Targeted vs. Non-Targeted – 1

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85 thoughts on “Targeted vs. Non-Targeted – 1”

  1. I appreciate this post. Thanks for taking the time to contact them and report back!

    This is big for me to hear Blaine say,

    “… I think most teachers will teach better with structures….”

    I have been going back and forth on whether or not to include target structures of suggested structures or whatever at the top of the page in the third edition of my book, which I did in the previous versions. I fear that a lot of teachers newer to TPRS will be lost without them. Perhaps I should get a few samples ready and ask for folks to take a survey of their preferred format.

    1. Steven Ordiano

      I think what Blaine says pertains to the fact that Teachers crave or are trained with structures/planning.

      However, I think that success lies in how well our communicative AND classroom management skills are. For target-less stories, there has to be a good relationship established with clear and consistent (my weak point) expectations.

      I’m teaching Spanish next year Jim. I hope to use your book in my classes.

      1. Steven aren’t you a first year teacher? Management was a vortex of despair for me that first year. Just take notes and think abead to next year. This time of year is big for first year teachers in any sense. I’m a first year teacher this year too in a sense. Even though it’s my twelfth year of teaching it’s a lot to learn: new staff, new population, new routines and procedures and expectations. So I have had a good amount of moments when I just tuck away a hot tip for future me. And I know next year will be stronger than this one and the next one stronger still. Because after all this time it just keeps building on itself and getting better and still better. So go gentle on yourself. But not too gentle to make those notes for future you. Spring is a time when I look at the ecology in my room. And I can see what errors I made waaaaaaay back in the golden days of August and September when I set things up. I love Spring actually. It’s when the chickies come home to roost. It’s a hopeful time for me. A reflective time and a time of gratitude for the cyclical nature of our work. I love that even the most challenging of years ends. Summer comes and goes. Then a fresh start. It’s a real gift to teachers and kids.

    2. Jim said:

      …I fear that a lot of teachers newer to TPRS will be lost without them….

      I get that Jim but in my opinion the opposite is true, that new teachers will forget that there is a way to do stories without them, that they will get used to them and never let them go.

      Teachers new to this method don’t need training wheels as much as they need training.

      Otherwise the method becomes a bunch of adult children riding around on their little bikes with their elbows and knees sticking awkwardly out to the sides instead of getting on the De Rosa road bike that is TPRS and doing some serious hammering down on the roads.

  2. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I’ve been swamped all week, but dying to post about Blaine’s surprise visit to our district. Yes, Blaine’s reference to “got stuck” happened in a Suzi’s 6th grade class on Tuesday – he had some time before consulting nearby and popped in for the day – I have footage of him teaching later as he describes – to 1st and 2nd graders in MY classroom!

    I am still processing/weighing his recommendations but one thing I am purposefully trying to weave in is inserting myself as a ‘yo’ (I) character to compare & contrast with the 2+ actors. I’m calling it a ‘tripod’ strategy – trying to get reps on 3 versions of the highest freq verbs, so that we have a tripod of support. What a stable structure, to recognize for example, ‘I am,’ ‘you are,’ ‘he/she is.’ Many TPRS Ts don’t swing beyond 3rd person singular.
    The breakdown stuff is hard for me to digest, as the (temporary) mastery aspect really feels forced. He worked the 3 person ‘I am/you are/s/he is’ with my wee ones til they ‘got it’ – what a long slog on that one verb. I dunno if they can use it – but maybe some internalized that… Endings carry meaning?
    Of course he was holding & distributing props, but it was pretty, well…dry.
    I won’t say too much more abt it til I post the vids and you view it and can comment. Even non Spanish speakers will be able to see what he’s doing cuz it’s w/7 yr olds! – pretty slow and simple. Coming soon!

  3. I have been “looking for break-downs” for years. Of course, I hardly ever teach beginners, so every new student is a puzzle. What has he acquired and what does he need now? That’s why I like to use The Arrival, a graphic novel with no words in it. We talk about the pictures and very quickly I see what the student can do and what he can’t. I see where he breaks down. So I know what we need to work on.

  4. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    The thing abt BR’s particular ‘looking for breakdown’ is that he has very specific…well…’targets’ in mind. If they know ‘va’ (s/he goes) but not ‘voy’ (I go) or ‘vas’ you [familiar] go) then he won’t move forward with the sentence or story.
    So he might not have ‘targeted’ ‘goes’ but he diagnoses while on it, and hovers around the tripod (triad?) until everyone he asks can PRODUCE them accurately, confidently and w/out hesitation.

      1. I remember Blaine telling about the three structures and emphasizing that it was not necessary to get through all three. Sometimes he only got to two. And he had recently (at that time) gone an hour or more with the one structure. That was probably 2005. He was casting a vision as to what could be done as one gets better at the skills of engagement and co-creation of stories and focus more on the students.

          1. I would say that “break down” has always been there whether or not the term has. In the 4th edition of the Green Book (2004, p 256) Blaine and Contee say, “In TPR and in TPRS you are trying to see where the students break down.” In TPR, “breaking down” is “not being able to perform the command.” So it is a failure to understand or respond appropriately, which provides a feedback loop which provides direction for the dynamic of the class. I find it a more colorful and helpful way to say “informal assessment” because “break down” suggests we need to repair with further CI. (This is in Appendix G in the 7th edition.) I do not know whether they use “break down” elsewhere in the Green Book (Fluency through TPR Storytelling).

