Wire Mesh

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27 thoughts on “Wire Mesh”

  1. Acquisition is SUPER SLOW compared to learning. This is probably 1 major reason many teachers continue to teach for learning and 1 reason that teachers try out CI, but revert back to grammar and vocabulary lists.

    1) They want to “teach” more.
    2) They look at students from CI-based classes and see a limited exposure to vocabulary.
    3) They think learning must be included, because acquisition is just too slow.

  2. Yes Ericn it’s all about giving up control and just being present with the kids, creating language. The old language teachers always want to be in control by keeping all the instruction banging around in the ineffective chambers of the conscious mind. They just can’t seem to accept that the unconscious turbines down in the container under the wire mesh are ever present and ready to move the brain to acquisition if they are only given enough input, as the real builders of the language. That kind of 1950’s teacher is not and will never be effective, as long as they mix L1 with L2 and reason things out. Who are they to try to reason things out when the turbines of the deeper mind are millions, literally millions of times more effective than the books and computer programs they use? Their hapless efforts are always directed toward a very small percentage of the kids in the room. Meanwhile, millions of kids, literally millions of them, the rest of them, learn slowly to hate the language. Aren’t those days over yet?

  3. I hear ya! We are not “teachers,” rather CI Couriers!!!

    I admit that I always hesitate to say to other FL teachers that language acquisition is unconscious. I feel like that is too “out there” and that I’m inviting eye rolls. If I talk about CI with colleagues I usually avoid the “u” word.

  4. Yes they don’t want to hear the “u” word. That doesn’t change that they are in the poorest of positions to teach a language – their unawareness of what is really a FACT makes them so. If a person claims to teach a language to someone, and if language acquisition is indeed an unconscious process that occurs in the vastly superior computers (I like to call them turbines) of the deeper mind, and if that person ignores that fact and attempts in the most foolish of ways to make the process conscious, then they are like a yoga teacher attempting to teach yoga by having the students sit in desks and read a book about the various asanas.

    The fact that they don’t want to hear what really happens in language acquistion doesn’t change the fact that language learning is an unconscious process, one that cannot be taught, one that cannot be controlled.

    The way the brain is set up to acquire the language is that the mind hears it in meaningful ways and gradually over thousands of hours of listening and reading, speech and writing emerge (we don’t need to reason our way into speech and writing – it just happens when there has been enough input*), and then after thousands more hours of input in the form of listening and reading, acquisition is achieved.

    But I know what you mean, Eric, but I am used to the eye rolling and it doesn’t bother me because I belief 100% in my truth. I have to, because millions of kids think that they are stupid at languages because of their well intentioned but completely off base teachers. And in my opinion kids are hurting enough in this current world, so I have to say it, even though few will listen.

    *focusing on writing does not improve writing.

  5. Yup. It is truly hard / impossible (?) to “talk about” what we do. You are right Eric, it is because of the “u” word. It is so far beyond our control and our sense of “logic.” Although, I keep coming back to what I feel is “obvious” which is the fact that parents of children “do what we do.” All the time. By nature. I don’t even have my own kids, so I am actually the least qualified to bring this up, but that is what I sometimes do. I say to ppl: “you were not ‘teaching language’ to your 2-year old; you were simply interacting with him, playing, working, hanging out at his level, basically just loving him, engaging him, connecting, using your whole body, not just eyes and ears, etc. And in that way he ‘learned to speak.’ Am I missing something? Why do people not make this parallel? I understand that teenagers are not the same cognitively, developmentally, but like Krashen says…(paraphrasing bc I don’t know the exact quote) “digestion works the same way everywhere…it’s never in the elbow.” Same with language acquisition…never in the elbow.

  6. jen here’s the quote:

    “Digestion. We all digest food the same — no significant individual variation. First you put it in your mouth, then you chew it up, then it goes down your throat, then into your stomach. That’s how it’s done everywhere. That’s how it’s done in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa. That’s how it’s done everywhere in the world. The visual system’s the same everywhere. It’s always the occipital lobe in the back of the brain. It’s never in the side of the brain. It’s never in the front of the brain. It’s never in the elbow. It’s done exactly the same everywhere you go.” – Stephen Krashen

    and a link:


    1. This is a transcript of that famous video of Krashen when he demonstrates incomprehensible immersion and then comprehensible, interesting use of German from many years ago, right? Thank you for the link!

      My husband watched that video clip and said, “That man is a genius.”

