I very much appreciate what Alisa wrote here a few years ago about nontargeted instruction, during those days when we were hammering out the NT piece here about seven years ago. It’s true. It’s what Beniko says and Krashen’s work indicates. Alisa also talks about Story Listening (Beniko Mason) here. If you are not incorporating it now in the drag of winter you should – just do a search on it here in the search bar, read, find out how easy it is, and go ahead and implement it now (the perfect time of year to do Story Listening to break things up a little now at this very difficult time of year:
A repost from January of 2014. It’s good to reflect on this topic from time.
In 2013, Steve Krashen said (source below) that curriculum and instruction based on a grammar-based syllabus has the following problems:
(a) the Natural Order problem – Krashen states that we do not know the Natural Order and even if we did, we would not want to base the syllabus around grammar because basing instruction on grammar leads to a constraint on interest as stated below.
(b) the constraint on interest problem – Krashen says that the input must be compelling as stated in the “forgetting hypothesis”, which states that students must forget that they are listening to another language (because Krashen has shown that language acquisition is a completely unconscious process – the student must not be aware of the language which is merely the vehicle but rather only on the message itself*).
(c) the review problem – Krashen states that the first year works through “basic” grammar and the subsequent years review it, because students did not master it the first time, so why do it at all?
(d) the teachable and untaught grammar problem – Krashen states that a grammatically-based syllabus cannot possibly do the job of producing advanced performers in a language.
(e) denial of i +1 – Krashen states that grammatical syllabi cannot give learners true i +1 especially since many elements traditionally included in the beginning classes are actually late-acquired.
(f) individual variation – Krashen states that due to personal differences, the students are all ready for a different i+1 at different times so the “rule/structure of the day” will not be the +1 needed for everyone. So why spend time on it when we could be providing far richer non-targeted input that everyone can grow from?
Got this from Bradley:
I had a short conversation with my friend that had so much to do with the work we do as second language teachers that it blew me away:
My friend recently agreed to teach me to play the piano and we were listening to a few songs in the car when out of the blue he said, “You know, the thing most piano teachers don’t get is that when people say they want to learn to play the piano, what they really mean is they want to learn how to play songs.
But instead, the instructor bogs them down with scales and counting and finger placement and posture and memorization that they get discouraged. It takes forever for them to get around to even playing a song, much less a song they love and feel with their bodies.”
I’m truly amazed at how teachers who claim expertise at CI have tried to market it as a way to teach a set curriculum out of a textbook. Virtually every trainer out there does that.
Of course, the teacher who doesn’t appreciate the depth and breadth of the real research, and who is saddled with teaching out of the book, welcomes such a notion.
However, CI cannot be combined with the textbook. CI can only work when it is non-targeted and fully divorced from any form of set curriculum. What does this mean?
Mike Peto teaches this way. He knows from experience that when we teach without a tightly-scripted plan, we can open ourselves to the creativity of the class and free everyone from an agenda.
Mike says that when we plan the whole lesson out, we lose something essential to the process of language acquisition: the spontaneity and joy that come from following student creativity and serendipity. Lots of planning is necessary in other school subjects, but it can be a detriment in language classes.
Opening ourselves up to feeling not in complete lockdown control of the class is the only way to gain the peaceful feeling that comes from laying down the burden of all that extra planning work.
What would happen if we started to rely more on our intuition in class? Would things fall apart? Probably not in the way new teachers fear. They might be surprised! Our students actually do want to communicate with others about topics they find interesting, if they were given the chance.
This is a big shift for many teachers, and many may want to just use non-targeted input some of the time to see how it affects their classes. Good, just do that much. Do SOME non-targeted work. Many teachers have reported that the class attends better to the input when it is non-targeted. Why not try it out and see if that is true for you?
Attention is such a gossamer thing anyway. It floats here and there of its own accord. It really cannot be compelled by the teacher. We can force students to pretend they are paying attention, by holding their bodies in a certain way*, but in reality each person has to choose to lend their attention to the goings-on in class. The only way to get real control over the class’s attention is, paradoxically, when the class itself is controlling their attention, because they want to hear the messages we are imparting to them.
When we have everything planned down to the words we will use that day, we lose that possibility. The students are not stupid. They will see that we are really not there to converse in a relaxed way, but that have a hidden agenda.
Take a leap of faith one of these days, lay aside the targets, and see if there is a shift in the energy in your classroom. NTCI is really a system, and it is odd how structured a non-targeted classroom can be. Non-targeted does not mean non-structured!
*That is whey I got rid of Classroom Rule #5 about sitting up, shoulders straight, etc. We can’t dictate posture in a child.
A teacher on the Invisibles FB page has written something about the value of non-targeting that I’d like to share here. Sean Griffin writes:
I am enjoying being relatively stress free these first few weeks of school, thanks to just going with creating tableaux using…whatever. First, I photocopied the pages 192-194 in The Invisibles to have in front of me, in case I need a prompt myself. I have used the students’ cards, I used a Matava survey question, and yesterday, when I couldn’t figure out where I had put down the folder for a class, I just started asking kids questions in German, that they could answer by raising a hand, then I used one kids answer to start building a tableau. Of the 5 sections I am teaching this fall, I am teaching two large sections of combined levels 2, 3, and 4. I am convinced that this could end up being really cool, instead of really stressful. I have found so far, that with just the tableau level questions, we can include in our tableau language that is totally comprehensible for the less experienced (because I can make it comprehensible with images, acting, or words on the board) and we naturally include more complex language, just because I ask ‘why?’ For example, to add theme and mood to our tableau, I may ask ‘Why does John play the oboe with his feet while underwater in a bathtub at midnight on September 20?’ Which leads to all kinds of other things. I am coming more and more over to Ben’s perspective, that I don’t need to target structures or vocabulary, because if I allow the students to make the conversation continually more interesting, all that stuff is going to show up. Best part of all – ALL the kids are following along and learning, not just the rock star five kids who ace every class.
In this article I hope to show how two of the bread-and-butter terms of TPRS and of the CI movement in general, two terms that people really like to spend lots of time on in trainings and summer conference, are largely unnecessary and tend to obfuscate and confuse new CI practitioners.
Let’s start with something we have dissed for about four years now here on the PLC: targeting.
Targeting means you want to teach certain words. It means that you are trying to align your instruction with some sort of list: a high frequency verb list, any high frequency list in general, a list of words (like the colors, or a list of rooms in a house, – these are called semantic sets), a thematic unit list, some group of words that is going to be on a common assessment or some other summative test (which sort of testing is not recommended in the best research I can find), or a group of words pulled from a chapter book that you need to “teach” before teaching a chapter book, or (impossibly) a textbook.
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
I connect this to what is happening in the CI world these days. I won’t say how. Just some food for thought.
If it is true that targeted instruction increases constraints on interest, then why do it? How can we possibly get acquisition when the interest isn’t really there, even with 100 repetitions per class? It’s not the amount of reps, but their quality. It’s about how much what we say approaches compelling.
Working from class created images and not from words connected to a targeted curriculum, high frequency word list, semantic set, thematic unit, or list of words in a backwards planning approach to a novel cannot bring the interest in the way working from an image can, as many of us here know.
I wish that the researchers, especially Mason, would either verify this or shoot it down with some hard numbers. I would bet that a graph of acquisition measuring gains in non-targeted instruction would show a better upward curve, especially over time, because of increased play and interest. The standard is Communication, not Curriculum.
