Invisible Dictation

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12 thoughts on “Invisible Dictation”

  1. I have done a few dictations this year. Last week I did one with my level 2 class (quite a difficult class) and I they did a great job. They actually seemed to enjoy it. One student asked for more. I was surprised.
    They did a great job…. I then gave them the original and had them circle their errors – I think this kink of thing is helpful….

  2. Dictees are output and very time consuming, but, properly done, they have the huge advantage of bringing instant order to any classroom, along with freewrites. They also get the kid who has been forced into the auditory decoding part of her brain into another, more practiced, part, bringing relief, as Skip suggested above. After all, the kids are so used to being in that visual/analytical part of the brain in school that some get freaked out when they have to come into our class and actually interact with us in an auditory way. So dictees are not such a bad thing. Moreover, our students are assessed in level one classes in terms of their output, so we can’t spend all of our year doing stories and reading, even though that output brings by far the most acquisition in the first few years of any language study. The percentages of the four skills are the issue/point of discussion right now in our district. For more on formal dictation see this site/resources/workshop handouts.

  3. I love the dictado. My students hate that it takes up so much of our class time, but I find it immensely helpful, especially since we then go over the results and have students correct their work.
    1. It helps students focus on hearing distinct words even though we speak in chunks of words.
    2. It helps students recognize the difference between homophones, based on context.
    3. It offers me a perfect place to focus on spelling and grammar (still quick pop-ups). The other day I used both the article el (the) and the subject pronoun él (he) in the same sentence. I was able to contrast the two words.
    4. I use the dictado to continue more repetitions of the same structures we have been using in the class, as well as a way to provide input on areas I have noticed are weaker (for instance, the difference between el and él).
    5. I notice that by focusing on these same structures, but in the written form, that over the course of a few weeks student errors in written production start dwindling. Which, as Ben pointed out, is very important since the kids are scored on output on exams.

  4. Plus, if you don’t feel like teaching, you have the dictado as a break from the tremendous amount of input that we do. BUT, just a reminder – they can’t utter a word until the dictee is over. Dictees don’t work if there is even one peep from the kids. At least that’s what I remember from France. (Reference dictee on this site/resources/workshop handouts.)

  5. I think there’s also a lot of input during dictations. Listening and decoding provide excellent input. And after students have written out the sentences, but before they correct their errors, having them read their sentences aloud and translate them into English assures the input is comprehensible.
    I believe dictations have a definite place in TPRS classrooms when used in moderation. And as you say, they are a great bailout for sleep-deprived teachers (like mothers of infants!) So, let’s equate dictations to dark chocolate: good for you, AND enjoyable. 🙂 I’m not afraid to admit that I plan to do dictations with my students when I return in April.

  6. Perfectly said. 71% dark chocolate, is my opinion. The kids love it. I choose ridiculously easy content – it’s a huge confidence boost when they only spell like one word wrong out of twenty. Thanks, Inga.

  7. I’m still an input freak, but you are right Laurie. The part that fascinates me now about all of this is the upper level stuff. What is that going to look like when my current ninth graders are juniors? How much output when? Second year? Third year? When does that natural emergence occur? I guess it depends on the individual kids.
    Robert gave a great description of his German program here recently (thank you Robert!) and if I can get my East kids doing stuff like that (major culture output, major literature, non-fiction, etc.), then I would be more than happy.
    I think the saddest part about those people who don’t drink the input first kool aid is that they think, for some weird reason, that we advocate no output at all. No! There is a natural time for the emergence of output, and it takes, in some cases, years, and any output too early is a waste of precious input time.
    And I am just expressing my personal opinion here, my own intuitive feeling about this. To sum up, I really do believe that the field must be plowed before the flowers can grace the land, each one in its own special moment of floraison, as is done in nature.
    Our children are our priceless flowers, and we don’t need to treat them in any other way. Thank you Stephen Krashen.

