A Commonly Accepted Belief

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37 thoughts on “A Commonly Accepted Belief”

  1. Sabrina Janczak

    Ben writes:
    “My take on this is that as long as we make ourselves understood, no matter how many structures there are, as long as they understand us, there is no problem”

    That is exactly right! This is what Joe Neilson does/did in his workshop. He did stories that were level 2 Spanish using a lot of language, and structures, and there were people with no Spanish whatsoever. The first day he did this, he used no translations and one person was struggling. Then Joe realized it so he fixed it. How? He started going slower, used more gestures, circumlocutions, wrote more stuff on the board to clarify , and did quick translations. Guess what ? Problem solved. That is why it s called comprehensible input. The one person who was lost on the first day caught up ( btw, that person is a grammar teacher and totally bought into this and switched to CI as of today!)

    Bottom line, he used whatever means he had at his disposal to make himself understood and it worked. Lowered affective filter, used language in a natural and non contrived way and that was magic!

    Last year, I was so afraid of using Anne’s stories b/c of all the extra language the kids didn’t know beside the structures. So I wouldn’t use the stories if I thought there was too much out of bound stuff.

    This year, I stop stressing about the other stuff they don’t know , focus on the structures and use whatever means I have to make myself understood for the out of bound stuff, and I give myself the permission to say it s OK if they don’t acquire everything besides the structures, as long as they understand them in context . They are hearing natural language as it happens in natural speech. And so far, knock on wood, it’s working. What matters is the high frequency structures they are hearing over and over again, and the rest will get acquired eventually, or not. So what?

    1. …he started going slower, used more gestures, circumlocutions, wrote more stuff on the board to clarify , and did quick translations….

      When we step up and take responsibility for being clear, we can have three or ten structures. It doesn’t matter. I see at least one person agrees with me, so thank you Sabrina. I am not going to worry about unknown structures. I will teach my way through them.

    2. …what matters is the high frequency structures they are hearing over and over again, and the rest will get acquired eventually, or not….

      This is much more in line with the Net Hypothesis.

      Nobody has to win this one, by the way. It’s the discussion that allows us to form our own opinions and try things out and do what is best for us.

  2. I don’t believe it is a question of needing to have “acquired” all of the structures except the three “new” ones.

    However, I do think it can be a question of density, speed, quantity of speech and meaning–a whole bunch of stuff–which can greatly affect acquisition. I do think there is a “tipping point” at which the learner can become flooded and overwhelmed even though they may be understanding at the exact moment. No more goes in. Their brains never get a chance to calm down and digest. Too much all at once. A kind of tension is created–not a good one. I think that if that is happening too much for a learner in a given period of time, they have to tune out–just to survive–not a bad thing, but something we don’t want to see in the 45 minutes we have them.

    Little kids do that tuning out thing in native language all the time–and they have the luxury of listening to the language for tens of thousands of hours before they are really responsible for being fluent.

    I do agree that, of course, it “all” will eventually be acquired. Having worked in immersion (not submersion) programs where exactly what Sabrina talks about happens, it takes a very, very long time for fluency to emerge. Of course, when it does emerge, it’s incredible; but it arrives way down the line after thousands of hours–a luxury world language teachers will never have.

    To me, this seems a very individual teacher choice. If the teacher is comfortable doing what you do and they believe they are reaching the optimum number of students in this way, they should do it. If the teacher needs more structure for her/himself and fewer structures for the students so they feel they are doing a good job, that should work just fine, too. Bottom line: If the student understands the language when they hear it or read it and receives enough repetitions in context over time, they will acquire it.

    The tricky part for teachers in s school setting is dealing with the wide, wide variance in speed and depth of acquisition among our students. CI instruction gives students more access to the real possibility to acquire the language. It does not guarantee a lock-step acquisition process in which everyone arrives at the same spot at the same time–what all parents and principals would like to see. Oh, well.

    1. This is a great discussion and I embrace it as necessary. And it is just so nice to be able to take both sides. If this were a public venue I can just see the concrete sequential formulists knocking us on this, but they haven’t experienced it. It is a very difficult aspect of what we do. Having taken the side of not limiting structures, I now fully agree that this from Jody is 100 % true:

      …there is a “tipping point” at which the learner can become flooded and overwhelmed even though they may be understanding at the exact moment. No more goes in. Their brains never get a chance to calm down and digest. Too much all at once. A kind of tension is created–not a good one….

      Another factor is that the kids in that video are fluent in Spanish. So there ya go. We all make our own decisions about what is best for us. I think the overall content of what Jody says above is crucial to this discussion. We can fudge by working with more than three structures but, as Jody says, it can come back to bite us in the butt. Honestly, for new people, we need some simpler stories for them. They need simpler stories. I should say that again. New people need simpler scripts, but ones that are interesting.

      1. I am so with Jody on this. I really think that everyone acquires faster with fewer out-of-bounds structures. Last night, I taught my fourth adult class when the only structure I was aiming at was “to the person there is” (he/she has). We have had so much fun with this phrase for four weeks now that it’s almost kind of embarrassing to write up notes for the class.