          2. But is it a break down of comprehension or production? It’s blowing my mind to hear of Blaine insisting on production. Really blowing it.

          3. I understand that break down is the failure to respond appropriately.

            If I pull the cord on the lawnmower and nothing happens I have a break down. Now what do I do to get it to respond? (I take it to the small engine shop and let them do the troubleshooting.)

            Not being able to perform the TPR command can result from various causes. Blaine & Contee suggest a few: “now knowing the vocabulary, from the language being spoken too fast or from not understanding the context of the language.” Not being to respond to “Is the cat black or blue?” (it’s blue), is the same thing. The student is not able to respond appropriately and now we have to trouble shoot. Am I speaking too fast? Is meaning sufficiently established? I am I teaching to the eyes? Etc.

            It is easy to confuse physical and one-word responses with production. They are part of the feedback loop which lets us know whether we can move forward with the story or whether we have to make something comprehensible.

            For production we need to think spontaneous output. Forced production is putting students into a situation where they are expected to output something which is beyond their level of spontaneous expression. When a student responds to “hello” with “hello” that is part of the socio-cultural norm and well within the ability of the novice low. Failure to respond with “hello” usually says more about the student’s personality, attitude or mood than it does about proficiency level.

    1. I think that Alisa’s point, that the targets are in Blaine’s mind, are key. The targets that the students must master to tell stories are the essential components of story creation: description, desire, need, obligation, movement, consequence, and so forth. It is an art form to carry the plot forward in a serendipitous way to a satisfactory ending under the limitation of a comprehensible vocabulary.

          1. Mastery and production have (IMHO) always been Blaine’s goal. He has stresses in the green Bible over and over that we know we can “move on” when they can produce it without hesitation, accurately and correctly. Watch the Gran sorpesa videos on YouTube and watch how he focuses on the actor to use he comido. He hangers him super hard on it. He has always been (again IMO) about gauging processing on output. That’s why timed writing was stressed heavily in that book and encouraged to be done every week so we can see where our kids breakdown in their production. It’s a sort of results oriented look at acquisition. I assume this was because of scrutiny from colleagues, adminz, etc. The question always seems to come back to ‘What can the kids DO?’ But I haven’t read it for a couple months maybe I should get it back from my CI colleague and read it again. Also kinda late to this party so if this has already been added them disregard. Ha-ha

          2. I have read that but I guess I never conceptualized it as mastery RIGHT THERE IN THE CLASS PERIOD, which is what I am hearing here, correct?
            And, HEY RUSS!! Welcome to the happiest place on earth for TPRS and CI in my opinion.
            I am at OEA Rep Assembly right now. Go OEA! Go Oregon! 🙂

          3. Thanks I am super excited to be here this place is amazing. Also yeah it’s right there in class. He takes the student actors and asks (in TL) have you eaten and sees the breakdown in comprehension and works on him until comprehension is apparent and then keeps working until by the end of the period the student of using it authentically and correctly without hesitation. And it was not a targeted structure it just came up using unsheltered grammar and caught the breakdown. I suppose we ‘target’whatever they don’t know. And we target hfw but the structures are there to help the teacher stay in bounds and that is their purpose bc anything I’d game if it’s CI, or am I wrong on this. Oh and seriously of you haven’t seen the Gran sorpresa videos that are a story asking and circling clinic.

      1. I don’t think this is necessary either. If we hit those same verbs all year and spin off some personalization from time to time, most kids will get it by June.

        1. …If we hit those same verbs all year….

          Exactly Polly.

          Just look at what we have in our arsenal to hit those verbs, and this is only a part of what we can do to hit verbs:

          1. Word Associations
          2. Circling with Balls
          3.. One Word Images
          4. Word Chunk Team Game
          5. TPR
          6. Verb Slam Activity – which term you invented by the way – you said “verb slam” in a comment here one day about three years ago – so thanks for that.

  5. It is striking to me how radically different this style of teaching is from other subjects and other methods. I’m thinking about my student teaching and my master teacher saying “Oh in my class students do not talk”. I remember how boring that experience was for me and then how frustrating it was for me to try and teach that boring material to students. The idea of teaching no more and no less than what students are currently able to process is such a yuge departure from what school has been for most students.

  6. I found what Krashen writes about whole-language versus phonics is very applicable to this question of targeting versus non-targeting. He was actually talking about phonics when he says the following but it applies to target as well : ” The direct teaching of skills is helpful only when it makes messages more comprehensible.” Whether deciding between whole language or phonics, targeting or non-targeting, it’s all about the context. Consider how language is used: to construct comprehensible input of compelling messages, or just learning skills for skills’s sake?

    This is why I choose to target with my ESL students and not with my French students. It helps comprehensibility for one group but it’s not necessary for another.

    With my ESL students I have to prepare targets in advance so that I can provide adequate scaffolds and make the message more comprehensible like Krashen suggests. Planning targets enables me to stake out props and visuals that fit with the story, look up L1 translations for targets, etc. (I’m probably the only one here who has students who speak different L1, so this won’t apply to anyone else but it’s a game changer for me in ESL).

