Listening Is The Bedrock Of Language Learning

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21 thoughts on “Listening Is The Bedrock Of Language Learning”

  1. I got depressed today when my administrator (who has never observed my class in the three years he has been our boss) told me that, since he had been taught by experts, he really understood what a foreign language class needed. He told me that the very best programs were ones in which the classes are separated into small groups of kids in different places who are all working on dialogues–that everyone knows this is the best way to learn a foreign language–that a teacher standing up in front of a whole class teaching is obviously not the way. (uh-oh)
    Since we were actually discussing something else at the time, I only said to him that he would never see “said scenario” (small groups practicing dialogues) in my class and that this was another conversation for another time.
    We have invited him to visit our classes over and over. I feel depressed. He is a very smart man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and obviously feels some anxiety about visiting our highly successful classes.
    My other boss’ greatest compliment to our program is that kids are “tracked” in 7th/8th grade (which she mistakenly calls differentiation). The tracking is done so that the 4 percenters can get big doses of grammar and score high on placement tests for high school. The other students, who will never ace discrete grammar fill-in exams, don’t have to participate in as rigorous a grammar program. This is what boss #2 loves. No mention is ever made of the amazing comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing abilities of our kids.
    I don’t even know where to begin with boss #1 (#2 is a lost cause). I think the “beginning” will have to stunningly knock his paradigm askew, but I honestly have no idea how to approach this since he won’t come into my classroom. Any thoughts?

  2. I can see the educational philosophy behind Administrator #1’s comment, but think that he is using a paint-by-numbers approach to applying it. The HUGE focus in education on constructivism (knowledge is constructed through interaction and engagement rather than through transmission through lecture) is absolutely supported through TPRS methodology. One of the things that initially turned me off to TPRS when I was first learning about it was that when I saw a teacher doing the bulk of the talking, it wasn’t what I thought a constructivist class “looked like.” Too many flashbacks to teacher-centered classrooms I’d first suffered through and then later criticized myself.
    It took me actually several months to look past what the class initially “looked like” to realize how profoundly student centered TPRS methodology is. We do collaborative learning and build communities, but do that as a big group. That’s a tough trick to turn. TPRS allows for an actual bottom-up student centeredness that turns over the curriculum sequence and lesson planning to the students instead of a thin top-down student centered classroom that only allows them to discuss how to rearrange the deck chairs of the curriculum in their small groups.
    Good luck explaining that to any administrator without shooting off a number of red flags. I’m struggling right now with writing my “curriculum map” for the year so that I can input it into the Eclipse computer program our district uses to track that stuff. Somehow “establishing FLOW and riding that horse as far as it takes me” doesn’t seem to translate well to that environment.
    Jody, I think you’re right in thinking that your administrator is intimidated, because you can’t “see” the student-centeredness of TPRS on paper; paper is his world. Share with him some of those quotes from your students about your special chair (or even the whole post you gave us; your personal take on student-centered constructivism comes through loud and clear). Encourage parents to give you some “end of year feedback” on how much Spanish made it home over the course of the year. You probably already know the answer–tons–but use such a questionnaire to get a prime stack of paper ready to share with your administrator that speaks to his world.
    Sorry for the long-winded rant, but I’m just trying to bend my mind around the issue myself. In an ideal world there shouldn’t be any conflict between doing what’s best for your students and what’s best for your job-stability, and you shouldn’t have to be there. I wish you the best of luck.

  3. Jody,
    I have had some success with my professors, as I explain my classes. Always their first reaction is disapproval – teacher-centered classes are a big NO-NO. But, as I explain the questions (Critical Thinking), the open-ended assignments (Creative and Critical Thinking, Divergent Thinking), the kinesthetics (TPR, acting), the visual support (illustrating, acting), the oral (auditory), etc. As I explain CI and i+1… then my professors start saying “Wow! That’s very higher-order, critical thinking, differentiated, etc.” This is actually what I’m writing my thesis on this summer (well, except I’m wording it slightly differently lol)
    I think I posted a rough draft of my curriculum mapping on the moretprs listserv. I wrestled with that thing for two years before I finally found a happy groove, and then it was simple. 🙂 Now, I’m trying to get TPRS to fit into my pacing guide, and I wish I could wrestle with that curriculum map again.
    I can try to find a copy on my other computer and mail you what I nailed down, if you’d like. (The other rant is that my successor has disassembled everything, is teaching traditional grammar, the kids are hating it, and they are removing the program from the school – all in one year!)

