Textbook Use Question

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24 thoughts on “Textbook Use Question”

  1. Another thought about vertical alignment: why not have a small committee design a curriculum checklist for the district? My school has one (though it’s not district-wide), outlining high-frequency structures and topics that come up naturally in a CI classroom, like family or buying something. Do you think something like that would appease your admin?

  2. Skip you might also consider saying something like this to this administrator:

    [Mr. Administrator], I must state formally, as a former Maine Foreign Language Teacher of the Year, that in my view TPRS and comprehensible input instruction cannot thrive when used with a textbook.

    If, in fact, teachers in your district were to claim that they use comprehensible input in their language classroom with a textbook, such a term would represent a distortion of the term TPRS. This distortion could lead to a kind of mass ignorance of what the term means. Sadly, that is already the case in far more American classrooms than actually use the approach in the way originally intended. The distortion is already here.

    So this conversation is about accuracy. In order for the full power of comprehensible input to be unleashed in the revolutionary way that we now know is possible and that we see currently at work in many classrooms in Maine, it is up to enlightened administrators to challenge teachers who claim to use TPRS, also known as TCI – Teaching using Comprehensible Input – in their classrooms with a textbook and require them to walk the walk.

    This can only done by administrators who know what the term TPRS means. I am at your service if you wish to receive any training in that area, so that your conversations with other teachers on this key topic for students all over Maine classrooms can be done with full knowledge of the terms being used. In that interest, I have attached a text that defines and describes comprehensible input, so that you can refer to that in considering this question about the textbook which involves, probably, hundreds of thousands of Maine education dollars.

    To restate my position: best practice in foreign language classrooms comes from not even having a textbook in the classroom. Textbooks detract from the work of teaching languages. This is something I am sure that those responsible for the spending of district funds would like to know. Spend the money on training teachers in comprehension based instruction instead.

    Please be aware that that there is a small but quickly growing group of vocal world language teachers in the U.S. who believe that best practice in language acquisition involves the proper use of Ci in the foreign language classroom.

    Such teachers are proving their point with huge increases in enrollment and enthusiastic learners who in no way resemble the bored student that, without a doubt, you have already observed in too many traditional foreign language classrooms in Maine. The textbook will disappear far sooner than those techers. When the textbook is not used, not just the learning but also the self esteem and confidence of their students take on a different, better, more healthy quality.

  3. Skip may create a survey Sean. It would be great if he could get some feedback on a national level on this question. If he does, I would ask every single one of our group members to answer it re: whether they indeed use a textbook or not in conjunction with their CI instruction.

    A related point here is that, after speaking with Diana Noonan and Joe Dziedzic a few days ago, I have become aware that many CI trained teachers in Denver Public Schools – those who don’t feel comfortable with the auditory part of what we do (PQA, story creation, etc.) – are starting to sort of turn novels into textbooks. This is being done on a wider scale than we thought.

    They read and circle the text, but no effort is made to personalize or bring in the play aspect of CI instruction.

    I certainly don’t blame newer teachers for doing this, but it risks driving the common view of CI is away from the Three Steps towards more generalized reading. That is fine, Krashen is all about reading, but what about the auditory part? Is that not the way it happens with our first language?

    I have stated and remain firm on the idea that we should introduce novels generally later than is normally done now, with maybe one easy novel being taught in level one in the spring, just a few in the second year, and then in levels three and four we open the floodgates on reading.

    My reasoning on that is that I feel that reading needs a really wide and strong foundation in auditory input for a good solid few hundred hours before and serious reading of novels should begin. Thus I will continue to suggest that in the first two years we stress Step 3 reading of stories, etc. created in class over novels.

    I feel that we cannot turn to novels to form the basis of our instruction. The Three Steps and all the proven related strategies like Look and Discuss that we now have should form the real base of our instruction. Just because doing Steps 1 and 2 are a challenge, doesn’t mean we should shy away from it.

    Again, the mushroom cloud that was TPRS is just keeps losing its shape, and not just because of the current super alarming trend for teachers to use the textbook and call it CI.

    All just my opinion, of course.

