If you are pushing the CI now, doing the Star, etc. I would say to wait a bit. If you are not your own department, and you have to align with someone else to prepare for common assessments, etc. make sure you do that. You want to have your kids exactly where your traditional grammar colleagues are on the syllabus. Don’t poke the bear. Everybody is watching each other at this time of year, but once you convince them that you are doing what they expect of you, in a few months, you can do whatever the hell you want.
Some kids engage at the right amount. Some too much. What about the kids who withdraw? It is my position that, generally, kids who withdraw from interacting in a CI class have a reason to do so.
We all know that kids withdraw in traditional textbook classes from pure boredom. But when things are interesting (and they always are in a properly run CI class), then there is reason to respect the withdrawal of the kids in CI classes as more serious.
If we were to videotape hundreds of CI classes vs. hundreds of worksheet classes, we would see much more varied observable non-verbal authentic engagement in the CI classes than in the traditional classes. One thing is certain in CI classes – kids are listening more than they appear to be.
Here are some quotes from the documentary on Mr. Rogers’ life that resonated in my own mind with the work we do. They point to the way in which we might design future curriculums, with more interest in what the child is really experiencing in our classrooms and less on the subject matter itself:
“It’s you I like, you yourself [ed. note: and not the grades they make]…”.
“You don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.”
“What people need most is to feel that others care about them and know that they are trying their best.”
The mental health of many people in our profession is unraveling before our very eyes. Many are retiring early, quitting, etc. There is no small amount of suffering involved. You know what is happening because you are in the middle of it.
My prayer in this post is straight to our Creator who doesn’t want us to suffer like this, with all the electronic shit in our classrooms, the danger of infection, the messed up planning because we don’t know what to plan for, etc.
It’s a long post, but please read it anyway. Of all the 8,156 articles and all the 56,672 comments posted here over the past 15 years, I am asking you to read just this one post. Read it all the way through. Just this one.
Even the best scripts cannot approach the levels of engagement that are generated by a problem that emerges from the students right in front of us.
If we can somehow find the courage to allow our students, through their characters, to guide our storytelling boat through the waters of metaphor and into the depths of shared unconscious experience, we will learn something.
If we can find the courage to jump into the waters of unplanned stories with strong images and characters whose characteristics suggest strong, real problems, we will be continuously and pleasantly surprised about the depths of what is possible in our language classrooms.
Kindergarten Day allows us to see our students in a different way – not so much as students but as real children. We read from picture books like “I Am A Bunny” or “Trains” or from counting books with pictures of things like four apples, and five flowers, etc.
We read from these books for fifteen minutes or so. If the book tells a story, we can tell it, or we can just talk about what is in each picture.
During this time, we become kindergarten teachers. The kids’ eyes are riveted on the pictures as we sit in a chair in front of them. We read the books with all the heart quality we can muster.
Our national parent organization has done a good job of identifying the Communication Standard as what should be the main focus of our work.
However, over the past thirty years as the research became more and more clear each year, they never found themselves able to cast off the textbook model, which has almost nothing to do with the research but has made companies like Realidades millions of dollars.
Classic hypocritical policy – give lip service to the research but don’t change what you are in reality asking teachers to do – perpetuate a dead pedagogy so that you can keep the dollars flowing.
Miriam Met, a trainer like Helena Curtain in the old days, a PhD in language whatever from Philadelphia and a very big deal in language teacher training over many years, came to Denver in 2006 to do a day long training for almost two hundred foreign language teachers in Jefferson County.
She was accompanied by a representative from Realides, since her presentation that day on foreign language methodology was about how to use that book.
What the fuck?
Does anyone see a problem with this? It was a training in best practices in language teaching. But since everyone was using the book back then, and due to “trainings” like this most probably still are, I guess it made sense to our district coordinator to invite Mimi. I didn’t appreciate it much, because I was in my fifth year of trying to learn how to do TPRS after 24 years of using the book, but I had to go because it was a required training.
Something happened. A teacher asked her, “What about TPRS?” and she said, “It’s just another tool in the toolbox.” The teacher asked a follow-up question: “Can you tell us about it?” And then Dale Crum and I, sitting in the first row, both of us saw her eyes flutter shut in confusion. We both saw it – that is how I know it happened. (Dale, along with Diana Noonan and Meredith Richmond and Blaine Ray and Susan Gross brought TPRS to Colorado.)
Mimi was stumped. She was a Realidades person. But she was in front of 200 teachers. Being a liar, she recovered with lightning speed. She asked if there were any teachers in the workshop doing TPRS. Dale and I and three others – out of 200 people – raised our hands. Mimi asked us to line up in front of the group and I was very nervous because I was still learning it – it actually took me 8 years to get TPRS, with the rules and all.
She asked us, “How do you define TPRS?” We all gave our definitions. I can’t remember what I said, but she then kind of dismissed us and moved on with her description of how to use Realidades.
