I Was Just Thinking

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59 thoughts on “I Was Just Thinking”

  1. We have two openings and only 1 application (a CI candidate). There are many Spanish positions open in our area.
    We are really starting to panic!

  2. Man, I was dreaming of this today as I attended a district-wide Spanish teacher meeting. I just shut my mouth and let them make outrageous comments, like this one today from the level 2 teacher: “Kids can’t be in level 2 and not know how to conjugate.” And one teacher always talks about “rigor,” which really means “weed ’em out” (actually, one elementary teacher confronted the HS teacher’s use of the word “rigor” and it got ugly). It’s painful and uncomfortable to be in these meetings. I wish there were leadership which asked for collaboration and input and invited respectful conversation of differences.
    8th grade placement this year was decided by a test created by the HS teachers which assessed 100 multiple choice grammar questions and 100 topic-based vocabulary matching-type questions. I’ve accepted that there is going to be a grammar section, but I can’t even convince them to include test sections of any of the 4 skills! And now the HS teachers, because they want to be “academic,” are going to send home study recommendation resources to the kids (which include conjuguemos & quizlet) and then give incoming kids a test on day 2!!! of the school year based on all the material they supposedly practiced over the summer.
    Right now, I see our pedagogical differences as unbreachable. We speak a different language. I felt myself thinking about Asher’s interview when he repeated: Stop it! Just stop with the 19th century model! Stop it!

    1. Robert Harrell

      On Wednesday we had a department collaboration. One of the teachers was excited to show us how she had “flipped” her classroom, and others were sharing websites and tips on technology. While I believe that technology is useful and can enhance instruction in a variety of ways, the thing that struck me was that these were simply more technologically advanced ways to deliver grammar instruction. the flipped classroom lesson was about the formation of commands. Other teachers were excited about how they could have students learning other verb conjugations on their own. And my school is “cutting edge” as far as my district is concerned! It’s moments like this that make wonder if anyone is truly listening to or reading the research. In addition, several of these teachers talk about how communicative their classrooms are. ::sigh::

    1. No, those positions don’t exist on this little rock. I am an outsider. Working at an elementary school, I have no sway on what they do at the HS.
      I think only results would ever have a chance to change anything. And to that end, I plan to film soon some of my top 8th graders on a totally method-independent interpersonal assessment. I’ll share the footage.

      1. Eric, You have to put a dent in that ship. I think the best way is to offer classes to your kids’ parents. I don’t do that, but I know others do and it maximizes the advantage you have of getting to the parents first. The admins will likely not force change higher up if there is infighting among teachers. But if parents get there and demand change, that will help a great deal. Of course you know to religiously collect meaningful data and samples, including qualitative information like how kids feel like confident language learners in your class.
        I too had an admin who told me flatly: Do what is best for your kids while they’re in your care b/c you can’t control what happens next.

        1. …you have to put a dent in that ship….
          What a great image, Grant. But how does he do it? With his head? My thinking is that that head is far too valuable nationally to be hammered against such a traditional flotilla, although I am sure they are nice people. (They just shouldn’t be teaching.) Eric has the perfect combination of research and teaching skills to make a dent somewhere. Like a big dent. I would encourage him to move. But if I lived on Martha’ Vineyard I wouldn’t want to move. I was there in the summer once and it was like a heaven.
          Grant you also said this:
          …if parents get there and demand change, that will help a great deal….
          Like they told you:
          …you can’t control what happens next….
          That is a serious, really a stunning, indictment of how schools work in general, where the few don’t get to even suggest, let alone bring, change, and the majority, because they do things as they have always been done, get to keep things the same. Whatever brilliance Eric could share with those people, and that is a lot of brilliance, they wouldn’t see it.
          So would the parents of the kids we saw in that recent TPR video Eric shared with us really demand change? Look whom they are demanding change from. Boats.
          In my situation in a middle school all my kids went to high school and quit because the culture of the high schools they went to – Dakota Ridge and Columbine – just snuffed ’em out. Half of my rock star kids just quit, and the other half only took two years for the college thing and quit at the end of their sophomore year. So I wonder if the parents care enough and if the battleships would even notice anyone trying to dent their fleet of grammar boats.
          I just don’t like the way Eric is being ignored. It’s outrageous. But they have reason to fear him and shut him out. He is a torpedo and they know it.

        1. Robert Harrell

          It means that the result does not depend on one particular method. Verb conjugation is very method dependent because students will not learn verb conjugations unless the method teaches conjugation specifically. However, as long as I am using Comprehensible Input, students will acquire language, whether my method is TPR, TPRS, PQA, MT, or anything else that delivers CI. (And yes, I know that some of those are considered strategies, not methods.) The only way to truly compare the results of methods is to test the things that are independent of any particular method. Students who learn via TPRS don’t do very well on conjugation tests because the tests themselves are method dependent, and TPRS isn’t a conjugation method, so those tests are invalid for comparison.