    In French it’s just not necessary. I do find that some words pop up during the story that must be explained written on the board and you know point and go slow. I’ve decided they “pop up targets”: for those words that if they don’t understand what it means they won’t understand the story. They are only ever used to move the story forward never to comply with a pre-formulated list of words/structures. I am also careful not to assess or collect grades for targets: it’s all about comprehension.

    1. I am constantly worried about weighing down the discussion with my weird ESL stuff. But perhaps it’s the fact that I am the exception to the rule that I can help you all identify by the rule. I hope it helps, anyways.

      I’m right with you though on foreign language. I love how Steve said: “The structures were provided BY the students.” Not a Scope & Sequence, not a script, a real live kid.

      1. But perhaps it’s the fact that I am the exception to the rule that I can help you all identify by the rule. I hope it helps, anyways.

        Yes! I’m intrigued by your perspective. And as you suggest, it does provide us clarity. I also think about my ESL teaching colleague down the hall from me. Whenever I talk about this TPRS/CI stuff to her she eats it up. I really hope that we become a powerful tag-team in our building so that we do away with any skepticism.

        1. Sean glad to see you supporting Claire. She is a true pioneer in bridging the ESL/TPRS gap. She is in it up to her ankles and soldiering on with not just open mind but also open heart. It always takes one person to hoist the jet packs on first.

    2. Claire said;

      …I do find that some words pop up during the story that must be explained written on the board and you know point and go slow. I’ve decided they “pop up targets”: for those words that if they don’t understand what it means they won’t understand the story….

      Then she said she can’t do that pop up targeting thing (great term) in ESL.

      I’m just observing what she said:

      …[pop up targets – I call them “emergent targets” in my new book] are only ever used to move the story forward never to comply with a pre-formulated list of words/structures….

      Now THAT is a mouthful. Again, just observing. But what is our goal in our work? It’s what Claire said a few days ago in this thread:

      Production shouldn’t be something we force for every student, every class. Production is not the goal of a CI class.

      Comprehensible input is.

      So we have to figure out what we are about in this work. You can only pick one. Everybody vote:

      (a) Comprehensible Input
      (b) Correct speech output
      (c) Compliance with a pre-formulated list of words/structures

      On (c) above I really don’t get that one. I understand there are people out there teaching TPRS teachers (and calling it TPRS) how to use stories to “teach the subjunctive”. Can somebody explain that?

      1. “I really don’t get that one.”

        Me neither. It’s not real language learning, so why bother?

        I suspect for some there’s pressure to ” just learning skills for skills’s sake.”

        Elementary teachers teach phonics for skill’s sake. Forget Krashen’s research that whole-language and fostering love for reading is better, you need to have more letter “skills.”

        Math teachers teach math facts for skill’s sake. Forget that kids don’t know what multiplication means, they’ve memorized enough times-tables “skills.”

        In theory, CCSS is supposed to be moving away from “skills” but I don’t see it happening in practice.

        I suspect it’s easier to test and show growth and say “Look, I got X number of “skills” learned, so I will look good at my curriculum mapping meeting.” Or maybe it’s to do with high-stakes testing. Who knows? (Krashen probably.)

  7. Steven,
    Your sense of when targets are necessary and when they are not is intriguing. You are suggesting that they are necessary for training. And almost everyone needs the training to go where Blaine has taken this. Students, teachers, and observers, especially administrators who are looking for essential questions and learning targets.

  8. Love this thread. Thanks for sharing responses from Stephen and Blaine, Ben! Everyone’s insights are practical and compelling. I’m off to Costa Rica for 2 weeks with students. Hope to be able to check in during that time, but we’ll see!

      1. I second Sean’s request Angie.

        I’m going for two weeks in June with students and super pumped (first time being out of the country in a decade… to the exact week by strange coincidence)

  9. “I think that many teachers simply can’t do non-targeted input because they are required to follow a grammatical syllabus” SKrashen

    I think that Dr. Krashen’s assessment is half of the problem. The other half is that the same teachers are required to follow a vocabulary syllabus. This unfortunate union of grammatical syllabus and vocab syllabus is more commonly referred to as a textbook. They are more or less permanently shackled together by the company-produced exam, also known as the common exam. This mind-limiting coupling of particular grammar with particular vocabulary in order to score well on a particular exam works like the tiny peg that “prevents” the elephant from wandering beyond the length by which it is tethered.

    1. I love everything about this reply, Nathaniel.

      “This unfortunate union of grammatical syllabus and vocab syllabus is more commonly referred to as a textbook.” Yes! Sad, but true.

      Targets aren’t the problem-they mask the real issue. Targets are the key words we use to tell the story, even if we just formulate them in our heads in a very ad hoc manner, they are there. How explicit we are about the targets varies from classroom to classroom, depending on students’ needs.

      To target or not to target is not the question. The problem is in the expectation that we have for ourselves in our curriculum. What are your objectives for a lesson or even a entire courses: learning “structures” or communicating messages? If targets ARE the curriculum and vocabulary “themes” or word lists are your Scope and Sequence, you’re teaching a TPRS “textbook” of skills and structures, not facilitating language acquisition holistically and naturally. But if targets are a tool you can take or leave within a larger framework of holistic communicative competentices, you’re a CI teacher.