  4. Share Nathaniel’s Primer and others on textbook use.

    Share page 4 of the ACTFL 21st century skills map: https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/21stCenturySkillsMap/p21_worldlanguagesmap.pdf
    From the “In The Past” column it says:
    – coverage of a textbook
    – using the textbook as the curriculum
    – synthetic situations from textbook

    Share the difference between a topic and a thematic based curriculum. Aren’t textbooks overwhelmingly topic-based?! (And a story is a theme – Sandrock’s words!)

    Share a TPRS curriculum (Cuentame or LICT . . . I’m thinking of buying a class set of the Student Handbook of LICT, because it’s a series of graded, embedded readings!)

    Then, there are quotes from SLA researchers about the inadequacies of textbooks (e.g. VanPatten in the first video of that 6 video lecture series).

    Choose training over textbooks. Educators and administrators both need to be educated in teaching for “proficiency.” ACTFL offers workshops. Get teachers to TCI-based workshops. And somehow we need to get everyone more educated in SLA.

    1. The point about training in CI for teachers is really big. I think that would overcome whatever the district is concerned about much better than adding textbooks.

      I think that using a textbook and trying to smush CI teaching into semantic sets and separated grammar sequences instead of real communication is very unpleasant, but I needed the textbook sequence when I first began TCI. I just didn’t have confidence and skill yet BOTH to create a curriculum (what language content to introduce when) AND figure out how to teach better all at once. More training would’ve helped with that — instead I became very involved here in the PLC and learned through experience. After a year, I dropped the textbook because I felt I had developed a fair sense of how to teach, and could focus attention on the language to introduce when. And the textbook was starting to bother me a lot, like wearing shoes that are too small.

      So I agree that the answer is training if there really are weaknesses in instruction.

    2. This 21st Century Skills Map is informative. However, many things there we take issue with. For example, this 21st Century Skills Map makes some comparisons we wouldn’t agree with:

      In the Past
      1) Teacher centered class
      2) Emphasis on teacher as presenter/ lecturer
      3) Only teaching language

      1) Learner-centered with teacher as facilitator/collaborator
      2) Emphasis on learner as “doer” & “creator”
      3) Using language as the vehicle to teach academic content

      We might even say that the big textbooks arrange conditions for the teacher to be more the facilitator/ collaborator, where students are more the “doer” and the “creator,” than in our CI classrooms.

      But, I imagine that skip can spin this info together in ways he sees fit to make his argument.

      1. I can spin those statements pretty easily. We just have to realize that reality does not always reflect expectations.

        1. Teacher centered vs learner centered: TCI/TPRS is extremely learner centered, far more than any curriculum that is prescribed by a textbook, no matter how “communicative” the exercises in the textbook appear. In a TCI classroom with the Interpersonal Mode of Communication as the primary mode, the teacher collaborates with students on the themes or topics of the class and facilitates their discussion. While the teacher will be prepared with a “back-up plan” based on what he has learned of his students’ interests, he will always give preference to the leading of the students.

        2. Teacher as presenter vs leaner as creator: In the TCI classroom the teacher does not lecture for the most part but uses a variety of strategies and practices to communicate with students. Story co-creation is an integral part of the process with the teacher as facilitator (see #1) providing students with the tools they need to co-create the story. Within the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework, the teacher demonstrates (“I do it”), then teacher and students collaborate and co-create (“We do it”), then students have the opportunity to work together (“You do it together”) through re-telling the story with partners, and finally students have an opportunity to demonstrate their individual proficiency (“You do it alone”). What must be kept in mind is that for foreign language, GRR is a gradual process that occurs over time and not within a single day’s lesson.

        3. Language as subject vs language as vehicle: The statement that in the past teachers only taught language is actually another way of saying that the typical foreign language class in the past was essentially a course in linguistics: “teaching language” is really teaching about language as if language were a closed set of units, whether structural or lexical, to be learned in the same way that one learns mathematical formulae or historical facts. Using language as the vehicle means that teacher and student concentrate on meaning rather than form. Of course, this must happen at the acquisition level of the student. Just as one would not expect a student in elementary school to study nuclear physics because of both cognitive development and lack of prerequisites such as vocabulary, content competence, and contextual understanding, even so the foreign language class of today explores academic content at the level of students’ language acquisition. The teacher does not talk to students in their native language about verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, syntax, etc. but talks to them in the target language about other subjects, including mathematics (e.g. mathematical functions), science (e.g. weather patterns), geography, cultural norms, the meaning of family, global issues, art, music, etc. This stands in stark contrast to the typical textbook that follows a grammar syllabus and spends a great deal of time telling students about the language, having them memorize conjugations, declensions, and other discrete elements of the language.

