To attempt to teach listening and reading using activities that are essentially of the conscious mind is folly. Reading activities that keep the reader in the conscious mind fail to put the mind’s focus on the message.
It is the very nature of the conscious mind to want to keep everything in its domain of analysis of language. The language teacher who attained dominance in the college classroom via pure analysis of language, verb forms and the like runs off to their first secondary school teaching job like the Tarot fool.
It cannot be. 96% of their students don’t care about conscious analysis of language. Those kids want to play with language, dance to the music, laugh and play, absorbing language that way.
The teacher wins, of course. Most of the kids respond by settling into the passive aggressive mode that they use in their other classes for a year or two and then quitting.
It is really nobody’s fault. The language activity facilitator went into his first classroom with the best of intentions, but, sadly, managed to reach only the few, largely shutting down the brain of most of his students.
That’s because the brain, like any computer, shuts down, goes to sleep, if it is not required, and, since we learn languages unconsciously, and the teacher is not actually teaching but faciltating language activities, there are no gains.
Such language activity facilitators are like children playing with rockets instead of actually getting in a real one and blasting off. That’s why we can say that any class in which the instructor uses the language, however furtive the attempt, are superior to classes in which English is used as the basic mode of instruction.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
5 thoughts on “Language Activity Facilitators 4”
We have just finished a listening and reading “activity” with a few of my grade 10 classes. They were directed to 3 or 4 websites and asked to listen and read for at least 9 hours over 3 weeks. Most of this was during school time in a lab, some did listening at home, some did way more than asked for a variety of reasons. All of the sites I chose had:
-a large variety of audio/video documents
-a variety of topics/subjects
-native speakers talking real French
-a French transcription of what was being said (we all agreed this was a key point in raising the level of comprehension)
Some of the sites had an English or French option for the transcription. Most of the language was at a pretty easy level for my classes. They are not beginners and have had a few years of good classes behind them.
After watching and reading Steve Kaufman’s “7 secrets of language learning”, and using TPRS for a number of years, we decided that to improve their French the most, they should pick audio/video texts that were interesting and comprehensible and that they should engage as much as possible in the listening and reading. They kept a very brief log that included
-time spent engaged
-interest scale of 1-5
-comprehension check of 1-5
-a reflection box where they could write anything (English or French) they thought about the audio/video (compare to their lives, new words, questions, comments…)
The focus was definitely on the message and not on analysing the language. They laughed, sang and even danced when listening to some of the music sites, Twext being one of them. They completed a final reflection on the experience today and from what I’ve read so far, a success as far as comprehensible input, engagement, interest and repetition, all ingredients as far as I’m concerned for language acquisition. Not a bad way to change things up and still get a lot of bang for your buck. With a few tweaks next year, listening in the lab might be competing with our PQA and stories for best language “activity”.
One of my 8th grade Spanish students just asked me today for ways to increase comprehension outside of class. He is worried about Spanish II and wants to keep learning over summer.
I wonder how you found/selected those French sites. I know of a few in Spanish that I have used regularly: Zambombazo, Spanish News bites, Cody’s Cuentos and Voces en espanol. I’m thinking that all of those have transcripts.
Maybe some of you other Spanish teachers have other sites you’ve used?
Off-topic– I’m starting to read the enormous “Polyglot project” online–free and about 500 pages long. It is a quite interesting read by a variety of people on how they have learned multiple languages.
thanks for the info.
Of course, we know that Jim meant the word “activity” in the old sense of incomprehensible input and/or output. This definition of activity as comprehensible input available online is most welcome by all.
The use of the internet as described above is definitely its best use. My only concern, at least with my own student population, is their even getting access to the internet and, once on, seeing them actually going to and making positive use of the desired sites.
Often, only motivated students, in or out of class, will benefit from such sites. If left to their own devices in class, in groups of kids, they tend to lose focus and the CI instructor is back to herding cats.
In an ideal world, all students who supplement their classroom comprehensible input with such activities will of course benefit. So much depends on the students we serve.
Except for what Norm describes above, I really feel that, in general, computers that are programmed to give more work in output (Berlitz’ failure) and incomprehensible input (Rosetta Stone’s failure), then it is just smoke and mirrors.
To me, again excepting Norm’s point, the big news with computers in language learning is not what they can do but what they can’t do: the thin slicing, the subtle modulations of meaning and intonation that define human language and that robots cannot do.
Mark Mallaney told us in a DPS TCI (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) team meeting yesterday about some recent research that points to the quality of interaction being more of a determinant of shared meaning than the actual words used. Here is a link to that, and thanks Mark:
Ko Schallert Walters 2003.pdf (I would google that).
Mark, by the way, is our biggest treasure in Denver. He teaches with such artful command of SLOW and it is alway compelling. I asked him if he will let me put up some video of him teaching here on this site, once we get the new video initiative up here, and he said yes.
(If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what must a video be worth?)
Ben, you’re right in my intentions with the word “activity”. Norm, what you seem to be doing is indeed activity, but it’s not an “activity” as per the previous entries. It seems more to be self-directed practice. Like Ben said, that only works to to the extent that your clients are totally buying in to what you’re giving them. But, I’ve seen you teach Norm, and if your ability to motivate is anything like your delivery of CI, then I don’t doubt you’ve made this work for your students.