Two Questions for the Group

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23 thoughts on “Two Questions for the Group”

  1. Re Question #1:
    I think, to create a good story, you need to have one structure that is not obviously related to the other two. This is part of what we see in Anne Matava’s stories. One structure is always “odd man out”, and that provides the tension to create a good story. Stories based only on the textbook vocabulary tend to fall a bit flat, in my opinion, because everything is tightly related to the theme. There is nowhere for the story to go other than in the pre-determined track of the thematic vocabulary. So, of the following two sets of structures –
    1. works out, lifts weights, jogs
    2. works out, lifts weights, drives to the mall –
    #2 will produce the more interesting story because the third structure is not obviously related to the other two; it stands in opposition to them. In a not very imaginative way, which is more interesting?
    1. Joe works out, lifts weights, then jogs to the mall and back for his workout.
    2. Joe works out, lifts weight, then drives to the mall to buy Dairy Queen ice cream covered with gummy bears.

    I believe Anne once wrote that she takes three structures relatively at random but that include high-frequency or high-interest terms and plays with them until a story emerges.

    1. Yeah this is actually super important, I think, and not something I realized fully until reading this.

      The structures we choose cannot be too related to one another.

      I’ve experienced classes sputtering out for this reason. Like I choose two antonyms and a synonym as my three structures. So what? The story is just going to be sentence after sentence of saying the same thing.

      It’s tempting to include synonyms and antonyms–especially to provide ammo for the “3-for-1 or” part of the circling–but they really do get boring pretty quickly.

      Maybe the way to handle these synonyms/antonyms, and the “or” part of circling, is by “point and pause”? Write the new word on the board and get a few reps and then move on? I’d be interested in more thoughts on this.

  2. I have been thinking for some time that we need to completely rethink the structures we use based on our students’ native language and the difficulties that can crop up when L1 and L2 go about things differently.

    My native French students have a lot of difficulties with Want/Tell someone to do something. The grammar books introduce the structure very late, perhaps because it can be translated as a subjunctive in French. My French natives, used to the subjunctive, invent some wierd ways of saying “I want him to go.” So this is a structure that I introduce early and work on a lot. Other problems for them are his/her. They instinctively think his = son and her= sa. So I always have a boy and a girl in stories and we talk about his head and her head, his hair and her hair, his mother and her mother. Even advanced students tend to say “the boy’s mother, her mother” because mother is feminine, right?

    I also work a lot on the verb “get”, which means so many different things in English. Get dressed, get up, get ready, etc. correspond to reflexive verbs in French. Get angry, get hungry, get old have the meaning of “devenir”. So I work in these structures and do lots of pop-ups in almost every story.

    Since you are teaching English to Chinese speakers, you need to keep track of the specific structures that give them difficulties and work them into your program early. These are the type of errors that will become fossilized because they hear their comrades making the same mistakes and that too is input. It’s even very comprehensible input for them.

    I find that targetting problem structures early and often help my students to produce language that sounds much more natural than what comes from their grammar taught comrades.

    1. I agree 100% with this post, Judy. I have noted similar mismatches between Spanish and English and concur with you: hit ’em early and often. They take much longer than other structures, and that’s just the truth. Thanks for stating this so succinctly.

      1. Judy and Jody,

        I am in 100% agreement with this! I believe that because of the idiosyncratic nature of structures in relation to their languages, we have to focus on high frequency structures that are different than in the learner’s L1 and therefore take longer to acquire.

        For my French students, I have noticed that the verb faire is difficult, for the simple reason that it is so versatile and mean so many different things depending on the context. Just like the verb get is for your English learners Judy.

        Talking about the son/sa difficulty for your French students, I’m finally noticing that my kids are totally using son/sa (his/her) with relative ease after two years of massive input. So yes, to reiterate your point, it takes time but more importantly it takes knowing what structures are more difficult based on the complexity of the language, and it varies from language to language. This can only come from experience.