And at the core of communication in any classroom is the concept of building community, and not the wonderfulness of the teacher, who works so hard to be perfect. I don’t do that anymore and either does Dana. We just communicate w our students via images they create. So easy!
It’s like peace. Peace is always there, surrounding us. It is there every moment, no matter what’s going on or where we are. But we’d rather make our teaching complicated. No blame. We’ll get there one day.
Not trying to control everything that is said in a class, in a story, in a conversation, is a good thing. It lowers affective filters, removes stress from the shoulders of the instructor, and generally makes the class more fun and interesting. Such classes are based in trust and not in fear.
Fear is present in targeted instruction. Ask any sensitive teacher who has tried it. It never seemed to work for them. There is the fear that the students won’t learn unless she limits the words that happen in class to the list, whether it is a high frequency verb list, a thematic unit list, a semantic set list, or a list of words pulled from a chapter of a novel so that the chapter is “readable” (by whom? the five class leaders?) Reading class novels is a seriously flawed practice.
I wonder what would happen if new moms limited the words they said to their newborns and toddlers so as not to “overload” their brains. It isn’t necessary and it obstructs the process of authentic acquisition.
In the small (targeted) swimming pools words are limited and connected to lists and targeted vocabulary for eventual common assessments, chapter tests, etc. In those pools the kids usually have higher affective filters because of the test that they know is coming. Plus, things are crowded in the smaller pools.
In the smaller pools, as happens in real swimming pools, some kids start dominating, waving and splashing to get the attention of the other people/the teacher. The teacher ends up really only seeing those five or seven kids and so she unwittingly gears the swimming lessons only to them.
When that happens, trust goes down. Interest goes down. The stress on the teacher to “align”. (Teachers are always being made to “align”, as if just speaking the language to the kids is not enough.) Then those teachers, to convince others in their building that they are meeting the “curriculum” (but isn’t the curriculum the language?) have to plan and do more. Sometimes, around February or March, the eyes of CI teachers who target vocabulary look and felt like two pee holes in a snowbank. Take it from someone who has been there with TPRS but never with NTCI….
None of the above things happen in bigger (non-targeted) pools. The interest is up; the trust levels between kids are much higher because of the community building found in NTCI; they have more room to swim; more kids are involved; tests are far less important because the teacher knows that according to the research what is known can’t really be measured (Natural Order of Acquisition Hypothesis); teacher stress goes way down; everyone participates (see ANATS and ANATTY for exactly how); content of classes is generated by the children via the images they create, and generally very good things happen in the classroom as a result.
The students learn more, but since a lot of what is learned is down in the unconscious mind, it can’t be measured, so the traditional TPRS list-based teachers don’t know that it’s there and they don’t trust that it is there. But if they just looked into their students’ bright eyes during a NTCI class vs. a targeted class they would see that language is being acquired.
In February the eyes of non-targeted CI teachers are still bright and alive, because they are so much more relaxed and are doing so much less planning. Plus, every Friday they don’t actually work because the kids demand to play the WCTG for the whole class period; the teachers take every sixth week off for SPA week, and also in April and May their feet are up on their desks watching kids do projects.)
So I don’t like the small pools. I like the big pools.
I think NTCI is superior for two reasons 1) targeting is a constraint on student interest 2) targeting can lead to a denial of i+1.
That being said, for COMPLETE beginners (first two months of Spanish 1), I think a little targeting might not be that detrimental. Students are just trying to grasp what is being said that the targeting does not constrain interest.
My position is that you were always non-targeted. I watch the old Ben Slavic TPRS training videos and I don’t see someone trying to get reps on structures, but using a set of structures as a starting point and then going with the student interest.
I think the way that we can win teachers to NT is to get them to try the OWI, The Invisibles, and the 7 step story process. That’s what won me over.
Luckily there is elbow room in this group for lots of varied discussion on a variety of topics. TPRS has dominated the discussion here since 2007, but now – since 2015 – I have been leaning away from TPRS/targeted CI instruction to NTCI (non-targeted comprehensible input), which I consider far simpler to do with greater results in student engagement. With respect for those who still do TPRS/targeted CI instruction because we all do things differently, I submit 50 reasons to explain my shift in thinking. Read the last one – #45 – first:
What to focus on?
Recently a teacher from my PLC attended a conference or workshop near her. She is new to CI and TPRS and eager to do the work, so she eagerly bought up many materials and books, but soon felt hopelessly overwhelmed. This is my response to her post on her feeling of being overwhelmed:
I consider the early days of TPRS and those conferences, some of which are still going on just as if nothing has changed in twenty years, to be confusing and frustrating. I compare it to PCs vs. Macs. The work is becoming more and more intuitive and it is in that idea that, in my opinion, the answer to your question lies. Find a way to become intuitive in this work. Find a way to swim to the open waters of this work, where the debris of over-thinking and intellectualization cannot mar the soft beauty of this work.
Don’t think too much about the use of novels and targets and circling and counting reps and all those other things, those things associated with the old TPRS, because they are really confusing, just as you say.
You are not crazy, all the information is. The less we fret about all the details about TPRS and CI that are splattered all over the internet, the better we can teach.
Thinking too much about this work prevents stories from getting high off the ground, precisely because the instructor has to think about too many things. Just learn to communicate with your kids about stuff that they care about and that comes up naturally in class. To respond directly to your point about not knowing where to start, I suggest you start from images created by the kids. Then I suggest you use the fourteen jobs I suggest in my newest book, and ask the questions according to the template offered in that book (A Natural Approach to Stories). The less we tie our instruction to word lists and curricular objectives and semantic sets and those totally frustrating thematic units, and the more we tie what we do to the natural interests of the kids, the higher our CI planes get off the ground.
Simplicity. What is it in this work? I think there is a category here on that word. Also read some of the articles in the category on flow.
The fact that you articulate the issue so well, and your statement that organization is not a great skill of yours, those two things that you said make me feel that, once you let go of all the TPRS baggage, you will be able to feel much more confident about this work because your teaching will be much simpler. You will start from an image created by your students and you will see something.
Have heart. The less organized you are in this work, the less “teaching” that you put on the kids, the less that the kids feel that their teacher is trying to stuff knowledge into their heads, the more neat things you will see about this work. When you embrace the extreme gentle simplicity that lies at the core of this work, then, like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol, you will see the kids’ beauty and then you will be moving past where TPRS used to be, stuck in thinking about how proficient the kids are on some scale of proficiency when they can’t get to any real level of proficiency unless their hearts are open and and they trust you and feel as if they are not being taught in the old way of testing and data collection and all that old stuff we used to do. It doesn’t work with languages and that is why I say we need to get rid of targets and, if we can by the grace of God, all testing as well.
On the point of testing, the kids will pay attention in class because they want to, not because they have to for a test. And why try to measure their proficiency when we don’t do that with younger kids when they learn their first language and the kids learn it just fine anyway?
There are many who tell me not to say these things to newer people. If I were to share this with the iFLT page, I would get “concerned” replies explaining to me that not everyone can teach in this simple way. I disagree.
How to describe the voyage away from the mind and into the heart? Let’s not even try. This work is a practice, a meditation, as jen has said here for years and years. So maybe if you did a search on the word yoga some more things would come up. I would say that of the 7000 posts and 47000 comments here over the past ten years, a good 25% of them address this topic of how to simplify this work.
So feel happy. That is the single most important quality we can have as language teachers. And if you are caught up in trying to figure out all the information there is out there on TPRS/CI, you can’t be happy. Your mind short circuits your heart when there is too much information.
