Focus on Form – 3

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89 thoughts on “Focus on Form – 3”

  1. “internal learner syllabus”. I love this phrase. Thank you so much Eric for digesting this, AND for cooperating with the big wigs of our profession (along with Alisa it sounds.).
    Could someone provide a quick explanation of the difference between focus on form vs formS?

    1. Jim, check out that quote back from 1967 which referred to the idea of an internal syllabus. This was originally shared in the post from April 19th about the VP book. I said:
      VP starts and ends the book with a wonderful quote from a paper by S. Pit Corder, originally from 1967, which VP says probably marked the onset of contemporary SLA research:
      “We have been reminded recently of von Humboldt’s statement that we cannot really teach language, we can only create conditions in which it will develop spontaneously in the mind in its own way. We shall never improve our ability to create such favorable conditions until we learn more about the way a learner learns and what his built-in syllabus is. When we do know this (and the learner’s errors will, if systematically studied, tell us something about this) we may begin to be more critical of our cherished notions. We may be able to allow the learner’s innate strategies to dictate our practice and determine our syllabus; we may learn to adapt ourselves to his needs rather than impose upon him our preconceptions of how he ought to learn, what he ought to learn and when he ought to learn it.”

      1. Mind-blowing thought: vocabulary (content words) are also subject to an “internal syllabus.”
        The usual criticism of syllabi is the grammar sequence and low-frequency vocabulary. And for words, like nouns, we’ve thought, we only need enough meaningful repetitions to get them acquired, but there is no “order of noun acquisition.” Or is there?! We’ve all probably seen how quality of a repetition can trump quantity. That word gets used once in a ridiculous or humorous context, or that 1 word gets said with a funny pronunciation, or the word itself has a funny sound, and 1 rep may be all it takes to get the word’s aural form and meaning acquired. What is left to acquire are the rules for use, which will be acquired with more reps in multiple contexts.
        The internal vocabulary syllabus is probably most affected by 1) its significance to the students – personalization and 2) its communicative value – frequency. What words would a kid rather learn: the ones a teacher (or worse, a textbook), selected or the ones the kids selected, i.e. the words that occur in the input because the students are controlling the story and/or discussion? Long in the article is critical of grammar AND vocabulary syllabi that are not adapted to the students.
        It’s the same thing we’ve been saying all along: the curriculum should consist of a minimal list of 100-200 high frequency words + high-interest words. We deliberately plan the high-frequency words, but also invite vocabulary that is meaningful to the students. Perfect!
        This makes me rethink having “targets” and trying to get massed reps of the targets. The repetition is important, especially for beginners, in order that the input be comprehensible. Here is a subtle difference: the targets are not our learning objective. Rather, we are using the targets to maintain comprehensibility, while all the personalized and other high-frequency language can be incidentally learned.

      2. I thought I remember reading that term somewhere else. The idea of an internal syllabus is really hitting home with me right now as my son is now 4 and still not saying “they” nor “he/she”. He uses the DOPs instead. If I weren’t a Krashenista I’d be fairly worried about the state of his language development. haha.
        Would you all say that “internal syllabus” is synonymous with “natural order”? What is the distinction to be made if not?

        1. Well, natural order refers to the order of morphemes. Developmental sequences, the stages you go through in question formation, negatives, etc. are also bound by an internal syllabus. And I bet outside of morphemes and syntax, a lot more is also bound by an internal syllabus.

          1. I just read a critique of NO studies and this is credited to Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991:
            Morphemes are too small and trivial upon which to base principles of acquisition. And the author includes the footnote that much of SLA research is concerned with these “trivial” elements!
            Amen to that! So are traditional teachers! Obsessed with accuracy of trivial little language pieces that carry little to no meaning!

      3. Michael Coxon

        Eric,
        I am glad you shared this quote again. In light of what Nathan is dealing with I wonder how we present top other this idea of a “non-syllabus?”
        What comes to mind is the work on high frequency words and phrases. I think when other educators hear us talk about these ideas of personalizing a curriculum and abandoning a traditional syllabus the defensive walls go up.
        In Nathan’s situation he is seen as the radical. In my own world I have created S and S documents that follow a textbook curriculum map with a backwards design of using readers. These ideas are still radical…WTH???
        What can we do?

        1. Do what we know now is best for kids and language acquisition.
          Educate everyone who will listen in the meantime.
          Totally radical idea, but no syllabus is the most student-centered of any approach!

          1. I forget if we have access to the DPS S&S doc. ??
            I personally need to write my district’s own S&S/Philosophy/etc with regard to WL, at the advice of my principal.
            Is there a really good sample shared somewhere here? I’m looking for the simplest possible language to allow for freedom within realistic expectations.
            A generic-to-all-languages could be developed if it hasn’t been yet. Things I plan to include (tho I’m not experienced in such document writing):
            1st year: Spontaneous command of Top 10 verbs and Top 50 most frequent word families (re Pareto Principle). Approx Mode Distribution: 60% interpersonal, 25% interpretive, <5% presentational
            2nd year: Spontaneous command of Top 20 verbs and Top 100 most frequent word families. Approx Mode Distribution: 50% interpersonal, 45% interpretive, 5% presentational
            3rd year: Spontaneous command of Top 30 verbs and Top 200 most frequent word families. Approx Mode Distribution: 45% interpersonal, 45% interpretive, 10% presentational
            All levels: 90%+ Comprehensible TL use; Low Affective Filter; Minimal Monitor use (i.e. Spontaneous/Automatic use); Personalized/Student-Centered Content;

          2. What do I mean by “Spontaneous Command”? I need to specify receptive command, but then, perhaps “command” is the wrong word.

          3. Yes! Thanks Alisa. Now, in a word, how can we distinguish the kind of immediate/fast comprehension we get via tons of aural CI vs the learned/memorized kind?