  7. Hi Guys,
    Thank you so much for sharing this, I completely agree with YOU 100%!! And with less instructional time than I feel that I need at times and having to be sure they know all 12 colors and all 100 numbers, etc., I can just try to circle them in as many times as possible through meaningful, comprehensible CI. My elementary students are required to know all 7 weathers, all 7 days, all 12 months, telling time, clothing items, body parts, etc., as you know the list continues. I want so desperately for them to know all of these things because that is what my curriculum wants me to do, yet I know that through CI Based Methods we are first and foremost building a fluency framework in which all of those words can then get “plugged in.” Without the ability to use those topic words in any sort of meaningful discourse, what are they going to be able to do with them if all they can do is quote those words, as my dear friends Leslie Davison and Liz Hughes teach. In less instructional time, I find that these words don’t come up as often, and I want to keep building the schema in which they can be plugged in. I must keep circling them in as often as I possibly can, adding details and taking us to new story angles. Some say go ahead and shove right quick, then keep CI’ing. I have tried this, but only to find the shove words die when reps are not gotten immediately and regularly….Ben, I remember you said to keep the posters on the wall for a reminder to circle them in.

  8. And Michel now those posters don’t even get wall space. I have them rolled up and occasionally show them to the class, but it is just so boring. Back when I cared what my administrators thought of me I trotted them out a week before the end-of-year exams, giving up two or three class periods (I don’t give homework) and just worked to put them into my students’ short term memory for the test right before it happened.

    I will try this spring to transfer the information on the posters that I use onto the posters page on this site in case anybody wants to use them in that way, to get ready for common assessments or something, but they are only in French so someone is going to have to put them into Spanish for the group to use. I find that those posters, unlike the thematic unit lists which are too long, get the job done for a level one class in terms of months, weather and all of that.

    Spinning the words naturally into class discussion in the TL, of course, as you describe above, is the only way to teach these words for acquisition. I love the way you describe the real value of memorizing lists here:

    …without the ability to use those topic words in any sort of meaningful discourse, what are they going to be able to do with them if all they can do is quote those words…?

  9. Hey, Ben, taking down the posters in middle school makes total sense to me, as I just taught in a middle school last year for the first time. I think posters would be boring to them, but that the same words could become alive to them if written out of need into the Out of Bounds section. Now that I’m back in elementary, I use interactive wall posters a lot as scaffolding visuals because the students are still becoming literate and are literal thinkers instead of abstract, plus they are wigglier and have a tendency to not be able to sit still as long whenever I write words onto the board. But again, colors, numbers, months and days, etc., are not the highest frequency words, and I feel like I still have to contrive to make sure and get them into stories or either make sure and target one of each of them per story. Y’all’s thoughts appreciated!

  10. Really we have to contrive, even though it has so little do with acquisition, because it has so much to do with testing. I guess testing the colors and numbers and weather expressions are just really important to those who still think in terms of the textbook and still fail to grasp the enormity of the change towards real acquisition. So we just contrive and I guess with the little kids the posters help. I always go back to how much they hear and read of the TL – to me that is all that matters. School has made such a complicated thing out of such a simple process! One thing about all those posters – in my view after about four of them, they only serve to confuse the kids.

    1. Jeffery Brickler

      Sometimes I wonder if we should spend some of our time on doing a traditional lesson for a week or two just to show the kids what it could be. During these two weeks, we do verb drills, worksheets, play a few games, etc. In essence, teach how we used to teach. I know that this would be a total waste, but it might clue them into how boring it would be to do verb drills or noun declensions. If we completely de-contextualize our lessons and turn it into boring work, maybe they’ll change their tune.

      Of course, this could backfire as some students don’t want to show up as humans.

  11. I don’t think many teachers totally grasp the difference between acquisition and learning. Those that do truly understand the difference, don’t agree that acquisition is even the goal of a FL classroom for such reasons as “you can’t acquire a language after puberty (critical period hypothesis – CPH)” and “acquisition can’t do it all once you are older, so learning is necessary” and “learning becomes acquisition and does so faster.” I’ve heard this one from a FL teacher: “There are so many ways to acquisition.” My lip is still sore after that one. . . We know that Krashen has argued very convincingly that there is only 1 way to acquisition: comprehensible input.

    I’m thinking of doing a 1-day grammar review at the end of 8th grade year and a 1-day poster-day in which we CI our way through the most common thematic vocabulary lists. This is to ease the transition to a more traditional program. I know it won’t lead to any acquisition, but maybe the exposure to grammar terms and exposure to the thematic lists will ease some anxiety for them once they are at the high school and their peers have “learned” more about the language.

    1. Jeffery Brickler

      To some teachers, I think, acquisition is another term for learning. Those teachers think that we use that term as a synonym. I have even heard teachers use the term READING to describe translating using Grammar methods. The differences between reading and translating using grammar are quite vast, but some don’t want to see that reading and grammar/translation are not the same. Some don’t want to see learning as anything different from acquisition. To them it is some hippy term that doesn’t exist in the real world.

