Jody made a comment about four days ago that has stayed with me. I think it is one of the most important observations I’ve ever read about comprehension based instruction.
To start, I had said this:
…in terms of CI gains, we start slowly but soon gain great speed, like a freight train – which process mirrors real life for how kids grow into language as well….
And Jody responded:
…this, we must trust. When we don’t, and we speed through stuff, gains are fewer, the gap among students grows, and the class progress gets unwieldy making it harder and harder to teach ALL. The “soon” part differs at different levels and, particularly, with different-age kids (younger is slower, older is faster-Krashen)….
I know what I’m going to think about when teaching this week. When I speak I am going to work on creating the simplest of images. And I am going to do so at a much slower speed than even the speed in that video on CWB I just posted here.
When the images in any work of literature or painting get too muddled, too complex, or when a dancer goes overboard with the moves, the brain can’t handle it. So it is in the art we produce in our classrooms.
The core of this idea is here from Jody:
…when we speed through stuff … the class progress gets unwieldy….
I was watching Downton Abbey tonight and I noticed how simple and clear each scene was. The lines spoken by the actors were all crystal clear, in the English way. The setting was ornate but simple. Sufficient space separated sentences that were easy to understand and allowed the viewer to think about the character and the situation more deeply. There were no distractions.
Then right there while watching the show I thought of what Jody said about how speed leads to confusion (even what we think is really slow is way too fast for beginners) and I added a thought to that thought – that it’s not just the speed of the speech that confuses our students, it’s the complexity of the images and ideas that we create in class that confuses them twice.
Our students can only process a certain number of sounds, images or ideas at a time. This is true even at the upper levels, when they have only a small fraction of the hours necessary for fluency (350 hours vs. well over 10,000 hours needed) and so are not really upper levels.
For me, this realization is a true and authentic breakthrough in my own journey with comprehensible input. For over twelve years I feel as if I’ve turned over hundreds of rocks looking for the reason to explain TPRS’ failure in schools and I think I have finally found the answer, for me anyway.
A side thought:
In my view the 20th century was one of failed art and the 21st is going to be much worse. Too many words are spoken to0 fast. Too many machines vie for the delicate flowers that are the attention and curiosity of children. Images, many of them violent, rip through our children’s minds now at unheard of rates.
Thus, it is not inaccurate to say that we in education have taken our eyes off the true purpose of education, which in my view is to encourage appreciation of what has been put before us with such love.
We have a chance to bring art back into teaching now. We can build, with our students, truly simple stories, conversations, PQA, and the rest. We can bring a feeling of oneness into our classroom via a web of connectedness between everyone in the room if we just go slowly enough and keep what we present simple.
We don’t have to give in to the energy of confusion in our classroom just because it is all over the school, trying to invade our classrooms by seeping in under the door or sneaking in inside an iPad like Chris said or wafting in with too many robotic administrators who have no sensitivity to what true education is all about – simple appreciation of things.
We can simplify our instruction and make it artful. People respond to simplicity better than they respond to complexity. We can create spaces between our words and sentences. We can resist the desire to become fast talking approval seeking clowns. We can make our instruction crisp and clean. We can stay with one image, staying on the first location if it’s a story, as we stop flooding beginning language learners (all four levels are still beginners as stated above) with more sound and visuals than they can handle.
So, this from Jody has helped me:
…when we … speed through stuff, gains are fewer, the gap among students grows, and the class progress gets unwieldy making it harder and harder to teach ALL….
And when our classes split into those who process at the (speeded up) rate that is the subject of the above post, we then try to figure out why we have lost the class. We have lost the class because we broke it into two pieces, comprised of two parts, which learn at two rates.
We can only fix that now. In a few weeks it will be too late. I for one am going to slow down now so I can speed up later. But that speeding up later won’t be very fast. It will be quite slow, in fact.