      The targets are for admin- like Steven mentioned using them when observed. But they are also for us to play school and feel safe, to not have to let kids really communicate and take a risk with language. Tina said somewhere that these teachers lack faith in linguistic spontaneity. Targets point to a lack of faith in spontaneity, and perhaps a lack of faith in ourselves as educators. We definitely face a lack of faith from administrators who demand a clearly-detailed Scope and Sequence and carefully planned play-by-plays in our lesson plans. (I got dinged on my last observation because I didn’t make my language objective “explicit” enough for students.)

      Before we can get rid of targets, we have to first get to root of the problem: restoring faith in ourselves and aligning our curriculum and Scope and Sequence with our natural approach of taking communicative risks with language.

      1. “Targets point to a lack of faith in spontaneity”=I take that back.

        Targets are tools, but planning your Scope and Sequence with specific target structures or themes “points to a lack of faith in spontaneity.” That’s Tina’s quote-I just forget from where. It was days ago, but it stuck with me as very powerful.

        1. Two reasons for the “targets bringing a lack of spontaneity” thing that Tina described:

          We never broke our ties with textbooks. We think learning thematic units/semantic sets is important. We think that way because we are so used to teaching thematic units. So much for the TPRS “revolution”. If it’s grounded in the textbook it’s not going to revolt very much. It’s a win for the textbook companies – we never broke free in spite of all the rhetoric about TPRS.

          Another factor here: the Denver Public Schools under Diana Noonan led a charge, at one point in 2011-2012, to make the reading of novels as important as doing stories. But those novels are boring.

          Plus, as Blaine said above, we could never do enough stories to prepare a class to where they could read a certain book. And yet, just like with the thematic units, teachers dutifully spent their summers targeting structures and downloading frequency lists. For what? Nothing else to do in the summer?

          Now I think that the books are a cop out. They’re great for SSR/FVR but when we try to use them to bring interesting comprehensible input we’re just saying that we suck at stories.

          What we need to work on is getting better at stories. And stories are best without targeted structures and fake TPRS lesson plans.

          1. Speaking of “no faith”-which we can all agree is another fine Tina-ism.

            I’m impressed by what Steve writes.

            1. We say targets are for new teachers–clearly a “a lack of faith” in them.
            Except Steve comes in with his First-Year teacher awesomeness and says “suck it old people” to our patronizing. (Except he’s too nice to say that.)

            2. Steve mentioned us using targets or the behaviors get out of hand. He’s right, some groups can’t go there (thinking about Lance’s last teaching situation).

            But not even trying shows a lack of faith in kids. Most bad behavior is because the kids aren’t engaged- another reason not to target.

      2. (I got dinged on my last observation because I didn’t make my language objective “explicit” enough for students.)

        This makes me want to curse out loud. I’m so happy that my admin cares less about superficial things like this. It was great to hear my admin say earlier in the year at an all staff meeting, “F*&% that!” when she was told by the district chiefs to look for word walls in teacher’s rooms (in all subject areas) and mark them down if they don’t! Yeah… when word walls were a big thing like 10 years ago.

        1. Ahhh! Me too Sean! The overall observation went great, so I am not getting “all up in there” about this. That said I don’t know how to reconcile / respond to the comment about the “learning goal.”

          Here is what the report said:
          “It is important to make learning goals clear to the students and provide feedback on reaching those goals on a frequent basis, otherwise the focus falls too readily on the task at hand.”

          Doesn’t our focus HAVE TO BE ON THE TASK AT HAND? Isn’t the “task at hand” our students and us interacting in the moment? I really am getting myself confused now. Am I not giving feedback instantly in each interaction? Or does he mean feedback in terms of grade? I guess I oughta ask him.

          We met on Friday for the post-observation and my principal shows great improvement in understanding and being open to what I’m doing, so I want to maintain the openness that has evolved throughout the year. He commented more than once about the positive energy in the room, students having fun, me using a lot of Spanish “even in this first year class.” So YAY! for that. He totally gets that we are not memorizing, reciting, etc. He knows that I am in a “cohort of teachers around the country” Wahoo! He even wrote that in the report. I took the opportunity to say “there is BIG movement and shifting going on.” When he mentioned the nice effect of not following a textbook, I asked “hey do you know where the textbook curriculum came from? And he was interested enough to listen to my short spew on that!

          I am notorious for my lack of clarity, so I take the comment on learning goals with this in mind. This week I started saying “Now we are working on interpersonal mode (the blue objective…bc I color coded everything just this week using the simplified rules and tying them to Annemarie’s targets). ” It feels very stilted, but I’m trying to meet the kids in the “culture of the school” which is all about competencies and objectives. Very clunky, but worth trying.

          1. “Doesn’t our focus HAVE TO BE ON THE TASK AT HAND? Isn’t the “task at hand” our students and us interacting in the moment? ”

            Yes. That is what we teach. (We don’t teach language, we facilitate it’s acquistion.)

    2. Angie have a nice trip!

      Here is some more from my communication this weekend with Blaine, who adds to the above:

      “I disagree with Krashen that teachers can’t teach without structures because they are required to follow a grammar syllabus.

