What SLOW Means to Me

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25 thoughts on “What SLOW Means to Me”

  1. Ben, this is just a little wierd. I have been thinking for some time about how inadequate our brains are when it comes to acquiring a language. I can understand that Krashen might be a bit uncomfortable with the “heart” idea, but isn’t he the one that insists that Input be Compelling as well as Comprehensible? Doesn’t Compelling automatically engage the heart?
    I think that when we look at our students with our hearts, we have to go slow, because we can see when they struggle, so automatically we slow down for them.

    1. I agree Judy that slow is connected with empathy. The more of it we have for what they are experiencing, the slower we go. I think Laurie was with me on the beach with Krashen when it came up about his not wanting to “go there”. Maybe she remembers the interchange. All I remember is I was trying to push him into the area of love and compassion and he waved it away and told Laurie and me to go host some of his Asian scholar guests there at that beach barbeque at iFLT in Los Alamitos three or four years ago. But his idea of compelling may be mental, in the same way that listening to Mozart is mental, and less of the heart. I just think that teaching with CI is largely rejected for this simple reason: that there is a new breed of teacher needed, to go with those few great ones who have come before us, and I put Blaine in that group, those who can both love and teach both. One must love.

  2. Yes! Absolutely. The discomfort around all of this (in my opinion / experience) is to be expected, since we are trained culturally to operate from the intellect to the exclusion of all that “messy emotional stuff” and “intangible realms that cannot be documented and isolated into data points.” So, yes! Of course there is discomfort. And yes, I believe that compelling engages that part of us that lights up involuntarily…the “Yes!” or “aha!” that we feel (as opposed to think). This is where the “juice” is, and it’s what makes it hard for me to articulate exactly what we do in our work. I keep coming back to “you can describe in excruciating detail what the brownie tastes like, but until you take a bite, you can’t know!”
    The brain is such a wondrous phenomenon and also metaphor. The more we know about it, the more we know that we don’t know much. There is always another level. For me, the brain and nervous system remind me that language lives through the body and not just in the mind/intellect, so we need to be open to perceive on many levels including emotional, intellectual, and physical. Fascinating!
    Krashen (or anyone) has to wear a suit in order to be credible to the other suits. That is my crude interpretation through “Le Petit Prince” filter.

    1. That is the perfect image of our dearest friend, jen – the astronomer from Le Petit Prince. And yet, when Stephen put on the suit, they still ignored him, so he went back to being the Man in Black and remains so to this day (with all due respect to the real Man in Black, Johnny Cash).
      I love what you wrote above jen. It’s me. I finally found someone who thinks as weirdly as I do. Let’s celebrate our weirdness. I’m tired of hiding it, and of trying to fit in like I did all those years, even after I found CI. The only good classes I taught were when I let my freak flag fly. You remind me to do that, to go there, to be myself, a self which, most surprisingly, is very theatric, when I am not afraid of someone in the room.

  3. Robert Harrell

    Jen, you wrote: “I keep coming back to ‘you can describe in excruciating detail what the brownie tastes like, but until you take a bite, you can’t know!’”
    This reminds me very much of the following quote:
    Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.
    – Clifford Stoll (Author of The Cuckoo’s Egg and Silicon Snake Oil)
    Here’s a link to an image that illustrates that data is not information.
    Information about the language is not knowledge of the language, just as information about the brownie is not knowledge of the brownie. I have to “taste” both of them to gain knowledge of them.
    An example of knowledge vs understanding is a reverse-steering bicycle. Here are a couple of videos about that. The first one talks about “knowledge is not understanding”; a comparison with the second one illustrates the difference between slow and fast processors.
    Here’s another quote from Clifford Stoll
    “Minds think with ideas, not information No amount of data, bandwidth, or processing power can substitute for inspired thought. ”
    I think that Krashen’s failure to go for the heart element simply reveals his experience as a researcher rather than as a classroom teacher. Ben, you have noted on more than one occasion that Krashen says it is up to us to translate his ideas into classroom methods, strategies, procedures, etc. – that’s where we are the experts – and as an expert, I believe that the heart element is crucial to what we do.
    Finally, as I ramble on, I find it interesting that in the ancient world the heart was the seat of intelligence; the kidneys and “bowels” were the seat of unbridled emotion. The heart ruled both knowledge (head) and emotion (kidneys/bowels). A vestige of that thinking is seen in our phrase “know by heart”.

    1. “… I find it interesting that in the ancient world the heart was the seat of intelligence; the kidneys and “bowels” were the seat of unbridled emotion. The heart ruled both knowledge (head) and emotion (kidneys/bowels). A vestige of that thinking is seen in our phrase “know by heart”.”
      Ooh Robert, now you are getting into energetics and the subtle body!!! Ancient and timeless and completely relevant! All of this rings true to anyone who works with non-western healing systems…chakra system, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine…hmmm. Ancient wisdom is very much alive! Our nervous system picks up on all of this whether we are aware of it or not. I know…not relevant to our external focus of language acquisition, and the intellectual piece. But still….

