Brick House 3

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16 thoughts on “Brick House 3”

  1. I wonder how many of us have inherited grammar-trained students and how that changes the results of using CI? I’ve inherited Spanish II students for two years and I guess I’d forgotten what it was like to have “from scratch” students.

    I’ve been cleaning out my desk area at home; I didn’t save many papers, but I do have some free writes from my 8th graders two years ago; it was their last free-write, after a full year of CI. Then I compared it with some free-writes from this year’s batch of Spanish II students after a year of grammar and then six months of CI. The Spanish I students wrote more fluently with far more words than all but my very best Spanish II students. There were still errors, but not the error of using the infinitive or of adding “is” (es) to words to make the progressive tense. Their papers were at least understandable.

    Now I wonder if it is even possible to have free-writes with grammar-trained students. Any suggestions?

  2. Honestly you raise a great point Lori. The detrimental effect of training the mind to learn with rules and then switching to the way it actually works may be far greater than we have any idea.

    I don’t suppose there are any studies on it, but it happens to be something I asked Krashen, just yesterday, in conjunction with a post in the queue from Ian Burke that will publish in about three days from now.

    Here is Krashen’s response from yesterday:

    …I am in this position with Amharic. What I would like to do is acquire real Amharic as a second language/dialect, in addition to the pidgen like variety I speak. I have never had input that I could understand easily (always from native speakers in the real world), and my version is fake, using grammar rules, whole phrases I have learned, etc.

    What would happen to your French if you had tons (really a lot) of totally comprehensible and fascinating input?…

    [Note: I have Krashen’s permission to freely quote, here in our PLC, things he says to me.]

    1. And Lori what I told Krashen would happen to my French “if I had tons of totally comprehensible and fascinating input” was that my French would probably be a lot better right now than that of a high school teacher in the U.S. His point was clear – whether or not you have the ball and chain of previous concrete sequential (thus frozen) language instruction around your neck, you will still always need more and more input that is interesting to you, compelling, fascinating, etc. and that the CI Highway is the only way out of the forest that you were in before.

      I appreciate your story about how your kids’ writing improved and was more authentic than that other class. It’s important that we gather data. It is hard, bc so many four percenters in the first years can make teachers look a lot more effective than they really are. Where we in CI are getting the attention now is that many of us are starting to have third and fourth year AP type kids who are not four percenters kicking butt at the higher levels. This will eventually reveal that early data can be misleading. We are working on it. Eventually, as Liam said yesterday, the truth will out.

      This comment is not related to the point here, but I wanted to add that my kids read more this year than ever before and their scores were significantly higher. We know this. We can’t forget it. When we focus on writing, they write worse, but when we focus on reading, their writing improves greatly.

  3. I think we also need to remember that much of what students seem to “acquire” in Target Language I class is really “between memorized and acquired” if we are honest. There simply has not been enough input for us to be able to say with absolute certainty that the students have completely acquired the structures. They are in process. (More CI)

    They have “learned”, however, NOT to do the “evil translating thing” from English to Target Language that grammar students always do when they write. CI students are in the process of acquiring the language in “chunks” of meaning. It changes the way they write and how they think when they are writing. “You can only write what you know.” (More CI)

    I am terribly biased toward CI instruction because of the kind of writing that usually emerges from it. It actually sounds like the language I’m teaching instead of the TL overlaid upon English. Grr. (More CI. More CI. More CI.)

    1. You put it so succinctly, Jody: “I am terribly biased toward CI instruction because of the kind of writing that usually emerges from it. It actually sounds like the language I’m teaching instead of the TL overlaid upon English.”

      That is exactly what I was trying to express. Students trained in CI from the beginning think in chunks, instead of translating individual words from English. When I tried to get my grammar-trained students to think about what “sounded right”–after lots of reading and listening, they still went back to the crutch of translating in their heads. And their writing was choppy and didn’t even make sense. I’m not blaming them, but I wonder if there is anyway to “un-teach” lessons learned….

      1. Oh, and this is slightly off-topic, but one of my former students from two years ago (one who has signed up for Spanish IV with me next year) said that I taught him that “Spanish didn’t have to be so hard.” He said Spanish I was like a “light breeze” and then my class got a real fire started and then Spanish III (grammar again) threw water on the fire. I asked “Why didn’t you go back to the “light breeze?” –He replied, “Because once you’ve learned the real way, you can’t go back.”

