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.
Must teachers be 100% comprehensible? Is there room for noise? And, if so, what amount or type of noise is acceptable?
First, here are a few comments from this article, The Case for Non-Targeted Input (Krashen, 2013)
"For an item of grammar to be acquired, the language acquirer must be ready to acquire the item. It must, in other words, be at the acquirers' i+1, where i = aspects of grammar that were most recently acquired."
"An important corollary of the Comprehension Hypothesis is the "Net" Hypothesis: Given enough comprehensible input, i+1, all the vocabulary and structures the student is ready for, is automatically provided. In Krashen and Terrell (1983) this was referred to as the Net: "When someone talks to you in a language you have not yet completely acquired so that you understand what is said, the speaker "casts a net" of structure around your current level of competence, your "i". This net will include many instances of i+1, aspects of language you are ready to acquire" (p. 33)."
"Ray and Seely (2008) emphasize the importance of translation because they feel that students must understand every word of what is said in class and what they read. As noted earlier, this may indeed be very helpful at the very beginning, but the transparency requirement should give way to the requirement that students feel that they are understanding everything. If only the feeling of full comprehension is required, if input is allowed to contain some i+n, we are no longer restricted to translation as a means of making input comprehensible. We are free to use pictures and realia, as emphasized in Natural Approach (see also comments by Carol Gaab in Ray and Seely, p. 235), as well as other means of making input comprehensible that do not obviously provide a one-to-one mapping from form to meaning (e.g. background readings that provide a general context for a story). If, in fact, the input is truly compelling, it is likely that students will not even notice the "noise" or bits of incomprehensible and nontransparent elements in the input."
I believe there is a difference between "total translatability" and "total comprehensibility" (I dislike the word "transparency" because I think it is confusing and could apply to either case).
Total translatability - students have a one-to-one connection for each and every word. This limits what you can communicate to students as well as the intention of communicating it: the emphasis is on learning forms, not on understanding messages.
Total comprehensibility - I'm beginning to think that acceptable "noise" does not come in the form of incomprehensibility, but rather that the meaning of words that would be incomprehensible on their own are made clear through other methods. For instance, when Diane Neubauer told us the story about the Zodiac, there was a part where the rat jumped over the ox's head. Had she focused on us understanding the words in that part of the story, it would have been overwhelming as well as disrupted the flow of the story - we were right at the climax and focused on what was happening, so it would have been much less compelling (not to mention out of bounds) to sit and focus on the somewhat more-complex language involved in communicating that idea. However, we completely comprehended that very critical part and kept the "flow" of the language going thanks to her gestures. We learned plenty in the process - and she could still use that story for valuable input (as opposed to being "barred" from an otherwise comprehensible story because a key part would have been "out of bounds"). This still counts as noise, however, because I didn't make any connections with the actual target language and couldn't have told you what the words were, even just after hearing her say them. And, frankly, I didn't care - I understood the message and wanted to hear the rest of the story! They key is that the message was, in fact, 100% comprehensible even if it did include noise, which was important because it lowered my affective filter and kept me in "flow". In other words, I didn't get stressed about trying to achieve a deeper level of comprehension than I was ready for nor was I stressed that there were details I was missing, because I felt confident that I had comprehended the entire message.
With regard to i+1 - there have been a few that say if everything is "100% comprehensible", then it is not providing the "+1". However, this position confuses what is acquired with what can be understood. It is important to understand that "i" is NOT what can be understood - it is what is already acquired, meaning that it can be used by the student. The "+1" is the language that is not yet acquired but can be understood (and therefore has the potential to be acquired). This area of "+1" is very broad and flexible as it contains all of the language that can be made comprehensible. For instance, novice students who have never been exposed to the target language before, have zero "i"; thus, the entire first lesson (or series of lessons) are all within the "+1" range. As students acquire "i" from the "+1" input, their ability to comprehend additional "+1" expands, although much of the language that was "+1" will remain "+1". This is why I agree with Krashen (2013) that non-targeted language is ideal for differentiation - students convert the "+1" into "i" at different rates according to the natural order, but as long as students are provided with a "Net" of language that includes "+1" for all students, all students will be able to continue acquiring the language they are ready for at their own pace .
