This is an important presentation that Beniko shared with us in France in 2016:
Going. Going. Gone.
The idea of novels is fading. We have worked too hard and for too many years to float those brick-like things. We have wanted from them more than they can provide. Do we ask young kids to read novels that are too hard for them? And the fact that nobody can seem to write a really simple novel is an indictment of the idea that it can even be done. So why in level one do we want to get kids reading so fast? And why in the upper levels do we keep pushing kids to read above their levels?
Our “advanced” kids aren’t advanced at all, if there is any truth to the idea that we need 10,000 hours (24,000 in Mandarin, Korean, etc.) to get command over a language. The whole novels thing is starting to implode under the weight of its own gnarliness.
I know that my time in New Delhi was not wasted, and not just because I was teaching in a classroom across the hallway from Linda Li, but also because right about the time the Invisibles happened, I also started initiating class with ten minutes (usually more because they were not feeling forced to do it) of free voluntary reading, now called Free Choice Reading, of the novels. What is that?
It’s where kids totally read what they want, without the straitjacket of the class process to make half of them feel stupid. It’s where high level kids can read way down to simple texts and low level kids can read way up to harder texts if they want. The key is that they get to choose the books that were laid out on the table as they walked in.
No tests. No classroom sets. No snow plow reading. No grades at all connected to the novels. Just FVR (FCR) as Krashen says to do it. Only limited amounts of four or five copies of each of the novels. No need to buy big class sets. (I only had five or so copies of each title available to me in my classroom in India, so only having four or five copies of each book turned out to be a good thing.)
We should do what Dr. Krashen actually recommends for FVR. We don’t do what Krashen says and it is costing us. In so many ways, we don’t really align with Krashen in this work with CI; we just say we do. That is due in part to our being in schools, I get that. But it’s not really an excuse.
Krashen didn’t do any research on the application of CI in secondary schools. There is none. The only research that I know of on CI in schools has been done by CI teachers doing the tough daily real kind of research in schools. We have ALWAYS pushed his ideas too far.
(Note: the Reading Options I recommend have nothing to do with reading novels, just to be clear. They are all about how to read stories.]
Dr. Beniko Mason is a professor at Shitennoji University in Osaka, Japan. She has known and worked with Dr. Krashen for over twenty years and fully embraces his Comprehensible Input Hypothesis. She is looked upon by many as the Dr. Krashen of Asia. In Agen last summer (see pic below), Tina and I were lucky enough to share breakasts with Dr. Krashen and Beniko during the week. We really got into talking about non-targeted/untargeted comprehensible input. The text below by Dr. Mason is in support of it. It’s an idea whose time has come, and is a source of amazement to me that the so-called TPRS “experts” out there today reject it. Their rejection is a scathing indictment of a mindset in our community that refuses to take a good look at new ideas and embrace them if they can but help even one child.
The very reason I was very curious about the effects and efficiency of the Non-targeted lessons was pure curiosity to find out whether what Dr. Krashen proposed was true. Then I realized that it was to contribute to the advancement of this field of language acquisition. But then I realized even more important was that if this was true we could save millions of children all over the world.
The theory claimed, “CI alone is sufficient.”
What a beautiful idea!
You don’t need a textbook; you don’t need a trained teacher; you don’t need money.
Once I was told that if a method is too complicated and only a handful of teachers can be successful with the method, then the method is not useful. Every teacher should be able to do it.
But what I am doing is nothing special. This is something every mother and father have done to their children.
Now, how could something that every mother/father have done be so effective and efficient for language acquisition?
Because that is how children acquired their native language and they are fluent speakers when they enter an elementary school.
I think they used to call it “Mother Talk”.
That is the goal of my teaching. I want my students to reach the level of the 3rd to 6th graders language proficiency level while they are with me. I am trying to provide as much CI as possible while they are with me in class and convince them to read at home as many pages as they can.
The goal of language education is to help them reach the high intermediate level (Krashen, 1997 or 1998: The Easy Way).
I have been to Thailand for about 15 years, and I went to Cambodia and Laos several years ago. Poor people live there. They have very little money. If these children could acquire English they don’t have to be treated badly and abused. They can find a job.
If a lot of people knew how to help these kids acquire English then there would be less suffering children.
All one needs is a thick storybook to go to a country like this and start telling stories to these kids day after day and then these kids will acquire English and they will be able to get a job at a hotels, restaurants, shops, and airports.. and other places. They may be able to go to school.
What I am doing is very simple. Just tell stories – that is all – nothing special – anyone can do it – so it will not sell – no business involved.
I learned all this from Stephen Krashen.
From Dr. Beniko Mason:
“The best way to improve in a foreign language is to do a great deal of comprehensible, interesting reading. The case for self-selected reading for pleasure is overwhelming.”
From Dr. Stephen Krashen:
“Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”
“Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”
“Language acquisition comes from input, not output, from comprehension, not production.”
“There is massive evidence that self-selected reading, or reading what you want to read, is responsible for most of our literacy development. Readers have better reading ability, know more vocabulary, write better, spell better, and have better control of complex grammatical constructions. In fact, it is impossible to develop high levels of literacy without being a dedicated reader, and dedicated readers rarely have serious problems in reading and writing.”
“The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.”
Maybe our kids need more of our human attention in class. Maybe they need, in class, to have a more personal relationship with us and with their peers. Maybe they need more human interaction and less language interaction going in our classes. Maybe we need to figure out ways to get our instruction compelling enough so that a real community forms in our classrooms instead of all of us accepting the old mantle of stressed out language teacher whose real goals are the ACTFL proficiency levels.
Screw the ACTFL proficiency levels. Screw circling. Screw target structures. Screw making our kids read books that they don’t want to read. Screw the idea that we can’t train young teachers without a lot of hoopla. And screw the old kind of PQA where the focus is only apparently on the kids and is really on tricking them into getting more reps on targets so that they will understand the story. They will understand the story because they are interested in it, not because we force them into conversing with us about three certain words of our choosing. No wonder PQA used to be such a pain in the ass for so many teachers.
Maybe we can use language in our classes as a bridge between people and not as a focus of study in and of itself. Maybe by undervaluing the pain our kids are in, acting like it’s not there, we are missing something. Maybe we need to stop jumping up on our high horses each day to think about how many words our students know and getting them to read so much when many of them have mostly only interacted with is a screen up to the point we get them. Maybe we need need to turn the word volume down.
I like the way Beniko Mason told me the other night in a skype call that if the kids at the end of the year don’t know enough words, they can learn more the next year. Maybe we are getting too carried away with the new TPRS/CI hot air balloon that we are forgetting why we are teachers.
One daughter crashed and burned in high school after middle school. She had hope, I remember, as a young teen, even though she didn’t fit the expected model out here where the Columbine shootings occurred. Mo told me that his hopeful middle schooler wouldn’t come out of her house as a high schooler because of the way she looked. He tried to talk some sense into her, as he said, but it didn’t work.
Maybe it’s because she was of a different ethnic background, or didn’t have the best skin, just didn’t have the cheerleader thing going on. I don’t know what happened. Mo told me it was a lot about the clothes she wore – not good enough. He said a lot had to do with the clothes thing. But then, Mo works in a grocery store, just an average Muslim American trying to make it like anyone else, so he can’t outfit his kids in what a lot of the other kids wear.