I can’t wait until the ESL community gets outed for not aligning with the research. It’s coming! Bam!
This is a repost from 2014. I ask the language community: “Who is going to orchestrate the obvious changes needed in ELA to get them up to speed with the research?” Someone has to do that. The chasm between WL and ELA pedagogy needs to be bridged:
Good question. We should always be able to give a reason for what we do. Second Language Acquisition researchers disagree on many points, but the one thing that they all agree on is this: The single most important element in language acquisition is comprehensible input. As Wynne Wong from Ohio State University puts it: “A flood of input must precede a trickle of output.” TCI and TPRS are built around this one indisputable principle.
We have 2000 ELA instructors in Denver Public Schools, yet there are only 100 WL teachers in the district. I have often lamented the fact that Krashen’s research is not fully appreciated by the ELA folks (it is given lip service only) and that if a bridge could be built between them and us, so that we work together, it could really help the kids in their struggles to learn a second language.
So I wrote this letter to my principal this morning:
Josefina and Gabriella sorry about the long email here but I have a lot to say that I think can ultimately help Lincoln kids take the fast track to mastery of English. I’m copying Annick Chen and also Karissa Radford, since Karissa has experience as a student (one of my best ever) with stories.
My first point is that I wanted you both to know that our DPS WL Writing Team (which usually writes Pre/Post Tests for the district) has just begun a new project of major importance. It is the first ever – in any major metro district nationally – WL Scope and Sequence that aligns fully with current research. This represents a major shift from how things have been done in the past. This document will have teeth and will impact ALL second language acquisition theory including ELA in DPS. How we react to it is up to us but it could serve to bring together all professionals in the district whose sole responsibility is to help kids learn a second language.
The team had its first Scope and Sequence all day meeting yesterday and it was very successful under Diana Noonan’s inspired leadership. It will take more such meetings (Saturdays into April) but we will emerge with a Scope and Sequence that is impossible to ignore. It is based on readers – short chapter books – that have been in use by district WL teachers for many years now.
I think that this fledgling document represents a step up, a level up, on the Colorado Standards and ACTFL as well, because we play down output and play up input, just as Krashen says. The key thing about this new Scope and Sequence is that it is going to be far less vague and far more concrete and specific than state and national standards, which can be and have been twisted to align with a textbook or whatever to meet the needs of the teacher and not the kids, and to sell expensive programs to districts that merely serve to frustrate kids and teachers.
In my opinion, the problem is that the ELA team has their eye on the wrong target – they think that they are teaching the language but really they are focusing on CONTENT. By focusing the child on the TEXT, which always contains unfamiliar words that the child may have learned but has not acquired, the child becomes bewildered and gives up. We should instead be teaching THE LANGUAGE, which should be presented (as we do with stories) so that the child is in full command of all new vocabulary which keeps their motivation at a high level throughout the class.
In the new Scope and Sequence we will provide a clear description of what we are required to do to align with all standards and with the ACTFL Proficiency Levels and the Three Modes of Communication. We will give a full description of which of the three modes bring the best gains and why. In our opinion, the DPS ELA team currently overly focuses on the Presentational skill whereas we in WL focus on the Interpretive and Interpersonal skills, which focus on input before output, which is the key to this whole discussion.
I also would like to provide, below, a most important document by one of our colleagues, Robert Harrell in Los Angeles. This document explains in very succinct terms the underpinnings of what we do in DPS WL, the underpinnings for our new Scope and Sequence document:
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about TCI
1. What do TCI, TPRS, TPR, etc. stand for?
TCI stands for Teaching with Comprehensible Input and means just that: the teacher uses messages in the target language that learners find compelling and understandable to help them acquire the language unconsciously. TPRS® stands for Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling. It is one excellent way of providing Comprehensible Input. TPR® is Total Physical Response and is another way of providing Comprehensible Input. Don’t confuse TPR and TPRS. The rest of the alphabet soup is best learned in context.
2. Isn’t TCI just another name for TPRS?
No. While TPRS is a prime example of TCI, Teaching with Comprehensible Input is more than that and includes anything the teacher uses to make certain the messages in the target language are both compelling and understandable to students. (The “Comprehensible” part of the name means comprehensible to the students, not just to the teacher.
3. Speaking of “compelling”, isn’t this all about flying blue elephants?
While many classes enjoy the creative freedom that TCI offers and do come up with bizarre stories, “compelling” simply means that students get so involved in the content of the message that they forget they are speaking a foreign language. This may result in flying blue elephants, but it can equally easily result in a discussion of bullying in school, the upcoming football game or school dance; in other words, “compelling” means it’s something the students truly want to talk about.
4. So what is Teaching with Comprehensible Input?
To help answer that, let’s see what it is not: it is not a grammar-driven curriculum; it is not a textbook-driven curriculum; it is not long lists of vocabulary words; it is not the teacher talking at students; it is not learning about a language; it is not immersion.
Teaching with Comprehensible Input is speaking with students in a way that every students understands what the teacher is saying all the time; it incorporates relevance by exploring topics to which students have a connection and that are connected to real life; it is student driven and student centered because students give input and direction to the flow of conversation; it is going “deep and narrow” with the language rather than “shallow and broad”; it is relational; it is aimed at acquisition of the language rather than learning about the language; it is contextualized.
