Need to Refocus – 4

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59 thoughts on “Need to Refocus – 4”

  1. Some in our group have been discussing the fact that the elephant in the room is the very idea of immersion, where immersion means a wall of language. Our TPRS teachers say that, while we don’t all even use stories all the time, we learned through the TPRS workshops how to deliver comprehensible input. Now we can do almost anything, even deliver a textbook reading, in a way that makes it comprehensible. TPRS was the magic key that showed us how to talk to the kids, and better, how to connect with them.

    1. All good points!

      Michele – TPRS does give us the skills to deliver comprehensible input to ALL students. When people ask me how they can do MovieTalk or get better at TCI, I say they have to get good at the TPRS skills and understand the 3-step process, which to me is:

      1. Establish meaning & TPR,
      2. Story,
      3. Read
      * and I say we PQA in any and/or all steps.

      I originally started that thread on ACTFL, because I was preparing myself for this conversation in my department and I wanted to know what to expect, what the best counter arguments were. I benefitted a lot from the thread on ACTFL. Before that first post, I did not know as much about Helena Curtain and I did not know the difference between topic and theme. If theme just means something to talk about – a meaningful and engaging context – then we have no problem.

      That was the other problem: no clear definition of “theme.” I still get the feeling that ACTFL wants a theme to be organized around “essential questions/enduring understandings,” which are always conceptualizations ABOUT language, but not questions/understandings necessary for language acquisition.

      Interestingly, there is also not a definition of “comprehensible input.” It was my Assistant Superintendent today, when I was showing him the 90%+ target language statement, that asked me: “And what do they mean by ‘comprehensible input’?” Well, I started that thread as well on the ACTFL listserv and so far only Robert and I have weighed in. I think that’s a better thread for us to get involved in!

      The original thread has placed more attention on teaching thematic units, but there is also the question of authentic resources. Seems to be the thought of many that authentic resources “motivate” and that we must prepare students to deal with less than comprehensible texts. It’s assumed that dealing with ambiguity is a skill that has to be taught. I don’t think anyone is saying that texts beyond someone’s level to read independently are BEST for acquisition. They’re good for other things. Or so many think. We know that our students are plenty motivated by the compelling and comprehensible input and that our time in terms of acquisition is best spent having them read language on their level rather than tackle incomprehensible texts.

      ACTFL and TCI do have a lot in common. They may not totally get what teaching with CI looks like, confusing it more with immersion and playing charades. I think even calling ourselves TCI teachers is offensive. Everyone is supposed to be teaching with CI and really everyone does do some of it, but to varying degrees.

      Certainly, we should always ask ourselves: “What would Laurie do?” before we respond. Our work with students and teachers is about building relationships and without that relationship built first, then there is little communication – our non-TPRS colleagues throw up their affective filters. I’m bad at this. I want to be intellectual first and I want people to just “get it” and I don’t want slow change. I’m lucky to have an Assistant Superintendent that also gets this. He told me today that the first thing I need to do is build a relationship with my colleagues. He told me to look at what they’re doing right and reinforce it and ask them more about it. And he’s so right. Exactly what a good TPRS coach does! I don’t think we can accomplish anything by arguing who is “right,” in fact we may have hurt our cause.

      Many already see us TPRS teachers as condescending and self-righteous. I responded to Bill Heller’s recent comment in a private email and I while I clarified some of his comments, I was not argumentative and I told him his students were lucky to have such a reflective and knowledgeable teacher. And here is some of what Bill wrote me. And he wrote me A LOT. You should all read this:

      “My contacts with members of the moretprs list have been without exception until today, unpleasant. . . I found its denizens to be obnoxious and condescending…the idea of “the 4%”, the snide references to “legacy methods”….I could go on and on. Picking a fight with Helena Curtain certainly didn’t help your cause. I know her to be one of the most smart, capable, generous and wise leaders in our profession. . . One major problem that you have is that, even among yourselves, you can’t agree on what the essential elements of your CI methodology are. When a criticism is levied, the response from the peddlers of materials and workshops is often to deny that the strategy being criticized is actually part of the methodology, even though other “authorities” advocate that strategy in print in the listserv. What are the essential tenets of CI? For example, Waltz rails against personalization. Others say it’s necessary. . . I don’t doubt the positive results that some practitioners claim. Students are successful within the context of what they are asked to do. . . The bottom line is that acting like a persecuted minority on a national stage by attacking ACTFL, Helena Curtain and Shrum and Glisan and using snide and condescending terms like “legacy methods” is not endearing you to be considered as sincere actors in a professional endeavor. The fact that many of the biggest authorities (Gaab, Gross, Ray, Waltz, Slavic, etc) are peddling readers, workshops, guidebooks and other services, doesn’t help the image of TPRS as snake oil sold from the back of a bandwagon. . . Even co-opting the term CI from Krashen to give an air of “gravitas” to the method is distasteful to me in that you don’t really do CI as i + 1 as articulated in the Monitor Theory. . . I’m sure that when you read my objections to TCI that you’ll respond that I really don’t understand TCI, but, I think I understand enough of the evolution of TCI and the current practices to know that it’s something I cannot endorse. . . Thanks for giving me my first non-negative professional interaction with a TPRS person. That’s something.”

