More on Curriculum

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11 thoughts on “More on Curriculum”

  1. alexanderegorovich

    Thanks, Ben. Since recently, I have also been thinking of a time span the TPRS would bring students to a level when they use a language automatically as I’m relatively new to CI practices. So, my question appears to be technical, anyway: is there any piece of evidence on how long does it take for the TPRS to bear its first fruits? (I’m sure Krashen and you have it in your works but I haven’t come across with it yet — sorry, for the trick to get it faster.)Can you give your statistic on it?

  2. I would go read the work of the New Zealand researcher Paul Nation:

    That is just one link to one researcher, and I apologize for not being able to be more specific, but in my view the basic answer is that there are too many variables, so why even worry about research statistics about rates of acquisition? What is the age of the learner? What is the motivation of the learner? How much and what is the quality of the CI they are experiencing? Is the child in a school (bad for acquisition)? etc.

    Also you asked about TPRS. I don’t do TPRS anymore because over the course of the past 20 years I have seen it go from a brilliant approach by Blaine Ray to, each year, an increasingly downgraded method, where “trainers” and “experts” give workshops that no longer aggressively align with the research. I could write on that topic all day and not put a dent into it, but Alexander you should know that when you even say TPRS you may be referring to any one of a thousand different versions of it, depending on whom you are talking to. En bref, the thrill is gone. That is just my opinion.

    But those are just random thoughts by me. The fact is that Krashen’s Natural Order of Acquisition shows that, just as with small children, the rate of acquisition depends completely on the learner. Everyone is wired differently, and so there is nothing a teacher who uses CI (vs. TPRS since it has gone so far afield from Blaine’s vision) can do to accelerate the process.

    We can’t tinker with a process this big. It just cannot be messed with. Each person will learn at the rate the learn. All we can do as instructors is deliver the CI. That’s it!


    1. alexanderegorovich

      That was my conclusion too: the only thing I want to take care of is CI. The art of a Game Master (a teacher in a classroom) is to expertly use a real-life context or create it (a context) for delivery food (a language).

      Thank you for your response. To me it is thorough.

      1. Good. And one more point. My view is that real-life context is not enough. Kids don’t care about other people’s lives, but their own, and best, lives they create through drawings they make. That is where my path has led me. That is what ropes them into class like nothing else.

  3. Another thing Alexander – we have to ask ourselves which master we will obey. If you feel pressure by people around you to bring faster results, then you must decide if you are going to allow them to influence what you do professionally in your classroom, or whether you are going to do what I consider the best option of just aligning with the research, which is ever so simple, stating directly that we cannot predict how fast a child will learn, not just bc of all the mitigating factors, but also because the research shows that we can’t. Do we change how we deliver CI for others, seeking their approval, or do we align with the research? We can’t serve two masters on that point, and therein lies the abomination of testing, common assessments, etc. The language departments of the future will finally throw off the horrible burden of standardized, one-size-fits-all testing bc it does not align w the research and brings suffering to children who, though perfectly capable of fluency in the language, may happen to process what they hear in class at a slower rate. When the testing monster is banished from the kingdom, language teachers will be free to teach each in their own way w/o having to sacrifice their dignity to try to keep up with someone elso in their department who does it differently. There is no keeping up! Each teacher, as long as they are staying true to their own way of speaking to their students in interesting ways that the child can understand, which is all that CI is, should be free from any external notion of “You’ve got to go faster, or do it this or that way.” There is no one way to deliver CI, so everyone needs to just get off their high horse and take a few chill pills. Everyone needs to stop being an expert and we all need a big group hug where we all look at each other and say, “It doesn’t matter if I teach like you. I’m teaching using CI and that is what the research has clearly and without equivocation shown, that if I teach using Ci then my students will learn bc CI is the way people acquire languages. We don’t need to measure how much our kids have learned anymore. That false god in our profession has just about driven us all crazy. God bless our broken teacher’s hearts, for I am going to forgive myself for not being a perfect teacher and take a good look at my paycheck and realize that I’m doing a pretty damn good job right now thank you, and I’m getting better at CI each day so that’s enough.”

  4. Also Alexander here is a long text that bears on our discussion about rates of acquisition. It is not fully edited but the points are clear. I use the metaphor of a chef in a basement kitchen.

    The Chef

    Everything rests upon the main research idea that language acquisition is an unconscious process. Here’s an image to drive the point home: The unconscious mind is like a chef whose kitchen is located in the basement of our students’ unconscious minds.

    The vegetables and broth and other ingredients are the comprehensible input that we provide the chef. We deliver the ingredients to him in class by speaking the language to our students. The chef, the unconscious mind, is the master organizer of the meal.

