Can Comprehension Methods Succeed In Schools? – 2

This is a second repost from 2012 on the topic of whether or not instruction using comprehensible input can even work in our schools:

The recent discussions on:

– the massive amounts of responsibilities that we carry every day
– our inability to keep the comprehension comprehensible by keeping it confined to the unconscious minds of our students and thus only focuced on meaning

make me say again, as I have for years in this community:

I am not sure that we can get it done in schools.

Already published inquiries into this topic are:

This is not a joke, y’all. We say we  are doing CI but we are not doing full on CI. Do we really getr get the “din” going in our classes? Is the flow of language effective? Maybe for a few teachers on certain days, but overall? Are doing teaching that is based on Krashen’s research? I’m not so sure.

A few months ago I dropped the ball on the DPS Beniko Mason study. I dropped the ball. Why? Because, of the six weeks I had for the study, at least half of that time was lost to bullshit involving my school’s schedule. There was too much bullshit going on.

I don’t know if we can do real CI work in schools.

Don’t forget Robert’s (in my view accurate) prediction that most teachers will NOT move well into the future and will resist this change mightily as per what Robert said here:

As positive as the ACTFL documents and the AP changes are, it will still take a while for the change to occur at the local level.

-Some people will resist the change until the day they walk out the classroom door for the last time
-Some people will think they are changing when they are merely re-formatting the same things they have already done
-Some people will simply flounder due to lack of training
-Some people will make slow progress in the right direction
-Some people will take to this naturally

The full change isn’t going to come until the profession is populated by people who have learned via TCI/TPRS and been trained in it. The other element is that universities have to get on board in their methods classes so that credential candidates know what’s out there.

There is a lot of encrustation that must be cleared away before we are free to sail away on the seas of authentic communication.

Is the entire storytelling method from top to bottom is too square to fit into the too round hole of education? I am not trying to sound the alarm button and and I am not implying here that it will never work. But I just want to keep thinking out of the box on what we do with what we know works best in teaching languages. Will this work?



21 thoughts on “Can Comprehension Methods Succeed In Schools? – 2”

  1. TPRS or TCI is constantly evolving and we should never stop trying to find a better way but we can’t allow perfection to be the enemy of damned good. If we take a step back and really observe with a cool eye, the evolution of the practice has come a long way from where we were even five years ago. It starts with one.

    1. You know, Catharina, it took me awhile to figure out why. But I think that I have it now. There is only one way to acquire language: through understood messages. A good day of communication exercises and worksheets does not provide the necessary ingredient for acquisition.

  2. Will this work? Yes. Will the whole system instantly implode and evolve into what we envision? Probably not. I don’t know how much energy we can target effectively at “the system” beyond what we are doing currently. We are doing a lot! Number one is our work in the classroom, with our live and very real students. We engage in live and very real conversations in a language. That is how “this” will all change and evolve. We can’t know right now how our students will ripple any of this out. They will, but we can’t know exactly when or how. Number two is our reflection and extension, in whatever form that takes. It’s different for each of us. Reflection might be with yourself, with this group, with other colleagues, or a combination. Extension includes any tweaks or additions or other experimentation you come up with based on what happened in your class and how you processed it. It may also include dialogue here in this community. It may also include dialogue beyond this community. No two people have the same process, due to their individual circumstances. Staying focused on our practice will bring the results. We just can’t know the timetable. Not saying it is easy, by any stretch. But totally worth it for the authenticity and connection.

  3. Along the lines of engaging those without understanding of CI… what would be the path someone would take to become a WL teaching methods professor? PhD, presumably, but in what field? What schools offer those programs? Who will go do this?

    1. Hopefully it doesn’t require a PhD to become such a WL methods professor. I do imagine that universities would want their WL methods professors to have an advanced degree in the target language, if not a PhD. Hopefully they wake up to this as unnecessary.