        I wish we had the time to do this kind of work of categorizing high frequency structures in their order of complexity so we would be able to try and target them early on in our input to the kids. But I imagine that it would be a monumental task, just like categorizing the natural order of acquisition is for each language.

        I feel like the more I know, the less I know because there is always something else to be learned….. That is the beauty of learning I guess, it’s an endless and infinite process.

  3. Ah, Sabrina, I had to laugh. Faire can mean so many things and then in English my students can’t figure out the difference between make and do, another hard knot for them. That’s where all the grammar rules fall apart. Comprehensible input and lots of repetitions are the only way.

  4. Faire is a superior example of the students having to hear it so much that the deeper wiring of the hard drive computes it all without even having to consult the conscious mind/desktop, which is the illusory realm of frivolity when it comes to learning languages, but not algebra. Krashen looked me straight in the eyes and, referring to the slam-a-jamma point made in that last sentence, said with intensity (for him), “What don’t they get about that?”

    1. Judy,

      J’ai fait (with 30 different possibilities)
      Je suis allé(e)
      J’ai vu
      J’ai mangé
      J’ai joué ( here again could be a game or instrument)

      I’ve been spending a good 35 minutes every Monday since the beginning of the year with all of my students (Fr 1 and 2/ regular/honors/IB/ 8th graders)
      circling those 5 verbs and sometimes others that pop up. I started doing it 2nd semester last year with my Fr 2 and extended it to all my students this year.

      I’m finding out that repeating the structures 200 times (through pqa, story and reading) is NEVER enough. I think 2000 or 7000 times is closer to the truth for some of those verbs/structures. So I figured that by PQAing them for 40 minutes once a week for approximately 35 weeks (more or less) I get a better chance at hitting my target (can you tell I worked in corporate sales before becoming a teacher?)

      So we do 35 to 40 minutes every Monday doing PQA with those structures.
      Aller and faire are so important for the reason I mentioned in my response to you yesterday, having to do with the versatility of faire in French. And also b/c those are high frequency verbs in the language so I kill two birds with one stone.

      I think I talked about that in another post somewhere on this blog. I have a transparency (same one for the entire year) where those structures are written and although they don’t really need me to scaffold that anymore, I still leave it on for the slower processors.

      I tell them to make stuff up or not b/c no matter what they did over the weekend they did something/saw something/ate something/ played something/and went somewhere. Sometimes I have them write it out first to practice writing those essential verbs.

      I also tell them what I did and I totally make stuff up or tell the truth depending on what I did. So they hear the “je” form, the “tu” form as well as il/elle/ils/elles . And we make it fun in a lighthearted way because it becomes a game of who went with whom and did what etc….

      I have to say that I am really seeing the fruit of my labor payoff b/c they just KNOW these verbs. ROI (return on my investment: now you can totally see that I worked in Sales, can’t you 🙂

      1. I love this Monday routine, Sabrina! Great way to connect with kids in the TL and get reps on high frequency structures at the same time. Brilliant. I’m adding this to my “routine” next year or maybe right away.

        By the way, would I say “Merci pour partager, Merci d’avoir partagé, or Merci de partager”? All three? None? Ha…I never know on that one…

          1. Not to beat this to death, but again what a great routine. Not only does it bring more reps to these common structures, but it allows a little “family” time in class every Monday, just like an actual family would catch up w/ each other after not seeing each other all weekend.
            Some questions, Sabrina…how do you do this with your French 1’s? Do you just tell them all about what you did over the weekend for 30-40 minutes and circle the things you talk about? Then in French 2 do you let them start talking about what happened over their weekends?
            I’m adding this to my “Starting the Year” reminders file…

          2. Greg,

            I do not change anything for my french 1 or 2 b/c reflecting on this hard work we do everyday for our kids, and being really honest with myself, I ‘ve come to the conclusion that in reality kids need thousands of reps and not hundreds as once proposed.

            And perhaps I shouldn’t generalize here as some structures are acquired faster than others. Perhaps it has to do with the natural order of acquisition, and its indestructible power so when one is ready one is ready and no matter what we do , that is not going to change.