        There are two guys in that class who are far ahead of everyone else, and they’re just as entertained as the rest. They throw out ideas to add to the mix, and I can hear their grammar improving, but they aren’t bored. (I keep asking them whether they want to move to the next class.)

        On the other hand, as usual, we had a brand new person in class last night, and she was just hanging on, so if we had strayed, she would have been totally lost. What happened was that all the other true beginners used all their Russian. They kept throwing out complete sentences with ideas and in answer to questions about the funny problems that everyone in the class has.

        BTW…one more “Circling with Balls” idea: ask your class to put down a funny or at least not-too-serious problem on their name cards.

        I am beginning to think an interesting experiment would be to see just how long I could keep going with the focus on one structure.

        1. This thread – currently dropped – of how many structures is best, along with the related idea of general non-targeted input, is awaiting a reply from Dr. Krashen. I specifically asked him about it, and only heard back from him today that he would respond soon, so I have to wait. That is why I pulled my last videos, to wait for his response and have some time to study why unlimited structures worked in that class. I don’t think it’s because they have Spanish. I just don’t. Clearly, this is not a finished thread, for me at least. I totally see and get and have experienced what you say here, Michele:

          …I really think that everyone acquires faster with fewer out-of-bounds structures….

          but I also want to keep exploring non-targeted comprehensible input. I very much look forward to hearing what Dr. Krashen says. I personally think that this discussion has to do with the motivation of the kids to acquire. That is where the x factor is in my own mind. The higher the motivation, the more out-of-bounds structures can be throwin in, is my thought, but is far from the final answer for me.

          1. I’m not sure that’s what this thread is about–how many structures is best. I do think it’s about a reality that many of us see in our classrooms: brain overload and checkout

            When I lived in México, I was a highly, highly motivated student. I was living there. I really, really wanted to understand and speak Spanish. My brain could only handle so much attending to language, however, before it HAD to take a break. Language became noise–just noise–even if I could hold on to the “bare” meaning of what was being said while trying, unsuccessfully, to attend any longer.

            As I moved from beginner language acquirer to advanced novice acquirer, it became easier to do. There was more infrastructure in my brain to hang stuff on is the way I “see” what was happening. I could just “hold more stuff” in there at the same time.

            I think the factors that have been mentioned:

            more experience (even though they hadn’t been in an all CI class before),
            high motivation (in their third and fourth year of study),
            being bilingual already,
            being comfortable with their teacher’s voice, style, etc.,

            are all factors that could greatly influence how successful your class was. I think it would be difficult to point to one only.

          2. I agree with Jody. A couple of summers ago when I traveled in France, I had the experience of momentary overload on various occasions. I would be communicating just fine – concentrating on meaning, of course – and then a sentence would simply be “way-wah-wah-wah-wah” (Think adults in Peanuts). If I could get the person to repeat the sentence, I would get it, but most people saw the momentary confusion and went off in a totally different direction. That experience has helped me in my classroom to try stopping, then repeating the sentence extremely SLOW-Li while (if possible) pointing to scaffolded words/phrases, and only if that doesn’t work going on to other means of achieving comprehension. Many times that simple repetition with help is sufficient, especially in the upper levels.

            On a completely different note, I am having good experiences with jGR; it has opened up very good communication with my students. Since progress reports went out I have had several students stop by to ask about the Interpersonal grade. Two of them said they disagreed with the grade and articulated clearly, using the rubric, why they thought my assessment was inaccurate. I promised to watch them more closely and had to agree, so I changed their grade. Others have asked what they can do to raise their grade. I take out the rubric and go over it with them. That happened yesterday with one student – who isn’t a problem but wasn’t satisfied with his grade – and today he was upping the engagement tremendously. I tried to give him positive feedback during class, but tomorrow I will make a point before class starts of reinforcing the increased engagement.

          3. …others have asked what they can do to raise their grade. I take out the rubric and go over it with them….

            This is not just a gust of wind hitting the water. It is a current in the water that is causing a different kind of wave. I have heard from so many on how jGR causes greater engagement from students – how it changes students. I have noticed it in so many of my own students, and I have seen the kinds of little changes that I have always wanted to see, as per what you said here Robert:

            …today he was upping the engagement tremendously….

            So jGR is real. It ought to be working for you, since you are the one who started it, and that jen finished.

          4. Jody said: My brain could only handle so much attending to language, however, before it HAD to take a break. Language became noise–just noise–even if I could hold on to the “bare” meaning of what was being said while trying, unsuccessfully, to attend any longer.

            I think this idea of language becoming noise is something that happens often and should be explored more. I have an anecdote from when I was living in Cameroon. I was expecting to hear from some Americans that I hadn’t met. A blond with blue eyes, plaid shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes walked into the shop and said something to me. I spoke fluent French, was expecting English and didn’t understand a word he said, but had the vague impression that he was speaking German, which I had studied for a year. I replied, “Ich sprechen nicht deutsch.” He looked so surprised and so sad!! He was actually Dutch and had spoken to me in French, which he had worked hard at before arriving in Cameroon. I tell this as a funny story at parties, but I think it says a lot about how language can become noise. I had no problem understanding the man in French, when I was expecting to hear French. I think that when we are focused and have an idea of the context, we can grasp things that become noise when they are out of context or when we’re not paying that much attention. I think that when Ben’s students are focused on the story and can anticipate in which direction his weird mind may go next, the boundaries go wide and can take in things which may appear to an outsider to be “out of bounds”.