With regard to noise, I don't think that "noise" can be acquired - the grammar and vocabulary from the language used MUST be made comprehensible before acquisition of that particular form can occur. In my above example with the Zodiac story, I had no chance of acquiring the structure for "jump over" because I never really even wrapped my head around the target language words in the first place. However, that was not a bad thing - in fact, it enabled Diane to tell a compelling story while staying "in bounds" and keeping the affective filter low. I believe that teachers need to skillfully judge and plan how they will tell a story knowing that the majority should be comprehensible at an level which students can acquire it, but be able to bridge these sections with tiny bits of comprehensible noise (if that makes sense) in order to make up for bits of language that might be beyond the "+1" level yet are still necessary to be compelling.
So, to answer my initial questions:
YES, teachers MUST be 100% comprehensible - meaning that students feel that they are comprehending everything. Some misunderstandings will occur - that's fine. That is part of language development and their understandings will become refined as they receive more input (also noted in Krashen, 2013). This keeps the affective filter low as students become comfortable and confident about comprehending messages, forgetting to focus on individual words and whether they can translate them.
YES, there is room for noise, but it must be comprehensible noise that is strategically used only when necessary. In other words, the messages must remain comprehensible even if the language is not. Moreover, teachers need to use their best judgement in order to maximize the amount of "+1" at a level that is possible for students to acquire. Yet, they should not feel constrained to only providing input that is at the "+1" level - comprehensible noise can be used as a tool to help students access input opportunities that might be otherwise compelling and comprehensible for students.
Someone recently asked about how much time I plan my lessons, especially now that I'm working to differentiate for my classes. While it may look like a lot of work, my lesson planning is even easier and more enjoyable than ever before. Here's what I do:
Step 1: Select contexts and strategies for providing compelling CI
What will my stuents find compelling? I use a variety of contexts for authentic and compelling input for my students. I emphasize auditory input, with the "critical input" activities followed by reading what students heard. Here are a few examples of contexts, although this is by no means exhaustive:
Step 2: Select the language that will be used and how you will make it comprehensible
What will you talk about and how? What do you need to do to "stay in bounds," or in other words ensure that students can comprehend what you are saying and not get overwhelemed or oversaturated? This involves identifying:
When I get to class, I pick word cards that correspond with the story to guide me and to show to my students as I provide input (these are like my verb word wall, but in GIANT magnetic form with Spanish on one side and Spanish/English on the other). For more organic activities, I just have an idea of what language I might use to facilitate the conversation and then adjust the conversation and make it comprehensible as appropriate during class. This does require skill to think on-the-spot about what will be "in" and "out" of bounds, and what you will do with that language. For this reason, I feel that Story Listening, Comprehensible Comics, and other pre-planned activities are easier for new CI teachers.
Step 3: Determine how you will check for comprehension
This can be done a variety of ways, although the teacher must be careful not to raise the affective filter and make students anxious or feel put-on-the-spot. I use a variety of methods, and they differ based on the activity.
Step 4: Determine whether a grade will be attached to an activity, why, and how
This is where each teacher will have to determine what fits with their philosophy, goals, and program. I've changed my grading system three times this year alone, but I do feel that the most recent system might stick because it's easy and authentic. I grade anything that is formative as a completion grade - these make up 50% of their overall grade. Students are letting me know how well I am doing my job - it's my 50%, so as long as they let me know how I did, they get the grade. The other 50% is based on their behaviors aligned with my expectations for them, since those behaviors will lead to acquisition. Because I have pretty clear routines in my class and pre-made forms, this requires no extra preparation beyond printing copies of resources.
That's it! As long as I'm not trying anything new (or blogging about it!), it usually only takes me about 15-30 minutes to plan for all of my classes each day. I take about 15 minutes to plan my weekly outline ahead of time. Then, all that is left to do during the week is picking language to use and writing up the reading and any related materials. Assuming I already have a story, comic, or other context in ind, this takes about another 15-30 minutes to create the resources and differentiate them by class level and student need.
To be completely honest, what takes much more time is finding stories and other contexts to talk about, especially for Story Listening. Selecting the right context and/or story means becoming familiar with many stories and how they might be both compelling and comprehensible for your students. However, this is becoming easier and easier as I build a bank of resources (such as this, this, or this, with more listed here) and listen to stories other teachers are telling. One of my best stories was one I learned as a student of Chinese Story Listening!