      “The real problem is that they don’t have the skills to do it. It takes time to develop the skills be teach TPRS effectively. (Even doing it poorly is much better than teaching grammar rules from a text book though). Some teachers don’t even use student actors and if they do they don’t talk to them. I believe they are missing a crucial part of what we do in TPRS. It is the interaction with the student actors that is the key to what makes TPRS great.

      1. We get to see break down. We get a feeling from the student that learning the new language is hard and the teacher needs to slow down.
      2. Interaction with student actors allow them to show off their wonderful personalities. We teach with live theater. How cool is that? Students get to go watch live theater every day in our classes. What a wonderful way to teach and to make the language come alive.

      “But this is hard for some teachers. They can learn to circle, but learning to involve the actors, read the hesitancy of the actors (and adjust the lesson) and to mold the actors into using their personalities to entertain the class does take some time and effort.”


      1. The reality is some of us are required to follow the very grammar syllabus he disputes (or worse, themed syllabi based on targets) because of mentalities like Blaine’s. He lacks faith not in linguistic spontaneity, but in teachers.

        “The real problem is that they don’t have the skills to do it.” Awch, Blaine.
        Don’t underestimate us. We got mad skills.

        I can’t fault him; maybe if I were as brilliant as Blaine, dealing with less intelligent teachers (me) would feel hopeless. But like George Michael, Blaine’s gotta have faith.

        (Tina, sorry, I’m gonna wear out your quote. It’s brilliant.)

        1. Go ahead Claire. I don’t care. I write so many words I can spare a few lol.
          I don’t think Blaine means we ALL have no skills. I think he is implying here that we need more and perhaps better and different training.
          But yah I feel you when you say that being required to follow a syllabus is a way of districts schools or departments not having faith in teachers. But here’s another thing. I also think we are less hindered by these requirements in reality than we let ourselves be in practice. Like we don’t have the courage to just say f it. I’m going to go there. And crack open that big old can of worms. Would we REALLY lose our jobs? I mean REALLY REALLY? Even in a right to work state (or right to freeload as we call it here in the OEA) there’s this little thing called due process. Maybe it’s just fear of looking different or fear of conflict or fear of change and NOT really the syllabus that holds us back. What if we just let ourselves not care about how we are perceived and just go for it?
          Easier said than done maybe. But if we don’t push back who will? What are we waiting for? Them kids ain’t gettin no younger people.

          1. I know, Blaine’s supportive of TPRS teachers in so many other ways; I shouldn’t have said that.

            “But if we don’t push back who will?” You’re so brave.

            When Krashen wrote about TPRS’s targets, he said we need research to get the proof to get administration on board. He said teachers should teach TPRS without targets, then get together “sharing our results and conclusions as widely as possible.”
            Anyone have time and expertise to organize some data collection? Someone must since we are planning less.

          2. Yes it is, we teachers are pleasers and get-along people for the most part. We are people people and MOST of us pleased our teachers and that is where we got a lot of our childhood jollies. NOT true for everyone of course, but true for me. It is only my love of kids and their hearts and brains that makes me be this way. Naturally, I am far far too inclined to look for gold stars and good grades and pats on the back. Even in my personal life, as I learned in a hard lesson last night. The ONLY reason I have ever been able to stand up for anything is when I find the rare thing that compels me to be stronger than I really am…like real connection in my classroom or real engagement with the fine young human beings in front of me. I was like this about reading and writing workshop for eight years as a Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, and about TPRS as a French and now French/Spanish teacher. It is because I feel like a lightening rod just grounding some energy that needs a home. Otherwise I am a huge shivering ball of weenie. So let’s not get carried away thinking old Tina is some fecking warrrior, OK? 🙂 I usually meow and only roar when there’s kids on the line.

      2. Of course, there can be a link between skills and Grammar Syllabus. Viz., the more we are focused on doing GS the more distracted we are from honing the skills.

        1. I do want kids to “hone skills” but those skills are very broad-reaching and have nothing to do with individual words. Here are the “skills” I teach, but notice there is not a single target or theme:

          Nathaniel, I absolutely love what you said when you lumped a grammar syllabus and a vocabulary syllabus (like teaching with targets as an objective) together-and that we are “tethered” to only one set of words, just to keep teachers in check.

          Even the Curriculum tab above you has documents on that tether us to “skills.”

          Those “skills” are superficial; they are individual words or points of grammar and not communication as a skill -like Ben’s Art de la Conversation.

          Modify your syllabi to send the message to admin that we value individual words, but we focus on mastery of a much greater skill: Learning How to Communicate. Learning how to listen and speak and truly be heard in a foreign language.

          Let’s focus on what they should master: jGR, “showing up,” sitting up straight, being one of Ben’s little trees.

          We must insist as professionals: we can’t control what individual words and structures they incidentally acquire in a Natural Approach. Our Scope and Sequence and syllabus by extension must NEVER include individual targets: grammar of vocabulary.
          We can only help kids acquire language by focusing on cognitive and metacognitive skills that help kids learn to be good language learners.

          1. Hello. My name is Claire “Typo” Ensor. I’m a typo-holic.

            But I will correct one important typo:
            “grammar OR vocabulary”

            Being a Vocabulary Nazi is only slightly better than being a Grammar Nazi.

          2. By the way, I wasn’t taking a shot at Alisa’s rubrics and all the hard work she put into it. She’s doing what she can with the admin she has. Thank you Alisa for sharing what may be a happy compromise for now. But the end game has to be no targets on our curriculum documents: syllabi or Scope and Sequence.

