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.
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.
After taking a year off from my program, I am re-applying to earn my Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership. I plan to focus my dissertation on targeted and non-targeted instruction. Here is the "Professional Interests" section of my official "Statement of Purpose":
My academic and professional interests center on increasing student achievement by inspiring, supporting, and increasing the value of teachers as they inspire students and the community. In particular, I am interested in increasing the effectiveness of foreign language instruction through using Comprehensible Input. Traditionally, language has been taught using discrete word lists and grammar rules. Conversely, Comprehensible Input involves simply having students listen to and read messages in the foreign language that they can understand, while their brains subconsciously acquire the vocabulary and grammar along a natural order (Krashen, 1982). Currently, the majority of what we know about second language acquisition relies on the work of two researchers, Dr. Stephen Krashen, who is the most widely recognized researcher on second language acquisition and is the founder of modern theory, and Dr. Beniko Mason, who has researched the benefits of extensive free voluntary reading as the primary means of language instruction. While most teachers have moved away from using only rote memorization and drills for language instruction, many teachers blend these traditional methods and their derivatives with Comprehensible Input methods, creating an “eclectic” approach. However, both Dr. Krashen and Dr. Mason argue that Comprehensible Input is the only thing that works, and that anything else is either ineffective or inefficient (Mason, 2016). Further complicating the issue is that many teachers who believe that they are using Comprehensible Input are merely drilling vocabulary and grammar through reading and listening, sometimes referred to as “targeting”, which results in teachers and students regressing back to conscious effort to master vocabulary and grammatical forms and eroding the effectiveness of their teaching and learning. Instead, Drs. Krashen and Mason propose that teachers should simply focus on communicating comprehensible and compelling stories are so interesting to students that they forget that they are supposed to be learning a language and instead simply experience it (Krashen, 2016). Grammar and vocabulary lists, which currently form the backbone of most foreign language curricula, should be replaced by observable behaviors that indicate student proficiency in authentic communicative interactions (C. Ensor, personal communication, October 14, 2016).
This poses a major philosophical and practical challenge for most foreign language teachers, especially those who work within our current system of education. If students acquire language subconsciously at at different rates in unpredictable interactions, how can we assess what they learn and assign grades as our system dictates? What we know about how students learn requires a complete overhaul of our foreign language programs as well as re-training the teachers who deliver the instruction. Rather than measuring student mastery by artificial grading deadlines and percentages, students should simply be provided opportunities to experience the language. Since it would be unfair to hold students accountable for mastering skills that they cannot consciously control, conversations about grades and credits must be replaced by conversations about proficiency levels and real-world application of skills.
At the present time, there is enough compelling evidence about language acquisition to support exploring these systematic and revolutionary changes. However, little to no research nor resources exist to help teachers and administrators apply this information to real-world classrooms and programs. There is a certain sense of security in adhering to lists of items to be mastered by the end of the year, and many teachers either cannot eliminate these “targets” due to outside pressure from departments, administrators, or other sources, while other teachers will not eliminate them due to fear. Dr. Krashen recently proposed that instead of targeting chunks of language, teachers can achieve similar or superior results with completely non-targeted and unpredictable language experiences, even within the limitations of our education system (Krashen, 2016). I wish to test this hypothesis.
Krashen, S.D. (2016). Keynote address. 2016 COFLT-WAFLT Fall Conference, Portland, OR.
Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Krashen, S.D. (2016, July 26). Targeting 1 and Targeting 2: Working paper [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2016/07/targeting-1-and-targeting-2-working.html
Mason, B. (2016, October) The power of comprehensible input. Conference presentation at the 2016 COFLT-WAFLT Fall Conference, Portland, OR.
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