This guest post is a response to last week’s “What I hate about TPRS.”
First, I would like to thank Sara-Elizabeth for writing such thought-provoking posts. You gave us a great deal to consider and challenged our thinking. THAT is always GOOD! And many thanks for the opportunity to be a guest blogger. I won’t begin to compete with Sara-Elizabeth’s blogging ability, but I wanted to address her concerns and her “HATES,” nevertheless.
There are some who have a narrow view of TPRS, and that is why the term TCI (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) was invented. There are so many factors that influence acquisition–whether it’s first, second or third language– that it is impossible to say that one way of teaching is what is best for ALL students. There are aspects of many approaches that are beneficial to a variety of learners.
I don’t think that anyone really believes or purports that second language acquisition is or could be exactly like first language acquisition. Krashen, among others, simply claims that the process by which we acquire second language is similar to how we acquire our first language.
We absolutely can never reproduce the L1 acquisition environment.
Logic tells you it could not be the same, because there are so many external forces/factors that make it different, including but not limited to: life experience and perception of the world, an L1 vocabulary base, increased cognitive capacity, development of conscious learning strategies, new learning that is impacted by previous learning, LITERACY SKILLS!, etc.
As Sara-Elizabeth points out, L1 acquisition takes a LONG TIME! Why would we want to replicate it?! I surely do NOT! I know my students will become proficient much more quickly if I focus on the powerful components of the Natural Approach and of immersion.
- Comprehensible Input
- Input that sustains emotional engagement and which distracts the learner from consciously trying to memorize or learn
- Using literacy skills to enhance the rate of acquisition
- Acquiring natural language structures (vs. units of grammar that must be mechanically manipulated in order to communicate)
My goal is NOT to do TPRS every day. Rather, my goal is provide compelling, contextualized, comprehensible input (CCCI) every day, using a myriad of activities and strategies. My goal is to create a “Hybrid Immersion” experience that capitalizes on the “Best of” tenets of the Natural Approach and immersion, using a variety of strategies:
- personalized questions
scaffolded questions, using content and culture to deliver language and using language to deliver content and culture
- story-asking, story-based instruction, using a variety of stories, from news articles to fairy tales
a variety of video-based techniques, using movie shorts, movie clips, movie trailers, classroom video-exchanges, commercials, etc.
- a variety of songs (ie: invented songs based on familiar tunes, pop music, traditional music, oldies, etc.)
reading a wide variety of texts (ie: leveled readers (novels), news articles, #authres, song lyrics, invented stories, technology-based stories
- etc. etc. etc.
Could someone learn/acquire second language when taught exclusively through TPRS strategies? YES, absolutely! The real question is can teachers sustain TPRS (strictly vocabulary, story, read) and keep input compelling and novel enough to maintain the level of student engagement that is necessary for acquisition to occur?
The answer is… it’s not black-and-white. Is it possible? YES. Is it probable? NO. Is it what’s best for students? … It’s not black-and-white.
To identify what is best for students, I would have to ask scads of questions:
- What is your goal for your students? What do you want them to be able to do?
- What learning styles are prevalent in your classroom?
- Are your students literate learners?
- Are your students highly/intrinsically motivated learners?
- Can you think on your feet and spontaneously guide students through a comprehensible conversation?
Based on your answers, I would take specific components of TPRS and TCI and develop an instructional approach that best suits YOU and your students. The issue is not that TPRS does not work; it does! The issue is that other activities (that may or may not be considered to be “TPRS”) can work too… as long as you are providing cognitively possible lessons based on CCCI. TPRS provides teachers with a “recipe” to help them provide CCCI. My suggestion is to take the ‘TPRS recipe’ and enhance it with a variety of TCI activities to make it even more powerful.
“Not enough patterning”
It’s not black-and-white… LOL… Really, it’s not.
To say that TPRS practitioners do not believe in helping students see and connect patterns is… well… not true…and probably based on a sample that is too small to be indicative or representative of the majority of us… or least many of us.
I love to point out the patterns and generally do it through pop-up grammar. Pop-up grammar checks generally sound like this: “Which word means X?” What is the difference in meaning between X & Y? If Y means —, then what would Z mean? Why is there an‘S’ on that verb? Why did I say les and not le? etc.) We point out grammatical structures as they impact meaning. That [the impact that grammar has on MEANING] is the key! We point out patterns, but only as patterns impact meaning and only in a way that will help you communicate more accurately.
Grammar, itself, does not help one to communicate, but it can help you to communicate MORE ACCURATELY. Here’s an example of pop-up grammar patterns that came up in this week’s Spanish class:
Teacher (Me): “llamo” = I call. If “llamo” means “I call,” how would you say I take or carry?
Teacher: Yes! Great! How did you know?
