The teacher who pays full attention to the absolute importance of sufficiently repeating the structures [rebar] and limiting the amount of new words [concrete rocks] to create tight, personalized CI with strong rebar but not too many rods will definitely experience success with comprehensible input.
We hit the spirals, park, and know when to leave each parking level and move down to the next, circling enough high interest PQA in so that the repetitions take hold in the deeper mind of the listener, bringing greater and greater interest until so many details have been added in to that idea that we are forced to add in a new character or event to launch the story forward.
That is what I have come to understand is the PQA process – we circle the three structures with the question words, weaving together the structures and the questions. We talk about our students in outlandish ways, never breaching their trust, always cultivating humor at the expense of no one.
We never allow the circling train to get off the track and onto the sand. We mash together the personalized questions with the structures, following, sometimes in wonder, the spontaneous unfolding energy of the thing. The structures hold it all together, no matter where it goes.
If that is true, then we must use Point and Pause (presenting new words, more rocks) in a much more limited way than before. Each time we present and translate a new word, it puts stress on both the rebar and on the concrete by adding, as it were, another rock to the concrete. The kids’ minds can only bear so much weight, even with really high quality rebar. (That also is why story scripts must be simple.)
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
10 thoughts on “Rebar 5”
“The deeper mind of the listener”:
I have been thinking about Bloom’s taxonomy and PQA and wonder when is a good time to ask my students “what do you have but you don’t need?” or “what would you change from your weekend?”.
Should I ask during the first PQA before the story or the second PQA the next day for warm-up?
Has anybody thought about this relation?
The more deep the “mental” process (synthesis, analysis, …) the more P’er?
Personalized higher order emergence is not something that I as a teacher think I can draw out of my students with well timed questioning in the PQA. Maybe it can be done, but I can’t do it. I leave the entire business of speech emergence to the unconscious mind, which in my view is far superior in arranging words into speech than I am. The unconcsious mind, if left alone, knows how to bring the speech to the higher end of the taxonomy. Therefore, when that good stuff emerges, it emerges. I don’t think there are any pacing guides for it. No district publications to aid the process of acquisition. So I just deliver the CI. That’s my take on it, Angelo. When I say the deeper mind, by the way, I am not talking about any level of the mind accessible by itself. I’m talking about the next layer down. The high octane zone. The place where it happens naturally in spite of our intelligence and our analysis. The mojorific place. If you try to take the kids there and they are not ready, they’ll just resent it.
Hi, everyone! Excellent question, Angelo, and one with which I believe we would all eventually have to grapple. I have been teaching adults and children all year, and I would say that trying to determine which level of the taxonomy to target has the potential to prevent me from being mindful to the story at hand, possibly causing me to miss the homerun story that the students and I crave. Great points!
Cluttering a story up with too much detail – i.e out of bounds vocabulary – is when the comprehensibility of the story breaks down. When the kids have trouble following the bones of the story, they shut down and feel defeated. If we are asking them to pay close attention, it is really breaking trust with them when we fail to be clear and to go slowly.
Carol and Michel that is exactly what this series of Rebar posts is about. PQA is about mindfulness and not breaking trust by throwing more at our students than they can handle, which is always a lot less than we think.
We don’t introduce new things and we don’t step out of bounds, except on the rare occasions when we have to. The story scripts we use should include only new structures – the rest of the text they should know already.
We introduce all new variables (the underlined words in the Anne Matava and Jim Tripp script books) cautiously, knowing that the new sounds could potentially confuse (overload the Rebar).
This is true especially if we are not experts at SLOW, and none of us is to my knowledge, except for Mark Mallaney at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, who was recently crowned King of Slow by the Denver area Chamber of Commerce and the International Federation of Sloths.
This is radical stuff. We are taught as teachers to push and stretch the kids, to get them into critical thinking faster. Maybe in an English class. In what we do, it would be like pushing a five year old to conceptualize something that only a 13 year old could do.
Language acquisition belongs in the realm of the unconscious. And it should be pleasant. We deliver massive amounts of comprehensible input in the form of listening and reading, and all else follows.
