Some teachers go to conferences and collect new activities like candy. They have big bags of activities that they lug around, with candy spilling all over the place. After ten years, the bags are too full to even pick up.
It’s not about collecting activities. It’s about having a system – a process – for delivering comprehensible input so that we don’t get all confused about which candy activities to use on any given day.
Dropping all the candy and embracing language teaching as a natural and unpredictable sugar free process not only aligns perfectly with the research and the standards, it also brings flow and confidence into the classroom. How nice!
The language teacher of the future will not plan. There just isn’t a need. In that fact lies their guaranteed success on every level of instruction and personal mental health.
When we can “plug and play” each class we teach by using an interesting and fun system, the result is instruction that makes all the old stressors associated with teaching a foreign language disappear, and things become brighter.
They have become brighter for Tina and I because – to redirect the discussion here as we will from time to time back to the purpose of this website – we no longer work with:
(1) Non-embedded TPR* (TPR that is not integrated naturally into the story via the phrase “Class, show me [whatever verb just happened]”.
(3) Massed reps (of targets)
(4) Heavy circling
(5) Reading up**
(6) 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.
Establishing meaning 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 targeting structures and saying what they mean before starting the story, because of course in truth we are always establishing meaning as we go along through the story.
(7) Having kids supply cute answers (puts stress on them, favors the louder, bolder, and more socially gifted students (linked to privilege), thus dividing the classroom among the haves and the have nots.
(8) Class reading of novels (because that is a school thing and leads to rule by the few). I suggest that we never do a single novel in Level 1 anymore, except maybe those really good easy ones Carol has been coming out with in the past few years. So what do we read? Just our own class created stories. They are more interesting to the kids. I find that when I do it that way some kids in Level 2 choose Level 3/4 books and some choose Level 1 books, as per their own processing speed. It’s all a big plan to reduce stress in the classroom and fight hard for the most important thing in a school classroom – equity and no stress learning and no stress teaching. If the kids were to start each class of the year with 10′ of SSR, our yearly workload would go down by 20%. If we did the Word Chunk Team Game on Fridays all year, that is another 20% reduction in our workload. Then if we were to plan the last final seven or eight weeks around projects (since that is what happens in many other classes) we would reduce our work load even more. That is Tina’s idea. We should all have a long look at our paychecks and think about how we do all that extra work. 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 mentioned this to Miguel Soto in a comment here this morning. I guess we could work ourselves into a burnout if we want. But I wouldn’t. I had six big burnouts in my long career. They were enough. Family and rest comes first for me now. And as soon as we get one principal impressed, they leave and we have to do it all again anyway, right?
(8) Using celebrities in stories. 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? I simply don’t care. It’s about a section of the class – the kids who know the celebrities – running the class again. Why not make our own characters up? It’s much more fun!
(9) 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.
(10) 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).
(11) Not having a safe set of golden rails for my CI train to go down.
(12) 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).
(13) Being cute. I can’t be cute anymore. 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 “Ohhhh!” thing. Or 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. Each student will respond in their own way, how they would in a free and open conversation.
(14) 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. It’s manipulation and distracts their focus.
(15) 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.
*Tina and I only do light TPR in stories. TPR always seemed artificial and kind of lame to us. 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. We make moment-by-moment instructional decisions very much on intuition and process, and circling and gesturing and also TPR, in our opinion, should be done lightly during instruction, and only lightly, so that the supremely important focus on meaning – which alone drives acquisition – can be left uninterrupted and unfettered and unintellecutalized.
**Reading up is where the teachers hand the kids books that they can’t read. I haven’t done it for almost eight years now. When it is in the form of a class novel, it is especially onerous to the students who come from less privileged backgrounds. Now we just do SSR/FVR to start class for ten minutes. They 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. 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.
In conclusion, the work Tina and I are advocating now is very different from TPRS, although it contains its DNA and we must state that we will always be indebted to the brilliance of Blaine and Dr. Krashen and Susan Gross and the other great leaders who brought comprehensible input into foreign language classrooms in the late part of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries.
For those who read to the end of this post, know that this is is just a gentle reminder that mentioning stuff on this site about things mentioned on the long list above – those TPRS things – is not the goal of this site. Somebody mentioned a popular TPRS novel here yesterday. OK, but we really want to talk about non-targeted, free-style, stress free, no planning CI here mainly.
That, for Tina and I and many of us here on this site and on my PLC, is where we want to put our focus. Hoarding in our classroom closets big bags of candy that quickly becomes stale each year is not what we want to talk about here. We want to talk about language teaching in classrooms where the closets and the closets of the teachers’ minds as well are emptied of all old trash, old worksheets (unless we are using them to redirect errant classes), old karma, old fear-filled teaching, sad old thinking that if we just go to enough conferences and buy enough stuff that we will become better teachers. Tina and I don’t think it works that way. We think that the only way we will become better teachers, and we have had this conversation a hundred times, is to become less stressed and that means giving up the idea of language teaching as anything more than a natural flowing process that we cannot prepare for but must just experience in love and lighthearted happiness every day of the year, so that our jobs become what they were meant to be, things that support our lives and not things that wear them down.