          4. Hi Jim,
            I was wondering what you meant by “word families.”
            I imagined as being a set of words based on a common root, as in friend, friendly, friendliness, friendless, befriend, befriends, befriending, befriended.
            I googled “word families” and discovered lists of rhymes, like black, jack, attack, sack, snack, etc.
            You may even have something else in mind.
            Thanks, Nathaniel

          5. Thanks, Eric. That was my hunch.
            Is that what you also mean by “word family,” Jim?

  2. …cooperating with the big wigs of our profession….
    Jim you and Eric and Alisa and others here are the bigwigs of our profession. Let us not forget that. The former bigwigs like Mimi Met and Helena Curtain do not fully understand how languages are acquired. They are aware of the shift, and are nervous about it. They know that Alisa and Eric fully see something that they can only dimly see the shadow of. Since it is still in shadow, lately they have initiated correspondence with Alisa and Eric in private emails but they can’t hear – are incapable of fully grasping – what Alisa and Eric are really saying. No blame. They just need better hearing aids, better glasses. The so-called bigwigs are old now. Their horses are tired. Over recent months, HC has been corresponding with Alisa and Eric. HC wanted to meet Alisa half way from where Alisa is in Chicago and where she lives in Wisconsin to discuss things over coffee. I suggested to Alisa that she not do that. My thinking was that HC could not perceive what Alisa said to her and it would be a waste of Alisa’s time. Because HC could not hear it. I must say here that the biggest thing I regret in my career, with nothing else even close, is believing those so called bigwigs, believing that what they said had value. It doesn’t. But I believed it for a very large part of my career. What they do is not based on how people learn languages and it is too connected to the big textbook companies. One time HC insulted Carol Gaab. You don’t do that. Mimi Met is pathetic as well and you all know my own story with her and Realidades. No. They don’t get the shift. They are not bigwigs. There is a new boat in the boat show and it glitters and is radiant. It’s our boat.

    1. Let’s let them be bigwigs.
      “The term “Big Wig” entered the language with it’s current meaning as follows: People in the 1700’s began to wear wigs to cover up their heads which would become bald and have sores on them because of syphilis, which was widespread. Any man who had a loss of hair wanted to then wear a wig so as not to be ridiculed as possibly having syphilis. Regular smaller wigs were cheap. Big, large fancy wigs were 30 times as expensive as cheap wigs. Only the very rich important people could afford the big wigs. Hence they were know as “Big Wigs”.” [Internet]

  3. In real life, focus on form– building a story or set of “activities”– around a grammar point, and focus on forms– helping ppl out with errors along the way– all mix together. The distinction in research is functionally irrelevant to actual practitioners.
    Long is refering to work done by Lyster (2004a– I have a blog entry coming about this) and others where they tried to “fix” things, like English kids not properly acquiring French noun gender, with various kinds of interventions. They “succeeded” with one of their treatments.
    BUT BUT BUT…
    The problem that no researcher– other than to my knowledge Krashen– acknowledges is the “rule bandwidth” problem: whatever form you target– via stories for c.i. ppl or “activities” for the legacy folks– means you LOSE focus on something else. Opportunity cost. Even a grammarian gets that (too many passé composé worksheets means too few imparfait worksheets 😉 ) If we want to “fix” noun gender acquisition, we can do that…but that means we stop focusing on other things and we inevitably restrict input to “stuff” that “contains” the rules or draws attention to the rule, which results in inout that is impoverished in some way.
    In Lyster’s 2004 study, they TESTED for noun gender acquisition…but they didn’t look for anything else. It is quite possible– but not known– that the kids failed to improve, or improved more slowly, elsewhere.
    The advantage that c.i. has is that because it does not “restrict” anything except vocab, it allows both FOF and FoFs, and it does not impoverish input. Basically, you have to choose your shortcomings: c.i. giveth, and grammar taketh away.
    This is the (other) moral of not just Lyster but of ALL grammar-focused studies (VanPatten included): any work on X means less work on Y, and I have yet to see an assessment instrument for a grammar-focused intervention that looks at whole language– what matters– as opposed to a quisitn/recognition/production of [whatever they targeted].
    Beware of grammarians bearing “data.”

    1. Michael Coxon

      Great points Chris. When one area of input is emphasized there is a sacrifice some where else. In the field of mathematics this is obvious every year when it comes to state scores. At our school they notice in one year that students are weak in probabality so the following year the weakness is remedied when teacher revamp the quantity and quality of time spent in that unit. Probability questions look good but now they see students struggle with number sense.
      This just proves once again that we have to be thoughtful and concise with TL input. Beware of data indeed!

  4. “… c.i…. does not “restrict” anything except vocab”.
    In the earlier hours of acquisition, this does look like restricting grammar tho, and it kind of is, because different verb forms are naturally different enough to the untrained ear that we limit them severely. The “syllabus” is structured by frequency and interest, so utilitarian and natural, not arbitrary and consequently forced as with textbook.
    How about Focus On Comprehension and Kinship (FOCK) [coincidentally that’s what I say when I stub my toe on the stack of expensive superfluous textbooks sitting in the closet that my principal can’t sell]

    1. Exactly! Being comprehensible to a beginner means simplification – it means graded reading and graded listening. That requires vocabulary and grammar be restricted. Since the vocabulary (when we say “vocabulary” we mean content words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, and some adverbs) carries most of the meaning and the grammar (the function words) much less meaning, this is what requires us to restrict vocabulary more than grammar in order to still comprehend.

      1. They aren’t authentically complex the way a native speaker would say them, but they are complex and multidimensional
        My Avancemos book, unit 5: “Boys are taller than girls.”
        Blaine Ray story 5: “Caden wanted a monkey, but not just any monkey: he wanted a monkey who could dance.”

          1. I see two reasons why TPRS syntax is, or at least appears to be, sheltered less than trad methods.
            1. We do not wait for the kids to gain explicit knowledge of the syntax (or any other grammatical feature for that matter) before we “move on”. We allow for a simple understanding that X means “boys are taller than girls” while the other approach requires an understanding of comparatives and other technical jargon and seeks correct subject-verb-adjective-agreement identification and in many cases production. When the measure is comprehension, vs explanation/production, the ideas and utterances we express can naturally expand quicker.
            2. We focus on high frequency words at a disproportionate rate to stuff that’s not high frequency. That means all the little connecting words come up a lot and are acquired quickly, allowing us to build some “complex and multidimensional” utterances.
            That being said, I certainly restrict syntax. I think we all do. It’s just not as necessary for as long.

