Lowering the Affective Filter in ESL Classes

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20 thoughts on “Lowering the Affective Filter in ESL Classes”

  1. I haven’t read the full post yet, Ben, but I do have two items:
    1. Who is the copyright holder? Is this yours?
    2. Just before the start of school this year, I presented for our district’s “Super Week” workshops on Language Acquisition. My co-presenter was an ELD teacher. It got a bit weird. I started off with the research on how languages are learned: at the neural level, using comprehensible input, flood of input precedes trickle of output, nature of Language. Then my co-presenter showcased some of her classroom procedures, which included forced output, scripted oral work as “interpersonal communication”, and explicit error correction. One of my department members later came to me and commented on the disconnect.

    1. ….then my co-presenter showcased some of her classroom procedures, which included forced output, scripted oral work as “interpersonal communication”, and explicit error correction….
      Robert do you remember about four years ago now when we first started talking via private email about what became jGR? We both felt that something and meaningful re: assessment was possible with the Three Modes and we challenged the group for about a year before jen came in and sealed the deal. There was some opposition from group members here to that idea – they wanted to call our linking the Interpersonal Skill “participation”. We refused and now we have that great jGR document for assessing which has turned out to be a SBGR winner, especially.
      I am having the same feeling about this idea. The “disconnect” your colleague observed shouldn’t be there. There should be a bridge, if anything. Both groups here teach a second language. Why then is there a disconnect? The only answer can be that one of the groups is not willing to approach the other to BUILD A BRIDGE STARTING FROM THEIR SIDE. I blame them fully and make no apologies for it.
      After all, Krashen originally did all of his research with ESL – not WL – in mind. We jumped all over it especially in Denver but the ESL people – 2000 of them in DPS alone – would have none of it. That is why Steven Cook is important. He’s looking things over, thinking about maybe doing a little bridge building from his side of the river. Why aren’t people doing this? A more candid question is, “What the heck is keeping the ESL people from embracing Krashen more than they are?
      There is congeniality and there is collegiality. The latter is where we need to meet the ESL people. The former isn’t even happening! Confrontive discussions that are about ideas and not people need to start happening in this new TPRS/CI/ESL arena. It’s time for that.
      Related: https://benslavic.com/blog/michael-fullan-3/

      1. At least in California, ESL is very much about politics. Krashen picked up some baggage over bilingual education and other ESL issues – and it didn’t matter what the research said because people’s emotions and positions of power were involved.
        I spoke briefly with the World Languages TOSA after the presentations, and he noted that a lot of the material my co-presenter showed was the result of politics rather than research. For example, the newest California English Language Development Standards use the following “Proficiency Level Descriptors”:
        Emerging – students are learning to use English for immediate needs as well as beginning to understand and use Academic Vocabulary and other features of Academic Language
        Expanding – students “are challenged to increase their English skills in more contexts, and learn a greater variety of vocabulary and linguistic structures, applying their growing language skills in more sophisticated ways appropriate to their age and grade level.”
        Bridging – “Students at this level continue to learn and apply a range of high?level English language skills in a wide variety of contexts, including comprehension and production of highly technical texts.” The “bridge” is the transition to full engagement in grade-level tasks in all content areas without ESL support.
        Another schema has five levels of acquisition. They are usually labeled something like “Basics”, “A”, “B”, “C”, “Support”. My district, like many others, expects every English Learner to advance one level per school year. A student arriving in the US with zero knowledge of English is expected to function at academic grade level at the end of five years.
        Obviously this represents an agenda rather than being based on research. Then the powers that be wonder why so many students fail to achieve this “Expected Learning Result”. The program is all about Academic Language, and many students are being asked to use academic language when they are barely able to communicate basic personal needs, ideas, and wishes.
        Nonetheless, I see the presentation that I did as positive because it got the message of how people learn languages out to a wider audience that included ESL/ELD teachers, math teachers, history teachers, etc. There were also requests for us to present the same workshop for other groups throughout the year. My co-presenter did not observe the disconnect that I and my colleague noticed.

