Jan. 2 Ramble

Over the years, there seems to have been a unique theme, or maybe two, that we as a group have kept at the forefront of our collective mind for discussion here on the PLC for that particular year.

For awhile, about fifteen years ago, over a long period, we engaged in public idealogical or philosophical battles with those who opposed CI, but that battle was won years ago because the traditionalists had no case – nothing in the research supported anything they were doing.

With the increased acceptance of CI which we see today (how things have changed!), those battles have largely disappeared but the problem is that they have been replaced unfortunately by a kind of blind acceptance of what anyone who claims to be a CI expert now says about CI.

So now we might be in a dangerous period of listening to people whose claims may not be valid, because they are selling things. That includes me, but I will explain my position on that below.

I liken where we are right now in CI to the shapelessness of a nuclear cloud well after the initial shape of the cloud, upon its initial explosion, has disappeared. (The mushroom cloud period of CI was in my opinion during the period it was called TPRS between 2000 and 2010 or so.)

I have therefore become very suspicious of those who claim expertise in CI these days, because CI has become, unnoticed by most of us, not an academic colloque so much as it has become a marketplace. Greed twists things up.

Where can one then find true things about CI, if everyone is speaking to each other through prisms, painting things about CI in their own colors in order to make a sale?

My belief is that the true application of Krashen and all the other great comprehensible input researchers, whose work took place and ended basically in the second half of the past century, can only occur inside each of us individually. Krashen said as much to me years ago.

In that interest, I will be directing the conversation here this year in the direction and from the position that it is our own inner work with CI that alone can successfully lead us eventually to our forming our own outer best practices classroom-located vision of what teaching comprehensible input means to us individually. Only then can we say that we have plummeted the depths of the research, when we have made it our own.

We must avoid teaching our kids in our classrooms using the concretized versions of CI pedagogy that have sprouted up in recent years and that are available in the current CI internet marketplace. Why? It is because such products do not reflect our own personalities, but instead reflect the personalities of the seller, who, as in the Land of Oz, is really just a small person behind a curtain.

If I am right that there is no single best way to use CI in our classrooms, and that our application of CI in our classroom teaching must be a kind of plastic and malleable kind of teaching that reflects our own individual personalities as well as those of our students, then we can finally state out loud that this is not a one-size-fits-all method.

Many who grasp the message of this post should immediately feel a sense of relief if CI hasn’t been working for them in their classrooms as they expected. In my view they should also take a long hard look at NTCI – non-targeted comprehensible input – and how in my view it is by far the best choice of CI methods.

In my view NTCI (see link below) must necessarily define the new work, the free work, the real work, the true work that the research describes, but the problem persists that most teachers always want to be told what to do.

This fact is a sad reflection of the new truth in education and in our society that students and people in general now want to be told what to do and how to do it without having to think their own thoughts.

Isn’t that why TPRS has become so concretized? The original research has become tied up with wire in the shape of dollar signs and the legs of the TPRS/CI animal have not been free to roam where the animal wants. This is in direct opposition to the research.

We have entered in our society into a period of control from the top, and it is so sad to see the effect that it has had and continues to have on students who, when younger, displayed all of the wonderful curiosity that memorization later destroys in them. It’s a kind of death of the spirit, death of curiosity of the beautiful sound play of what language really is and, more seriously, the death of fun in learning a language.

So in the spirit of free play in the language classroom and in the spirit of community building and just having fun and classroom instruction that has its base in the individual personalities of each of our students, one of the main themes that we will discuss here this year on the PLC is NTCI vs. what is for sale out there right now.

I think that too many teachers, full of enthusiasm upon first hearing about CI and its amazing potential, have gone, filled with hope, to the summer conferences only to come away months later in their classrooms empty handed.

They thought they were buying a Mercedes but ended up buying expensive clunkers, full of too many gadgets and toys and whistles and loud confusing information that drives them within months of the start of their new “conversion” to CI straight back to the textbook, where at least things are organized, if nothing else.