      2. I can’t get this discussion out of my mind and I have a question in with Stephen Krashen who has promised to answer it but just got back from Korea and needs some time on it, as I said elsewhere here earlier this evening.

        It is in this thread right here, above and below this comment field, where we can find the core ideas of the discussion, which is about a month old now. In particular, I want to more deeply explore what Judy says (below) in this elegant paragraph:

        …this is why the Net Hypothesis makes so much sense to me. We cast our net, over and over again, and we’re never sure what is going to come in and what will slip through the holes, but if we do it often enough, we’ll get a pretty good catch. It may not be exactly what we’d planned on, but none of our students will go hungry. And when they start casting their own nets, reading in the TL, listening to songs, films, etc., we’ll know the battle is won….

        I am testing the limits in my own teaching of how far out of bounds one can go and have been met with several stop signs by Jody and Laurie and others whose job it is to keep me in line in this community. I will eventually have to back down and accept the importance of limiting new structures, slowing down and doing all that stuff I don’t want to do, and when I do I will re-publish the Johnny Cash (man in black bc I have a black shirt on in those) videos with a more trained eye on what I am doing in there, which is a clear object lesson in going out of bounds and riding the horse too fast but which (videos) can nonetheless help others, since this is a training site even though lately it has been serving as a mental health site (such stories lately!).

        How do we know we are presenting too many structures? We take a photograph of our whiteboards after class. If there are more than just a few new structures (even that is too many), we probably did too much pausing and pointing.

        This is a very telling point. One time after an observation by a team of DPS teachers, I was talking about Point and Pause with them and Diana Noonan said that to her Point and Pause is all about just pointing to the structures that we used to start class. I meant everything else. So Diana and I had two completely different ideas of a basic TPRS/CI terms, which was an an eye opener. Do you see how important that moment was? I had written extensively about the use of Point and Pause, explaining to people I didn’t even know that it was used to introduce new structures, and then I find out that we’re not supposed to introduce new structures! Weird ass.

        I do think that the entire question about how many structures and going out of bounds and all that – so accurately depicted in the series of comments right here in this comment thread – that has been consuming my thinking these past four weeks since making that video has more to it than meets the eye – it has other factors it in. That is what I want to explore with Dr. Krashen. I want to know why he didn’t publish the Non Targeted Hypothesis. He probably felt it was too weak and didn’t want to compromise his other five strong hypotheses.

        Oh well, starting to ramble. But just for the record, Krashen said yesterday “let me read it thru again before I decide what to do with it.” – so I think he is going to make a decision about his Non Targeted Hypothesis. That would help in this discussion. Just fyi, here is my original request to him on this topic:

        Hey back in 2009 you sent me and some others that article on non-targeted CI. I feel like I get it now. Only took me three years. I will take my own TPRS teaching in this direction now. I mean, I always have been a huge fan of this idea, but reading it again, it is a lot more clear to me about how the planning of target structures in the TPRS community and its general need to have frequency lists and base a grammar curriculm on them is just not something that is going to take instruction to where this article implies is possible.

        Please tell me what the status of this concept of non-targeted comprehensible input is right now in 2012 since you wrote the draft. What kind of response did it get? I can no longer act like I don’t think this way, the way you described this and also how the word Transparency plays into all of this, and so I need to make it clear to my blog group. I really think I finally get it.

        And of course I don’t. Decisions have to be made. We need some kind of protocol. What do we as a community think about how many structures to use, and going out of bounds? What is best? One thing I will credit Krashen with is that he told me that he merely did the research and it is up to us in the field to figure how to apply it in the classroom. So really this is our decision. We have what Judy said about the Net above, and we have others saying to limit the Net, as it were, and this is the area I want to keep exploring in our group as we move through the fall.

        1. Reiterating: I don’t believe the Net Hypothesis is in question in this discussion. To me, it’s pretty obvious that it works over time–lots of time.

          I am curious, however, about the efficacy of different types of “language delivery” to the acquirer at the beginning levels. Krashen has spoken about “mommy speak”/caretaker language often (at least he did many years ago)–slowed down, repetitive, highly musical, super contextualized, personalized (one on one) language with babies/toddlers. Parents don’t overload their offspring with too much language (especially when they are giving them instructions or expect a real answer). They intuitively know it’s a waste of time.

          I feel that this is similar to the kind of thing we try to do in our classes. We use story as the vehicle so as not to bore nor patronize the student with the “tedium” of repetition and constrained content. We use story or reading because we must teach to large groups. We are NOT having one-on-one conversations where we can monitor the acquirer’s comprehension carefully and reasonably accurately. Story asking, scaffolded readings, limited vocabulary and limited structure novelas, are ways to keep MORE students in the game MORE of the time. I don’t believe they are antagonistic to the net hypothesis. They are the products of teachers grappling with the realities of the incredibly wide variation of acquisition speed and the constraints of the actual time we spend with our students.

