This question from Brian Peck merits vigorous discussion:
Ben, thanks for this post…it definitely grounds me. My struggle is on a long term basis, how can I create a structure in which the type of TPRS you describe in its must pure form can happen? I have bought in to the backwards planning from novels idea meaning that I pick my structures based on a novel I am hoping my students will be able to read. I am trying to really limit what structures I use and be strategic. The only problem with this is that the scripts out there…like Matava and Jim’s scripts and even Carol’s and Blaines don’t always fit in to to the progression of structures that I like to use. No problem right…just write my scripts? Well, I find that I somehow always make them so much more complicated than required and lose sight of the basic principles (3 locations, a conflict, good characters, etc). My question is, am I missing a point here. Is it better to utilize the good scripts out there and just don’t worry about where the structures lead? When I did that though, I often found that we rarely recycled structures from our good stories and then the novels didn’t always include the structures I used in TPRS. How do others reconcile this tension between targeting specific structures to align to a novel or a text versus going with good stories? Or am I missing a point altogether?
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10 thoughts on “Question”
I really relate to this Brian. I just want to do stories because, like we said here a few days ago:
…nothing holds the interest of students in TPRS classes like stories. It’s not even close….
But then when all we do is stories we get the issues you describe so well above. I don’t even know how to begin to address this, being too far in my right brain to figure it out. The only thing I can think of saying is that we have to decide what drives our curriculum – interest or novels. I hope this gets addressed here though. It’s one of the BIG questions.
(Great to hear from you again. Detroit is back in the house!)
Perhaps I go at this in a different way. . .
What’s the goal? What’s research + theory + experience tell us about how to get to that goal?
Is reading a class novel a goal? Why?
Do we evaluate practices in terms of what the “TPRS” method prescribes or what theory prescribes? Why would there be differences? Where there are differences are there good reasons for them?
Personally, I let interest drive everything. If I fill the class period with CI then the same core words (top 50-100 words) show up in everything. And if the novel is for beginners and well-controlled based on high frequency language, then the kids can then read it.
I assume we all understand why trying to target a specific grammatical structure is inefficient at best, futile, and harmful at worst. I am led to believe that many TPRS teachers think they are teaching language chunks and formulas. It’s a cheap way to pseudo-fluency, fluency which is not grounded in acquisition of the underlying vocabulary and grammar, but in the acquisition of these unprocessed chunks. This approach is indeed likely harmful, because it may delay actual processing of the subcomponents of the chunk. It could cause “U-shaped learning”, e.g. students are saying “has to go,” then they actually start acquiring the subcomponents and say something like “haves to goes,” which only later and maybe only after more stages are passed through does the student come back to the correctly stated “has to go.” Could more time spent on the language chunk “has to go” mean more time you are delaying acquisition?
I know you guys are going to get sick of me saying it. But what do you think is psycholinguistically real about a TPRS “structure”? In other words, do we acquire language in these “chunks”? Is that what acquisition is? i.e. acquisition of language chunks and formulas? You see, I’m worried that we are under the illusion that when kids can comprehend and produce the language chunks and formulas we call “structures” that we take this to mean they have acquired the vocabulary and the grammar that they contain. False.
Simplify it all: How do we acquire language? When it’s comprehended. The more compelling, the better chance the kids actively try to comprehend it and the more they focus on the message (implicit learning – Krashen’s “acquisition”) rather than trying to learn the form (explicit learning – Krashen’s “learning”).
“Above all, remember that for it to be real, communication must be a personalized, spontaneous event. It cannot be programmed– but you can make it happen” (Savignon, 1976).
I´m going to have to read and re-read your response!
I would like to get to a place where my classes are filled with CI that is compelling and acquisition happens. But somehow in my 3rd year I´ve settled into a routine of TPR/CWB type stuff in September while transitioning into teaching 3 phrases/structures per week in a story using what frequent words the novels use to guide me. Before I know it, I´ve completely abandoned student interest! Trying to determine which most frequent words to use in which order is where I am stuck and obviously you point out the flaws in targeting in the first place. I have at least introduced FVR this year and that seems to be inspiring students to read independently. Other than that, my stories and guiding novel reading seem to be mediocre at best and we rarely get to 90% in L2.
So how do you go about this process of SLA? How do facilitate sustain compelling and comprehensible input for your students? I haven´t been following the forum lately, so if you can point me in the direction of a post where you´ve most recently described your classroom your current revelations in your practice, that would be helpful!
