Question for the Group

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30 thoughts on “Question for the Group”

  1. leigh anne munoz

    I don’t think that this is what you are talking about, but I do have a story to share….in 2004, Blaine came to LAX airport. My friend and I drove an hour to see him. It blew my mind.

    He did the story, “El chico quiere una chica que sepa bailar.” I loved it! My idea of TPRS was so limited at the time. Specifically, I remember Blaine said that he was teaching us the story to show that TPRS can teach upper level grammar.

    Now, in 2016, we know that TPRS is a great way to teach all kinds of things about the language, and that the subjunctive can be taught at any time, not just in the third year….

    1. Thank you, Leigh Anne.

      I would say that Blaine wants to show us that what was traditionally described as advanced grammar can be taught the same way as anything traditionally described as beginning grammar. (Ah, that is your third paragraph, LA.)

      We know that the order of acquisition teaches us that we have been trying to teach the later acquired stuff in the first lessons. We do not shelter grammar. We do not teach the subjunctive. But Blaine (and Susan Gross) helped us to see that if we want our students to be able to say that “the boy wants a girl who knows how to dance,” well, there is one way to do it. Write the expression on the board with the English meaning beside it and start using it. The only word that is not immediately obvious is “sepa.” Once the students recognize “s-p” as “knows” there is nothing incomprehensible.

      My experience with students is that there is nothing difficult about the subjunctive whether present or past. Let them hear it, read it, understand it. It really isn’t all it has been cracked up to be. Kind of a let-down really. No noble dreams about subjunctivating til the cows come home.

      Again, it is not that we are teaching the subjunctive, but we will not be wow-ed by everyday language just because it happens to be expressed in formerly pedestalled subjunctive.

      1. Nathaniel, I really like this comment.

        If you follow the history of the teaching of languages, a number of practices become logical – even if misguided.

        Up until the early modern period, Latin and Greek were taught as means of communication. When those languages were superseded by French (and later English) as the medium of international communication, universities and schools had to create a rationale for continuing to teach them. Thus arose both the idea that learning a (classical) language “exercises the mind” and the grammar syllabus. When modern languages were introduced into the curriculum, they needed a similar “academic, serious” justification. Thus, the teaching of grammar became an end in itself. The “problem” has always been that most people to not take a language course for the purpose of learning grammar but for the purpose of communication. This has been one of the great academic bait-and-switch scams of all time.

  2. I haven’t heard of this, but I am not really juiced in with TPRS trainers. Last week Bill VanPatten warned that people have misunderstood “CI” to be a strategy and that they think we can “use it” to teach the stuff we used to teach (i.e. grammar). That’s wrong.

  3. Teach pronouns? That is a quaint idea from a bygone era. We use verbs. Verbs rarely stand alone. They quite often have complements. We include the complements. Otherwise we are not including the complete thought. We cannot be having amputated verbs. “Said.” “Said what?” “Who said what?” “Who said what to whom?” “He said it to her? or She said it to him?”

    Is this a pronoun lesson? Or is this a lesson on how to say “said?” But not a “lesson” in talk about language sense. It is a recognition that speakers of the language say that “So and so said something to someone” and we want our kids to say what they say, so that is what we say to our kids.

    1. “Teach pronouns? That is a quaint idea from a bygone era.”

      Confession: It’s not a story, but I did teach the words “he” and “she” with a MovieTalk. But in my defense, this was literally my first day of French I, and I knew kids would be too scared to get into a story. I figured they needed the HFWs he/she just to function those first few days.

      Using “Tous les Memes” by Stromae, I just talked about Stromae as “Il est masculin.” and then he changes into a woman (not kidding, YouTube it)–so I say “Oh, il n’est plus masculin. Elle est feminine.” I repeated “il” and “elle” and pointed and went slow. And then there was a lady dancer who changes to an “il” and back to “elle.” It was an awesome (compelling) music video. And that tango, though…wow.

      I was targeting elle/il which is technically grammar, but it was a major part of the message of the story.

      Yes, technically I targeted grammar and worse pronouns. (Hangs head in grammar shame.)

      However, believe it or not, it came across as a focus on the message, and it certainly didn’t feel contrived. I was just using high frequency words they needed to know to understand the story. Students were focused on how he has two ever-changing identities: a masculine side and feminine side…not the words “he” and “she.” (Although they did pick those up.)

      Does that somehow make it better? Maybe not, but I don’t regret it. First year teaching French 1/2 time, if that’s a close to “Grammar Nazi” as I get, I’m doing okay.

      1. I guess I’m saying, it’s not what language is used (pronouns or whatever)… It’s how language is used.

        If you focus on compelling stories and being clever (in this case identifying gender stereotypes) or generally evoking higher-order creative thought in L2…that’s all that matters.