    We can’t go into the basement kitchen. We can only drive the truck that delivers the food. We have no access to the recipes the chef uses. The chef has his own recipes stored in his unconscious mind – he never uses a cookbook – and he takes the ingredients and prepares the meal (fluency) in his own kitchen (the safety and security of the unconscious minds of our students). But he can’t make the meal without the ingredients.

    We can’t even go into the chef’s kitchen to prep the vegetables. We just bring the food to the door of the kitchen and drop it off. We provide our students with understandable messages that they want to hear and that’s it.

    Then why are we having so many meetings and filling out so many forms and targeting so many
    structures and writing and buying so many materials and rewriting so many pacing guides and still worrying about all that grammar and all that stuff of the conscious mind that focuses on form? That approach may work in math and science, but it doesn’t work in language instruction.

    We make a daily delivery of comprehensible input vegetables, still in wooden crates, and then another class comes into our classroom five minutes later and we make another delivery, and for most of us this happens five times a day.

    It is a fairly simple job. But then we make it complicated by taking the vegetables (the language) and delivering them to the attic where the conscious analytical mind reigns supreme and, forgetting that we have a chef who can do all the work , we try to do it ourselves via analysis of the parts of the language. Why would we do that?

    We plan the menu and cut and slice and dice and overcook the food/language and in doing so we end up serving boring meals like worksheets with side dishes of lots of English in our classrooms. We can’t do that anymore.

    Doing all that work is so much more than we have to do! Teachers seem to love to make more work for themselves than is necessary. And with it comes huge amounts of unnecessary stress.

    We impede the natural and effortless unconscious process of language creation simply because we try to make the food in the attic without the help of the chef, without the help of the unconscious mind. The chef can bring no results if he is not given food (comprehensible input) as we, up in the attic which is not built for preparing language meals, starve our kids of what they must have (comprehensible input) to acquire the language.

    Many if not most of the kids dislike the attic-prepared food that we force on them during class when delivered to their conscious minds in unappetizing ways. They can’t digest that kind of instruction. They can’t think their way to knowing the language. Some students stay with us just enough to pass the course and get the credit. A few big eaters eat everything we serve them, memorizing all the grammar rules, but mainly just to get the A in the class, but they are not part of a community.

    Those big eaters who get everything correct on the memorization tests ironically don’t even learn the language at all. The results of that kind of instruction are revealed when those students arrive in college after three or four years of study in high school and are routinely put back into a level 102 or even 101 class, whereupon they start the whole paralyzing process of analyzing the language all over again.

    The Din Soup

    To continue the image, it is when the chef makes the soup that bubbles form as it heats up and forms into tasty language. Our students’ unconscious minds enjoy the soup and they gobble up all of its nutrients and then in sleep the language flows into the deeper mind for processing, and the language is acquired. The students don’t have to worry about how the soup is made –

    they just enjoy it. That’s what the research tells us about how fluency is attained.

    The process happens in the way that dreams happen. Wisps and bits of sounds that we heard earlier that day in class are “played back” in our active waking state and in our sleep, where the process of language acquisition really gets cranked up while we go about our daily business, not thinking about the language at all, just hearing more and more of it.

    Words and word chunks, the little and big pieces of the comprehensible language soup that we have heard in context are sometimes noticed by us during the day. Stephen Krashen calls that the “Din”, the bubbling up into our conscious minds during the day of language that we have heard earlier.

    The unconscious mind in the basement “kitchen” makes organizational and flavoring and presentational decisions that are exponentially more complex and beautiful than our conscious minds can ever make with regard to creation of the language soup. The chef is a genius and he makes his meals without regard for a person’s IQ. He gives with both hands to all.

    Very little of the comprehensible input that we have heard even makes it into our conscious awareness, but enough of it does to create the Din. It’s like we are getting parts of a song from down the street but before the wind takes it – we get to hear a bit of it and it makes us want to hear more.

    So, the Din is what happens when the chef has received enough food supplies (comprehensible input) to make the Din Soup. We don’t analyze how we digest our food either, and so it is with language acquisition – no conscious analysis is necessary.

    But if we allow lots of English (conscious language analysis) into our classrooms it prevents the Din Soup from being made into language because the deeper mind is not equipped to handle a mix of English and the target language. Rather, it needs pure unfettered language – the chef has no idea of what to do with grammar rules.

    The din is a constant bubbling of sound. It’s a flood of words sent into the kitchen that Chomsky has called quite accurately the Language Acquisition Device. Let the chef – the one with the tallest hat – take over. That’s not us.

    We aren’t chefs. We drive the delivery trucks and all we can do is just provide the ingredients of language to our students’ unconscious minds so that they don’t starve.

    The Art of Conversation

    There is a French term, “L’Art de la Conversation” – leave it to the French to label conversation as an art form. But isn’t it true? Shouldn’t we be trying to converse with our students in our classrooms instead of teaching them about how the language is structured?