As we left the training, I walked Miriam and the Realidades cartel representative, who all day was selling Realidades paraphernalia in the back of the hall at a big table looking very officially a part of Miriam’s presentation. I asked Miriam what she thought of TPRS. Again, she told me that she considered it “just another tool in a teacher’s toolbox”. And off she was chauffeured by the Realidades rep to the airport. I guess she was late for her plane, because I was brushed off her shoulder like a fly.
Those were the days when people thought that a textbook was needed to teach a foreign language. Indeed, in the current version of Realidades, every ten pages or so, there was a little box on a page that instructed teachers how to use the TPRS approach to teach the words presented in that chapter. No matter that the teachers weren’t trained in TPRS, as long as the new book contained the new buzz word TPRS, all seemed to be in order with the Realidades people.
What I consider to be really messed up was how the agenda for our Denver workshop (Jefferson County Public Schools) was labeled at the top “Cincinnati, Ohio”. It was a canned sales pitch for Realidades, essentially. Mimi just got on a plane, flew to the city, told people how to use the product, the rep was there to close the deal, and back home they flew. That’s what business men do. I remember sitting in there corner like a caged animal all day, bored out of my mind but unable to leave, and wasting a day of my life to that stuff, just sitting in that meeting all day.
Over the years I have referred many times to this incident. Mimi’s flip statement about TPRS as just another tool among many seemed very wrong to me. How can comprehensible input be a tool in a teacher’s toolbox? It is the support pillar of everything in language education and has been proven so. It felt intuitively wrong, what Mimi was saying. I revered Krahen’s research and to just blow it off like that was weird to me.
What she said stung me. It still does. All the searchable articles here mentioning Mimi and Helena Curtain, who has her own category here, are attempts to debunk their 1950’s era position on what is best for kids in language acquisition. I defend the right of all teachers to do what they think is best, but not at the expense of children.
I got this question:
Ben – I understood that you don’t think it is a good idea to give extended readings to students at the very beginning (novice low, 1). Can you explain further the reasons why?
The reason, and this is only my viewpoint, is that kids read at different speeds and so when they are all told to read together in the same room at the same time then things like comparing their speed of reading to others happens. This taps into children’s fears that they might not be good enough.
APCI stands for Activity Pack Comprehensible Input instruction. It’s the application of CI to worksheets to learn lists of words. That’s what’s happened to the CI movement.
We need a revolution. TPRS has failed, gone off the rails, gone splat.
WE NEED TO STAND UP FOR THE RESEARCH. WE NEED TO REPRESENT THE RESEARCH IN OUR CI INSTRUCTION. We don’t do that anymore, bc we fear the powers that be – from the department chair to the admins to the district office, where in all three areas ignorance about how languages are acquired reigns supreme.
In my opinion, those who think that they are going make it through the entire online thing using APCI, won’t.
This is from Kate:
Hey Ben –
Here is something I kept. I have no idea where it came from. It is typed yes, really on a typewriter from back in the day. I have no idea who wrote it. But it fits today as I am sure it did then.
Father Spirit, Master of Breath, Creator of All Things, Giver and Taker of Life.
You gave us life in the bursting rays of the rising sun, gave us full potentials to be a great honor to you, but we have let our foolish pride, our bloated egos, and our desires for personal gain come between ourselves and the Fire.
- People who embrace the Star – a fine example of NTCI – can’t believe how much it makes their jobs easier. They say, once they have studied and implemented it, “This aligns perfectly with the Communication Standard and the research, and the kids are so engaged!”
- Some people reject the Star with questions like “It doesn’t align with the curriculum!”
- I conclude that those who reject the Star are trying to align with the wrong curriculum, the one that doesn’t align with the research and – far more egregiously – makes kids feel like they did when their teacher taught from the textbook.
I would suggest that the teachers who will go on to survive the changes COVID is bringing will be the ones who align with the real curriculum, the language.
The proof is in the pudding. Teachers using the Star are rockin’ it online. Teachers still trying to align with the outdated TPRS curriculum models that have sprouted up – the “student CI activity pack” model is what I call it – might want to start thinking about how they are going to align with the real curriculum.
Hello, I am your grade book and I wanted to congratulate you on another year in service to me. Oh, I know, I know. You thought you were working on behalf of the kids. Hah, hah! That’s funny! We all know that you can’t serve two masters. Serve me!
Let’s take for example that pesky Javiar Lugo! He is just so bad. He sits so far in the back. How can he learn anything? I think he’s lazy. So, what if he can’t read in French because he just got here from Mexico four years ago and he can barely read in English or even Spanish? We’ve got to hold him to the standards!
John Lewis has said that when you see something wrong, you not only need to say something about it, but you also need to DO something about it. Over my own lifetime in language education, I have seen and said a lot about the abject state of language instruction in the United States over the years. But now, it’s time to act. Now we need to DO something so that we can overcome:
1. The ancient and really quite ugly obsession with grading and the resultant everyday shaming of too many students.
2. The truly boring instruction and the resultant lack of student engagement that in the new online setting has reached epidemic proportions.
