Targetless Instruction – 19

A repost from 2009:

I went online and tried to flesh out this recent Krashen term non-targeted comprehensible input. All I got was an article from a Lydia White of McGill University that didn’t make a lick of sense to me as a classroom teacher. Oh well.

What does non-targeted comprehensible input mean? Dr. Krashen explained it to me last summer, but I still don’t think I fully get it. Does it mean we go all over the place when we teach CI?

I invite Dr. Krashen to weigh in on this, to clarify it a little for us in TPRS who are trained to build CI around target structures. What exactly is the point of interface between how we do PQA in TPRS and non-targeted CI?

On the one hand, we see clear success in targeting structures from an intended reading via PQA. On the other, we don’t want those structures to take the wind from beneath the wings of truly free flowing PQA. Hmmm.

I’m thinking that when PQA is done right with target structures there is no loss of flow under the wings of the free discussion. That might be one answer to the question. We don’t let the structures handcuff the free flow of the discussion, but, at the same time, we use them with the intent to prepare the reading. We have to find some kind of balance there.

Susan Gross has always told us to just talk to the kids, but, many of us are unable to let go of our need to “teach” certain structures because that’s what we think teachers do – control the instruction, and, besides, we think that TPRS means teaching structures before the full blown CI. Does it? I would think Susie would say no on that.

Maybe it depends on the nature of the structures. Complex verbal word groupings like the ones we’ve seen come up in the past five years in TPRS, those three complex ones that go with stories to set them up via PQA, are hard to get into a free flowing natural PQA. But SIMPLE words like day and night and up and down are just so easy to PQA, especially when combined with the cool answers from the questionnaires on the back of the Circling with Balls cards. Hmmm.

Again, Susan recently told me that the original design of TPRS by Joe Neilson and Blaine Ray was not around targeting structures at all, it was just to talk to the students. So that gives me further permission to pursue my love affair with the moment that the group mind, not my mind, was in, and, combined with Krashen’s non-targeted CI idea, I feel permission this year to “go with the flow” even more than in past years.

Would I end up like a hippy if I go with the flow too much? Would I be too conservative if I allow the structures to slow down the free form flow of PQA? Can someone, Susie, Dr. Krashen, anyone… anyone, clarify this?

I would try to state the question clearly but I don’t know what it is. It has something to do with how actually necessary targeting structures in PQA is. Krashen implies that it’s not that necessary (is that correct?), Susan says just talk to the kids, which is clearly in alignment with what I think Krashen says (not necessarily what he says, but what I think he says).

Perhaps we just use really simple structures (night and day and up and down) in PQA and then using more complex structures (vs. He gave her the umbrella) for stories only.

Thomas Young ( makes it clear, in developing Anne’s idea, that there really is great power in doing PQA around a certain list of words in any intended reading material. Young argues that the reading is much much easier with a lot of PQA around frontloaded words.

So it is confusing – do we or do we not target structures in PQA? Maybe we don’t when the PQA is free, like on Monday when all we do is talk about what the kids did that weekend, but when the PQA is being used to set up a story or a reading, then we target the structures that we want our students to know. I feel more comfortable with the latter kind of PQA.

I think I’ve questioned and discussed myself into a corner. Susie? Dr. K? …. Buehler?… Buehler…?



6 thoughts on “Targetless Instruction – 19”

  1. I started out this year with the intent in following Ann Lambert’s model of using structures that correlate with the reading. But somehow this idea has evolved into jumping straight into read and discuss mode. I took your bell work idea of doing SSR at the beginning of class. Then we go into proverbs reading and prayer (catholic school) followed by the letter, word, and refrain of the day. After this we listen to the song of the week. I won’t be able to say exactly how this is going to work out until the end of the school year. But my early impression is that the language flow seems more natural. Also, there seems to be more of focus on structure than vocabulary compared to last year. I hope this makes some sense because it is the end of the day and I am tired. Chao

  2. “By offering learners exposure to carefully selected language, and by equipping them to analyze that language for themselves, we are enlisting the learners help. There is no longer an appearance that learning is dependent on teacher control. The most dynamic element in the process is the learner’s creativity. By exploiting rather than stifling that creativity, we make learning vastly more efficient. Most important of all, we shifted the responsibility for learning onto the learner.