          1. Robert explained the term and gave an example of when a traditional assessment is not method independent. I’ll give another that biases the results in favor of our method: text-type (narrative) and task ( tell/retell a story).
            Proficiency is method-independent. You need to include at least a few unfamiliar, unrehearsed text-types, tasks, contexts, functions, etc. otherwise you are measuring performance more than proficiency.

  3. At the middle school where I learned to teach TPRS the principal Susan Oglesbee used to say, “I don’t see why we have to teach poorly just because the next level does.” There were always efforts to have us teach the “rigor” of the High School. She had no interest in rigor that kills curiosity and interest and makes learning harder. I remember her fondly.

    1. Martha Nojima

      One thing that I’ve seen happening recently is kids coming back to my private after school CI school after they quit. They quit my school after elementary school and went on to Jr high where they have English class 3 or 4 days a week ( thinking they don’t need me) and after a year several students noticed the difference and want to come back. I’ve run into two mom’s this week who said the same thing. I think it is going to be our students who change things in the long run.

  4. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Back to that question of most powerful ways to effect change – a multi-prong approach:
    -in our classrooms
    -in our departments/schools/districts and up the chain – through conversation, peer observation, group training. We also need to bring in our ELL people into the fold!!
    -in our geographic areas – i.e., Chicagoland T/CI – meet a few times a year, work on particular skills, share materials, have resource folder, observe e/other, network, etc.
    -online forums (fora?) – respond to queries, diplomatically respond to concerns that defy SLA research, question legacy methods, offer alternatives, provide info on training, resources, etc. (Engage the teacher community)
    The next frontier must include TEACHER FORMATION/TRAINING at the university level. This will require networking w/depts of education & applied linguistics for observation, student teachers, and in our copious free time, we need to be teaching/training at our local universities!!

    1. Agreed on working with student teachers! I wish I could do that.
      Also agreed on the universities being part of the next wave. Something there has to change some time. It’s just ridiculous that there are so many people training to become language teachers and so few who ever have real exposure to CI classrooms and approaches. This needs to change.

      1. Robert Harrell

        Cynthia Leathers (from project COACH – we helped host the very first iFLT) works with student teachers at Cal State Long Beach. She has Jason Fritze come in and do TCI training with them and then requires them to observe CI teachers. Most of them are struck by the contrast between what students are doing in CI classrooms as compared to legacy classrooms. When it comes to placing them, however, there simply are not yet enough TCI teachers for everyone, and often that semester of student teaching overrides all of the things they have been seeing and learning. This is just one university, and the professor aims to expose students to TCI. Change is sometimes slow simply because it takes a while to reach critical mass. When there are enough TCI master teachers to place students with them, the training will improve. Obviously, though, there needs to be articulation and coordination between high school and university.

        1. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

          Are there certain websites, magazines, listservs or other informational organs that University Lang Department heads might read where we could offer our perspective, together with a map of locations around the country (and world) where they might observe such teachers/programs?

          1. What about iJFLT as an information source?
            No maps there, but via Facebook I know Martina Bex is collecting information about teachers who’ve had TPRS training, teach with CI, and who would be open to classroom visits and assisting new teachers. She’s including info like language taught, languages a demo could be done in, coaching experience, and openness to classroom visits. That will probably be the kind of resource you are looking for.
            If you are not on Martina’s radar, Alisa, please contact her. Her blog is martinabex.com (And for that matter, others in the PLC who’d be open to assisting new teachers with CI in your region.)

          2. Alisa, this PLC has a map that locates members. Click on the drop down menu at the top of the page, “Map,” to plug in your location!

    1. I get great response from adult community members who’ve taken my class, and parents of my school students. Then, I get virtually no response from the college professors. Do I have to get my masters before they’ll talk to me?

      1. Matthew DuBroy

        I wonder if some of the discussion first has to be around goals. Do college programs say of Spanish/french etc. have as their explicit goal to gain fluency in a language or is it from the start an academic discipline that is to teach a lot about French/french culture? It seems like the discussion needs to focus that the real goal with “learning a language” is to be able to use the language (listen, speak, read). Only then would anyone be open to talking about a way to get you to use the language (because obviously many do these programs and can’t use it). But if the goal is to learn a lot about it because that is what an academic activity of french would look like then what you say will fall on deaf ears. Of course if you just want to learn about a language and you want it to be an academic discipline (grammar) then CI is a waste of your time. The problem is that many don’t realize that if you want those things (culture, grammar) you don’t ALSO get fluency.