          2. Jim,
            I like your comments 1 & 2. In fact, we may find ourselves contrasting “the teacher came so the students left” with “the teacher came when the students left.”
            RE the final comment, I wonder whether it is a case of restricting syntax or of staying in bounds.

          3. Nathaniel, I was thinking they go hand in hand in this case. I’ve noticed that chunks are important, short chunks, that gradually lead to longer utterances with adverbial clauses and such. This is obvious to us of course, but that’s what I mean when I say “restricting syntax”.
            I don’t follow the two similar quoted statements and what you’re saying there. Went over my head. Please explain?

          4. There is research on this (chunks) probably in VanPatten (Eric I am sure will correct): chunks are ESSENTIAL tools for two reasons:
            A) they often carry i+1 grammar
            B) they lower the cognitive load because their component materials are “tied together”
            Say in Spanish we say “lo siento” (I am sorry). The kids can learn this and at some point they will encounter the verb sentir (to feel) and pronoun placement and verb conjugation and dropping subject pronouns etc. That “chunk” of lo siento has already modeled all this for them without them knowing, and it’s easy, and it’s meaningful.

          5. Right Chris, they don’t need to know all the reasons for X and Y, just what it means. All the jargon and analysis bogs the process way down.
            When I referred to chunks or restricting syntax, here’s an example of a few steps. Of course this all proceeds quickly with TPRS, perhaps within a span of a few weeks in some cases.
            1. John has coffee. Joe wants coffee . John gives coffee to Joe. Joe is happy
            2. John has coffee but Joe doesn’t have any. Joe wants coffee. John gives coffee to Joe. Now Joe is happy.
            3. John has coffee but Joe doesn’t have any. Joe wants coffee so John gives him coffee. Now Joe is happy because he has coffee too.

          6. Shorter sentences is an essential component of “readability” formulas, which generally account for the number of words and syllables per sentence.

          7. Which is the beauty of Embedded Reading. It is TCI/TPRS in print form…what Jim wrote up there? A perfect embedded reading example.
            with love,
            Laurie

          8. Ya Erica has a good point. With beginners– esp within the first 20-30 hours when they are still just getting used to the language’s sounds– short chunks (sentences and/or formulaic expressions) are far more comprehensible. The Blaine Ray readers are brilliant examples of this.
            The good news is, if we keep it 100% comprehensible, we can very quickly ramp up complexity as in Jim’s example with connecting words (and, but, therefore etc).

        1. This totally reminds me of how this year’s Chinese 2-3-4 classes were used to seeing language in use from their textbook before this year. Simple sentences, or only a few very precisely used longer patterns that they didn’t have a handle on using at all yet. They could memorize some advanced conjunction phrases and repeat them in isolation, but their production was very simple and very English-influenced. It was hard to understand.
          I am pleased to say those classes are all functioning at a much more “real” language level after this school year. That was the biggest thing for Chinese 3 & 4 – not so much new vocabulary as real language use and real sentences.

          1. Thanks, Ben! The establishment does *not* like hearing about its flaws. There is a teachers’ committee currently revamping provincial French curricula. There will not be a mention of comprehensible input, mark my words.
            But honestly who cares…I teach kids language, tons of it, they get really good, and I can’t imagine how any curriculum could improve this work.

  5. “It is worth noting that not just traditional linguistically based syllabi, but also most thematic, topic-based, and content-based approaches sit uneasily with the same research findings.”
    I like this quote quite a lot. Let them hear and read whole language that they want to talk about and use. This is a critique even of Task-Based Learning as far as I’ve seen it… it was absolutely topically centered. Ex: role-play shopping for fruit at a market in the target culture.

    1. Me, too, Diane! His point is that even those approaches make language an object, trying to teach the pieces of the language, rather than using the language to talk about something else. And the input is often not tailored to the developmental level of the students – that could be interpreted to mean trying to teach CALPS (low-frequency words) before BICS (high frequency words).
      I myself have never observed nor experienced a true TBLT classroom. That would surely help. Long’s point is that the approaches don’t get implemented as proscribed anyways, although a teacher will claim to be “communicative” or “task-based” when in reality they’re using a role play to practice a specific grammar rule and pre-selected vocabulary list.

      1. The description I read recently of a TBLT unit made it sound just like planned, role-playing communicative language instruction. Very, very programmed sounding and pushing output. I stopped reading after page 1… it just hurt.

          1. Task-based language teaching – and Diane is totally right! In theory, the principles of TBLT are appealing and reasonable, but in practice, it often stinks of artificial role-playing dialogues, requires a lot of student output, and therefore a lower quality and quantity of comprehensible input.

          2. It seemed that TBLT was used to support learning a very semantic-set list of nouns in the example I read, too. I was reading a national presenter’s unit materials shared at the National Chinese Language Conference in April 2015. Task-based language teaching is generally believed to be the best out there, I’ve been told by someone in a PhD program with an SLA focus. Real CI instruction is apparently still such an unknown.

          3. The ELL ppl are all over this. Geoff Jordan’s aplinglink blog has some great entires about TBLT and materials. The good thing– for say adult learners of ____ who need thematically-focused stuff (e.g. Spanish ppl who need to learn usiness English)– is that the stuff delivers situation-specific goods. The bad? Too much output, not enough reading, and frankly much of it is boring.

          4. I get the feeling that “focus on form” (not formS and not meaning) is the newest way to teach grammar and since it is relatively newer, it’s seen as an improvement upon earlier ways. I get the same sense that TBLT gets looked upon as the best way to implement. Honestly, TCI teachers all do focus on form (to different degrees), e.g. every time you pop-up something mid-story, but again, any acquisition gains from focus on form are minor to none.

