Before I learned what is to me the secret of comprehensible input, its FLOW, I was always nervous when teaching. I was trying to get things done a certain way. I was very much focused on if my students were paying attention to me. I was in charge, and very much attached to results. I was blind then.
Now, I just let the gentle FLOW of language happen between me and the kids. I don’t try to control what they learn so much anymore. Just letting language happen, without feeling any great need to be in charge, but rather just letting the process of language take over, is almost a kind of sacred thing. It sure has changed my idea of what a teacher is.
We work too hard. I am no longer attached to results but to the process of CI. Not surprisingly, my students are responding to this week’s district testing with great confidence and poise. The means have justified the end. My vision of what teaching languages is has been corrected.
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
14 thoughts on “Letting Go”
I’m glad your students are doing well, Ben. It’s encouraging. But getting that FLOW is so much easier said than done. Keeping the CI at the right level while maintaining interest through personalization, and challenging them enough but not losing them…
When you say, “I was very much focused on if my students were paying attention to me,” what do you mean? Don’t we have to focus on that. Isn’t that what teaching to the eyes is about?
Great point, Stephen. No, I don’t feel that I have to focus on the kids paying attention to me. At least, the way I mean it, is that when there is a kind of “want” from me – an invisible message from me that I want them to pay attention, regardless of the content – the kids sense that, and resist on some invisible level. There is so much in SLA that is unconscious, that we can’t control. In fact, the more I give up control and just let the beauty of the language lead things along, the more they pay attention. Our conscious overfocus on the skills of TPRS gets us away from the real work, the sharing of language, the focus on meaning, the reciprocity and participatory nature as per Vygotsky of language sharing – the sharing of meaning which is my definition of language acquisition as opposed to the mere learning of stuff. I am certainly not saying to ignore the skills, of course. Does that make any sense?
There is a whole lot of contemporary western-style Buddhist behavior in there. My path to Buddhism is through Piver’s book on how not to be afraid of our lives. Lines up with working without being nervous.
Ben: you talk about Flow: Do you actually feel the kind of Flow that Czikszentmihaly means (author and coiner of “Flow”)– the events when we’re in our right-brained state (unable to feel time pass, the game just moves through you, you KNOW you are doing it right but don’t have to verbalize it, that kind of FLOW?
I don’t get there very often. I get there a whole lot more often when I’m presenting TPRS to teachers than when I’m in my classroom, that’s for sure.
Byron if I remember correctly, Czikszentmihaly says in that book that time passes unnoticed and so seems to fly by when we are in flow. When I am doing that kind of CI, I know it. It is a feeling that keeps me happily in teaching even after over thirty years of general bullshit. I’m not claiming to be there in flow all the time, however. That’s the answer to your question. Now permit me to rantify just a bit:
In terms of even getting into flow for one minute in each class, if you are in a school building reading this, look around you. Look at the apathy, the depressed kids, the angry kids, the kids who are just too young to appreciate the pearls we offer them, the kids (Skip sent me an email about this and I am waiting his permission to blog it) who are just not able to learn, the colleagues who are angry at us because we have found something better than what they have and that they can’t understand and so they lie and say that they get it, or just cut it down, the students whose parents tell them outmoded things about language learning that the kids then put into their eyes in our classrooms, the hell state we in America are in right now in general, the suffering of the middle class, the abuse of children, all of that stuff that comes into our classrooms awaiting our friendly smiles. When we look at all of that, it is amazing that we get into flow at all! What we do on a daily basis is challenging enough, but then to have to teach it in a building designed for restraining real academic freedom, the cookie cutter thing, where cognition, the opposite of CI, reigns, it’s just ridiculous. We in TPRS are very tough people, swimming upstream everyday, trying to get into the flow of CI with our students against all odds. That I know that I am not alone in this makes all the difference. Once more teachers get what CI really is for real, as in really, really, really, and once more people start doing it with open heart, it will all be a lot easier. But now, damn it’s hard. God bless us everyone. I truly mean that, and especially here toward the end of the year, when we are all draggin ass.
Well, I understand Ben, but it’s just a whole lot easier said than done. I know that what you are saying is right, my “need” for their attention makes them not want to give it to them. But at the same time, I do need them to pay attention to learn.
I had a cool situation today, where I was with sixth graders instead of my usual seventh graders because of CRCT testing. In the afternoon I took my class outside, and I was sitting down and about ten of them gathered around and asked me to tell them stories in Spanish! I ended up telling (asking) two stories with PQA for about an hour and a half. By the end there were just five, but most of them held out for at least all of the first story. — I dream of the day I can have that kind of buy in from a class of 30. But I’m nowhere near there.
I know it is going to take time to master this. But sometimes when I hear other teachers describe their classes, it sounds like a dream. I’ll keep pressing on though, ’cause part of me still says, “If they can do it, I can do it!”
It’s easier said than done for all of us, Stephen. At least we know what we want, and how to get it. We’re not spending our careers wondering what’s going on. We’re working hard towards the goal of CI in our classrooms. That is a blessing, to be able to know that, even if we don’t get it going all the time.