  4. “Stay with your targets, yes. Never say a single sentence or ask a single question without one or more of your targets in it. Remember, you are teaching the targets as the core of that lesson.”
    I’ve spent lots of time contemplating this one. That pesky non-targeted vs. targeted CI argument. And I’m far from decided on it. One of the reasons we move beyond our targets is to maintain interest – the same reason we move ahead in a story. And some of this is the teacher’s fear of a boring moment, but some of it is probably real – the more restricted you are, the longer time you spend on the same targets in a lesson and throughout the week, the more you exhaust your “talking points.” But let’s face it – lots of daily communication is not “compelling.” Yet, US teachers face the unique challenge of trying to get kids to process a language many (more than probably in places where English is the FL) do not have any motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic) to acquire. Less compelling input would be acceptable by a more motivated population and one that also understands the importance of the repetition.
    I’ve looked at the targets NOT as my objective, but rather as another tool for making all the input comprehensible. I think you target and repeat to the extent that that is necessary to stay comprehensible. I fear teaching 1-5 words/phrases as targets leads to some oversimplified, less rich input (e.g. getting stuck in the same tense and/or third person singular). Whatever verb person and tense gets heard more is likely to be the one kids fall back on under fluency (time pressured) conditions. But then again, that’s okay, if we trust that over time (time we don’t have) that will figure itself out. And at least for intermediate proficiency as defined by ACTFL, the tenses do not have to be mastered.
    Looking at the targets as our objective also makes me feel like I’m getting closer to direct/intentional vocabulary instruction, rather than creating conditions for incidental vocabulary learning (aka acquisition).
    On the flip side, we have evidence that we acquire roughly 1,000 word families per year in our native language. That’s 3 words per day. So heavily restricting vocabulary matches the natural acquisition rate. Vocabulary acquisition researchers will recommend direct instruction of the 3,000 highest frequency words supplemented with tons of opportunities for incidental acquisition (e.g. reading).
    Krashen has written to the effect that he still wants to know what can be achieved with non-targeted CI in a classroom before we resort to targeted CI. What will be the vocabulary and grammar acquired in a non-targeted CI class vs. a targeted CI class? Is there an inherent loss of comprehensibility for some/all students and does that matter?

      1. I’m with Eric here. Earlier language acquisition has more targeting if it’s in a school/limited time situation so students get the structure of the language in their minds (and hearts, there we are). Then later, less targeted/non-targeted allows for greater vocabulary growth. I wonder if other people who teach all levels of their language have found this the case, too? This year all my levels really still needed the structural development, but even so there was more opportunity and comfort with less targeted input with the Chinese 3 and 4s.
        I think in real life, non-targeted does allow structure to be acquired and over a much longer period of time. Because we’re in schools, we target… I must be quoting someone else in here with that statement.

  5. I understand the first one, Eric, but could you expand on the second phrase? And how do you define non-targeted CI? Just the average daily 24/7 kind? Because honestly I am over the brief phase when I was thinking that I could do non-targeted CI in my classroom (there isn’t the time). I agree and have for over ten years that we must target structures in every class. But isn’t non-targeted great for acquiring structure as well? For those interested, we do have a category on non-targeted CI to which Krashen has contributed.