  6. Good additions, Chris, about opportunity costs and global assessments vs. discrete grammar points. I need to clarify something you said:
    “focus on form– building a story or set of “activities”– around a grammar point, and focus on forms– helping ppl out with errors along the way– all mix together. The distinction in research is functionally irrelevant to actual practitioners.”
    This is not the difference between focus on form vs. formS. I will try to make it clear. There are 3 approaches to teaching grammar:
    1) Focus on meaning (Krashen) – acquisition is entirely incidental, it happens when attention is entirely on understanding the meaning.
    2) Focus on form (VP, Long, and many more) – we can focus attention on meaning AND form at the same time. You can design focus on form instruction that is “proactive” – pre-planned (textual enhancement, structured input, structured output) and “reactive” – in response to an immediate contextualized need (recasts, TPRS pop-ups).
    3) Focus on formS – acquisition is skill-building, we teach a rule and we practice it with attention primarily on form, e.g. traditional instruction
    Think of a recast as an example of #2 focus on form:
    Bob: I eat the breads.
    Instructor: You eat bread.
    Bob: Yeah, I eat bread.
    Recasts are super debatable whether there is any acquisition actually happening and not just a temporary performance change. It’s not clear whether the L2 learner even notices his/her error, especially if just paying attention to meaning. And from Krashen’s perspective, noticing a form, is irrelevant, since acquisition happens unconsciously when the focus is on processing meaning. The idea is that the instructor can repeat the sentence that the learner has already processed for meaning, which then allows the learner to devote attentional resources to processing form.
    Under the comprehension hypothesis, acquisition could only happen if the instructor’s recast was at level i+1 level for a student. It doesn’t aid acquisition of that grammar if at level i+2 or beyond. Michael Long and TBLT understands this and accept all the research on natural orders and developmental sequences. What I’m not sure of is whether the teacher responding “bread or breads” would still be considered focus on form. I think, yes. But in this latter case, there is a more explicit focus on the form and less a focus on the meaning.
    VP seemingly disregards the developmental level (i) of the learner and believes his processing instruction, since based on input (the mechanism of acquisition), can bring about acquisition. Here’s an example of a “referential” structured input activity (VP).
    Bob sees two pictures. In picture A, there is a boy looking at a teacher. In picture B, there is a teacher looking at a boy. Bob reads this sentence “Lo mira el profesor” (Him he looks at the professor, i.e. the professor looks at him) and has to select the picture that best describes the sentence. In this example, the learner has to process the sentence for meaning AND form, hence why it is focus on form (not formS) instruction.
    Again, practically speaking, if we are to respect the fact that there are orders and sequences and that every student is at a different place in their acquisition AND acknowledge the fact that we are far from documenting all the orders and sequences in all languages, then we realize that any focus on form will be very “hit and miss” and certainly not the main engine of acquisition.

    1. Michael Coxon

      These are great cliff notes for all of us Eric…thanks ton!
      I think the 3 distinctions you made are so important for all of us to realize. We and our colleagues probably fall into more than one of these categories at one time or another. These 3 distinctions and varying levels of a language class make discussion about these topics TOUGH.
      1. In some cases a true focus on meaning is crucial for certain classroom situations. Fundamentally, it is how we all learn a language. Although I consider myself a “Krashenista” I think it could be highly ineffective to simply focus on meaning ALL the time (in a classroom setting). I bet you that Krashen would agree when simply talking about confines of a 180 day school year that there are things to do to aide comprehension and help students to progress.
      (But let’s face it, he is right in theory and truth but we have to put his observations to practice as teachers).
      2. TPRS is essentially that Focus on Form with emphasis on the Input. We do need small forms of output to conduct a class, we do in one way or another structure the input. We do it so fricking well though. Personalization, circling, grade readers, embedded readings are all strategies that are examples of “structured” content meant to bring students along slowly and gradually. No doubt that when Blaine invented TPRS, that he had meaning based instruction in mind and at the same time, he wanted students to show something based on that instruction.
      3. Focus on FormS is in my opinion for 3 groups of teachers (a 4th group if you are arguing with drunks).
      a. One group uses these strategies because they do not know the language well enough to teach it organically and naturally. The must rely on very structured content and 3-party materials. I think of beginning teachers and include myself in this group when I first began teaching.
      b. Another group that Focuses on FormS are teachers that teach advanced classes. In the 4th and 5th year courses they present grammar in such complex ways that they do not have the time or creativity to provide quality target language input. Sequence of tenses comes to mind here. In my experience many teach this grammar as a unit and in English. Teaching this in English probably exists everywhere because doing it properly would take backwards planning of an entire program. What a waste of time to talk in English about when to use a specific tense. I guess there are plenty that try to teach grammar in the TL…I have experienced this too and it does NOT replace language usage in context.
      c. The third group that comes to mind are lazy or closeted lazy teachers. They do what they do because they either think it is easier to teach language explicitly along with practice or they are on the surface hard-working at what they do but are too lazy to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the way they teach in the classroom all together. They are closeted because it is just a matter of laziness really.
      The latter takes A LOT of work, dedication, and transformative thinking as we all know. Thanks again for adding more for us to read and process.

    2. Michael Coxon

      Page 4 of Long’s paper on TBLT says…
      5. A pure focus on meaning is inefficient. Studies show rate advantages for learners who receive instruction with attention to code features. As I have argued for years, comprehensible L2 input is necessary, but not sufficient.”
      As a group of teachers working collectively don’t we all believe this? I am curious what others think of this conclusion. Is this conclusion blasphemous in the context of a classroom setting?

      1. Krashen would STRONGLY disagree with Long on that point.
        Regardless of setting (L2, FL, natural or instructed), acquisition happens the same way for all ages and L1 backgrounds: CI !!! We get strong support of this in the Natural Order studies.
        Check out the below paper by Krashen, which discounts many of the “focus on form” studies, including VP’s.
        http://www.finchpark.com/courses/tkt/Unit_10/comprehension.pdf
        CI can take you as far as acquisition can progress. People in an L2, L3, etc. do not often achieve native-like proficiency. That does NOT mean that there is another way to acquire more. You fill those gaps with “learned knowledge” and if the conditions are right (e.g. little time pressure) AND you are a good monitor user, then you can perform higher than your actual level of acquisition.
        And the fact that a classroom can “speed up” acquisition depends on how you measure acquisition. But this is obviously true of a classroom that can provide a beginner with the precious CI they get very little of in the outside world, especially adult learners. That the classroom also taught some explicit rules or included some focus on form instruction does NOT mean those were the causes of the faster acquisition rates.
        The focus on form studies are flawed for various reasons, mainly problems with the treatment (e.g. it is obvious to the subjects what they’re supposed to be monitoring, there aren’t good acquisition-based comparison groups) and problems with the tests (not time pressured or “free” – spontaneous – and not delayed).