That, in my opinion, is what thirty years of Krashen’s work suggest – feed the deeper mind with clear, interesting and personalized language and then let it, the deeper mind, chomp down on and arrange all the details in the magnificence of sleep.
I beg to differ….just a little…I think that there are…and I have seen…amazing examples of higher order thinking using the language. You are all doing it and may not realize it.
Asking Why?? is a perfect example of higher order thinking that rarely occurs in other types of programs. Our students ROUTINELY answer the Why? questions (granted, often with “concrete” examples, but the thinking process is not!). They are often THINKING AHEAD about the why even when we are not asking it. That isn’t just higher…it’s deeper.
Our students are often at the SYNTHESIS level of Bloom’s taxonomy…it’s built in!!! They acquire structures and manipulate language based on what they have acquired. They can combine “old” storylines, “old” vocab and “old ” structures..AND…comprehend them when utilized in a new way or with new structures.
For example…check out the conversation on Michele’s page about the Brackets tournament….kids are arguing one side or another about very interesting things and concepts….in every level of Russian!!
We problem-solve, we problem-create, we observe and discuss action/reaction, we predict, we compare, we persuade. It doesn’t get much higher-order than that….
Ben, when I observed your class last month during a nasty snowstorm, I was thinking about how many reps you got while I watched, and how Diana said it was some HUGE number…in my eyes, you only said the key words a few times, because I was so wrapped up in hearing the story evolve and watching the kids’ reactions, that I didn’t even NOTICE the number of times you repeated words! That is exactly what I aspire to: having the repetition be so much fun, that no one even notices that anything is repeated! It just always feels new and exciting and never repetitious. I have to remember that to the teenage brain, even what I told them a minute ago sounds brand new when I say it again (like my teenage son who asks me 4 times in 5 minutes where I put his no matter how loudly I tell him where it is). I gotta remember to apply this to my students.
I got into an argument with a second year student in a class in French. It got pretty heated. I didn’t plan it. It was about some detail in a story, I think. Diana and a bunch of teachers were here and saw it too. It’s on videotape. So absolutely Laurie, we go into higher order thinking naturally in what we do, and, as you say, a lot more often than we may realize every day. My point was simply that trying to drag a kid there via a conscious effort is likely to be frustrating for them and us.
I am beginning to realize to what degree most of us make a big drama out of teaching, thinking that if we just try hard enough and organize well enough then our students will learn more. The myth of hard work. Is it true? That is why I would love to be in your class, Laurie, because I am certain that you are always conscious of the kids first in that “being present” for them way. We can be there with our kids in the beauty of language or we can try to force it down their throats, which they perceive as unpleasant while we perceive it as necessary. They are right. Krashen has shown that.
So my question in this unexpected rant is if maybe we can just relax and engage them in conversation and read with them and enjoy what comes up, trusting that that is, in fact, how we actually learn languages – the unconscious mind sorts it all out while we sleep and the more it hears during the day the more words it can crunch at night. Is not all of our meddling just counter productive? I think it is.
The method works, often in spite of our stranglehold on it. I often think about how Krashen termed this comprehensible input process as natural for good reason. We naturally go up the taxonomy at our own pace. It all unfolds naturally, and, as Dr. Krashen has shown, the order of acquisition is not something that we can control.
I like what Laurie said about higher levels of thinking being built into the acquisition process. Students are constantly synthesizing meaning when they listen and understand. It’s huge! and so many people exit foreign language programs without that ability, so I think it’s not too basic to count. (sometimes I think that maybe that’s just the comprehension level in Bloom’s… I go back and forth on that. looking at the sentence “to him says to Felipe” takes some kind of synthesis after they understand all the words, doesn’t it, to get to “He says to Felipe.”? and “Why me abandoned Raquel” takes something to get to “Why did Raquel abandon me?” thoughts?)