  8. Thanks for the kind words, Ben. I know that Comprehensible Input is the reason for success.
    BTW, do any of the rest of you have that nagging voice of doubt in the back of your mind? I keep thinking that I’m not doing enough and when my students go on, someone will – like the professor in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – ask, “What is he teaching these kids?” Intellectually I know that I’ve found the right method, but there’s always that voice of doubt. Any good ideas on how to banish it?
    I also had an interesting experience this week. On Thursday one of our Spanish teachers was visiting another high school. She was late getting back for fifth period, so I covered about the first 15 minutes of class. It was a disaster. First, the strict adherence to the rules of the game had never been established. Kids thought that carrying on conversations in English while they “worked on” the bell ringer was okay. Then I started talking to them in Spanish, just as I would talk to my kids in German. This was quickly greeted by cries of “But we’re only in Spanish One!” – even though I was writing things on the board just as I do in German. Sixth period I talked about the experience in German to my German 1 students. Guess what? They understood the whole thing, including my frustration.
    Finally, as long as I am rambling here . . .
    Our French teacher is leaving at the end of this school year to get married and move away. Because of budget cuts, etc. they plan not to replace her. That means cutting the French program, which in turn means leaving the students who have already had French high and dry. On top of that, the principal has asked me to teach French 2 so that “the students can complete their cycle”. Beyond the huge amount of extra work this would mean for me, I am concerned about what it would do to the German program. Any words of advice? Thanks for listening.

  9. The school makes the cut and no individual should make up for its mistake. Younger teachers would do it for the good of the order but the order is wrong, crumbling. Don’t do it.
    Re: the earlier point, my colleague Meagan Brown reminded me yesterday about how hard it is to let go of the perception that it absolutely must be hard to learn a language – the opposite of what Krashen says – but, Robert, when you say:
    “… I keep thinking that I’m not doing enough…”.
    it’s just the old tape playing in your mind that our work has to be a struggle with the kids. CI is not about struggle. It’s effortless. Let that old stinking thinking go. We deserve to be happy in our work, and not worry about it all the time. CI gives us that. Take it and run. Enjoy the effortlessness of this way of teaching. Let the old world worry about all that “take the bull by the horns” and “get that ball down the field” and all that old shit.

  10. Robert,
    Here’s a really weird idea. Go into that French classroom for two days in a row (assuming that the kids haven’t had TPRS). One day, teach them the rules of TPRS. Then start teaching them for two days. Go so slowly, with such adherence to the rules of slow, etc, that they succeed. Tell them that they are genius kids, and that you know they will be okay in your German 2 class. Tell them that it would be slow at first, and that you will cut them slack their first semester, but that by the second semester, they’ll be okay.
    I can tell you this works, because I have had Russian beginners join my Russian 2 class this year. One joined this semester, and he just got a medal in our state Russian competition (he can’t read well or write yet–going to work on that). And in my adult class, which has been going on Monday nights for 18 weeks this school year, a beginner joined two weeks ago. She was able to translate an “in order” clause the other night, her second night of Russian. Meanwhile, a student in the same group who has had several years of unsuccessful Russian at the college was saying the whole story perfectly under her breath, just ahead of me. The evening supported my belief that motivated beginners can come into any level. A friend sits next to the newest student and translates when she doesn’t want to ask me questions every time.
    You could actually grow your German program (which may not need growing), and it would give kids that second year of a language without killing them. You might even be able to put them together with whatever class you have that period right now once a week to get them started. You could get the German class to help out by sharing enthusiasm and pride in these French kids’ abilities to learn German fast. And your German kids will actually start learning faster, because you’ll have to slow down for that period. Take a short, very complex structure that is new to the experienced kids and run it. That way, you can tell the French kids, in all honesty, that they just did something really advanced, and your Germans will still be learning something new…

  11. Ben and Michele, thanks for your words of advice. At this point I think I need to take Ben’s advice. I didn’t create the problem, and I can’t solve it. A couple of reasons why Michele’s advice doesn’t work real well – as good as it is:
    1. I already have 72 first-year German students; adding another 34 students from French isn’t realistic.
    2. The California requirement for foreign language that we are dealing with is a minimum of two years of the same language, so switching from French to German would not meet that requirement, and the students would have to take two years of German anyway. (So they might as well start in German 1 if they are going to switch languages.)
    BTW, the California requirement is not for high school graduation. It is to get into the UC and CSU systems. There is a list of required courses for admission. These are lettered a, b, d, e, f, g and are creatively known as the a-g requirements. The fallacy is that two years of foreign language won’t get you onto the campus of choice, just into the system. Students who want onto the campuses near us really need three to four years, and the current situation won’t get them that.

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