An Entire Cake Made Out of Frosting

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8 thoughts on “An Entire Cake Made Out of Frosting”

  1. I just came across an interesting discussion of play in relation to instructional technology, but I believe the following quote from the Department of Instructional Technology of the University of Georgia applies across the board:
    The purpose of this paper is to call for designers and teachers to use play as an important benchmark for evaluating the learning environments they create or use. Such a call squarely puts motivational outcomes on an equal standing as cognitive ones. It is not enough just to suggest that learning and performance have been demonstrated, but also that students are emotional and passionate when it comes to their learning. This creates a lasting feeling of commitment and ownership. Learning without emotional ties are short-term and temporary. The construct of play is our best candidate for wedding cognition and motivation within learning environments.
    I will use the title of this paper [Designing Learning Environments that Excite Serious Play] to explain my position and to argue that serious play needs to be a fundamental goal for instructional technology, followed by giving a few examples of how my colleagues and I have tried to put these ideas into practice.

  2. Here’s another article, called “Language Play, Language Learning” by Guy Cook. (ELT Journal Volume 51/3 July 1997, Oxford University Press). In it Cook seems to attack Krashen, but I think he really attacks an over-application of Krashen. At the end, though, he comes to the following conclusion:
    What is needed for the beginning of the twenty-first century is a
    recognition of the complexity of language learning: that it is sometimes
    play and sometimes for real, sometimes form-focused and sometimes
    meaning-focused, sometimes fiction and sometimes fact
    . This would be a
    real change of fashion: one which could provide the richer and more
    complex environment for learning, which after a century of being
    pushed and pulled in all directions, both learners and teachers deserve.

    (Emphasis mine)
    Ben has already referred to this several times in his posts. It includes the repetition of sounds just for the sheer joy of hearing them, the creation of an alternate reality – if even for just the duration of a story -, puns, banter, etc. “Language for enjoyment, for the self, for its own sake. . . . often fantasies — not about the real world, but about a fictional one in which there are no practical outcomes.” It reminds me of “the French quotes”. (scroll about half way down the page)
    In addition, the article questions the exclusive use of “authentic texts” and “natural language” – which generally are incomprehensible messages spoken or written at a level beyond that of the students – and notes “Simplified grammar, slow clear speech, and the selection of basic vocabulary, are natural features of adult speech to children, and for that matter natural features of speech to a foreign speaker of our language who does not understand. Indeed, in all circumstances an effective communicator adjusts to the level of his or her interlocutors. . . . what could be more unnatural and unauthentic than teachers trying to force themselves — against their better instincts — to talk to language learners as they talk to the compatriots?”

  3. Re“Simplified grammar, slow clear speech, and the selection of basic vocabulary, are natural features of adult speech to children….”
    So here we see not solely sheltered vocabulary, but also sheltered grammar. Apparently this runs counter to Susie’s “Shelter the vocabulary but not the grammar.” And we all do simplify/shelter vocabulary for our students. Certainly not when we use some verb forms orally in the past tense but then subsequently shift to their present-tense equivalents in follow-up written stories. Yet, on the other hand, yes we do shelter the grammar when, to refer to future acts for the first time , we use an already acquired va coupled with an infinitive instead of teaching the future tense that otherwise might have been a bit more appropriate to the narrated situation at hand. But even that sheltering is not absolute, because we thereby have exposed them to the infinitive for the first time, using their acquisition of the present-tense form as an enabler for comprehending the infinitive form. So I think Susie means for the idea vocabulary sheltering to be take in a virtually absolute sense, while her idea of not sheltering grammar should only be taken in a somewhat relative sense.

  4. That apparent entanglement is unraveled by the pleasure principle that Ben is talking about. There usually is only pleasure in a message if there is some basic comprehension. That mostly comes readily comprehensible vocabulary, which is the mainspring of meaning. From there, provided the perceived basic meaning has a strong sense of play/pleasure, students are not deterred by the nuances of meaning introduced by some grammar that is a bit new.

  5. Robert Harrell

    This is going to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but it is really just wanting to share a very touching note I received from one of my seniors. I’ve had this group for only three years because one year a math teacher helped out by teaching German 1. (Since he hadn’t had any foreign language methods classes I dragged him to some TPRS/CI workshops, so he spent the year telling stories with the kids.) Anyway, this is what one of my graduating students wrote to me yesterday:
    “Dear Herr Harrell,
    I have been your student for three years now. Through these three years I have somewhat gained control of the German language. Not through homework or endless drilling of conjugations, but through listening. I learned how to speak and read German in class listening to you. I really admire that teaching style.
    “In three years you have put up with talking, laughing and short attention spans. But you should know all of us have learned a lot. We have shared a lot of laughs in class. Mostly from silly linguistic mistakes. I hope you remember our videos and how much enjoyment they brought us.
    “A short letter on college ruled paper is not enough to express my thanks. You truly made my time here at Pacifica memorable, thank you.
    “Yours truly,
    The points that really got me are:
    -I learned how to speak and read German in class listening to you
    -We have shared a lot of laughs in class
    -how much enjoyment they brought
    I particularly want to remember the last two whenever I start to take things too seriously.
    This definitely goes into the permanent “encouragement file”.

  6. I wanted to comment on this posting from Ben, mainly to remind us all how important it is to stop thinking in terms of delayed gratification. If you haven’t lately, take another look at Krashen’s article “Why Support a Delayed Gratification Approach to Language Education”
    Here’s just one quote from that article:
    “We have made a serious error in language education: We have confused cause and
    effect. We have assumed that students first need to consciously learn their “skills”
    (grammar, vocabulary, spelling), and that only after skills are mastered can they
    actually use these skills in real situations.”
    So it can be all frosting, and it turns out that the all-frosting cake is more nutritional than the regular cake, or even the bran muffin. We have confused suffering with virtue. While many good things do require suffering and difficulty, language acquisition isn’t one of them. Or rather, the difficult part is getting kids to act like kind, caring human beings.

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