            So for me it becomes a task I start with my fr1 and continue on for as long as I can. It’s called long term planning really or backward design . If I have my kids for five years I call it my plan quinquennal.

            And anecdotally I am just starting to see small rewards for my hard work for the last two years with my fr2. So a nice majority of my kids can finally say je suis allé(e), j’ai vu, j’ai fait, mangé, j’ai bu, j’ai joué, j’ai acheté, j’ai travaillé, spontaneously, without hesitation and that is because they’ve heard it not hundreds but thousands of times. Now not all of them can spit it out but definitely ALL my students hear it and know what it means. And we know that comprehension trumps production so the ones unable to say it yet will if allowed to in time.

            Sorry about this rambling and answering to your question.
            I will film a monday PQA routine for you and will put it on my vimeo account.

            I don’t stay too long on myself b/c I’d rather talk about the kids so may be I model using myself as an example for may be 5 minutes and then move on to the kids’ weekend. But My kids are very nosy and they always ask me tons of personal questions and they know as much about my life as I do about theirs.

            So yesterday I wrote and drew ( although I can’t draw) on the board a stick figure ( me) reading a book with a dog on the side and a tree . And I wrote, ce wekend j’ai lu un roman Français dans mon jardin avec mon chien (that was true btw) . In one of my class, it turned into a mini scene and the kids had my dog eat my book! That lasted may be 7 minutes max , then I went onto the kids stories…

            Got to go, hope that helps. Talk later .

          3. …in reality kids need thousands of reps and not hundreds….

            Anybody serious about this work needs to put this statement at the top of the list in the discussion about teaching using comprehensible input. This is just about the most important idea I have read here in years, next to jGR.

            Also, Sabrina’s statement about the Natural Order hypothesis is something that I don’t believe we take seriously enough:

            …Perhaps it has to do with the natural order of acquisition, and its indestructible power so when one is ready one is ready and no matter what we do , that is not going to change….

            I still cannot believe after all these years that people, in cavalier fashion, keep planning their instruction by deciding on, targeting, certain structures. They think they can fool the fact that we don’t have the time we need to lock those structures in, especially when many of our students have no real vested interest in the work, as they sit there waiting for the bell to ring because that is where they are in life.

            Teachers who use CI must, in my opinion, give up the hubristic notion that if they just figure out the right structures to teach they will trick the need for thousands of reps and not hundreds. The Natural Order is the natural order. And the unconscious mind is in charge of that order. What are we missing here?

            All we can do is CI. We can’t plan CI, we can only do it, as per the Natural Order and the need for those thousands and not hundreds of reps. We drive ourselves batty needlessly. We think we can do something we can’t do. We can’t outwit the unconscious mind.

          4. …we know that comprehension trumps production so the ones unable to say it yet will if allowed to in time….

            See this is another very true statement that most CI teachers I talk to just don’t want to accept. They think that they can expect speech gains in a few hundred hours and yet Sabrina has stated that the students need thousands of hours just to be able to aurally grasp (acquire) the meaning of what they hear in class – forget the speech output.

            So Sabrina’s points above reveal what I consider to be a major error in our current thinking in this work – we expect our kids to acquire (recognize by hearing) expressions in the TL within hundreds of hours and also be able to output them in speech within hundreds of hours. That is how we think now. That is crazy.

          5. Another idea that I think must be part of the Order of Acquisition concept: I have a few students, now predictably since it’s happened with several students in late 7th or early 8th grade, making a specific error in Chinese that they didn’t used to make. It reminds me of the kind of stage little kids go through in English when they switch from correct verb forms to incorrect ones (I can’t recall specific examples, but I remember reading about and personally noticing this with young children).

            I think it’s really interesting!

          6. Robert Harrell

            An example of what Diane is referring to is when children pick up the “rule” that English past tense is formed by adding “-ed”. Suddenly they switch from “went” (which they had until then used as a simple lexical item) to “goed” (because it is part of the system they are building). Only by hearing – and even being corrected by loving parents – the correct form enough times do they add a corollary to their system, that some verbs use a different paradigm.