5. But what about rigor? I hear many students and teachers say that TCI or TPRS is “easy”.
Teaching with Comprehensible Input, including TPRS, definitely seems easy to students and is certainly different from most of their classes. But we need to distinguish between rigorous and onerous or burdensome. Doing more work does not mean more rigor, it just means more work. Are 40 math problems that practice the same concept twice as rigorous as 20, or just more work?
According to the US Department of State, rigor includes a sustained focus, depth and integrity of inquiry, suspension of premature conclusions, and continual testing of hypotheses. Students in a TCI classroom are exposed to this kind of rigor. The Interpersonal Mode of Communication requires them to sustain focus for the full class period with no zoning out, side conversations, etc. The student-driven nature of the course means that they can explore deeply and fully in the target language the topics that truly interest them. As students are exposed to the language in a contextualized, meaningful fashion, they suspend conclusions about how the language functions rather than having those conclusions forced upon them at the outset. The unconscious brain continuously tests the students’ hypotheses about what sounds correct in the language.
So why does all this seem easy? Imagine you have a travel trailer that you want to take on vacation. Since all you have is a small four-cylinder car, you hitch the trailer to it and take off. Your car will strain to pull it and probably break down as a result. Your neighbor comes along with his large V-8 pickup truck; you hitch the travel trailer to the pickup and take off. No strain; the pickup handles the load with ease. What’s the difference? Did you travel trailer suddenly become lighter? Is the work any easier? No. You simply got the right equipment for the job. That’s the difference between learning a language and acquiring a language. Learning accesses the conscious mind, which is not designed for languages. TCI accesses the unconscious mind, which is powerfully designed to acquire languages. Learning or acquiring a language (whichever one you want to call it) is hard work, always has been, and always will be. It just seems easy when you use the right equipment.
6. Okay, but what was this about the “Interpersonal Mode of Communication”? What about the skills of reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, and culture?
The newest state World Language standards, the National Standards, ACTFL (American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages) and the College Board (AP courses and exams) all revolve around the Three Modes of Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational. Since the purpose of language is to communicate, this is rightly the emphasis. Presentational communication is when the “author” speaks or writes without the opportunity to interact with the audience and so must think in advance about how to present compellingly and understandably. Interpretive communication is when the recipient reads, hears, or sees a “text” without the author’s being present. The text must be understood without direct help from the author. Interpersonal communication is when two or more people exchange information and language with each other and have the opportunity to clarify, negotiate meaning, express lack of understanding, etc. This is really the core of both language acquisition and Teaching with Comprehensible Input. Interestingly enough, real-life communication incorporates all six of those skills in a holistic and organic way, rather than as a laboratory sample to be dissected.
7. That all sounds interesting, but can you back it up?
Good question. We should always be able to give a reason for what we do. Second Language Acquisition researchers disagree on many points, but the one thing that they all agree on is this: The single most important element in language acquisition is comprehensible input. As Wynne Wong from Ohio State University puts it: “A flood of input must precede a trickle of output.” TCI and TPRS are built around this one indisputable principle.
In addition, brain-based research indicates that the brain requires certain things; among these are meaning, repetition and novelty. We can see these at work in all sorts of ways. The need for meaning is why we see shapes in clouds, the face of a person on a tortilla, etc. Children exhibit the need for repetition when they watch the same film or read the same book over and over. The novelty aspect comes out when we remember that unusual event on our routine drive to work. How many times do you get there without remember how you did it? But see a plane land on the freeway, and you will remember it because it was novel. There is a lot more at work here, including chunking and automaticity, but that is for another discussion.
8. What does a TCI classroom look like, then?
As with any method, strategy or approach, TCI will look a little different for each teacher. Some common things to look for, though, include: the teacher speaks and encourages the students to speak the target language at least 90% of the time or more; the teacher and students engage in a conversation or dialogue in the target language; the teacher checks for comprehension regularly and often; the teacher encourages but does not force students to express themselves in the target language at all times; the teacher shelters vocabulary but not grammar; grammar is contextualized and embedded in the language; the teacher explores those topics and items that interest students as shown by their responses, reactions, and requests; the teacher incorporates rigor in the classroom by requiring sustained focus from students for the class period; the teacher and students develop a relationship with one another.
What you won’t see are lots of worksheets, lots of homework, and lots of mind-numbing drills.
Claire calls out a whole bunch of people below. How will they react?
Ever wondered why ESL teachers are not using TPRS (except me, myself, and I)? It’s because we try to combine TPRS and CBI, despite the fact that CBI is inappropriate for beginning language learners. ESL teachers know content (like targets) is not appropriate for beginners. We know nation-wide we fail Newcomers (baby beginner, zero English students) but we are addicted to CBI and its easily tested content language (we don’t say “targets” but the concept of ideas being right/wrong apply).
So we ignore the research because we want to target and test wrong/right, readily demonstrable skills. We want to be right. We want validation. For us, not the kids.
Here’s a good article from Claire on this topic which is increasingly “in the news”.:
Another timely post from Claire. We’ll be looking for more as some of us here continue to see double on the ESL/TPRS thing:
I think we can all be in the TCI thing together. We all do assessments and give feedback, but some times it is less obvious, more informal. That’s fine.