  5. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I don’t think we’re being ignored or scorned at upper (univ-level) academics. I haven’t felt that intent. It’s just an absolute cluelessness. When your head is down in your conv and comp textbook, thematic content, grammar packets, doctoral research, book you’re writing, etc., you miss all the great innovations happening out here in the real world…
    By the time a student gets to college to study a world language, they’re smitten and prolly beyond intermediate level. (Students who haven’t made it to intermediate are too afraid to take college level beginners language courses for the break-neck pace they keep). So I’m talking more exclusively about the pedagogy classes for wannabe teachers.
    First easy step is to contact and form a relationship with WL departments at local community/colleges, universities and invite observers from their dept. Profs, admin – whoever will listen! Perhaps with a letter/pamphlet of introduction. Just open the door and allow them to take a bit in…then keep inviting – to Ray workshops, send demo videos, keep talking and networking it. It’s a marketing issue. Brand recognition, product placement and all that (OK, now I’ve exhausted my ‘knowledge’ of all things bussinessy). Oh yeah, Market Share.

    1. This is a really interesting topic. In my experience, schools of education often get it right (instruction/assessment aligned with SLA, proficiency-based, etc.). Most professors, however, are very resistant to adopt or promote one particular method, such as TPRS, for fear of being too prescriptive. For a long time, this bothered me, but I get it now. As Dr. Asher explained in that interview, teaching is an art, and we should be careful not to promote one way of doing things (Obviously, I don’t mean grammar vs. CI…I’m talking about different ways of delivering compelling CI). That being said, it is important to have some general principles that you apply to everything you do in the classroom. For our PLC, it might be that language is acquired subconsciously when students focus on content rather than form. The challenge, however, lies in taking these “big picture” statements of philosophy and putting them into practice. How will I stay comprehensible (limited number of high-frequency structures)? How will they understand variations of words, especially verbs (pop-up grammar)? This is the value of learning TPRS as a method: it teaches us the skills, and we can then apply those skills without following the method’s procedure. We can then take that recipe and create other CI activities (e.g., MovieTalk). Personally, I have found that the better I get at TPRS, as it was originally taught to me by Susie Gross, the less I do it. In other words, I have discovered and invented so many new ways to deliver CI that TPRS truly is a “tool in my toolbox” (By the way, I CAN’T STAND when people characterize TPRS as a “tool in my toolbox,” because what they really mean is they tell stories on one day and grammar the next. Of course, you all understand that I am characterizing TPRS as a tool in a CI-only toolbox). The key, though, is that I am always applying TPRS skills and these overarching beliefs. While I understand the resistance to methods at the university level, I’m not sure I would have ever been able to get to this point without Susie’s step-by-step guidance in the beginning.
      If you haven’t yet read an article on this topic by John De Mado, I would highly recommend it:
      http://www.demado-seminars.com/archive/The%20Principled%20Approach%20(TPA).pdf

      1. Scott this is so well said. I might add that it describes exactly the position on TPRS that has evolved over recent years in the Denver Public Schools. It is the position that Diana takes when she explains the difference in the terms TPRS and CI to teachers new to the district. Of course, this is no small issue. People who come into DPS need to know the difference. They need to know that they are not being told to teach according to some prescribed formula, and that they have the freedom to teach however they like as long as they are teaching using comprehensible input. Thanks for the clear explanation of where we are in this work today.

      2. And Scott what you wrote also made me reflect, with fervor, on how in this work there are certainly are no experts, how we are just fellow travelers on the CI train and what we do often very much becomes a reflection of our own teaching personalities anyway.
        If you think about it, this is a great thing, that there is no method, just a bunch of teachers bravely trying to craft a way of doing things with CI that is best for them, but may not be best for another, and doing so under great pressure from those around them.
        I say, again with fervor, that there is no method at all, and to those countless tens of thousands of teachers who have merely sipped (not gulped because of a great thirst, as we have) Krashen’s research, I say, “Drink more! It’s not a method! You can’t mess it up if you just try to speak to your kids in ways that engage them! Drink more!”

      3. Robert Harrell

        Scott, I agree with Ben: this was well said.
        Your analogy is apt and highlights an important distinction we need to keep in mind. Yes, TPRS is “another tool in the toolbox”, but it is important to have the right toolbox. While the much-vaunted “eclectic toolbox” will have a few of the same tools as the CI Toolbox, it will also have a lot of utterly useless tools. Similarly, a carpenter’s toolbox and a computer technician’s toolbox will have a few of the same tools (e.g. screwdrivers – possibly even one or two of the same size), but I certainly don’t want a crosscut saw near my computer! Nor do I want the conjugation buzz saw near my comprehensible input. They are both destructive to the outcome I want.