      This is most definitely how a lot of people feel towards us. And I think that is a completely appropriate response. In the rest of his email he certainly got a lot of things wrong about what we do in TPRS, but in general, he is very well-read and does get a lot of stuff right about what we do.

      Many will say: “Let the results speak for themselves.” If someone gets the proficiency result in one way, even if not with TCI/TPRS as we are calling it, then just because they’re not doing TCI as we do it, doesn’t mean they are “wrong.” That works with me. My response to that is that we need much better assessments of pure language acquisition – e.g. the NYS Regents is also much about guessing and by the nature of being a multiple choice test it means that test-taking strategies influence the results. (I liked Hastings’ interpretive assessments that are all “yes” or “no”).

      We must remember, and I wrote about this in the article on Paul Nation – we do MORE than teach with CI. We do actually include some language/form-focused learning and meaning-based output. When we translate and pop-up any grammar, then we are focusing on form, even if momentarily and even if not for the purposes of practicing and correcting. As students get more CI, our students do spend more and more time speaking. Many of us do have our students write. Again, we do MORE than teach with CI. I’m not sure what to call us anymore.

      And we must remember that our colleagues have plenty of researchers to point to in order to defend their practice. We align with 1 line of research (actually as pointed out above, we align with more than 1 line), but we cannot say that we are a research-based approach and theirs is not.

      Furthermore, just to play devil’s advocate: the CI we deliver is so slow, translatable, and repetitive, that it can be argued that our students are focusing on more than just meaning. They can understand so well, that they can actually absorb form and meaning. A cognitive psychology explanation would say that the student doesn’t waste all attentional resources on abstracting the meaning and thus can devote attention also to form.

      And I don’t know how you could ever test this. That’s one of the strongest criticisms against Krashen – how to test the acquisition/learning distinction – we can’t get inside of a student’s head and ever know for sure if he’s relying on acquisition or learning. We can’t know for sure if that student isn’t doing some induction. Also, there is the circular argument as many have written – fluency must come from acquisition and therefore acquisition is what leads us to fluency (Lightbown & Spada, 2006) OR “anything that brings you to acquisition must be comprehensible input and therefore comprehensible input is whatever leads us to acquisition” (Kavanagh, 2006). Think about the reading studies taken to support Krashen’s theory. You can just as well conclude that extensive reading of easy texts allows a person to focus on form and meaning.

      That still doesn’t change the fact that 98%+ comprehensible input is the key ingredient allowing learners to focus on form and meaning, which may mean we get 2 for 1 and explains why this approach is more efficient. But we can’t be sure that the success of CI is because of focus on meaning or focus on form. Right??

      I’m reminded again that the best way to spread our version of TCI is to have people just come and observe a class.

      1. Good point about why ACTFL uses the term themes in the first place, Eric. Such a term is sufficiently vague to allow teachers to teach with little to no comprehensible input. It gives them license to teach as they want. Your initiative there really set them back on their heels to at least be challenged about what the term means. I still think that MOST of the members of ACTFL, on a good day, use CI in the way we mean it (95% of the time or more in each class) not at all. They may use the TL 50% of the time in a few classrooms, but across the board, and this is what is such a loss for all those literally millions of kids, most of the teachers we were just talking to probably use the TL under 25% of the time and even that, as per points made here this morning, is not really comprehensible. I like Michele’s image of immersion as a wall. That’s what most of them do, bless their 20th century hearts. That’s why it was good that you started that new thread on the ACTFL list, but it won’t get the attention, because they seem to respond more strongly to perceived threats than to positive collegial discussion about this elusive term comprehensible input. They don’t have a clear term in their word themes and they grossly misuse the term comprehensible input, and this includes the vast ELA world, and that is an embarrassment to our profession, and an insult to the greatness of the work Krashen has done, which has led to such fantastic things in our own classrooms.

      2. Someone called what we do “targeted comprehensible input” and maybe that’s more appropriate than “teaching with comprehensible input.” Of course, you could argue, how can you do the latter without the former without significantly more instruction time? But that is precisely what Krashen recommends: non-targeted CI.

        If the difference between our version of CI has to do with the degree of “comprehensibility” and we agree that we maintain “translatability” then maybe we should be calling it “transparent comprehensible input” – still “T.C.I.”