I think you [TPRS] all have different way of looking at things because Foreign Language is held to a different standard. You are able to focus on the essentials of Comprehensible Input – which is why this blog and TCI in general are amazing.
Most of the teachers on this blog can honestly say “My kids are acquiring language because I use TCI and I just know – I can see comprehension on their faces.” The normal rules of assessment do not apply. And that’s because this blog is made up of amazing educators who have found a better way to teach.
Unfortunately, as I teach English as a Second Language, if someone asked me the above question about giving feedback and using assessment to guide instruction, I don’t have a choice. I have to play along and document, document, document. ELL teachers deal with scrutiny you can’t imagine.
Tennessee is a Race-To-The-Top State and here ELLs typically fall into the Hispanic, Low SES, and ELL sub-groups. Their scores count triple what others do. Every conversation with my administrators (who seem to forget I also teach French) revolves around the documentation I can offer on how my students are growing. I have to assess, give students and stakeholders feedback, and document everything just to keep my job.
Also, my kids care about assessments. You will likely not believe this statement, but it’s true: many ELLs don’t care as much about having fun as graduating. Some high school ELLs see themselves as stuck in a cycle of poverty that only English will help them escape. When I taught high school, I had to give them constant feedback and reassurances that they were making progress or they get frustrated and drop out–mostly to find jobs to help their families. They are desperate to see their growth on paper – so yes, I give them feedback on assessments.
Jolyn has a question:
I am volunteering, teaching EAL in a variety of situations in Mexico, some one on one, some small classes, over an extended winter vacation. Several of my students have access to internet and very motivated. I am using CI/TPRS methods in my teaching and tutoring, but I want to leave them with as many tools of self education as possible, when I leave. I have brought reading materials that I will leave with them, and am incorporating books now as well. I would love to have your ideas on online resources that are especially good for English learners. Free audio books, you tube clips, movies, that would interest an adult learner while being well articulated/enunciated and not at advanced levels, or any other online websites that would be helpful for English learners.
What Claire says below is pure gold. It is needed right now. I find it most refreshing to see it made clear that a Scope and Sequence need not be what it was, and that it can evolve into something bigger:
The scope and sequence of a foreign or second language classroom should focus on the metacognitive and cognitive processes to acquire language, not just what words and structures are created. If you look at Common Core’s strands, you can see a movement in our country away from the content “what we’re teaching” towards the cognitive processes used for comprehension. The same is true for language learning. Self-monitoring comprehension, perceptual processing, engaging an interlocutor, elaborating from personal experiences, etc. need to be things on our Scope and Sequence, not individual words.
I think this is one area where English as a Second Language is actually ahead of foreign language. Our department doesn’t require us to delineate and follow a strict “Scope and Sequence” (of individual words or structures). My administrators know that the kid in my class who speaks Arabic is going to learn individual words and points of grammar in a different way than the kid who speaks Spanish or Chinese. This is why out of the 3 counties I have taught in, only one county purchased an “textbook” that was optional. In fact, the ESL coordinator discouraged us from using it because it was “outdated.”
Talk to your ESL coordinators and you might find a surprising ally in your fight against the antiquated and rigid Scope and Sequence as a list of grammar and vocabulary.
This statement by Claire to the group a few days ago goes a long way in explaining, to me at least, why the ELL crowd is not on board with the TPRS crowd. It’s something I had not thought of:
I am still new to foreign language. I [do] think that we can all be in the TPRS/TCI thing together. We all do assessments and give feedback, but some times it is less obvious, more informal. That’s fine.
I think you all have different way of looking at things because Foreign Language is held to a different standard. You are able to focus on the essentials of Comprehensible Input – which is why this blog and TCI in general are amazing.
Most of the teachers on this blog can honestly say “My kids are acquiring language because I use TCI and I just know—I can see comprehension on their faces.” The normal rules of assessment do not apply. … and that’s because this blog is made up of amazing educators who have found a better way to teach.
Unfortunately, as I teach English as a Second Language, if someone asked me the above question about giving feedback and using assessment to guide instruction, I don’t have a choice. I have to play along and document, document, document.
ELL teachers deal with scrutiny you can’t image. Tennessee is a Race-To-The-Top State and here ELLs typically fall into the Hispanic, Low SES, and ELL sub-groups. Their scores count triple what others do.
Every conversation with my administrators (who seem to forget I also teach French) revolves around the documentation that I can offer on how my students are growing. I have to assess, give students and stakeholders feedback, and document everything just to keep my job.
Also, my kids care about assessments. You will likely not believe this statement, but it’s true: many ELLs don’t care as much about having fun as graduating. Some high school ELLs see themselves as stuck in a cycle of poverty that only English will help them escape.
When I taught high school, I had to give them constant feedback and reassurances that they were making progress or they get frustrated and drop out–mostly to find jobs to help their families. They are desperate to see their growth on paper–so yes, I give them feedback on assessments.
The interface between ESL and TPRS is found in the word “compelling”. Stories bring the highest levels of compelling instruction. Therefore, all the ESL folks need to do with their students is some stories while dropping all that other stuff they do that makes their instruction so dry.