I do feel that the single most demanding thing that we can do as teachers is to try to be happy in our classrooms. And we must try to do that against all odds, because most secondary school classrooms are dark and scary places these days. I just spent four decades experiencing mild to abject fear in my seven buildings in South Carolina and in Colorado. God helped me or I would never have made it. Not even close. In fact, I find my discovery of a happier way to teach extremely bizarre. Like, how did that happen? I used to hate teaching!
But one day,and I think that this is the promise of CI, we wake up and find that we ARE happy in our classrooms. The sooner we learn how to apply the great truth that Susan Gross first said around the year 2000 that in this work that all we have to do is “just talk to the kids”, the more we will plummet into the real gold mine that this work can become if we don’t yammer so much about it (yammering is of the mind) and just start our classes trying to really hear what the kids want to say to us that period (listening to others is of the heart).
It just doesn’t happen fast, is all, so you do have to factor that in when you read this. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Why is starting out a school year with stories a most difficult thing to pull off in foreign language classrooms? What opposes their use in secondary school classrooms in the United States? Here are some reasons:
1. The entire system of TPRS is very hard to learn and most people give up on it within months of trying it.
2. The vast majority of students don’t know how to interact with their teachers in class and must be trained.
3. The data gathering and grading pieces required in schools are in conflict with the soul of comprehension based instruction. Students, parents and especially administrators who don’t understand storytelling can ruin careers.
4. TPRS as a pedagogical term conveys an image of classroom chaos to huge amounts of teachers, due to past TPRS failures by teachers.
5. Training is insufficient. It is folly to ask a teacher to attend a summer training in the area of comprehension based instruction and then go in and make the bucking bronco of comprehension based teaching work in their classroom in the fall.
Accordingly, I have dropped the following things from traditional TPRS – weights around my ankles for more than 15 years – in favor of a more natural approach:
1. targets – TPRS people have tried to combine TPRS with the textbook and it doesn’t work, in my opinion. Focusing on lists of any kind, in my view, has little positive effect on language gains. Examples of such lists are (1) high frequency verb lists, (2) vocabulary lists in the form of semantic sets or thematic units, (3) lists of words drawn from chapters in a chapter book to teach before reading the book via backward planning, (4) any list taken from a textbook. This is all elaborated on in detail in A Natural Approach to Stories and A Natural Approach to the Year (Teacher’s Discovery).
2. massed reps (of targets)
3. heavy circling – when I circled kids questions like if a student was in Vermont or Virginia I would very often get an automatic, almost predictable eye roll. The students would shift their body weight and give me an uncomfortable, forced response. The student and I would look at each other and the class would look at us and we all knew that the question was lame, lame, lame. And I would keep up my fake smile going like I was enjoying it but inside I wanted to scream. I hated the heavy kind of circling they advocate at the conferences to where they spend like half a day – or more – practicing it.
4. reading up*
5. PQA – it didn’t take long for the kids to see that I was asking them personalized questions merely in order to try to teach them a structure.
6. establishing meaning (this is not necessary if we are teaching slowly enough and the context is interesting). What I mean here by “establishing meaning” is the practice of saying what words mean before starting the story, because of course in truth we are always establishing meaning as we go along through the story. We are not teaching individual words – we are teaching the language as a whole. The brain does better with that.
7. having kids supply cute answers (puts stress on them, is linked to privilege bc it favors the louder, bolder, and more socially gifted students, and thus divides the classroom into the haves and the have nots). When are we going to stop doing that in America?
8. gesturing as a group (because we forget to do it half the time) so that now I just do light gesturing. (I think of gesturing as a kind of embedded form of TPR during a story but is not a separate activity like TPR.)
9. lengthy undisciplined stories that last more than 25 minutes long. Once the kids know that in class they won’t get to know what happens in that class period they tune it all out and by springtime they are all the way tuned out on stories. Short 25-35 min. stories that actually have an ending are necessary. The students need for the story to end that class period.
10. all the planning. I needed to stop doing too much work for too little money. We should all have a long look at our paychecks and think about doing all that in terms of how much we plan. For what? Our students need 10,000 hours of input to gain command over the language, and we have 125 hours X 4 years in a four year program, and that gives us 1/20 of the time we need to get to those 10,000. I guess we could work ourselves into a burnout if we want. But I won’t. Besides, as soon as we get one principal impressed, they leave and we have to crank up the dog and pony show all over again when the next upwardly mobile bozo shows up for his – why is it always a man who knows nothing about SLA? – two to three year stint making us nervous. Nontargeted CI is about very little planning. It therefore greatly reduces stress and that enhances our mental health right at a time when mental health issues are, like really big spiders with really big spider webs, taking over our profession and turning it into a dark forest, wrapping teachers up in big cocoons, taking all the fun out of life.
11. using celebrities. I don’t know or care who they are, and many of my kid don’t either. Who is Justin Bieber drinking Cheerwine on the beach with? Why is Lady Gaga surfing in Chicago with the principal of my building? Who cares? They are kids! They only care about themselves! And I don’t want a section of the class – the kids who know the celebrities – running the class again. Why not we make our own characters up? It’s much more fun!
12. feeling as if I had to do a story even when I wasn’t having the best day. I always felt pressure to do stories even when I didn’t want to. Now I can work with an image, I can have them read, I can play the Word Chunk Team Game. I got options!
13. trying to finish a story that was too long. Long stories only stay long bc of the few kids of privilege who turn the class into THEIR class bc they have the social skills, learned them at home where the other kids didn’t because of poverty. No more split classes along economic and racial lines. Done with that. NOW we can make equity happen in our classrooms. Now we can reach them all, because everyone can learn a foreign language. We need to quit making a second language only for the few. Now we know how to do it! Piedad Gutierrez has said on the subject of stories that drag out too long: “Very early on we were trained (at the national conferences) that the stories were not important, the content was not important, we were supposed to be doing reps of targets. But the students cared a lot about the stories, because they were invested. The stories were theirs not ours. So I learned to follow the students and finish the stories. The 30 minutes has worked magically for me.”
14. not having a safe set of golden rails for my CI train to go down. Not feeling safe when I’m teaching, like my instruction could go off the rails at anytime. Screw that. I need safety. I was too scared just being in school buildings for all those years. I needed for that to stop. NTCI did that for me. I’m not saying what is best for others here.
15. dominance of the classroom by the few bc of the targeting of lists (high frequency lists, thematic unit word lists, semantic set lists, lists of words taken from chapters in novels for backwards planning, TPR lists.
16. being cute. I can’t be cute anymore. I got too many lines in my face now as I try to embrace what it means to get old after spending almost 40 years in a classroom, which is a very cool process especially knowing that there are people like Tina and Kesha Wise and and all y’all in the world, riding waves, hanging ten, doing it differently, doing it your way. There is nothing in the research on CI that indicates that cuteness is a requisite ingredient of good foreign language teaching. An example is cuing of any kind, like the “Oh no oh no oh me oh my!” thing. I’m even thinking of giving up the Mais bleater. When we cue them, it is like controlling them. That’s not what I want to do. I want to let interesting input drive the class, not the lion tamer thing. Each student will respond in their own way, how they would in a free and open conversation. We need to learn to respect our students, stop treating them like idiots and measuring their process so much. We need to be better. They don’t. Doing that will pack our fourth and fifth year programs with students bc they will actually want to be there.