You know, I had a day in which my kids just wouldn’t tell me when they were not understanding something. Argggg! I was reading a short story created by a group of students. Finally, I passed out quiz sheets and told them that if I said a word once, then I could confidently ask them what it meant (for a quiz point right then and there) because I was being told by them that they understand (by not signaling to me).
I hated it, but it worked, for the time being. They started asking me what the words meant. I told them that I didn’t want to do that (the quiz thing on the spot), but that I truly do want to make sure they understand what I am saying in L2. Anyone ever have this situation? If so, what do you do?
“I said a word once, then I could confidently ask them what it meant (for a quiz point right then and there) because I was being told by them that they understand (by not signaling to me).”
This is quite reasonable on your part, from your point of view, Jim. But they would see it as insulting, because everything is insulting to teenagers. The way I handle this is based on the idea that we actually do know if they don’t know it – we really do. If they are our students, then we know, 9 of 10 times, if they don’t know it. I get that in the form of a little message in my deeper mind when CI is happening:
“They don’t know this.”
So then what I do is just raise my right hand way over my head and put out my left hand flat in front of me and get ready to do the fist in hand move. Basically I am coaching them to do that.
However, you are right and this is not a frivolous topic. It is key, in fact. How, indeed, do we keep them doing their 50% by informing us at every turn when they don’t know something? The only answer I can think of is to slow down and limit introduction of new stuff. I personally go way wide in stories (big surprise, right?), and must learn to limit my offerings of new content. Blaine and Susie have always taught that, and we need to remember it – the gold of TPRS is in SLOW and very limited, judicious adding of new structures into the CI. If it can’t be circled, we shouldn’t introduce it. Or, to say it another way, we shouldn’t introduce it if we can’t then circle it for acquisition.
Thanks Ben for that thoughful comment. Sometimes I forget that the world doesn’t revolve around Profe Tripp and Spanish, and that sometimes they just aren’t into it. Then I get a little defensive and controlling and pull out all the stops, including the ON THE SPOT QUIZ!!
“The only answer I can think of is to slow down and limit introduction of new stuff” Yes! What I was doing was reading something they couldn’t even see, written the day before by 4 girls from their class. Even though I was going so slow that they had plenty of time to ask me what the words meant, I think there was a good amount of stuff that certain kids didn’t know, my barometers, and they were hesitant to be in the spotlight asking me. How do we encourage kids to ask those questions, even if it means being looked at by others as slow or spacey?
And maybe I simply set them up for failure with an activity like that…
Dude I am starting to think that disengaged kids are kids who don’t understand. Period.
It is therefore our responsibility in the narrative classroom to make ourselves understood, and that means slow personalized comprehensible input. The only one of us I know who really does that is Jody.
I had the same thoughts as you Ben–that it might have been a situation of introducing just a bit too much too fast. I highly agree with the premise: a disengaged kid is likely one who is not understanding.
SLOW down the FLOW. It works.
Happy slow, flowing weekend to all.
As I’ve been reading through this thread, one of my biggest questions of the year keeps popping up in my brain.
At what time do I let the kids win/lose?
I’ve been holding on to my classroom rules all year, and my
management/classroom culture are still not there. I still have kids who absolutely refuse to learn, who want to take the entire class down with them. Who will fight any use of Spanish in the class. Who will argue with me every time I remind them that my rule is no heads on the desks.
When do I let them just put their heads down and give up on them? Let them fail? Teach to the few kids in the room who really care to learn or at least care to have a decent grade? I’d love to get to the point of flow.
I meant to include one more thought in the above comment. How do I get the kids to trust the flow? To trust the process? To allow me not to be antagonistic?
I have a student who got really upset at me the other day. I was just looking at the kids who were talking, not saying anything myself. Eventually the students exerted their peer pressure to get the group to be quiet. And then this girl asked, “Why don’t you just yell at us?” She went on to say that nobody cares if I stare at them. Nobody is listening to me. The only way to get their attention is to yell.
Jennifer the kids have a ton to lose if you win with the CI. They then have to show respect. They have to pay attention. They have to interact with you. They have to let go of a behavior pattern that they learned in a lot of classrooms over a lot of years – that of just getting the material for the test and cutting you and your frivolous ideas of actually interacting with them in a human way out of the equation. So, for them, as you describe above, it is a mental fight to the death, a classic standoff.
But you did not create that situation. They did. All you were trying to do was reach them in the target language. I have a group of French fours who similarly don’t want to be tamed with CI. It sucks.
That one kid took a little group with him/her and that was it. I’d try to talk to the kid if it were earlier, but, really, just let the year end. Teach the old way. Take a deep breath. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of us who are trying to learn CI who are feeling this heat, this blast of emotionally charged heat, from little groups of kids and colleagues all across the country.
What we are doing is no game for the fainthearted. If it were, we would be doing a lot more comprehensible input in our schools and Krashen would be a lot more known. Does that mean we give up? I’m not giving up. Instead, I send you my deepest admiration and best wishes for a good end of the school year – the best one possible, anyway.
After talking with you last summer, I know who you are – you are a gifted CI teacher, and you will survive this speed bump rattling and you will reach your goals. As I said in that other comment just a few minutes ago, you are too good a teacher to be bullshitting around with the book. You’re going to win this one.