If ESL instructors were to make up a story with their students, they would see them smile and kick up their heels. Students whom they thought boring and distant would begin to show them sides that they never even imagined were there.
And ESL instructors need not teach so much grammar either. They embarrass themselves when they do that. There is nothing good in forcing ESL students to manipulate grammar terms.
ESL teachers need to stop bringing in all that boring social studies stuff also. Grammar and social studies don’t belong in ESL classrooms – they stifle learning. ESL teachers need to let their students out of their straitjackets.
And why do ESL researchers who never lived in classrooms advocate forcing kids to speak and write beyond their capacity? When ESL instructors force kids to speak and write beyond a level that is fun and comfortable for them, they turn their students off to the language.
It’s easily changed. Talk more about them. Respect their interests. Find out what those interests are and shift the focus on the class from the language to the meaning of what is being discussed. When focus shifts away from language to meaning and especially meaning that is personally connected to the lives of the students in the class, the language gains will skyrocket.
What is the point of interface between ESL and TPRS? It is the point where students are allowed to express themselves in human ways about human things. The point of interface is compelling personalization. The extent to which an ESL student is personally involved in developing the curriculum of an ESL class will determine the success of the class for him or her as a student.
ESL “curriculums” that focus on grammar and social studies topics cannot succeed. Teachers who force students to address those two things in speech and writing will always wonder why their students aren’t more involved in class. The reason they are not involved is that they are not involved as people and that they are being forced to be involved as robots. Change that and solve the puzzle.
Stephen Cook and I were having lunch a few months ago in the Staff Canteen of the American Embassy School here in New Delhi. We were just settling into our new jobs and feeling pretty good about everything.
During our conversation, Stephen seemed to want to find some common link between TPRS instruction as we use it and his general instruction in ESL. In particular, he seemed to want to hear more about how we use Dr. Krashen’s work in TPRS. We also talked a lot that day about personalization and compelling input.
At the end of our conversation, Stephen put up his lunch tray, walked into his next class, ditched his lesson plan, and told his kids a story about how he jumped into his father’s arms from their burning house at the age of three years old.
The result, of course, was a different class. The kids came to life, because the class was instantly compelling. They devoured the reading. They made all sorts of connections. Something human in Stephen’s students had been reached on a deep level.
Major gains in the language were made that day in Stephen’s class. It is because the students weren’t focused on the language but rather on its meaning.
This from Nathaniel is gold, a must read. I made it into a Primer article. Of particular value is this sentence:
…VP’s goal is communicative. The language is used to find out and share information about each other in the class. The goal of the legacy teacher is to teach vocabulary to demonstrate knowledge on the quiz and test…. [ed. note: bold letters are mine. ]
Here is the article, now a Primer:
The family tree. I was thinking about your question, Catharina. First, I am not sure what a legacy teacher might do with the family tree. But I can imagine someone have the kids repeat, review the words, and assign a family tree drawing with labels. So the tree in this scenario is student output.
VP takes it a step further and talks about his family (he gives L2 input). He uses the tree to make it comprehensible and memorable. This is the what Krashen does when he does his monologue in German with body parts, pointing to his own eyes and mouth.
VP’s goal is communicative. The language is used to find out and share information about each other in the class. The goal of the legacy teacher is teach vocabulary to demonstrate knowledge on the quiz and test.
Blaine puts the pertinent family members into a story. The goal is for one or more family members to interact in such a way as to solve a problem which they have encountered.
If we follow from Ben’s circling with student interests, we can choose a student, start asking questions, put the information on the board as it comes from the student, circle it, get more details, circle it more, and give a Y/N quiz at the end of class. Then we can use the story writer’s notes, type them up and have a reading.
Then we move to another student, repeat the process, contrasting with the first students. The information that we can find out about depends on the verbs we want that are our focus (Verbs are our curriculum): has a brother, is X years old, his name is. etc. We can spin it off into a micro-story. The family tree develops visually as the description develops aurally and in our memories. This is how I did family members last year and will probably do so again this year.
Again, the legacy teacher is trying to teacher vocabulary for the vocabulary quiz and the project/HW/test. Blaine, Ben, and VP want to use the language as a vehicle for communicating and creating. VP wants students to find out about each other in L2. Circling with family trees is putting the students at the center of the class (we probably do not have time to find about everybody) and that is OK because we will personalize with them at some other way.
I agree, though, that VP needs to step it up a little with the CI, using circling so that the language expert in the room is providing a lot more CI.
In the next series of posts I would like to share with permission what Dr. Krashen wrote about the “Lowering the Affective Filter in ESL Classes” article posted here last week:
The text in italics is what I wrote. The text below is his response.
PQA/Story – Steps 1 and 2 of TPRS
I think that it would be nice if the kids could create a story themselves, like we do. This would lower the affective filter because it would be about them and not about Daniel Boone. So what if the kids aren’t getting the cross curriculum instruction? Should they be? If they don’t care about it and can’t grasp the language aspects of some historical text because they wouldn’t care even if they did understand it, they won’t learn anything anyway.
So they should make up their own story. The teacher could sneak in some historical points into the reading later on if so pressured. The teacher could also target whatever level-appropriate structures she wanted to address just like we do in TPRS and then do some PQA and then create a story with the kids over a few days leading up to a Step 3 ROA reading class, and then some real learning could occur. Creating a story in this particular way lowers the affective filter.
