Here’s the second of 6 emails I got in response to a demo I did at Bethel University’s graduate level methods class in November. Previous posts on this topic here and here.
I really appreciate you taking the time and giving us a taste of things.
I loved the atmosphere that was created and think that this in and of itself goes a long way to assure learning takes place. It’s definitely different than the “no pain/no gain” school of thought, which seems to think there’s something redeeming in suffering needlessly through things that bore oneself silly. Years ago I remember Steven Allen talking (and unfortunately not joking) about sitting back in a straight back chair to read literature. The greatest books I’ve read were always done lying comfortably in bed. I’ve always thought our goal as teachers should be to make sure our students are engaged and that things are as enjoyable as possible.
I love the idea of creating a story and continually working with it. The Proverb says, “We spend our years as a tale that is told.” I think there’s something about a story that is so basic to the human psyche. (And for students to close their eyes and see the story played out – perfect!).
I can only imagine the time that must go into making sure you cover what you want to cover. I’m extremely curious as to what materials there are out there that help one to do this.
All the best,
Like last time, I’ve bolded a few ideas that stand out to me.
An atmosphere that assures learning is taking place.
A parent of a less-engaged student observed my class some 3 or 4 years ago. He sat right behind his son during a full class period and stayed for one more after his son had moved on to his next class. Afterward, as he shook my hand, he said, “How could anyone NOT learn in a class like this?” Blaine Ray has said that TPRS works very well for kids who are motivated. Or, maybe he said engaged. I don’t recall. But I think one of the characteristics of experienced TCI classes is that the teacher doesn’t accept a lack of engagement easily. Our baseline expectation is that every student respond to every utterance, whether it be a statement or a question. Some students may respond non-verbally, but they’re engaged and demonstrating comprehension.
If you’ve seen Alina Filipescu’s video on gesture reading
, it’s clear that a student would have to work MUCH HARDER to NOT learn than to learn in her class. Managing a class in this way is not easy, even though Alina makes it look like a walk in the park on a sunny day. It takes time, determination, reflection, persistence and more. And even when Alina makes it look so easy, true homerun classes aren’t as frequent as we’d like them to be. But I do believe that any of us can get there!
How? Our professional lives are often driven by external solutions to internal problems. In the face of all the extras – all the tech integration, IPA creation, #authres hunting, assessment for learning, AVID, anti-bullying… in the face of all of it, I recommend you do what you can to simplify. Here are two ideas to consider.
Boil down your rules and expectations to only the essential – the ones you can be assured that you will be able to enforce and maintain with fidelity day in and day out. Know that you’re going to have to train your students and retrain them and then retrain them again (maybe April and May will go smoothly). Here are mine
Also ask yourself: What kind of environment do I need to have in order to ensure that acquisition is taking place? And then: How can I maximize acquisition during the time I have my students?
If acquisition happens when we receive comprehensible messages, then side-talking or blurting in English will inhibit acquisition and will need to be curbed. Any teacher talk in L1 will ALSO need to be curbed, unless L1 is being used to keep the environment optimized for acquisition or it is making the L2 more comprehensible, thereby making acquisition more efficient. Likewise, having eyes and ears clearly tuned in to the source of messages will enhance acquisition and will need to be maximized.
What is it about a TCI classroom that assures kids are learning? It’s a constant delivery of customized messages that don’t require extended mental effort to comprehend, but that do require processing and an observable response that either verifies comprehension or indicates a lack there-of.
No Pain No Gain
The “Skill-Building Hypothesis” insists on delayed gratification. Only after hard and tedious work do we earn the right to actually enjoy the use of language.
TCI embraces the idea that we can use language for real communicative purposes from day 1 – and that it can be a joyful experience for all involved. We want all kids comprehending and sharing in the joy. That’s why the skills we practice to become better practitioners include speaking more slowly (to allow for processing real language on the fly), staying inbounds (focusing on 3-5 new utterances in a given time period, couched in already known vocabulary) and loads of comprehension checks so everyone comes along for the ride. The skill-building approach, on the other hand, often advantages higher performing students, leaving others behind. But even the high performers are promised communication only after they’ve memorized all the rules, which we know is an impossibility, since linguists have yet to identify all the rules.
Story is Basic to the Human Psyche
Then there’s “B”‘s last comment about how story is “basic to the human psyche”. Well, yes, there’s that. I’m going to talk a bit more about story as a vehicle for delivering CI when I share “N”‘s observations of the demo. Until then, I’ll leave you with this article, in case you haven’t see it yet.