          1. Agreed…and what I have found is that 99% of the tools/strategies/activities in the non-CI toolbox are OUTPUT activities. At every conference and in-service PD day (as well as in conversations with colleagues), we are “gifted” a million different ways to get the kids talking. Just yesterday, a colleague was telling me about how she shows a silent film and has students invent the narration. We, on the other hand, do MovieTalk, since the goal is acquisition through CI (rather skill-building through output plus correction). In my opinion, it is EASY to come up with innovative output activities – they’re a dime a dozen. What is NOT easy is finding innovative ways to keep CI “fresh.” In order to not feel like these in-service days and conferences (that are not NTPRS or iFLT) are a waste of time, I am always trying to think of ways I can transform these output activities into input activities. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t. Since there is such an abundance of output activities (in comparison with CI activities), we need to make the most of our time at NTPRS, iFLT, and any regional CI PD opportunities to innovate and share.

          2. I’d be very cautious classifying TPRS as “a tool for the toolbox.”
            When admin/colleagues expect you to have “tools,” they want variety. They might not know it, but they really mean Strategies and Techniques, usually to reach the “____ learner,” (which is really just a learning preference anyway). We can vary Strategies and Techniques no problem (i.e. “brain craves novelty”).
            Once, however, you vary your Approach or Method, the results are catastrophic.; students are seriously jolted. It’d be like learning rules on Monday (analytical approach), repeating patterns in target language only that the teacher says on Tuesday (immersive approach, Audiolingual method), translating those patterns and manipulating verb forms on Wednesday (analytical approach, Grammar-Translation Method), on Thursday guessing the meaning of a new text (inductive approach, Direct Method), and then finishing the week with a story (natural approach, TPRS). It’s a friggin’ mess. YET, how many of you want to bet that if we had this kind of week, we’d be rated “exemplary” or whatever? I’m still bitter.
            I know that a common expression is “bad TPRS is better than anything else out there,” but if repeating the phrase results in teachers new to the method mixing it with other methods, they will likely fail. That is probably the single most factor in TPRS getting a bad name. As long as teachers stick to TPRS (albeit poorly), they will certainly see better results. Perhaps it would be more effective to change the mantra and encourage teachers to begin using some CI strategies (that happen to be a part of TPRS), before doing full TPRS.

          3. magisterp, I apologize for not responding to this sooner.
            I agree that we need to be cautious in our language, especially when talking to those who do not have experience with what we do. However, I believe you are looking at CI and TPRS differently from several of the rest of us, so let’s clarify.
            The traditional definition for an Approach since the work of Edward Anthony (1963) is the assumptions, beliefs, and theories about the nature of language and language learning. That remains true today.
            According to Anthony, a Method was an overall plan for a systematic presentation of a language based upon a selected approach, and therefore subordinate to the Approach. That definition has changed, though, and since the work of Jack Richards and Theodore Rodgers (1982), “method” is an umbrella term. This change of meaning may be the source of our difference in views.
            The term that replaced “method” is Design, which specifies the relationship of the theories contained in the Approach to classroom materials and activities.
            A Procedure is the set of techniques and practices derived from a particular Approach and Design.
            Using the newer terminology, I view the relationships as follows:
            The Approach is Comprehensible Input (CI). That is, research and theory indicate that the single most important component in language learning is receiving messages that are understandable while providing opportunities for unforced, voluntary output. (There are other approaches that accept the primacy of Comprehensible Input but not its sole efficacy, so their design will look somewhat different.)
            The Design (often also called Curriculum or Syllabus) therefore specifies that classroom materials and activities must provide Comprehensible Input. If they do not, they are not consistent with the Approach and should be discarded (unless the teacher subscribes to a different approach, such as VanPatten’s and Swain’s).
            TPRS is a Procedure that includes techniques and practices such as Establish Meaning (a practice; the technique is how that is done, e.g. pictures, acting, gloss), Personalization (via Personalized Questions and Answers, Personalized Statements and Answer, etc.), and Story Asking. Other Procedures that align with the Comprehensible Input Approach include TPR (Asher), Movie Talk, and Twexting. These are the “tools” in the “toolbox” of CIA.
            I hope this clarifies how I, at least, can call TPRS a tool in the toolbox. Terry Waltz has a good discussion of this here – http://www.terrywaltz.com/comprehensible-input-blog/i-agree-tprs-is-just-another-tool-in-the-toobox/ (Thanks to Nathaniel for the link in the Mimi Met thread.)