  4. I was talking with the head of one of our immersion schools the other day about how Blaine is so against immersion programs. I told her that, having seen my kids go through Spanish immersion, I appreciate all the benefits, but I also know two places where immersion can founder. One is that some kids just keep getting more lost, and they simply adapt to never understanding the language. The other big problem is that kids end up fossilizing rotten grammar. After thinking about what I’ve learned from TPRS lately, I realize that my hypothesis for that poor grammar is that the immersion schools let the kids do output; indeed, they encourage output from the beginning. I told this director that I suspected kids should be listening to correct speech and reading, rather than getting into work groups for the first couple years at all for speaking to one another. In her school, many kids earn prizes for never speaking any English. In my mind, they are therefore cementing a set of group mistakes. She countered that she has come up with a lot of exercises and songs and poems for the little ones to do in class to correct those errors before they start. I suspect those won’t help, but I just smiled at her. She said that babies make a lot of mistakes in early speech, and I said that they keep mistakes (I seen, I be…) if the adults around them use those, but that most babies are surrounded by at least a reasonable circle of correct forms in the language.
    The last thing this director said was that if language programs aren’t having students output from the early levels, they aren’t meeting the national standards. She said that the X government is very happy with her kids because they can go into any classroom and have a conversation in X with any student. Maybe they are making mistakes, but they are comprehensible.
    I wanted to say that I didn’t think that the standards required output immediately, but that if they do, the standards need to be changed. Input is king.

  5. Jennifer your recent comparison/contrast of what we do vs. what pacing guides do is now posted as a link on the home page of this site under “About TPRS”. I used Robert’s version. What you wrote is clear and to the point.
    The argument you make is so strong, in fact, that I’m not sure that any sensible argument could be made to counter what you say. But now look above – you are saying that you are “trying to get TPRS to fit into [your] pacing guide.”
    Is this what school administrators do to us? Do they really have the moxie to request us to act in ways that conflict with what we know is best for our students? Is their power over us that strong?
    Are we to accept that their push that we align with pacing guides (go read what you wrote) in some magical thinking kind of way actually aligns with the national standards (they don’t) and with current research and with what are best practices with our students?
    The above talk on this thread is so administrator centered. It’s like a bunch of surgeons who are all up on the latest surgical techniques getting all concerned about what their hospital administrators, with their M.A.’s in Hospital Administration, thinks of them. Like their performance in the operation room can be judged by the hospital administrator. It’s ridiculous.

  6. It’s like a bunch of surgeons who are all up on the latest surgical techniques getting all concerned about what their hospital administrators, with their M.A.’s in Hospital Administration, thinks of them. Like their performance in the operation room can be judged by the hospital administrator. It’s ridiculous.
    You should watch the film Article 99 (1992, directed by Howard Deutch, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Ray Liotta). It shows very clearly what Ben is talking about.

  7. I agree Ben. But, I end up feeling like a mythological hero facing two equally deadly monsters. Scylla will devour language and spit out verbs conjugated neatly but meaning nothing. Charybdis will devour my wallet when I find myself unemployed. And, I am finding that administration is not the all-consuming evil… Bureaucracy is. My administrator supports my approach, but his hands are also tied. We are both in a system that is prescribed and proscribed and rescribed so that no one gets ahead and everyone is left behind.

  8. Thank you for your cogent and concise thoughts, Nathan, Jennifer, Michelle, and, of course, Ben.
    For me, it is important to understand where Boss #1 is coming from. We DO have to talk and make decisions about many things: hiring, strategic planning for the future, etc. It is bizarre to have conversations where neither is understanding the other.
    I believe that you are correct, Nathan, about the constructivist slant–my boss certainly supports these ideas–but, the paint by the numbers image is also correct. Yes, red flags abound. That is why I want to be strategic in my communication with him, thinking through these ideas, before shooting off my big, passionate mouth.
    Hopefully, if we can speak the same language (how ironic), I can convince him to visit the classroom and see for himself. He is not a stupid man. However, he is completely convinced that he “knows” the latest and greatest in our field. He constantly refers to his old school which he believes has a “state of the art” program. They are a K-12 pricey private school, start language instruction in Kindergarten, and (I kid you not) begin a Level 1 textbook in 7th grade, spread out over two years so that kids enter Level 2 in high school. I want to scream! What is wrong with this picture? You see my dilemma.
    Michelle, I am very intrigued by the idea that “non-acquired output” might possibly be a CAUSE for poor grammar. I have been thinking about it a lot lately, so I was interested to read what you wrote here. I really want to hear Dr. K’s take on this. Something tells me that no one has studied it–it seems unlikely that one could figure out how to find verifiable causal data. At any rate, I find myself stopping kids on a dime when they start to grasp for “unacquired speech” when trying to output. It is sooooo different to hear speech that just “falls out” of the mouth.
    Yes, the is a very administrator-centered discussion. A pox on it, I say. However, I was thrilled to read people’s responses and feel better about re-entering “the ring”. I think I will have to write down some key phrases on my boxing gloves and then give him a “collaborative” right cross to the temple and a “student-centered” left hook to the chin. He has a very hard head.

