Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
Teachers like strategies. We keep lists of them. Nearly every teacher has owned (and likely still owns) books of strategies on top of the lists of strategies they've developed themselves that they like to use. And when we sit around a table and talk, strategies are often the topic of conversation. How did you do this or that? How did it work? How could I try it in my room?
Strategies often come in the form of a pre-packaged "method", which includes research-based approach along with clear design and procedure for using in class (Richards, 1986). In other words, research says _____ increases student learning, so we're going to do that by doing A and B, and the expected outcome is C. A "method" can form an entire curriculum or even set the context for a school (i.e. "Montessori method" or "Suzuki method").
Methods are nice - they tell teachers "we've done the research and the work to make you a tool - go take it and teach!" It allows teachers to focus on their immediate classroom needs. The trouble with teaching by methods, however, is that teachers are limited to the artificial walls created by whoever designed the method. If teachers only understand the methods and then hold themselves to the methods, two problems arise: First, they miss opportunities to meet the needs of their students which might be served by a different method that they have either rejected or are not familiar with. This leads to the second problem, where teachers modify the method in order to meet the needs of their students. However, this modification can fundamentally alter the method to a point where it is no longer achieving the goals intended. They may be achieving some goal, but it's like the game of "telephone" - the end result is often some sort of message, but it isn't the original message that was intended. While this might seem good on the surface (look! He's learning better now!), it is problematic because the "original message" was research-based and the final message received is not. Thus, we may no longer be teaching with "research-based" methods. Obviously, the researchers did not work with our kids and adjustments will always need to be made - this is why we hire professionals to lead our classrooms. So, how can we know that our real-life decisions in the classroom are really what is best for our students beyond a set methodology?
We must transcend the methods.
In other words, we need to take a step back and ask what principles make a particular method useful, and how can we apply those principles as we adapt our instructions to the students we have in our classroom and the needs of our circumstances (including your own teaching preferences)? We need to look at the research itself and understand its implications at a deep level. It's helpful to become familiar with methods based upon the research to understand some examples of application to the classroom while still understanding that most research looks at the nuts and bolts of learning rather than prescribing certain methodologies.
Moreover, we need to use this research to evaluate every method or strategy that we might employ. This not only includes taking a critical look at any pre-designed methods, but it also breaks down those artificial walls to allow teachers to create new methods based on the needs of their students while adhering to research on student learning.
So, how do we do this?
First, we have to understand the principles established by extensive research. These are at the core of our teaching philosophy, and so each teacher must carefully research, consider, and eventually adopt the principles they feel are most appropriate for their classroom. Although we should come to some consensus about what these principles are, teachers teaching by someone else's principles that they do not fully understand and endorse will likely lead to a misapplication of the principles and ineffective teaching.
In the short-term, a teacher who is only ready to teach by methods can "borrow" principles, as we implicitly do each time that we agree to use a method. Moreover, principles should be constantly reviewed and adjusted based on new learning - both in the world of research and in the teacher's own professional development.
I am working on a post which more fully articulates the following principles that I have developed for my own instruction (second language acquisition), but here is a brief summary:
Once we have these principles, we can explore, modify, and create endless methods while ensuring they are still firmly grounded in our instructional philosophies and principles. As I explore new ways to reach my students, I apply the following questions based on my established principles:
The answers to these questions give the why (or why not!) to every decision we make regarding instruction (and, yes, classroom management deserves its own list as well!). This is so empowering! So why is it not a regular practice? I am guessing that it's because teachers are fed pre-packaged methods from the time they decide to become teachers. Rather than asking new teachers to explore educational practices on a deeper level and develop and evaluate methods, we like to give them the tools to hit the ground running, and rightfully so.
Novice teachers usually do not have the experience, expertise, or even the capacity to engage in this deeper-level thinking - even educators must work their way up Bloom's Taxonomy in their practice, both in scope and in depth. They are not focused on "practice" as much as they are focused on "tomorrow" or even "next period". Their main objectives are to remember their lesson plan (which they may or may not have been able to create on their own), understand what it is they're trying to do, and applying it to the classroom. Hopefully, they able to analyze the results (this usually comes with time), and eventually begin evaluating their lessons to create new lessons that are more efficient.*
As we learn and grow, however, not only are obligated as professionals to not only move toward the upper tiers of Bloom's taxonomy, but we must also expand the scope of our vision and begin to look at practice. Transcending the methods requires us to analyze and evaluate the practices themselves, and then effectively create new ones, both through modification and invention, that address the needs of our students and circumstances (which include the needs of the teacher!). We cannot do that unless we let go of methods and teach by principles.