          4. I must disagree, but am open to having my mind changed.
            We are constantly evolving the method*, TPRS, by adding tools. This PLC is proof of that. Some people have amazing success without vPQA, yet aren’t they still doing TPRS? In fact, I could use all of the fantastic strategies described here and NOT tell stories. By doing so, my method is certainly not TPRS, but under the CI umbrella (we both agree this is an “approach”). In fact, I’m not sure I would have a method at all, since there’s no structure to using random CI strategies, however effective.
            Calling TPRS a tool implies that we need other things. We don’t, actually. TPRS is such an awesome method because it’s packaged so well. It does, however, have a steep learning curve. This is what I meant about teachers rushing into it, doing it poorly, and then having people tell them to seek out more “tools for their toolbox.”
            In order to stay in the analogy, I contend that TPRStorytelling IS the toolbox.
            The problem I see is acquiescing to people who say “oh, you can’t just speak to the class and create stories all the time…Suzie needs to take massive notes so she can study the night before announced congujation quizzes, etc., you need other tools.” These people have an unfounded problem with the method, and want class to look very, very different. By saying TPRS itself is one of our tools (that we could sometimes use and sometimes not) it gives the impression that we welcome [undesirable] teaching methods.
            *I’ll continue to call TPRS a “method” until Blaine changes that, or others begin to refer to the “Grammar-Translation Design/Procedure.”

          5. My opinion is that if they listen and read and comprehend and if it’s interesting to them and they maybe have some fun in focusing on the meaning and not the vehicle used to deliver the meaning, all is going to be well. I love reading Robert’s clarifications, and I appreciate, Magister, those you made above. Not being of particularly high intelligence, I am happy to read those things here. But when I go in with students, it’s about how much input they get in those first 1000 hours, before I start thinking about output (although I do minimal amounts of output in those first 1000 hours because I want to keep my job).
            I also agree that the learning curve is steep, but not if people go to conferences where they can learn in one hour from a master teacher like Joe Dziedzic what would take years to learn by merely reading stuff about CI.
            And the secret is – and this is my opinion – that teaching using CI is really very simple. It just seems complex to those of us who cut our teeth coming into the profession on ideas that don’t work. You just go in with an expression or two or three and tell the kids what they mean and then talk to the kids using at least one of the expressions in every sentence we say to them, and we enjoy that and make it fun and personalized, and then when our lovely kids, so innocent still, have heard the expressions in context enough times, they are strong and ready to hear something like a story, but it can be a painting or anything else, and then after we have created something together, we read it, and then we do that sequence again. Very simple.
            It’s the collision when the above meets a school’s general expectations, and car parts are all over the road, that it begins to get complicated. But just talking to the kids in a simple and joyful way, being present for them, who are so ignored in most of their classes, that’s really not a complex thing.
            As I reflect on things, I see that without conferences the learning curve is indeed very steep.

          6. I get where you’re coming from on this and hope that you do not think I was in any way acceding to the idea that things like massive note taking, grammar instruction, worksheets, substitution drills, etc., etc. ad nauseum are equally valid activities in language acquisition. Me genoito!*
            I don’t always create stories, but I do “just talk” to students as much as possible. Last year my 3/4/AP class had some wonderful conversations and even debates about Harry Potter. One of my students gave in German the best defense of Slytherin House that I’ve ever heard in any language. Even when we do something to appease the beast, I try to make it another way to get more repetitions. Currently my second-year classes are reading my pirate story, and the final exam is a musical video. They are using the words to “Sei ein Mann” (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You”) but creating their own images on how Geoff, the main character, becomes a man in the pirate setting. Since we have gone over the song together in class, their repeated playing of the song for the performance is just more comprehensible input. But it looks like they are doing a traditional “project”. A couple of students are even writing their own lyrics and will record the song themselves – but that was totally their decision. Students give output when they are ready.
            I also agree with Ben that the main thing is to be certain that as much as we are able, everything we do in the classroom is in comprehensible target language and is engaging and interesting – compelling even – for our students.
            I also think that coming to an understanding of the steps of TPRS is relatively easy. Putting it into practice is not complicated, but it is difficult. Recently I saw a video in which welders added a gear to the headset of a bicycle so that you had to turn the handlebars to the right in order to go left and vice versa. Even after explaining what was necessary to people, the filmmaker noted that no one was able to ride the bike. (He eventually mastered it but then couldn’t ride a normal bike.) His point: knowledge does not equal understanding. We can give teachers any amount of research, logic, knowledge – but until they understand Comprehensible Input Instruction, it won’t happen.
            Here’s a link to the video I saw about the reverse-steering bicycle
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0
            *In NT Greek, there are many ways to say that something is untrue, but none so emphatic as the expression me genoito. This formula literally means, “May it not be,” but it is translated in a variety of ways:
            “God forbid!”
            “Of course not!”
            “May it never be!”
            “By no means!”
            “Away with the notion!”
            “Perish the thought!”
            [The] point is to say that the idea expressed is absolutely unthinkable, even abhorrent. In other words, this is the kind of thing that is so absurd that it shouldn’t even enter the … mind as a possibility …