  9. An aside to this important conversation, I had a visit with a former student who was an excellent learner of of the rules of the language. She visited last week to share her college language experience. She is now studying romance languages having kept up with her French and beginning the study of Italian at NYU. I was telling her about CI and interestingly enough, she told me that she did a ton of listening in Italian I before being asked for any output. She is the same student whose mother used to talk to me during conferences about her daughter’s lack of speaking ability. Duh! Maybe changes are occuring in a small way at the university level too. That would be encouraging.

  10. Jody “hard head” to describe your boss is an understatement relative to what Diane said about the community support you two have garnered in the Bay Area over the years. How about “titanium head”?
    His passion for that middle school program proves that this man has been misled indeed. We have similar such pricey private schools in Denver, and the wonderful verb conjugating superstars, who have in point of fact not heard much actual CI over those years, then arrive in high school where they are triumphantly vaulted into third year honors classes as freshman, moving to fourth year honors classes as sophomores, from whence they enroll in AP French online (there is no AP French program in a school of 2200 students – major red flag about how the kids feel about the program in terms of happiness and confidence), and, when one of ten of those kids gets a three on the exam after four years in elementary school learning colors, two in middle school doing grammar, three in high school doing more grammar, again with little to no actual CI, the administrators look the other way, the parents wonder why most of those kids failed the AP exam, and, because the kids have so many AP exams to take as seniors, they quit French as seniors having heard next to no CI. I had a group of sophomores in French 4 Honors this year from Denver area pricey middle schools. What a tragedy. Shame on those middle schools for being so out of line with the new Colorado state standards! I was unable to reach those kids with stories because, on some mornings – mornings that I won’t miss! – there was barbed wire around their ears. The few with open hearts were lost to CI because so many years of doing grammar had convinced them that we learn languages by studying grammar. They actually believed that. Better had they never started French, because, year after year, those kids trained in those pricey private schools end up knowing next to nothing and I just had a full year’s proof of that fact. What data can I provide? I guess this is where I have to pull it out at the risk of sounding full of myself, which we know already so what the hell.
    There is a school called Cherry Creek High School in Denver. It is the high school to which all in Denver bow down. They win in all sports, all academic areas, and in all areas because anything we can do they can do better. Except in French. I stopped entering my students in the National French Contest in 2006 because by then we had proved our point about storytelling in the Denver area (and for another reason made in random notes below). In 2004, Cherry Creek, which always trained their kids directly for that test and always won in Colorado, lost their shine to a bunch of eighth graders.
    Below are the Colorado/Wyoming results from that year’s competition, and I make no apologies for tooting my horn here – I must somehow absolutely make the point for Jody’s principal that those pricey middle school programs are actually a disaster for the kids involved, because it gives them a false sense of achievement as described above, to wit, knowing how to manipulate grammar systems in no way implies mastery of a language. My middle school kids were TPRS kids all the way. Cherry Creek’s high schoolers were not:
    2004 National French Contest Top Rank/Colorado and Wyoming:
    TPRS Student 70/70 1* Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    TPRS Student 67/70 2* Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    TPRS Student 63/70 3* Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    TPRS Student 63/70 3* Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    TPRS Student 62/70 4 Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    Name Redacted 62/70 4 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    Name Redacted 62/70 4 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    Name Redacted 61/70 5 Mullen High School Amy Samson
    Name Redacted 61/70 5 Boulder High School Linda Wood
    Name Redacted 61/70 5 Centennial Middle School Suzanne Penner
    Name Redacted 60/70 6 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    Name Redacted 60/70 6 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    Name Redacted 59/70 7 Mullen High School Amy Samson
    Name Redacted 58/70 8 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    Name Redacted 58/70 8 George Washington High Elizabeth Ward
    Name Redacted 57/70 9 Loveland High School Toni Theisen
    Name Redacted 57/70 9 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    TPRS Student 56/70 10 Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    *Nationally ranked scores
    2003 National French Contest Top Rank/Colorado and Wyoming:
    Level 1
    TPRS Student 76/80 1* Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    Name Redacted 74/80 2 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    TPRS Student 73/80 3 Summit Ridge Middle School Ben Slavic
    Name Redacted 71/80 4 Cherry Creek High School Meredith Jacob
    Name Redacted 70/80 5 Baseline Middle School Michelle Wojno
    *Nationally ranked score
    Other results:
    In 2005, TPRS students placed 3, 6,7,9,10,11,12 in the National French Contest in Colorado/Wyoming. A 9th grade TPRS student scored 4 of 5 on the AP French Exam as well.
    I stress here that these scores reflect the Krashen based method that I use less than any great skills on my part. I chose to end my relationship with AATF and the National French Contest after 2005, when one of my students found a content error on the exam, which AATF admitted to, but refused to change my student’s score. I also found evidence of misplaced students from other schools in the competition, seeing in one case a student’s name ranked in the state high school rankings in French I whom I had taught in middle school, and should have been therefore ineligible because she was actually in their second year of French. Competition is not honest, and much of the time teachers are more interested in how test scores further their own careers than the careers of their students.
    Also in support of TPRS in terms of testing is the 4 of 5 earned on the College Board Advanced Placement French Exam by a second year TPRS student with no prior background in French. Normally, five years is required to earn scores of 2 or 3.

