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13 thoughts on “NTCI”

  1. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    In working with newbies interested in testing out CI-aligned strategies, I’ve found that many feel that such lists provide golden rails. They really DO NOT GET what we mean by narrow. I was in a classroom once where a T was doing a story that had over 40 new words glossed at the bottom. It was a news article about privacy and drones. While interesting it was relatively inaccessible for his Ss and nothing was washing over or soaking in. Struggle struggle struggle unplug.

  2. Targeting is essentially weak and implies a general distrust of the research.

    This is more gold from Alisa:

    …while interesting it (the glossed words) was relatively inaccessible for his students and nothing was washing over or soaking in. Struggle struggle struggle unplug….

    What don’t they get about that word struggle? Maybe bc they only know struggle themselves. So their students must struggle to learn. It takes courage to align w what Krashen and BVP etc. are REALLY saying, that there is no struggle involved and there never was, not in language acquisition.

    Here God designs this pure and natural and exquisite language acquisition process in the deepest parts of the mind – away from our prying hands and eyes – and then we try to pull it all out of that neuron ball and lay its parts out in pieces, but when in pieces it doesn’t work. We’re just a bunch of silly thinkers, walking through unlimited fields of beauty that we could have w our students in joy and fulfilling discourse in the TL but we insist on making it all so hard, so full of struggle.

    I will permit myself an editorial comment. The concept of targeting, making lists, is not unlike what many of us do in life not just in our classroom. We worry and we don’t need to. We worry so much if such and such has been done/learned. We are mistrustful as a society. But we don’t need to be. Just talk to the kids in fun ways. That’s about it.

    There is that beautiful passage in the Bible about the birds and lilies of the field who don’t worry so much and they do all right.

    In fact, my 40 years in this field can all be summed up as a weird mental struggle to relax in my classroom and in my car during those weird commutes, where I would sit at stoplights and be nervous about my classes that day. I can say that, looking back, all that stuff going on in the building and on the commute (there is always some drama) was actually a big fat zero. A. Bit. Fat. Zero. Wish I had seen it as such back then.

    Oh well……

  3. One thing I am doing this week is brainstorming with students all of the words we have learned through TPR. I have had a few students say that in class “we don’t do anything” (this is very dangerous in a school where parents are so involved) so I am going to start keeping track of structures “learned” and put it on a word wall. I might even do a TPR exam next week.

    I keep making statements like “Can you believe how many words we learned just by doing gestures?” “Can you believe how much Spanish we absorbed just by hanging out in the language and talking about our characters?” “Did you notice that Johnny and I just interacted for like 2 minutes and it was all in Spanish?”

    Get those boxes checked people!

  4. My colleague regularly takes out class time to have students do reflections about what they learned. She even had them do a portfolio for the final exam. Not a bad idea.

  5. There is this from Dana a few months ago here that is in line with what you are saying Greg:

    “I had a great conversation with a parent today. A little background information… This is a highly educated woman who is a writer. They arrived at our school last year and her daughter began taking French with me in seventh grade. Her daughter is a reader and is a highly motivated student. At our first set of parent conferences last September, I explained the how I was teaching and showed some examples of how much the children understand after just six weeks of school. She was amazed and very curious about this way of teaching language because it’s so very different to how we were taught and how many school still teach language. By the second round of conferences last year in the spring, she was blown away by her daughter’s progress.

    “So today I bumped into her and she was telling me how this way of teaching still fascinates her. This is assessment week in my class so she was going over some of the documents that I have shared on Google Classroom with her daughter to help her review. She was asking her what some words meant in English from the vocabulary list that we keep a running record of and her daughter couldn’t remember a lot of them. So she told her daughter she better start learning these and getting them under her belt.”

    Here’s the important part:

    “Then she started asking her about the stories in about some of the characters and she was blown away by how much her daughter understood within the context of the story. So the girl knows what the words mean in a context but out of context, in a vocabulary list, she doesn’t know. I find it fascinating how the brain works and how we acquire languages and this way of teaching language, with non-targeted comprehensible input, is such a rich and valuable way for people to acquire the language. She said that she had to go back and apologize to her daughter because she was wrong. And she just loves the way that I teach the language.”