        I’m 100% with using pronouns if it helps students understand the story.

      2. Maybe I should say “oops,” Claire. What I had in mind when I was writing was textbook lessons, specifically the following:

        1) A lesson on subject pronouns as a precursor to introducing a verb paradigm. The purpose in the textbook is to teach kids the words that signal which ending to put on the verb. They are not taught for meaning. My students whom I receive from textbook classes do not know what several of the pronouns mean. They can only, with varying degrees of success connect the subject pronoun with the verb ending. Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.

        2) A lesson on unstressed object pronouns. My experience with any textbook is that the emphasis is fully on form using contrived sentences to practice them. However, we have the opportunity to use pronouns on a daily basis and encounter them in stories where they make sense. I should not have said that we don’t teach pronouns. We can teach them in the best sense of the word by teaching them as vocabulary and using them. It is essential that everyone knows that “nosotros” is “we” and “nos” is “us.” We just don’t teach them as pronouns/ grammar. That is, we do not introduce them as a paradigm. The textbook presents them as paradigm and tests their mastery of the full paradigm.

        We can teach them as pop-up grammar while reading. We can point out their referential purpose and their potential for ambiguity as we work toward understanding: “What is “lo”? (It) “Can it mean “him?” (Yes) “What does it mean here? Him or It?” (Him) “Which “him” is being referred to here, Carl or Jorge?” (Jorge). This pop-up grammar, “taught” a few times over the course of a year does more lifelong good that a whole book unit on pronouns.

        As I am doing remedial Spanish (trying to re-mediate textbook Spanish), the kids get all hung up on word-order. “Nos da” (he gives us) would be understood as “we give” because students do not know that meaning of the words and understand according to English word order (where the subject precedes the verb and the object follows). Never having been expected to understand what they are reading/hearing it is the best they can do.

        I began my low-academic level Spanish 1 with the pronouns he and she. I did the same as you. I showed the kids the meaning of “él” and “ella” (he and she) and incorporated them into questions. The simplest was to point to a kid and ask the class “He or she?” (She). This can be boring but not during the first three days of Spanish. It is comprehensible. It is aural vocabulary building. It is interactive. It is everything the (required) textbook is not.

        The kids need to recognize these HF words. But I do not have until June. It comes up pretty early in a book test.

        So please do not hang your head in shame. I do not think you were teaching grammar or pronouns. I understand you be communicating about male/female identity. We may have to teach all of the forms in the paradigm (which can put a strain on us), but we can hold off focusing on the paradigm as long as possible (maybe forever) while we communicate with pronouns in a meaningful context.

        1. “Maybe I should say ‘oops,'”

          No! You’re “oops” is not accepted. 🙂

          Nathaniel, you post such compelling ideas that make so much sense; it made me want to come clean and question what I’m doing. Thank you.

          I love the point that “he” and “she” will eventually be acquired incidentally because they’ll be used in every sentence. It’s a good point. I also love that you are actively seeking whatever is most useful to give kids the widest range of vocabulary to understand stories.

          Today, again, you got the real heart of the problem: the problem isn’t presenting points of grammar, it’s “presenting them as paradigm and testing their mastery of the full paradigm.”

          I tried to same the same thing but ended up ranting.

          Maybe I should say “oops.”

      3. Steven Ordiano

        Yeah that song is cool tous les memes. I teach middle school not sure if it’s appropriate. I’ve done “Tu n’as pas sommeil” by him. The guy uses a lot of repetition in his choruses.

  4. Yesterday, I was driving down the road and I saw a dozen puppies-tiny, fuzzy ones- pop their heads up and put their noses against the rear windshield. They were staring right at me and I knew my ADD brain couldn’t handle all the cuteness. I had to change lanes or I would crash and die. Most people can focus driving one car behind fuzzy puppies, I can’t.

    It’s about focus.

    To answer Ben’s question of “When it got started?” I suspect it’s always been there.

    We see Blaine selling books titled “Look I Can Talk!” as though talking were the expectation, silent period or not. We see him wait until all kids can produce language-not just respond nonverbally as the name TPR(S) implies. They must SAY the right answer for mastery every time.

    Suddenly the focus is on correctness of speech, not understanding compelling messages.

    Blaine’s a master, he can stay focused despite the linguistic “car full of puppies” — but most
    can’t. We get distracted. We put the focus on the comforting, cute and fuzzy vocabulary themes because they are right in front of us. They are easy to download from Martina Bex. They are easy test and feel like kids know X number of themed words. They make us stick out less at meetings with colleagues using a grammar-driven syllabus.