  11. The “f” word – fossilization is something that I don’t think I’ve heard come up in TPRS discussions before. I have met some people with some terribly fossilized English… extremely difficult to understand, who didn’t believe me when I told them in ESL class another way to say things that would make more sense. I knew nothing of comprehension based methods at the time, and our books were situational/grammar based. I only teach level 1 Spanish now, so I don’t get to see where students end up in a couple of years. Does anyone have any thoughts on TPRS and fossilization?

  12. Michelle, what did that comprehensible-output colleague of yours mean by “her kids . . . can go into any classroom and have a conversation in X with any student”? What kind of a conversation? How real and meaningful? Also, what non-prescripted conversation can they understand more or less spontaneously and authentically join? Etc.
    Does anyone else also have some comments on this?

  13. Good questions.
    The students get awards for staying in the language all day. The school records who has been in the TL for the longest period without trying to use English. I think that’s wonderful, but it also provides an environment in which there’s a heck of a lot of inaccurate input when the kids aren’t within earshot of a teacher.

  14. Now I have to go back to the listening thing. I have been in an early music workshop all weekend (enjoying myself tremendously with gifted teachers Francis Blaker and Tish Berlin from Albany, California). Yesterday there was an ornament I wanted to add to a line of music. Frances slowed it down for me and she played it about four times. As I tried it, she and others would say “longer there,” or something similar. I wasn’t getting it. This music hasn’t been in my head for a while. Finally, I just asked if she could play it slowly several times, knowing I would get it. And I did. I had to acquire it. Knowing about it wasn’t helping.
    Later, my friend Lucy said that she was a bit frustrated knowing that she could now play that ornament in that spot, but that she knew she would not be able to recognize a similar musical phrase where she could apply it. I thought that was exactly like language–until you’ve truly acquired something, you may be able to use it in the context of one situation, but no more.
    Both these teachers tell us that we need to listen to a lot of music to be able to get the habits right. I do listen to a lot of music, but I would amend their statement somewhat. We should listen to a lot of specific music that echoes exactly the type of work we’ve just been doing. Otherwise, for me, it’s not C+1, not comprehensible, and while I may enjoy listening, I am not able to acquire anything from what the performers are doing. I need the training and slower, simpler music to be able to learn to reproduce it on my own.
    This experience is like a heavy underline: stay in bounds, stay slow, make it compelling to listen to. Find, create, share materials that work for C+1.
    And one more note about this workshop. We are learning to play in ensembles. Everything we do is made comprehensible to the person with the least experience/ability (usually me). Because occasionally it’s not me who has the least ability, I recognize that even if the level is below where I am, it helps me to practice the basics at that level. I get stronger. And the group cannot move ahead as a group until everyone gets everything. Because music is another language, I can’t help but realize that this is the way it should be in our classes. There should be no shame in anyone who needs more clarification; similarly, the teacher has to keep watching barometer kids.

  15. I worry more about fossilization of limited vocabulary and domains of discourse when native-speakingparticipant to expand and reiterate them so that the language learners can internalize them. Such internalization of oral comprehension is the bedrock of literacy. Without that there is merely disengaged parroting of same old same old.

  16. Robert Harrell

    Something obviously got deleted from you first sentence. I would love to read the entire thought.
    Somewhere I read that fossilization is affected primarily by two considerations:
    1. Desire: the person has to want to continue to improve; without that desire the language will remain at the “comfort level” of the speaker
    2. Exposure: the person has to continue to be exposed to correct language; otherwise there will be no standard for correction of wrong forms
    Wish I knew where I saw that. I believe it was in conjunction with people who enter a new country/language/culture and learn enough to “get by” but then don’t improve beyond that.

  17. And Robert the corollary to your point 2 above, of course, is that we really have no right, not a single right on God’s green earth, to not be using the target language in our classrooms at least 90% of the time.

  18. Robert et al., I got caught by the end-of-the-day and so left my prior comment in a chaotic state. Here it is again, amended:
    More than worry about fossilization of deviant grammar at this stage, I’d worry about fossilization of limited vocabulary and domains of discourse when there is no proficient-speaking participant (for example, the teacher) to expand and riff on them them interactively so that the language learners can internalize them. Such internalization of oral comprehension is the bedrock of literacy. Without that there is merely disengaged parroting of same old same old over and over.

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