          I taught in a dual-immersion setting for three years. The first thing we did, after our training, was to go hear Dr. Krashen speak (1981). We were charged with teaching grade-level content in a foreign language and to be “comprehensible”. The first year almost killed me–teaching a group of 31 seven year olds with whom I was forbidden to speak English (I had six Spanish speakers). The other two years were with fourth and fifth graders where I saw the fruits of this very time-intensive labor and it was a whole lot easier–the Net Hypothesis in action. We’re talking six years of 3-4 hours of Spanish every day.

          There were many casualties along the way–many. #1 reason, IMO, incomprehensible language which became noise. For the kids, who managed to stay the course, the language gains were spectacular–although “test score” wise, white middle-class kids highly outscored poor kids (African American, Latino and poor White) and special ed kids–even the Spanish speakers. Our Spanish speakers, however, outscored all other Latino kids in the district, but were still below White kids in reading/math in our program. Nothing new here. Non Spanish speakers, even though high test scorers, were obviously not native speakers–Net Hypothesis or no Net Hypothesis.

          I don’t think there is a magic number of structures. That is the professional art of what we do–monitoring and understanding our students’ capacities in the moment and over time, adjusting our delivery of language and content in a way that keeps them comfortable and feeling able. My experience has been that those who are acquiring the least are the least likely to be letting you know. If we were teaching them one to one, we’d know in a second. Not so in the classroom.

          Not teaching this year (health difficulties), I am struck by the enormous attention everyone here must pay to the realities of the classroom and working with such large, diverse groups of humans. These things to which you MUST attend have nothing to do with language acquisition and EVERYTHING to do with it at the same time. As I stand back and watch, I am overwhelmed at the true and huge task of teaching. It is beyond theory. I don’t know why any of us are even alive sometimes.

          Tangentially yours this morning, Jody

  3. I think in the real world, a teacher can never be sure that any structure has been acquired by 100% of the students in a class. There’s the kid that had a problem at home one day and didn’t really follow, even though you got in 89.78 repetitions. Or maybe you’re teaching in France and you write “bite” on the board. You only need one repetition. There’s not a teenaged boy in France who will ever forget that word. This is why the Net hypothesis makes so much sense to me. We cast our net, over and over again, and we’re never sure what is going to come in and what will slip through the holes, but if we do it often enough, we’ll get a pretty good catch. It may not be exactly what we’d planned on, but none of our students will go hungry. And when they start casting their own nets, reading in the TL, listening to songs, films, etc., we’ll know the battle is won.

    1. Sabrina Janczak


      In the opposite direction, I learned the hard way when I first started with this method not to ever again use the words phoque (seal) or Coq (rooster) in my stories , even though they were acquired instantaneously! As a native French speaker, it is hard for me to hear the very subtle sound differences they hear and make those unfortunate connections.

  4. This is a really helpful discussion to me as it addresses concerns of mine (out of bounds? what about how often questions I think they know don’t get responses – and it’s evident they don’t understand?). Thanks!

  5. I think that we need to be careful that we are doing what the students need, rather than what the teacher needs. Nearly always, going out of bounds is a desire of the teacher…and if our students want to go there then we have taught them that that is ok.

    In “real life” out of bounds is a reality. When we are teaching for acquisition, out of bounds is a luxury that our students cannot always afford. It is the teacher who has the language for the bigger picture. Not the students.

    Why do we want to go out of bounds? (warning, you may not like the answers..)

    * We’re bored.
    * We are afraid that the students are bored.
    * We want to be funny.
    * We think of something funny.
    * It’s easier than manipulating the language that they have acquired.
    * We’ve overestimated what they have acquired.
    * We haven’t thought about how to get them to a starting point before we start…we just want to start.
    * We get stuck and can’t figure out where to go that is in bounds.

    (Remember, I’m included in the WE here!!)

    There are times when out of bounds works.

    * When it is a high-frequency structure that is going to come up again and again in other stories…this is just an intro of sorts. I suspect that that is why Ben went the way he did with the story. went __________ing and slept/was sleeping are high frequency in our classrooms and even if these were new to this group, they are going to appear and reappear over and over again.

    * when one word/phrase is too funny, too perfect, too incredible NOT to throw in at a particular moment.

    How much time are you willing to invest establishing meaning, circling, PQAing a particular structure in order to make it comprehensible?

    Is a structure more memorable in context..for example..Joe has a story using the word Todavia “still” when a girl is still in the bathroom…for ages…”still” is a terrible word to gesture or pqa…but it is clear as a bell in a story.

    How much can your students absorb that is “new” or “unacquired” and still have their brains do what needs to be done? If they have to think too much, then, it’s too much. If they can’t watch, listen and understand without repeated stopping to establish meaning, it’s too much.