          7. Here is a similar entry:
            https://benslavic.com/blog/just-read-this-post/comment-page-1/#comment-63078
            Robert’s toolbox comments deserve a rereading.
            Robert, I notice that you have refined (redifined?) your analysis since the above. Specifically, you mentioned that TCI is the approach and TPRS is a method:
            “approach (TCI) and method (TPRS).” This definition stuff can be tricky business. Is this a matter of trying to digest and apply different writers? Do you feel this is a more accurate analysis? Thanks.

          8. Robert Harrell

            Thanks for asking, Nathaniel. I’m still thinking through all of this and, yes, attempting to digest and apply different writers. Also, I was attempting to use the “newer” terminology (Approach, Design, Procedure). Under the older terminology, I think I would still classify TPRS as a Method. In this case, I wasn’t sure whether I would call TPRS a Design or a Procedure and ultimately opted for the latter because as we have discussed things on the PLC, we have talked about the need throughout the school year to have some variation, so that there is a time to emphasize TPR (e.g. at the beginning of the year), more traditional TPRS, Movie Talk, Music, Reading. The way I put those together throughout the year, taking into account the ebb and flow of school, effects of holidays and breaks (or lack thereof), amount of acquisition, etc. would be my Design (or syllabus – but not in the sense of a traditionally understood “course outline” – or curriculum). Another reason for not calling TPRS a Design is the way that I understand it arose. Reading Blaine’s introduction to Fluency through TPR Storytelling shows that he derived his starting point not from an Approach but from a Method (TPR) that was later informed by the Natural Approach. Most of the work, however, took place in the classroom, and Blaine kept the elements that worked best then brought them into a coherent whole when he wrote Look I Can Talk. It’s that removal from direct derivation from an Approach that adds to my decision to now call TPRS a Procedure.
            However, all of that is pretty much irrelevant to the average classroom teacher. From my observation, most classroom teachers simply take what they are given (textbook) and follow it without thought beyond how many photocopies to make, which exercises to do, and other superficial processes. As department chair, I have tried to get my department to discuss – whether we come to an agreement or not – second language research, theory, etc. Recently I shared a Google Doc and invited department members to make suggestions for collaboration next year. One of them wrote: I’d love to use collaboration to simply sign in and immediately collaborate. No business during collaboration please. Reserve time for tech highlights during collaboration and/or department meetings. In other words, collaboration means getting together to share activities and technology (the teacher is very keen on technology) rather than getting to the foundational issues that should inform, permeate and delineate all of the “things” that we do.
            One of the things that is so rare about this PLC is the number of people on it who dig into and think deeply about the nature of what we do.

  6. Jeanette Borich

    Ok. Just retired. That’s me. The topic of this discussion is exactly the reason why I am so relieved to be moving on.
    Things are not going to change quickly. Things might change, but there is no guarantee of that either. I have seen waves of change that disappear into thin air overnight without leadership and support from administration and colleagues.
    Our building leadership was supportive before this year, but only to a point this year. When things got controversial, the support just was not there. It takes an amazingly visionary leader to be truly supportive.
    The irony of our (unspoken) grammar focus hit me like a brick about 4 days before finals. A kid came in wanting help with revisions on the short sequel to the mini novel Les Pirates des Caraïbes. This assignment was due over a month ago, but I am always the teacher so I tried to help him. Because we have such a grammar focus in Level 3, for this task I stressed to students the importance of getting the passé composé right in their sequel. I explained to kids that if they were to be able to raise their grade, they needed to list below their writing all of the subjects and verbs. Only then would I give them the individual help that they might need. When I reminded him of the directions, he looked at me with this completely confused look. I said, “Do you know what I mean when I say subjects and verbs?” He looked back at me and told me that he had no idea how to do that or what subjects and verbs are.
    One classroom at a time. One student at a time. One teacher at a time. Change will happen, but it is going to be slow.