            I once heard someone – wish I could remember who it was – advocate for speaking authentic language from the very beginning and address the “late-acquired” items: First, we can begin to know which items are late acquired, but we can’t know all of them.
            Second, we can speculate on why they are late acquired, but research hasn’t yet shown the reason.
            Third, that does not mean we should hold off on using and even drawing attention to late-acquired items. What if the fact that they are late acquired simply means that we need to hear them more than other items. By delaying their use in our language, we delay their acquisition even further. They will always be late acquired, but how late may also be a function of how early and how often they hear and read them. [Saying that because something is late acquired, we should hold off until level 3 or 4 from using it with our students is not a logical conclusion from the fact that it is late acquired. A valid conclusion, however, is that we should not hold students accountable for late-acquired items too soon.]

            I hope that made sense.

          7. These are just more reasons to set the boat lose by actually taking our hand off of it. Only then can it go to the deeper waters of real acquisition. Why we keep our hands on the boat is something that baffles me.

            Look, we had this discussion three weeks ago. My opinion, and no more than that, is:

            Point 1: the deeper mind will organize whatever it hears in it’s own way (Natural Order hypothesis).

            Point 2. When we interfere, we mess it up.

            Point 3: However, we don’t have 24/7 exposure to the language, and the brain was designed for 24/7 exposure.

            Point 4: We do have 4/7 exposure. So we take three RANDOM structures and work with them. It doesn’t matter what they are, in my view. The only reason we need them to be limited is the time element. Since our brain only gets 4 hours per week, we limit the AMOUNT of new words, but we do not CHOOSE the new words. The brain will say thank you for the comprehensible input and do a good job of organizing it all. Each additional minute of pure CI is very important.

            I hope this makes sense. It’s my interpretation of the Natural Order concept applied to classrooms.

          8. Robert, that makes a lot of sense. The late acquired items that are also high frequency need to be heard early and often. This is where Sabrina and I started on this thread. And while I agree that we don’t want to go in with a “hidden agenda”, it is possible to pick up errors that students are making and give them the structures they need before their mistakes become fossilized.

          9. Thanks Sabrina…that helps. If you’re able to do a video of your Monday routine, I’d LOVE to see that, as I’m sure all of us would!

            Also, the 100s of repetitions made sense almost right away to me as far as what’s necessary for acquisition. But when I saw this thread about 1000’s of reps, to be honest my brain was sceptical at first (100, yes, but thousands??). But after thinking about it, I agree. When I think about the French that I’ve acquired (I know it when I hear it, no problems at all, which actually is not very much, which is why I’m going to France…..), it is stuff that I’ve heard 100’s of times and read 100’s of times, so easily meets the 1000 rep mark. It definitely has to take 1000’s.

            Maybe we should start having our counter kids keep a running tally day by day until they hit 1000? : )

  5. …I’m finding out that repeating the structures 200 times (through pqa, story and reading) is NEVER enough. I think 2000 or 7000 times is closer to the truth for some of those verbs/structures….

    See I think Krashen would be interested in this. This is brand new and not something he could predict. But I agree with it. I am learning the same thing. 200 reps? No. 2000 reps? Maybe. This is cutting edge. New. Needs to be looked at. Can’t be ignored. Sabrina has made a statement here that deserves some real attention from the experts.

  6. Andrea Westphal

    For those of us that are not native speakers and have not had adequate exposure to our languages yet, it is more difficult, in my opinion, to hone in on what is indeed high frequency in the TL. Might there be a way to create a list of high frequency phrases in the different languages? I’m not trying to alter the natural order here; I would just like to know that my limited time with the kids is well spent. The frequency dictionaries are useful, but I would really like a frequency phrase book. I do like the short list of examples that Sabrina provided. For many of us non-natives, we are left with the scope and sequence and vocabulary of textbooks which we all know is NOT high frequency. Suggestions or ideas?

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