  4. Catherina I just have a suggestion about your presenting. Just go there and don’t plan much. I mean, you need to plan something, and I know you will, but don’t turn this into a big huge deal. We know for a fact from the recent reaction of the ACTFL teachers to what we said to them – and we said momentous things to them – that most heard little of what we said. Most teachers, no blame, have a big blind spot for this work. So they will not not hear much of what you say and even what Krashen says because they have been doing that weird kind of blind spot selective listening on him since the 1980s. Then they turn around and mention him in books about teaching languages and they distort his basic premise about it all being unconscious, such a HUGE piece in what he says and I know that because he told me exactly as much on the beach at Los Alamitos three or four years ago, whenever that was when all of us DPS teachers went to L.A. Krashen is the most selectively heard voice in education. It won’t be any different at this state conference. So if you just resign yourself to that, to not being deeply heard by anyone, or just by a few, do you see how that makes it easy to present? It takes all the pressure off. Like you just go and say what you have to say and leave. Kind of a ramble here. I think it has something to do with letting go of the idea that we are going to change the world next week with this stuff, as Laurie said yesterday, I think. Hope this makes some sense, a little anyway. I want you to go there, present, and not make any kind of evaluations about whether it was good or bad or whether you were a hit or a flop or any of that. We have done that in this CI presenting game. We got competitive. I talked – not enough – with Laurie about this last summer. But we got competitive. Who’s good? Who’s not so good? What does So and So offer to me as a CI teacher? Should I listen to So and So? All that. Do you know who is not into all that and why she works with Laurie so much? Michele. She just wants this treasure out there being shared. Catharina, we are best serving each other when we totally accept the intent of each other to help children feel better about themselves. Our way of teaching does that and the other ways don’t, not really. They don’t. If you can convey how what you do helps children, then that’s all you need to do. This is service work, and we who are now ending our careers know this in a deep way. This is service work. We go into our classes to serve those whom we can and we leave the rest. In the same way, you may be heard by one person when you present, and that may make all the difference in the life of one kid somewhere, who may learn against all odds that they have a talent at something and it isn’t conjugating verbs, and that will have been enough. Sorry for the ramble. I got going there. There is no name and fame in this work. There is only what we can do with this best available method and it will be different in each of us. And in spite of all the confusion and stress being placed on our heads by the current Arne Duncan/Bill Gates firestorm of ignorance, our job is still the same, to trust that we can use this idea of comprehensible input to make a difference in the life of some kid somewhere, just one. So go tell them how you do that in your teaching, and then leave, because that’s all you need to do. And don’t judge yourself about it. We are all great at this and we all suck at this. Good God, where are the Ramble Police when you need them?

    1. Thanks for the kind words as always, Ben.

      I’m hot off an evening when I used some picture slides to teach a parent group in their fourth hour of Russian the “Soup from a Stone” story. Another teacher stayed afterward to reflect with me on how remarkable it is that these new students could understand two tenses, reported speech, and then catch the vocabulary they had just heard going by in a little audio story. I was pretty amazed myself.

      If there’s any time left in your lives to dedicate to school stuff, I highly recommend offering parents and community members the chance to take classes with you. Benefits are numerous, but here are the main ones: first, you get to practice on an easy audience. (I make every class open to any first-time person. That keeps me in bounds.) Second, you gain advocates. (Parents pay; other school district teachers attend for free.) I do advertise beyond the school, because parents are actually usually too busy to come, but I’ve even had school board members and many other VIPs as students. When they see the run-down nature of my classroom, they often contribute books and rugs and supplies, and when they feel the joy of learning a language effortlessly, they want to take more and more. I think I’ve contributed more adult students to evening classes at the university than anyone else.

      1. True Michele. Your presentation in St Louis with Laurie comes to mind all the time. I remember so well the gentle way with which you reached that part of the brain where words got stuck. And how you encouraged us to build up a strong team of teachers (like in Alaska) through support and camaraderie. Did you and Laurie invent? pioneer? embedded reading?
        It has become such a key part of TCI.