          1. Last year (2013) at NTPRS, Sabrina and I asked Krashen about i+1 and it’s relations to writing on the board and absolute translatability. Basically about whether it was i + 1 if everything was completely transparent. He said that students should have the illusion of complete transparency. It should feel totally transparent to them even if some of it hasn’t fully clicked in yet. This seems to be what he’s going for, and lines up nicely with his ideas of reading where students pick up more and more knowledge of a word from repeated encounters. I question Bill Heller’s interpretation of i + 1, but am not going to fight that battle right now.

          2. Couldn’t agree more. When people at my demos– in German– get lost, you can FEEL the air going out of the room. There is ZERO point in ambiguity, guess, etc, at least during aural acquisition. For reading– where you can pause or go back– a bit of “noise” IMHO seems ok.

          3. I like Nathaniel’s comment that it’s i+1 if they can comprehend it, but couldn’t produce it. That means it may be recognized, maybe receptively acquired, but not productive. That goes for grammar and vocabulary.

            I’m sold that translatable/targeted is better than the feeling that it’s comprehensible. That’s way too fine a line to walk between feeling comprehensible and simply not understanding. That ambiguity would work itself out over time, but we don’t have time! Since we generally don’t speak with words we didn’t at some point establish meaning/point and pause, we may not be requiring word meaning to be learned incidentally (acquired), but there are a lot of aspects of knowing a word that ARE being acquired. In fact, I think the quick translation/gloss is truly a way to make comprehensible the tons of input that follows. In that way, we are ALSO getting word meanings acquired, not learned!

            I think the cognitive attention-based explanation I gave from Mangubhai is something I am going to start including when I explain our work. When things are so easy, below our level, then meaning is easily processed and there’s resources left over to process form. Still happens unconsciously. If this perspective were correct, it would mean that the input needs to be EASY so that students can absorb meaning and form. It’s why reading should be of texts BELOW a students’ level. It’s how our slow, translatable, repetitive input helps kids acquire accuracy!

            But this explanation does allow that some knowledge of form could help, could make the input more comprehensible, i.e. pop-up grammar. It’s the same idea as establishing meaning for a word. It skips over the ambiguity. This is what Rod Ellis called the weak interface theory (Krashen believes in the non-interface).

          4. That is a neat article. The most interesting thing to me: reading took a LOOONG time before it produced output gains. So if a department wants to optimise acquisition, they should start doing a LOT of fvr right away…by level 4 its effects will kick in.

            Also interesting– “easy” readers = bigger gains (Joe Neilson of Arizona knows this).

      3. I might investigate Mr. Heller a bit more than you have. You might be surprised. (I get your point, but this guy has been incredibly provocative historically. Don’t use him as your dipstick.)

        1. You are right Jody.

          27 little kids bouncing off the walls couldn’t get me to quit.
          Yet Mr. Heller’s discouraging remarks years ago, made digging ditches look like a more desirable job to me.

      4. Here’s what I meant by playing devil’s advocate. . . I just included Mangubhai’s (2001) alternative explanation for the effectiveness of CI in the “What is CI really?” post to ACTFL. I don’t have any idea how this alternative has been received in the field of SLA. I wanted to share it, because those people who may disagree with Krashen, maybe find this non-Krashen explanation more agreeable. And then, maybe they’ll do more TCI!

        “The argument is based on cognitive psychology, more particularly the role of attention, claiming that second learner learners can focus on the language once comprehension is relatively easy and therefore does not take up all the attentional resources. . . the greater the frequency of the occurrence of a linguistic item in the input the higher the probability it will be noticed. . . it might be possible to infer from the results of reading programs that readers do attend to form once it is relatively easy to extract the meaning.?

        “If we take a more cognitive approach to SL learning and accept that learners process input for meaning before they process it for form (VanPatten, 1996) and that such processing can take place only if there are attentional resources available, then the first three factors mentioned above would suggest that attentional resources would have been available to many of these students because of the relative ease with which meaning could be extracted. One could argue that in the Canadian immersion context there would also have been numerous instances where the easy extraction of meaning would have left learners with attentional resources that could have been devoted to processing the form. But the evidence suggests that either (a) they did not, or (b) there were insufficient number of such instances to have made an impact upon their grammatical competence to the extent that researchers were looking for.”

        From: Book Floods and Comprehensible Input Floods: Providing Ideal Conditions for Second Language Acquisition

      5. “my first non-negative professional interaction with a TPRS person”

        Well, Eric, based on this quote I can only surmise that the non-negative part must have proceeded from you.

        His non-snide references and non-condescending remarks left me wondering what he was talking about. All I can figure out is that I am one of the obnoxious and condescending denizens who have picked fights with the wise and generous Curtain, supported the attack on ACTFL and the snake oil paddlers, and assisted in the co-opting of Krashen’s CI. There is nothing like a word of encouragement to goad me along as we start term 2 on Monday.

        1. Nathaniel, if any adjectives did NOT describe you, it would be THESE!! haha — you’re a hoot! Have a great Term 2!!! (I’m trying to get fired up for it….Term 1 was so incredibly HARD!)

