Eric Herman on the Future of Reading in TPRS

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31 thoughts on “Eric Herman on the Future of Reading in TPRS”

  1. Eric I was trying to get out the door for a bike ride before the heat builds up in the mountains here and bang you write one of your best articles ever, with lots of tasty and compelling points. Who needs breakfast? As usual, you go where no person has gone before, blending your interests in research, potential research and your own (most important factor in the skill set) experience in the classroom together to keep me reading every word in a tour de force meal of eggs, potatoes, ham, sausage, cheese with hot sauce and kethchup.

    One cup of coffee is not enough to fuel proper reflection on what you have written here. Three cups of coffee are not enough. So now I need the bike ride just to reflect on the meal you offer this morning. Hopefully when I come back here I can address at least a few of the points you raise, while at the same time keeping my mind focused on the practical aspects one of the main goals of the PLC here of helping newer teachers get their years cranked up with CI, including the return of the Ginger Bread man!

    Yes, it’s information overload as always here, but you always write at such a compelling level while bringing in the research. To repeat the point above – your observations about the research are always tested and pulled and pushed around by you in your classroom. This really is unique and should command the respect of those academics who don’t have the classroom piece, bless their isolated hearts. In a way, you represent a new type of scholar, a boots-on-the-ground scholar. What a thought, a research-based teacher who tests ideas in the classroom! I didn’t know they made those!

    The only other people who actively participate in our group that I am aware of who are also deeply based in the research are Robert Harrell, Jody Noble, Mark Knowles and a few others. We need our research people in this group to keep our feet on the ground, so you are very important to us. Ironically, Robert also sent for sharing with the group yesterday some other compelling research from Germany and I will share that as soon as we’ve had time to look at what you’ve written today.

    What to do? I’m going on the bike now, I’ll reflect on what you’ve written, which to me is a kind of sign post pointing out a curve coming up on the reading road, which is why in my opinion what you’ve written this a.m. is especially important because we need to slow the car down when we come to curves in the road. So I’ll never write the response I want but at least I’ll come back down out of the mountains with some of it digested.

    Look, the proliferation of those little novels in TPRS wasn’t just about getting more reading going in the TPRS community. I was talking to Blaine in 2005 in Kansas City and I asked him how many Pobre Ana’s he had sold up to that point and you don’t want to know. It was ridiculous. Everybody reads those, not just us. I am not accusing Blaine of flooding the market with those books just to make money, but I think something has happened where we have lost some balance in our approach to reading at the beginning levels and like I said in my original article here nobody is talking about it.

    What you said that Beniko implied, that we may be getting kids reading novels (not stories based on readings) too early, is just so important. (I will turn your comment into an article and hope teachers starting the year can at least eat some of it for breakfast, maybe leaving the pancakes on the side to get cold but at least eating some of the main dish.)

    OK now it’s 6:03 and the Colorado sun is already starting to climb in the eastern sky and it is a strong sun. But in all seriousness, I could spend my day writing a response to what you’ve written. It sparked lots of thoughts. What is important to repeat is that in your article are ideas that could potentially redirect what we are doing with those novels at level 1 so that what we are doing is best for kids. Like I said above, you have posted a road sign this morning in this comment, and I agree that a curve in the road is coming. What is around the bend? Now I’m off on the bike, to digest and reflect on the wonderful meal you have offered the group this morning, and see what’s around the bend. By the way, you have your name now, or a first one, and one that has emerged organically here – Chef Eric.