*Although new teachers might not be able to effectively develop effective principles at the beginning of their career, I think it is a great shame that they are mainly trained to focus on the methods rather than looking for the principles behind them. Doing so facilitates a culture of "tunnel vision" where teachers may not even realize there is a need to eventually transcend the methods, and it takes trial and error for experienced teachers to eventually learn to do so for themselves.
Herman, E. (2016). Acquisition classroom memo 4.
Richards, J.C., & Rodgers, T.S. (1986). The nature of approaches and methods in language teaching. In J.C. Richards & Rodgers, T.S. (Ed.), Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis (pp. 14-29). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Note to the reader:
For the last three weeks, I've been trying out Story Listening for the first time in my classes. I was struggling with the Story Asking as we would get stuck, I had trouble choosing details that kept everyone engaged, and many of my students were getting lost in the chaos or frustrated with the "flow" of the story. My "low" kids weren't understanding what was happening. My "high" kids wanted to keep moving. And my "easily distracted" kids were off in their world. I wouldn't say it was a hot mess, but it was close. The kids were learning, but I didn't feel like we were going anywhere fast and I was frustrated and exhausted. I'll readily admit that there are people more talented at "Asking a Story" than I am - but it just hasn't really ever "clicked" for me. So, after a particularly rough first period, I decided I would let myself off the hook and simply tell a story to the next class. I knew I had to pick something interesting, and the first thing that came to my mind was "La Llorona". I found a quick summary of the story online to refresh my memory, printed it out, and "told" it. Despite the minimal preparation, it was a hit! I didn't do any drawing - I just put the words they needed help with on the board with the English translation. After that, I pre-drew my pictures and vocabulary and told the story of "La Llorona" to my remaining classes with the pictures under the projector. After each class, I asked the students to show me how they felt about the activity by holding up fingers. A "3" meant they learned about the same, a "1" meant they learned a lot less, and a "5" meant they learned a lot more. Even with my minimal understanding of Story Listening and almost no practice, every student in every class rated the activity as a "4" or a "5"! I was sold! I've made a number of adjustments since that first week and would like to share my "beginners guide" to getting started with Story Listening.
First, it's very important to understand exactly what Story Listening is and is not. It is not simply storytelling. Storytelling puts the emphasis on what the teacher is doing and will likely not meet the acquisition needs of students, whereas Story Listening is focused on the person who is listening to the story and responsive to what they need. In order for story listening to be effective, the following conditions must be met:
It is also helpful to understand the potential similarities and differences between Story Listening and other methods of CI Instruction. NOTE: I use the word "potential" because CI instruction can take many forms. Almost all language teachers agree that we must actually use the language for students to learn it. In some cases, this takes the form of stating sentences that the students understand. Most traditional classes use the language in order to give instructions, although this use is incidental to the "real" instruction (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, worksheets, comprehension questions, etc. taking place.) For this particular list of similarities and differences, I'm going to narrow the list to items that differ between Story Listening and other methods that are grounded in the idea that the instruction itself should be through CI and focused on meaning and proficiency rather than skills and vocabulary. Even here, however, we find a lot of variance in how teachers instruct and the strategies they use, and and almost strategy has the potential to be used similarly or differently than the strategies employed in Story Listening.
Potential Differences: (many of these items overlap, so I apologize for any repetition)
Finally, I'd like to touch on a few differences in my personal preference for various strategies:
So, if you'd like to get started with Story Listening, here are a few tips from my personal experience:
Good luck with your Story Listening! I would love to hear from more teachers trying this in their classrooms and will continue to post videos regularly of my own.
Trust. It is impossible to run my classroom without it. Yet, it seems that trust is and has been rapidly disappearing from all aspects of life, but especially so in education.
Why is there such a push for teachers and schools to be held accountable? Would we need to "hold them accountable" if we simply trusted that educators had the knowledge, skills, and integrity to ensure that students are receiving an exceptional education? Rather than being encouraging, many of the methods of holding educators, from individual teachers to entire systems, accountable are punitive and strip us of our professionalism and freedom to do what's best for our kids - because someone else doesn't trust that we are already doing what we can and are willing and able to make adjustments where necessary.
Likewise, why do we need to hold students accountable? If we trusted that they truly cared about their learning and would fully engage in it, why would we need to hold them accountable? Sure, there is a place for tests to measure learning, but I would argue that the vast majority of quizzes, tests, and homework grades have more to do with "motivating" students to do the work. Isn't that the real reason behind the question "Will this be on the test?" and other similar inquiries.
I understand that I have a great deal of freedom in my current position than most teachers do not enjoy. I share what I do not to imply that it must be done just like this, but I do hope that something I say will be inspiring AND practical in your current situation. If anything, it's at least food for thought about the changes we need to make as a whole in foreign language education, if not our education system in general.