Dr. Krashen’s response:
Yes, the stories lower the affective filter, but I think there might be a better way of saying this. Great personalized stories provide compelling comprehensible input, so interesting that students forget that they are in another language. This destroys the affective filter, at least temporarily. NO focus on language. Just the story. And it doesn’t matter whether students are “motivated” or not – language acquisition is an automatic by-product of understand interesting stories.
SHORT paper attached:
I am working with an ESL teacher, Stephen Cook, in my school. We are trying to explore areas where ESL and TPRS/CI overlap. Our main current area of focus is the affective filter. Yesterday he brought his class into mine for a big brainstorming session, to see how his class would react to a story. After the class he sent me this email:
“I don’t know where all this is leading, but it’s fun working on something new and interesting. I mean, language learning should be fun and compelling. I think what my EAL kids are missing so often in their classes is this critical component [the affective filter]. Right?”
Stephen knows more than I do with his Masters degree in ESL, but I have always sensed that the affective filter in ESL classes is really high. If it is true, I think that it might be because ESL kids are forced to study things that they can’t fully comprehend and then they are asked to write and speak about them. Steven corroborates this.
I feel sorry for ESL students in that way, reading stuff that is too mentally slippery for them to hold onto and then having to speak and write about it. That must really suck. I bet it makes them learn to hide their fears behind stone masks and pretend as if they are a foreigner and don’t know what is going on in class when what all they really want to do is laugh and play with the language but they don’t trust anyone in the classroom to go that far and so they don’t manifest/are prevented from manifesting in the classroom as a real human being. I bet that this is especially true with Asian students.
Is there hope? I think so. Lowering the affective filter in ESL classes using TPRS/CI ideas – if we can do it – could play a role in lessening the gap that exists between TPRS and ESL. It could help ESL kids a lot. How? What things would need to happen for an ESL class to get to have a class in which the kids didn’t suffer such a high affective filter and with it all the resultant negative things that inpinge so much on their learning of English?
PQA/Story – Steps 1 and 2 of TPRS
The End of Motivation
New Routes, vol 55: 34-35. 2015 www.disal.com.br/newr/
I announce in this paper the end of motivation as a relevant factor in language education. I announce in this paper the end of concerns that “our students just aren’t motivated,” and claims that we need to convince our students that language acquisition is good for them and worth the effort.
Few people are like us
First, it needs to be pointed out that very few people are like us, interested in language for its own sake. Very few people take the pleasure that we do in understanding and using another language, let alone the pleasure of successfully monitoring a consciously-learned rule. We are, I suspect, a fringe group.
I hypothesize that for most people, motivation plays no role in successful language acquisition. Rather, language acquisition is the result of doing something else: It is the result of obtaining truly interesting, or “compelling” comprehensible input. When this happens, our focus is NOT on improving in another language: Our focus is on the message. In fact, it can be hypothesized that language acquisition occurs most efficiently when the message is so compelling that the acquirer is not even aware that it is being delivered in another language.
Here is the case history that started my thinking in this direction (Lao and Krashen, 2008). “Jack” was a student in a summer Mandarin program organized by Christy Lao in the San Francisco area. The program was aimed at children in families who immigrated from Mandarin-speaking areas and children who had participated in Mandarin immersion programs who spoke Mandarin as a second language.
“Jack” was 12, had been in the US for about four years, and was clearly loosing his Mandarin proficiency. And he was not interested in improving. After a while, he decided to leave the program. The program director gave Jack a few books in Mandarin to take home from her collection: Among them was an illustrated book, “The Stories of A Fan Ti” (title translated into English).
Jack loved it. It was a little above his level, so he asked his mother to read it to him. The program director loaned Jack more books from the “A Fan Ti” series, and Jack’s mother read him two to five books a day. Eventually they made a deal: Jack washed dishes while his mother read to him.
Here is the crucial part: Jack’s Mandarin was improving, but he was not aware of it. He was only interested in the stories.
Since learning about Jack, I have come across many similar cases: What they have in common is successful language acquisition, access to comprehensible input, and a deep interest in the message. Christy Lao has contributed another case (Lao and Krashen, 2014): Paul grew up in a Cantonese-speaking family in California and is bilingual in English and Cantonese. Despite having little or no motivation to acquire Mandarin, today, as a teen-ager, Paul speaks Mandarin quite well. His competence comes from watching TV and CDs: cartoons when he was little, then TV series and movies in Mandarin, thanks to TV shows and CDs his dad brought home regularly. Lao and Krashen (2014) estimate that over the years Paul watched, with great interest, more than 500 hours of movies and TV shows in Mandarin. (It should be pointed out that Mandarin and Cantonese share some common vocabulary, but they are not completely mutually comprehensible. With the help of context, Cantonese speakers are able to understand a limited amount of Mandarin and vice versa.)
Paul never watched TV shows or CDs in order to improve his Mandarin. In fact, Paul had no obvious motivation to improve his Mandarin. At all times, his motivation was entertainment and interest in content. His acquisition of spoken Mandarin was a by-product, a result.
For a similar case of the acquisition of English through cartoons by a Finnish young girl, see Jylha-Laide and Karreinen (1993).
