In an email today from Sean, he presented the best description of an aspect of concern about SL that I have yet seen. The following is some deep thinking and in my view gets to the core of the matter. I would add to what Sean wrote that Dr. Mason teaches students who are older and for the most part quiet and focus at the university level in situations we could only dream of having:
SL requires lots of practice, reflection, and refining.
For example, as I was browsing the Stories First Foundation website, I watched Dr. Mason’s demo video there and read some of her reflection comments underneath. #7 says, “I use a word that they know first, “give” and then introduce a new word, “provide””. I think it takes a high degree of metacognition (or maybe it’s intuition) as a teacher to have a grasp of what words students know and what words they don’t know, especially when you teach 5 classes in a day.
26 thoughts on “SL”
I took part in Beniko Mason’s workshop in Germany last August and personally found the approach very convincing and straightforward but I wouldn’t dream of using it with raw beginners. And I clearly remember when I first tried to tell a story 29 years ago, what a desaster it was bc I was a beginner and so unsure how to do it and right after the beginning of the story the kids started yelling “In German, in German!” (their L1). Only after a couple of years of experience in the language classroom did I find the courage to give it a second go and I got away with it. The kids loved it!
Teaching year 1 through 6 (the kids are 6 to 12 years old) I start with TPR, action poems, props, songs and a few simple games and only when I get the feeling that my very young learners understand enough do I tell a story with pictures or figurines and drawing a landscape on the board.
For me the big difference between Storytelling and SL is that in SL you write some L2 words on the board and you are supposed to be drawing the persons, animals etc so that the kids have time to process the language, and visual aids will always help comprehension of course. In my opinion you can use pictures if you don’t feel comfortable with drawing. Of course teaching to the eyes, going slowly, using your voice and acting out are part of it and I believe those are the elements that need time to practise and are not quickly mastered by a beginner bc they must become second nature if you tell a story regardless which approach you use.
I can attest that it can indeed work with raw beginners. I watched today as she told us a story in Japanese and my colleague who knows no Japanese got every detail of the story in her summary. She did an 8 minute story at first and it was compelling and comprehensible.
Interesting! But I was thinking of very young learners during the first couple of weeks (maybe months) but maybe I’ m wrong there as well.
I sense the truth of that Russ. I think, however, that the make up of the class, however, is of pivotal importance. At the end of the day, I feel that SL is going to be met with limited success in U.S. secondary school buildings, not for any fault inherent in it, but rather bc our building are geared to impede learning, not encourage and support it.
… not for any fault inherent in it, but rather bc our buildings are geared to impede learning, not encourage and support it.
That is so sad!!! I wonder how you language teachers in America manage to survive those depressing surroundings. I assume it must be the TPRS approach and the Invisibles.
You are the real heroes, fighting on behalf of the kids!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
PS: I did a story the SL-way in my grade 5 last Friday and they loved it. The kids took me completely by surprise when at the end of the story they gave me a spontaneous applause – it touched my heart and my soul started singing.
And it happened although they knew beforehand that they would have to write a retell in their L1 afterwards. Their retells were really good and some were even eccellent!
I’m also getting into the Invisible with my fifth and sixth graders. I did an OWI in year 6 and there is a lot of potnetial for a story. Let’s see how it#ll work out. The artist did a wonderful job. When we unveiled their drawing the group started clapping it’ s so nice an image: A beautiful unicorn with fur in rainbow-colours whomis very rich and happy but also crazy. It’s very small and fat. Some kids already had ideas for problems. So my hopes are high!
Udo this is such a nice report to read. This is why we teach, for those moments when we know we are reaching them! Nice work!
If I may address the original post I cannot speak for Dr. Mason as I am not her, but at her training she talked about using words like give and then provide. I don’t really think she “knows” what word they know I think she uses synonyms as much as possible to make the input more clear. As she has told many many stories that have the word give in them she looks at the text that has the word provide and used give to help her students understand what provide means. She does this constantly. But to address whether or not it will be successful in America I personally feel this is not where our conversations should be headed. Stephen Krashen made the analogy, when you are attached and you don’t have a knife you use whatever you have. I am not a strong classroom manager like Ben or Tina, therefore having something like SL helps me maintain control and mental health. I do agree that because of how schools are there will be intense pressure to not do SL because it appears so “teacher centered” however. And that is truly sad.
Yes I agree with the premise you make here Russ. We can’t judge if anything will work for any one person and we should avoid blanket statements for or against a particular technique. It’s an amazing thing that is happening, all these foreign language teachers so many ideas online and testing and making their own CI worlds for themselves.
Yes this is a time of great experimentation. CI is taking off, from the platform built patiently over the years, by dedicated and hardworking teachers. Beniko told me yesterday that we really only need four ingredients for CI to work its magic: Comprehensible, Interesting, Rich, Consistently-Delivered language. Whatever package that language comes in is just the delivery system. It just must be comprehensible, interesting messages that are delivered consistently across many sessions of input, and contain the richest language possible without going across the boundary of incomprehensibility. Where do we find that boundary? In the kids’ eyes and posture. We must be attentive to their body language so that we can rein ourselves in, pause, and make the language comprehensible.
Beniko also told me that when we circle target structures, we impoverish the language. We want to get as close to the boundary of incomprehensibility as possible without losing them, so that we are using the richest language that the kids can follow.