        See how easy that was? 🙂 We just have to remind administrators and others that teacher-centered and learner-centered classes have nothing to do with who is standing at the front of the room, that students are in fact “doers” and “(co-)creators” in interpersonal communication, and that “academic content” does not mean that we teach our colleagues’ courses during our instruction.

        1. This is brilliant, Robert! I, in fact, had a big-wig CEO of my charter school network in my room in September and in her follow-up email to me she mentioned this Gradual Release of Responsibility framework as something for me to think about. As I continue to talk to my admin about TCI, I can most definitely highlight how it is a learner-centered and a learner as creator classroom. Something I have not done the best job of lately. I will revisit this wise words of yours, in particular:

          Within the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework, the teacher demonstrates (“I do it”), then teacher and students collaborate and co-create (“We do it”), then students have the opportunity to work together (“You do it together”) through re-telling the story with partners, and finally students have an opportunity to demonstrate their individual proficiency (“You do it alone”). What must be kept in mind is that for foreign language, GRR is a gradual process that occurs over time and not within a single day’s lesson.

          1. …GRR is a gradual process that occurs over time and not within a single day’s lesson….

            How much time really is the part we don’t get, the part we dismiss. The time needed to get to individual proficiency – I would guess that would be around Intermediate Mid at least – is far longer that we have even in a four year program. We can’t just ignore that truth of that. We are not going to see output beyond Novice Mid or High in MOST of our students after the first two years. Proficiency takes longer than that. Most kids in DPS never get beyond Novice Mid in two years. There is nothing wrong with that, because so many kids are not in places in their lives where they can accept and embrace our efforts with them in the real way anyway. There is no blame in any of this, except in the eyes of the sea of admins who do not understand how languages are acquired, which flummoxes everything all up, which I think is your point, Sean.

          2. Sean,

            About five years ago my district went through a big push to get everyone on board with the GRR framework. My principal demanded that every teacher turn in a couple of lesson plans (not daily or weekly, just one or two – GsD*) to demonstrate that we understood the process and framework and so that we could use common language across the district. For me it was another instance of figuring out how to say what I do using the administrator’s chosen language in a way that would satisfy their demands. That’s why I was able to come up with that. I will say that the district in this instance did not say that other ways of expressing the idea (e.g. Madeleine Hunter, Five-Step Lesson Plan, etc.) were wrong; they just wanted everyone using the same language. Since then we refer to GRR but have not really had any accountability. Unless it is included in the BTSA training, I doubt that new teachers are being told that they need to know it, and I don’t have any idea what vehicle would be used for an experienced teacher coming into the district and not going through BTSA.

          3. Very helpful perspective, Robert. Greatly appreciated. I am in a relatively new school that is hoping to get a Spanish program going from grades 6-12. If things go well, I could make this a CI program from beginning to end.

          4. Re-reading my post after looking at Sean’s reply, I note that I did not put in the footnote I intended.

            GsD = Gott sei Dank = Thank God

        2. YES! Exactly Robert. Thank you for writing this all up. I have been ruminating on this very topic for the last couple of weeks: how to show that our classrooms are perhaps the MOST learner-centered in the whole school. Depending on the outside observer and the lens through which they are observing, this can be completely obvious or completely misinterpreted.

          An observer coming in looking for certain externalities (group work, projects, output) will see a teacher in front of the room and make assumptions based on that. An observer coming in with no agenda or simply with openness will feel the student-centeredness and co-creation immediately. This happened to me when a colleague came in to film for me and instantly “got it.”

          A huge part of “being under the microscope” has everything to do with the “observer.” I think of Laurie in the coaching sessions framing observation as just that…what do you see, what do you hear, what do you notice? This is so much more helpful to the process. I know an observer is different than a coach, but if the ultimate goal is best practices / best experiences for our students, then don’t we want our observers to mirror to us? This was another one of Laurie’s great instructions: the coach is there to reflect to the teacher his/her practice.

          1. An observer coming in looking for certain externalities (group work, projects, output) will see a teacher in front of the room and make assumptions based on that. An observer coming in with no agenda or simply with openness will feel the student-centeredness and co-creation immediately.