    Do you care EXACTLY what language is being used? Ben’s story, so far, has nothing to do with his PQA. It IS provided a lot of reps with went camping. If his goal was to get in reps of the structures that he PQA’d then he is way off-base. But, if his goal is to get in a lot of interesting reps on the high-frequency structure that appears first in the story, then he’s in the right place.

    If we are using out of bounds language in order to get a story moving or to use with a new structure, it simply won’t work. Not having seen the rest, I think that in this class Ben has it under control so far. If the students only get 30 reps of went camping, and never ever see the went_____ing, again, then it’s a bit of a waste of time. If they see/hear went____________ing every day for the next week, they’ll be closer to acquiring that structure.

    Ben knows his kids and they obviously know him. Someone else’s class could eat him alive if he started off with brand-new structures after gesturing and PQAing three totally different structures.

    Younger students need a “tighter box” to work in. Otherwise, their logic doesn’t kick in and the story makes no sense. If the story makes no sense, then they will not pay attention and it all goes to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly.

    I think that personality can play a big part here too. If a teacher’s personality is riveting and fascinating, humorous or cute, dynamic and high-powered, s/he can play a little faster and looser with the boundaries and the kids will still be following along. The truth is, though, is that most of us are a little more low-key than that and we’d burn out long before 3rd period every day if we had to put out that kind of charisma. It’s not that we aren’t great teachers or interesting people, we’re just not ‘born to be wild” in that way. When we use language that is unfamiliar to our students, or too much of it too fast, we lose our kids.

    The number of students in the class is also an important factor. Keeping 15 brains in one place is much different than keeping 45 in one place.

    My gut feeling is that the more that you and your students have to deal with, the younger the students, the more easily distracted the group, and the less time they have had in your care, the more focused your vocabulary use should be.

    NOT because it changes the rate of acquisition…but because it changes the level of frustration. Yours and theirs. And your administrators’, colleagues’ and parents’. And that my friends, is sanity.

    Sorry if this is rambling…hope that it makes sense,
    with love,

    1. Laurie,

      Another reason to go out of bounds that I don’t see on your list, but which I was feeling stressed about this week (and which someone mentioned above) is when we are using scripts (from whoever) and they include vocabulary that we have not done.

      I was trying to do my first Matava script this week but was freaking out because I couldn’t find a good one that didn’t have new vocabulary outside of the 3 structures. What do you do in that situation? the story doesn’t really work without the other elements…. I ended up adding one more structures for 4 to PQA, and then circled and boarded another word “they laugh” that came up in the story. I am sure that if I try to do any sort of retell with my kids that they won’t be able to do that word because they haven’t heard it enough, but they all understood it in context. Is that good enough? Most likely it will come up again…

      The other thing I noticed today through the counters was that while I was circling, I really wasn’t circling the PQA structures, but rather whatever details the students were adding in – i.e. the name of the character, what class he got a bad grade in, rather than the PQA structures. It wasn’t intentional, but I feel like it often ends up that way. I circle the interesting details, but end up lacking for reps on the structures I want to focus on. It is nice to see that this is not a problem that is unique to me.

      It seems like there is a tension between making everything interesting and narrowing the focus to demand greater reps on the specific structures. On one hand, you are trying to create an interesting story as that is the context in which the kids will remember the structures, but on the other you risk losing sight of the structures for all the other “noise” in the story which makes it interesting. I have no idea what the right answer is, but I appreciate hearing everyone else’s two cents.

      1. I do feel exactly like this. I start circling the other info but what I always try to remember, at least with PQA, is how Ben says to say to yourself before class begins, I will not say one single thing without some form of the structures in them. I tried it today and while I still circled other info pertinent to class and it went well in many classes like the following: STUDENT goes for a walk on Sundays in the woods with her boyfriend. She wants to get married, seriously. He holds her in his arms romantically-not violently, of course….
        Thank goodness for Matava!

      2. Interesting=Connected to the students and/or totally comprehensible.

        Anything else is salt on the gravy. Interesting IS the gravy.

        As for using other people’s scripts, I confess, I’ve never been able to make it work. I’m just awful at it. I tend to use their ideas as FINAL stories and backwards plan from there. For example, I used Anne’s story about the package, but had to break it down into 3 “pre-stories” first so that the kids knew the structures. Anne wrote her stories for HER kids. I have to use her great ideas, but not until I’ve made sure that my students are ready. I used Bryce’s Hombre Materialista joke this week, but had to modify it so that their were only two new structures.

        You wrote: “I am sure that if I try to do any sort of retell with my kids that they won’t be able to do that word because they haven’t heard it enough, but they all understood it in context. Is that good enough? Most likely it will come up again…”

        You get to decide if that is good enough. That is what the phrase, “Teach For June” is all about. If they understood it all in context, then the brain is working on it…even if you can’t see it. If you need to see, or they need to see the brain latching on…then it isn’t enough. If you don’t need that, but are sure to keep reusing and reusing and reusing in a comprehensible way, in context, then..it is definitely good enough.