      6. you don’t really do CI as i + 1 as articulated in the Monitor Theory

        What does this mean? Is it based on some idea that because we want to be fully comprehensible (using L1) that we are not doing +1? As I understand it, +1 is the area in which there is comprehension (CI) but not competence (output). It is our job as teachers to ensure this comprehension. After all, acquisition is based on comprehensibility of the input, we are the primary providers of input, it thus befalls us to strive to make our input comprehensible at a level above the students’ competence. Krashen suggests (The Natural Method, 1983) using questions and statements to which students respond with actions, gestures, yes/no, either/or choices, one-word answers, and eventually, longer utterances. This is not gravitas. It is following the advice of the theoretician, even though it requires venturing into unknown waters and learning skills which were never modeled for us in or our own language journeys. If he finds that distasteful, it is not my duty to adjust my course in response to his subjective experience.

        Ricardo Schütz explains: “For example, if a learner is at a stage ‘i’, then acquisition takes place when he/she is exposed to ‘Comprehensible Input’ that belongs to level ‘i + 1’. We can then define ‘Comprehensible Input’ as the target language that the learner would not be able to produce but can still understand. ”

  2. So true Michelle. So true.

    Through the TCI lens one can spin just about anything into a “comprehensible input” class.
    I had heard of the “magic key” at conferences ( and boy did it take me a long time to find it).

  3. Exactly. I have been reluctant to join in on the Thematic Units discussion because I (gulp) seem to use them myself. My CWB this August in level 2, “Where did you go last summer?” segued naturally into my collection of stories about travel, which led naturally to a few stories about asking people out on dates. Now we’re reading a novel, and those target structures are showing up constantly in a new context.

    I do the same (though less elegantly) in my lower-level classes. Collections of stories revolving around shopping or chores. Sometimes it’s so my students will be able to understand a novel or a Senor Wooly song, sometimes it’s just because that’s what my department has decided should be taught in a certain level. Is that a bad thing? I like sticking to a theme because it’s easier for me to build up and recycle vocabulary that way.

    1. Erin, it isn’t that doing a “thematic unit” with essential questions or whatever is inferior, but that it’s possible to also teach in a more thematic-independent way and see at least equal gains in acquisition. Then again, depending on how we define “theme” the 2-week cycle could be considered our “thematic unit.” This point was hard to make, since I was also presenting arguments against the use of thematic units.

      1. Thanks, Matthew!

        I know we are refocusing and I was ready to take what Matthew said and call it “game over,” but I could see that Terry wasn’t.

        I did more thinking and I made another post. Hopefully the reflection I give at the beginning can soften the discussion. And hopefully I have shown that at least 1 definition of thematic units, that definition often understood by teachers and administrators, does not apply to what many of us do in TPRS/TCI.

        1. Yeah for me it’s simple. I don’t argue with drunks. And in my own opinion too many of the ACTFL posters in that thread have the word erudite stamped across their foreheads but can only reach kids at the college level or in privileged high school settings. They probably wear lots of tweed. I am describing a lot of people.

          I think Piazza wears lots of tweed, and some of those other Latin Kings, so that may not be the best thing to say there, but I think I made my point.

          Their take on CI is in my view incomplete and their definition of and interpretation of Krashen is flawed to suit their own interests. They use far less of the TL in their classrooms than is suggested by the ACTFL 90% Use position statement. They often intimidate the army of new teachers, like our Angie, that is now coming into the profession asking some pretty hard questions.

          They also shame kids who don’t like to memorize. They use the term comprehensible input but do not honor its actual meaning. I make no apologies to anyone on these points. They are my opinion and I very well could be wrong on every point I make. But I think that many of the ACTFL people are hypocrites sans le savoir*, and in the very worst way. What way is that?

          It is when you say to someone (us) that they understand their position but reject it without fully knowing what it is. That is real hypocrisy. At best, they have drawn false conclusions based on insufficient information. They do not get the simple fact that in order for acquisition (vs. mere learning) to occur, the unconscious mind of the learner must be fully engaged.

          Should I go post this over there, Eric?

          *ignorance is not an excuse when children’s self esteem and hope in life is crushed by one’s bias and pride.

          1. I get what you are saying, Ben. And I agree that most don’t come close to aligning with ACTFL. But saying that only pokes the ignorant bears lurking on that listserv.
            Let’s see what is to come of those threads before we scare people away with the “u” word.