            These are words I really needed to hear. Thanks jen!

        3. Can this get added to the primers? Or perhaps there is a document with these ideas already created about these topics under the general topic of 21st century skills?

          1. Jim send me exactly the text you want from above, crediting the person, and I will add it to the primers. Give me a title for the document as well. I agree we should have quick access to this bad boy.

      2. You bring up a good point, Sean. People who do not understand CI need to have these comparisons interpreted for them from a CI point of view. Here is a shot:

        1. We know that when the teacher is the center of the class, CI is less effective. The student interests, the student connection to the readings, etc. are the center. This learner-centered approach is only possible when the teacher collaborates with students by helping them to express their interests in the target language. The teacher further facilitates understanding of the language, interaction in the language. In the teacher-centered class, the teacher may speak too quickly, bring in unfamiliar vocabulary, not look into the eyes of the students, do comprehension checks, fail to ask students about themselves, fail pause and point, expect too much of them, assume they know more than they do. [Ouch. I am stepping on my own toes] Following this learner-centered approach will get in the way of completing the textbook scope and sequence in time for the scheduled textbook company exams.

        2. In TPRS the teacher is neither a lecturer nor a presenter. The teacher establishes meaning by engaging the students in kinesthetic responses (TPR/gestures). The teacher challenges the students to own the meaning by becoming creators of word associations. The emphasis in PQA and stories is on making the students engaged doers and creators despite their minimal language acquisition. The goal of CI is for students to become fluent doers and creators of the language. The method is to engage them as co-doers and co-creators (at their level of acquisition) with sufficient understood, acoustical messages in the interpersonal mode. Following a textbook lends itself well to being a lecturer on and presenter of textbook grammar points.

        3. It is hoped that all students would be able to use the language to facilitate their future interests and needs. For some this may mean “using language as the vehicle to teach academic content.” As such, our intention is to provide enough comprehended language input for a mental representation of the language to become established in the mind. The goal fluent understanding, expression, and negotiation of meaning. For those who are at the point where they can learn academic content in the target language, the only useful textbook will be the one used in the academic subject. This approach obviates the need for a textbook to “learn” the target language.

        1. Awesome Nathaniel. Love this!

          Skip, I think you have some great foundations going into this discussion. I will echo Ben’s recommendation: “Don’t second guess yourself.” Our instincts and “gut feelings” are way more accurate than we know intellectually. You are where you are because you followed your core / heart and took action on that. Stay true to your experience and the experiences you share with your students. That is all the data you need. I know, “airy-fairy” and I would not use this language with adminZ…but Truth is on your side.

          “Textbooks as a reference point?” Where did they pull that from? OH! a textbook rep! I get it. “Better alignment with ACTFL” through textbooks? It’s so mystifying. Why do they willingly seek to spend thousands of dollars on stuff than invest that in training? With a textbook budget you could get so many chapter books and pay for teachers and adminZ to get trained! I agree with Diane…training, training and more training! And if push comes to shove, take Eric’s advice and go with LICT or something like that. For one thing it will be WAY cheaper than a regular textbook.

  5. These are spot on suggestions, Eric. This is a crucial point. We can’t let administrators get steered into the same place they were before their attention was brought to CI. I look forward to seeing how this plays out with skip and this administrator.

  6. Robert– nice work. I’m gonna steal your words (with credit). They oughtta be all over the Interwebz.

    I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with a super-broad curriculum. For Spanish, for example, ser, estar, ir, tener, querer, gustar, necesitar oughtta be hammered to death starting year one (the 7 power verbs). But beyond that, as soon as you start specifying, things can get boring.

    I’m using an actual curriculum this year– Adriana Ramírez’ book– and I am loving it because it restricts the vocab I am able to introduce, and because it provides good extended readings. However, the only reason creative improvisational me can use it is because it has lots of weird stuff in it, and because I can add tons of parallel characters (or not even ask the written story– just use writtenversions for reading and ask a story built around the vocab) to keep it fun.

    I have talked to a few people who are fully into TPRS and they really like some structure because it gets tough to remember what you’ve done and it’s easy while doing pure improv to forget to leave out _____.

    That said I’d be skeptical…texts and tests get taught to.


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