Just Read This Post

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25 thoughts on “Just Read This Post”

  1. One more thing:

    Teachers frequently hear from Adminz/Boardz/Big Buziness/hare-brained researcherz that APPROACH _____ must/should be implementednin all classrooms to ensure bla bla bla.

    APPROACH _____ — which changes every five to ten years– has included the following:

    — project based learning
    — inquiry learning
    — emotional self-awareness
    — multiple intelligences
    — peer work (communication gaps, jigsaws, etc)
    — self-reflection (often by way of portfolio)
    — anything to do with the Internet

    We must remember ONE THING about APPROACH ____ and what Robert called “the toolbox”: not every approach/tool works in every subject.

    You CANNOT learn basketball by watching it: goal = process. You CANNOT learn a language by speaking it: goal does not equal process. Direct feedback to a kid in an English class about writing will improve it; all the language feedback in the world will not– cannot– change what happens with language acquisition. Jigsaws and peer teaching are superb tools for a novel study, or a social studies unit on the Romans, and absolutely useless in languages.

  2. Chris, I hesitate to call any of these an “approach” as used by Adminz. If an Approach is a set of theoretical principles (and the word “set” implies cohesiveness), then these are simply fads, and not approaches, foisted upon the educational community.

    Are you aware that Howard Gardner, the creator of the idea of multiple intelligences, has gone on record as stating that the educational community got his ideas wrong? Most people equate multiple intelligences with learning styles, and he maintains that this is utterly false. Here’s an article about that:
    Content-Based Second Language Teaching and Learning (Haley and Austin, 2004) has a section on this and spouts the standard line about needing to vary instruction because we need to teach to students’ preferred learning styles. No. We need to vary instruction so that we maintain interest. After all, how does one learn sounds (and language is acoustic in the first instance) visually or mathematically? I cringe to think that I once accepted this because it was the “received wisdom” and was being presented by people who were supposed to know these things.

    I agree, too, that each content area has its own toolbox. Even within a broad discipline, some sub-disciplines will have a specialized toolbox. While there may be some overlap with more than one discipline using the same tool, the toolboxes are far from identical, and districts that demand that everyone use a particular set of tools (like my district has tried) are actually getting in the way of good teaching.

  3. Thank you so much Robert, for doing this thinking and research and sharing it. I wonder if an organizing principle could be not just Stories but “Comprehensible Literature” or something like that.

  4. Ya I know about Gardiner– he also said that he has not seen empirical proof that confirmn his multiple inteligences hypothesis.

    Robert is bang-on: “no– we need to make it interesting.”

  5. I think our principles of comprehension-based teaching for acquisition should be tied to VanPatten’s idea of developing a “mental representation.” That abstract, implicit, underlying linguistic system is input-dependent.

    VanPatten wrote: “What role, if any, does speaking play in this scenario? The question here refers to Swain’s well known Output Hypothesis as well as the research on interaction (Swain, 1985; Gass, 2003). Simply put, does speaking somehow trigger the development of grammar? The jury is out on this debate.” (p.6)

    I love the below quotes. I think they are handy to keep near and ready to pull out when needed. The first 2 are from VanPatten’s 6 video series, the same that I shared on ACTFL.

    “If you believe that there’s some kind of rule you have in your head and you teach a rule and practice that rule, aptitude is actually predicated on that paradigm. It’s an outdated paradigm.” (minute 3:38, 6th video)

    “. . . acquisition too complex to say, ‘Ok class. Today we are going to learn ser and estar’. . . you can do that and you can test it, but then you’re not doing language acquisition.” (minute 7:20, 6th video)

    I love that 2nd one: you can teach the grammar, but you are NOT doing language acquisition.

    And here are some more quotes from a VanPatten article definitely worth reading. 2010. “The Two Faces of SLA: Mental Representation and Skill.” I had posted these to the forum a little while back. http://revistas.um.es/ijes/article/view/113951/107941

    “In this article I have argued that there are two distinct aspects of acquisition. One involves the acquisition of an abstract and implicit mental representation —what linguists traditionally call competence. The other is skill —the ability to use language fluently (measured by speed and accuracy) in both production and comprehension. I have also argued that mental representation evolves one way (input + processors + UG) while skill evolves in another (use of language in particular contexts). I have also argued that mental representation is not amenable to instruction as normally conceived. I have also argued that skill itself is not teachable in a direct sense, although classroom activities can be provided that facilitate its development. Finally, I have argued that many teachers and some scholars mistakenly (in my view) attempt to apply skill theory to the acquisition of grammar, when grammar is not a skill but a mental representation.” (p.15-16)