          2. Eric if acquisition is an unconscious process and all we need do is talk to the kids in a way that they understand, letting the unconscious mind do all the work as it processes and integrates the new language system during sleep and without the need of any conscious analysis whatsoever (that’s the way it works), then why not take that discussion to them? By starting the new thread about what comprehensibility means, you have invited the unconscious discussion anyway. But they haven’t responded. Are they really afraid of that discussion? These are professionals in language acquisition who are partly responsible for the mental health and self confidence of millions of children, and when they keep everything in the realm of the conscious mind, they hurt children by dividing their classes into haves and have nots. The discussion about how acquisition is unconscious can’t be avoided now. They have to consider the social justice piece and how their students actually acquire languages. When they interpret a child’s not understanding them as a failure on the part of the child, that they are lazy or whatever, they make a serious social error, a colossal one. The public has entrusted their tax dollars to them with an expectation of a return on their investment, and yet has received very little in return. Those teachers must be brought over to a creative discussion about the role of the unconscious mind in language acquisition, so that children can actually learning something, or the entire thread will have been just a waste of time, a lot of yammering about nothing. The silence and lack of any response to the new thread that you and Robert have started is, in my opinion, deafening.

          3. I think I misunderstood. I thought you wanted to make those comments to the thematic unit/authres thread. You should go to town about talking about the unconscious on the new, What is CI thread!!!

            There is something about the word “unconscious” that is hard to grapple with. Somehow calling it implicit learning probably gets more nods of agreement. Yet, they are the same thing! . . . so, bring in Krashen and show everyone what Krashen’s implications really mean. I already gave a cognitively oriented explanation, which includes some focus on form (unconscious or not) – somehow this second explanation is probably more comforting, especially since it says focus on form has a role and that is what every ACTFL teacher has probably always done.

            By the way, just checked, and Engracia has responded. She essentially says nothing about CI. Her response is meaningless and I cringe to see Krashen being referenced and surrounded by talk of student practice, textbooks, and flipped classrooms. These people on the ACTFL listserv can’t even give relevant responses!

            The ACTFL people aren’t up to a conversation about what is CI, because they just don’t know.

          4. Ben, I think you’d be pretty proud of my most recent comments.


            Tap your feet together and repeat 3xs: “Unconscious! Unconscious! Unconscious! Takes us home, back to where SLA always belonged.

            I feel bad for Engracia. Her comment so clearly captures how little she understands about SLA. I decided not to directly address her.

          5. I just posted again on this thread. While throwing Engracia a sop (yes, she genuinely fails to get it), I hope I sufficiently answered the “responsibility of the learner” aspect and re-framed the question so that it requires a bit more specific feedback.

            For those who aren’t yet on this one, Eric has been asking about what constitutes Comprehensible Input. Engracia took a sidetrack to talk about her wonderful method of making students responsible for their own learning by doing research, pair and group work, practice, and produce. I reframed the question as “What does the learner need to do to acquire the language when we know that the most important element in acquisition is comprehensible input?” My answer is basically “Pay attention”.

            I also spent some time defining CI and talking about the teacher’s responsibility. I hope this goes somewhere but fear that Eric and I will be the main contributors.

          6. Thank you, Robert. We can continue to have the conversation between ourselves and along the way there will be teachers who read it and educate themselves more about what CI means. And I think it was good how you incorporated what Engracia said, even if she didn’t mean it in the same way, haha. But that makes her feel good I’m sure and keeps her part of the discussion. Even when we make rationale arguments that destroy stupid comments, it probably looks to some like we’re being jerks. Then, they stop hearing what we are actually saying, no matter how logical.

            The last paragraph from my 1st paragraph speaks to the learner’s responsibility:

            “The greater the interest, the greater the attention the students place on the comprehensible messages being delivered. CI is not sufficient. The students can zone it out and not make the attempt to understand the message. That fact means we have to change how we try to reach our students with CI (personalize the content) and change what we expect from our students. We expect them to make eye contact, we expect them to signal verbally or nonverbally when they do not comprehend, and we expect them to answer the easy yes/no, either/or questions that serve as comprehension checks.”

            Besides saying that compelling makes the CI more effective, it may be, as Krashen suggests, necessary. It may be part of the C in CI. If not compelling, it may not be comprehended, even if heard.

            Good points, Robert about all CI not being created equal. And good points about the necessity for a flexible curriculum.

          7. By the way, to demonstrate to my students the importance of CI, I gave all my middle schoolers a pep talk last week:

            “What is the one thing necessary for you to get better at a language? . . . You have to understand what I’m saying when I speak Spanish. That’s all you have to do to get better. It’s that simple. Every time you understand me you can get better. So, what has happened is that some of you have understood me every class and have improved like this [I gesture a steep line], some of you have understood some of every class and have improved, but less [gesture less steep line] and if you are not understanding much, then your line would look like this [gesture almost a flat line]. Over time, what this causes is a larger and larger gap between those who can do a lot in Spanish and those who can do much less. I do everything I can – act, draw, speak slowly – but I can never be completely sure how much you are understanding. That is why you really need to signal when you’re not understanding.”

          8. Robhert said:

            …I hope this goes somewhere but fear that Eric and I will be the main contributors….