I have some students in my regular class (about 40 hours of instruction so far) who are VERY low - as in, out of thirty students, all but three will highlight that at least 95% of the story (indicating they understand it when we read it), and three will highlight about 10% of the story. When I've spoken to their other teachers, they struggle with focusing their attention and retaining information in their regular classes as well. Many of them have low English reading skills and/or low motivation. In any case, I just haven't reached them yet the way I would like to and I'm afraid they're getting left behind by the rest of the class.
This month, my "professional goal" is to meet these kids where they need me. Here are a few of the ideas I've come up with, but I'm also curious to hear your thoughts.
One strategy I'm experimenting is by using the videos of my instruction. Not only am I recording their stories from class and putting them on my YouTube channel (my kids think having a YouTube channel is so cool haha), but I'm also including the reading and a carefully chosen set of Quizlet flash cards that parents/students can practice.
In addition, I just started teaching novice students (0 hours of previous instruction) and am telling them a novice version of the stories ahead of telling my regular class their more intermediate version. I'm encouraging students who might want/need some extra practice and support to pre-listen to these easier versions of the story to understand the basic problem, characters, storyline, and vocabulary that they'll hear in their in-class version of the story (on the condition that they'll still pay attention when I tell it and won't spoil the story for others). These include the reading and flash cards as well. My hope is that by scaffolding the story this way, they'll increase their comprehension level, get more meaningful input, and I will still be able to tell the more difficult versions of the stories that the rest of the class is ready for.
Here are some other ideas that one of our excellent ELA/SPED teachers suggested after I described Story Listening to her (I'm still processing whether and how I would use them; these could be whole-group or small group) - she pointed out that typical students need 40 or more exposures to something to understand it and use it in a new way; students with learning challenges or exceptional needs can need twice that exposure to comprehend. Thus, these activities are aimed toward increasing that exposure in order to comprehend words in new contexts (PLEASE NOTE - I know that these do not lead to acquisition. Acquisition isn't my goal; rather, I would be using these strategies to increase comprehension of the input so that the stories are more comprehensible and effective for acquisition - perhaps think of these as "practical preliminary steps" in order to provide quality CI for all of my students given the particular challenges and demands of teaching in K-12 public schools) :
Interventions for students who are not comprehending the stories in the first place:
Interventions for students who are understanding the story, but are not transferring what they hear to what they read, whether in context or when applying to new contexts (in addition to providing more auditory input):
I think I will explore using the graphic organizer and pre-teaching in the coming weeks, although I will have to re-arrange my class activities to do small groups. As a secondary teacher, this seems a bit daunting - but I have to give it the good ol' college try! If I can pull it off and my students are able to comprehend (and therefore acquire) more, then it's absolutely worth it.
Look at how awesome this is!!
My friend did Story Listening for her VERY FIRST lesson ever! She's not even in front of kids yet - this was for the other future teachers in her class and is designed to be a 15-minute "sample". Here's how we developed her lesson:
First, she watched my Story Listening session (the one about the volcanoes). Then, she picked a story she thought would be interesting to tell, a Curious George book. She thought about how to tell the story in comprehensible Spanish. Then, we simplified it to be as easy as possible. After narrowing down the story to a single problem and a single way to solve the problem, we also adjusted the story to make use of as many proper nouns and cognates as possible. This story is the result.
I wanted to share this (with her permission) because A) she rocks my socks and is going to be an AWESOME teacher, B) look, we're getting more fresh CI teachers!, and c) I thought it might be helpful to use as a model for getting started in CI with minimal (in this case zero) teaching experience. I'm hoping this is simple and easy enough that a novice teacher could walk in and confidently teach through CI!
As the name of this post suggests, this is another step on a journey that started long before this post. It may be helpful to review the following posts before reading this one in order to contextualize what I'm about to write:
As I reflect on all that I've learned during our first trimester, I find myself compelled, yet again, to change the grading system. I was using an Interpersonal Mode rubric adapted from Ben Slavic which fit the needs of co-creating with the class (One Word Images, Ask A Story, Etc.) very well. However, with my recent transition to primarily Story Listening, the Interpersonal Mode rubric no longer fits the behaviors I expect of my students since they now have new roles for engagement. Moreover, there are things missing from that rubric that I want students to be doing, especially since so much of our class time is now spent reading.
The bottom line is that grades should be meaningful, and what I was doing no longer fits what I wish to communicate to parents and students. So, something has got to change.
What would be meaningful and fair to communicate?