So 2020 has the potential for some of us to finally grow up as teachers and realize that the work that we must do in our classrooms cannot be about reduplicating what we have learned at some conference or some overpriced training in imitation of others who claim expertise. We can only claim expertise in relationship to our own inner teaching personalities and those of our students.

There is no one way to do CI. I have offered and will offer here what I most resonate with in the Invisibles, but that does not mean that they are the best for everyone. We must each find our own vision of what CI is for us. We must walk the CI teaching path by ourselves, or not at all.

CI does not lend itself to robotic imitations of pedagogies that work only for certain self-proclaimed “experts” whose claim is that since it “works so well” for them (not really) it should then work for you as well.

There are no experts. This is not just my message; it has always been that of Blaine Ray, if not his followers. We are the experts and that implies NTCI and Blaine agreed with me on that point in a March of 2015 email when I asked him directly if he targets or not in his own teaching (not the targeted teaching of those who followed him).

Languages cannot be and will never be learned from targeted lists or in the form of some “curriculum”. The research screams that truth out but few in the CI world seem to ever hear it.

So the theme of how to align the research on comprehensible input with our own inner teaching personalities will be one of the themes we will study this year. It’s time for us to stop feeling like failures at CI because we can’t do what some “expert” does.

We will of course not abandon our main focus over recent years of maintaining and cultivating greater and greater levels of mental health in our very important work as language teachers (builders of links of happiness between people) in this broken world.

If you want to go deeper with these thoughts, search “Fred Rogers” on this site. It’s all there.

Related: https://benslavic.com/blog/category/33-reasons-i-prefer-ntci/



6 thoughts on “Jan. 2 Ramble”

  1. Don’t overthink this thing with CI. It’s more about being there in a loving way with your students and allowing whatever conversation (e.g. comprehensible input) that happens spring forth from the heart using whatever system you want – CI or NTCI.

    Obviously, you need some kind of system, some way to generate CI in your classroom, but don’t mistake the system for the work. The system is the railroad tracks, the work (the way you teach them from your heart) is the train. Many people confuse the two.

    Said another way, I suggest that we avoid getting carried away with the methodology involved in reaching our students with the language. It’s not the way you do CI, it’s the feeling of happiness and joy you use to reach your kids. That is the real bridge to their hearts, and therefore is the key to a real fluency program.

    Have you ever noticed how CI kids trained to learn lists may know the individual words because they were taught using lists, but they don’t have the desire to communicate? It is the desire to communicate that we want to foster in our kids, not the desire to know a word from some lame thematic unit list.

    It’s not about test results, but about fostering in our students a desire to communicate. Without the latter, test results mean nothing in the long term of the child’s life-long pursuit of the language because they want to.

    Language teachers are not the same, and CI is not a cookie cutter method. In the same way that various cultures around the world have different ways of conversing, each of our classes will differ in how it converses from other CI classes around the world. In North African desert cultures, they might sit for a few days or more before talking with someone new to them. This is true in certain Native American cultures, I have heard.

    In the current American culture, people say anything at anytime. There is little outward show of respect, as in the Japanese culture. It’s all different in every culture and so are our students and our classes different, each class a different “culture” unto itself, and each will therefore have a different ways of expressing itself, of interacting with you in class. There can therefore be no one-size-fits-all way of teaching them.

    The only commonalities, the only truths in all CI classrooms should be respect and interest in the person and what they can create, as in the case of the Invisibles “methodology” in which drawings are that creation, that bond/link that brings everyone together in the class.

    I’m asking a lot here. If those who resonate with this post are to really make their instruction as it is described in the post above, injecting into it daily big doses of community and fun with lots of laughter, then they must somehow dispense with the notion that there is some certain way to teach a language, some “right way” to do it, focusing less on whatever “system” they are using, CI or NTCI, etc. and more on the way that system is employed in their classrooms. We want to learn how to focus on the marrow of this work, and not just the bone.