Student: Because you said if you want to say “I” do it, you change the ending (the ‘a’) to an ‘o’.
Teacher: Great!! Do you see the pattern? It’s not always exactly like that, but 90% of the time it works that way.
CLASS CONTINUES ON… 10 minutes later…
Teacher PQA: Katie, ¿Tienes un Ski-Doo?
Student (Katie): PAUSE… THINKING…Yo tieno un Ski-Doo.
Teacher: Great, Katie! You remembered the pattern. Unfortunately, this is one of the 10% that is a little different.
Teacher: [Writes on board “tengo”]
Student (Katie): “Oh, yo tengo un Ski-Doo.”
CLASS CONTINUES AND SOME STUDENTS (CONSCIOUSLY) TRY TO APPLY PATTERN.
This conscious OUTput is not critical and is not the point. The point is that students who are ready for i+1, (+1 being the first person form of verbs), are developing receptive language skills. In other words, they are learning how first-person conjugation of verbs (adding an ‘o’) impacts the meaning of verbs and this helps them to eventually communicate more accurately.
I want to emphasize here that my goal is NOT grammatical accuracy. It is to develop comprehension and when they are ready, verbal proficiency. I most definitely have specific structures that I focus on, but if something comes up during class or in the news or in my students’ lives that warrants a change of plans, I have NO problem deviating from my original plan. Other structures may be more conducive to such a discussion, and I’m not about to squelch a learning opportunity, because I did not plan suitable vocabulary.
Ben Slavic, one of the biggest names in TPRS training, advocates this random approach.
However, this change of plans is not even REMOTELY random! I conscientiously make note of my lesson change and make sure I teach the “skipped” vocabulary another day. (Keep in mind that I am responsible for making sure that ‘big-money’ athletes are able to communicate on and off the field (using specialized vocabulary that is not necessarily high-frequency); I am in a high-stakes teaching environment, so I absolutely can not be ‘random!’)
I think that what Ben is alluding to is that he seriously considers Krashen’s Non-targeted Input Hypothesis, which states that teachers really do not have to plan a lesson with specific words/structures, IF they are focusing on high-frequency structures. Since high-frequency structures naturally come up in everyday conversation–even if it is random–over the course of time, you will provide the necessary reps, and students will acquire them without rigidly adhering to a schedule or vocabulary list. (Find more information at Sdkrashen.com.)
Honestly, Krashen is right… in theory. Given enough time, with NO necessary assessments, no accountability or necessity to adhere to a curriculum, no pressure to teach what everyone else is teaching, NO Common Core, plus an amazing talent for sustaining a conversation on the fly and for keeping everything you say completely comprehensible, he’s right…although not realistic for most classroom teachers.
“Ignoring Metacognitive Awareness”
The individual development of personal learning strategies is an asset. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe this, unless of course, the learner is someone like me– someone who is so neurotic about knowing the pattern and knowing the WHY’s that it truly does interfere with developing proficiency. Krashen has never said that learning strategies are bad (except in my case– LOL). He only says they are not necessary for language acquisition. He’s right; they aren’t.
Overuse of conscious learning strategies can impede learning/acquisition, but they can also come in handy. Have you ever helped students remember how to pronounce a word or the meaning of a word with a mnemonic device? Learning Strategy in action! How about pop-up grammar to identify patterns? Learning Strategy in action! How about gestures that help students link meaning? Learning Strategy in action! How about reading strategies to aid comprehension? Learning Strategy in action!
It’s a matter of semantics. What IS conscious learning and what is a conscious learning strategy? The caveat is that historically we have focused heavily on conscious learning of language, and this has proven to be unsuccessful for the majority of language learners. Conscious learning strategies will NOT help learners develop proficiency! They MAY help you remember certain words and certain patterns that might in turn help you communicate more accurately, but they, when used in isolation of providing CCCI, will NOT help students develop proficiency. Thus, the ‘perceived’ disdain for conscious learning strategies.
I do not consider ‘establishing meaning’ to be equivalent to ‘translation’. First, when a textbook provides a list of vocabulary words, aren’t the meanings listed alongside of the word? I don’t think most people consider that to be “translation.”
In my opinion, establishing meaning is not translation! Why would we leave students in a state of confusion (as they are during L1 acquisition) when we know that we can’t replicate first language acquisition or immersion anyway? Why NOT simply tell students what structures specifically mean?
Believe me, I asked myself this question many times during the early years of TPRS (early 90’s). I’ve tried teaching vocabulary structures both ways by providing meanings and by playing charades and ‘getting the gist.’ What I found is this: I save a great deal of precious time if I start by establishing meaning. My students avoid a great deal of frustration and anxiety if they are given a fair opportunity to make meaning of a message. Giving the meaning not only helps me move to providing CCCI more quickly, it actually helps me STAY in the Target Language. My TL goal is 98%, (not 90%). Establishing meaning also helps students stay engaged. Reducing anxiety, confusion and stress not only lowers the Affective Filter (calms the Reticular Activation System), it also helps to keep students engaged…and MOTIVATED!