  12. I’m going to do the same at the end of the semester with verb conjugation. I’m going to “teach” the subject pronouns, the conjugation charts and then do verb races. I’m guessing they will hate it.

    1. Since many of us do not work in an ideal world, we do have to think about where are students have come from (if they have previous language experience) and where they are headed.

      When I need to “teach” subject pronouns, I require that can give me the English of “yo” (I), “tú” (you, amigo), “usted” (you, profe). I see more than enough students from textbook classes every year with 2-3 years of Spanish who think that “ustedes” (you, profes) means “they,” for example. They do not realize that pronouns have real English meanings. They mix them up or describe them in grammatical terms (in English!): “That’s 3rd person plural.” They seem to think that they are mere markers to clue them into what the verb ending is on HW/tests.

      So I would focus on meaning and also help them see how the pronoun chart corresponds to reality. Recall stories/scenarios that you have used or created for reference. Bring the actors back up. Speak to them and about them and refer to the chart so that they can see the connection.

      I would also use gestures. (A retired MA French teacher, Joe Scott, taught me this before I hear of TPRS gesturing.) It is so common sense once you do it, that I am sure that a lot of us here already do something like this. When I say
      I – I point to myself
      we – I point to myself and someone else.
      he – I point to my right side (one finger)
      she – I point to my left side (one finger)
      they, guys – I point to my right side (one finger) (Why right side for male? It’s a convention, like using “he” for male.)
      they, girls – I point to my left side (two fingers)
      they, guy and girl – I point to my right side (one finger) and to my left side (one finger)
      you friend – I point straight ahead (one finger)
      you friends – I point straight ahead (two fingers)
      you, teacher – I point with open palm (it’s not polite to point)
      you, teacher – I point with both open palms
      The students can point when the teacher calls out the pronoun. Then the teacher can point and have the students say the pronoun. It can get tiresome after 3-10 minutes at a time, but it is based on communicative realities (except the left/right for guy/girl), and makes connections quickly. They can be done in order for a connection to the chart, but should be done out of order to connect the pronouns to the communicative reality.

      If you need to do verb forms, use the same gestures. It will be clearer if you stick with one tense/ verb at a time. It will also work for prepositional pronouns (w/me, after me, because of me) and unstressed pronouns (se / le / lo). And since unstressed pronouns are basically useless without a verb, it would be important to attach them to a verb (he saw her, he saw me). And it can be adapted to any tense/mode that your students will be expected to know. I think that this could tie in and complement Eric’s power verb strategy.

      Discussing grammar in terms of meaning is definitely a TPRS mindset. I started thinking about pronouns this way after hearing Blaine talk about grammar pop-ups.

      Of course, a lot of this is acquired over the course of the year with TPRS. Reading translation tells us what the kids think a pronoun means and they get immediate feedback. Changing the point of view of a story goes deeper. But your concern is that they do no freak out and say “Our teacher never taught us this (chart)!”

      What I would not do is going back to my pre-Blaine years and teach grammar grammatically. If it is not meaning-based it is not brain-friendly. I would do the minimal for your purposes, but leave it to other teachers to have hate it.

      Keep up the good work.

  13. I’ve been reading a very interesting book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner for his research on thought processes. He describes what he calls System I, which “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control,” and System II, “a slower, more deliberate and effortful form of thinking.” And he states that it is System I which understands language. Duh. He makes a clear distinction between acquisition and learning. I don’t think expecting teachers to have some idea of how the brain acquires language is unreasonable. Comprehensible Input is not some hippy New Age thing. It’s science and it’s there for anyone who cares to read about it.

    1. Judy,

      I totally agree with you. It is science and it has tons of evidence, but as we know people don’t always side on the side of science, especially in education. Even teachers choose to believe their perceived experience over reality. They often cite reality vs ideal situations. In an ideal world, students could acquire, but in our real world they cannot. I have tried to kindly invite my colleagues to listen about CI, but they don’t want to listen. They often cite things like, “We have too many students, we don’t have time, or if you don’t hold the kids accountable, they will not do anything.

      It is unfortunate that people don’t want to listen. School wants to complicate too many things. We want to control everything and this is evident from the increase in testing and pseudo-accountability measures.

      It’s just a shame.