  7. Jeanette Borich

    Exactly, Ben. Below is my parting wish to my supportive colleagues. Thanks, Scott for your great post. I actually included it above my message below.
    “More and more, the best practice buzz words now are teaching with Comprehensible Input–not just “doing storytelling.” Actually, Comprehensible Input is what I have been using for the past 24 years beginning when I taught at the elementary level. It is possible to teach culture and the language by using the target language in a comprehensible way. It is not possible to do that in a lasting, meaningful way by using mostly English and teaching grammar. My thesis research proved that, and nobody can take that back. Yay for using the target language to teach languages! The problem that we have when we try to do that there has sometimes been a lack of support by colleagues and perhaps to a lesser degree, parents. May you guys have continued opportunities to learn about best practice. That is my wish for the students you work with.”
    If anyone at this post is interested in some good research, check out my master’s thesis. I can provide details for how to access. It is on file at Iowa State University. My action research proved that target language comprehensible input works. Via comprehensible use of the target language, kids can make interdisciplinary connections, learn culture, and the target language without teaching one ounce of grammar. All of this will happen if the language of instruction is comprehensible via gestures, storytelling, pictures.

  8. Jeanette Borich

    An article I wrote about the research is available from ERIC.
    Learning through Dialogue Journal Writing: A Cultural Thematic Unit.
    ERIC Number: EJ629585
    Record Type: CIJE
    Publication Date: 2001
    Unfortunately the thesis is only available in a book which, I suppose, could be acquired via interlibrary loan…Here’s the official title:
    Student dialogue journal documentation of learning from a cultural thematic unit taught in Spanish / by Jeanette Marie Bowman Borich.
    Jeanette Marie Bowman Borich
    Thesis (M.S.)–Iowa State University, 2000. 2000
    Available at Parks Library PARKS General Collection (ISU 2000 B67 )
    PARKS Archives (Spec Coll) (ISU 2000 B67 ).

  9. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Regarding Matthew’s comment, why is there such a disconnect regarding the goals of a World Language program?
    No one signs up for a WL class to learn about “how the language works,” unless perhaps they’re studying the classics, or want to read texts in ancient Greek or Aramaic or something, do they?
    Decade after decade students (kids) and adults take language classes hoping to be able to DO SOMETHING WITH IT. Am I wrong?
    I feel like we are growing blue in the face telling the general public, “IF the goal is proficiency, then Comprehensible Input is key.” Why is there even an ‘If” clause?
    Our district’s history w/WL programming took this very course.
    We started off in the 90s doing FLES – which we believed (were told) to be state of the art instruction. Mining thematic topics from the Gen Ed classroom to make content connections, adapting too-hard books, creating lots of partner dialogues and games, and of course, the ubiquitous taste tests, art projects, and fiestas. Context, context, context, with a sprinkle of compelling (if the kids happened to like what the T chose). Comprehensibility? Absolutely inadequate, out of bounds, diffuse & low frequency.
    It took nearly 20 years – until the community caucus survey turned up the results that the taxpayers were dissatisfied with the 1-8th grade WL programming. They wanted to see some RESULTS from the 1-8th grade sequence. What can kids do with all this instruction?
    That’s when we went through our self reflection and study phase again, and opted for a complete transformation. It started with a change in mission/vision (they made us do that), lotsa group-wide T/CI training and PD, and lotsa in-class T/CI experimentation. Only once have I ever gotten a comment along the lines of, “Elementary WL classes should be for exploring the cultures of the TL. Then the Ss gain interest and respect and can learn to speak it later.” (Or some such nonsense – from a former Waldorf parent, no less!)
    Everyone else responded with comments like, “This makes so much sense! Of course they (Ss) need to hear and understand the TL a ton so that they can later use it!”
    A mapless and therefore misguided program comes from a lack of knowledge of SLA, plus a head-in-the-sand attitude.
    But as Ben always reminds us, the tsunami is here.

    1. Jeanette Borich

      I know a thing or two about the 90s. And about misguided programs.
      Our program was the perfect example of what you described. It was designed to let the kids get their feet wet with second language learning. And the result was “this was a waste of money” and “we can get rid of this program.”
      No one paid any attention to the research completed about the program. However, the research documented significant learning with better than 90% use of the target language in 15 minutes every three days. Yes, just 15 minutes every 3 days. It sounds absurd, but amazing learning occurred.
      We all know what can happen if we increase that time–when students have 50 minutes everyday and experience comprehensible input. But when I tried that in my district, well, obstacles got in the way. Even now I find it difficult to talk about those obstacles.
      I am still looking for ways to show others the SLA way. The way that makes sense for students who want to speak and succeed in the target language.
      For this opportunity to share these thoughts and continue to learn from others, I thank Ben Slavic and all of the rest of the members who contribute here.

      1. Hey Jeanette, once again I feel like I’m being teased with your allusions to some what I bet are very interesting stories you have. I look forward to hearing more!