  6. Interesting. Perhaps I should design an assignment where they talk with their parents about our stories.

    I have the full support of my admin but I always like to head these problems off at the pass. You never know when administration can change (seems pretty stable where I am) and then you have to start from zero.

    1. I’m sorry you feel so pressured to prove yourself, Greg, with your students and their parents! Well, I guess it’s making you untouchable, in a way. You’re the CI Guy, for real! Everybody that signs up for any of your workshops gets more than what they pay for!

  7. When you say start from zero of course you mean educating new admins as they arrive. This is prudent. Greg is a pragmatist and correct to be so in this field as it currently exists where teachers are looked upon with suspicion by people who don’t have eyes to see.

    We have lots of good articles dating back a long time in the Administrator/Teacher/Parent Re-education category and in the Primers. This one is the top one in the Primers (link above) list:

    Here are some CI FAQs to share with anyone interested, admins, etc.:
    Q. What is the basic idea about the way you teach?
    A. I use messages in the target language that my students find compelling and understandable to help them acquire the language unconsciously. I do that because the research shows that people acquire languages unconsciously. This is different from math or chemistry and other subjects offered in schools. The key is that the students understand the spoken or written message. That is what the research says. It ‘s not about “studying” the language at all, but about understanding the message, and then, automatically, the language comes along for the ride. The conscious mind is not involved in a “thinking” capacity – that’s what the research says – and so I teach that way, getting my students focused on the message and not the vehicle being used to communicate it.
    In order to align with the research, I make certain that the messages I bring to my students in the target language are both compelling and understandable to students. (The “comprehensible” part of the name means comprehensible to the students, not just to the teacher. That’s a pretty important detail.)
    Q. Some teachers have said that this way of teaching is all about flying blue elephants. Are they right?
    A. While many classes enjoy the creative freedom that comprehensible input offers and do come up with bizarre stories, “compelling” simply means that students get so involved in the content of the message that they forget they are listening to a foreign language. This may result in flying blue elephants, but it can equally easily result in a discussion of bullying in school, the upcoming football game or school dance; in other words, “compelling” means it’s something the students truly want to talk about.
    Q. What is comprehensible input, exactly?
    A. To help answer that, let’s see what it is not: it is not a grammar-driven curriculum; it is not a textbook-driven curriculum; it is not a long list of isolated vocabulary words; it is not the teacher talking at students; it is not learning about a language; it is not immersion.
    Teaching using comprehensible input, in its ideal form in the classroom, is speaking with students in a way that every student understands and wants to understand what the teacher is saying all the time; it incorporates relevance by exploring topics to which students have a connection and that are connected to real life; it is student-driven and student-centered because students give input and direction to the flow of conversation; it is going “deep and narrow” with the language rather than “shallow and wide”; it is relational and participatory and reciprocal; it is aimed at acquisition of the language rather than learning about the language; it is heavily contextualized.
    Q. But what about rigor? I have heard some language teachers say that teaching using comprehensible input is too “easy” and kids succeed too much, earning too many A’s.
    A. Teaching with comprehensible input definitely seems easy to students and is certainly different from most of their classes. But we need to distinguish between “rigorous” and “onerous” or “burdensome”. Doing more work does not mean more rigor, it just means more work. Are 40 math problems that practice the same concept twice as rigorous as 20, or just more work?
    According to the US Department of State, rigor includes a sustained focus, depth and integrity of inquiry, suspension of premature conclusions, and continual testing of hypotheses. Students in a CI classroom are exposed to this kind of rigor. The Interpersonal Mode of Communication, the central driving force of the national WL standard of Communication, requires them to sustain focus for the full class period with no zoning out, side conversations, and absolutely no rudeness at all during the entire class period. The student-driven nature of the course means that they can explore deeply and fully in the target language the topics that truly interest them. 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. Drawing conclusions about the mechanical aspects of the language, how it “works”, is done when the questions arise, usually not before level 3. The unconscious brain continuously tests the students’ hypotheses about what sounds correct in the language, and it is during this unconscious process, this “din”, that the language system is built, just as it happens with small children and just as the research shows to be the way it happens.