My students have two jobs:
The first job, following directions, has to do with practicality. The fact of the matter is that I have 30 students in a classroom. I can't have a home run with each and every one of them every day in every activity, but I try. They trust that I will teach them what they need to know, and honor their academic, social, and emotional needs. They trust that I will do my best to make learning meaningful and pleasurable for them through compelling input. Because of this, I trust that they will "play along" with what I ask them to do when I ask them to do it and let me know in an appropriate way if they would like me to change what we are doing.
The second job, letting me know when they don't understand, has to do with students taking an active role in their learning. I cannot read their minds (although I can often read their bodies). I promise to do my very best to make class comprehensible, but I trust that they will let me know when I have not met this goal. In turn, I need to behave in a way where students trust that I will be responsive to their needs. Moreover, I have to create an environment where students trust that they will not be penalized academically, socially, nor emotionally by admitting that they do not understand. This is a tall order, but I feel that I have achieved this with most of my students. Here's how:
First, I frame comprehension and growth as MY job, not theirs. If they are doing what I ask, then it is MY job to meet them where they need me to. It is NOT their job to try to reach for the level at which the language is being provided - it is my job to ensure that I adapt the language to their level. Thus, letting me know you don't understand helps me do MY job better - and I can't do my job without them.
Second, any assessments are not assessments of them, they are assessments of my teaching. I need that feedback in order to know if I'm doing a good job. I shared with my students that their assessments not their grades upon which they will be judge. Rather, they are my grades for the principals to evaluate me, and my grading policies reflect that. If students are following directions and letting me know when they don't understand, they will get an excellent grade in my class - there are no tests or formally graded assessments. I frequently ask them to privately evaluate and indicate their level of understanding using our rubrics. When we do these assessments, I ask them to "grade me" by indicating what they were able to understand and do. These never go in the grade book. If they are following directions and letting me know when they don't understand, but they are still not "getting it", it is because I'm not doing my job to meet their needs.
As a result, my students are very honest. There is no stress - their learning is in their hands. Everyone can follow directions. Everyone can let me know when they don't understand. Every day, these things are 100% in students' control. And they trust that I will respect them and do my part if they do theirs - so (for the most part) they are very willing to grade me and let me know if I'm doing my job well.
This is a follow up to my post The New and Improved FVR Program.
Well that was interesting....
Give a kid assigned reading, and they do what they have to to get the assignment done (maybe).
Eliminate the homework and give a kid time in class to read with options and support, and they check out books to take home.
That about summarizes my experience this week. It was magic!
Context: These students have had approx. 70 minutes of Spanish every other class day for 2.5 months. I assigned reading as homework three weeks ago (30 minutes), but eliminated all homework this time and decided instead to give students structured free-reading time during class with options for various materials, levels, and scaffolding by working with partners, in groups, or individually (see below for more details). Then, I said "go".
Yesterday, a future Spanish teacher was subbing in the room across from mine. Her kids were at lunch, so I invited her over to see what was happening in my room. The reading time was well under way. I asked her the most important question in education, "How do you know they're learning?"
She looked at them for a moment, and then said, "Because they're doing it?"
YES! It seemed so simple, too obvious to be the right answer. But, glancing around my room, I could see students demonstrating sustained focused on a page to read it, and then turning the pages when appropriate. Students were reading the books out loud to their partners. Students were laughing and reacting to the information in the books. Some students were switching from materials that were too hard or not interesting to materials that better fit their needs. Everywhere, it was very obvious that the kids were DOING IT. They were READING. So then I asked, "If I know they're learning, then do I need to give them a quiz, test, or some other form of assessment to know that they're learning?" NO! I already know that they are learning. Their behavior IS the assessment, and it doesn't take a trained teacher to know that some awesome learning was happening in there.
Oh yeah, and no fewer than 7 students asked to check out items from me this week, even though they have access to all of them online. In fact, I had a sub on Thursday, and on Friday two girls approached me with books in their hands. They apologized because they "accidentally" took the books home with them, but I could tell from their body language that they didn't want to give them back. So, I asked if they'd like to check them out, and they were so excited! My library is getting smaller and smaller.....
Here is how I structure reading in my classroom:
First, I explained to students the intention of the structured reading activity: I want to help them feel successful reading and find something they enjoy reading, so much that it inspires them to keep reading on their own simply because they want to, not because anyone is forcing them to. I also explained that this might take a while for them, so don't expect it to happen today or even this trimester. As they learn more language, they'll find it easier and easier to read and I will keep working to find something they enjoy. I posted Bryce Hedstrom's poster "How to choose reading material" and briefly went over it with them. I plan on educating them about effective reading for 2-3 minutes each time we do Free Reading.