Of course, compelling comprehensible input works in developing literacy as well, in both first and second languages. It may be that the only real path to literacy development is getting “lost in the book” (Nell, 1988).
Here is one spectacular report dealing with English literacy among native speakers of English. Fink (1996) studied twelve people who had been considered to be dyslexic when they were young. All learned to read very late: Eleven of the fomer dyslexics learned to read between ages ten and twelve and one did not learn to read until grade 12. All learned to read quite well. In fact, nine published creative or scholarly works and one won a Nobel Prize.
Compelling comprehensible reading was the path for all of them: “As children, each had a passionate personal interest, a burning desire to know more about a discipline that required reading. Spurred by this passionate interest, all read voraciously, seeking and reading everything they could get their hands on about a single intriguing topic” (pp. 274-275).
Their goal, I suggest, was not to “learn to read.” Their goal was to find out more about something that was interesting to them.
Let’s take advantage of the natural process
Most people don’t care about language acquisition. For most people, it’s the story and/or the ideas that count. Instead of trying to motivate our students by urging them to work hard and reminding them how important it is to know English, let’s take advantage of the natural process, and make sure they have access to input that they find compelling, in class and outside of class.
Fink, R. 1995/96. Successful dyslexics: A constructivist study of passionate interest reading. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 39 (4): 268-80.
Jylha-Laide, J.and Karreinen, S. 1993. Play it again, Laura: Off-air cartoons and videos as a means of second-language learning. In: K. Sajavaara and Takala, S. (Eds.) Finns as Learners of English: Three Studies Jyvaskya: Jyvaskyla Cross-Language Studies no. 16. Pp. 89-145.
Lao, C. and Krashen, S. 2008. Heritage language development: Exhortation or good stories? International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 4 (2): 17-18.
Lao, C. and Krashen, S. 2014. Language acquisition without speaking and without study. Journal of Research of Bilingual Education Research and Instruction 16(1): 215-221.
Nell, V. 1988. Lost in a Book. New Haven. Yale University Press.
In my ongoing work at AES with Steven Cook, we have been exploring Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis as it may apply to ELA instruction. A summary of that work, a result of about six weeks of inquiry into the nature of language acquisition with Steven, is attached below (“Affective Filter Lowering” attachment).
I sent the paper to Stephen Krashen as well. His response, including a link to a short paper he has just written (second link below) follows. Steven (Cook) and I feel that this area of how a student feels during class holds lots of possibility for us as we continue to unpack the comprehensible input suitcases.
For those following the ELA thread, Nathaniel Hardt shares Laurie Clarcq’s response to the Larry Ferlazzo question: “Do You Use TPR Storytelling In Teaching ESL/EFL?” –
My opinion is that since we have such a rich base of things we could offer ELA education we should keep this thread going. Somebody has to try to bring these two areas together in some positive way. We both teach second languages! Does anybody (Jody?) know if Krashen has said anything about this topic of how TPRS can link with ELA? I could ask him.
Thank you, Nathaniel!
Let’s say that in our WL level 1 class we have a class of 30, of whom 20 are ELL kids with limited English. One thing we could do would be to write the targets for a story in their languages with translation and give them that list of translations. Each ELL student would instantly know at the start of class what the three targets mean.
Then, during the establishing meaning/gesturing phase, as long as we stayed in the target language, we could get everyone moving forward into the story at the same pace. The class would stay together. The key would be in our staying in the TL and not going out of bounds. Then the ELL kids would have the same shot as the English speakers in understanding the story.
Another way to do establish meaning for such a group would be to let them look up the three structures on their phones. Either way would work. This idea is from Judy and is a game changer of sorts.
The real benefit here would be that we wouldn’t be nearly as likely as usual to go out of bounds during our lesson. Having all those languages in our classroom would surely keep us in the TL the whole time because we would know that whenever we broke into English we would immediately confuse two thirds of our class. That is major.
So having a bunch of ELL students in our WL classes could be a stroke of good luck, a real incentive to do CI right and not keep sneaking English into our lesson. Those 20 kids would keep us honest, denying us all that nonsense in English.
We all know what Reuben Vyn was able to do in inner city Denver a few years back. Reuben never used English in his French classes and on the district exit exam his inner city poverty kids destroyed the scores of the IB kids in the same building (George Washington High School) who were taking the same level of French.
We need to review why Reuben was so successful. It’s the Rebar image (see category). In the ideal TPRS class, we never use a word whose meaning has not been previously established. We never go out of bounds. We never point and pause to new words other than the target structures. Everything we say they already know. The only new sounds are the target structures.
On those few occasions when we do go out of bounds, since it is so hard not to, we would allow the 20 ELL kids the use of their cell phones to quickly and efficiently keep them in the loop of the story.
The idea that ELL kids could potentially keep a CI teacher in bounds is an exciting one that needs to be studied. The idea of ELL kids thriving in a WL class because the playing field for them is even with the English speaking kids is even more exciting.
Perhaps South High School in Denver Public Schools, with the district’s largest and most varied ELL population, could do some initial studies on this idea.
Do we really need to talk solely about the language piece in the ELA problem as a one of instructional mechanics? Is there not more going on here?