17. cuing kids to do the “Ohhhh!” move. Some of the kids have no idea what they are “Ohhhing” about anyway, but, more importantly, we are taking away the right of the kid to listen in a quiet and relaxed and focused way and turning them into a kind of performing animal, lions in cages. It’s manipulation and distracts their focus and wears the hell out of us.
18. making the kids create a six panel drawing of a story when they are only in level 1. I think that this is too much for them. Rather, I advocate level 1 classes making two panels (problem and solution), level 2 can do 4 panels on their drawing, level 3 can do the six panels, and level 4 can maybe do 8 panels. No rules. You do it the way you want.
19. high frequency word lists. If a word happens in our instruction, it is probably high frequency, since our students are beginners. The entire HF list thing is just old, for me. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for others. It doesn’t work for me. It makes me nervous as to whether I taught something to children who largely don’t care. That is a formula for mental stress.
20. I don’t do TPR as a class activity any more. I do light TPR in stories. TPR always seemed artificial and kind of lame to me. Like circling and gesturing, it brings up that conscious learning factor in the moments of comprehension, which removes the flow of focus only on meaning. I make instructional decisions very much on intuition and process, and circling and gesturing and now TPR, in my opinion, should be done lightly during instruction, and only lightly, so that the supremely important focus on meaning – which alone drives acquisition – can be uninterrupted and unfettered. I see no pressing need to teach certain “super” verbs early on in the first year. Isolated language is not as powerful as language in context, and so the authors advocate less time spent on isolated TPR of words early on in level one in favor of more and earlier stories. The students will learn the verbs better and faster in context, in my opinion. TPR is really good, but stories are better in my view. Both are excellent. There are no rules or truths in this work – we just need to find a way to find those techniques that work FOR US as “individual teaching artists”, a wonderful term first coined by Spanish Teacher Moco Loco Thompson in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1997. We each get to do what we each want to do to make ourselves understood in our classrooms in the ways that we feels is best for our own mental health. There are no experts – there are just different ways up the mountain.
21. the teacher trying to be the dynamic, in-charge lion tamer with star quality instead of being self-effacing, listening to her students carefully, and rolling with whatever direction the conversation goes. This model of a teacher who uses comprehensible input is not in line with Krashen, Vygotsky, etc. The very image of a lion-tamer super star ball of energy entertainer making kids laugh is just not what teachers can do all day. That image, packaged and sold at conferences by dynamic TPRS presenters, has had a strong deleterious effect on people new to CI for a long time now and the image must change. WE ARE NOT PERFORMERS. I once received this comment via email from a young teacher just starting out with CI:
… I’m nervous I don’t have the language skill sets to perform impromptu stories in the upper levels….
She cannot succeed if she thinks her job is to perform. I told her:
…I advise that you reconsider that mind set and especially your use of the word “perform”. It is not a performance. This is a legacy of the TPRS community and it has really hurt a lot of teachers, this idea that they are performers, there to create a story that pleases the kids and impresses visitors. We are not performers, but simply adults whose job it is to make ourselves understood by our students. That’s it. Just do that. TPRS slowly morphed into this idea that we were performers. They all went to the same conferences every and only a few of the same people every year presented and they were the few who could do stories as performers but most of us are not that. We are not. We are there in fact to STOP performing and reach our kids on a deeper level than mere performance. Oh man that is a big one! It makes me think of what Earl Stevick, who was not just a language researcher but also a poet and a visionary, said a long time ago about this work:
…In what we say between the lines of what we say,
even and inescapably in what we never say at all,
we SEND a message to our students—
even when no WORD is spoken, a message.
And here between the lines, between the sentences,
here in our moving, in our looking, in our silences,
here, it seems TO ME is hidden
the most weighty, most compelling message
they can ever take away with them. (Earl Stevick, no date)
22. I’m also not doing what Blaine calls “breakdown”. What is breakdown? According to Blaine, breakdown is when the student either answers the question with confidence or hesitation and when their answer shows hesitation that is called breakdown. And then when we see that Blaine says that we “need to practice the sentence more”**. But do we break down when learning our first language? Looking for breakdown is like hammering the input in one nail at a time when no nails are needed, just waves and waves of pleasant comprehensible input (easy on the student and the teacher both) and some goes in and some doesn’t and then when the students sleep the process of parsing out some words – as ready to be accepted into the growing language system or not – happens. The process is under our unconscious command and so why “practice” it? TWhy look for things that the kids can’t do? Doing that activates conscious thinking and the affective filter and that is not how the research says it happens.
23. This tags on #22 above. Are actors that talk, repeating after the teacher, all that necessary? Don’t we have enough to do? The amount of speech practice that actors get in a story when we ask them to repeat after us is negligible. Unimportant. Don’t need to do it. Sean Lawler’s style of no drama, no actors showing off, no big effort to get any output, lulling them into a dream like he did w the Matava script in that video from three weeks ago here, is far more effective in my opinion. That said, there is one thing that having the kids speak during a story does, and it is a very good thing if done in a certain way, the way I saw Tina do it countless times over this past summer in workshops. What Tina does is “lock up” emotionally with the actor and make a game of the dialogue. What does “locking up” like this mean? To me it means that when you engage the actor in speech, you don’t go for language correctness, correct point of view, SV agreement, etc. or when you ask them to repeat after you mechanically, while you judge how well the kid did. Rather, you get a kind of smile on your face that invites them to play, to want to repeat the sentence histrionically, for the purpose of laughing***. In this endeavor you always have the director’s cues that are so useful at the most unexpected times in the wall space above the board. In Atlanta once Tina had 150 teachers laughing their asses off and no one new why. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t figure it out. It was something in the repeating, the way she was engaging them beyond the mind level, at the play level, that was just funny.
24. I think that it is wrong to ask new teachers to “dive right in” to stories. The day you create your first story with your class is a day that requires more of you in terms of energy and goodwill than any other. Build community first, and don’t start stories until you are ready, possibly as long as 8 to 10 weeks into the school year. See the new Cycles of Instruction book for more on how to fill those ten weeks.
25. Offered by Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg (italics):
I see the primacy of the Physical Presence/Voice & Vibes as transcending any kind of input, targeted or not. I am training a faculty of newbies so I have lots of observations that run the gamut fresh in my mind. The ‘trato’ – the relational dynamics, characterized by the extra-linguistic skills – are the cornerstone to comprehension, engagement and maintaining attention…Classical TPRS is so loaded with teacher “to-do’s” that it’s hard for the (esp newbie!) to have the mental space to focus on the essential extra-linguistic skills…They need to be front and center!!
26. I strenuously disagree with Krashen’s position on specialized reading, if I even understand the term correctly. If we are tasked with teaching a group of foreign nurses who need the medical vocabulary before they can start working in the profession, they will not learn the terms they wish to learn until the bedrock of their language system is more established in a general way. The terms cannot be learned unless the overall language system itself in each nurse is stronger. It’s like trying to put a cargo on an unfinished boat – it will sink. It’s like building a stadium for a soccer game but forgetting to put in the field. The nurses will only learn the vocabulary they need when the field is finished.
This discussion just proves that we are all different and that there is no one way to teach stories using comprehensible input. When I asked kids questions like if a student was in Vermont or Virginia I would get almost an automatic eye roll, shifted body wait and an uncomfortable response. The student and I would look at each other and the class would look at us and we all knew that the question was lame. And I would keep up my fake smile like I was enjoying it but inside I wanted to scream.