        1. Wow! What a great memory. I’m not sure I am that good…but Laurie is, and people associate me with her, so I tag along. I also tagged along on Embedded Reading. Laurie invented ER and continues to develop it by encouraging us to use a variety of activities between “layers” and helping sort out which are the most effective for a specific classroom use. I was an enthusiastic beta tester, and we got connected through the Internet. When we finally met face-to-face, we felt we knew each other well. Laurie is a truly amazing teacher and person.

          1. Well thanks to all the ACTFL discussions I understand TCI on a deeper level. My TPRS jigsaw puzzle is starting to shape up thanks to all of you.

            I never cared much about state/national organisations or what they offer. Again, thanks to all the conversations on this blog, I am now a member of our state FL official group.
            I actually spent some time navigating the website and watched a video contest for different age groups and levels. Interesting to actually know what others are doing (and not just speculate… like I tend to do).

            Laurie Clarcq will present Embedded Readings in Feb 2015 in NJ and I am signing up today, whether the school pays or not, agrees or not. I am going.

        1. I announce classes to parents and school district teachers, invite school board members, and then hang a sign or two in coffee shops.

          I have low fees: either $15/class or $65 for eight classes. Not much, but it has paid for a lot of different classroom supplies and books.

          Diane, I have my list of ACTFL choices. Send me an email, and I’ll send you the screen shot of my “ACTFL Planner.”

  5. It takes a Ben or a Laurie or a Michele W. to understand what you are explaining above.
    I am not there yet.

    We must start somewhere, I guess? Presenting to colleagues, parents, division heads would be a safer start for me.

    Laurie Clarcq and Liam O’Neill will be at FLENJ 2015. Who better could represent us at the state conference? It seems as if Liam O’Neill is doing what Laurie has suggested. He works from within the organisation. Maybe teachers of Chinese (as Liam is) will have an easier time getting sceptics on board?

    1. Yes, I believe Chinese teachers have become more open to CI teaching. Why? I think because native speakers try teaching here in the US, and so many of them hit walls with kids. Some of them then decide Americans can’t really learn Chinese and make their classes into play time (I’ve heard quite a few of these stories) – some still managing to get enough input across that kids know some Chinese. Others decide that only genius Americans can learn it, and they weed out all the rest. Then their programs dwindle. (Many of those are in the north suburbs of Chicago.) But many of them are thinking, surely there is something better. Surely people can learn Chinese. (Answer: yes.) It’s also about sustaining Chinese programs in schools. The language is not the “default” choice and many, many people are intimidated by it.

      You can’t fake language ability with Chinese. You can’t guess – there aren’t cognates, at least not many and many of them aren’t so obvious. The writing allows beginners no guesswork. So kids either have to be incredible memorizers if taught in that way, or they fail. Or the teacher learns to do CI instruction and works with instead of against the brains of their students. It’s so much better!

      1. It seems to me that Chinese is the ultimate proving ground of CI in the western world. If it’s not taught through the ear, there will be no success, right? Kinds can guess with Latin, at least.

        1. That’s what I think, too. I think it’s the reason Chinese takes more time… not because it’s hard, but because there aren’t many cognates and reading isn’t phonetically-based. Actually the verbs and many other aspects of the language are very simple: no conjugations, no tenses, no agreement, no reflexives, no masculine/feminine, no articles, no plural forms (necessarily), no cases, etc. It’s just that different and that takes time, too.

  6. Isn’t it often the “circling” part that seems to be missing? The scaffolding of questions?

    Or am I missing something?

  7. “…we are best serving each other when we totally accept the intent of each other to help children feel better about themselves. Our way of teaching does that…”

    “…we are best serving each other when we totally accept the intent of each other to help children feel better about themselves. Our way of teaching does that…”

    “…we are best serving each other when we totally accept the intent of each other to help children feel better about themselves. Our way of teaching does that…”

    it’s a practice. so simple. not easy. simple.
    there is a lot of jungle to cut through to get to this. every day. and we do it anyway.
    thank you all.

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