        “The other thing I noticed today through the counters was that while I was circling, I really wasn’t circling the PQA structures, but rather whatever details the students were adding in ” Nothing wrong with circling those things IF the students need the reps. The trick is to ask for details RELATING TO THE STRUCTURE. Instead of circling the name and getting details about the name, ask for the name, get the name and then use the name in the next sentence with a structure. Make sure that your second question includes the structure and don’t let go for a while. If the structure is wants to eat, find out what the character wants to eat, how much, how often, what color is it, in what country, state, city, in what restaurant, etc and use wants to eat in everything that you circle. Sometimes it helps to brainstorm a list of questions ahead of time that will keep you using the structures.

        It IS hard to keep a balance of tension. :o) But interesting does not have to be riveting….just comprehensible and connected to students. Keep asking questions, get answers from a variety of sources and check for comprehension often.

        PS…so glad that we share all of these things…no matter how amazing the day, we almost all worry about the one student out of 100+ who might have been zoning out. :o)

        with love,

        1. …someone else’s class could eat him (Ben) alive if he started off with brand-new structures after gesturing and PQAing three totally different structures….

          Laurie did you think that through? It offends me.

          1. Yes I did. Just as I think that your classes might eat me alive because I didn’t train them and teach them. They are used to YOU. What you do works for them and you know this because you teach them. If I lead them into a world that was uncomfortable and threatening, by doing something that they didn’t understand and didn’t trust, they would most certainly attempt to eat me alive.

            What you do would not work for everyone. Not all teachers can convince students to do Ou….where and buy into une secret and all of your Benisms and that is your gift. You can.

            If teachers try to be you they will fail. So will their students. Teachers need to remember to take the ideas that will work for their students and use and adapt them…just like we do for other people’s stories.

            Some students need a direct line, a narrow focus. You are not a linear thinker. If you had to teach students who worked that way it would drive you crazy. You’d lose it, they’d lose it and it would be ugly.

            You have the glorious gift of being you. Other people need to find the glorious gift of finding their inner CI teacher. A number of people are trying to be someone else that they have seen. In this case, you. But it happens every time that we watch a skilled presenter or teacher (live or on video). We do what they do, without remembering that we haven’t prepared our students for the changes.

            Students are a tough crowd. You’ve said it many times. You’ve called some of them pigs. It is the relationship that comes first, not the delivery of the CI. It is the amount of trust that matters most, not the amount of out of bounds vocabulary that we use. THAT is what I’d like people to look for when they watch you. And your students trust you.

            I’m sorry if that didn’t come out right. I hope that it is not still offensive. You know I would never want to do that.

            with love,

          2. …some students need a direct line, a narrow focus. You are not a linear thinker. If you had to teach students who worked that way it would drive you crazy. You’d lose it, they’d lose it and it would be ugly….

            Hmmm. I never knew that about myself.

          3. Dear Ben,

            You are a gifted, creative, big picture, outside of the box, free-wheeling, charismatic hippy. Just some of the many things that we love about you.

            with love,

          4. I agree that each teacher should be careful to tailor-make a lesson for their own students BUT I think it is fine to follow the lead of a teacher that, typically, finds much success in CI when s/he is first starting out.

            I have no problems and make no excuses about trying to do things like Ben or Bryce or whoever because it’s like training wheels. It’s like when you’re learning to ride a bike and your parent holds the back of the seat while you pedal quickly down the road. Eventually, mom or dad is going to let go as you keep zooming straight ahead but you need their hand to balance you and push you forward for the first couple of wheel spins.

            The problem arises when you expect they will do that every single time, or worse, never let go of the seat…

          5. I’m going to chime in here and try to help.

            Laurie, you said “If teachers try to be you (Ben) they will fail. So will their students.” To help make the getting “eaten” and other comments look less like an insult, which I don’t see them as such, let’s replace “you”<–(Ben) with any other person's name. For example, Blaine. If teachers try to be Blaine, they will fail. There's a reason why Bryce wrote a script book using LICT structures. There's a reason why I'm cherry picking structures from LICT and either making my own scripts or finding Matava or Tripp scripts to align with the structures. I feel weird trying to be like Blaine. I can't do "elephants with jacuzzis" or "monkeys with elegant houses" or some of the other odd things. Trust me, I'm weird as hell. I've had stories go to very, very, very strange places. It's all about our own style and sense of humor. I go to strange places, but seeing "elephants with jacuzzis" or "monkeys with elegant houses" or "plastic monkeys" makes me think 'That doesn't make any sense whatsoever!". I just don't get it. But meanwhile in my classes we talk about some of the strangest things imaginable, but in my twisted mind they make sense for some reason. If we try to be anybody else we'll fail. And when we have our classes trained certain ways, those classes could chew up and spit out somebody who is completely different from us.

    2. Thanks for such a clear breakdown of the situation. Your comments form a helpful framework for understanding what’s happening with my various levels – (4th grade to 8th grade), the personality component, and what happens whenever “they have to think too much.” “If they can’t watch, listen and understand without repeated stopping to establish meaning, it’s too much.” This has happened with my 7th graders who I thought would remember more than they really can. Stopping as often as I’ve needed to clarify is a problem, and breaks the flow of the story. Simplifying further with them is my next step.

