Considering the Potential of FonF in the Teaching of Russian

William J. Comer, University of Kansas and Lynne deBenedette, Brown University

Wong and VanPatten's recent article "The Evidence is IN: Drills are Out "argued against the necessity of mechanical drills in classroom language instruction. A response to that article written by Leaver et al. raised many objections to Wong and VanPatten's assertions, but this response never seriously grappled with the fundamental question: Do VanPatten’s Input Processing and Processing Instruction models hold any applicability for the teaching of Russian or other Slavic languages? Is the broad notion of Focus on Form (hereafter FonF) an applicable approach for the teaching of Russian? And if so, when? where? in what degree? and how? Indeed, the response article and Wong and VanPatten's follow-up highlight the critical need for our profession to look more soberly at the considerable research findings concerning these approaches and their classroom implementations.

Our presentation seeks to engage our field by examining the potential (and difficulties) that a FonF (Input Processing and Processing Instruction can be considered subvarieties of FonF) approach holds for the teaching of Russian. By FonF we mean pedagogical interventions where instructors first engage learners in making meaning of the language input before attempting to turn the learners’ attention to the linguistic features of the input (Doughty 1998). FonF, thus, stands in contrast to 1) Focus on Meaning (instructors engage learners only at the level of making meaning out of the language input) and 2) Focus on formS, which “always entails isolation or extraction of linguistic features from context or from communicative activity”(Doughty 1998, p. 3). FonF as an approach is not monolithic: there are significant differences among practionners, especially in the explicitness in their treatment of form. In the application of a FonF approach to foreign language instruction, most notable have been VanPatten’s models of Input Processing and the Processing Instruction (VanPatten 1996). Since FonF represents an entirely new paradigm for the teaching of Russian (we would assert that a focus on formS approach has dominated textbooks of Russian, especially at the beginning level of instruction), our presentation will include examples of instructional materials for various topics and levels that employ a FonF approach. We will also discuss the results of a preliminary study of their use in the language classroom.


Doughty Catherine and Jessica Williams, ed. (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge UP.

Leaver, Betty Lou, et al. (2004). “Apples and Oranges are Both Fruit, But They Don’t Taste the Same: A response to Wynne Wong and Bill VanPatten.” Foreign Language Annals, 37(1), 125-32.

VanPatten, Bill. (1996). Input Processing and Grammar Instruction in Second Language Acquisition. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Wong, Wynne and Bill VanPatten. (2003). "The Evidence is IN: Drills are Out.” Foreign Language Annals, 36(3), 403-23.

---. (2004). "Beyond Experience and Belief (or, waiting for the Evidence): A Reply to Leaver et al.'s 'Apples and Oranges.'" Foreign Language Annals, 37(1), 133-42.