    Those same colleagues shame us and point out that grammar is actually something kids need, so why aren’t we “teaching” it. Grammar, like fluffy puppies, seems innocuous enough, and it is actually something we want kids to acquire. But then we forget and we end up focusing on the grammar. Crash!

    The individual words we use, whether we call them “vocabulary” or “grammar” aren’t categorically bad; just like the puppies are not bad. It’s when “using” or “mastering” them take our attention away from the real task at hand: helping students understand compelling, comprehensible messages.

    I am convinced that this distraction is due largely to the way leadership in the TPRS community has emphasized mastery of targets and “correctness” of expression.

  5. I think it’s in part driven by teachers who come from a grammar/vocab syllabus, and who want CI but have questions about how it’ll work. They think, “Wow, that CI stuff looks great! But how will the students… (something they are used to learning or teaching with a grammar or themed vocab syllabus)?” Like with Ben’s colleague who enjoyed the class so much, and then asked him how Ben taught the words the students “need” for next year. It seems to me that one way some accommodate those teachers’ current feeling and understanding is to show that CI activities are able to help students acquire all aspects of the language — and they specify which ones may happen in this prepared activity or what is included in this novel (present tense/past tense/etc).

    I see this with Chinese teacher discussions online. Sometimes those new to CI want to target specific vocab or grammar patterns with an activity or a story. They aren’t used to communication of messages being primary with the details of the language happening over time naturally. The starting place is different. As a transition process, I think it’s kind of normal to experience if one was teaching from a textbook or from a grammar sequence in the past.

    1. “I think it’s in part driven by teachers who come from a grammar/vocab syllabus.”


      ” Like with Ben’s colleague who enjoyed the class so much, and then asked him how Ben taught the words the students “need” for next year.”

      Good point, Diane. I hadn’t thought about that (maybe I’ve repressed Data Turd’s comment as it is so offensive.) His top-down approach that seems reasonable but it’s actually toxic. We have to respond to grammarians’ questions of “what do they master?” -when we should be asking “how wide a net are you casting?”

    2. There is an ENORMOUS leap of faith involved in not targeting vocabulary or structures. Almost inconceivable for people who may be in the early stages of adapting their teaching to a CI model.

      Ben and I have chatted several times about the organic nature of language, and how high-frequency structures, by their very nature, simply appear. We have all marveled at how the same structure just “happened” to appear in the same song, story, article etc in the same week…completely by “chance.” But until you have experienced that, and been gobsmacked by it several (dozen/hundred) times, it is almost impossible to believe based on what we have grown up with.

      Not targeting structures makes teachers feel incredibly vulnerable from so many angles:

      How will I plan?
      How will I organize a lesson?
      How will I know what my students have acquired?
      How will I explain this to my admins/colleagues/students/parents?
      What if I come across as lazy or unprofessional?
      What if I can’t think on my feet?

      and on and on.

      It isn’t going to hurt students to work with targets (as long as they are not completely esoteric) , so we have to be careful not to be too critical. If a teacher prefers to work with target structures and that provides much needed peace and confidence, along with job security, they should be able to do so, without feeling criticized or judged.

      Also, if we are going to encourage teachers not to use targets, then we had better have more evidence in our back pocket that “Krashen says so.”

      If you aren’t or haven’t been using targets, consider looking at your scores/data comparing targeted years vs non-targeted years and sharing the results.

      with love,
      (a non-targeter who makes it looks like she is a targeter if someone asks!)

      1. “leap of faith”

        We need this and Tina’s “lack of faith in linguistic spontaneity ” quote stitched on a pillow.
        It’s so true.

        “If you aren’t or haven’t been using targets, consider looking at your scores/data comparing targeted years vs non-targeted years and sharing the results.”

        Krashen recommends research collecting data (don’t worry, it’s not to shame students, it’s to shame Data Turd and grammar-syllabus supporters) to get institutions on board with a target-less curriculum. Would somebody brave email him or a researcher friend about getting this started?

  6. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg


    Your puppy analogy is great. Forest through the trees.

    From my pt of view, TPRS leadership other than BR isn’t at all focusing on mastery/accuracy of output at the novice levels, and we’ve had Carol G, Jason F and Karen R visit us – talk about T/CI leadership!!

    It might just be Blaine’s idea, as Tina (?) said that even his son Von wasn’t focussed on the breakdown/mastery strategies at a recent TPRS workshop.

    I haven’t heard anyone else in the community touting output mastery of targets – in fact- the only use of target structures I’ve heard about is backwards planning the input to make texts or prompts comprehensible.

    As I’ve said before, my take-away is to really hit the Super 7 hard in more than one person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) thru compare & contrast, with the regular treatment (circling, comp checks, etc) so the Ss start hearing different endings, and only popping up if asked (or when I feel like it).