    3. Laurie,
      How much is a good amount of reps before moving on? I am right now going over the daily routine because kids are supposed to learn reflexive verbs in Spanish 2 so I must teach them. We are having fun with it..at least I think we are. I just wonder if I am going to use se cepilla el pelo much after this. I have found a fun little short on youtube to go with teaching morning routine (except he never brushes his hair or showers but I am willing to look over that for the fun of it)
      Here is the video:

      The gun part may not be appropriate in some places that are sensitive but I think that it will be okay here in AK. If someone watched it and thinks that it ins’t tasteful, let me know. Sometimes I do not have a good filter.

  6. My experience to date has been more in line with that of Jody and Michele. If the kids are too overloaded, the first result is that I generally go faster and get confused myself about the details and it’s not long after that that the kids get confused and I have a mini mutiny on my hands. If our wanting them to feel safe in the class is of paramount importance – it is- part of our promise to them is to make everything totally comprehensible and transparent. How many kids might become easily overwhelmed – do they really want to keep giving us the stop sign? What has worked well for me is getting to the base embedded reading stage of the class story and embellishing from there especially adding lots of details to the subsequent readings and re-tells. That was Carol Gaab’s advice to me-keep the story simple in the beginning and add. I always learn something valuable at conferences and would have loved to see Joe present, but for myself I always have to remember that the kid sitting in front of me in class is not always as able to handle the input overload as readily as I can in a conference setting – not to mention the enthusiasm level. For me it’s about not losing anyone and challenging them in other ways – like upping the ante via embedded reading.

  7. Laurie, no ranting at all – just a much needed reminder to go SLOW! You make so much sense in everything you say. I am terribly guilty of not going slow enough, again and again and again. I constantly have to keep reminding myself that I am not there to please those fast processors who cannot go on to the next scene quickly enough while I leave the rest in the dust. That’s where my insecurity comes into play – all I need is one bored look from an otherwise highly engaged student and I buckle.
    But, tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to do it right/better.

  8. Great discussion! Full of food for thought…

    As a middle school teacher of 7th and 8th graders who are native English speakers, I definitely have to limit my new vocab. But I think in Ben’s case, with high school students who are fluent in both English and Spanish, these new structures aren’t a problem. Some are cognates with English or Spanish (faisait du camping, dormait), looks and sees are used regularly with many beginning-level classes (my 7th graders hear them a lot), so that leaves “is afraid”–don’t know what Ben does with it, but it is easy to gesture. I would think it is the only really new/unfamiliar structure, if indeed it is new to Ben’s kids. With the gesturing I see on the video and the suggestions made in French, it seems like Ben’s kids are getting it. My monolingual 7th graders? No.

    So what Susie Gross tells us is once again (and always, it seems) true. Teach our kids. Teach to the eyes. Make what the kids need the focus of our lessons. We would each have a different answer to that based on our students’ age (said much more eloquently by others here), their background, class size….

    This was the scariest part for me about TCI but is also the most fun and rewarding: having to think on my feet to see what they can handle and how fast they can handle it. It’s what kept me from using TPRS when I totally believed in the concept (paralyzing fear) but also what makes me dance around at the end of the day when a story goes well. So much more of a roller coaster than the old textbook teaching days; more risk, more joy, more fun…but the kids can use the language now.


  9. I had to read this discussion very slowly. And twice. I really needed to hear and absorb the truth that I am indeed going too fast. Why? Because I am afraid of and worried about the fast processors being bored. Because I am playing defense by pre-empting their “we’re not learning anything” strike. Because I am afraid of my department head and the vibe at school right now amidst the reaccreditation process and the visiting committee and our sudden new contracts and just the weird energy up there right now. Sheesh! Just because everyone else in my building is being ridiculous doesn’t mean I have to join in. I’m thinking back to the beginning of the year, not too long ago, and my energy and feeling of calm and confidence. How did I go from this to my current state of fear and defensiveness?

    I also overestimate how much has been acquired. This came up last week at Joe’s workshop in Maine, the difference between recognition and acquisition. I think I confuse the two sometimes. My stories are too complicated. I really needed to hear that advice from Chill / Carol Gaab about keeping everythign really simple AND THEN adding on the details. I get too convoluted in class, out on the tangent, but the kids are following (ha, but likely just recognizing and not really acquiring), and then I make things worse by adding way too much when I type up the story for the reading.

    This is effing hard work! So adding to the inherent intensity by creating more work for myself ain’t cuttin’ it. I’m suddenly drowning in paper because I can’t always get the projector to work. Then I have to bail and make copies of the readings, etc. The last 2 weeks I have felt like I am working 24 hrs a day. Not a good thing. So back to the drawing board I go. This is art after all. Back to the sketchbook, to the practice. The sketchbook work does not get hung in the museum, right?!