        1. Eric’s right about Krashen. However, focus on form– basically, doing grammar pop-ups when they are called for– will make some learners happy. I always get 2-3 kids, usually in level 2, and adults at TPRS demos, who just “want” that explanation.
          Grammar is obviously for some people a kind of safety blanket. If it makes ppl happy– affective filters down– no worries, as long as we spend 5 seconds and not 4 min on popups.

  7. Michael I think that you are being overly charitable in calling those closeted teachers lazy. They would be lazy if they understood CI but then chose not to do it. However, in my opinion they don’t understand CI and so cannot teach in that way. Helena Curtain is a good example.

  8. People are lazy.
    I’m having an argument with my dept head right now, cos she wants me to not say anything about c.i. during meetings (because mentioning c.i. and what we know works and doesn’t is “intimidating” to other teachers). I told her that she has three options: a) have no discussion, b) email me asking me to not show up (and why) c) accept discussion that questions the “communicative” orthodoxy.
    What bugs me is when i talked to my neighbour and I told her “you did a Master’s, you changed what you did, yo uhave apssion and talent, why don’t you try c.i.?” and she said ‘well it would mean ditching everything I have built up” and that, my dear TPRSers, was that. Dept head and also the dinosaur who teaches french 8 (level10 have also said the same thing. Ldet those who have ears, listen…

  9. Michael Coxon

    Chris, I am sorry you have to be in that situation. What a bunch of crap. There is a lot of irony here. Comprehensible Input being intimidating is ridiculous for one. Using CI makes everything easier for students first and eventually for the teachers too.
    The other thing that kills me in these situations is that the schools want us to work in our departments and use research-based methods…well duh here ya go!
    Schools also want students to succeed…TCI is a no brainer for success. When it comes down to it these behaviors are far from democratic views of education.
    Although ironic, I find no irony that you mention advance teacherz in the conversation…they have a lot of trouble teaching with CI. They are usually the ones at the top of the FL food chain and have the years of experience and some knowledge but their ability to inspire 14-16 students to learn a new language is gone. These dinosaurs are the ones that should be silent in the department meetings. The ideas of MMs and HCs of the world are no longer relevant. They should put out to pasture…or the should be in the frontlines of beginner courses where the action is. This way they would have skin in the game and will see how well their beliefs stay in tact.
    Hang in there Chris!

  10. My sitch is fine– no real stress or job dangers. Unlike some ppl in US like that guy on the yahoo listserv who put principles over principals.
    Legacy methodz’ failure as I have noted *benefit* those teachers at senior levels: bad teaching selects for the 4% kids so the level 5s are a lot of egg-heads and the legacy teacherz thus feel less pressure to change.
    The MASSIVE irony is that we are being told by District to examine practices, Inquiry yadda yadda, and of course it is quite clear what we can examine and what we can’t. People do not like being challenged.

  11. Michael Coxon

    I just read most of this by Long (1997).
    http://woucentral.weebly.com/uploads/7/4/6/9/7469707/long_1997_intro_focus_on_form.pdf
    I particularly like what he says on page 5.
    “Focus on form, therefore, is learner-centered in a radical psycholinguistic sense: it respects the learner’s internal syllabus. It is under learner control: it occurs just when he or she has a communication problem, and so is likely already partially to understand the meaning and function of the new form, and when he or she is attending to the input. These are conditions most would consider optimal for learning-psycholinguistic equivalent of worker control of the means of production. ”
    What I read here has TPRS all over. I am thinking of PQA, personalization, Asking a story, and the use of student actors. I see in these statements that a degree of respect to the ideas of Vgotstky, Krashen, VanPatten, Chomsky, and even Swain are expressed.
    I see that on page one of this article that Long mentions various synthetic “methods” which include TPR. I wonder if he has any contact with the modern version of TPRS/TCI? IS it still synthetic? I think so because it goes back to the idea of developing MicroFluency but it is the best we have with the time that is given…