    1. I don’t know what I was smokin when I wrote that. haha. I have conversations with myself and try to “hear” myself argue all sides. . . I’m gonna end up crazy! haha. But I love thinking about this stuff.
      When I say “non-targeted” I include any time we give an utterance that does not include the target of the day/week. I think of a target as the headword of a word family (e.g. I can target “transport” but that input will also include “transports,” “transportable,” “transportation,” etc.). Non-targeted input can include all the recycled and already familiar language. Non-targeted won’t have any specific vocabulary or grammar goal per say. Targeted may align better with the idea of “massed reps” and non-targeted with “spaced reps.” We need both.
      So, yes, obviously any CI will build structure AND vocabulary.
      What I was thinking originally was that when we target (restrict vocabulary, but not grammar), then the focus is more so on acquiring structure rather than building vocabulary size. From a cognitive attentional perspective, when we target, the kids can easily process the words for meaning and have more resources left over to process the structure (e.g. verb endings). When we target a verb we will be giving CI in many tenses and persons. But when we don’t target, then we are by definition exposing kids to more vocabulary (not necessarily less structure).
      Consider a TPRS novel. That is non-targeted CI. Reading, unless a class story or a highly controlled patterned reader, is non-targeted. And it is said that reading is the best way to build vocabulary. Of course, it also builds structure.
      In fact, it was Terry Waltz that just said this week that TPRS (the targeted kind) is intended more for acquiring structure, not building vocabulary size. Well, that could be considered a weakness, since vocabulary is evidenced (and it’s commonsense) to be the most important factor in comprehension and structure much less important. Plus, we’ve heard that 95-98% coverage of the words is necessary to adequately comprehend. Well, that’s 3,000-7,000 word families we need to know if we are to understand the spoken language. Any approach that neglects vocabulary building will be an incomplete approach. But many of us already do provide students with lots of “non-targeted CI” even if we don’t realize it.
      But one thing I’m also sure on is that I still want TRANSPARENT CI. I don’t want the “immersion” kind where there is a lot of noise, I don’t want the “critical thinking” kind in which learners have to invest a lot into inferring the meaning, and I don’t want the “gist” kind in which students can follow along and kinda sorta get the idea, but can not accurately translate back what was said. It is important to me that students get transparent CI in which case the meaning is accurately processed – accurately linking the aural or written form of the word to the exact meaning is a necessary (maybe not sufficient) condition for acquisition.
      I do a lot of “non-targeted” CI in my class. Maybe more so than “targeted.” So does Blaine in the classroom demos I’ve seen. I don’t see him telling a story and only using the same 3 verbs in every sentence.
      We can provide a lot of non-targeted transparent CI even of unfamiliar language when we sandwich translate it (e.g. árbol – tree -árbol), have a clear visual, and/or gesture. MovieTalk is great for this. There may be a lot of new sounds, but if throughout the year you are keeping your input relatively focused on the highest frequency words then you’re going to get the reps. In this way, you also throw out a larger vocabulary net and let kids acquire what is meaningful to them.

        1. And Lance that is a wonderful thing that happened there:
          …we ended up playing with language” for a little bit, but it was totally at their request and entirely in Latin….
          but it doesn’t happen all the time. We have to grade them, for example. That kind of non-targeted play and school buildings don’t work too well together very often. The latter defeats the former.

      1. Eric: “When I say “non-targeted” I include any time we give an utterance that does not include the target of the day/week. I think of a target as the headword of a word family (e.g. I can target “transport” but that input will also include “transports,” “transportable,” “transportation,” etc.). Non-targeted input can include all the recycled and already familiar language. Non-targeted won’t have any specific vocabulary or grammar goal per say. Targeted may align better with the idea of “massed reps” and non-targeted with “spaced reps.” We need both.”
        I realize I have a different idea of non-targeted input. Eric, you have read much more than I have, is the term defined clearly? What you describe there I think of as “recycling” or something. I think of non-targeted input as incidental NEW content introduced in passing, not targeted, not getting enough reps (yet), but part of a discussion or a reading.
        What I’ve been thinking is non-targeted input is a few words shared without expecting them all to retain them. More for the superstar students who really want to know more words (it’s how a few Chinese 1’s knew moose, fat, stupid, hit, dead before targeting any of them). It’s also in reading — like glossing an unimportant word like “catch pigeons” or “official/bureaucrat” in Chinese 4. A couple students did retain those; I didn’t expect them to do more than comprehend at that moment because of the gloss. So it was comprehensible but not targeted, in my thinking.
        I was in a Chinese class in 2012 and our whole class was non-targeted input based on how I just defined it: embedded in almost totally known content there was some new that arose naturally and which was made clear in meaning by the teacher. But there were very few if any reps on them. I retained very little specific, new vocab except maybe in passive vocabulary. Same way when I’ve been reading books in Chinese (going to finish “The Hobbit” soon, a lot of landscape and battle terms are new to me).
        If non-targeted input refers to previously-introduced, now-recycled content, what should I call the stuff I described above?

          1. Well, Krashen’s “non-targeted” paper is the only one I know of on the topic. Non-targeted is just grammar and vocabulary that is planned and focused on. Related is the net hypothesis – just throw out a lot of CI and i+1 will be present. If we truly are not sheltering grammar, then in that respect we are not targeting. But in terms of vocabulary, we do constrain and focus on certain pieces: targeted. It’s a continuum. We should target to the extent of maintaining comprehensible, preferably transparent/translatable input. I include recycled vocabulary as non-targeted, since it would in this case not be the focus of the lesson. Besides, I have no illusion that just because I got a lot of reps in a couple days on a vocabulary item that it has been fully acquired (in all aspects and contexts).

          2. . . . actually targeted CI can be UNplanned, e.g. you started without a clear vocabulary/grammar focus, but ended up with one during the lesson.