As students move up in level, we spend less and less time on establishing meaning or confirming meaning. As they become more confident and capable in the language and have a broader vocabulary base from which to draw, they can determine word meanings on their own, just from the context of the words they know. That doesn’t mean I don’t confirm meaning at times, it only means we do NOT translate every single word… not even in level 1.
Also, remember, what you consider to be obvious may not be so obvious to students! [but how long does it take to draw a butterfly?] If you show a picture of a butterfly, one student might think ‘moth’, another ‘Monarch’, and another ‘butterfly’. I don’t think it does any harm to tell students what ‘butterfly’ means. In fact, I’ve learned that it can be quite helpful! I used to point to my water bottle to ‘show’ “water.” Weeks later, several students said, “Oh, agua doesn’t mean bottle?” I have a “wolf” prop. Invariably, that prop is interpreted as a fox, a coyote and a Husky. (Literally.) I used to make a name tag and put it on my shirt. I would say “Me llamo Sra. G.” while pointing to the nametag. It took several weeks for me to realize that students thought I was saying “My name tag, Carol.” (Yes, literally.)
I spent years in the early 90’s wrestling with whether to use a common language to establish meaning of new vocabulary structures. In the end, I have decided that it what is best for learners, based on MY classroom, MY students, and MY learning objectives for students. I can teach a great deal more, more efficiently, if I establish meaning first. (I refer to the 3 steps as Show, Tell, Read. When you read the following, you will have a better understanding why I describe the first step as “Show.”)
When I establish meaning for students, my general practice is as follows:
Write the word/structure. Write the meaning. (Show the word and the meaning.)
Say the word/structure.
Attach (show) a gesture that visually conveys the meaning of the word/structure.
Post (show) a picture of illustration and/or show a prop.
Tell students what the word means, and then spend the next 59 minutes in the TARGET LANGUAGE, providing CCCI which revolves around the Target Vocabulary Structures.
I encourage all teachers to experiment. Try establishing meaning in this (multiple) way(s). Provide CCCI using the structure. Wait two to three days. Now tell students you want them to visualize the word/structure. Give them 15 seconds to recall the meaning, then ask each one to write down what they “saw” when you said the word/structure. You’ll be surprised by the variety of answers. Learners respond to different cues, whether verbal, visual, in writing or physical in nature. Some will see the picture, others the gesture, the written word, and some will say, “I saw you…” [whatever I did to establish meaning/build context]
Now, in reading as we VERIFY COMPREHENSION, (referred to by some as ‘translating’), we only confirm comprehension of NEW vocabulary structures. Once students have internalized words/structures, we do not continue to convey meaning every time we encounter that word/structure. We may spot-check recycled words, but we do not perpetually translate every word! In terms of reading, I want to point out that we are not doing anything that the brain doesn’t naturally do on it’s own. It’s called ‘linking meaning’, and L2 brains naturally revert to L1 when searching for the meaning of written words. We are NOT translating! We are linking meaning, and we only do it as a temporary measure when teaching NEW vocabulary.
The problem is that students constantly fed this type of language do not typically understand authentic language.
Who says that students are constantly fed this type of unnaturally slow language? Mine certainly are not! We START slowly so that students understand, and we gradually speed up to native-speaker rate of speech. For example, I’ll ask my (ESL) students in the beginning: Where…where…are… you..going? After a fair number of reps, I’ll ask Where-where-are-you-going? Until ultimately they understand Whereyagoin? We speak unnaturally slow while we teach and progressively speak faster and faster, the same way we do with a toddler. It doesn’t mean we perpetually speak like we are speech impaired for the rest of their lives. LOL (And just for the record, I did speak more slowly to my own children, and I sheltered vocabulary when they were toddlers. Right or wrong, they have attained high levels of oral competency later in life in spite of the way I raised them…by the grace of God.)
I am a Ben fan, but I don’t agree with EVERYTHING he believes or says. In fact, Ben is a lot like Krashen in that many times they make claims or statements as a means of thinking out loud and as a means of getting others to think out loud with them. They may come across as intense or ‘harsh’, but it’s really their passion being construed in a threatening way. (I get it. They can be intimidating! LOL) With that said, there are other TPRS/TCI bloggers out there who have a totally different perspective (ie: Kristy Placido; Carrie Toth; Martina Bex; Michele Whaley [just to name a few!]), but I only see references to Ben.
If you really study the proficiency standards novice-low description, the claim that we skip novice-low is true– almost. We start novice-low, but progress beyond it in zero to 60. The caveat is that we are only able to do it within the realm of the vocabulary taught, which could be 100 high-frequency words. The proficiency guidelines do not mention what an average (or minimum number ) of vocabulary words/structures should be at any given level.