I try to choose compelling sources of input (pictures, stories, videos, songs, etc?)…and try to have good PQA…and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn´t. But without choosing 3 phrases at a time that somehow seem to wind up repeated in a text somewhere, I get a little lost in my own working with 100 kids.
There’s nothing wrong with your approach.
Another way is to look at the highest frequency 10 or so verbs or look at the highest frequency 50 words in your target language and do whatever brings student interest (MovieTalk, PQA, Story Creation, etc.), but stay mostly within that language. Be flexible. Allow more language to enter if interest and need goes there. So long as it’s comprehensible, then there’s potential for acquisition. As you expand to more high frequency language, just integrate them into the ones already familiar. You can talk about so many different things and tell so many different stories by just staying within those highest frequency words.
Let the needs of storytelling and communicating with your kids determine what comes next.
Arg. I need to proof read better! I think you can get my questions though. Thanks!
Brian, I have the same questions and concerns you do. I also, ultimately, share Eric’s (and Savignon’s) beliefs that interest should drive everything. Personally, I go at it like you – matava scripts. Although I do think the longer I do this, the better able I am (on really good days) to influence student interest level in material that they wouldn’t necessarily or normally be interested in. But, those are on really good days and super variable dependent. So, in other words, can’t be counted on.
Brian, good hearing from you! I wish I could have been there for what sounded like a memorable Creole session this summer in VA.
I remember Kristen Duncan (tprsteacher.com) writing about this same concern that you are expressing… that the vocab in the story scripts are not being recycled and/or are not necessarily frontloading for the novel. This is how I’ve tried to deal with it:
1. I don’t even plan on necessarily doing a novel in level 1. Since I unrequired it for myself (I luckily have complete freedom to do this), it has reduced the worry that my students won’t be ready for it or that I need to teach all the words in the novel. I have only had one year where I didn’t end up reading Pobre Ana or Piratas though, the kids are mostly ready nonetheless and I usually want to do it because I find it a nice change of pace.
2. Adapt scripts. In fact, I do this with some of my own scripts. In first year, it usually entails simplifying them further by either omitting an element of the story or substituting target vocab. And I try to revel in the scene and the details, milking the setting and character as much as possible using language they’ve already encountered.
3. What Ben and Eric and Grant said about making interest the name of the game. There are days where I go in and plan to talk about X or maybe do Y story, and for whatever reason we talk about Riley’s dad the entire class. For whatever reason, the topic gets the kids to focus that hour/day, and so I go with it and try to suppress that constant nagging feeling that I’m not teaching the right stuff at the right pace. But more often what I experience now, since starting to let go of the plan and flowing with the interest, is serendipity in recurrence/recycling of language. And after nearly 8 years of doing CI, I’m getting better at flowing with the interest and staying comprehensible.
Much of this is probably obvious to you already and so I hope I’ve touched on what you were looking for in your question.
…for whatever reason, the [new and unexpected] topic gets the kids to focus that hour/day….
If there is a general consensus that a topic is interesting, and the topic has energy, then would it not be the best thing to do to “go there”? All I heard Krashen say all last summer at the workshops was “compelling, compelling, compelling”. It’s not about making the vocabulary we choose interesting (too much pressure on us), it’s about finding an interesting topic and seeing where it leads. And if the energy is low, a nice story script to float the class on is just fine. That’s my opinion.
On Tripp’s #2. There’s no such thing as a script that doesn’t work for your level. You can always create a more base version or a higher level version. Just take the plot or problem and rewrite it with familiar language.
On recycling: The ideal learning in any subject happens when “new” gets integrated with the old and the old gets constantly recycled. This is pretty natural to do in communication. Any script that appears to “target” (focus narrowly on a few structures) can very easily be turned into an opportunity to “shelter.” Just fill out the skeleton story with more details using familiar language. In essence, the targeted script is the base version and your classes end up with a higher level version that contains plenty of recycled words.
Imagine these 2 approaches:
Target – Massed reps – Every week you restrict input narrowly to 3 new structures and little other language (like teaching a different 3-structure unit every week).
Shelter – Spaced reps – Every week you add 10 new words to the repertoire and communicate (create stories) within any and all familiar language
Note: Total # of reps of any one word between approaches may very well be the same by the end of the year.
Brian, maybe you could check out Joseph Dzeidzic’s videos. I think you can find them on vimeo under the title CI teachers. He does these long, rambly stories based around target structures and doesn’t worry at all about doing the 3 locations, and it works out fine. He also doesn’t seem to worry too much about the 90% thing. Actually, he doesn’t seem to worry too much about anything, which is why his videos have been so inspiring for me.