  12. I guess I made waves yesterday. At the end of our department meeting we discussed our plan to have subs in so we could work together for curriculum mapping based on Avancemos.
    It was presented that we would cover the entire 8 units in Advanced (students w/ 1, 1.5, or 2 years Spanish in middle school), 6 units for average students with no previous Spanish experience, and 4 units for below average students with no previous Spanish experience.
    I objected that we need to allow time for the learner need to build a listening vocabulary, that we need more time for working with the most essential structures. In short, I requested that we write a curriculum which allows everybody to work at their comfort level.
    My friend Scott said that what he wanted is too reduce so that fewer things could be covered more thoroughly with superior results.
    It was objected that English students are given long lists of vocabulary, to which we replied “which they promptly forget after the quiz, which they should get through reading, and which are given to native speakers.”
    The dept coordinator said that we should follow ACTFL and the MA Curriculum Framework. The problem is that is just a thing. They do not know what ACTFL or the Framework says.
    It was stated that Avancemos is better than Español 1. I agreed that as far as texts go it is, but that it is still grammar-based, and grammar based curriculum is considered the old way by ACTFL. Furthermore, people do not acquire a mental representation of the language through grammar; it is through understanding messages.
    It was a little heated, but at least we were talking. After going home, I sent the following message:
    Estimados colegas /Chers collègues:
    It was so refreshing to have the discussion today. We need more of that. As one member of the department to the others, I appreciate you staying and be willing to hash things out when [dept coordinotar] was so kindly disposed to let us out early.
    Did we come to an agreement? Definitely not. We need time for more discussion. Did we come to an understanding of each other’s views? I do not think so. We still need more time for that also.
    There is still a lot to discuss.
    Unfortunately, that cannot take place (the task is too big and the time too limited).
    My take-away is this:
    1. The proposal to consider the final exam first is sound.
    Backwards planning is planning with the end in view. What do we hope our kids can do with the language? Do we want them to have a set of essential structures so firmly under control that they can understand and use them with ease?
    2. The proposal to reduce vocabulary (or perhaps rank it) is also sound.
    Which words/ structures/ expressions are essential for communication? They should be tested for meaning. Which words are good to know? Perhaps we could test them through student expression. Which words are useless in most situations? The overachievers will want to use them…nothing wrong with that. That is part of who they are and they should be allowed to have that need met.
    3. The idea of having an exam and curriculum which is inclusive enough for all to work at their levels of comfort, knowledge, and experience is also sound.
    If we are not sure what to do when we move too far away from path along which we taught it is comforting to return their for a breather. If we that the path of our own learning was insufficient for the needs of our learners should we be constrained to frustration?
    Trusting that the dialogue just beginning, I will be
    Respectfully yours,
    Nathaniel
    Today I was told that there was a lot of anger expressed over my trying to push my method on everyone else. I said that my email did not do so. In fact, I proposed that we work together to find an umbrella big enough for everyone to step out when we felt ready and to return to our comfort zone as needed.
    “Well, it was perceived that you were trying to push.”
    “Well, read the email it does not say that. In fact, those who are pushing for the Grammar-Translation method are just assuming that we will all go along.”
    So the GTs are angry because we are supposed to work together and they do not want to go to the bother. It is easier to copy and paste, so to speak, from the Table of Contents and photocopy the curriculum unit tests and midyear and final exams.
    The GTs also complain about being uncomfortable, but they did not go to Laurie’s am session.
    So we have stirred up a hornet’s nest by asking that room be made for us and our students on the map.
    They have also asked that we not talk about our views anymore.
    Btw, two members expressed appreciation for a well-thought out email and another who will respond to it in a professional way, and who has read VP. had not read it yet.

    1. You go, Nathan!
      So contradictory that in EDUCATION there are so many teachers that
      1) do not read or apply any of the 40 years of SLA science and
      2) can’t have open discussions about teaching approaches.

      1. And ironic that they don’t see that they are beyond pushing their views – they think everyone should already take them for granted. They want no discussion, no reflection from anyone who doesn’t go along with the way they assume things should be.

    1. There are 8 who are at our meetings.
      There are four who lean toward Grammar-Translation.* There are two of us who are openly CI. The fulltime French teacher wants to work outside of the text. A fulltime Spanish teacher wants greater flexibility. Both attempt to do communicative approaches in the T2, are native speakers, and are first year teachers at our school. There is also a Latin/English teacher who is GT trained, but excited (but overwhelmed w/5 preps) about CI/Spoken Latin. The last three were at both of Laurie’s sessions and very favorable.
      The Latin teacher has 3 English classes, and meets with the English dept (which keeps her out of the fray).
      *I say Translation because when their kids do projects they have to do forced (beyond their ability) output, causing them to think in English and (Google) translate to Spanish or ask another Spanish teacher. Mostly it is worksheets, though.

      1. please ask the Latin teacher to get in touch with me john.piazza@yahoo.com and/or Bob this summer. ci is the only way to deal with a massive workload, and we can help her get things in order for next year, since that’s what a lot of us will be doing this summer.
        great discussion, especially when we’re all looking for some inspiration at the end of the year.

        1. Thank you John!!! We knew that you all would be there to help and let her know that early on. So glad that she is still thinking about it!
          The truth is that discomfort is often a precursor to growth. This “agita” in the department may very well be a catalyst for the “non’GT” folks who are on the fence to do more exploration of CI.
          Nathaniel and Scott are passionate, well-educated and well-spoken. As some of the tide has turned in their direction, the others have felt threatened. There is no way around this. With patience, time and continued education/discussion at least ONE of these folks will start to ask questions. THAT is when things will really start to change. Four out of eight can seem like a majority…three out of eight will definitely be a minority.
          with love,
          Laurie

        2. Thanks, John. I have mentioned you and Bob before, but she has a lot on her plate with two preps for English (3 classes) and three preps for Latin (in two class periods).
          I sent her part of your message just now and appreciate your extending a hand to her. She got to talk with John Bracey when Laurie came to our district. I thinks she appreciates people letting her know she is not alone. She thanks me when I send her something and is looking forward to the summer to catch up on the emails.

      2. Robert Harrell

        Nathaniel, have you ever read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”? If not, I recommend it as a book that will give you insight into what is going on in your department. I think it is what is happening in most departments, schools, and districts – and definitely on the national level.
        The five dysfunctions are
        1. Lack of Trust (We have to know people aren’t going to use what they know about us to harm us; i.e. we have to trust our team members.)
        2. Fear of Conflict (Most people want to avoid “conflict” – disagreement – but this only forces the issues underground. A team needs to learn to “fight fairly” and be willing to express strong disagreement with ideas without attacking people.)
        3. Lack of Commitment (People are not willing to give themselves to the group or the task but want to take the easy way out or shirk their responsibilities.)
        4. Avoidance of Accountability (This is a charge that is often leveled against teachers as a whole, but I think in many cases it is an accurate charge. Our colleagues do not want to be held accountable for bringing students to the point of being able to use the language.)
        5. Inattention to Results (Another big problem in language teaching; teachers do not pay attention to whether students “get it”, and the acquisition – i.e. results – is ignored.)
        You might think about these issues as you deal with your colleagues. Your willingness to address areas of disagreement makes your colleagues uncomfortable because they fear (open) conflict, hence their complaints that you are “forcing CI” on them. It’s a conflict avoidance mechanism.

        1. Wow, Robert, that book just described our dept.
          For my colleagues– the senior ones esp– what is evidence of learning comes down to 3 things.
          A) neat-looking edited packages (portfolios)
          B) rehearsed dialogues
          C) grammar tests
          D) the d.e.l.f. test on which they score A2 (after ~650 hrs of French) which means advanced novice (2 out of 6)
          These are simple, convenient easy to measure bla bla. What my colleagues do not want to look at are alternative methods, how good the kids COULD do, why they lose 80% of their kids from grade 8-12 (we have 280 kids in French 8 and 110 in French 11 (the last year they have to take it for Uni) and 53 in French 12), what the kids actually think of French, whether or not the kids can do anything that is 100% spontaneous and not planned out, etc.