As far as IGNORING the proficiency standards, WHO DOES THAT?! If you say Ben, then I would repeat what Sara-Elizabeth wrote about someone else:
Okay, you’ve got this one guy who…
Maybe Ben doesn’t focus on the proficiency standards. Maybe he doesn’t HAVE TO. Maybe he really does help his students develop a high level of proficiency in spite of not focusing on them. Maybe what he does coincidentally and consequentially facilitates instruction that teaches to the Standards, whether it’s intentional or not.
I’m not saying the Standards are not useful or needed; I, myself, refer to them often as a point of reference and to contemplate what my students can do and what I want them to do. However, it could be possible that there are some teachers who inherently have these standards in mind without articulating them, and they subconsciously teach to them without knowing it. (Yes, I think Ben is one of them.)
As far as other researchers, I encourage you to read my article on TPRS and look at the experts I referenced in that article. There were many. The bibliography published was only a partial bibliography. I can send you the bibliography in its entirety. Another point to consider is that Krashen bases his research on studies conducted by others. He compiles research and sorts out what is valid and significant. With that said, much of what he reports is not his findings, but the findings of other experts in the field.
Finally, output… is not black-and-white. ;}
Although OUTput does not lead to language acquisition, INTERACTION in the Target Language does! Let’s first distinguish between forced output and presentational output. The most unnatural output is Presentational. That’s why so many people hate public speaking or giving presentations, even in their first language. It is stressful and unnatural. The most natural mode of language is INTERpersonal, and this is where TPRS/TCI has the edge in the classroom. We naturally interact with students every day. We don’t allow them to check out, avoid answering or remain silent until they feel comfortable enough to interact. Rather, we start by making them feel comfortable (and confident) enough to interact by scaffolding input and providing the support they need to begin interacting successfully in the Target Language from day one!
Of course we believe in the Silent Period. That just means we understand that although students understand a vocabulary structure, they may not be able to spontaneously produce it or pronounce it correctly. Anyone who has sat through a Mandarin or French class with me understands this perfectly! Just because I initially slaughter the language doesn’t mean that my teachers don’t/didn’t’ encourage me to produce or support me by providing more repetition… just as I do for my own students. I, along with many other TPRS colleagues, coax, encourage, motivate, and inspire students to speak, but we never FORCE them. Forced output is stressful, unnatural and not conducive to language acquisition.
If you are STILL reading my ramble, then stop right now and hear my words: THANK YOU! Thank you for giving me an opportunity to clarify a few points and to share a new perspective on a method that is both powerful and effective… especially when you broaden your vision and consider how much more powerful it can become when you implement TCI strategies as well.
Carol Gaab has been providing teacher training in TPRS and other CI-based strategies since 1996 and has been teaching second language since 1990. She is the Director of the U.S.-based San Francisco Giants Language Academy and Director of the Dominican Education Program. Carol is the author of numerous Spanish and ESL curricula and leveled readers for elementary through upper level Spanish. She is president of TPRS Publishing, Inc. and the founder and president of Fluency Matters. Find out more at tprstorytelling.com.
A note from Sara-Elizabeth:
I consider Carol a friend and a leader in excellence in world language teaching. If you ever get the chance to hang out with her you should grab it! I appreciate the time she took to address my concerns about some of the tenets of TPRS and I suspect you can tell that we really disagree on very little. Her description of pop-up grammar is very similar to how I approach grammar in my own classroom, and I likely use about as much “translation” (clarifying meaning) as she does in a class period, though probably not on the same things or at the same timing. I still highly doubt you need English to get across the word ‘butterfly’ (though the ‘water/bottle’ concern is a legitimate one!) and I prefer to use “translation” to check students’ thought process after I’ve used the TL or visual means to convey meaning. Our biggest disagreement would continue to be on the issue of output, where after years of exposure to TPRS and the research it’s based on, and to principles of proficiency-based, performance-based teaching, I maintain my opinion that there are no good arguments against requiring output from the beginning of (secondary) language instruction, and indeed, many compelling arguments for it.
Concerning Ben Slavic’s approach to proficiency standards, I do not know what he would think about them. I was told by three separate TPRS teachers in the past month that the ACTFL proficiency standards are faulty because they do not apply to TPRS students.
I echo Carol’s endorsement of Martina Bex – I am pretty sure she and I are basically the same person! – and I am also glad to have recently found Michelle Whaley’s blog.
Finally, let me encourage you to keep your eyes, ears, brain, and heart open. I want to always be learning! When we stop listening to each other, we’ve come to a point where we think we’ve arrived and we know all the answers, and then we stop learning, and that, my friends, is a very sad place to be.