            I hope it does too. Eric is spot on with this comment:

            …I cringe to see Krashen being referenced and surrounded by talk of student practice, textbooks, and flipped classrooms….

            I have to keep with my most recent position on that thread that I won’t argue with a bunch of drunks and it is in my own best mental health to withdraw from that discussion. It’s really mentally and emotionally exhausting to read on that site. But I think it was Eric who said that we don’t know who might be reading and be emboldened to self reflect on what they are doing, and so in my opinion those who are still able to battle should do so. So better you than me, Robert and Eric. The problem is that I keep thinking about it. I want to go publish some of the fifteen pages I have written but not posted there. I am going to contribute in the next few days by repeating what David (Sceggel) wrote toward the beginning of the thread. His point was so good that they were forced to totally ignore it, giving it not one response. I think that anyone who can add anything to support Robert and Eric, please do so. Something is happening over there in that discussion and I don’t think we know what it is. But it’s big and it’s about change, and Robert and Eric have probably accomplished much more than they think in the past few weeks with those ACTFL people. It’s just not apparent right now, is my guess. In my experience I have not see such an event online involving this many (thousands of) teachers, and we gave as good as we got. Heck, we gave a lot better than we got. All those scholarly research dudes faded out real fast. They had no choice. They had been smacked down by the Jackal and the Bear.

          9. The ACTFL thread just keeps getting more and more interesting.

            After reading Eric’s and Robert’s most powerful posts yet all my years of struggle and fear are justified.

  4. Any time that we allow an organization to frame the question, acquisition loses. Acquisition is not the provenance of a textbook, a language organization, a State Board of Ed, A district office, or any set of sacred standards. Acquisition is always framed by what the student of the language can understand right now.

    One may look at that and see a theme. Excellent. One may look at that and not see a theme. Excellent. Was there acquisition? Were there understandable messages? Really, these are the driving questions. What was the experience? Not, at all, in any way, what were the ideas. This whole food fight has largely been about ideas. Refocus now on what will happen between us and our students tomorrow. If nothing really happens, who cares whether you call it a theme or not?

    1. “Acquisition is always framed by what the student of the language can understand right now.”

      Great perspective, Bob. Refocus has a way of simplifying things.

  5. Did anyone read Victoria Gilbert’s response to what Matthew wrote? This is key. She interpreted what he said to mean simply that she gets to do what works for her and her students without defining what that is. It shows that some of the ACTFL teachers on that list are very capable of taking anything said there and making it fit their own ideas of what the term best practices means. “Best practices? Oh, it’s what I do, since I am the best teacher in my building/district/state.” There is a lot of ego that is having the effect of distorting a lot of thinking on that thread, and Eric’s question has received no answer and not a peep out of Helena Curtain. (Did she respond to your, Eric?)

    1. So, Helena never responded to me. But she did meet with Alisa and Alisa shared with me pieces of that conversation. You know, if someone were to tell me today there is a new way, a new theory of SLA, a new method that is really working, then I’d want to know. And I’d be willing to give up everything I’m doing if I felt it was better. But that is who we are. That is why we have chosen TPRS/TCI.

  6. V. Gilbert is an elementary teacher. She’s the main contributor on Ñandu online forum (NNELL). It’s basically for Helena Curtainistas. As far as I can read inbetween lines, V. Gilbert (aka Tori) does not understand C.I. She mentions it but clearly does not own it.

    Past winter a lower school teacher was describing on the forum the chaos in her classroom.
    She had followed Helena Curtain’s recipe step by step and no matter how she mixed the ingredients the cake came out flat. The best advice she got was to go to a TPRS conference asap.
    Guess Tori and Helena must come to realize that we prefer farm to table. Fast food isn’t good in the long run, as I think Terry Waltz mentioned somewhere.

    I also noticed that NECTFL, another major national FL conference, has been cancelled for 2015.
    They need to re-think and do their homework. (Il était grand temps.)

    1. People keep saying there are flaws in the research I quoted. They better go read my response, which includes a quote from Paul Nation. There are always flaws. And the flaws of only ONE study were pointed out. I think there were SEVEN studies cited, all replicating the same interference effect!
      Besides research, I listed many more compelling reasons for why teaching topics has problems, some of which can also be problems for thematic units.
      And just because we haven’t shown thematic units to have flaws, just because thematic units may be effective (in comparison to what?), that does NOT show they are the SINGLE BEST OPTION !!!

      I had already responded to Victoria and the books she cited – it’s all from CLIL, not a FL program. Did she not read that?

  7. James,

    This was the original question by a desperate teacher on Ñandu Feb.17 2014 (copied and pasted).
    You may be able to find it in the archives of the Ñandu online Forum.

