This is an interesting repost from 2011. It reveals where we were then and allows us to see how far we have come in our thinking in the past five years:
Of all the unique things that Malcolm Gladwell has said, his idea that mastery of anything is no more complicated than doing something for 10,000 hours is possibly the most valuable. If we keep doing comprehensible input, we gain mastery of it slowly over time.
It is about beginning to see patterns. What is happening right now on this blog is that a certain mentality, a fractured one, has taken over the analysis and synthesis of Krashen’s and Blaine’s original ideas. We are looking at trees, thinking that if we cut enough of them down and make toothpicks out of them, our classes based on comprehensible input will work.
If we just wrestle enough of these trees down, then maybe we can say that we know how to do TPRS and then our kids will live up to the potential we know is in the method by gaining their own mastery of the language about 1600 times faster (Asher said this according to Susan Gross) than any other way, which I believe is true. At least 1600 times faster.
However, this is not true. We cannot live up to the massive potential that lies in storytelling by trying, for example, to read this blog and collect a bunch of activities, techniques that would fill our bag of tricks, becoming tools in the box (that’s a real phucked up term), etc. that would then make TPRS work for us.
Rather, we need to gain mastery over the forest and leave the trees alone. We need to relax into the knowledge that anything lying around our classroom is excellent fodder for great TPRS instruction – any little readings we happen to have, the Circling with Balls cards as described here in a previous blog post, the words on our Word Walls (nerf them), a Matava scripts book, a song, a textbook (yes, a textbook), anything.
We have to focus on the patterns of teaching using comprehensible input and stories, the forest, and not on the individual activities, the trees. We have to learn to take anything from the list above or from anywhere else (something that happens in the hallway) and follow a general pattern that makes any one of those things come alive for us in the classroom. It is not about a technique or an activity, it is about our use of the above things – how we use them.
The problem with the textbook needs to be addressed. Allison, a few days ago, asked about this, I think – how to interface TPRS/CI with the book. The implication has always been, for over ten years now, that it is somehow possible to put the two together. Karen Rowan got paid a lot of money by Realidades to actually write little TPRS segments into the book. Oh, really?
The way Karen got it wrong was that, by writing those little segments, she implied that teachers could just implement a short little “TPRS activity” into the lesson provided by the Realidades gods and how nice that would be to integrate them into the overarching plan of the book. Can’t be done. The book crushed Karen’s segments in the same way that putting an Indie car into a junkyard and telling to win would fail.
Instead, what Karen failed to do, because the book was a big Jabba the Hut suffocating any sprig of life out of any possible comprehensible input that might make its way into the chapter in the book, was to tell the Realidades folks that, if they want TPRS to work in their system, then the little chapters she wrote must be about 90% of the book and that the teachers using Realidades would have to dump 90% of the crap in the book and expand those little things Karen provided into 90% of the book, which didn’t happen.
One answer I was afraid someone would suggest to Allison’s question about mixing TPRS and the book was that someone would tell her, a la Susie Gross, to take the stuff in the book and just circle it. That is fine, but the same 90% ratio applies. If you take some part of a chapter in a book, as stated above, and circle it a little bit, it is just boring to the kids.
The strength of what we do lies in the terrific amount of personalization and storybuilding we create, not in circling some little thing and then saying we do TPRS, claiming that we mix the two methods. They can’t be mixed because when the high octane interest necessary for success with stories is absent, snuffed out, as described above, by the Jabba the Hut obesity of the book, then TPRS/CI looks like it is ineffective. When we capitulate to the idea that we can use TPRS/CI in conjunction with a book, we end up making what we do look small and ineffective. We shouldn’t do that.
This is really a statement, a testimonial, to the fact that there is nothing specific we can do in terms of activities/trees to make the general plan of CI instruction/the forest work for us. We must absolutely quit thinking in terms of the trees and set our minds to using anything laying around, as expressed above (the best example being Dirk’s nerf gun targeting of single words from his Word Wall), and learn to pick it up, breathe life into it, and become masters of CI in doing so. We do this by focusing on the forest, not the trees.