        2. Michael Coxon

          Agreed. That book describes the last four years in my current school. Like Nathaniel I have usually maintained positive communication to others. It really doesn’t matter much because people will interpret communications negatively if they are being challenged.
          Since announcing leaving my current high school for a new position, I am surprised by my department chair’s behavior. She is very nice, relaxed, and friendly like we were years ago. When we have meetings she lingers to talk with me and “hang out.” Those 5 dysfunctions no longer exist between us so I guess it makes sense.
          This book should be on every department’s PLC reading list!!!

        3. No, Robert. I had not even heard of it, but it resonates with my experience. I checked and see that there are a fair amount of “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” resources on line. A lot to think about. I have got to check my own heart first. Thanks.

  13. Michael Coxon

    It is funny that the word “comfort” is a common theme in these conversations. It really is about teaching and learning I the most effective ways.
    I respect the comfort zone of others but in return others should respect the comfort zone of CI based teachers.
    Nathan hang in there…it seems like you know how to handle these people. Just be ready for them to turn on you because you are questioning the status quo and their comfort zones.

  14. I love that Nathaniel uses the term “Openly CI” ! Way to come out of the closet! The traditional teachers say that we’re forcing our views on them…just like the straight world reacted when Queer folk started demanding rights and recognition. Must be some kind of human nature struggle!
    Speaking of “order of acquisition”… I find it fascinating how certain words just get picked up by the students. I started using the word “grita”- yells – in stories with no fanfare at all and nobody blinked, almost all of them just kind of picked it up and we use it frequently and on comprehension checks it’s always right there. On the other hand, other verbs that I work HARD on…like “puede”- can, is able to…. just don’t stick for most of them. Yet. This work is so cool!

  15. If your dept is doing authentic assessment–i.e. not grammar tests– the c.i. kids will blow the others away.
    You can cite Waring or Nation about word count. Avancemos 1 has 1200 words, many low frequency. If basic fluency in a language is 1,000 words (Nation) why stampede theough 600 words/year?
    Good luck and keep advocating. The dinosaurs are on the defensive.

    1. I’ve seen 1,200 listed as “functional fluency.” But I have no idea what that means.
      In spoken English, these are the numbers I’ve seen:
      3,000 = 95% coverage
      7,000 = 98% coverage
      And 98% is the probability threshold – at that point there is a high probability of adequate comprehension, but “adequate” gets measured as a 60-70% on a comprehension quiz!
      Since vocabulary (content words) are essential for communication, vocabulary acquisition researchers wouldn’t support an approach that limits vocabulary unnecessarily – I think what we do in TPRS is necessary and does align well with the # of words expected to be acquired in a FL class in 1 year.

  16. “The proposal to reduce vocabulary (or perhaps rank it) is also sound.”
    “Do we want them to have a set of essential structures so firmly under control that they can understand and use them with ease?”
    I think these are the most important points to keep hammering at… the Pareto Principle and Spontaneous Use. Thanks for keeping us posted. Courageous.

    1. I like this, too. I’ll say again that reading the details of how others are negotiating collaboration with colleagues is so helpful to me as I attempt to do the same.
      I’m very happy to report that I have the support of my principal, and that she has put into action my proposal to change our middle school WL schedule so that we can loop with our students in grades 6-8.
      My colleagues–not so much. Which is extra hard because of the strain it puts on friendship. Not that someone who is attacking me personally because I’m teaching less explicit grammar was ever really a friend… but it still hurts!

  17. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I think the resistance all stems from fear. Fear of admitting that all the work and tedium that went into those grammar packets and worksheets and/or partner activity pieces, games, dialogs, projects, quizzes and tests are obselete; fear that my toil over the last year or decades has been for naught; fear of being evaluated as a user of real language; Fear of not having easily quantifiable data for the Danielson rubric; fear that since I have not explored second language acquisition theory, I have no authority over the subject I have been teaching for a long time; fear that it will be discovered that I am a phony who’s been marching through the paces; fear that I will be left in the dust by these young upstarts (or in my case not so young!); fear that what I believe about my professional accomplishments is now in serious doubt; Fear that the teacher across the hall is doing a better job; fear that the students are enjoying his/her classes more…fear of change.
    I was fortunate enough to be part of a department that was given the latitude to explore new strategies, and then supported in our quest. Teachers in polarized departments? Very difficult.

  18. Michele, Carrie Toth mentioned you in message #147189 on the listserve:
    …we have Michele Whaley competing at the National TOY this year… Last year, this whole us VS them thing blew up right before I went… Let’s not do that to her. Give her a chance to represent a group that is trying to work with ACTFL to teach the benefits of (to quote Terry) “optimized immersion”….
    The background is that I had written something about Curtain there a few days ago (I try to go there once every few years and I wish I hadn’t) and Carrie responded with a long response that included this statement about you. The problem is that I don’t understand her overall point and I don’t even understand the language she uses.
    Reading what she wrote makes me fearful that true CI in its pure originally intended form as TPRS and now as CI has in the past few years been kind of absorbed by a growing group of TPRS teachers who claim that their version of CI is compatible with ACTFL, and therefore incompatible with the kind we talk about here.
    If that happens, TPRS as I understand it will disappear soon, and reappear as fully aligned with ACTFL and will fulfill the Met/Curtain statement that TPRS is just another tool in the toolbox, which we know is not true. I’m confused about the entire ACTFL thing and how CI aligns or doesn’t align with it, to tell the truth.
    I have never misunderstood anything you said, and so I ask you on behalf of our group maybe to give a shot at explaining what Carrie means on the list. I would also ask Eric and Alisa to comment and anyone else who may understand the response to my Curtain thread on the list, which I just honestly don’t get. I would ask Robert Harrell but he left Saturday on a student trip.
    Thanks in advance to anyone who can maybe clarify my concerns that TPRS/CI instruction is currently being hijacked by a new kind of traditional teacher who plays the TPRS song real well but makes it generally confusing (to me at least) like it never was before with terms like optimized immersion, or if such thinking on my part is irrational, not based in any reality, and that I need to get a grip. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened and I just need somebody to tell me if my ideas about this work that I talk about here on the PLC – which in all honesty in my perception are increasingly opposed to this new kind of TPRS – are well-founded or just ravings.