    “Subject: [nandu] S.O.S from a Spanish teacher”
    “Hola! I’m in need of some feedback and I’m probably not the first one to hear this. I’m in my 2nd year of teaching and starting a Spanish program at an elementary school.I was not given a curriculum and basically started from scratch. I often use this forum and others for ideas on lesson plans and always try to bring a fresh presprective. The students are on a 6 day rotation and see me for 50 minutes and have never had Spanish before. I’m at a crossroads and starting to see some unhappy kids. From reading books in Spanish I get “please read English,” to kids who don’t understand why they are having to take Spanish etc. I have a 3rd grader who constantly tells me that she’s bored despite the lessons having elements of video, chant, movement etc. I had another student today say they want to be able to have conversations in Spanish. Even though I give them ways to practice the langauge in the class. I’m not a worksheet teacher and love working with the mimeo board, you tube videos and love using pictures. I think I’m doing the right things but something is not working and I’m tired of creating what I think are scaffoled lessnos that backfire. I’m feeling worn out and in need of some motivation and suggestions from my peers.
    How do you respond to these kids?”

    This teacher got maybe 10 responses, mostly clichés. 2 0r 3 teachers suggested going to a Blaine Ray workshop asap.

    If anyone is interested in the responses I can copy+paste them here or send them to you privately James.

    1. Wow, awesome. She is describing basically what we all know from experience those Curtain-style classes are like.

      lol I love how that elementary school kid realized that the teacher’s “ways to practice the langauge in the class” are totally different than real “conversation.”

  8. I like what I think I hear Eric repeating time and again…that what we are advocating is equal legitimacy for a text-based curriculum (i.e. stories, readings, MovieTalk) that is not necessarily thematic but rather follows high-frequency vocabulary and responds in a customized way to each group of students. The students’ ideas are used to create stories. Their lives and cultural knowledge (i.e. Robert’s Harry Potter discussions) become the basis for authentic communication. What I keep coming back to as I struggle to fit into the Thematic Units expectation is this thought: What is the goal for a language student? What do they do in advanced level class? They don’t still need to recite the rooms of the house or all their body parts. No. What you do eventually is study texts. Stories. Books. Articles. Films. So why not start with texts? Simpler, more customized texts that eventually, slowly grow into authentic texts. This approach, I think, deserves to be officially recognized for its legitimacy and efficacy so that those of us who are trying to begin our careers with it can focus on the practice with the confidence that we have a professional community that supports us.

    1. What is the goal for a language student? What do they do in advanced level class? They don’t still need to recite the rooms of the house or all their body parts. No. What you do eventually is study texts. Stories. Books. Articles. Films. So why not start with texts? Simpler, more customized texts that eventually, slowly grow into authentic texts.

      These words of your, Angie, hit home for me in all the work we do to help our students decode and read from the beginning of the school year at level 1.

  9. We wonder (and doubt) whether many who say CI have thought about the ramifications of CI. A common theme on this blog is that we struggle with CI. We remind each other that we need sufficient I, and that it must be fully C. We confess our shortcomings. Our I is too out of bounds to be C. Our I is too fast to be C. We did not write our I on the board with the English gloss to maintain C. We did not pause in our delivery of I and point to the written C=I to allow sufficient processing time for our spoken I to become C in the mind of our students. We resolve to teach to the eyes of our students to see if our I has become C, and to pause, persevere and clarify until we see their eyes light up with C. We recommit to ask What does this mean? to verify that our I has resulted in their C. Then we lose sight of our task. We try to take our I to a conclusion, to finish our point, and we lose track of their C. And so it goes, as we struggle to keep our two steeds–our I and their C–running in tandem, our steed slightly ahead of theirs, not breaking harness.

    Every day we step away from the external conflicts that we face as we discuss what we are doing with those who continue in the grammar-based way, or the output-based approach, or the “eclectic method.” And we go into our classrooms and face the personal battle, of keeping our I in harness with their C.

  10. …this approach, I think, deserves to be officially recognized for its legitimacy and efficacy so that those of us who are trying to begin our careers with it can focus on the practice with the confidence that we have a professional community that supports us….

    Angie’s comment speaks to a topic I cannot remember as having yet been discussed here as a specific talking point. It is the idea that young teachers just coming into the profession have heard very little of anything meaningful in their methods courses in graduate school about comprehension based instruction.

    Why this distant-cousin-who-lives-in-an-insane-asylum label? How did this happen? Why is Krashen so marginalized in the professional community and especially among those who teach graduate students? Few emerging teachers even know of Krashen, and some never heard of his work at all. If they have heard his name, it has been presented to them in a distorted way.

    A graduate student at Metro State University in Denver worked with me for a semester a year ago as part of a practicum program. His advisor was reticent to allow him to even pursue the CI approach, but he insisted, and he was good at it.

    When this advisor came out to observe him as a mid-term grade, he taught well for ten minutes but then crashed and burned (after CWB when a potential story was apparent) so I asked if I could finish the lesson. It turned out to be one of the best stories I remember doing in my career.