Before I even begin to think about setting up my gradebook, assigning tasks, and grading them, I must be able to answer this question. The meaningful part concerns what I need to communicate to parents. How should they interpret the grades that their students receive? The fair part of this question concerns what students can control - and, as I've explained in the two posts linked at the beginning of this post, I do not view assessing what students can do in the language (i.e. proficiency or tasks) as fair and I have to honor that when assigning their grades (soap box moment: whether or not I agree with it, these grades do influence their quality of life based on how they and their parents feel about them! Not to mention that high school grades will affect college acceptances and scholarships. For those reasons, I take assigning them very, very seriously).
For my class, I've determined that Student Behaviors (Citizenship) and Completion of Assignments (Classwork/Assignments) are fair and meaningful to communicate:. To be honest, completion of assignments can be categorized under student behaviors, but there is some sort of satisfaction when students see a direct connection between the tasks the complete in class and what shows up in the gradebook. However, in honoring what is fair to assess, these daily tasks are formative assessments of my instruction and students receive an automatic 100% just for completing them. It feels great to them to get these regular 100% grades in the grade book, and it ensures that students can communicate openly with me about how well I am reaching them while only being graded on what they can control.
How does this look in the gradebook?
Although it may be somewhat arbitrary, I decided to give each of the categories (Classwork/Assignments and Citizenship) equal weight in the gradebook. The categories are broad enough that I can include everything we do. I've always preferred to use weights as I feel they give me more accurate control over my gradebook, but that is just a personal preference.
Because this approach is likely unfamiliar to parents and students, I plan to send a letter explaining how students are graded and how to interpret those grades. I also plan to review their proficiency assessments in their notebooks and touch base with the parents of students who are struggling in their proficiency so that they have a complete picture of their students' performance and how they can support them, while still maintaining fairness in the grade book. Once I write that email, I will link to it here.
Beginning of the year:
A few weeks in:
After the first month or two:
Month Three or Four:
Month Four and Beyond?
This is where I am now. How to proceed? My current plans are to continue doing the plan for months 3-4 until all of my students are able to engage in FVR successfully with partners, and then proceed to where everyone can engage in Silent and Sustained FVR. Right now, I have only a handful of kids reading independently. Of course, many of my students who could read independently are helping their friends in small groups. They are working very productively and it's a beautiful thing when my administrator (or anyone else) walks down the hall (we spread out since it can get loud with everyone in the classroom) and asks me "Are they reading novels in Spanish?!" I'm so proud of them! However, I know that I didn't scaffold the reading enough this year for some students (It was my first year doing this and I now see the need for a well-thought out and differentiated transition, which I included in the plan above), so I'm going to take a step back and provide more structured and contextualized reading for those few students who still aren't ready for FVR. My hope is to have everyone successfully engaged in SSR by the end of the year while I continue to provide whole-class auditory input through Story Listening or other methods.
This blog post is in respont to questions from other teachers and was originally posted on my Facebook page:
What does your lesson cycle look like? What are your objectives?
This is what a "unit" looks like for me and it can apply to any CI class - please look at my instructional flow chart first to see a summary and then read the rest of this post for my application of these segments (click the picture to go to the original Google Doc).
I use this template for nearly everything and I start with a fresh "unit" or cycle every week. Keep in mind that this is NOT a rigid template - I change and adapt it to fit my students' needs, always prioritizing CI instruction (Stage 1, Stage 2, and FVR in Stage 4 when students are ready). I teach I the block, so I only see my kids 2-3 times each week for 70 minutes each time. As for objectives, I pretty much use the same objectives every week. I was trained to use measurable objectives, so that's reflected in how I write mine. I always ask "How will I know that they met the objective?" when I write it. We also discuss the objective and agenda in Spanish every day ("El objetivo de hoy es ________. Primero, vamos a _____. Segundo, vamos a ____." etc.). At my old school, we also had to write essential questions. My essential question is always the same: "How do I navigate meaning and communicate my ideas in Spanish?" I figure that's the essential goal of every class period, unit, and course. Students learn more language and are able to comprehend and communicate more complex ideas, but the goal/essential question is always the same.
Auditory Input - Story Listening (for now). There are a plethora of ways to get auditory input. For instance, I started the year with a lot of One Word Images and Ask a Story.