  2. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    What you lay out here is exactly the reason I’ve had such a hard time following through on an elementary CI book. On the one hand, we must keep the conversations w/our kids improvised; on the other, busy elem teachers sometimes teach grades K-8 – ALONE! Surely, the less we have to document, inventory and assess, the more time we can have real/fun language interactions with our kids.
    I am going to try to get back into the book (29 pages so far – I haven’t worked on it in months:{) You’ve inspired me – AGAIN! – to get back in the saddle.
    As always, thanks so much for your wisdom & insights.

  3. Well Alisa I very firmly believe that you are the one to write the elementary book on comprehensible input language instruction, if indeed it ever gets written (but that’s not our affair – ours is but to make the effort, as I see it). As any reader here over the years knows, you have a combination of (1) the unique knowledge about how to document/assess, etc. and (2) consciousness of that magical wider place of intuition in your instruction on a daily basis.

    If the trees in the creation of the long-awaited and long yearned-for elementary CI book are represented by the documentation and assessment piece, then the forest itself is the intuitive piece (the magic referred to above) that so many of us have worked so hard to develop in our own instruction over so many years now. We know that it is time for us to dive deep into the waters of intuition in our instruction, but we need diving lessons, and you are assigned the job of “elementary education diving instructor”.

    The assessment piece at the elementary level, the trees of the forest, all that stuff should be included in your new book, but the forest, the intuitive piece, is what counts and what will slowly guide the new generation of elementary language teachers to their goals, which most haven’t been able to even articulate in recent decades because they have lacked the book you will right. One must after all have a talisman, right?

    So don’t forget the trees for the forest in your book, but focus mainly on the forest. Yes, teachers need to be given instruction about documentation and assessment, but neither of those things interfaces with how people actually learn languages, which is what Stendhal called, in defining happiness, “un bavardage sans detour et la presence de ceux qu’on aime…”.

    Do you see the beauty of that, of defining elementary language education in terms of bringing happiness, bring instruction to your elementary kids every day in the form of “an endless conversation and the presence of those one loves” (Stendhal) – and don’t worry about the individual trees, which are after all just a product of an out-of-control top-down system of usually old white men (now finally visibly crumbling) who have no idea what language acquisition – the real stuff – actually entails.

    I know you can write this book. I have been waiting for it for 20 years. So just start writing. As I said above, anyone who has been a member of this PLC for more than a few months knows that you are the one to write the book about the the forest – that magical place – that is elementary CI education.

    Not to put any pressure on you or anything, but I know that the book is in you. It’s a fact. And a book of 1000 pages begins with the first page. So go. Bring us the forest. We need that book. I know I can be obnoxious, but it’s for the general good.

  4. “This fact is a sad reflection of the new truth in education and in our society that students and people in general now want to be told what to do and how to do it without having to think their own thoughts.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    It’s maybe a type of paralyzing thing – to branch out and do the thing that is meant for you. I imagine it’s like being on the edge of the branch, hoping you don’t fall, snap the branch or get picked up by a predator. Only the bravest can handle that fear and learn to play at the end of their rope. At some point you get sick of not speaking the TL with your students and will be there, ready to change, unless you don’t care and only want to get a paycheck. Over time we come to see that there is no branch, there is no edge, we in fact create our own edges, our own limitations. Sometimes, it’s our schedule, the culture of our building, the climate of education, a need to teach a curriculum or to a test, but all of that is our Goliath to overcome.
    I like things to be easy, too. It is nice to be told what to do. For a while -until you see behind the veil. Until it doesn’t work. There’s conventional wisdom and post-conventional wisdom, like you’ve talked about before: 8,000 hrs. You learn which rules to break. You know what to throw out. 8,000 hrs. Its a college career, if only college let you teach the whole time, make mistakes, and play with conventions -maybe we would have buildings filled with those who want to push the limits rather than stay in them.

    1. Right, Jenna. We have to break the rules. We have to be the transgressors especially when the rules are misapplied onto us.

      I’d say that no matter what your approach, teachers break the rules. Many of us simply choose not to do what our admin ask of us because we don’t have time for it. I’d say that following the rules is a path to mental break down or burn out.

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