*Reading up is where the teachers hand the kids books that they can’t read. When it is in the form of a novel that the class reads together, it is especially onerous to the students who come from less privileged backgrounds. Now Tina and I just do Free Choice Reading to start class for ten minutes. The kids read what they want from a pile of books on a table. The feeling for over the half of the kids when we do class novels is like standing under a cherry tree and being told to jump up to get the cherries. Some can’t jump as high as others. This reduces equity and inclusion in the classroom and divides the class. THAT pisses me off. It is the teacher’s job to pull the branch down so that all the kids can easily do the classroom assignments and thus make it effortless for them, because that is what the research says how we acquire languages – when it is literally effortless. So I say we need to implement more “reading down” in our classes – more collecting like only three chapter books of different VERY LOW LEVEL titles or better yet making our own from our own class stories – they collect fast over the years to make our own personalized libraries. One way to do that is to follow the Mike Peto Reading Wagon down the street.
L: What are the best novels to buy these days? What are people recommending? I need to spend $440 in grant money fast on some readers for my very literate Level 3s and 4-APs.
Me: The thing is if you read my “Hit List of 26” [the reader can search it on the PLC] you see that I am against reading “up” [explained in that article]. I think that even though your students are very literate they should still experience zero, or next to zero, conscious engagement when reading (reading up). SO I would recommend easier novels, those typically taught in level 2 or level 1 depending on the student, IF I gave them novels at all, which personally I wouldn’t do* except in the Free Choice Reading sessions that start class.
L: I just started the process for developing organized, multi-paragraph essays on academic topics. I am the only French teacher at my school, and I do French 1 through 4-AP. I have done mostly non-targeted CI with these students for the whole time they have had me. Students are good with narratives, but have yet to master expository writing.
Me: I personally think that they are hundreds of hours from that. The expectations that they can do expository writing in the upper levels are too high, in my opinion. I would tone down that part of my instruction at levels 3 and 4. They can write in college, because they will have had so much input that they will be able to write effortlessly, since you didn’t waste time having them write too much in levels 1-4. Again, just my opinion. Moreover, writing is one of the favorite things of college professors – it keeps them in their minds where they live.
L: In my level 2 classes, I just do a gentle listening/writing practice with my French Level 2s. They are just doing card-talk with summertime vocab. We are learning to write about the student-of-the-day. We switch from using descriptive paragraphs about the student of the day, into narrative paragraphs about what they did in a town they visited over the summer and end with some writing about summer in general, to serve as a concluding device, and possible transition into an expository paragraph on the health and psychological benefits of vacations. This could lead to a general conversation on health and self-care.
Me: Again, I’m good with that plan until the last part, and that is where personally I won’t teach even a fourth year student to do this. Again, it’s just too early. We always overate them in their ability to output. Again, just my opinion based on my own experience.
L: I told my upper levels that we were not going to watch any movies until I got good at teaching writing. They are easy to work with, and I wanted them to know that a change needs to happen within me, before the change from narrative to expository writing takes place within them. We will watch our first movie after we have gotten familiar with the writing process and feel good about our progress. Not a single student even protested. I think they are happy that they can look forward to developing their writing skills immediately this year.
Me: Sounds like some good kids!
L: Over three days, I did the basic things in Tina’s repertoire w/ my Level 3s and 4s, but added the first step below:
1) brainstorm in Eng/rewrite brainstorm ideas in French/ survey student interests from the brainstorm
[the result was we are going to study the importance of sleep]
2) Find French academic vocab to support our future writing
3) Started card talk while mixing in the new academic vocab
4) Started immediate follow-up with structured sentences and paragraphing.**
** This is a step that I never gave myself permission to use till Tina did. Genius!
Now, because of all of the positive energy from the morning classes, the French 1 classes in the afternoon are easier to guide than in the past. I keep the listening very simple, but they can *see* more in a student-of-the-day paragraph than I used to think they could. After some discussion and drawing inputs w/ questions, I can show them the paragraph below and they can write it with me,
L’été de Jayden
Jayden est un garçon américain qui aime deux sports. Il joue au football américain et nage. Un jour, Jayden nage à Huntington Beach. Il regarde une étudiante. Il dit, “Bonjour !” Jayden est content.
The Level 1s loved it, Ben! It is a great start to the year, regardless of what happens next. Even with all the ups and downs, students are starting to be proud that they chose French at our school. ASL and Spanish are very popular, and I still get great students every year. But I want to have the best program at my HS. ?
Me: I’m sure it will, because of your skill, experience and dedication.
*This is a very sensitive area tied to equity. If thirty-five kids have a wide range of reading ability, because of their background down to elementary school, availability of books throughout their childhoods, family wealth, etc. then many of them will be odd man out in classes that “challenge” the class, which is code for “only teach to the top kids in the class”. We don’t want that. So what we choose for reading materials is a big deal. We want everyone to be able to read, especially because it is input and input drives the CI train. Kids should never be made to feel behind in a reading class, and yet as we speak most do in those skewed to the few class reading of novels settings. That is why six years ago I went to the 10? individual free choice of books – any level – sessions to start class and why I condemn the reading of class novels during class time. Reading should be individual, not as a class (saves a lot of money since we only need to purchase 2 or 3 titles instead of 35 classroom sets. The books offered to the individual readers should be easy. If those four kids out of the thirty-five want to read “up”, fine. But don’t make the class do it.
**for the full article: http://www.mena.northwestern.edu/documents/TPRS-workshop-handout.pdf
***teaching for laughter keeps kids our of their conscious minds. Teaching for correct verb structuring keeps them in their conscious minds. The one aligns with the research, the other not.
This has turned into a long ramble but what the hell. Here is some more rambling, this below on the problem with targeting words in a CI classroom:
Tina has said and I fully appreciate and support her point:
… now I just assume that if they do not get 100% of what I am saying, I am OK with that as long as they are getting the overall message….
This is 100% supported by the research. Krashen and his (35 years of pure) research tell us that we want to establish in our students’ minds the illusion of comprehending the language while their focus is ON UNDERSTANDING THE MESSAGE, not the words. Why?
Because the mind can only focus on one thing at a time, either the message or the words. This is why Tina and I started the FB CI Liftoff site and why we wrote those last two books in what will become a “Natural Approach” trilogy* – all to support this simple idea.
WE WANT THEM FOCUSED ON THE MESSAGE AND NOT THE WORDS**. This creates the “din”. For more search “Krashen Din”.
The tragedy, and that is not too strong a word, is that so many teachers who are interested in CI try to teach the language instead of the message. They focus on certain verbs, certain words, certain verb tenses. No blame. They are teachers so they think they must teach. But all this is not that difficult, not really. WE make it complicated. All we need to do is speak the language to our students so that they understand and enjoy. Testing (“weighing the pig doesn’t make it grow any faster” as Blaine likes to say) is not necessary. We don’t need to fret so much on the “what” but rather just focus on sharing ideas w the kids and THEY WILL ACQUIRE better and do so faster when we do it that way.
*The books are:
A Natural Approach to Stories
A Natural Approach to the Year
The Square Peg, Round Hole Book (Cameron Taylor)
A Natural Approach to CALP (ready in 2019)
(hard copies from Teacher’s Discovery; e-versions from this site) http://www.benslavic.com/tprs-ebooks.html
**the argument by the TPRS Old Guard is that the teacher first establishes meaning of the “target words” for the lesson that day from a list somewhere (a semantic set, a high frequency list of words, words necessary to read a chapter in a chapter book, etc.), then uses PQA to teach them (which is very hard for the teacher and mostly boring for the kids and a fatal flaw, actually THE fatal flaw in TPRS, for which I am partially responsible for writing PQA in a Wink! in 2007. We don’t need PQA to teach words from a list, from a textbook. The research demands that we do not target. The research requires that we merely create the “din”. The price we pay when we target is critical loss of interest.