  10. Friends,
    Blaine can sniff out and evaluate a TPRS / T/CI’s teacher’s essential skills in a blink and from a mile away.
    He said (when we asked) that his recent shift toward mastery of a single hi-frequency verb (or a single sentence) before moving on ‘evolved over the last 2-3 years.’ To be clear – we are not talking about 3 different structures as 3 different lexical items: i.e., goes, likes, wants. NO. We are talking about 3 different conjugations of the same verb, I want, you want, s/he wants.
    In the very beginning, these Blaine-style classes, as far as I could see during the in-district demos on Tuesday, will be TEDIOUS! You will spend the entire beginning of the year novice 30 min class on one sentence that get’s manipulated a zillion ways. Nothing will ‘happen’ yet in this embryo of the story. As I said earlier: “I am ET, you are boy #1, he is boy #2, she is the doggy. Are you the doggy or are you boy #2?” Yes, folks, for nearly 30 minutes, punctuated by fun comprehension checks – with eyes closed, he says 3 consecutive statements AFTER WHICH the kids have to point. “I am ET, You are the doggy, she is Boy #1.”
    But still…Boooorrrrring. (For me, anyway).
    He is so chill, so in the moment, so spontaneous. He has tons of faith in teachers – but he knows right away if they have mastered the T/CI skills or not. He, like Krashen, lives in an Ivory Tower to some extent, in that he does his demos and workshops, then he’s gone. He is sympathetic to teachers’ external constraints and accountability. I can’t speak FOR him, but I’ll bet in his ideal world, the TPRS teacher has solid basic skills: Slow, Pause & point, to the eyes, etc., AND now has added another basic skill (for now – he concedes he’s not a guru and if someone else gets better results doing it another way, he’ll switch!): check for breakdown/mastery of 3 forms of the verb and if the actor/s isn’t solid on all 3, then compare & contrast the heck out of them until mastery. Keep it interesting by adding info/details, but not more verbs.
    That’s his deal.
    Check out this link from a 34 minute class in another colleague’s classroom this Tuesday – it’s 5th grade.

    If the link doesn’t work for you pls let me know.

    1. Alisa’s right, Blaine does have faith in teachers, that’s why he’s a teacher trainer-and an excellent one. Stating that he doesn’t have faith in teachers was a bit of an exaggeration-he doesn’t on this one issue, but in general, he does. Sorry, that was unfair of me to say, especially for a man who has invested so much in promoting CI in language education.

      But Blaine saying teachers “don’t have the skills” to get by without targets is also an exaggeration.

      Also, the statement that he’s not a guru and he’s open to other ways of doing things is a bit hallow when it’s juxtaposed with “but teachers don’t have the skills.” Even if someone develops a way to go target-less, what’s the point if we “don’t have the skills” to learn and implement it? I realized he didn’t say those two things together, but, those ideas are out there. From a man who has done so much to uplift our profession, it is a bit of a let-down.

      Krashen, on the other hand, believes in teachers in general and on this issue specifically. He doesn’t believe the problem is that we “don’t have the skills, but rather that administrators and those in charge of curriculum planning don’t think we have the skills. He sees the real enemy: the grammar syllabus “tethering” (as Nathaniel said) teachers to lesser techniques.

      Put me in, Coach Krashen. I can play.

      1. Dr. Krashen is also not in the business of training teachers, Blaine is. I can tell you that after 15 years of training teachers that there is an enormous diversity of ability and commitment out there. Please remember that this particular group here is NOT the norm…and probably never have been. It is why we sought each other out and found each other here.

        Blaine is also notoriously bad at putting his thoughts in writing. I’m pretty sure that his reference to teachers not having skills refers to the fact that as Ben points out, teachers need training. And to use the skills….over and over….but they haven’t been given the chance, nor do they yet have the confidence to do so. That at the beginning….day one…total novice…which is primarily whom Blaine meets at his trainings…they do not YET have the skills to overcome their insecurities about jumping in.

        with love,

        1. I’m crossing my fingers that Laurie’s right, that Blaine meant “not having skills refers to the fact that as Ben points out, teachers need training…”

          It that’s the case, the statement might be “Teachers don’t have the skills-yet.” That I can agree with.

          I’m looking forward to Chattanooga more and more.

    2. “But still…Boooorrrrring. (For me, anyway).”
      What language was the demo in? (I had to request access, so I do not know.)
      I remember both workshops with Blaine (a one day and a one week). There was always a person there who doubted that it would work. They did not have a demo in a language unknown to them and so did not feel the helplessness of our students.

  11. Alisa Shapiro

    Maybe it’s a small point bit I’ll bet Blaine sees tons of teachers just starting or trying out TPRS with low skills, or those w/limited exposure/training who think they’re ‘doing it’ but are not.
    They start circling ad nauseum without ever involving actors, without any improvisation of fishing for details, or bringing the TL /classroom to life!
    Krashen prolly only sees the superstar divas a conferences, Fluency Fast, etc.
    I think all Blaine meant was that a solid understanding/ skill foundation must exist before all else.
    Have you ever seen a stated TPRS or T/CI teacher do it…(dare I say) wrong? It’s pretty obvious that it’s not what Blaine and the gang intended! I once observed a teacher who had limited command of the TL. Circumlocution wasn’t accessible for her. She was still set on lots of tasks for her young learners, and assumed that little kids must learn some of the semantic sets to build on. I saw a pretty horrific ‘days of the week’ lesson with circling (of the days) and then a ‘game’ built around a weekly schedule. The lil ones started to act out in boredom and confusion. She got flustered and clamped down…it wasn’t pretty – but she insisted it was the kids and the method that just didn’t work in her setting….