  2. Thank you, Ben! I took 3 hours last night to write and research that comment, time I should have spent sleeping, haha. Such a succinct comment I made, haha.
    Maybe I should have included a Table of Contents:
    1. Listening before reading
    2. Low level novels
    3. Fiji book flood – SSR and Shared Reading – time and motivation
    4. 2-way CI – FVRL
    5. Lightbown FVRL
    6. Slow means short
    7. mental health
    8. My FVRL project
    9. compelling vs. interesting, need hypothesis
    10. ROA is better CI for beginners, SSR/FVR still better than traditional, FVRL probably in the middle

    This is the stuff that gets me excited, questioning and trying to better understand the theory and its application (I sometimes find it hard to remember not every FL teacher is as interested . . . some perceive it to be an attack). I would love to pursue a teacher-researcher role. Wouldn’t that be the best type of education researcher out there?! I mean, how many SLA researchers have ever taken a TPRS class, let alone teach with it?

    Thank you for giving me the space to hash out my thoughts . . . and serve everyone breakfast 🙂

  3. Lots awesome points to take in here… need some time to process this. Ben, could you possibly break it up into several posts? That would be easier for me to digest and respond coherently.

    —I agree that the listening should be heavily emphasized at the beginning of level 1. You’re right on the money when you say, “You don’t have to practice reading to get better at reading.
    Listening -> reading”. That’s a Home Run, Eric.

    I also agree that we need easier readings for true beginners. They need so much comprehensible repetition of easy things to build their confidence and acquire the basic building blocks of the language. If our students could read 1o minutes a day of things they understand at a 95% level they would make HUGE gains over the course of a couple of years.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that having tons of easy, easy readings for true beginners is key. It could help them fall in love with the language. And if they learn to love *reading* in the language they might start reading for fun on their own time, which could dramatically increase the number of hours they receive in the TL.

    1. …the more I think about it, the more I think that having tons of easy, easy readings for true beginners is key….

      This is just the tip of the iceberg of the points Eric raised, but just to respond to your point here, I just really feel that, for the reasons I gave in the original articles that started this thread, in my opinion and possibly because I worked over the past five years with kids in poverty, we don’t have the time to do any free or sustained reading in level 1. That time is not the best use of the instructional minutes that we have available to us.

      On your request that I break up Eric’s article into pieces, I would rather ask Eric to do so. I would mess it up. Eric if you can send me pieces of the above to my email address I could publish them as “Eric Herman on Reading – 1, etc.” as per those categories you mention above. It would help me because I am worried I won’t get time to chew on everything in there because of the blistering pace happening here on so many topics right now in the frenzy of school starting.

      1. You’re right that FVR isn’t the best use of class time in level 1. I think the point I was trying to make is that, after an initial period of aural CI, reading highly comprehensible and engaging texts and listening to easy audios at home is probably a great use of time for true beginners, especially at the college level.

        1. The college system is just so broken. Students get 10 weeks of level 1 and are expected to be able to produce a ton by the end of the first course. Level 2 is even worse. Some students come in with three years of the language under their belts already, while others are true beginners. 10 weeks isn’t enough time for a true beginner to even begin to master level 1. They just barely scratch the surface. The expectations the higher ed system has created set the 96% up for failure.

          I see assigning lots of engaging and comprehensible readings as homework as a way of helping these students to get more CI at home… Other than changing the system (which needs to happen even though it will be a long and painful process), I don’t know if there is a better way to help them.

          1. Yeah Andrew just keep trying to reach those college kids at their heart level. Yes, give them readings at home but only if they want to do them. They are so wounded and their emotional relationship with the language is so based in fear from high school. Just give them a total break in your college classes, as when getting a pet from a rescue mission – the image is not excessive. God bless the hearts of the secondary school educators who created this nation of scared language learners and bless the college professors for their hopeless mind-based (conscious analysis approach vs. the way it really happens) approach. Yes it will take a long time. We don’t have time nor are we inclined to pay our respects to such people any more. Their days are fast coming to an end. All we can do is rock our CI classes and keep the doors shut lest they perceive all the fun we are having as a threat and make things hard for us. The more we work on ourselves and our classes and helping our students heal from all the judgment they have born for all these years, by being non-judgmental and light-hearted, by teaching continuously to their unconscious faculty where the super power is, and by living in the sunshine, the better things will be for us and our students. We can’t change them but God can and he is. We can only change ourselves. That is my response to the concern that you expressed above about helping them (the wounded).