So, in essence, we are to shift our mindset from stockpiling a mega-warehouse of candy and try to hone our foraging instincts to find those chanterelles, morels and other such precious “student-directed-emergent-and-pop-up-language-fungi” that happen in our classes naturally, so that our instruction/facilitation in NT is TRUFFLED (if I may so use one of my favorite French descriptors) with a rich, organic quality that is hard to resist, even by the most finicky of mushroom-hating, candy-loving students.
I mean, the mushrooms are out there. But we have lost our foraging instincts in some way perhaps, and we need to trust that we will find them, and NT seems to allow us the freedom to do that and trust that.
Easier said sometimes than done.
Easier to know that you can count on a warehouse of stockpiled treats & eats but who can sustain a healthy language-aquisition diet on a steady stream of fly-swatter vocab et. al?
I guess we just need to be willing to let go of that controlled stockpile of candy as our go-to staple.
Of course, holding to the maxim of “COMPELLING” input as key, I think that a delicious piece of candy every once in a while, especially a tried and true one for the particular group you are facing, is to be allowed, but again, not as the staple.
I may be wrong here, but I see the NT approach as more about having the freedom of following the current interests and needs of the class instead of feeling locked into particular targets that need to be hit and hammered into students’ brains. Instead of a wild open prairie that we’re wildly galloping across (without some sort of map/rails), it’s more like a slow moving ameba that explores its surroundings as need/interest dictates. We move just a little bit more in this direction, but then we are free to move a bit in another direction when needed. But, no, we aren’t going to be blasting around like a pinball.
Of course, we have to focus on our students being able to understand most of what we’re communicating (90% or so?), but it’s O.K. if there are some words here or there that they don’t know yet. We need to trust that we are all made to be able to communicate like a mother or a father with his or her child. We just have to keep in mind who we’re talking to, and not just talk to ourselves (or the air). Unfortunately, students have been trained to pretend like they’re following along whether or not they actually are (plus a lot of them don’t want to stick out, and they just want to make it through the day…).
In soccer – or as we will be calling it after the demise of the NFL in the next thirty years, football – there are what are called “set pieces”. These are where the team “rehearses” plays that they think might work, for example on a penalty kick when a player kicks the ball towards lanes in front of the goal in a planned way that other players try to fill to reach a certain spot in front of the goal when it is kicked specifically to their area so that they can use their heads to head the ball into the back of the net. We could compare such planned play to targeted language instruction in comprehensible input classes (TPRS).
However, they cannot really control where the ball goes. So also, we cannot control where the language will go in a language class, where the conversation will lead. It would be too bad if we did. And we have been. And it hasn’t worked. It is like the soccer players trying to plan out every pass in the game beforehand.
The South American teams, especially Brazil and Uruguay and the great side from Colombia led in the heart-and-soul department by the great Colombian Diego Ojeda, do not play like this. It is said that they would rather not score a goal unless it is “beautiful”. One cannot “plan” a language class anymore than one can plan where the ball will go in a soccer game. We want beauty. When whimsy and creative play are there, beauty is there and it is worth doing and (no surprise) this kind of play in the language classroom brings by far the biggest gains.
So when an unplanned (non-targeted) CI program is put into place in a school, where proven activities like One Word Images and the creation of stories with invisible characters, and the Invisibles Star Sequence in general with all of its fine activities are there, structure is provided for each class to allow the unexpected to happen within a structure that does not strangle the class. This provides the students with the whimsy and predictability and confidence that the they need. Like in soccer, there is enough structure to allow for beauty.
In soccer, when the team is closing in on the other team’s goal like a vice grip but nobody, not even the players, knows what will happen next. They are just trying to keep the ball in play and direct it to the goal, and that is when wonderful goals can happen.
As a product of whimsy.
Normal speech is not forced and nor should our speech be forced in our classrooms.
I would rather play the game of teaching my students without set pieces, without targets from some list somewhere, without having to read some specific book that everyone has to read together at the same pace, which creates winners and losers. I would rather find out what is going to happen on the field when I arrive in my classroom that day, and have it be different in every class but with the same massive gains at the end of the year guaranteed in each class. I wouldn’t want to have the game all played out in my mind in a mechanical way five times a day when I go to work each day, that’s for sure. Did that for 25 years and cried silently through every long, thankless and futile day, serving only the elite.
When we play, my players, my students, show confidence. And they know their jobs on the field. And they know that anything can happen. And that’s when it gets fun. In the non-targeted way. Non-targeted language instruction aligns best with the research, and so it hits the mark. Why hasn’t Krashen said this yet? Hmmmm….
In an effort to streamline assessments, I have started an interview process for all of my 2nd year students. I do this as a personalized one-on-one NT CI. It’s kinda a farewell gift. Anyway, I have had the best French 2 class ever and some have agreed to get recorded. This is spontaneous and off the cuff. I have a notebook with me in case the student does not get the words I say. I adjust my speech and I try to stay on a topic for a bit before moving on. I tell them I am looking for them to sustain a 10 minute conversation and I am looking for them to respond in single word answers if possible and if they want to confirm a word or question they may in English. Here’s a link to an interview I recorded. I am not sure how this student did or how far she got. Does it matter? It was all just a fun time doing the Invisibles with a sprinkle of SL and Small Talk and Special Chair.
Here are my notes on Steven’s work:
For those who don’t understand French, Steven asks basic interview questions. Nothing is prepared, just off the cuff non-targeted stuff like he’s been doing since 2016. This is a real treat.
Note the following points:
Beautiful accents and interchange by both Steven and the student. There is nothing forced here. They are just talking.
Certain teachers might find this “too simple” for a second year student at the end of the year. That is poppycock. I have been playing the “we-don’t-force-output” trumpet for many years now. In my own teaching I always noticed that in level 2 in about April the output comes naturally and freely, usually not before.
What Steven did that is brilliant here is to make the interviewee 100% comfortable by asking for one word answers like her birthday, the names of her cats, etc. He also allows in bits of English to work for COMMUNICATION.
I can’t stress enough here that Steven, by asking for simple one word responses and not chunks of words or whole sentences, and by allowing bits of English in, just at the time when they are needed to complete the communication, demonstrates here that he has not forced his students over the year to speak at a higher level than is natural for them.
Whenever that happens, it engages the conscious minds of the students and then at that point the class divides into groups of “can do” kids and “not yet” kids, and then the sacred name of equity and inclusion is tossed off the acquisition train.
Yes, teachers far too often, without even knowing it, shame kids with their “No English!” and “Speak French in Sentences!” rules, which behavior on their part amounts to a kind of hassling or putting down of the kids, causing them to retreat into the shell that we all have seen in SO MANY CLASSES where CI has been used over the past 25 years.
Any new teacher is invited to reflect on this master assessment by Steven as him putting the research into action. There is (a) nothing memorized about this interview, which traditional and most teachers who target lists cannot say, (b) the interview has zero tension. What does that really mean?
It means that the student is merely reflecting Steven’s relaxation back to him. Steven knows that he cannot make his class work by being the master of ceremonies. He knows that such communication environments resemble parties where there is one loud guy always taking over, exhorting all to “learn” more” – the cheerleader type of teacher who always burns out when, predictably under such lion-taming type of teaching, eventually burn out an leave the profession.