I didn’t get to go to your session on OWI and stories 🙁 They moved Beniko’s workshop down an hour. But what were the main takeaways from it? Sorry but I was distraught that I didn’t get to go.
Oh and thanks for everything you do you guys are amazing! Not only have you saved my teaching career, but you have also really saved my kids so much heartache.
I have a video of it so I can upload it and share it here.
Russ here ya go.
“Not only have you saved my teaching career, but you have also really saved my kids so much heartache.” –Russ
That’s the crux, Russ, teacher and kids. The rest is support.
I’m totally with you and Ben and all the other dedicated CI-teachers.
You made me see the light at the end of the tunnel! I was fine with the kids in elementary school. They made a lot of progress with the help of TPR and related exercises and they loved it but at the middle school level I wasn’t sure how to go on so that they would be able to improve their English as best as possible. What I did from a kind of gut-feeling was interesting texts which we practised reading and then I asked them to either study for a retell (they decided how many paragraphs they could manage) or if they didn’t feel comfortable with this, they were allowed to learn by heart which most of them preferred. What worried me was the rather small amount of language we managed that way.
With OWI, the Invisibles and SL we do so much more comprehensible language – I can’t tell you how happy I am. Thanks again!!!
I am so glad to hear that.
You are very welcome.
All we can do is try and try again and again. The fundamental “management before instruction” still stands. I would say though that SL is a bit stand-offish. It can be seen and felt by students as a way to “deliver instructional services”. It works really well for my gifted students who come from all areas of my urban poverty stricken region.
Pandora’s box has opened. Input is truly enough and I think that SL as a system cannot withstand the tweaking that teachers do. In other words, SL cannot be kept as a pure system. If it is dogmatic then it is stagnant… no one will subscribe.
I actually have had way more success with all of my students with SL than with Invisibles, but I blame myself (and partially the students) not the system. As I said I am not as strong on Classroom Management as say you or Tina or Ben, but this year I have more buy-in especially from first year than I did the last two years so I am doing invisibles more and more. I do agree that the crux of SL is that it is based on a ‘pure’ approach. which means that it alone as a system could not withstand current opinions/philosophies in education because it is ‘teacher centered’ and you don’t ‘differentiate’ instruction. But what you say about it being dogmatic and therefore stagnant is super important! Dr. Mason said herself for an activity to be acquisition oriented it only needs 3 things:
It needs to be
That is it. And as long as you are doing activities that pass that litmus test then they are acquisition oriented. So if SL is some pure system then it by definition cannot be all of those things indeed in many cases it would be none of those things.
I am a super strong proponent of SL but I see that it has limitations just like the invisibles has limitations in my classroom.
I having tried SL beyond once a week. My management system is not that great but I have students who can buckle down. I went to a SL workshop last Sunday in San Diego. Dr. Mason also mentioned “poor CI and good CI”. I agree though it is important to understand their own evaluation of input and why there are various degrees of quality CI. We need balance in all of this. For me OWI into a story has been my bread and butter for about a year and a half. I did not have AMAZING stories when students created their own characters (Invisibles). Just a few times. It might have been students feeling judged on their drawings, characters etc…
Funny enough, I have been using Special Chair interviews with extroverted students with much success. Shy students do not need to be forced to be interviewed. They get the input anyway. I do a “Fluency Chat” with my students at the end of 2nd year one-on-one and the students have amazing comprehension of questions and more as I go further out until there is a break down then I reel it back it. It last about 10 minutes. I’ll probably do 5 this year because I have big classes this year. HOWEVER, SL can given me the maximum flow and the richest vocabulary and complex sentences. I do it in a NT manner. I focus on my communication rather than my word choice most of the time.
If it is dogmatic then it is stagnant.
Absolutely! Dogma has never done anyone any good, regardless in which area. Isn’ it great that we can share our ideas and experiences here without the fear of being judged by people who think they know best without knowing neither us nor our students?
Just to restate the obvious (my specialty) younger elementary beginners need a solid foundation before SL can work, in my opinion. They need an expanded foundation of L1 and L2 language, plus life and literary experience. I have done modified SL as low as 1st grade twd the end of the school year but with a lot more interaction and TPRS circling and PQA leading up to and ofter during it. It is both exhausting and exhilarating (props, costumes, locations) –
I did experiment with retelling what I thought was a familiar story (3 Billy Goats Gruff) last yr w/1st graders – at the end of the year – but again lots more pausing for dramatization. Not all the kids had heard the story! I feel that by doing this w/younger Ss I am scaffolding the more classical SL for later. Again all an experiment.
Can anyone feel the elementary house rocking? That’s our Alisa doing that.
Yes. Good commentary and you are always putting in the effort to experiment.
I agree with you about 1st graders, Alisa.
In my opinion the kids first of all need to get acquainted with the the teacher. Therefore we work on relationship, building trust, making them feel welcome at school.
My new class 1 took about three weeks to do that for many kids. Now some of them, when they see me, come running and give me a hug!
But I will go on training them with TPR and other CI and in the second half of the school year I will tell the first (simple) story with props and drawings at the board which worked very well with last year’s 1st graders. But I won’t write up any words as they can’t read well enough in their L1 and I believe it could hamper their L1 reading process. So it’s not really SL where writing up words is essential. But I don’t worry about that. I do SL in year 2; that’s early enough for me.
Yes the role of literacy is way different for pre- and emerging readers.