Robert wrote (as early as 2016):
…I am increasingly convinced that the school setting is simply so unnatural that everything we do will always be an uphill battle until the system is reformed. Yes, I am a proponent of educational reform.
I just think that the current reform movement is utterly wrong about both what the problem is and what possible solutions may be – those solutions are most certainly not standardized testing and poorly trained deliverers of instructional services.
In my more pessimistic moments, I wonder if even CI is sufficient to overcome the system; will we hear former CI students also claim that they had four years of language and still can’t say anything?
And to what extent have other methods been unsuccessful for similar reasons, e.g. students are not truly “present” in class.
The short paragraph below sums it ALL up. But what if we had a way to break through the dynamic she describes? I do, actually.
Here’s what really happens, as per Kate:
It is the blank and overwhelmed look on students’ faces that teachers trust. They know their students are not comprehending them and so they fall back on explaining in English what they are saying. The kids, meanwhile, used to adults talking over them since childhood, move into either attracting attention or tuning out – their fallback behaviors. Hey, they didn’t really want to be there anymore than they sought to take public speaking. It is a requirement not a desire.
People don’t get that unpredictable words come up in class. They don’t trust that ideas will occur naturally during the conversation, and they try to be in control of the class, so that they can teach certain words. Thus, the natural flow and emergence of the content of a story is strangled by planning and the need to meet the demands of the “curriculum”. This results in boredom. Trust is a big word in our work. And we all know that the curriculum is the language. To repeat: the curriculum is the language. One more time: the curriculum is not a list of some sort (high frequency verb lists, thematic units, semantic sets, etc.)
Do you know what is crazy? People who target parts of the language instead of teaching it as a whole. Such people don’t trust much. They don’t believe that the words will come up in a natural way in normal discussion in class. But how could they not? Does it not make sense that if you speak in the TL all class, you will end up using a lot of words in the language, and that your students might just acquire the language if you spoke to them in the TL long enough? Too simple?
Some kids are seriously rude these days. What do you do if some really power-hungry sophomore (it’s usually sophomores in high school) chuckles when you try to make the Classroom Rule process work for you?
Such a thing would rarely happen in the first week. Usually the oppositionally defiant kids wait and hide until going into attack mode, while they make their decisions about how much personal power they see in you and decide to test it (yes, they do this consciously).
If and when it happens, be ready. Don’t talk to them as if you think you might be able to talk them into behaving as you wish. That is pure folly. You can’t reason with a drunk and the culture in some schools these days is one of a kind of social ivresse.
Here is the website for a new kind of school, one that says they do CI but don’t. They are talking the talk without walking the walk.
Please take the 95 seconds needed to watch their promotional video. Here are my comments on it, because it raises all sorts of red flags in my mind. They may serve to alert us to the kind of false claims being made out there these days by schools whose relationship with real CI doesn’t go any deeper than the level of a buzz word:
Let’s just say it. Bullies are alive and well in our schools. They often call themselves administrators. They are not in all schools, but in many of them. They’ve been doing it for a long time. They are not always white men – there are women bullies too. And not always white, either, but you get my point.
Many of us don’t even know about these people. We have become conditioned to them. All we know is that there is something wrong in our buildings but we often feel powerless to do anything about it. Worse, we blame ourselves for not being able to measure up to the demands of a leadership culture that has it wrong.
I got this from one of my Zoom group members who really gets the new Ultimate CI Book (1 of 6) concepts on how to use the Star Curriculum:
I wanted to share my first experience working with the Star. This morning I got an idea while talking with my sister about how she and my 13-year old niece want to study English… I said we can start doing lessons of English, also invited my cousin and his wife. So 1 hour later we are all in Zoom laughing so hard at our first tableau lol – they loved it!!!!
Have you ever noticed in teaching that there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that we’re not allowed to really know what our kids are thinking?
I mean, it would be so easy to just ask them, if the world were an honest place and direct honest discourse between teacher and students could really take place in the real way in schools.
I wonder which came first, the mistrust of the teacher or the mistrust of the tests. Probably the mistrust of the teacher. It probably came to us from Europe, where for centuries there was a “superior” class of slightly angry teachers, thus creating the distance.
The point about being happy – everyone in the classroom being happy – is at the crux of our work. For many in the CI world, it isn’t. The work has been too much focused on student gains and how the teacher can focus on how their own skills and wonderfulness can bring them about.
Those are superficial things, housed in the mind, in ego. They alone cannot bring about the transformation in our teaching – a transformation to our own happiness – that we desire. We must learn to listen to our students’ hearts, and the only way we can do that is to listen to our own while we are listening.
e. e. cummings has said:
…I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than to teach ten thousand stars how not to dance…
This makes me reflect on the notion that we can learn from the pure birds/students in our classes how to respond to them with respect in our teaching. Such kids are rare, but they are there.
It’s those kids who just seem to be there to give, to care, to support us in our daily travails, the ones who never seem to get mentioned. Not all kids deserve are best efforts, being ungrateful and problematic little shits, but not through any inherent flaw, really – it’s just how they were raised. No blame.