    On the way positive side, and the side I need to focus on, yesterday I was starting PQA with “hid” “brought” and “didn’t want his parents to see.” This is the Matava story about the kid hiding a girl in his room aka “Everyone gets a mohawk.” These were great structures, at least yesterday they were. Most kids had something that they hide or used to hide, so we were getting lots of reps. And a gold mine…one kid hid a turtle in his closet for two years. Seriously. His aunt gave him a baby turtle and he kept it in the closet, fed it and everything. His parents came into his room wondering what the smell was, but never checked the closet bc they thought the smell was just the kids “natural stank!” I am not making any of this up! It all came out in class in the PQA! So many interesting details…like the aunt conspiring with the kid, never telling the parents. And the image of mom coming into the room every day noticing the smell but never checking the closet! 🙂

    Obviously the roaring laughter factor of this story is a home run, but underneath it is this sweet 7 year old loving his baby turtle! This is the real gold mine I think, because that 7 year old is still somewhere inside the very goofy and chaotic 15 year old.

  10. Sabrina Janczak

    OK, I want to bring an example to the very interesting discussion going on here.
    I am doing a Jim Tripp story (Brrr!) with my French 1. Yesterday PQA’d for 50 minutes the 3 structures: a froid (is cold), lui donne (gives him/her) and le/la met (puts it on). Today we did a story with 2 scenes in the past and I just finished typing the reading for tomorrow in the present tense.

    Here it is:

    Il y a une fille qui s’appelle Daisy. Daisy habite au Groenland. Daisy a froid. Elle a très froid. Daisy marche dans la rue quand tout à coup elle Voit Hiu. Hiu habite aussi au Groenland mais Hiu n’a pas froid. Elle regarde Hiu et Hiu la regarde. Ils se regardent.

    Elle lui dit : « j’ai froid, très froid ». Alors Hiu lui donne son chapeau, un grand chapeau noir et bleu. Daisy le met sur sa tête. Daisy est contente . Hiu aussi est content. Alors ils marchent ensemble.

    Il y a une fille qui s’appelle Red Riding Hood. Elle est petite, très petite mais elle n’est pas minuscule. Elle habite dans une forêt magique qui s’appelle Narnia. Elle a froid, très froid. Red Riding Hood est dans la forêt et elle saute à cloche-pied, quand tout à coup elle voit un loup. Elle voit le grand méchant loup. Elle le regarde, il la regarde. Ils se regardent.

    Elle lui dit : « j’ai froid !» Il lui répond : « OOOOOOH » et comme c’est un gentil loup, il lui donne sa fourrure. Elle la met sur ses mains. Elle est contente parce qu’il ne la mange pas. Alors ils sautent à cloche-pied ensemble.

    There is a girl whose name is Daisy. Daisy lives in Greenland . Daisy is cold, very cold. Daisy is walking in the street when all of a sudden she sees Hiu. Hiu alsolives in Greenland but he is not cold. She looks at Hiu and Hiu looks at her. They look at each other. She says to him : ” I am cold, very cold”. So Hiu gives her his big blue and black hat . Daisy puts it on her head. Daisy is happy . Hiu is also happy. So they walk together.

    There is a girl whose name is Red Riding Hood. She is little , very little but not minuscule.She lives in a magical forest which name is Narnia, She is cold, very cold. Red Riding hood is in the forest and she hopping on one foot, when all of a sudden she sees a wolf. She sees the big bad wolf. She looks at him, he looks at her, they look at each other. She says to him: “Im cold” He answers her:

    “ooooooooh” and because he is a nice wolf, he gives her his fur. She puts its on her hand. She is happy because he doesn’t eat her. So , they hop on one foot together.

    Even though, I worked those three structures to death, I was still able to add out of bound stuff (some of it cognate, some of it new) and there were no comprehension problems whatsoever. I added a couple of minor thing in the reading I just typed for tomorrow . I think that we need to remain flexible…. I don’t want to lack flexibility with this.

    Sometimes we can do stories just using the structures we are working on and vocabulary they already know, and sometimes we can introduce new words whithout necessarily overload them (when used sparingly). I think and this is my gut feeling and based on anecdotal evidence from what I see with my kids that the brain is able to hear more than 3 structures in one setting without shutting down.

    I am really enjoying reading this conversation….

    Got to go back and teach.

  11. Learning to judge when to go out of bounds and when not to seems tricky, especially when you lack experience like in my case. I am being very careful with my Chinese 1 kids and it is working well but it helps to get feedback from the students. I did the 1 pt bonus question on a quiz the other day, asking the students how they are doing. It was meant to be a general question but I also got some good feedback on class. A couple of kids mentioned that “it is confusing when you go too fast” which reminds me to slow down. The great thing was seeing a couple of students write, “I thought Chinese would be hard but it isn’t because I understand!” I copied that comment and pasted it into my lesson plan notebook for daily affirmation!

    I have gone out of bounds more with my Advanced kids but last week one kid started crying and I felt terrible. I had gone too far and she shut down with, “I don’t understand anything.” I then spent the next 3 days doing activities using only 2 structures until I saw her back in the game. I have to keep reminding myself to treat some of the old structures like new ones and keep checking for comprehension.

  12. …I then spent the next 3 days doing activities using only 2 structures until I saw her back in the game….

    This is what a master teacher does. You basically kick ass, Tamula. This right here is bad-ass to the bone:

    “I thought Chinese would be hard but it isn’t because I understand!”

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