    “As established in first language research, most of the mental representation for the formal properties of language exists by the time a child begins school. This is not the case for the beginning L2 learner, especially the classroom learner. Long before a mental representation is in place, learners are asked to read, write, listen, and speak using language that is far beyond their underlying representation.” (p.9)

    “As defined earlier, the formal properties of language are not skill; they exist as mental representation. However, it is not clear to me that teachers, textbooks, and many researchers in instructed SLA see the formal properties of language in this manner.” (p.12)

    “In short, learners must create (and do create) abstract underlying syntactic representations that have little to do with textbook rules. . . In short, grammar as the formal properties of language is not a “skill” to be acquired; it is knowledge (as abstract and implicit mental representation) that is tapped during linguistic performance” (p.12-13)

    ” . . . language acquisition does not proceed by learning isolated rules. At any given time, learners are working on a variety of things in language, from phonology (including prosody), to morphology, to underlying syntax, and so on.” (p. 13)

    “Although processing instruction often provides explicit information as part of the treatment, research on processing instruction has repeatedly shown that this information is not needed.” (p.7)

    “In short, they acquired that which they weren’t taught and yet were unable to show sensitivity to the things they had been taught and they had practiced.” (p.14)

    “We are still importing ideas and paradigms from psychology that may not be valid for the complexity (and subtlety) that is language acquisition.” (p. 15)

    “neither language as mental representation nor language as skill can be directly taught.” (p.16)

    “Understanding how acquisition works allows teachers and curriculum developers to be better informed consumers of the latest trends in language teaching.” (p. 16)

  6. “grammar is not a skill but a mental representation”

    Sounds like these VanPatton findings on mental representations should be vigorously referenced when we talk about sheltering vocabulary while not sheltering grammar.

  7. Robert, this dialogue is especially interesting to me when you talk about curriculum mapping. Couldn’t you add “Personalized Conversations” to that list of organizing principals? And what about oral input through PQA and StoryAsking as a different item than reading input? Should oral input and reading input be separate items or do they go together. (If they go together as an organizing principal than I think I really need to work on getting more reading exercises mixed in with the PQA and StoryAsking I do.)

    You know, we have to turn in these curriculum maps and do so in a way that gets our admin to buy-into our TCI.

  8. Robert, I did not see terms like “circling” or “checking for understanding.” Would these be techniques? or means? They cross-cut the strategies. Likewise necessary to everything we do are the Interpersonal Communication Skills. Maybe you did not mean to have these included, but thought I would throw them out their for consideration.

    1. Nathaniel, as I noted in the post, it is just some thinking out loud. There are a lot of things that need to be added to it. As presented in most professional training that I have ever attended or heard about, “checking for understanding” is a strategy and “best practice”. I think “circling” would fall into the same category. Probably what we need to get away from is the idea that a strategy is something that takes a lot of time and preparation. Checking for understanding can be thought of an instant strategy, but there are various ways of checking for understanding (some more effective than others).

      The Interpersonal Communication Skills should probably be a separate category, and I think I would include some of the TPRS skills as well. We usually think of Interpersonal Communication from the point of view of the student, but it is equally important for the teacher to employ (and demonstrate) Interpersonal Communication Skills in the classroom. How will our students learn what genuine human interpersonal communication is if they don’t see it? Last year when I had a student teacher, she and I would occasionally carry on a conversation and show our students how adults communicate with one another.

      Some items could belong in more than one category, depending on how they are viewed and used. Most important, though, is to consider all strategies, skills, etc. that we use in the classroom through the lens of both our Approach (set of theoretical principles) and Method (plan to implement the principles).

      Just as an aside, many new methods and approaches (not just in education) are a reaction to prior methods and approaches that are perceived as inadequate or simply ineffective. I think TPRS/TCI falls into this category. As a result, it is possible to minimize or ignore things that are part of the trigger method but are more “guilty by association” than truly ineffective. For example, people who practice TPRS/TCI react so strongly to the emphasis on forced output from the ALM and “communicative” approaches/methods that they (we) sometimes warp what Krashen says. That is, we sometimes discourage output, when Krashen says simply that output is not necessary for acquisition. Students have many reasons besides acquisition to begin output. One of my students in period 6 this year likes to hear herself talk, and she is extremely frustrated that I won’t let her rattle on in English. A recent comment was, “But if I can’t speak English, how can I say what I want?” My reply, of course, was “Acquire German”. What I need to do is find a way to channel that desire to be heard into acquiring the language. At the same time, as much as possible I refrain from forcing students to give me output, although I recognize even dictation and re-tells can be viewed as output. With dictation, I ask students to work together to tell the story, then give them the opportunity to re-tell for the class without forcing them to do so. To me, this is part of the art of teaching with TPRS/TCI: finding the balance.