    The following two passages (my translation) are taken from

    (1) “Conversation differs from other forms of interaction (interview, debate, symposium, negotiation, consultation) by its familiar, improvised and free nature: nothing that make it up is decided in advance and it has no other permanence than its own practice, it is divorced from any planned outcome. Its principle motivating force is pleasure.”

    (2) “Conversation is made up of a linguistic tissue thanks to which the members of a community not only communicate on a daily basis, but also guarantee their membership in the group. Through conversation, the individual constructs his social place in the group.”

    The passages say that conversation:

    1. has a familiar nature (i.e. people who converse are familiar with each other)
    2. is improvised (i.e. not forced – it is made up as it goes along)
    3. is free (i.e. is not limited in scope to any predetermined idea or scripted text)
    4. has pleasure as its goal (i.e. we enjoy the conversation first and foremost) as per this quote from Stephen Krashen: “The path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.”
    5. is made up of linguistic tissue (i.e. the target language)
    6. guarantees a person’s membership in the group (i.e. building a classroom community is key to what we do and we need to do it consciously.)

    The passage reveals things that we would do well to think about while trying to put CI into our classrooms:

    1. We shouldn’t try to force our students into conversations.
    2. Our communication in class with our students should feel as if it has a familiar nature.
    3. Our communication in class with our students should feel improvised.
    4. Our communication in class with our students should feel free.
    5. Our communication in class with our students should feel pleasurable.
    6. Our communication in class with our students should feel that it is made up of an unpolluted linguistic tissue – the language we are teaching them – and not some mix of English and the target language.
    7. Our communication with our students in class should guarantee their place in a community.

    Have we ever actually been in a conversation with our students, however simple, in the ways described above? Has that ever even been one of our goals – to communicate in meaningful ways with our students that guarantee their membership in the group? Do we even speak in those ways with other adults? Is just enjoying conversing with our students enough or do we also have to worry about the test? Do our conversations guarantee our own membership in the group? Do our conversations bring us the happiness of meaningful communication with others?

    Personally, my goal as a language teacher has always been to be able to just relax and communicate with my students by using interesting and meaningful, relaxed, agenda-less language.

    A lot of us have probably had that goal. We’re tired of trying to force kids to learn rules. It never worked.

    Can you see yourself teaching in a natural and lighthearted way where the conversation uplifts everyone in the room, even visitors? Can you see yourself standing in front of your students interacting with them in a back and forth, reciprocal, participatory sharing of meaning that reflects the ground-breaking research of Lev Vygotsky over 100 years ago?

    Having discussed what conversation even is, we can now discuss some important details about
    comprehensible input, the driving force of language acquisition:

    29 Points about Comprehensible Input

    1. We emphasize the gradual acquisition of language that follows a different timeline for each individual learner.
    2. We do not emphasize the memorization of vocabulary and rules.
    3. It is the narrative framework of a story that makes new language items (lexical or grammatical) interesting and easier to grasp and remember by the whole brain.
    4. Stories are created through a collaborative process involving teacher and students.
    5. Stories tend to be quirky and memorable (and to give students opportunities to be inventive), which heightens engagement.
    6. Co-creating stories together with our students helps to bind a class as a community.
    7. Students are more confident when they eventually produce language.
    8. Eventual writing and speech output are far more authentic when this method is used.
    9. Communication is the standard and so communication is the method used to reach the standard.
    10. Storytelling is not an extra curriculum component but a technique that more completely supports the standards.
    11. We assess students in terms of the standards connected to the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication in the areas of interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive communication.
    12. The Interpersonal Mode of Communication requires students to sustain focus for the full class period with no zoning out, side conversations, etc.
    13. The teacher uses messages in the target language that learners find compelling and understandable to help them acquire the language unconsciously.
    14. Comprehensible input is not the teacher talking at students; it is not learning about a language; nor is it immersion. Rather, it is about students hearing and understanding messages that they want to hear and understand.
    15. Thus, comprehensible input instruction is student-driven and student-centered because students give input and direction to the flow of conversation.
    16. Comprehensible input instruction is going “deep and narrow” with the language rather than “shallow and broad.”
    17. Comprehensible input instruction is relational, back and forth, and participatory.
    18. Comprehensible input instruction is aimed at acquisition of the language rather than learning about the language.
    19. Comprehensible input instruction is contextualized.
    20. According to the U.S. Department of State, academic rigor includes a sustained focus, depth and integrity of inquiry, suspension of premature conclusions, and continual testing of hypotheses. The teacher incorporates academic rigor in the classroom by requiring from her students sustained focus on a message and not on the language which is merely the vehicle used to deliver the message.
    21. The teacher and students develop a positive professional relationship with one another that is devoted to real outcomes.
    22. The student-driven nature of the course of study means that they can explore deeply and fully in the target language topics that truly interest them.
    23. As students are exposed to the language in a contextualized, meaningful fashion, they suspend conclusions about how the language functions rather than having those conclusions forced upon them at the outset.
    24. The unconscious mind continuously tests the students’ hypotheses about what sounds correct in the language.
    25. The teacher and students engage in a conversation or dialogue in the target language.
    26. The teacher checks for comprehension regularly and often.
    27. Grammar is contextualized and embedded in the language.
    28. The teacher explores those topics and items that interest students as shown by their responses, reactions, and requests.
    29. In the comprehensible input classroom there are no worksheets, optional homework, and no drills that cause the mind to tune out.
    [credit: Robert Harrell/Ben Slavic]