I don’t think that the ELA problem can be solved in a mechanical way, by trying to find the right “method”. We have done that and failed. The ELA kids are still isolated in their buildings, seeking each other out for safety as would be natural to anyone in a minority.
But why does there have to be a minority? Don’t all the minorities together form a majority?
The problem is not just about individuals in our ELA classrooms; it reflects a world wide problem between nations. The one is a microcosm of the other. We must find a way in spite of our language barriers to create harmony and trust in both arenas.
First we must find a way – it can be done – of establishing harmony and trust between peoples in our ELA classrooms. After that the language gains will occur as if by magic and without all the pedantry.
The seeds of change lie in the creation of community first. That’s what I will be looking at whenever I think about the ELA problem going forward, which at the level of the classroom is such a perfect microcosm of the larger problems facing our world right now of racism and hatred and greed.
I think I now have a game plan – just from a few days of this discussion – that works for me. I am very grateful to the group for helping me formulate it. It is described in the ELA/TPRS 5 article below. I know it will grow to include other things.
Basically, and yes I tend to oversimplify but since I am not an ELA expert I have to generalize, it’s about building community so that the child feels honored and not shamed for his accent and limited knowledge of the language. It’s about building community first before language gains can happen.
It’s about rising, pulling, giving a hand up, doing whatever I have to do as a teacher to honor and respond to the child’s need to be a person who counts in a group. That’s my first move. I want to use focus on the third step of TPRS to do that – reading. I always want to consciously build community while working with Step 3.
But I want the reading to be created by him and the group that he trusts and feels important in. I don’t want him to be forced to read “up”, as they do now, but “down”, as Michele said. I want him to have access during class to an online dictionary so that he can instantly know what the target structures mean, like Judy said.
I don’t know how else to address distance caused by language and cultural differences than by inviting the child into the classroom process as more than a cardboard cutout of a human being. In a way, an ELA class is a microcosm of the world, all packed into one little space. Each nation wants to count, to not be bullied.
Discussion of this sort is vital to our understanding. We have such knowledge gathered here but we must share it. The ELA question has been ignored, it seems, forever. I am especially glad to have read Jody’s comments, gathered from her vast experience in both FL and ELA instruction.
Jody said it’s about politics, and that FL and ELA are two different animals. That’s fine, but personally I always get confused by political and research based terms in education. I always have. I just want to know how we can free the kid.
My need is to ignore the jargon and return to what in my view is the only thing that counts, and that is the answer to the question, “What is best for the child?” Can’t we figure that out and do it? Does it have to be so complex?
If I am a Hmong kid in Denver Public Schools sitting in any classroom, my hierarchy of needs is first to be recognized as a human being. That is also where my first hope lies in solving the communication problem I have with my classmates. I want to be recognized as a human being first.
I may be deficient in language, but I am not stupid. Let’s address my need to be a contributing part of a group in which my intelligence is honored. Once we do that, I may feel like learning the language because I will know that someone acutally cares about what I have to say. Otherwise, I don’t care.
I’m just synthesizing some ideas presented in comments earlier today. My goal is not to label what is wrong but find out how we can better serve ELA kids with stories, if we can, and I think we can. So here is what I have taken away from today’s discussion:
Bridging the ELA/TPRS Gap
By doing TPRS stories with kids whose needs are not being met as you describe above, we could use the stories in the following way:
1. Since the kids make up the story, they will feel less forced to speak, as they are now, about topics that don’t interest them. Not being forced to speak is at the core of all that we do. We give the brain the time it needs to form the language for real. So the personalization piece right there could diminish the angst in class that these ELA kids currently feel, which would be a good first step.
2. We could spend a very limited amount of class time on creating stories. In our FL classrooms, we sometimes spend days creating stories, and laughing all the way. But if we created a story, one created by the ELA kids, in, say, fifteen minutes, we could then turn the hammer on to the TPRS Step 3 activity of Reading. But this time the kids would be reading about something they created. Ownership is a powerful tool in education. This is a point of critical importance. By getting the buy-in that is missing in their ELA classes where they are forced to read about historical events and stories that just don’t interest them, they would develop a different attitude toward what they could do as language learners. It would shift the fulcrum to their side of things.
3. So to spend maybe 10% of a story on its creation, and then spend 50% of the time on doing some embedded reading work with it – we could consult with Laurie and Michele on this – we could then spring from the reading into distributing the remaining 40% of the time on writing. We could do dictation as per the model first presented here years ago. We could do lots of free writes (probably the best option that we have to use on developing writing) and we could do some of Bob Patrick’s OWATS idea to get some group work in and further build community while teaching writing.
Judy Dubois had a great idea that addresses the lack of a common language problem. She explains:
I’d like to speak up about the problem of “no shared language”, which IMHO is no longer a problem. I gave a presentation at a private school here in France which teaches French to students from around the globe. There were Koreans, Brazilians, Chinese, Germans, Swiss, Norwegians and Japanese all in the same class. I was told “We can’t translate for meaning because we have so many different nationalities in every class.” Yet, as the teacher wrote vocabulary on the board and began miming and gesturing, half of the students had their phones out and were looking the meaning up in their native language. When the teacher saw them, she scolded them and told them to put their phones away, but they were out again within 5 minutes. Personally, I think the students had the right idea. Since almost everyone has access to on-line dictionaries, why not use them? With the right guidelines to avoid confusion when words may have more than one meaning, I don’t think that there’s that much difference between ELA and other languages. Most of the ambiguities will sort themselves out during PQA.