I assigned some Reader Leaders ahead of time and gave them instructions on how to conduct a reading group and model effective reading and troubleshooting. These were students that already have high reading ability (based on my formative benchmark assessments, which I've created by adapting Eric Herman's speed readings) AND who I felt would be good leaders. I assigned each of them a three-chapter segment of Eric Herman's "Ataques de Hambre" - I chose this book because the students already know the fairy tales and three chapters to a story is less intimidating than a whole book, so it was like a "gateway" to novel reading.
I gave students the options of reading alone or in the groups led by my Reader Leaders. Most students chose to join a group - I found it was best to limit the groups to only 4-5 students (including the leader), smaller for groups that might have trouble focusing (which included, not coincidentally, my lowest readers). There are some students who are on my private "must read with a group" list, but nearly all students chose to read with a group anyway so I didn't have to ask them to do so.
For students not reading in the groups I gave them access to my extensive class library of Fluency Fast and TPRS novels (I only put out my Nov-Low and Nov-Intermediate novels, and then personally invited my advanced students to select from my higher-level novels if they would like to), embedded readings of stories they've already heard in class (one group of three ladies chose these), the "benchmark assessment" readings (Some REALLY wanted to keep passing off stories all period), and access to a Google Drive folder (no one used these - they all preferred hard copies since they were available) where I have more short stories for novice readers, "Mundo en tus Manos" from Martina Bex, and some other resources. I also introduced my highest readers to Newsela. I've reserved the computer lab for all of our future reading days so that students don't have to use their devices to access these materials. I plan to continue observing what students choose to read (including what they put down and pick up throughout the period) and tailoring my library according to their decisions.
All credit for the following goes to Dr. Beniko Mason and was obtained via personal correspondence with Tina Hargaden (email). Thank you, Dr. Mason, for sharing Story Listening along with your thoughts about it with us.
I have taught kindergarten children to senior adults with this story-listening way for over 25 years. It has worked with almost everyone.
I looked for stories at many different places, but I have found Grimm Brothers’ Household Tales the easiest to tell (copyright free, too). Storybooks did not have enough stories in one book and I did not want to spend the money to buy many books, and I did not want my students to buy textbooks. I looked for stories on line.
The Grimm Brothers’ tales deal with many different themes with variety of words. Besides, about 85 to 90% of the words used in the stories are within the high frequency words (2000 word families), but others are 3000, 4000, 5000, 10,000 word levels and some words are off-list words including academic words.
I adjust the words and structures according to the age and level of the students. I have told “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The three Little Pigs” (these are not Grimm’s) to “The Tempest” and several other stories by Shakespeare. In between, I tell Grimm Brothers’ tales and other folk tales from the world including from Japan.
When I tell a story: I am usually standing in front of the students and draw pictures on the board. With my advanced students I just tell and do not draw pictures.
My high school students who stayed with me for six years since their elementary school years eventually just listened for over one hour without pictures. With these students after telling a story, I read the text out loud to them and they followed the text silently and reviewed the story by listening to me read the text. When they had questions they asked me afterwards. Some of these students began to get a perfect score in the English exam on the nation wide standardized tests towards the end of their high school years. I experienced several successful cases with junior and senior high school kids about ten years ago.
One girl (my niece) was failing in English in her junior high school, but she began to listen to stories and read during the summer of her 9th grade, and in the fall she was doing great at tests at her school and then she passed an entrance exam to one of the best high schools in Osaka in the spring of the following year, and in the first semester at her high school she ranked at 14th out of 340 students in the English section of the standardized exam.
Another case is that there was a high school male student who ranked at D in the English section of the standardized mock college entrance exam in May. He began to read and listen to stories in June. In October, after only four months, when he took the test again he ranked at A in the English section. He passed an entrance exam to one of the best private universities in Kyoto in the following spring.
Another female high school student recorded my storytelling lesson on her cell phone and listened to it every night before she went to bed. She scored a perfect score many times in the English section of the standardized tests when she was 12th grade. She passed an entrance exam to a National University.
In class I never talked about grammar. We never practiced writing. We paid attention to vocabulary a little, but it was not forced. The students came to my class to listen to a new story every Tuesday night for 90 minutes. I had 6 or 7 girls in one room and they all listened to a story every week. They listened 40 times a week and they did this for three years at least. That is why I say if they listen to at least 100 stories they can become pretty good. I have adult students (45 or older to all the way to 69 years old right now). Some of these people have been with me for four years. They listen 12 to 15 times per semester, so they must have heard at least 100 stories. I do not have to draw any pictures on the board any more.
With other regular unmotivated weak students who are absent from class 40% of the semester.