    1. That’s a solid point. Blaine sees the new guys. Krashen sees the “superstar divas.” I saw where Krashen tweeted the other day about Grant Boulanger-twice.
      New life goal: to be awesome enough to get a Krashen tweet. Just one.

    1. Alisa,
      What I meant by access is the link didn’t work (you said to let you know).

      But as far as the language, since it was in Spanish and you speak Spanish, I was commenting that the circling is going to be boring. I was just distinguishing between hearing circling in a shared language (boring) and circling in a language unknown to the learner (build confidence/comprehension).

      1. Great point Nathaniel. As observers, rather than ask ourselves…Is this boring (to me)? ..we need to ask…Are the students bored?

        with love,

  12. Alisa Shapiro

    As soon as I figure out how to make the above Spanish clip of Blaine doing his mastery thang, the soon er y’all can get a better idea of what he intended. As a counterpoint to his request for accurate output of the verb form, check out this teacher’s Golden Rules for T/CI class (Hungarian) that I just saw linked on the moretprs list. This teacher is asking for minimal output to protect processing time!!

  13. Alisa Shapiro

    Yes Nathaniel. That was Blaine’s point too. What seems boring to us (cuz we speak the target language) isn’t necessarily boring to the students, whose brains are engaged and processing. Agreed. But these are elementary kids! They didn’t ‘sign up’ to take a world language!! There are so many things going on at once in an elementary classroom – many Ss are so easily distracted!!
    Granted, Blaine, himself was a novelty, and so friendly, fun and expressive! They seemed into it!! They attended and answered!!
    But I just can’t fathom that amount of boring content, over and over again – even if it’s just 7 times for the super 7!! So what I’ve decided for now is to try to insert the 2nd and 3rd person into any scene or story, to compare and contrast and add details using these forms, but not worry about the mastery aspect. That way, I’ll have the translations on the board to pause n point, I can occasionally pop-up the verb endings, and they’ll have heard the different forms (certainly more than have til now). In 1st grade I’ll prolly only start w/’I’ and ‘you’ together. 3rd person for describing characters in a story… Later I can juggle all 3 at once.
    Can you perchance walk me through how to share the video clip with this blog from my google drive folder?

  14. Alisa Shapiro

    Ugh. I feel like this breakdown/structure thing is a rash that I can’t stop itching (Ewwwww).
    But if it takes dozen if not thousands of reps to engrave a word into memory such that we can actually later USE it, then why work toward mastery in our classes at all? Will that mastery last til the end of the day/week/year? And (newsflash)! It’s NOT COMPELLING!!!
    Why worry about breakdown? Just recast the inaccuracy in the moment:
    Kid: (You) are 9 years old.
    Me: I am not 9 years old. I am 52 years old. How old are you (pointing to correct 1st person structure)?
    Kid: I am 9 yrs old.
    I can predict several more identical errors along these lines…just keep on trucking…
    Please set me straight and I’ll stop scratching…

    1. I thought I had read some research about how recasting does not work.
      So Alisa, you answered my question above about when did Blaine start doing this. You said his thinking has evolved over a few years. This was not part of the training I attended last November (2015) with Von in Portland OR. Is it something they are teaching in their trainings or just something Blaine does in the classroom? Like I said this is kinda blowing my poor little mind.

  15. Alisa said:

    …if it takes dozen if not thousands of reps to engrave a word into memory such that we can actually later USE it, then why work toward mastery in our classes at all? Will that mastery last until the end of the day/week/year? And (newsflash)! It’s NOT COMPELLING!!!…

    With that statement you just played Toto and pulled the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz, Alisa.

    1. This is the most important thing I’ve ever read on this blog: mastery is not possible in foreign language.

      (Granted, it is in second language ESL, but that’s why we leave TPRS behind and move on to CBI with more advanced kids).

      Blaine’s waiting for “mastery” and production of specific words and targets means he’s going to be waiting for a long time (long enough to make it boring). If students can’t master them, why the hell are they on our syllabus?

      Teach only what you can master. No more half-assing it.

      1. Must. stop. rant…. but not stong enough.

        It’s like ballet. (Isn’t all life like ballet?)

        Foreign language is the adorable baby ballerinas, awww…. with tiny tutus and flats and little pigtails instead of buns. You’re having fun and learning and it’s great exercise, but the real lesson you walk away with is: shoulders back, show up, present yourself and communicate: this is who I am, I am important. Foreign language baby ballerinas carry that lesson with them for life.

