This is a follow up to a post here a few days ago. It is a lengthy post describing an online interchange between Lizette Liebold, who goes to great pains to represent the position of the Old Guard (preferring to stay with targets) of TPRS, and a response from Tina in defense of the current push toward non-targeted comprehensible input, which is more aligned with Krashen and especially Beniko Mason, and which can take the form of just talking to the kids, doing Story Listening (Beniko has a new book coming out on it) and the Invisibles.
Intuition is what drives this work. It is what causes the comprehensible input engine to rev up into what storytelling really can be, given the chance. If a story is to be interesting, new and exciting, then nothing in it can be planned. When we rely too heavily on lesson plans, not really getting into the loveliness of human conversation but planning all the time, we can’t ever experience the spontaneous nature of comprehensible input and all that it brings, because our intuition is left out of the process. We plan too much.
Hey Ben and Tina,
I wanted to check in with you both about the first two weeks of school. Feel free to share on the blog or not! A lot of this came out of a conversation I had with Tina last week about using the Invisibles with kids in poverty.
First of all, I have to say THANK YOU! I literally leave school everyday HAPPY and NOT STRESSED OUT! I was worried whether or not an untargeted approach would “work” with kids at my school. I’ve never done CI before, much less used untargeted structures, and I work at a very diverse but high poverty high school in Portland. Over the past two weeks, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of joy, buy-in and imagination any time we begin One Word Images. High school sophomores and juniors are arguing over who gets to be the artist and whether or not the pencil’s name is Dr. Phil or Jorge. From reading the blog I know others are also experiencing students’ excitement and joy surrounding this work. What makes this so remarkable to me is that this approach is reaching the population of students I serve.
A repost from 2013:
Intuitive teaching is about trusting the heart/intuition to bring more to the class than just mere intellectual discussion. Mere intellectual discussion does not bring fun, nor does it bring the heart quality, which in turn brings more learning and much bigger enrollments with happier kids in them.
In fact, teaching from a merely intellectual stance, where the teacher is a mere “deliverer-of-instructional-services” (Ted Sizer’s term) brings the opposite reaction from students – boredom. Failing to include the kids in a language class on a personal level with laughter and highly personalized discussion, both of which spring from the heart, results in spaced out kids who can’t get interested in class because the class is not about the only thing that they care about: themselves.
Look at Grant Boulanger’s powerful example of untargeted, unscripted student interaction:
Now ask yourself what would be lost in this beautiful human interaction had Grant’s intention been to say “needed to brush her teeth” over seventy-five times in the class. Indeed, it is obvious that Grant’s intention here is to get to know the kids in front of him and build community by weaving connections among the students.
Getting reps on targets is still an effective way to provide comprehensible input, it is just that it affects the quality of our interactions in the moment as human beings. Many people will still choose to do this work in that way. But some of us are ready to really, truly lean on the research that, if you dig all the way back to Noam Chomsky, teaches us that we really cannot be in control of what the kids acquire at any given moment. With that said, why not make connection and happiness and authenticity the goal, and let the targets emerge from the human beings in the room with us? Why not get the blinders off and shift our focus from mere language, mere targets that are, let’s be honest, chosen almost randomly from the vast pool of possibilities, to something much more valuable – short people who are quickly becoming the adults in charge.
In this new untargeted work, we must keep front and center in our consciousness that we still must absolutely shelter vocabulary and unshelter grammar. This TPRS mantra has been true for decades, though it is often ignored by practitioners, coaches and trainers, and it is still true in this vision of untargeting our input.
We cannot allow ourselves to become incomprehensible or we have lost the whole purpose of TPRS. Now, do we need to make sure that every single second, every tiny fragment and particle of language, is comprehensible? I have come to think not, and so does Stephen Krashen. Anyway, how can we really be sure that everyone is getting everything all the time? We cannot. Targets just make us feel like we are getting all of them all the time, because if we are so diligently sticking to them and pausing and pointing, it feels more structured, you can count the reps, you can even use a baseball counter like I used to do, you can feel the reps piling up in the kids’ ears.
This past year, in working with the untargeted storytelling approach with the Invisibles, in giving up the idea that I needed to start my stories with the classic TPRS list of three target structures, I found more happiness and ease in storytelling than I had ever experienced. And now I can’t not share. It is as if lightning struck in New Delhi and set my teaching on fire, and now I want to fan that flame until it lights up other classrooms, so that we can burn down the boxes we have put our stories in for so long – the boxes of targeted language.
Our PLC member Craig West has written a fine passage about language acquisition. It goes deep, very deep, and should cause each of us to wake up with a jolt and again assess how we are teaching:
My daughter is almost two years old. She’s just starting to really put sentences together. The other night we were laying there with her between us just enjoying the beauty of her little words. What a wonder it is. What a sweet thing to celebrate. We laughed and smiled celebrating this sweet little voice. It struck me how little celebration goes on in the classroom (most classrooms). We don’t sit back and celebrate natural development. We show no respect for the natural process. We don’t even give the natural process a chance. Every emergent utterance is scrutinized and picked apart according to modes, noun verb agreement, and all that meaningless high minded academic elitist mumbo jumbo. Where is the celebration? It is a sad thing to see a process that can potentially bring such joy minimized to a cold binary calculation.