If nothing else, notice how Steven is simply not reading from a list of questions that are connected to a list of words somewhere on some dumb-ass common assessment to see if the kids have learned “what they were supposed to have learned” in the on-going insanity of world language education today.
Steven does not ruin the experience for his students. He INVITES them to the dance. They don’t have to dance. Some can’t yet. He knows that. He waits. It’s Chapter 21 in the Petit Prince:
“Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te re- garderai du coin de l’œil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…”.
The student in the interview ACTUALLY WANTS TO TALK TO HER TEACHER, enjoying speaking about her cats, favorite fruits, etc. in the target language. She is in a safe place with her teacher. She is not having to prove that she knows certain words, and in not having to prove, she proves.
Steven’s attitude is not only the superb thing going on here. His pacing is superb. The kids have heard the words in different combinations (no memorization!) over so many classes that they simply understand the message w/o having to focus on the medium for its delivery, which is exactly what Dr. Krashen describes as how people acquire languages.
Listen carefully to the exchange between 5:30 and 5:40. The student answers that she prefers Ranch dressing and doesn’t like catsup. But the point to make is that she is just talking to her teacher. I can’t stress this enough. IT IS WHAT WE WANT and why we prefer teaching using NT and why we – those of us here who do it – are so pleased about how GENUINE the results of our non-targeted instruction are in our classrooms.
At 6:00 to 6:10 Steven is talking about a fish. It is a good passage that exemplifies how all he is doing is trying to communicate. There is no hidden agenda here. No game of “Gotcha! You don’t know that word!” Then he talks about Hawaii. They’re just talking! THAT IS THE STANDARD!
When talking about Hawaii, Steven includes some noise (extra words the student may not fully understand). Steven did that on purpose. That doesn’t matter. The student will go home and during sleep all of that input will be replayed in the growing language system in her unconscious mind while asleep. SOME of what Steven said about his experience in Hawaii to the student WILL BE ABSORBED into the growing language system and SOME of it WILL NOT BE ABSORBED. We don’t get to say what does and what doesn’t STICK, even though many of us still TRY to do that, but we need to join Controlaholics Anonymous because that need to control (read “use targets”) does not in my opinion have any other than a deleterious effect on the process.
At 9:43 the student, in responding to Steven’s question about how many stars she would give to a TV show, she (a) doesn’t need to think about what “etoile” means when she hears him say it – she just knows it bc Steven has obviously used it so many times in class over the past year, and (b) she self- corrects on the use of the “de” structure after the word “beaucoup” and she does so because her phonic awareness told her to, and not because she memorized the “beaucoup always takes de” rule. Check out Krashen’s Monitor hypothesis on that topic.
Steven, IT IS SO REFRESHING TO KNOW THOSE TWO THINGS, THAT THE STUDENT KNEW THE WORD “STAR” AUTOMATICALLY DURING THE CONVERSATION – THIS IS CALLED ACQUISITION – AND DIDN’T LEARN IT FROM SOME TARGETED LIST.
I probably already said this, but this student is actually speaking French with Steven. It is effortless (Krashen), unconscious (Krashen), unforced (Krashen), enjoyable (Krashen) and relaxed (Ordiano). This student was not speaking from a list. That is the power of non-targeted over targeted language instruction. Steven you are to be commended. This is wonderful.
Thus, when Krashen came to Denver and stated in 2008 (we have it on video) that TPRS was “the closest thing that aligns with his work”, we should not have taken that as his blessing. But we did and the next eight years took TPRS further and further afield from Krashen’s hypotheses.
The Natural Order hypothesis has been abused by the school think/speak machinery. His ideas (and Beniko Mason’s) were largely ignored in favor of a massive push by TPRS teachers in favor of class readers (big time profit there but only for a few people).
Krashen’s idea that students cannot learn a language while consciously focused on the form of the language (Comprehensible Input hypothesis) was ignored in favor of focusing on high frequency word/verb lists, thematic unit lists, semantic set word lists, backwards planning for class novels lists, etc. I could go on and on. The reader can read more on this subject of how TPRS doesn’t align with Krashen by clicking on the category on the right side of this page called “Hit List of 25”.
So this from Blaine two days ago on the iFLT page is in my opinion a very significant statement that we all should pay attention to:
“Blaine, in the 1990’s did you target anything before doing a story? I am interested in the progression of it over the years, if targeting structures has changed or pretty much remained the same in your approach to teaching stories over the years.”
“TPRS started with the idea of pre-teaching all vocabulary. As the stories got longer and the vocabulary got more advanced that became more and more of a problem. I remember spending 2 weeks pre-teaching vocabulary for a story. It was awful. The pre-teaching evolved more and more into teaching mini-stories. It turned out that teaching mini stories was the best use of time anyway.
“We do put targeted structures in our materials because I don’t think teachers would even look at our stuff without them. They are definitely as a group addicted to the idea of structures.
“While I don’t know, I really don’t think they are needed. I have been teaching class all week and I don’t use structures. I look for break down and then practice the breakdown. So when I see breakdown, I then have a structure to work on. The structure comes from seeing where the student isn’t confident.
“As long as teachers get the idea of teaching the frequency words, I see nothing wrong with using those verbs as curriculum. I think most teachers will teach better with structures.
“I was in a class this week where the teacher was using the word “got stuck” in Spanish. At two other schools I asked the non-native Spanish teachers if they knew the word. Not one of them did. I think working on any verb that isn’t pretty high up on the frequency list is not a very good use of time.
“I do think that getting confident with a frequency verb means that the students are at least confident is the I, you, he/she form in the present tense.
“This might have been more than you wanted. It is an interesting idea. Krashen is against structures and he very well may be right.”
“I am writing a new book. Can I use some sentences from your response above?”
“Yes. I think those ideas are important.”
…something that I love about NTCI is that I have the freedom to follow and share my own interests. Last night I was reading more about 19th century missionaries along the US-Mex border and was really enthralled, and so I talked about that today with my kids. What NTCI provides, besides freedom, is room to follow my enthusiasm. Enthusiasm really can’t be faked. The kids always know. Yesterday morning before school it was my prayer to be blessed with and exemplify enthusiasm for my day and work. I came across these stories and just fell in love with them. Enthusiasm is what these missionaries seemed to live on. Read about this French native Pierre Keralum…:
We always seem to be “targeting” certain words connected to the textbook, the novel du jour, the thematic list, the high frequency list, etc. so that we can “make sure” that our kids learn them. Guess what? They don’t.
Think about the skills we who do non-targeted no longer worry about in our work – targeting and circling. Although those skills seem to be the big focus in CI instruction these days and have been for the past fifteen years (and I am glad that they still work for some – not blaming anyone here), they just don’t work for me and Tina and anymore. We want a higher, more fun, easier way to teach, and we have one now.
Targeting makes me think of guns, and circling makes me think of cats and laser pointers. They are weird and off-putting (again, just IMHO) ways of “attacking” the “problem” that our kids don’t know certain words, aren’t going to learn them. How sad. Can’t we really just enjoy our students and language gains happen if that is all we do? I personally think so. I know so.
When we don’t have to TEACH anything, just the curriculum itself – the LANGAUGE – then our enthusiasm never wanes and we like our jobs and look forward to doing them each day. Too strong a statement in support of non-targeted instruction? No, actually. No. Not at all.
As if kids can learn a language in silence. The silence meant that nobody was doing anything that actually leads to language gains. What was happening in the tomb-like silence of those classrooms was NOTHING. And we allowed it. Think of the tax dollars wasted each year under the guise of language “instruction”. Not to mention the destroyed hopes of kids to one day learn the language.