    So why does all this seem easy? Imagine you have a travel trailer that you want to take on vacation. Since all you have is a small four-cylinder car, you hitch the trailer to it and take off. Your car will strain to pull it and probably break down as a result. Your neighbor comes along with his large V-8 pickup truck; you hitch the travel trailer to the pickup and take off. No strain; the pickup handles the load with ease. What’s the difference? Did you travel trailer suddenly become lighter? Is the work any easier? No. You simply got the right equipment for the job. That’s the difference between learning a language from a textbook and acquiring a language from a human being who has worked hard to learn how to make the class interesting in the ways described above. Learning accesses the conscious mind, which is not designed for languages. CI accesses the unconscious mind, which is powerfully designed to acquire languages. Learning or acquiring a language (whichever one you want to call it) is hard work, always has been, and always will be. It just seems easy when you use the right equipment.
    Q. Okay, but what was this about the “Interpersonal Mode of Communication”? What about the skills of reading, writing, listening, speaking?
    A. Those skills were referred to in curricular design documents by most language instructors in the 20th century, but they are outmoded now. This is because 21st century language teachers now “get” the importance of aligning their instruction with the research and the national standards. The World Language standards in most states, the National Standards, ACTFL (American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages) and the College Board (AP courses and exams) all revolve around the Three Modes of Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational. Since the purpose of language is to communicate, this is rightly the emphasis. Kids find focusing on an interesting message easy, while they find verb conjugation difficult and gutting. Interpersonal communication is when two or more people exchange information and language with each other and have the opportunity to clarify, negotiate meaning, express lack of understanding, etc. This is really at the core of both language acquisition and teaching using comprehensible input. Interestingly enough, real-life communication incorporates the four skills you mentioned above in a holistic and organic way, rather than as laboratory samples to be dissected.
    Q. That all sounds interesting, but can you back it up?
    A. Good question. We should always be able to give a reason for what we do. Second Language Acquisition researchers disagree on many points, but the one thing that they all agree on is this: The single most important element in language acquisition is comprehensible input. The work I do is built around this one indisputable principle.
    In addition, brain-based research indicates that the brain requires certain things; among these are meaning, repetition and novelty. We can see these at work in all sorts of ways. The need for meaning is why we see shapes in clouds, the face of a person on a tortilla, etc. Children exhibit the need for repetition when they watch the same film or read the same book over and over. The novelty aspect comes out when we remember that unusual event on our routine drive to work. How many times do you get there without remembering how you did it? But see a plane land on the freeway, and you will remember it because it was novel. There is a lot more at work here, including chunking and automaticity, but that is for another discussion.
    Q. What does a CI classroom look like, then?
    A. As with any method, strategy or approach, a CI classroom will look a little different for each teacher. Some common things to look for, though, include: the teacher speaks and encourages the students to first listen to and eventually start speaking (without conscious effort) the target language during class; the teacher and students engage in a conversation or dialogue in the target language; the teacher checks for comprehension regularly; there is laughter; the teacher encourages but does not force students to express themselves in the target language at all times; the teacher shelters vocabulary but not grammar (grammar is contextualized and embedded in the language); the teacher explores those topics and items that interest students as shown by their responses, reactions, and requests; the teacher incorporates rigor in the classroom by requiring sustained focus from students for the class period; the teacher and students develop a positive relationship with one another. There is equity and inclusion. Students often stay for all four years because they like it. They talk to their parents at dinner a lot about the class that day. They smile a lot and some are known throughout the school for the jobs they do in service to the WL classroom process. Some of the kids, like the artists in each class, attain something akin to rock star status in the school. They like learning a language. What you won’t see are lots of worksheets, lots of homework, and lots of mind-numbing drills.
    [adapted from a 2011 article by Robert Harrell]

  8. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Greg, with your serious emphasis on reading, can you also use the volumes of text that your students have read and comprehended to demonstrate their solid & ever-growing foundation? If they get that understanding messages drives acquisition, it seems to me that seeing the content in writing (not just hearing it) is another powerful way to quantify progress.

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