Even with these kids, they prefer my class to other teachers’ classes where other teachers do intensive reading explaining grammar rules. I am always given every year the classes of the students who score the lowest at the placement test. I get the lowest 30 students. What happens is that about half of them score high on the next placement test and so they are moved up and I get those at the bottom. Some of them had been placed in the higher class a year before. Even these kids, who don’t come to school to attend my class, get better if they don’t go to sleep in class.
Special Effects: I do not bring in any costumes and puppets and candles and stuff like that. I do not think it is necessary. Once in a while it may be fun, but it is not necessary. If I did, that is a special treat.
Board: Even with kindergarten children, I write the words even when they cannot read them yet. Story-listening is the bridge to reading.
Using other senses: Speaking out loud, repeating, drawing pictures, acting out (role playing), singing and dancing… I am not sure about these activities. I feel that the class time may not be wisely spent if the goal was language acquisition.
1) Theory predicts that listening (input) alone is sufficient.
2) Research shows that input alone is more efficient.
3) My class is offered only once a week for 90 minutes per semester.
4) Japanese college students are passive learners.
Japanese students are mostly passive learners. The culture trains them to be that way. They are not supposed to be showy and stand out. Of course there are some exceptions, but mostly they are quiet. Quiet does not mean that they are listening or obedient, though… In my situation, class is the only place for Japanese students to get English input. I wish to supply them with rich input as much as possible. They will have time to output later or somewhere else to do it if they want to.
Theory, Research and Actual Class: I do not know if you agree with me, but I feel that it is sad that children (students) are required to spend a lot of useless, wasteful time in school. Out of a 50-minute lesson, there may be only 15 minutes of real learning time and the other is a waste (I am only talking about the classes in Japan.) But as a teacher we must fill that time doing something good for the kids. So, drawing about the story may be good if that helps them retrieve the language that they just acquired and also drawing may relax them.
In my class with kindergarten kids, I used to use flash cards. I give them a list of the words on a sheet of paper. We review the words on the list and have the children write a meaning of the English words in Japanese. The kids can take that home and then the mothers would know what they did in class and they may want to review the words with the children.
Like I said before, my high school students used to tape record the lesson so that they could listen to the story again at home. This way they could review the words with images in their head from the story. It is not like skill-building list memorization. Remembering the words with the images that they thought of while they were listening to the story is not the same as direct memorization. Imagination leads to memory and memory leads to learning (Stevic).
Your Own Children: I think it is different with your own children. Your children do not have other people who are watching them how they are performing. Your children have 100% trust in you. Your children enjoy interacting with you in their home. I think it is different.
Story listening for Kindergarten children: I will have a chance to teach kindergarten kids on the 22nd of this month. I will see how it goes with a story. I will let you know.
What to tell: I have always used stories from storybooks. I have always drawn pictures. It is faster to draw than find puppets or create puppets. I do not want teachers to spend unnecessary money or time for preparing visual aids.
Taking them to the library: Yes, I agree with you.
Classroom with less stuff on the wall: Yes, I agree with you on this point too.
Teacher’s job: I believe that my job is to help them improve their English to the next level each semester. I think that when students become confident with themselves, when they develop higher self-esteem, many other problems disappear. I concentrate on my job of providing compelling comprehensible stories and leading them to interesting books. Also when they start reading good books the authors of the books talk to them directly and then they change to become a better person too. I am not the one who is changing them. They are doing it to themselves through experiencing the stories in story-listening and books.
I am a person of action. When I learn something meaningful, I am compelled to process and act upon it. It's a moral thing - why would I continue doing something when there is significant evidence that something else is better? To wait to act or fail to act would be a wast of my time, time that I (and my students) will never get back. There is no sense in regretting doing something different before; I was doing the best I could with the knowledge, skills, and resources I had. And, of course, there is no sense in jumping on every bit of new information and evidence before it has substantial support and sound reasoning behind it. But there is also no sense in postponing action when the knowledge, skills, and resources are all at my disposal. For me, not doing something better when I could have done something better is the only thing I could regret.
Thus, thanks to an email I received at 11pm last night, I am revising my instructional practices yet again. I think my students are getting to know the drill now... "Don't believe anything that Profa says for too long because she's probably going to change her mind. But, it's all because she loves us and cares that we're happy and learning." I sincerely hope they're getting that second part - they haven't revolted against me yet, so I think they are. Last time I made a major adjustment, I told them I could wait until next year to make the changes, but I really, really didn't want to waste their time this year. And I don't have to. So why should I?