So maybe we can bridge the gap by including the kids more in community, giving them a place in the community that is not shaming to them, let them create a story but focus less on the auditory creation of the story and more on the reading and writing piece, and allow them to establish meaning via online dictionaries between their first language and the one being studied.
Another idea that might bridge the gap is about reading in the ELA classroom and what we have learned in TPRS classrooms about it that may help them. The more challenging a text is, the more it draws into play the conscious mind. But when they read in such a way that it all unfolds in their unconscious mind, the more it draws into play their unconscious arsenal, developed from hearing speech. The nature of comprehensible input is that it occurs below the level of awareness, and that goes for reading too. Susan Gross says a reading should unfold like a movie in their minds just like it happens with stories. So if we ask ELA kids to “read down” they will read more and it will all become more comprehensible faster. I don’t think ELA classrooms do this.
So far this bridge of good ideas from the TPRS world to the ELA world includes:
1. Stories build personalization. Personalization builds community. Being included in a classroom community builds confidence. Inclusion reduces isolation and shaming.
2. Stories can be minimized in terms of auditory input to create lots of time for reading of the stories, and esp. embedded reading. TPRS Step 3 can reign in an ELA classroom, but the first two steps would set that all up.
3. Stories that lead to lots of reading can lead to lots of writing. Writing could be like a fourth step in an ELA program based on TPRS.
4. Cell phones and online dictionaries can solve the problem of multi-languages in one classroom. The child need only look up the word in his own language dictionary.
5. Students constantly “read down” to use Michele’s term. This produces more reading, and in an ELA classroom there is nothing more valuable than more reading.
Here is the email I sent Larry:
Actually Larry I see that four of the people in my PLC – Jeannette, Judy, Laurie and Chris Stolz have already written articles on TPRS that can be read on your blog. I would just say the same thing, but with less eloquence.
Instead, therefore, I will bring this very compelling question about the classroom gap between ELA and TPRS to the group. We will knock it around a bit, and perhaps then we can offer you something strong that comes from what our group collectively thinks on this important topic.
I say “classroom gap” between ELA and TPRS because there is no gap in the research. Krashen’s work was originally done in ELA and yet has been much more successfully applied to TPRS. That seems odd.
So I’ll see what kind of discussion we can get going on the PLC and if we get anything interesting I will then share those insights with you in response to your question about the potential for storytelling and the work of Blaine Ray to influence ELA classrooms.
Of course, the knock on TPRS/ELA has been that there is lack of a common language in an ELA classroom which prevents us from establishing meaning and so confuses the students in multi-language classrooms, since translation is not an option.
Establishing meaning before a story may be a very small part of what we do but it carries huge importance. If a child doesn’t know what a word means before a story is started she can’t understand the story.
So the commonly accepted view is that TPRS is best used in single language classrooms. This may be true, but do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Do we throw out the huge potential of storytelling to influence the more output driven ELA world because of that one glitch? Can a bridge be built between TPRS and ELA that brings greater outcomes than we have seen to date?
I think we can narrow the gap. We should at least try. Things we need to address are:
1) Can stories be successfully used in multiple language classrooms with no common first language?
2) Can ELA teachers be cncouraged to use less forced output in their work, and thus better align their classroom instruction with Krashen’s research, so that all the millions of raised affective filters happening in ELA classrooms right now across the world can be lowered?
Larry asked me to write an article about TPRS for his site, but anyone who has read what Jeannette, Judy, Laurie and Chris have written on his site know that we don’t need any more articles explaining TPRS because those are so well written. Instead, we need to supply Larry with some kind of statement about ELA and TPRS.
Why is it a concern that we have found no common ground, no common ELA/TPRS turf in our building at Lincoln High School, which is only a microcosm of a worldwide issue? On the level of research, we share lots of common ground – Krashen. Why isn’t that common ground shared where it counts, in the classroom?
Krashen’s original work was done in ELA and yet in Denver Public Schools has been much more applied to World Languages than ELA. So let’s look at this. Some in our group have backgrounds in ELA, like David Young in Kansas City. Maybe we can get a series of articles and comments that would lead to at least some preliminary conclusions about what is going on.
There is an blogger on ELA and language acquisition in Sacramento named Larry Ferlazzo. Chris Stolz put me in touch with him and thank you Chris. I think you got a live one here. On his blog, Larry asked about the use of TPRS in ELA in this recent article:
Those interested are asked to go to Larry’s site and read what our group members Jeanette Borich, Judy Dubois, Laurie Clarcq and Chris Stolz have said so far, and once enough people have had time to read the articles over there, maybe we can then further this ELA/TPRS discussion.
Through it, maybe we can reach kids in ELA classrooms across the country whose daily affective filters make Hannibal Lecter’s look like that of a beauty queen. Maybe we can find a way to make stories work in ELA classrooms!
What are we trying to accomplish here? I think we need to just open the uncooked can of TPRS/ELA pasta and warm it up and see if we can make it into a good meal. It may be an acquired taste, but somebody has to do something here.