        That sentiment that learning languages is “hard” is all-too-common in the kids I see after one year of grammar and projects. They start out with high hopes in Spanish I…I’ve talked to the 8th graders who are all excited about actually learning the language. And then, it doesn’t happen right away, but after a couple of months, they start to feel like they’ve been cheated. “This is not what I thought it would be.” The light is gone; the fire is extinguished. And then they just shut down and go through the motions to get the grade. Sad? Worse than sad! What do you call dream-smashers? What do you call hope-busters? Teachers??

      2. Robert Harrell

        I’m seeing firsthand the difference between “learning” and “acquiring”. At the end of level 3 my students are working on a presentation. (Yes, by the end of level 3, they should be able to do some presenting.) Two students have asked me for help, which I am happy to give them. One student is enrolled in AP classes; the other student has an IEP (in special education). I won’t simply tell them the answer (except for a technical term for their subject or an item I know we haven’t ever done in class) but give them a gesture or class context or a hint about something we have done in class or simply say a word slowly for the spelling. Guess who is nailing the German with this support? Hint: it isn’t the AP student.

        Now, why do you suppose that is? The AP student is obviously the “more intelligent” student as measured by traditional IQ tests. However, his approach is entirely learning centered. In class he tends to tune out the repetitions because he perceives them as “too easy” – after all, learning in all of his other classes is “hard”. As I give him support for his project, he isn’t truly listening to me but already trying to analyze and correct based on what he thinks I’m going to say. My special ed student pays better (though by no means perfect) attention in class and is listening carefully to what I am saying as I help them. He is able to use the language better.

        In addition, my AP student imagines that I am looking for a product with all of the bells and whistles of his AP classes, so he wants to use complex language with highly technical vocabulary. Where is he going to get that? From Wikipedia and Google Translate, of course. Today when I called him on it, the look on his face was priceless. I very nearly told him the title of the Wikipedia article that he had used. (Hey, we’re doing the unit on the Middle Ages, and I know my stuff.) Instead, we talked about what will impress me. I told him it wasn’t the fancy stuff, because if he is looking up words and structures and relying on Google Translate, then his audience (the other class members) won’t have a clue as to what he is talking about, so he is failing to communicate. What will impress me is simple language used in a natural way so that it communicates, because that’s what language is all about. I sure hope this was a come-to-Jesus moment.

        1. In class he tends to tune out the repetitions because he perceives them as “too easy” —

          Yes, absolutely, I hear this from some who think they are too smart to listen carefully. They think that recognizing language, and sometimes knowing the meaning of the language, means they’ve “learned” it. I am planning to begin classes in the fall with some kind of discussion of “how this class will help you acquire Chinese.” Today was our final day of school – 8th grade graduation.

          My 8th grade graduates, though, had some lovely thoughts on how listening carefully in class to the Chinese will allow you to learn a lot. (Their term; they aren’t familiar with the acquisition/learning distinction as such.) I asked them “What have you learned in the process of learning Chinese?” and “What advice do you have for younger students?” and they had some great thoughts. Many of them reflected that they “got” what I was doing with them in class. I was so pleased. At least 4 of the 12 students said listening carefully was the key.

      3. I don’t think it is possible to “un-teach” the grammar kids. In my qualitative study of this year, I would say a big nope to that. I tried to do this with a level 4 class that had one quarter of CI with me 2 years ago. I remembered having them but had forgotten that I only started CI in 4th quarter, so basically these kids had traditional level 1 and 3, and eclectic for most of level 2, with one quarter of super beginner CI. Now that I am writing that all out. Um no. This year was their first CI year. Damn. Why didn’t I figure that out in Sept.?

        Anyway, they are dug into a really deep rut. Way too deep for me to have an effect. So they are kind of a mess now. Knowing that they are headed into an SAT prep class next year I should have done more book work but I really had hope that I could provide them with enough CI to mitigate the damage. Oh well. Live and learn. My lesson is that I need to be aware and realistic when encountering these kids and not be so hard-headed refusing to budge even an inch toward the conscious learning mode.

    2. Jody,

      Totally agree with you when you write :

      much of what students seem to “acquire” in Target Language I class is really “between memorized and acquired” if we are honest

      Truly appreciate your honesty and realism, really!