    The graduate advisor from Metro sat there and laughed and it was a vey special class. My kids were clearly showing off their CI talents, as they sometimes do when observers arrive, because we are not always the only ones who like to show off how cool this work is, right?

    However, and this is so typical, when the three of us processed everything later I asked this associate professor some pointed questions about what she saw. She saw nothing. She reverted. She forget how much she had laughed during the lesson. She told me and the grad student that she didn’t believe in Krashen. She did say that the lesson was good, but, in her capacity as an advisor to this student, she hid her joy in the class and put her academic face back on.

    The graduate student told me in a determined way that he would never stop trying to get better at this work, even if he couldn’t find a job later. But my suspicion is that he will get a job and that eventually training programs in universities will cast Krashen and what we do in a better light.

    1. I think a big part of the problem is that people have misrepresented CI for so long. Teachers claiming to teach with CI, but they don’t, and then people claim that Krashen was wrong. This is why asking “What is CI really?” is SO important!

      1. Thanks for taking up this gauntlet, Eric. Too many educators bandy around the CI term, without thinking even about the basic components.

        It’s input. Students can understand it.

        Perhaps it is too simple. We educators do like to complicate the simple. When I ask my students, “What is the very best way to learn a second language–go live in a country where they speak it or memorize words and fill in worksheets?” Then I ask them “Why? Why do you think that is better?” and I wait for their responses.

        By the way, I have been AWOL for many months. Too many ups and downs emotionally with my career in the past 8 months. From being “let go” to being the head of the Spanish department in 5 months time (b/c the other teacher also had an English degree and I do not). I’m teaching full time Spanish for the first time ever, and teaching the same students two years in a row for the first time (Spanish II and now Spanish III). That has been a real blessing. I never realized what a difference it makes to start off with kids already “trained” with CI. My Spanish III class is to be “dual credit” with the local college, but it looks like they are giving me flexibility. I hope…

        Anyway, I’ve been enjoying the new threads on authentic literacy (that’s been the flavor of choice in our district as well) and CI.

      2. My defartment head last year said “show me someone other than Krashen who advocates these [c.i.] ideas and has the research to back them up.”

        So I collected articles by VanPatten, Wong, Nation, Davies etc and sent them to her. She didn’t read them and didn’t want to pursue the discussion. She later told me “of course I believe in comprehensible input. The kids understand everything in my class.”

        Yesterday I walked past her room during my prep and saw her smartboard. On it was,
        — practice imparfait verb endings
        — review vocabulary list
        — practice childhood dialogue

        So…she “believes” in c.i. YET uses learner output as input, has kids memorising lists (and being tested on them), “practices” grammar, etc.

        I think she is pretty typical: she really thinks she is doing c.i.– and technically, she is, if the kids understand everything– but, obviously, she’s not even close to what WE all understand as good c.i.

        1. Krashen used to say, when asked how it is that students seem to acquire some language in traditionally taught classes (grammar-centric) like the one you describe, that if there WAS any CI in that class–even boring, tedious, and awful CI + 1, a student could acquire language. How painful, I say. Of course, he wasn’t recommending this style of teaching; he was just demonstrating how language acquisition could possibly occur under those circumstances.

          1. And I’d also say that it may “seem” they have acquired something in these traditional classes, but their abilities may simply be “performance-based.” Practicing output in VanPatten’s studies gives them production skills, though not comprehension skills. Then, in the very short treatment of Morgan-Short et al., the language test results were the same, but the brain responses were very different, only the immersion producing native-like patterns.

          2. I get your point, but Krashen was talking about actual acquisition albeit it poor and paltry, comprehension skills. From time to time, incidental CI is happening in those classes for some students even though the teacher is not aware of it. 😉

          3. And I’ll add: Krashen, 1982 analyzed the major approaches to language teaching in terms of the optimal characteristics of input 😉

            Requirements for optimal input
            1. Comprehensible
            2. Interesting/relevant
            3. Not grammatically sequenced
            4. Quantity
            5. Filter level (“off the defensive”)
            6. Provides tools for conversational management

            (p. 127)

          4. Blaine says “it’s not what you GET, but what you COULD GET that matters.” Basically, he means something like “kids are gonna pick things up no matter what, but doing it right [c.i.] will majorly boost acquisition.”

          5. I’m doing Rosetta Stone on my phone (Russian). You have to say the words correctly to move on to the next level. I think that totally useless– I wish I were getting more reps on listeing instead of wasting time babbling. Output is bogus unless you do it without thinking.

          6. I was one of these students who after 5 years of legacy method (lots of output practice) Spanish was able to say stuff I wanted to say (though slowly and not real well) but I couldn’t understand anything. I think my Spanish 2 students right now could have out-comprehended me in a real situation after 5 years of study.

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