        1. Since I’ve had a rash of BenSlavic.com Freak Outs and rants lately (sorry, guys)- I thought I would look back at another Freak Out day.
          The day Robert posted this, I seriously wanted to leave for good.
          I’m not gonna lie, back in August, I was so new and scared because you all didn’t speak my language and I didn’t speak your language and it was messing with my head. (It’s a different language; and by the way, the ELA tab to your right–totally not ESL, they are completely different.) I also read some sad things about my beloved Content-Based Instruction, and I was worn out.
          Reading Robert’s amazing words -about the failings of Immersion Programs for English as a Second Language learners convinced me that this is where I need to be. Not with people who think and talk exactly like me, but people who have the same values and understanding of CI that I have.
          Here’s one brave foreign language teacher who without a perfect understanding of ESL, saw bad programming for what is was. He took the time to read Krashen and inform himself and advocate in such a clear-sighted manner.
          It’s perhaps because Robert was knowledgeable about SLA, but removed ever-so-slightly from the issue (and because he’s super smart) that he could see that bilingual education is superior for ESL students. Why aren’t ESL teachers in immersion programs (myself and my colleagues) up in arms about the bad situation we are in? Why aren’t we louder? Robert is. Robert saw things from a different perspective, with fresh eyes, and encouraged me to stay and do the same. I learned your language and now I am bilingual in foreign language-ese and ESL.
          Thanks, Robert. I’m a better ESL teacher because of you and this PLC.
          Came for the TPRS; stayed for the outstanding teachers supportive of ESL.

        2. “…The program is all about Academic Language, and many students are being asked to use academic language when they are barely able to communicate basic personal needs, ideas, and wishes.”
          Yes!! Holy Cow, Robert. You just diagnosed the problem, hit the nail on the head and fixed what was broken… and you haven’t taught ESL a day in your life.
          “basic personal needs, ideas, and wishes” are social language (BICS) and it’s the first step. Without it, you can’t learn Academic Language. We need TPRS first. Then, we’re ready for Academic Language.
          ESL teachers know this, but they don’t know TPRS. They don’t have any appropriate methods to teach social language. They have just come to accept that there’s no hope for teaching BICS. I asked a random ESL teacher at a conference recently how they addressed BICS and they said, “I just get them a buddy who speaks English. They just learn it on the playground.” But that’s 30 minutes a day! The other 7 hours a day of inappropriate classroom instruction is wasted. They pick it up after a year or two, but that’s a year or two of a child’s life. WASTED! Hundreds of thousands of children nation-wide. Childhood wasted. Is that not the saddest thing you’ve heard ever?!
          How are we okay with this? I’m not.

  2. Yes I decided that this article holds important potential bridging information with ESL from us. I sent it to Krashen and Diana. So I decided to say it was copyrighted before someone steals it – I think it’s that good. But I could be totally wrong and I won’t get more than your comment here either. But hey, maybe the area of getting ESL kids to actually enjoy the class instead of making it a cognitive nightmare for them has merit. As usual, floating ideas here with the group is the best way we have of testing ideas. I know we have quite a few ESL people in our group.

    1. “freely” = without cost. Gratitude can be expressed by citing the donor.
      It is amazing how freely educators and presenters “steal” things (their words, not mine), but penalize their students for doing the same.
      The TPRS community has tended to keep things affordable and their are a lot of helpful things under the Free Stuff icon. It is easy to lose sight of the donors, however, and so I applaud the diligence you have exhibited on this site, Ben.
      I do believe that people committed to TPRS are more grateful.