  10. Steve Johnson

    Hi everyone. This is my first post in the group. I have been reading and eating up the PLC for the last 3 months and whenever I need a reminder that I am doing the right thing by teaching CI, I come here. Thanks everyone for your insights and support!
    I have been struggling to mesh with my department on issues of curriculum, assessments, levels of language acquisition, etc. (despite the fact that we say we are a TPRS department). We are going to be meeting as a department this week to talk about goals for next year. I think most people in our department would be willing to read and discuss the most current research in support of TCI. So I am looking for the best articles research/articles that you think could guide us in the right direction. Email me if you get a chance!
    Thanks! You guys rock!

    1. Hi Steve! This may not directly answer your interest — but have you looked at the Primers tab at the top of the screen? Some of the materials there might be a good place to begin as a department. They’re meant to be resources to explain and support CI teaching. It might help uncover what more specific direction to read as a group from that point.

      1. Steve Johnson

        Great idea Diane! I’ll start there and start compiling stuff. I was watching James Asher’s interview yesterday and got some great ideas. I want to make sure that I stick to the facts because it is so easy to get into personal attacks, which it seems everyone has experienced.

        1. Steve, if your department people seem to like video content, there’s a video someone shared here this spring with Bill VanPatten talking about why targeting grammar rules doesn’t lead to language fluency. I thought it was fun. To me it was another way to say input is king, and the process of language acquisition is complex and amazing: we can’t force it. For Spanish teachers it’d make even more sense (he appealed to some Spanish language structure that I don’t know). He was apparently speaking to language teachers so no feeling of attack there.

  11. Steve we meant to keep that Primer list a lot shorter, with just the best articles in support of what we do. But we kept finding more and more great articles and so I kept adding them up there so I apologize for that. Everything you might want is there. The problem is in choosing the right article/video for your group, what they might resonate with best and I agree that since not too many people read anymore you may choose a video. Or something, anything, written by Robert Harrell. There is also a category called “Administrator/Teacher/Parent Re-education”.
    So many of us have done/are doing this kind of patient re-directing of others in our building this year. It’s like gently redirecting a wayward child. I think of Michael Coxon redirecting the entire state of Arizona, for example, single-handedly over the past six months. Or of Alisa Shapiro gently and in a non-attacking way re-educating Helena Curtain over the past two or three months. Eric has been involved in that and it has been going on behind the scenes. Helena doesn’t get it, bless her heart. Bless all our hearts.

  12. It is my experience that educational discussions tend to spiral out of control because there are so many things to talk about. Focus, focus, focus.
    I recently had a conversation with a colleague I considered an ally. Some of you may know about the ridiculous expectation imposed upon me to have my students “speaking and/or writing the target language 90% of class time” (note the absolute gross misinterpretation of ACTFL’s 90% target language use statement), in an effort for me to “release control of the classroom” and move away from teacher-directed classes.
    Anyway…
    Our conversation about that point became heated as we addressed (yet didn’t resolve) a number of issues I can’t even remember now. Before the conversation ended, however, I brought up the original point that neither he, nor any other department member had students listening or reading the target language (let alone producing it) for almost all the class. In one class, target language use was 1%. He agreed that it was ridiculous, and the conversation was saved.
    I say limit the discussion to one or two main points.

  13. I remember many conversations I wish I had limited to no points, magister. It’s just so easy to offend people when all we want to do, as Jen Sparano (NJ) recently said here, is:
    …speak Spanish to my students and have them read a lot of Spanish….
    What you wrote here is fairly mind blowing, about:
    …the ridiculous expectation imposed upon me to have my students “speaking and/or writing the target language 90% of class time” (note the absolute gross misinterpretation of ACTFL’s 90% target language use statement), in an effort for me to “release control of the classroom”….
    Applied to medicine, a doctor could give large amounts of the wrong medicine, compared to output in class above. The medicine may not harm, but it (early forced output) won’t help, because it’s too early, there is nothing neurological yet in place in the mind that can support the output, which then becomes a waste of time and, worse, really insulting to the Really Smart Dude in the Sky who designed it. It would allow the illness (language ignorance) to continue, because the instructional minutes would be wasted. I call that, along with Asher and the rest of us, malpractice. I can’t believe teachers who give less than 1% of input are allowed to be in classrooms. What?
    I wonder what percentage of language teachers really get CI. Curtain doesn’t. Met doesn’t. Dale saw it in her eyes that day almost a decade ago. And those two are experts. So many teachers still believe that they can teach a language involving the conscious analytical process and logic. I guess all we can do is keep giving reps on that fact. Eventually they will understand. Then the children will have a chance at this.

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