Saturday, January 19, 2013

That was sociocultural?

Back to this after talking about all the "person and number stuff," "information gaps," and structured input. Given the nature of Phase 1, we need to keep emphasising it, as people normally understand that "language" and "culture" are two different "things" which are "both" important. As we've said, people think that a hand-woven basket is part of "culture" while the word "basket" is part of language. In fact, both the basket, and the word are physical artefacts and "tools" passed down in the life of a community. It happens that when it comes to words and other physical artefacts, words are the far more crucial pieces of the culture, especially with their concepts attached, but even without. Just the sound form of "basket" is an amazing piece of "culture".  Thousands upon thousands of those phonetic forms (words as spoken and heard) work together to enable a community to be what it is.

So considering the Session 8 activities described a couple of posts back, and the structured input activities in the immediately previous post, let's think of how sociocultural these experiences were for us:

1) They were intensely interactive with a host person.
2) That person was playing with us in ways that let us grow. (The activities were game-like.)
3) We were increasing our familiarity with those key physical, "cultural" artefacts that we call words.
3) Our association of each word with a particular object, emotion, action etc. was participation in a specific host practice!
4) The nurturer determined the objects we talked about, such as parts of the town scene.
5) In nurturing us into using host-like person, number and gender morphology the nurturer was future nurturing us into host practices
6) The nurturer emphasised body language as well as spoken words.
7) In all of this, the nurturer was spending time (3.5 hours in this case)  interacting with us in our growth zone.

Angela and I sit there (straining our brains and) watching ourselves grow. It is satisfying. I hope the point that languaculture is not "language and culture" is gaining graspers. Growing participation means being nurtured into an ever-growing range of host practices in a rational, orderly, rapid, effective way. Most of the first practices we appropriate are words, which open the way into so much else, including understanding what host experiences mean to host people.

O.K., I'll admit that structured input can be dangerous. It can take over the wheel. In reality it is just a small portion of what we do. Andrew Farley, in his book on structured input, referred to in an earlier post, is a solid cognitivist, who talks in terms of "teaching...aspects of the language," in various ways including structured input. However, even with such his cognitivist orientation, he complains that, "...sometimes instructors demonstrate through the design of their lesson plans an unbalanced preference (almost an obsession) for teaching grammar to the exclusion of other aspects of the target language".

Still, in the GPA we use structured input (and input flooding and output flooding and "record for feedback") in strategic ways. In our opinion, though, it would be better to drop "grammar instruction" altogether and keep people growing across a broad front than to let grammar teaching re-occupy the driver seat.

We saw a case recently where someone was trying to do a "modified GPA" which to their mind meant requiring "learners" to study all sorts of grammatical facts that were, at the point they were presented,  irrelevant to anything going on in the Phase 1 activities at that point. I kept asking,   why that bit of grammar today? To what end? I hear the words of Sir Edmond Hillary: "Because it is there".