Silence is not golden in any WL classroom – CI or not, except of course when our students are reading on their own which happens only after they have had enough months of auditory input. What Tina and I have developed is a system of classroom management that does not rely even one bit on extrinsic motivation by the students. We all know what extrinsic motivation means in our classroom – and Tina and I don’t want any part of it and why we have developed a completely new way to assess kids in our classrooms that is based heavily on observable behaviors and rubrics.
Extrinsic motivation is just too heavy-handed for the lightness of spirit that in our view along brings real language gains as per Vygotsky and other researchers who point – in our view correctly – to the human and very heart-based reciprocal back and forth sense of PLAY that alone describes good language teaching.
When we motivate kids with tests and heavy-handed rules and stern We cannot continue to act as if nothing is happening when kids routinely tune us out, even in our CI classrooms. One of the things that made me MOST CRAZY over my 40 years in the field was all those times I’d be walking down to the copy machine and walk by neighboring language classrooms and hear pindrop silence – that was INSANE and it was looked upon as NORMAL by all involved.
As if kids can learn a language in silence. The silence meant that nobody was doing anything that actually leads to language gains. What was happening in the tomb-like silence of those classrooms was NOTHING. And we allowed it. Think of the tax dollars wasted each year under the guise of language “instruction”. Not to mention the destroyed hopes of hope-filled kids to one day learn the language.
Silence is not golden in any WL classroom – CI or not – except of course when our students are reading on their own, which only happens after they have had enough months of quality auditory input.
What Tina and I have developed is a system of classroom management that does not rely even one bit on extrinsic motivation by the students. We all know what extrinsic motivation means in our classroom – and Tina and I don’t want any part of it and why we have developed a completely new way to assess kids in our classrooms that is based heavily on observable behaviors and rubrics and not on memorized material and tests.
Extrinsic motivation is just too heavy-handed for the lightness of spirit that in our view along brings real language gains as per Vygotsky and other researchers who point to the wonderfully human and very heart-based reciprocal back and forth sense of PLAY that alone describes good language teaching.
And we don’t define PLAY as requiring us to be a “playful” and “entertaining” teachers. We are not entertainers, but we are certainly capable of enjoying mirth in our classrooms, even if we have very reserved and quiet and “intellectual” teaching personalities.
The shift is all to the hearts and the kids will teach us, like they are right now in Florida. All of a sudden, the pressure to be a “fun teacher” is gone from us. We can ENJOY fun now that all this love is pouring into our classrooms, but we don’t have to BE fun ourselves. (Love has always been there in schools, of course – we just couldn’t see it before this new shift – it was hiding somewhere behind that big stack of textbooks on our shelves.)
When we motivate kids with tests and heavy-handed rules and stern countenances, we are fooling no one, least of all the students. We know it and now it is past time to change. We have to change. We have broken the old mould of what many teachers still think world language classroom management even IS. Isn’t it nice to know that that old mould is broken? It makes me smile genuinely because I waited so long myself. Color me happy now, finally!
Classroom management problems in CI classrooms happen when kids’ sense of relaxed self-expression in the group is not there, and when kids can’t get focused on the message. They happen when a few kids are included but most are excluded, usually in a ratio of 30:5, with far more kids excluded than those few who – along with the teacher to form a little “CI club” – are included.
So the biggest point to make about classroom management is that it won’t happen without inclusion of the entire group because the excluded kids will find a way to subtly poison the atmosphere in the classroom so that real communication can’t happen. In such a case what is the value of calling your classroom a CI classroom? Comprehensible input is NOT the most important CI in a language classroom – that honor goes to the term “Community Inclusion”.
A second point besides the one made above about full inclusion of all the students is: in our NTCI classrooms we can’t sweep the kids’ creativity under the desks in order to teach them what is on our next semantic set list, or in the next chapter of the book we are (mistakenly) reading as a class. When we use that old kind of “targeted” CI we show that we really haven’t broken loose from the joug imposé dès longtemps of the textbook.
In order for that to happen, in order for us to become finally fully free of the textbook and its continuing hurtful grip on our minds as teachers, in order for us to become free of the idea that we must teach from lists, we must first accept that learning a language is not about intelligence at all – read Krashen on that. It’s about everyone in the class, including the teacher, feeling included as a valued member of the group and not being stifled and not living in fear of the test.
Watch “The Music Man” (Robert Preston version) on this point. A great band program is born in a school not because of the wonderfulness and talent and knowledge and training of the band leader but because of the community’s working together towards a common goal. It only required Prof. Harold Hill’s belief that all kids can succeed for it to happen.
No wonder so many high-intelligence students (read “memorizers”) are so freaked out when they come into our classrooms. Suddenly they are being asked to get involved in a communicative flow of energy, one defined by kindness, between everyone in the classroom. This has nothing to do with what they have been taught in schools about their intellectual “superiority” and survival of the fittest and the exclusion of mostly everyone in the classroom but themselves. We must disarm those few memorizers and teach them a new way of being in a classroom. We do this via love.
A third point: we can’t really can’t get kids intrinsically motivated with targets and circling. This needs to be mentioned now and again here because – and this is just our opinion based on our own experience with the Invisibles – when kids in non-targeted CI (NTCI) classrooms don’t have to experience heavy circling and targets and forced classroom reading as a group with tests on what was read, it turns out that they behave REALLY WELL.
It is because, triumphantly for us, our students are so focused on the message and not at all on the vehicle being used to deliver it that it doesn’t even cross their minds to misbehave – they’ve got better things to do because our NTCI classes are based on things that they created and want to create more from: images.
IMAGES SPARK IMAGINATION in ALL the kids and therein lies the big secret to what makes non-targeted comprehensible input classrooms and the “Invisibles” system work so well.
Also a colleague of Derek presented in Nebraska this past weekend, Jamie Demson Honke:
Q. So, they already drew the OWI character. They decided the details of the character: ex., gigantic red sheep named Geppetto who is dumb, very rich, very sad, who is crying a lot because he has all the money in the world but cannot buy love.
I read the “Overview of the Process” from the Natural Approach to Stories and it says that during the process of creating a story the artists do two-panel story drawings and it says this is for 1st year classes. Does this mean first year with CI which means I should do it with all my classes?
A. Yes. Even kids in level 4 who haven’t heard much of the language are beginners. Maybe they are experts at worksheets, but they are beginners at the language.
Q. Regarding Question Level 6 – “the problem”, do we use the same one they already came up with while creating the invisible or do we create a new one? Or whatever works?
A. Yes, whatever works. And if no problem comes up, we simply end the story and create the reading via W and D or at home as a reading from the notes we got from the Story Writer. Or drop the story altogether. Although when you have something like a big red sheep who is very rich but cannot buy love, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to find a problem from someone in the room. Whether they give it to you in English or not doesn’t matter. So what if the solution to the problem is only that he can’t find love? We put WAY too much pressure on ourselves to create the problem and the solution and it just doesn’t matter. If the ending doesn’t satisfy the students, tell them the truth – they need to come up with something more interesting and you are just the person processing the language, not the talent.
Q. Do you recommend doing the 7 steps for story creation all in the same day or does it matter?
A. Yes, and all in under 30 min. if possible. That is the job of the Story Driver – to keep you moving. Stories should end because the kids want to know what happens. Otherwise we lose their trust that they will find out what happens in that class and with it their interest.