      That is why we need much more CI, which you also keep on reiterating .

      I think that way many more reps are needed than what was originally suggested for acquisition to occur. Or perhaps we should take a moment and start defining acquisition. What it means for one teacher may be different for another. Without a clear and commonly accepted definition of what we mean by it, we could all be talking in circles.

      I know I’m repeating myself here when I say that acquisition takes way many more reps (THOUSANDS), and many hours of us being in the language in a comprehensible and compelling way. Therefore, the planning has to start in year one all the way to year 4 or 5. We need to backward plan, to look at long term gains and remain realistic as to what can be acquired if we only have the kids for a year or two.

      I think that the only exception to the idea that thousands of reps and hours are needed for an item to be acquired is when the kids make an instant emotional connection with a structure/word.

      So for instance my kids know that “dégage” means get out of here, although they did not need tons of reps and still can produce it spontaneously and w/o hesitancy (Blained coined that one) at any time in different contexts. The reason being that they just connected emotionally with the word. It is something they want and love to use.

      So I’ll recycle it whenever I need to, but I don’t need to target that as a long term item. They acquired it , period. We as teachers know when the kids have acquired versus when they are regurgitating based on memory. It just feels different, if you know what I mean.

      I truly believe that the real language gains cannot be measured in the short term but rather in the long term. Those of us lucky to have the same kids for 4 years or more will be able to truly assess the language acquisition over that time.

      I’ m totally seeing what you so eloquently described Jody. The output from my Fr 1 students is a mix of memorized and acquired language. When and only when they are able to speak without hesitancy and spontaneous language that is not regurgitated from a story, then and only then can we truly and honestly measure real language gains.

      I so appreciate you brought this point over b/c I think we all are so gaga when we hear our kids retell (as we should), especially in the first year, but they can only do that because they have memorized it internally and not truly acquired.

      Same things has happened to us in conferences. I remember a story in German that Blaine did 4 years ago. I could still retell it today but I don’t think I truly acquired the structures, but rather think of it as a mix of memory and acquisition ( thank you Jody for articulating that ) b/c I m not sure I could use those structures in a different story, spontaneously and w/o hesitancy.

      If and when the kids are able to produce the structures in several contexts that are different from the ones they’ve encountered through stories or readings, then and only then can we raise the acquisition flag.

      Again, the only way to truly measure acquisition is when it is spontaneous, without hesitancy and unforced, which is very different than retell .

      1. Great point, Sabrina, about “emotional connection” leading to faster acquisition.

        On the other hand, it seems there are some words that are extremely difficult to “acquire” (I agree with you that we need a working definition of that term).

        My students like doing retells because they think they are producing language and that it is “helping them learn” Spanish. It is harder for them to appreciate “listening” as a learning activity. I wonder if it is because our whole high school is on the “learn by doing” bandwagon with lots of student presentations all the time. Listening is not a valued activity in the majority of their other classes. I live in my own isolated little world and forget what it is like for them outside of my island.

        1. I think it is funny that there are all these student presentations…and nobody listening to them 😉 We have a lot of presentations too in my school, and lately I have wondered…”ok, so they are getting competent at presenting but are we teaching them to listen to each other?” These are things I wonder about.

          Here is a link to a TED talk on listening. Nothing we don’t already know, but I like hearing all different angles. More reps, if you will 🙂

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjwm8Xhrg28&list=PLsRNoUx8w3rMrzWA_tSLK_NewSaU0AEDz

          1. A “well, duh!” moment for me, jen! All these presentations–they should be learning to listen but they really don’t. All too concerned with their own presentations. I think that is a very good point for me to bring up next school year at one of our New Tech professional development meetings. Of course, then they’ll make us do a listening rubric or something of the sort…which means extra work for me. Maybe I’ll just keep quiet.

      2. Sabrina writes: “If and when the kids are able to produce the structures in several contexts that are different from the ones they’ve encountered through stories or readings, then and only then can we raise the acquisition flag.

        Again, the only way to truly measure acquisition is when it is spontaneous, without hesitancy and unforced, which is very different than retell .”

        Retells = partial evidence of possible/moving towards acquisition (not to be denigrated in any way)

        Part of the long process of connected acquisition–one you articulately describe. Retells sure beat “evil translation” in my book!!!

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