  3. I just finished reading the full article, Ben. It has a lot of good stuff in it. As we embark on our virtual move project to Vienna, I am trying to do some of what you describe in the general ESL discussion. I’m using stories to set up travel scenarios. Currently we are doing a variation on a Matava story with “I should have done it myself”, “packed”, and “forgot” as targets. The problem, of course, is that the main character had someone else pack, that person forgot to pack something important, and the main character says, “I should have done it myself!” The next story will be Jim Tripp’s “Going through Customs”; at the end, I will play a Customs Officer and process the students as they arrive in Austria, repeating again either that they may pass through or that something is not allowed in Austria. Once we have done each story, students will have the opportunity to write about it. I plan to have them create a “journal” of all of this so that at the end of the semester they can present their “final exam” tale of what they did in Vienna.
    I’m giving some homework that can be done in English. For the weekend, students are supposed to find a place to live in Vienna. They will also look for airfares as the next homework assignment – just use one of the airline search engines. Students already have a starting amount of money and a monthly stipend, as well as a class schedule and work assignment. At the end of the project we are going to play “Mafia” and see who survives. If all goes reasonably well – and I think it will – a description of all of this will go into my Realm book. (Remember the Realm?) Next school year (2016-2017) I’ll do something similar with the Berlin and the Middle Ages and make that a separate section of the book. I know I’ve written about this before, but this way it helps keep me accountable.

  4. Prior to teaching ½ French this year, I taught ESL full-time for eight years and I have a Masters in ESL Education. I continue to teach ½ time ESL using so many of the TPRS methods from my foreign language classroom.
    To answer a (rhetorical) question: So what if the kids aren’t getting the cross curriculum instruction? Should they be?
    No, this is not necessary for beginning ELLs (called newcomers during their first year in US schools). I don’t think there is a gap between ESL and TPRS– I have used it with my newcomers for about 2 years now.
    For intermediate and advanced students, though…
    Yes, you must have a content-area in higher levels of ESL instruction.
    But never fear, content-based instruction (CBEC) is not as boring as it sounds. Students feel empowered when they learn the content-area that they are interested in (I take polls and let them have a choice in what units we study). I’ve also done units of study on baseball or even football …American football –not soccer. Never soccer. Why? Because I am presenting decontextualized information to teach students how to activate and build on prior knowledge which doesn’t automatically transfer from L1 to L2. I could never teach English using soccer because 90% of my kids are already experts. There are new words, but not new concepts to teach them. They are not able to evaluate, interpret, analyze (yes, they can do all that nonverbally or with very limited English even after just a year or two under their belt). ESL is about teaching students to contruct knowlege in a new language: to make a connection between language they know and new language they are presented with. I have to choose something that presents new vocabulary words in a scaffolded way (following Krashen’s rule of I+1), teaching them the English as well as metacognitive skills (like word-attack strategies, using paralingual and paratextual clues, content clues, etc.). I don’t just teach English, I teach how to learn a language.
    All of that is to say, content area instruction does not automatically mean a heightened effective filter or a boring class or content they can’t understand. It can be highly academic like Pre-Algera or the Civil War, or fun like a unit on cars. My class is currently doing a graphic novel study of an adorable graphic novel, American Born Chinese, and they actually groan when the bell rings and they have to put the book down. When our group discusses stereotypes or being bi-cultural ends, students can’t wait until it’s their turn to talk.
    I borrow from a content area that is of interest to students in order to have new ideas and concepts to explore the English language, but the focus is always on the language and answering the question: what do I do when I don’t understand? What if I can’t sound it out? What if I only understood 10% of what I heard? 50%? 90%? How can I monitor my comprehension? How can I know make and evaluate predictions? These are important questions that my ESL students have to answer when they walk about my door.
    I use full-on storytelling and other techniques of TPRS (I’m loving MovieTalks recently) in my newcomers classes. That said, I apply so many principles that I have discovered on this PLC and in TPRS literature I’ve read to all levels of my ESL classes: PQA, circling questioning with beginning and intermediate students in particular, the “barometer student” concept, etc.
    ESL educators have so much to learn from this wonderful PLC, and I wish more of my colleagues even knew what TPRS was. Thank you for extending your olive branch our way. But don’t be scared of our strange content-area ways. We can reduce-effective-filter with the best of ’em.