    This year we read ‘Aventuras de Isabela’ in 4th grade – which is all in the 1st person. (It’s my first time ever teaching w/it.) I thought it was a big deal that my Ss hadn’t previously heard some of the familiar hi-freq verbs much in the 1st person form, but they assure me it was NOT.

    Now that incorporating 1st person is on my radar, it’ll only get better for reading and storytelling – (also down the line when natural speech tumbles out – it’s ‘impressive’ when Ss can accurately answer questions about themselves.)

    1. “It might just be Blaine’s idea”.

      I suspected this, and I typed “Blaine” instead of “leadership”…but changed it because I’ve been questioning some of Blaine’s techniques- like my full-on rant about choral translation. I don’t want to seem like I’m targeting him. He’s an innovator and the reason why this method exists. But I agree he’s a big part of the “mastering targets” confusion.

        1. As Lance says, the differentiation is language specific. For German I use

          Existence/Location/Identity – is (the verb “sein”)
          Preference – likes (the verb “mögen”)
          General motion – “goes” (the verb “gehen”)*
          Motion toward speaker – “comes” (the verb “kommen”)*
          Possession – has (the verb “haben”)
          Volition – wants (the verb “wollen”)
          Becoming – becomes (the verb “werden” – also used for future)

          *German is very idiosyncratic with verbs of motion. While I can “get away with” using “gehen” for movement in general, as soon as the means of movement comes into play, I have to be specific with the verb. I cannot “gehen” by car, bicycle, skateboard, or any other mechanical land conveyance; I have to “fahren”. I cannot “gehen” by plane, helicopter or any other means of air transport; I have to “fliegen”. I cannot “gehen” on an elephant, horse, or any other animal; I have to “reiten”. (With flying animals, I can either “reiten” or “fliegen”.) Using “gehen” in these instances isn’t just strange or unusual, it is wrong. “Gehen” is really only for “on foot”. How’s that for throwing a kink in your story?
          Brandon wants a brown dog. He “geht” to the park to look for a dog. He “fährt” his bicycle to the park.
          Fortunately, “come” (“kommen”) doesn’t have these restrictions, so I don’t ask my students how they “go” to school, I ask them how they “come” to school, even how they “come” to the store. In the class stories, I can also ask where the main character “comes” to. Then “how” doesn’t present the same problem.
          OK, that was probably far more information than you wanted or needed.

          Beyond the “super 7”, the remaining modals (besides “wollen”, “mögen”, and “möchten”) are both helpful and high frequency, so they are part of my “sweet 16”:
          Possibility/Permission – may (“dürfen”)
          Obligation – should (“sollen”)
          Ability – can (“können”)
          Necessity – must/have to (“müssen”)
          The remaining “sweet 16” are
          Knowledge – knows a fact (“wissen”)
          Creation – makes/does (“machen”)
          Communication – says (“sagen”)
          Dissemination – gives (“geben”)
          Denotation – is called (“heißen”)

          Interestingly enough, in a list of the 100 most frequent verbs in German, these particular verbs occupy places 1 through 13, 20 (heißen), 24 (dürfen), and 28 (mögen). In my first-year classes, we cover these 16 verbs pretty well. Of course other verbs come into play, but these are very much the “glue” that holds the rest together. One of my goals is to become even more focused on these verbs.

      1. Hi Joseph,
        The “Super 7” are 7 verbs which represent seven basic concepts that can be present in any story. By repeatedly asking about these in the stories students gain the means to readily communicate about complex ideas. Here is the link to the description of this by Tracy Waltz, the creator of the “super 7.”

        As you can see, these were chosen to use in Chinese. They may need to be slightly tweaked for adaptation to other languages but the notion is the same: What are the minimal concepts that are present in every story?

  7. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Joseph, I’m developing Hebrew materials for a teacher training this summer.
    Here are the Hebrew ‘Super 7’ (5?) :
    ??- ???
    There are variations of these verbs – for example, any verb for motion, but since ???? means both ‘go/es’ and walk/s’, it’s pretty hi-frequency! You could also use ?? = run/s, or
    ???? = travel/s, etc.
    For Volition you may use, for example, need/s = ????
    In place of a verb for Identity, we use the pronouns, as in: She’s pretty = .??? ???
    For Location we attach the prepositions, as in: I’m at home = ??? ????

    This essential and narrow list allows teachers new to the strategies to focus on the highest frequency language, and to ‘circumlocute’ to stay in bounds.
    I’d say that since Modern Hebrew doesn’t have a ‘to be’ verb, it’s crucial to teach the pronouns earlier. (They function as part of the verb concept – He is, We are)

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