  4. I am going to try something with my 2nd and 3rd year classes. I bought reproducible extended readings from Blaine Ray many years ago. I am going to make a classroom set of the 1st year stories and have the students read one each day while I take roll. It will be like a brain warm up while I get everything ready for class. They use very basic structures and lots of repetition. This will be individual reading and only take 5-6 minutes. Then I will ask basic questions for 2 minutes before going into new structures and stories. I plan on doing this for a month and see how it goes. My school likes to see a starting procedure in our classes so I figured this may be the best use of time. Any ideas that y’all have are welcome.

    1. I love this idea Melissa! You just helped me a ton. Do you give each student a copy of the story or show it on the screen?

      Other bell-ringers I use:

      “Pantallazos” – which are screen shots in Spanish from FBook, I have a ton, I can share them. Students copy in Spanish and try to translate, then we go over in English.

      Singing 2 or 3 of our favorite songs

      SSR Reading of our novel.

      1. Well this will be the first time that I do this. I plan on making a packet of these readings and each day we will read one. I used white out on the page numbers and numbered them in order with a title on each page. Also I am just making a classroom set.

        I am interested in “Pantallazos”. I have never heard of these.

        Songs are great. I often play songs on the smartboard and we sing many songs in class.

        My main goal with these readings are to use as much time on input as possible. Last year I felt that I wasted this time while I was taking roll. Normally I had students passing out papers while the rest just talked in English.

          1. That sounds like a good idea, Eric: put a previous reading up on the board as a bell ringer. Hopefully I can slide this one by with my admin since I too have to put up bell ringers this year.

            Thanks for starting us thinking about this Melissa.

  5. I think that this is a fantastic idea. We all bought those (turquoise and purple) books and we never use them because the readings are too long and boring. But to use them in this way as a class warm up is just brilliant, esp. with the 2 min. questioning period. If you really want to get in their faces, have the super star Quiz Writer write a 5 point quiz on the content while she is reading, and you could actually give the quiz and count it. I would use this with classes who don’t take it seriously, you know the kind, where some football player in the back row just visits when he should be reading.

    1. I actually proposed this idea to some students and they thought that it would be fun. One student came up with the term a brain warm up. Now I have to figure out what to call it in Spanish. (Calentamiento de cerebro or calentamiento de mente?) I think that the quiz writer is a great idea as well. Not only will it keep some on track but it should build confidence in the others as to what they know and what they can do.

      I am also nervous because this will be the first year I use the class rules from here and jGR. I think, for me, slow deep breaths will help. Sometimes my mind gets going fast and I trip up.

  6. We need bellwork at our school, too, Melissa. I just unearthed some of Blaine’s extended readings from my files, no kidding, yesterday. Trying this with my 2’s. Ok, last night I dreamed about school. I am just ready for it to start Monday. I’m nervous because I am trying some new stuff but grateful that I’m not the only one.

    1. I read aloud at a relatively slow pace and recorded the entire LICT 1 English Student Book – the one with personalized mini-situations and extended readings. The total time is about 4 hours 30 minutes. It’s just incredible how little that is. And that book has way more stories (107), way more language, than I could get to if I were to storyask or do shared reading of them in level 1.

  7. “Here is a crucial fact to consider in the reading and writing connection: visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30:1. In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it.”
    -Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, p. 43

    1. What!? That can’t be! Well, alright. But I bet most of us still need to hear the word said lots befoe we can read it in a story without getting frustrated.

      1. The context of Trelease’s statement was that students become better writers by reading. He goes on to say that if all the language input a student got was from tv and conversation, we wouldn’t write coherent, complex sentences, until we saw a lot more of them. Trelease is all about early childhood/womb read-alouds – listening before reading. He would agree that listening vocabulary comes before reading vocabulary.