**OBJECTIVE: "Listen to a story in Spanish and write a summary." This is actually extremely flexible and we summarize the story in different ways using my reflection sheet. Sometimes I have students summarize the whole story, but other times I ask them to summarize based on a prompt such as only summarizing their favorite part of the story, summarize a part of the story you have a question about and then write your question, etc. I'm sure we could think of many more prompts that would "summarize" the story in some way and demonstrate comprehension through authentic responses from students. They always get 100% for this as long as they do it - the important part is that they know they have accomplished they day's goal and I have tangible evidence/data for how well each student accomplished the goal in order to inform my future instructional decisions.
Structured Reading and/or Contextualized Reading
We started the year with a lot of this. However, many of my students are independent readers or are able to read with a partner now, so I'm skipping this step right now. I'm thinking I'll add it back in, though, because I think my students need a little more reinforcement of the language.
**OBJECTIVE: "Read a story in Spanish." Again, I write this in a very flexible way in order to adapt it to my students' needs although the objective is always the same: Read. I ask myself "How will I know they comprehended what they read?" Each class and even each student has a different answer to this question, but it's always observable. Are the students talking about what they're reading with someone else? Are they translating out loud with a partner? Are you observing how their eyes and fingers track across the page and turn pages appropriately? Are they selecting materials based on reading level and interest? Perhaps you are doing a structured activity in which everyone is demonstrating comprehension the same way, or, if your students are already reading independently, perhaps each student is demonstrating their comprehension in a different way. Whatever the case, they're reading and meeting the objective!
I use my reflection sheet for this. Students do three things. First they re-listen to a 2-minute version of the story and "grade me" on how well I made the story comprehensible for them based on our Interpretive Mode rubric. Then, they follow along as I read the story and highlight/cross off everything they understood. Finally, they summarize the story in some way. I use all of these as indicators of MY performance and how well I made the story comprehensible, then make adjustments in my Story Listening techniques to improve comprehensibility and instruction. For instance, if everyone is at a 3.5 or 4, I probably need to step it up. If everyone is at a 2-3, I probably need to simplify the language I'm using, go slower, and/or pay better attention to my students as I'm telling the story. I can also see from what they didn't highlight the words they're still struggling with to comprehend. Finally, I can look for trends in student performance and identify my high and low students on a weekly basis and work on differentiating for them.
**OBJECTIVE: This is usually some way to measure how students met the objectives for "Auditory Input" and "Structured Reading", so I do not write an objective specific to contextualized assessment.
Right now, I am doing Free voluntary Reading (FVR) for this step and plan to do so for the foreseeable future. Language students cannot ever have enough FVR!
**OBJECTIVE: See "Structured Reading".
Students can use their FVR time to do our benchmark reading assessments, but I set aside time specifically for them about once every 2-3 weeks. We do a writing assessment once every 6 weeks. Students self-evaluate and know that they will not be penalized for what they do - I am completely transparent with them and tell them this is for us to track their growth and to help me be a better teacher by seeing what's in their brains and making sure I meet them halfway. If any grades go into the gradebook based on these, they're always 100% for completion. Students and I use these as an overall measure of proficiency to track student progress over time and I get some good insights into what I need to do for individual students as well as how they are coming along in general.
**OBJECTIVE: "Evaluate my _______ proficiency." All of my evaluations are graded on completion. I do provide my rubrics and students self-evaluate their reading and writing (in the future, we will add listening. Eventually, I want to add speaking for my advanced students). They know that no matter what they score, they get 100% in the grade book. I am completely transparent with them that their score is just a way to track progress over time and to help me know what's going on so I can teach them better - and I honor that commitment. Of course, that means I have some explaining and educating to do with parents since most people equate ability with grades, but my students know that as long as they give me their best, their grade will be at least a B if not an A.
There are LOTS of other CI activities to choose from than the ones I've listed above or even in the flow chart (note the "More?" in all but the last segment). If we need some variety, I select from a menu of CI activities. As long as the activity is CI, the objectives listed above should usually work or only need to be tweaked to fit. Of course, there are plenty of other things that I use to fill the time in between all of these "core" activities. Many times, those are songs - silly songs like those from SenorWooly.com, vocabulary songs for Spanish students, authentic songs, or holiday/traditional songs (right now we are working on our Christmas carols!). These are usually on the same days as the activities listed above, so I don't bother writing an objective for the "side show." Every now and then there is a day where none of the above apply (that's rare, though). These are the only days that I write the objective based on what we're doing - such as the day where the objective was "Dance the salsa."
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.
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