      1. Robert, you just gave me an idea for an extension activity on a dictation: Dictate 10 sentences, all of which are sentences from the story but scrambled. After the dictation students then place the sentences in order. I can definitely do more story-sequence-of-events exercises in my classes.

        1. Sean can I put your idea above, with credit, into an updated version of Stepping Stones to Stories that will come out next summer? The last version is already filling up with good ideas from this year’s discussions here so far, especially the micro stories (credit Leah and James).

          1. I’d be honored, Ben!

            It’s remarkable how good ideas come out when collaborating with a community. This PLC is like Paris in the 1920s, where Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Picasso, Joyce, Pound, and others rubbed shoulders.

        2. Sean, I did this activity yesterday, except with six sentences. I had students fold a sheet of paper so that they had six strips then dictated essential sentences from a class story. Students cut the paper apart and had to re-arrange the strips in order to tell the story.

          As an aid, I had students write a number on the left edge of the paper. When they had the papers in correct order I could tell by the “code” (my birth date) on the left without having to read each paper.

      2. Robert Harrell: “As presented in most professional training that I have ever attended or heard about, “checking for understanding” is a strategy and “best practice”. I think “circling” would fall into the same category.”

        An added comment from yesterday’s VanPatten webinar. Maybe I already reported this elsewhere, but here goes.

        VP said that when teachers are providing comprehensible input, they should pause every three or four sentences to engage the students, by asking a specific question, a yes/no question, or making a request for more information.

        Doesn’t that sound as though he’s reporting on circling?

        When Martina turned in her latest article to the ACTFL Language Educator, they sent it back because she had used words like “Embedded Reading” and “TPRS.” They wanted her to talk about the methods without naming them. In the end, she named Embedded Reading, but only because she put it together with another CI reading approach.

        So maybe VP is doing the same thing: sharing the means of doing TPRS without calling it by name. I wonder whether I could lure him to NTPRS.

        1. Yes, it sounds like he’s describing circling to me. While I don’t mind avoiding names of strategies and approaches (because we see how inflammatory they can be) it does mean people will be trying to re-invent the wheel. They won’t know or perhaps believe that that is what TPRS does. Didn’t I read somewhere in here that Anne Matava demo’ed in Maine and many in the crowd outright stated, “That’s not TPRS!” when it certainly was?

          1. Seated at the front table of an afternoon session by Blaine Ray in Denver in 2003 or 2004, I watched as Blaine, with his characteristic smile, unveiled in full detail Circling as we know it today to a group of about 100 teachers. It was one of those moments. I personally was blown away by the idea.

            If VanPatten is just now getting around to sharing it with people, it’s probably not because he just thought it up. Rather, he knows exactly what Circling is. The questioning technique all goes directly back to Bertie Segal anyway, and Blaine knows that.

            This is what happens and it has happened to me on multiple occasions and once in a very shocking way this past summer in Chicago at someone’s session. Someone has an idea, develops it and then bam it’s repackaged and labeled differently.

            No blame. We’re just people and the ideas need to get out there for the kids. That’s what counts. Credit is rarely given for original ideas these days, as a lot of the integrity of the profession seems to be gone.

            VanPatten was describing Circling. TPRS has become TCI, almost of necessity. It will all evolve but the core idea of comprehensible input and the strategies used to implement it will change very little, but they will look different and new. No blame.

            That is why I said recently here that the period in this PLC from 2007 to 2011 was when all that stuff was invented by us together here as a result of comparing notes after each day in the classroom. We were rabid about it and the feeling was of not having enough instructional time to test everything. Those in the group during those years know what I am describing.

            I personally feel that the flush of hard work and unparalleled creativity that described those years of sharing by us as a group of brothers and sisters is now over and has been for a few years.

            Now we are in a critical moment – we can choose to argue with people about how right we are and lose our group focus on pedagogy, or we can keep our eyes on those original ideas that happened during that five year period of creativity. We should keep inventing new strategies, but inventing new strategies is not the same as inventing new ideas.

            We are thus cautioned to not lose site of our core ideas/principles – mainly the stunning fact of comprehensible input and the equally stunning fact that language acquisition is mostly unconscious (over 98% so in my view).

            We must always keep in the forefront of our planning the one single idea that the more our students hear and read the language while focusing on the meaning and not the words, regardless of the name of the strategy, the greater will be their gains, regardless of the pathetic attempts to measure them. (Since the gains are unconscious how can they be measured?)

            That is how we succeed. The above, of course, is just my opinion. Here are the big horses that got us to this year’s rodeo. They range in age from being three year olds to mature seven year old beasts:


  9. This is such a powerful analysis of TCI and TPRS and all the components, strategies and implementations in our classes.

    For anyone who missed out on this thread, I am bumping it back up.

    “Just read this post” says it all.

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