  6. Eric you said:
    ….any approach that neglects vocabulary building will be an incomplete approach…
    I would ask if you think we can focus on structure as we do (as per Susan Gross’ statement that we “shelter vocabulary but not grammar” – grammar meaning structure) and also focus on vocabulary building in a conscious way.
    The larger question is “Can’t we just let the language happen in our classroom all the time and then after three or four years – 400+ hours – just take what we can get in terms of whatever vocabulary was built?” This question brings in the conscious vs. unconscious acquisition piece, of course.
    Lurking behind so much of our discussions here over the years is that feeling that we have to teach the language in under 500 hours, when we need 10,000 hours or more. When are we going to remember that we just don’t have enough time to do what people expect us to do? It’s so sad when we put all that on ourselves, because it brings inordinate daily grinding stress. It’s like someone who employs us a bridge builder were to say to us, “Hey, see that river? Go build a bridge over it. You’ve got two weeks” and we go and try it, forgetting that it can’t be done, and all we can do is get the bridge started.

  7. Eric this email dated Feb. 27 bears on the discussion:
    Hey Ben! I wrote Paul Nation for clarification. That guy is da man. He always responds to me, this time very promptly! I think the answers to my questions are important to share with PLC members! See below.
    I asked Paul Nation to clarify this comment he made to me last year:
    “I actually think the 1000 word families per year goal should be aimed for. There is an article of mine very soon to appear in the journal Reading in a Foreign language that looks at the quantity of reading that would need to be done to get around 1000 words a year learned. It is feasible. More conservatively, I would aim for at least 500.”
    I then asked a series of questions. His answers in CAPS.
    1. When you say “learned” do you mean known as written receptive knowledge?
    2. Is this the number of word families you think can be acquired by motivated adults or the average public school highschooler?
    3. How many hours of FL instruction + homework are you assuming?
    4. Can you refer me to any research that’s been done to test this, i.e. beyond extrapolating the number of reps/word acquired and assuming a constant rate over time.
    5. What I am really interested in is knowing if there is any research of how many words are acquired by the average low proficiency teenager as oral productive knowledge and can be used fluently. . . ??
    6. It also seems logical to me that the number of reps/word acquired would decrease as proficiency increases, i.e. a beginner has a larger cognitive load and has to deal with acquisition of structure, phonology, etc. but as more of that is acquired, there would be more cognitive resources available to increase the rate of vocabulary acquisition. Any evidence to support my claims? I know I’ve read in a book of yours that words belonging to the same family are easier to recognize as proficiency increases.

    1. I don’t mean to ever imply that building vocabulary requires a conscious process. Although, vocabulary acquisition researchers don’t work within the Krashen A/L distinction and do recommend flashcards and mnemonics in addition to tons of opportunities for meaning-based input & output.
      To say that we need a lot of vocabulary to understand free spoken speech in the real world does not mean that our goal is then to cover all that vocabulary, but a teaching approach should recognize that vocabulary (not grammar) is essential, if not the most important piece (a priority) in communication (interpretation & expression).
      So, does a targeted approach restrict vocabulary such that we teach less vocabulary than is capable of being acquired OR is it via targeting that we create realistic expectations, meeting (not exceeding) the cognitive demands? I think our vocabulary size aims are much better matched to students’ actual capabilities.

  8. Ben says, “all we can do is get the bridge started.” I think that’s actually the answer. Since I’ve left the lycée, where you think you are those kids’ one and only chance to learn the language, and started giving private lessons, where a lot of my students are adults coming back for a second chance, I’ve realized that my job is to make them autonomous in their acquisition of the language. I know that if I can get them to the point where they watch movies in V.O. and read books in English, they will build their own bridge. And that means making our time together compelling so that they keep enjoying it and wanting more. During the last year or so I’ve stopped worrying so much about vocabulary and structures. I just work at making what we’re reading or watching comprehensible. I use lots of PQA where I hammer at the structures that give them problems at that moment, but I don’t go in with a plan. The beauty of high frequency structures is …. that they are highly frequent, which means they keep popping up.
    So I seem to be drifting off to the land of non-targeted input, but I am enjoying the trip and so are my students.

  9. “…And that means making our time together compelling so that they keep enjoying it and wanting more. During the last year or so I’ve stopped worrying so much about vocabulary and structures. I just work at making what we’re reading or watching comprehensible.”
    Thank you, Judy. This goes in my “essence” folder. It will balance out my note to myself to be a bit more intentional and less random with targets next year, even if the good ones do keep popping up. Somehow these two thoughts go really well together even if they seem to be opposite. Even if I am a bit more intentional next year, the real important thing is what you said.

  10. It’s not so much that we ignore certain structures; we just don’t become their slaves. We free ourselves to go where the class and the questioning take things, but we never stop using the structures in everything we say. You found in Judy’s comment a jewel of an insight, Ruth, and thank you.
    And what Judy said about getting the students to where they want to do more is so key. How can we teach an entire language inside a classroom in four years or so? It’s ridiculous. All we can do is set the flame burning. We put so much on ourselves! Why do we do that?

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