I know reading is important for language learning. However, it's not always easy to transfer that knowledge into action. I started the year by doing in-class reading of our class stories. Sometimes there were activities we did to get kids engaged. Other times, they just read and translated individually, as pairs, or chorally. I didn't assign much homework, but I did offer reading as extra credit at 1/4 point per page read. I figured that students who were earning lots of extra credit would already have A's anyway, so the only significant difference it would make would be in their learning - which is exactly the difference we want to make. I figured correctly.
Then, in October, I listened to a presentation from Dr. Beniko Mason about Story Listening and Free Voluntary Reading, or FVR. At that point, the Story Listening didn't stick, but I did come away with a mission to get my kids reading. I assigned 30 minutes of reading per week and made a variety of resources available to my kids of all different levels, subject matters, and formats. It wasn't voluntary, but students were free to read what they wanted and they only had to submit a form that told me what they read during that time (completed in English).
But... it still isn't good enough. Sure, I can compel them to read through assigning and grading it. And sure, it's helping students learn. But, is this the most effective way? And, is it possible that it might actually be doing harm for some students? According to research, the answers to these questions are no and yes, respectively (Cho, 2016).
The most effective way for students to learn from reading is for it to truly be voluntary and motivated intrinsically. Psychology research backs this up - external motivation (in this case, assignments and grades) actually decreases enjoyment and motivation for an activity. Even worse, it can create resistance to an activity that might have otherwise been enjoyed. Think about something you enjoy doing simply because it's pleasurable to you - what would happen if you were required to do it? Chances are that you might enjoy it for a while, but eventually the joy is likely to get sucked out of the activity. Personally, I've experienced this in a number of areas. For example, horseback riding is a genuine passion of mine. However, running a horse-related business made my passion feel like a job (because it was) and I eventually only did the things I had to because I had to, and I stopped doing the things I actually enjoyed doing. They were no longer enjoyable. They were a chore. Once I separated horses from anything work-related, my passion returned. I still have to be careful about taking lessons - as soon as I feel like I have "homework" to work on with my horse, it's very hard to find motivation to ride my horse at all. I venture to guess that pleasure is sucked from activities even faster when people only start doing them because they have to, not because they want to. Eventually, we may even be harming kids by building up frustration and resentment for reading that they feel they have to do, but don't actually want to do and don't find meaning and pleasure through the reading. Perhaps the information isn't interesting? Perhaps it is difficult? Perhaps the students just don't see reading as meaningful and necessary for them, so it's a waste of time? In any of these circumstances, forcing students to read might ruin any chances we have at getting them to ever enjoy reading and any gains we might get by are likely reduced.
(Side note: Whatever happened to reading in L1? When I subbed, I often walked into elementary classes where students LOVED reading and did so for fun all of the time. They couldn't wait to go get their book and jump back in. Then, I walked into a high school English class where the teacher asked students about attitudes about reading, and the majority of them hated it. As college students, you'll see lots of reading happening, but hardly any of it is for pleasure. Finally, as adults, very few of us read voluntarily. I would venture to guess that sometime in late elementary school and middle school, children hit a critical point where they are forced to read so much that they simply begin to hate reading - even worse, they're forced to read things they often do not care about, enjoy, or even understand. That effect increases into adulthood until we've managed to stomp the love of reading books for pleasure out of all but the most determined bibliophiles. Even I, a product of the Harry Potter Generation, rarely read for fun. Sure, I voluntarily read books related to my profession, but it's often because I pressure myself to be the best educator I can possibly be and sometimes I just ache for a book that I enjoy and love. However, I'm simply tired of reading - so I don't. This is ironic because I'm the kid who got grounded from books so that I would get up and take care of the things I needed to do, like eat.)
Anyway, back to my original statement: I am a person of action. That means, with this new knowledge that what I am doing is not the best thing for my kids, I need to change it. My goal is to get students reading, and Drs. Cho and Krashen just published an article with five hypotheses addressing the question, "What does it take to develop a long-term pleasure reading habit?" (2016). They hypothesize that students will develop a habit of long-term pleasure reading (my goal!) when the following conditions are met:
So, here is the new FVR program within the context of an overall curriculum, which will begin tomorrow:
Yet again, I have renewed energy to walk into my classroom tomorrow. I cannot wait to see my students learn and grow into Spanish-reading bibliophiles, hopefully or life!
Cho, K. S. & Krashen, S. (2016). What does it take to develop a long-term pleasure reading habit? Turkish Online Journal of English Language Teaching (TOJELT), 1(1), 1–9.