  5. Claire I will forward this to Steven Cook, who is just now pushing off from the ESL shores towards the greater waters of the open CI ocean and hopefully in the next few years will sail back to the ESL shores with wonderful things he collected on his voyage.
    (In fact, just this morning he came into my classroom and said, “Man, I can tell that this is going to be a big change. But I’m ready for it!”)
    Claire you wrote:
    “don’t be scared of our strange content-area ways. We can reduce-affective-filter with the best of ’em….”
    I totally love that comment because what I hear you saying is that good teaching is good teaching. Call it what one will, and yes CI is a huge thing that we want to do, but nothing takes the place of good teaching. When we really win the power ball game in language instruction is when we combine lots of wonderful CI with good teaching. Then we know something; then we have a talent.
    Claire please contact Steven Cook directly, if you don’t mind. He is at scook@aes.ac.in. If we can begin a new ESL group here centered here at first* with just two members to start, you and Steven – he could really benefit from your expertise and experience right now as he begins his CI journey – then maybe we can have a place where ESL teachers can start a dialogue.
    *once it is formed it might become its own entity in cyberspace. The Latin Kings have Latin Best Practices, where they process issues particular to CI and Latin and I think a group that discusses CI and ESL could also be formed. Any other ESL teachers interested in that idea? Send your name and email address here in a comment field below and we can get it started. Maybe Dr. Krashen would like to get involved. Maybe it’s time for his ultimate target (it wasn’t WL instruction) to be brought home to roost.

    1. And even if one does not teach Latin there is a lot of relevant-to-all-of-us discussion going on amongst the the Latin Kings and Queens. I am sure that a TCI/ TPRS ESL blog would generate a lot of interesting dialogue also. It would be good to follow their site for awhile and see how they well they moderate and keep civility in the foreground (as opposed to some other public blogs out there).

  6. This is awesome!
    Hello all, I’m a Spanish teacher who has recently been pulled in as a ESL teacher to 6 students at our school. I struggle to figure out how in intertwine TPRS techniques and “standard” ESL mumbo-jumbo together. A group starting would be awesome! Thanks for the ideas guys! Hopefully I can come up with some stories to start off with my ELL’s this week. All help and tips are welcome!

    1. Hey Sherome – there are some good story scripts in that category to the right of this page. You can find lots of video of CI teachers in action on the Videos hard link above. I am working with an ELL teacher in my building with nine years in who is busting his classes open with the simple tool of making the readings all about his students. He is also trying to figure out a way to drop the cross curricular social studies piece and of course ignore the accepted ESL practice of teaching grammar, which is in my opinion all about hydra-headed ego. As you move forward, read in the ESL category here as well. Then stay in touch with us here and we might can get something going. The fact that there is no organized ESL/ELL site devoted to CI is nuts. It will happen. Maybe it can start here. Just stay in touch here for now, I guess. We hope to hear more from you and Stephen and Claire and other ESL teachers here who are now, or in Claire’s case for a long time now but relatively alone, turning their headlights onto Krashen in a deeper way. It can’t get much worse in ESL instruction, right? The only way I see for y’all is up from this point, swinging on the Ci crane, building things up out of the current mire where kids feel so dang stupid all the time in traditional ESL classes. Glad you posted. Post more.

  7. I am new to teaching ESL. I normally teach French and am very comfortable with using TPRS in my French classes… though, obviously still learning to improve! This year I was also asked to teach an ESL class to the new international students at our school (8 Chinese and 1 Korean). We are 9 weeks into the school year and I am still struggling. The thing I am finding most difficult is the wide range of English ability. I have an 8th grader who is a an absolute beginner and a 10th grader one who is fairly competent (yet has been placed in this class because he still struggles). The others are everywhere in between. They are new to the US as well and live with various host families.
    It is also a huge challenge everyday to discourage them from speaking Chinese with each other. I don’t know what they are saying and time is wasted constantly asking them to switch back to English. I probably need to take a firmer stance on ‘no Chinese’ but even that I am finding difficult.
    I could use some guidance on teaching this class. We have created stories, but wow, I feel like a first-year teacher again! It is so much easier teaching a L2, than teaching English! It is harder to stay in bounds.
    Any ESL teachers out there with mixed-ability classes that could help me along? I crave your help!

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