it. A while later, I happened to come across some research that perhaps explained my exuberant emotion. And it had nothing to do with it being a Friday.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:
- Many of the Asian students were surprised at how much Westerners think about happiness.
- They enjoyed comparing with their classmates what made them feel good, and they realized that they were often quite different.
- Some students were surprised that some of their classmates actually were uncomfortable with the idea of feeling happy.
This and future discussion activities include four parts:
1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their own experiences about the topic.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different questions in the form of Student A, B or C.
About Discussion Activity 6: Happiness Is Not the Same in the East and West (and the handout).
A former ESL Writing student of mine was quite surprised by her English Comp class. She told me that her instructor isn’t concerned about the grammar in his students’ essays. At the same time, a common complaint by academic instructors heard around the campus at that college was that their (American) students had many grammar mistakes in their academic papers. In fact, the grammar skills of the students coming out of the English Comp classes were so weak that the Business Department decided to offer business writing courses that would deal with these grammar issues.
I decided to pursue this further by interviewing several English Comp instructors. In response to my question, “Why don’t you work with grammar in your courses,” I heard this, “Focusing on grammar will stifle students’ ability to write.” In a college newspaper, an instructor explained, “An exaggerated focus on grammar stops the development of engaging and complex ideas.”
That sounds like a straw man argument. Yes, if an instructor assigns a paper and tells students that they would write one draft and that their grade would be based on the quality of grammar in their paper, then students might overly focus on that rather than their ideas. But what professional instructor would do that?