I have been focusing on improving my students’ reading skills this year. I’m am asking more higher level questions that don’t take complicated language. In Piratas, Henry and Antonio are fighting. Where is Raquel? (the book doesn’t say.) Does she want for Henry or Antonio to win the fight? Who do you want to win? We recently acted out a “deleted scene” because the students just didn’t make the inferences on their own: Raquel felt abandoned. Antonio felt abandoned. How can those both be true? Who abandoned who? And by the time we acted out the scene, it was really clear to them what had happened. Other scenes, partners do together. Every time partners act out dialogue, they have the chance to apply their knowledge as they decide what everything should look and sound like. (of course not everyone takes it. but the opportunity is there.)
On that reading point Carla, a few teachers in Denver Public Schools, esp. Mark Mallaney at Thomas Jefferson High, had students read a lot more this year, they didn’t write much, but he sees that their writing nonetheless improved dramatically.
(Anecdotal evidence like that, in my mind, is very accurate evidence. That is another big topic – the coming demise of the data-worshippers and the new kind of teacher who is not questioned but whose word is intrinsically respected – it may not happen soon but it will happen.)
Mirroring Mark’s kids, the students of Joseph Dzietzic at George Washington High read four novice level novels in level one this year, in addition to the readings from the stories. Joseph saw similar improvements in writing.
I called Diana just now and started writing down below what she said on this topic, reproduced below with her permission. She describes what we in DPS are seeing at TJHS and GWHS in this way:
“Krashen’s point is that the more we read the better we write. So – key point here – the kids can write because acquisition happens and production happens as a result of massive repetitions of words that they hear and read in class.
“Production comes only from acquisition. The kids are writing words that they have heard and read before in massive amounts. So when we give them stuff to read that they already know from stories, they will be able to write that.
“And we don’t really even care that they can write well at lower levels except insofar as it gives us and them the tangible evidence that they are acquiring the language.”
So it is that unconscious absorption of words in context in massive amounts (again I keep harping on this point because it is so basic to Krashen and yet in my opinion is largely ignored) that triggers the sweet organizing capacity of the brain to turn all that input into output.
Now, over at Lincoln High School last year, under an administrative mandate that kids write more in all their classes to prepare for the state CSAP assessments, the kids spent the year writing and writing and writing in their various languages. But their writing scores on the spring Denver Public Schools World Language Proficiency assessment, went down. And their scores went down in reading and listening on that test as well.
So more isn’t necessarily better in writing – without sufficient input it won’t be there – and we can say that about speaking too because focusing so much on writing and speaking translates into less time spent on acquisition.
When kids merely memorize stuff they don’t go up the taxonomy naturally as per the topic here clarified above by Laurie and Carla about critical thinking as normal everyday stuff in CI classes.
The results are consistent with the failures of the past. Even at upper levels, kids can’t carry on a conversation about the stuff they memorized, because they memorized (read “did not acquire”) it.
Such kids, no matter their IQ, have no critical thinking skills in the language because of so much time lost to output too early, grammar sheets and forced speaking and the like.
So it is the kind of experimentation at TJ and GW that is pointing more and more towards input as an absolutely necessary precursor to output.
By the way, everything you are doing there Carla will lead to output, but we don’t know when in which kids. Different kids will show up at different ACTFL proficiency levels at different times. And we need to start that conversation.
I mentioned it to Diana who said something very interesting about how we can know that a kid has moved from an intermediate to an advanced proficiency level. She said that when kids can output complete sentences in discussion they are at the intermediate level, but when they can string those sentences together in sustained discourse they are advanced.
So, novice kids say words, intermediate kids say sentences, and advanced kids say connected sentences. We at some point need to start putting kids in classes along those guidelines instead of in the old absolutely insane way. I had a French 4 class last year that I would call novice. Yet they were getting fourth year H credit for the class. Hello.
We can stop that by requiring testing that sends kids not to the next level but to the right proficiency level as per the ACTFL standards. If a kid can move to an intermediate class after one year they should do it. If another kid enjoys learning but stays at the novice level for three years, that is just fine as well. Think of the problems such a pragmatic and simple approach would solve!
And Carla I really get what you said about Felipe and Raquel. It is preposterous to think that a human being could teach someone to arrange the word sequences you gave as examples consciously and by analysis. The unconscious mind can do it so much better, the speed of the emergence of results being directly related to the amount of target language input, the motivation of the learner, and the capacity of the teacher to stay the input course.