  5. Alexander I know you said that my answer above was sufficient but I am nothing if not overly wordy, so here is more to support my contention that being concerned about rates of acquisition cannot help.

    Even if we could find research about rates of acquisition w TPRS – I am sure that there is none – what would it do for us, since TPRS is so widely misinterpreted these days, w all the experts and all saying different things.

    However here’s some stuff that is direct and true and not open to discussion or conjecture that many “CI” teachers seem to forget-

    When “active communication” in the target language is happening, if a student is actively negotiating meaning (sitting up, shoulders straight, focused eyes, responding in simple language, no private conversation, no distractive behavior, etc.), then she is indeed meeting the Communication standard.

    The Interpersonal Communication Skill exactly describes the quid pro quo of back and forth human interaction researched that has been researched so heavily under Krashen’s umbrella term “comprehensible input”.

    At the lower levels, we speak and our students listen. That’s it. At the upper levels the students are just ready to MAYBE begin speaking, having experienced around 300 or 400 hours of the requisite 10,000 hours or so. IN THE UPPER LEVELS OF A SECONDARY PROGRAM, THE KIDS ARE LIKE VERY YOUNG CHILDREN, SO WHAT IS OUR DESIRE IN HAVING THEM OUTPUT WITH 9,500 HOURS MISSING IN THEIR EXPOSURE TO CI?

    All we can do really is provide a sense of a fabric of happy and willing communication going on between us and the students. That is what we want and what the curriculum that we use should provide.

  6. I can’t stop thinking about your question Alexander. Here’s something else I want to say:

    It is my position that a foreign language curriculum should not only align with the research and the standards, but also communicate to each student in the classroom that they are accepted and loved.

    The speed with which the child will acquire the language will be strongly affected by the latter factor, which cannot be measured.

    If the statement is true, and I feel that many teachers who are attracted to comprehensible input language instruction feel that there is merit in it, then why shouldn’t a learning curriculum be based on it, and not on dry robotic memorization involving mental gymnastics?

    1. alexanderegorovich

      I absolutely agree, Ben. Back then in the 80s, here in Moscow, we had an outstanding teacher, Galina Kitaygorodskaya, who became famous for the communicative approach based on first loved and cared learners as the prime condition for the effective learning process. It was a boom in the field – at least here in Moscow.
      Although I might sound too spiritual, my stand is this: love and acceptance, strictly speaking, ARE Christ Himself living in us; however, this may cause us to come off the rails of linguistic debates here on PLC.

      1. I am in support of what you say above, Alexander. If you think that the “linguistic debates” here are bad now, however, you should have seen this site ten or fifteen years ago. We got into fights with anyone who would put up their dukes, most notably the 18,000 member strong ACTFL “Professional Educators” group. That was about 7 years ago and man did we become revolutionary krashenistas back then! Then when I broke with TPRS bc for me the new non-targeted work aligned much better with the research, we got into more fights. Right now we are tired of those fights and I hope the thrust of the site is more now toward the higher ideals and supreme potentialities that you refer to above. If not, I bow down to the fact that the material we discuss here is not a manifestation of a casual and temporary change, but of a true and powerful paradigm shift of the highest order, one whose fabric is made less of things having to do with the mind and more of the heart and love. Therefore I always keep in mind that the change is not going to happen in a few years or even a few decades, but more like 50 years.

  7. In our ignorance of the pure research we think that learning weather expressions can be done in a few days if injected enough into stories, but, in reality, the SOUNDS of those expressions, which are what the mind must master to truly know them (vs. for a written test), are deeply complex, and to expect a student to acquire ten weather expressions in the course of a week and be ready to take a test on them is beyond absurd.

    Memorize it for a test and remember it for twenty-four hours, yes, but acquire it, no. I am glad that we are at least finally figuring that out in language teaching. I am glad that we are finally learning how the mind works, and how much it needs things to be repeated.

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