        Second language is professional ballet: go hard or go home. I teach ESL for mastery, because I have to. It’s tough, blood, sweat, and tears, and some don’t make it. But we understand I can take many years and a lot of work (5 years enrolled full-time in US schools is a minimum, 7 or more is much more realistic). I’m realistic with my expectations, so there’s an understanding that if you stumble along the way, it’s okay, you’re a stronger person for having gone through it. Most importantly, my kids know I expect a lot of out them, but they know why: they are tasked with something greater-being bilingual, bicultural ambassadors for their L1. Guys, I love ESL. If it were any easier, it wouldn’t be so beautiful.

        I think the trouble we get in is when we expect foreign language babies to be professionals, so they give up and learn nothing. Let’s just value what they CAN do and be honest about our expectations. Let’s change our syllabi–if we can get admin on board (I know if foreign language that’s a big if).

        Done. No more rants, promise.

        1. I love your rants. And this one had added cuteness. I love that metaphor of the pigtails versus buns, the cutie pies versus the pros. I have to remind myself at this point in the school year that I am STARTING them on their journey, not GETTING THEM TO THE DESTINATION. I just wish so bad that the teachers they were going to at the high school would keep on teaching them with joy and connection and in a way that makes the feel super smart. But not yet, anyway. Maybe one fine day.

  16. Welcome Russ. You bring strong medicine.

    In France they are big into “explication de texte” –

    You share an “explication de Blaine”. Such accurate detail. Very rich commentary from everybody above.

    My first thought upon reading your comment is how Blaine has always allowed us to teach as we want. Blaine gets to be Blaine and never claims there is one way to do it. Some of channel Blaine after enough conferences and some strike out on our own. Usually it is WHOM we teach that determines HOW we use TPRS.

    Nice to have a way of teaching using comprehensible input that is always wide open to mix and meld w the individual teaching personalities and teaching responsibilities of each of us. If we ever lose that and this thing becomes a method it’s time to head for the hills.

    …[Blaine] works on him until comprehension is apparent and then keeps working until by the end of the period the student of using it authentically and correctly without hesitation….

    Like if I were to teach for breakdown my sixth graders would be lost to me in two minutes. Check out time in two minutes, Room M206 in the middle school. Please scan for signs of life. Get pillows and blankets. Lights out. Nap time.

    My sixth graders last Friday spoke about 30% to 40% of the time. I sure wasn’t teaching for breakdown. I was teaching because two bars of soap were stuck at the water park – we literally could not get them off the slide. French was coming out of the kids, but no much out of their mouths but they were sweating the language out of their pores. I couldn’t understand much of anything they said. At one point I was sitting on a table right next to a kid as we all, including a visiting teacher skeptical of TPRS who had forgotten why he was there and had just enough French to become a student, and one kid spoke “French” (sounded like Gallic to me) for about two minutes. I just sat in amazement and listened. I watched his gestures. I felt his need, the profoundly emotional need of the class that was so intense that they were sweating French (try breaking sweat down) and just let him go. When he was done, the soap was still at the top of the slide so the next kid tried, etc. etc.

    Who is right? Who cares? We do what works.

    Note Blaine’s audience. Note Claire’s audience. Note Alisa’s. Each is different. If Blaine were to try that breakdown technique at Abraham Lincoln High School on Federal Blvd. on Denver’s West Side he would get no response – dead air. Blaine goes for breakdown. I teach until I see sweat. It’s all language. There is no one way to do this work. No formula. No experts. Just us.

    OK too much to say. That’s my signal to stop.

    Again Russ, excited you are here.

  17. Russ:

    …it was not a targeted structure it just came up using unsheltered grammar and caught the breakdown. I suppose we ‘target’ whatever they don’t know….

    This is what I wanted to clarify with Blaine last week. It is my truth, certainly. I target what comes up in a story that they don’t know. So yes I target structures, just not before the story. When I taught that way, I always felt that the story was running on only three kind of half deflated tires. It tilted. It’s not such a great ride….

    This was my big change in India this year, what I describe above.

    Of course I would still use a Matava or Tripp script in a heartbeat. A well crafted script represents the exception to my point here.

    Sixth graders care only about what happens. What they say makes almost no sense but somehow I understand them and the sweat collects on the floor of the classroom and when there is enough sweat on the floor we all stand by the door and run and slide across the floor through the sweat. In middle school we build stories on emotion, not thinking. I felt kind of sad for those kids being taken to breakdown in that video. I want my kids to be brought to break dance, not breakdown.

    1. Thanks for the reply! Maybe I wasn’t clear, I never meant to claim who was “better”. I just think that a lot of TPRS practitioners forget that even Blaine knows that we teach students and not a subject. But this:
      So yes I target structures, just not before the story. When I taught that way, I always felt that the story was running on only three kind of half deflated tires. It tilted. It’s not such a great ride….

  18. Blaine I think means that it’s hard to nail down the basic skill of TPRS– recycling a small amount of vocab while keeping it interesting– until you have quick, automatic comprehension and one-word or y/n responses. It is very easy to throw new stuff in to “keep it interesting” and thereby move too fast.

    In terms of targeting, remember, Blaine has been doing this since about 1988. He has a curriculum map in his head. He knows stories inside out and he has an idea of what needs to happen and crucially how to stay on something while keeping it interesting till it’s mastered. So Blaine appears to be doing freeform.

    For the rest of us– esp. me– a “curriculum” comprised of a story sequence that recycles vocab (and obvs grammar) keeps us in bounds. It forces us to do more with less.


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