[Note: I repost this article often, almost once a month, for any new readers here, and also because I keep adding to it. If you are willing to read all 52 of the reasons I oppose targeted comprehensible input, you might possibly find yourself echoing the a statement about classroom management by Fred Jones: “…open your mouth and slit your throat…” For us, referring to the increasingly useless idea that we need to plan our classes, it’s “…plan your class and kiss your ass…goodbye…”.
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.”
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.
The thing is, I don’t know how many of us here actually are even doing NTCI as described in A Natural Approach to Stores (ANATS) and in A Natural Approach to the Year (ANATTY). So it would be nice to collect some information about that and to read some general reactions to this shift in how we define CI instruction in our classrooms.
If you decide to give feedback, the consent is here: https://tamucehd.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9XLw3wJHIBaEKrP
and the survey is here: https://tamucehd.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5iEU1pQIpE1NPcV
“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.
“In non-targeted comprehensible input (NTCI) we use images as the starting point to impart language to our students and not the other way around. It is because images are more interesting than words to kids, especially when it is they who create the images. Images propel the conscious mind into happy focus on the bizarre and humorous invisible creations that the kids make, as we stealthily feed their unconscious minds with the language, which is exactly how the research says language acquisition happens. Thus, language gains flow far more quickly from images because of the compelling levels of interest they generate. This is not possible when we work from high frequency lists, thematic unit lists, semantic set lists, or lists of words used in backwards planning of novels, or when a summative test holds sway over the instruction.”
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.
Instead of pushing the language into a corner of the bedroom, or a kitchen or a living room, or down the staircase, or into a list of any kind for the purpose of testing the semantic set to grade the child on her ability to learn words out of context, we expand language into the whole house.
The results are: (1) a more interesting story, (2) less conscious focus on words to learn, (3) more and easier focus on meaning, (4) no planning for the instructor, (5) a more expansive and less reductive language experience, (6) more fuel for the Din during sleep, (7) more contextualized learning, (8) a lowered affective filter, (9) language instruction that aligns more with the research, and (10) more authentic Communication.