  3. I am no longer teaching in a classroom. Most of my students are adults or older teenagers. They are sometimes very weak in English but they are not true beginners. Over the last few years I’ve found that using a film as my “textbook” is what helps them progress the most. Those high frequency structures? Well, they just keep popping up. So we PQA them and talk about ourselves and the characters in the film. Do I get in 75 repetitions? No, not the first time. But because they ARE high frequency, theu come up again and again. I see this as non-targeted CI. Our focus is on the film and its story and I use circling and PQA to help them feel more comfortable with what they are hearing and reading (TL subtitles).

    What I find surprising is that some structures that I wouldn’t have thought vital to target, keep turning up again and again. “Looks like” is one example. Instead of deciding what I think needs to be “targeted” I let the story and my students show me what they need to work on. This is quite similar to the DOGMA approach. I wish someone who was more theoretical and abstract than me would look into DOGMA. It seems to have a lot in common with what we are trying to do.

    1. Steven Ordiano

      Judy, I felt like my time in France was similar. There were interesting texts, politics, films and cultural factoids that I spoke about with my friends in Bordeaux of 05-06 while the university was occupied by the students (read CPE).

      My take on it: Due to the confines of the classroom and time there should be (but not mandatory) to target HF structures. However, it becomes slippery-slope because some HF chunks are not apparent.

      Ex: When I take a story and “retell” it my way — I slip in a “en fait” (in fact) when my kids have never heard that word before. I am going out of bounds but I am in the moment and talking to them naturally.

      It is so hard to measure acquisition. I had a look at my last freewrites from my students and they are rockin’! I think that it is due to the reading that they do. Some students even read to their parents at home!

      Lately, I have been doing some non-targeted stories. I feel that the engagement is there. I see the students eyes light up. Is there a correlation to non-targeting CI and engagement? In my very limited experience there is.

      So as students get a good base, I feel that non-targeted CI can happen (and should) because it encourages student engagement. Also, students feel part of a learning community. We celebrate communication. In the end, the HF structures keep popping up anyway without intention, subconsciously.

    2. Judy said:

      …instead of deciding what I think needs to be “targeted” I let the story and my students show me what they need to work on….

      That pretty much sums up how I see the entire untargeted vs. targeted discussion, right there in one sentence.

  4. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Is there a time and place for targeting/non-targeted? Also, do some Ts go overboard with insisting on transparency, thereby denying i + 1? Is that who Dr. K is referring to? To my mind, Dr. Krashen’s article about non-targeted that was posted was about avoiding a grammar or vocab-set-heavy syllabus. At least that’s how I read it.
    For beginners who don’t know anything, we must start very narrow. How do we start narrow? By ‘warming up their ears’ to the sounds of the new TL – with (pre-determined) hi-freq items.
    Yes the hi-freq stuff – from verbs to transition words, pronouns, etc will come up naturally anyway. But for time’s sake, we try to get lotsa reps and familiarity with them – we want them understood so that we can start to accessorize. Trying to spin a decent story just with those can be stifling, but for many of us who teach Romance languages, we enjoy a smorgasboard of cognates to embellish with. (Not to mention proper nouns – people & places).
    For those who teach real beginners through all of level 1, the first few months/50+? hours have to have intentional reps of the words that are going to come up again & again. This is a cornerstone of the strategies. That isn’t to say you won’t need a low freq ‘distractor’ to make the story great (my lil ones love rompe = break/s; & grita = shout/s). But the bread & butter of the story/text is written with language learners in mind – circumlocuted to stay in bounds, exploiting the most common and flexible words.
    I say we go back over some of our home run stories and scan the language therein. It’s mostly controlled & Hi-Freq, I’ll bet, with a few firecrackers for fun. We mix tenses, persons, transitions, rejoinders – that, to me is non-targeted (and more natural) too – targeted doesn’t (IMO) mean 100% scripted.
    What we saw when Blaine was here w/our young novices was definitely targeting. He feels strongly that the Hi-freq verbs are the right place to start, and I agree.
    When I write an oral story (after the fact), I still go back over it and count how many different verbs. I try to limit the #, reduce/circumlocute non-cognate distractors. I comprehen-sify when I speak and write. New stuff sneaks in. I bring it in bounds. It’s what we do.

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