        If you accept “learning styles” it would seem that most people are “visual learners.” Well, we all have more visual than auditory receptors. Does more receptors mean more memory?

        Thinking about my own experiences, I do think simultaneously seeing the words I’m hearing (as in subtitles) or reading after getting the aural input, helps me better remember and make sense (word segmentation) of the language.

        1. Does more receptors mean more memory?

          It sure sounds like that is the case you are making. Thanks for making this clear. I’m going to work on providing more readings, like subtitles for MovieTalk and shorter readings that capture our class conversations.

          This also makes me think about how to respond to people who ask about how we help students’ literacy skills (the question about how we foreign language teachers address the Common Core often comes up in interviews): knowing that our visual receptors to our audio receptors are 30:1, I make sure as the teacher to provide as much of the written word to compliment the spoke word as possible. To compliment and to reinforce.

          So, we do really help students with their literacy skills, and not only in L2, but in L1:

          Also amazing was that experimental students did better than the national averages on tests of other academic subjects (including L1). The suggested explanation: due to literacy transfer from L2 to L1 or a better positive attitude to school.

          I wonder if there are more studies out there that show how literacy development in L2 transfer to literacy development in L1. The results of those studies could be powerfully convincing for our district superintendents to direct more resources into foreign language departments. In Illinois, students only need 2 years of a foreign language to graduate from high school. Of course, we don’t want to force students to sit through years of non-CI foreign language classes.

  8. Eric, I like how you are including the “communicative approach” as another conduit of CI, instead of how we often refer to it as a mis-directed approach. This makes me think about how many teachers out there are doing CI to some degree yet just don’t know that there is a a theory of learning behind what they’re are doing.

    1. See the 3rd comment at this forum thread when I was trying to understand CA:

      It’s my understanding that most teachers don’t use the Communicative Approach (CA) as it was intended – focus on message, not form – as in task-based language learning. CA was born as a rejection of the structural/form-based methods. Form gets explained reactively in a message-focused CA classroom – explained as it comes up and affects comprehensibility.

      Yet most CA classes use Present, Practice, Produce (PPP) procedures. It gets to claim being student-driven, since students do so much work in groups. There is a use of authentic texts. CA is about interaction, confusing the ends with the means. It’s not based on a theory of SLA. I think CA is silent with regards to the benefits of interaction: the input or the output? the reps from input or the practice? Krashen’s Natural Approach seems like a “Communicative Approach,” but it’s clear in it’s focus on increasing the input coming from the otherwise communicative activities.

      Every teacher does a little CI. I bet most teachers think that output practice is the way to develop proficiency.

      1. Every teacher does a little CI. I bet most teachers think that output practice is the way to develop proficiency.

        Yeah, and I’m currently in the struggle right now to sway my new administration at my new school — great people, by the way, just unknowing about the theory behind SLA — that output practice is not the way to develop proficiency. But you saying it here, again and again, really helps me stand up to them.

        1. And if the grammar tests and grading system are any indication at my local high school, then I’d say some teachers probably think the way to proficiency is knowing the grammar.

          Again, this is why we need common assessments to actually measure proficiency, not linguistics and not performance. So long as everyone selectively tests what they want, everyone ends up with support of improvement in some language aspect.

          As I’m reading Krashen’s Natural Approach, he reminds us that the “traditional” way is really acquisition. That was how people acquired a second language way before we had linguistics.

          There is also an example given of how private schools had to adapt and adopt communicative approaches, because their clientele wouldn’t tolerate failure to obtain communicative competency, that same failure which IS tolerable in public schools where grammar translation continued.

  9. Does anyone have or use the “level 0” easy readers by La Spiga? Like Dracula, A Ghost Story, Robin Hood, etc.? I have those three and used Dracula last year with level 1. I think it went pretty well as a FIRST “novel” and find these on the level of readers that we need more of. But, I wanted to see what others thought.