In one sentence, Compelling Comprehensible Input is when students listen to or read messages in the target language at a level that students understand, and the messages are so interesting that students are compelled to understand.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is student-driven - the messages communicated and the language used is chosen based on what will be compelling for students, not what a curriculum, textbook, or teacher decides is “needed”. The kids literally become the curriculum as teachers set up and guide comprehensible input experiences centered on what students find compelling.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is loving - It accepts and validates students both academically, socially, and individually. Academically, students are taught at a level which matches their current abilities and comfort zone, and there is no pressure to do any better or worse or more or less as long as they are comprehending compelling messages. Socially, students are given free reign to interact with one another and their teacher to create a class culture and environment that supports every student. Individually, student input and interests are valued and incorporated as the instruction centers on what students wish to discuss.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is fun and engaging - As teachers and students dive into using the language to communicate messages that are compelling, the experience is naturally rewarding and pleasurable. Teachers and students genuinely enjoy creating and communicating together so much that they want class to continue past the bell and often share the stories and discussions with others outside of class time.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is meaningful and motivating - Both the messages discussed with students and the experience itself are meaningful for students. Students are intrinsically motivated to participate because the information is so compelling, and they forget that they are learning a language. Yet, when the experience is over, they realize that they successfully navigated the experience in the language that they are learning and they are able to apply what they learned to new and authentic contexts, showing evidence and practicality of their learning. This pleasurable success reinforces how meaningful the class is to them and motivates them to continually engage themselves in future experiences.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is flexible and freeing - Anything that is compelling and comprehensible for students is fair game to use. Only a general idea and lesson structure are necessary to get a lesson going, and the students run with the language from there. Oftentimes, the “lesson plan” may evolve and change as students become engaged in shaping what is meaningful and compelling to discuss. Compelling Comprehensible Input not only leaves space for this to happen, but enthusiastically encourages this type of organic language experience. Since there are no hidden agendas about what language should be learned, everything is gained and nothing is lost or missed when this happens.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is honest - There are no hidden agendas when communicating compelling input. The messages are not selected based on teaching a specific grammatical form nor a vocabulary list. The messages are simply compelling, and all of the language that students need is provided through the rich and understandable language used to communicate them.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is simple and easy- Neither students nor teachers have to worry about whether students learn specific vocabulary or grammar targets. They don’t have to worry whether students have learned what they need to. Teachers only need to focus on whether the information is compelling and comprehensible, and students only need to focus on listening or reading with the intent to understand and letting the teacher know if they don’t understand. If this is occurring, language acquisition will happen with no intentional effort or studying.
Finally, Compelling Comprehensible Input is all that language learners need - Many classrooms do not use Comprehensible Input or they use it along with a variety of other strategies in order to help students “learn” a language. However, an impressive body of research, both completed and ongoing, shows that pure Compelling Comprehensible Input is both more efficient AND more effective than any other instructional approach (SOURCE). Teachers and students can take confidence and find reassurance in the fact that that comprehending compelling messages is all that students need in order to acquire the language and develop proficiency at all levels.
This last item warrants shouting from the rooftops over and over, but I’ll just say it again here:
Compelling Comprehensible Input is all that language learners need and it is both more efficient and effective than any other instructional approach.
Let’s discuss this for a moment. This means that the following instructional activities become unnecessary and even disadvantageous: grammar instruction and drills, vocabulary lists and exercises, output (speaking and writing), comprehension questions, drilling, repeating, corrective feedback, and any other conscious learning process. (For more research on this, see Chris Stolz's research page).
It is important to note that the results of instruction through Compelling Comprehensible Input are qualitatively different than other methods and so cannot be measured the same way. Traditionally, language acquisition has been measured through the completion of isolated language tasks such as translating sentences, vocabulary tests, verb conjugation, etc. These almost always require conscious effort to recall and apply explicit rules and information to communicating in the target language. The assumption is that by learning the skills, students will eventually be able to communicate. However, these types of activities do not reflect real and authentic communication and so do not translate to real-world skills and proficiency. In order to successfully apply skills to real-world scenarios, language learners must know the rule, be thinking about the rule, and have time to apply the rule (SOURCE: Krashen Keynote). Unfortunately, these conditions are usually only met in artificial classroom environments. In authentic conversations, participants usually have an extremely limited amount of time to comprehend, process, and respond and would be focused on the conversation rather than the linguistics used to form individual words, phrases, and sentences. Moreover, most people simply don’t care about the language and rules in the first place - they simply want to be able to communicate and understand meaning.
With Compelling Comprehensible Input. By understanding compelling and comprehensible input in the language, the students subconsciously acquire the skills in order to develop proficiency. Moreover, the students develop these skills along the unalterable natural order of acquisition at their own unalterable pace. Because the skills are subconsciously acquired and we cannot control the order nor the pace that they are acquired, it would be unfair to mandate that students learn specific language patterns along a set course or timeline, nor would it be fair to hold teachers accountable for student mastery of those patterns. Moreover, the most important vocabulary for students to learn is the vocabulary that is meaningful, compelling, and useful to them, which cannot be appropriately covered using a predetermined list from a textbook. Through Compelling Comprehensible Input, students are continuously exposed to both the vocabulary and grammar that they need in a contextualized manner that is interesting, fun, pleasure, and more efficient and effective than any other way. The product of such instruction is natural and authentic holistic language proficiency.
