I’ve had a lot of thoughts recently about what the role of conjugation charts is in my class. If we believe (I do) that verb forms are acquired as whole words rather than stem and ending (Bill VanPatten has a great, short read regarding this HERE) then the practice of filling out conjugation charts might be seen as a waste of time.
Conjugation is much more easily taught as vocabulary. Our brains store whole words, not stems and endings.— Bill Langley (@welangley) December 7, 2020
I’ve also been thinking about what does it mean to teach grammar as a concept, one of the Core Practices from ACTFL. What I typically do is introduce a new verb by using the third person singular and give some quick tips to help students comprehend texts.
Example: “Camina means ‘s/he walks’ Bob y Margaret caminan… OH, we have an ‘n’ because we’re talking about more than one person, we have an -mos because we’re talking about ourselves.” And do that with some other forms. If nothing else, it’s ‘teaching’ conjugation in a different (IMO an easier) way by focusing on WHO we’re talking about rather than memorizing a chart.
Recently though, I started thinking…
In my Mandarin class, it is really easy for me to feel comfortable trying to produce language because my teacher always has the supports on the board (And Mandarin grammar is easier because no verb tenses) but I want students in my class to feel they have the appropriate scaffolding, rather than waiting for me to have it come up because *I* say a new form.
We use word walls all the time to support students’ comprehension and production, so what if I viewed conjugation charts as a word wall to support comprehension and production rather than having students learn how to fill out a chart, and practice conjugation with fill in the blank, void of meaning discrete item practice?
More than anything, using a chart to support comprehension is easier for me. I don’t have to write out every form and it’s meaning. Though there is a little bit of explicit learning in how the chart works, I don’t view it as explicit grammar teaching. It’s explicit teaching of how a resource is used.
So I teach what a conjugation chart looks like.
|SHE/HE||THEY; YOU ALL|
So if we have one specific verb that we are using in discussion or a story, students have support to use new forms if they feel so inclined (Because forced output is a topic for another blog).
I’m not teaching this chart so that students ‘learn’ conjugation, and I’m not having THEM fill it out based on rules that they are ‘expected’ to learn. I am filling out the chart for them so that they have a resource while we are in discussion so they feel more supported to talk about themselves and others.
Then I can take what students say and circle it, rephrase it, or whatever to support the acquisition of that form for ALL students.