    1. I think we are all aiming for the same goals, but just as this group has found a bunch of its own acronyms, the larger TPRS/CI group is coming up with ways to help explain to newbies what TPRS is. I don’t see a difference.
      It never occurred to me that last year’s list serve battle could make things difficult for our first ACTFL TPRS ToY candidate (Teacher of the Year). That Teacher of the Year was Carrie. Next up is Leslie Davison, and after that (2016), I’ll be on. (Maybe there will be at least one other regional TPRS ToY candidate in 2016! My region, Pacific Northwest, does things way in advance.)
      I’ll be hopping through many hoops as I prepare my portfolio this year. I do promise, however, to keep true to CI. I was stressing over the “platform” speech that I have to prepare, and a friend told me that I should illuminate the elephant in the room: tell the panel that language is being taught badly in this country or no one would say, “I took four years of…and can’t speak a word.” She said that I should explain that languages are critical for everything, from culture to politics, economics to brain development, and yet we are losing funding daily because we have lost our credibility. (Even though we know that “no one” remembers math, science, geography and history from high school…) If language teachers used methods that achieved proficiency across the board, people would know and love speaking other languages.
      Actually I was shocked that this friend (an accountant) could advise me on what I needed to say when I explained that my topic would be something like, “Tell us why we should study languages,” or “Explain why we need funding for languages.” Maybe she remembers that I gave her daughter a crash course in Russian when she was going to Lake Baikal for scientific work, and the daughter said she acquired more in five days than in the year at her Ivy League college.
      My friend told me to tell my story of Olivia (a student who pointed out that after three-years of Russian, when kids did their oral exams, the only vocabulary they knew confidently was what I’d presented through TPRS in three month-long periods over those three years…everything else was dust in the wind) and finding Ben Slavic and Scott and Laurie and all the others. She said that stories get the information across better than data. And she’s an accountant!
      We just have to keep talking about what we do in classes and how it helps students acquire language. Everything else is just buzz words, no matter who says them.

      1. “I took four years of…and can’t speak a word.”
        In a private email a PLC member wrote me this powerful sentence:
        “The more and more people I talk to – fellow graduate students, professors of theology, philosophy, homeschooling parents – get very excited about it [TPRS/CI] because the experience of not being able to learn a language is almost universal.”
        ACTFL has been, is, and clearly wants to be in the future the big dog in the fight. Whether they have formal or unconscious ties with the textbook companies (in terms of overall philosophy of how to lead all the language teachers in the US) I don’t know. But the fact is that their track record stinks, as per the two statements above.
        I think the reason that ACTFL has failed is exactly because of what skip said, which is a remarkably well-stated response to Carrie – very concise and to the point, with most of the key points being made beautifully in your comment, skip.
        Michele – From what you wrote above I still don’t feel clear on why Carrie is upset. To me it feels as if I’m not entitled to my opinion on the list, or something. Terry, also, doesn’t really want to explore the points I made there a few days ago about translation either. She just seems to want to tell me that we are going to have to agree to disagree, when my own position about this work that we are all doing together is far from being about agreeing or disagreeing but finding out what works best for each one of us. Terry seems to think there is a right way to do CI!
        It’s as if we have now lost our ability to dialogue and argue with each other in our country, which is the very fabric on which it was built. There must be some right way to do it, and most of us don’t know what it is, but a few do, like Blaine and Susie and Terry and Carrie. I certainly have no frickin’ idea what is best, I just keep exploring and learning where I can, learning in small doses from the really open ones like Eric and Robert and Alisa and Catharina and some of the other great human beings on this list. I hope I have never given the impression here that I have it together on CI – to me it’s a process and not a goal.
        I seem to have offended Terry and Carrie by just saying what I felt like on the list. Saying what one thinks, and being met by a response as if I hade just stepped on someone’s feet, is at least not the way we do things on this PLC, so that is at least one good thing.
        I am once again reminded why I started this PLC, wanted it to be private, and generally tried to avoid the politics that have scarred our work with TPRS and CI since the beginning – the rejection of Krashen, the defiant nature of the opposition from our own collegues, the ACTFL FL Educators fiasco last fall, the feeling that we could be wrong in our teaching, that we weren’t good enough but if we just worked hard enough some day we would be. Isn’t that the same schlock that we feed our kids?
        It’s as if there is a way that we are supposed to do it. But there is no right way. I went to the list a few days ago because I felt like writing a cool idea that I had over there, something I do rarely. The response was a highly charged effort by Terry to put me in my place re: the Din and translation and just the general stance that I advocated for in my two posts.
        Then Carrie comes in and again, tries to put me in my place for just saying what I think about Helena, that she is a shill for the textbook companies, etc. That is what I think, so why not say it?
        I guess I should just stay quiet re: input before output, and on any details in instructional skills like translation that I learned so much about this past year here. I will. This is just another reminder that the PLC is where I need to stay in my own work in trying to spread the message, and that on the list and in the greater foreign language community, there seems to be a need to generalize discussion about pedagogy to avoid offending anyone, which is surely going to water down everything.
        Skip go post that response to Carrie. It’s perfect.

        1. Here is an example of where that moretprs list is confusing. What I wrote there, also posted here, the stuff about translation and Helena Curtain, was interpreted by one group member there as Terry is talking about practice and Slavic about theory. Some guy implied that. Just hanging out with the kids is Slavic (theory) and how to do that is Terry (practice).
          The statement is false. We have a pretty good practice going here, personally. We really get the role of input, for example, whereas many TPRSers don’t get that part. In fact I think we have the best possible CI specific practices in the world here, those strategies that have taken us eight years to create and test and which are pretty much confined to this PLC. OK, I’ll stop now.

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