  14. One would think that professionals in any field would want to know everything about their field. But I agree with you Jeff – most teachers just don’t want to hear about CI. They would rather be in control. And giving up the language acquisition process over to the unconscious mind is just too foreign for most teachers – they can’t stretch their brains that far. That fact, that they can’t be in control, is really what this is all about. You hit it on the head, Jeff. Too bad for the old guard that it is a fact that we process languages unconsciously. It really is about how schools want it complicated but as jen pointed out a few days ago here language learning is a truly simple process. It is like digestion, as Krashen first said, in that it a) occurs in a specific part of the body (the unconscious part of the brain), b) is natural, c) is unconscious, and d) does not need our meddling to happen, so that our work as instructors is simply to provide the CI. Those who meddle with the process, who want to keep it all conscious (verb charts, lists, anything that analyzes, etc.) – in spite of a track record of decades and decades of NO RESULTS – are just slowing down the process, or worse, they are turning most kids off to language learning by making them feel as if they are stupid and can’t learn it. I’m right there with you Jeff. It is a shame. We learn the wire mesh way – some of the words fall into the container and some don’t. But if enough words are sent out over the mesh, over a long enough period of time, with enough repetitions in meaningful context, all of them dropping into the (unconscious mind) container, real acquisition occurs. Fancy that! Now, if that isn’t a good reason to relax when you go in to work tomorrow, I don’t know what is. All you have to do is provide the CI, y’all!

  15. The other teacher I work with laughingly calls tprs a cult, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to teach differently! I’m so much more relaxed with my classes and we have great relationships, so much deeper and more positive than ever before.

  16. Thank you for this elegant statement, Megan. In my opinion, the real cult is that of a vocal group of old guard teachers out there and in our buildings who fear change, who fear moving up to a higher ground in teaching, and who would rather maintain the status quo than move language education into a happier place than it has ever been before. Those people’s cages are being rattled right now and they don’t like it, so they are forming a cult of derision.

    Related: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcwyyFOeu5E

  17. Today I just rewrote my course descriptions to fit CI. I am so excited to see it on paper. This may seem silly but to me it seems like something huge. I also can’t see why people don’t want to teach this way. It is so amazing to see the pride on students faces that previously would have struggled in my class. And they can do so much more now. I feel really blessed to have jumped in with both feet in the CI pond. And there are so many other great, inspired, and loving people swimming around with me.

    1. Nice job making your course description fit what you do. This year I have been doing a fair amount of that, too, and even showing the children quotes about CI and language acquisition. I’m now using the terms “acquire” and “acquisition” and making references to stages of language acquisition in my grade reports for parents. It’s been very satisfying for me, which was the purpose really. So far no questions about them from others.

      1. Of course you can use it. I want to yell it from a mountain so that all students can feel real success, not just grades. I do sometimes get weird looks for comments like teaching to the eyes, not conjugating verbs and if they don’t know it then I need to do something not that the students need to do something. That’s just one of the reasons that I love this PLC. I can come here to like minded professionals that understand me.

        1. I was talking to the faculty yesterday on jGR (the instructional coaches wanted the other teachers to see it and possibly adapt it to student group work or as a grading tool in their classroom, etc.) and as I made the point about so many students with four years of Spanish in high school and yet no visible capacities in the language, I saw at least 20 heads shaking up and down in agreement. Again, I wonder how these teachers who still have their heads in the sands of the last century get away with it.

  18. Exploring the reasons behind the way things act (etiology) is a deep and magnificent process when applied to language acquisition. Language teachers have never been in this situation before, not until Krashen, to be able to appreciate the actual way people acquire languages, and to emulate and imitate and dissect and swim around in the richness of it.

    The process we are learning is rich and full and provides our intellectual and emotional hands with thick rich mud to create in. It would need a poet like Gary Snyder or Dylan Thomas or that bad boy Artie Rimbaud, some of those rich hands mud poets, to write about it. Why? It is because the way we teach is about love and inclusion and the rich mud of wanting to swim in language in the real way right there in our classrooms.

    Inclusion. Not exclusion. Here is what the French say about conversation, which is what we do, even if our students have to use just one word answers to converse with us. Look at how rich this is, and how muddy in the best of ways:

    “La conversation constitue un tissu langagier grâce auquel les membres d’une communauté non seulement communiquent quotidiennement, mais encore assurent leur appartenance au groupe. Par la conversation, l’individu construit sa face sociale…..”

    “Conversation is made up of a linguistic tissue thanks to which the members of a community not only communicate on a daily basis, but also guarantee their membership in the group. Through conversation, the individual constructs his social place in the group…..”


    So when teachers speak with the joy found in the comments above by Melissa and Diane, we see something we have not seen before in education. This is so far from the data driven, pacing guide driven, grade driven harnesses around our necks right now, yokes that will continue to slowly crack and break with each new attempt at a story and as long as our hearts are strong now in the winter, when our hearts must be strong.

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