    Eric – I guess I am still wondering about the conclusion given in Jim’s quote above. Do I need to write every word on the word that is new or that I say? I thought asking students to focus on listening was enough. Are the auditory receptors “larger” or more efficient. As in, do more visual receptors automatically mean that the visual mode of learning is more efficient? What about before language was written? I’m skeptical that the visual is “more” important or 30 times more important if that’s what you meant… (Thanks for your post)..

    1. I don’t know, Leah. I was quoting Trelease, thinking the quote may have relevance, but I actually wasn’t trying to argue one way or the other. I was hoping you all would help me figure out what it means for our work. All I know is that supposedly there are 30xs more visual receptors. What that means for language acquisition, I don’t know. It may mean it’s a chance to accelerate acquisition, utilizing visual input, but we know it wouldn’t be necessary given what we know from first language acquisition, i.e. it develops with aural CI alone.

      I do not think you need to write every word you say. In TPRS, we do strive for 100% comprehensibility and write new words and Point & Pause them. In an acquisition sense, that is not necessary. But I do think 100% comprehensibility may be necessary for beginners to keep confidence up, improve engagement, and especially help those students recover from any trauma of a traditional class in which they were submitted to a lot of incomprehensible input.

  10. Eric said:

    …I do think 100% comprehensibility may be necessary for beginners to keep confidence up, improve engagement, and especially help those students recover….

    That is the way I see it. In good comprehensible input an image is formed around the auditory input, and seeing the words doesn’t matter right then as much as the formation of the image without the help of any words written down.

    If the kids need the word, of course give it to them, but they shouldn’t, because ostensibly the teacher is not using any words that haven’t been previously worked with, so that the teacher is staying in bounds and only using the targeted words from the first part of Step 1. So the student is protected by the teacher’s expertise from any new words that would confuse them. Then they can understand 100% and their motivation kicks in and it all becomes very human. The key to this as Eric suggests is that the input be totally comprehensible. That’s where the problems arise, when it’s not.

    We can show the words later in the reading class that follows the input, and it is then that the visual faculty can have a field day, as it associates the sounds from the story with the words in the reading. In this process, the students are learning to transmit the sounds and the images created in the story into another form of input, reading. Auditory input is what we do in Steps 1 and 2 of TPRS and in Step 3 we do input in the form of reading.

  11. I would like to raise two points relative to not teaching reading early (among older students).

    First, how can this be handled where the learners cannot differentiate the phonemes? For example, in my Korean class (admittedly not taught in any-thing at all like CA, TBA, TPR, TPRS, or even PPP) I am at a loss much of the time if the teacher doesn’t write out the words because I often can’t distinguish one word from another: Is she saying |ppa?|, |p’a?|, |pa?|, |ppan|, |p’an|, |ppan| or maybe |ba?| etc.? Some of the phonemes I can’t distinguish are even ones that linguists map as the same contrastive pairs in Spanish or English as in Korean , e.g., |u| / |o|. Sometimes I hear totally different sounds from what are ostensibly being said. I don’t know if this is do to an affective barrier or what, but the upshot is that I am mostly totally lost in class (this is not my first year at Korean, and I live in Korea). Frankly, I long for CI but also PPP.

    Second, in my beginning Spanish class, which I teach using TPR and then TPRS, almost every one of my Korean students begins writing down words in the very early (usually first or second) class. I don’t forbid them, but they have been told that at first I will only work orally and corporally. (Interestingly, few of my (not very many) Chinese students in the Spanish class have this need.)

  12. La aventuras de Isabela and cognates: I use this in my Spanish class. For my Korean students, the cognates definitely should be counted separately. Even students who are fluent in English (well over 800 on TOEIC) often have trouble recognizing cognates early on, even when primed. The problem for them is that the cognate is to a word that, though deep within their productive vocabulary, is still short of second nature to them. Yes, if they see ‘hotel,’ (Spanish) they easily recognize it as “hotel” (English/Korea) and even correctly pronounce it |otel|, but ‘tren’ will stump most of them.

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