Note: This is my expansion on the ideas presented in a blog post on T1 and T2 by Dr. Stephen Krashen.
A key difference between Compelling Comprehensible Input and other similar approaches lies in the use of language and targeting/circling.
Language chunks can be described as WHAT is taught and are defined as “groups of words that can be found together in a language” (SOURCE). Than can take various forms, but the rule of thumb is that they should communicate meaning rather than exist as an isolated word or word segment. Occasionally all you will need to make communication meaningful is a single word, but teachers should make an effort to contextualize the words within a meaningful chunk. Collocations (words that are often found together) expressions, idioms, and phrases that illustrate grammatical patterns are all examples of chunks.
The language chunks introduced in a class usually come from two sources: the curriculum (established chunks) and the students (emergent chunks). Traditionally, the language to be learned has been established by a pre-determined curriculum. While this may allow for comprehensible input, focusing on a particular chunk at the sacrifice of student interests will likely inhibit learning in two ways. First, it focuses student attention on the language to be learned rather than simply comprehending the messages. Second, it focuses teacher attention on using the chunk rather than catering to student interests and ensuring that the input is compelling. While many talented teachers can use established chunks to provide Compelling Comprehensible Input, these chunks are unnecessary and many other teachers are restricted and feel pressure to artificially infuse them into a lesson that would otherwise be focused on using the language that would be naturally compelling for students. Emergent chunks are the slices of language that emerge from a compelling context as necessary to communicate meaning within that context. These are solely focused on student interest and needs and have no hidden agenda behind them, although much, if not all, of the vocabulary and grammar that students will eventually need to acquire is present in them.
Targeting (or a lack thereof) involves HOW the language is used and can be described as using a particular language chunk repeatedly in order for students to acquire that chunk at a certain level. Circling is a specific type of targeting where a teacher asks a series of questions using the language being targeted. There are multiple types of targeting that can be differentiated based on the intent behind repeating the language chunk. Only one type of targeting is fully compatible with Compelling Comprehensible Input.
Targeting for Meaning
This is the only type of targeting that Compelling Comprehensible Input encourages. Essentially, the teacher repeats the language chunk as necessary in order for students to comprehend the message. They might repeat the chunk while pausing and pointing to the board, recycle the chunk as they build context around it, use the chunk in different contexts, do TPR (Total Physical Response) by adding actions and having students do the appropriate actions the words they hear, use gestures or images, ask the students to chorally translate, etc. As soon as the students understand the language chunk, the teacher moves on. This process might have to be repeated each time the chunk comes up, but the sole intent behind targeting the word is simply to ensure that all students understand what is being communicated.
Targeting for Repetitions
Students often need to hear language chunks used numerous times before they can acquire it. Thus, teachers sometimes attempt to maximize the number of repetitions that students hear and read within a given lesson or series of lessons, especially when the chunks are pre-established by a curriculum that teachers feel obligated to address through the language they use. Whether the language chunks are established or emergent, intentionally getting as many repetitions as necessary focuses teacher and student attention on the language being used rather than comprehending meaningful messages. It also inhibits the level to which he messages are compelling. Some chunks are more “sticky” than others and require few if any repetitions for students to understand them. Additionally, students will acquire the chunks at different rates, so intentional repetitions of a particular chunk will likely become boring and students may disengage as a teacher attempts to use the chunk enough times for all of the students to acquire it. Not only is this undesirable, but it is unnecessary. By putting Compelling Comprehensible Input first and focusing on simply communicating compelling and comprehensible messages using the language chunks necessary when they are necessary, the teacher quickly establishes and clarifies meaning where needed. Over time, students will get the input and repetitions necessary to fully acquire the language.
Targeting for Mastering Grammar
Finally, some teachers target with the intention to help students master the grammatical patterns associated with a given chunk, usually associated with verb conjugations. They repeat the chunk in different forms, often various conjugations, in order for students to hear the different grammar patterns. The idea is that by using the different forms, students will acquire the grammatical patterns and be able to apply them when using the particular chunk and eventually to similar or related chunks. Again, this diverts attention away from communicating and understanding compelling and comprehensible messages, can become boring, and focuses students and teachers on conscious learning rather than subconscious acquisition. While teachers should ensure that all of the grammar is contained in the language used, they should do so through using rich language rather than intentional repetitions of specific language chunks various forms.
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