We can start to think of ways to provide more input that is comprehended if we better understand possible causes of comprehension problems.
This list comes from VanPatten's "language is complex" argument:
•lexicon - words & meanings •phonology - pronunciation•morphology - inflections, prefixes, etc.•syntax - sentence order•pragmatics - what speakers intend•sociolinguistics - tú vs. ud.•discourse competence - cohesion across sentences Christine Goh (2000) did a study of listening comprehension problems.
Some factors listed by Goh in the introduction are speech rate, phonological features, background knowledge, lack of interest/motivation, cognitive demand of content. Flowerdew and Miller identified 3 problems: speed of delivery, new terminology and concepts, and difficulty concentrating. Then, Goh's paper examines 10 factors related to processing problems (see page 59).
1. Do not recognise words they know 2. Neglect the next part when thinking about meaning3. Cannot chunk streams of speech4. Miss the beginning of texts5. Concentrate too hard or unable to concentrate
6. Quickly forget what is heard 7. Unable to form a mental representation from words heard8. Do not understand subsequent parts of input because of earlier problems
9. Understand words but not the intended message 10. Confused about the key ideas in the message
Comprehension increases when . . .
-repetitive, e.g. targeted input -substantial vocabulary coverage (translatable = 100% coverage)-slow-in manageable chunks (e.g. shorter sentences for beginners)-compelling-relaxed-focused-content is cognitively appropriate-person has visualization skills-there is background knowledge-in some instances for some people linguistic knowledge can help There are degrees of comprehension. Many teachers are comprehensible to an extent. Studies of reading comprehension based on vocabulary coverage indicate that for a text to have a chance at being reasonably comprehensible, students need 98%+ coverage (know 49 of every 50 words). Now, if you include pictures, gestures, etc. to support the text, then comprehensibility can increase. And those are great techniques to use when teaching with a text that doesn't have 98% coverage for all the students in the class. (On assessment: it makes sense to me that if I wanted a test purely of what language has been acquired, then the subject should have only the language to rely on for comprehension). The power of CI can be explained with reference to Krashen's Comprehension Hypothesis or by a cognitive psychology based explanation of attention. When the CI we deliver is repetitive, slow, and there is high vocabulary coverage, then it can be argued that students are absorbing form and meaning. I read this explanation in Mangubhai, 2001. https://eprints.usq.edu.au/895/1/Manguabahi_Book_Floods_and_Comprehensible_Input_Floods.pdf
"The argument is based on cognitive psychology, more particularly the role of attention, claiming that second learner learners can focus on the language once comprehension is relatively easy and therefore does not take up all the attentional resources. . . the greater the frequency of the occurrence of a linguistic item in the input the higher the probability it will be noticed. . . it might be possible to infer from the results of reading programs that readers do attend to form once it is relatively easy to extract the meaning. . . If we take a more cognitive approach to SL learning and accept that learners process input for meaning before they process it for form (VanPatten, 1996) and that such processing can take place only if there are attentional resources available, then the first three factors [highly comprehensible, repetition, recycling] mentioned above would suggest that attentional resources would have been available to many of these students because of the relative ease with which meaning could be extracted."
Sorry. I don't know why there was a huge space between the link and the quote from the article. Here's that quote again, this time at the top of the comment ;) "The argument is based on cognitive psychology, more particularly the role of attention, claiming that second learner learners can focus on the language once comprehension is relatively easy and therefore does not take up all the attentional resources. . . the greater the frequency of the occurrence of a linguistic item in the input the higher the probability it will be noticed. . . it might be possible to infer from the results of reading programs that readers do attend to form once it is relatively easy to extract the meaning.
"If we take a more cognitive approach to SL learning and accept that learners process input for meaning before they process it for form (VanPatten, 1996) and that such processing can take place only if there are attentional resources available, then the first three factors mentioned above would suggest that attentional resources would have been available to many of these students because of the relative ease with which meaning could be extracted. One could argue that in the Canadian immersion context there would also have been numerous instances where the easy extraction of meaning would have left learners with attentional resources that could have been devoted to processing the form. But the evidence suggests that either (a) they did not, or (b) there were insufficient number of such instances to have made an impact upon their grammatical competence to the extent that researchers were looking for." - From "Book Floods and Comprehensible Input Floods: Providing Ideal Conditions for Second Language Acquisition."
You bring up very important points and research. You are also right that it is not a matter of which methodology to implement, rather understanding how language learners learn. The one thing I feel is missing in the conversation is the degree to which we make learners responsible for their own learning. Much is said about what topics or comprehensible input to provide learners with at what level of language proficiency. From this perspective the teacher is still a teacher, not a coach or facilitator of learning.
All "teachers" are not created equal, neither are learners. Furthermore, research and methodologies, as you point out, have their flaws. Much of our frustration as "teachers" comes from the "one size fits all" approach of curricula, textbooks and assessment. Textbooks are created with learning in mind, yes, but also with profits in mind. Publishing companies sell colorful, packed-full packages we cannot resist. Yet, I am less and less satisfied with such textbooks. One of the reasons is the lack of integration of vocabulary, grammar and cultural topics in many instances.
In my opinion, one problem is that the thematic vocabulary lists often come at the end of the unit or chapter, and the culture is tacked in a corner somewhere for the most part. A better integration of vocabulary, grammar and "cognitive appropriate culture" (by culture I mean just about any topic deemed appropriate) would provide the repetitive, vocabulary coverage in small chunks that Goh claims are needed for language acquisition.
My experience has also taken me to focus more on the learner. Not all learners in a classroom have the same background knowledge, aptitude, attitude or learning style or needs. One way to individualize learning is to lecture less and expect more from the learner. It takes skillful facilitators to successfully address learner needs in this way, but it works (not without flaws). That is, facilitators briefly introduce topics, vocabulary and grammar not in isolation, but rather with integrated small chunks of input at increasingly higher levels of difficulty. We then create activities that require learners to research further, practice, think, collaborate and add information for the purpose of establishing meaningful communication (Krashen) in the classroom. These activities can be very simple at first, but they encourage engagement and ownership. It is important that the topics be age and level appropriate, and that learners' research, while connected to the general unit's topic, be of particular interest to each individual learner. Easier said than done, indeed, and the reason why we, educators, need to closely collaborate with textbook publishers and maintain healthy dialogs such as the ones in this site. The flipped classroom (Socrates, Dewey, Holt, Montessori...) is actually a move in the right direction and finally beginning to go main stream. What is getting on the way? It's the way we assess learning, a whole other chapter I am afraid. Again, thank you!
I would love to see more comments here. Let us stick to the question: the title of the thread. The question has been put in other ways in this thread: -How comprehensible are teachers really?-How do you make input comprehensible for all the students?-To whom is the teacher comprehensible?-How do we enable the learner to comprehend the utterances quickly so that time in the language is maximized both quantitatively and qualitatively? Here is the link to ACTFL's position statement. http://www.actfl.org/news/position-statements/use-the-target-language-the-classroom-0
I reason that if1. 90%+ of the class is to be spent in the target language and2. incomprehensible input does not aid acquisition, then3. ACTFL is asking us to teach as exclusively as possible with comprehensible input
Blaming the students is over. Input that is compelling, that which makes the students want to know what you're talking about and want to listen, means that person does not have to be motivated to improve in the language.
And VanPatten in recent research has also shown that grammatical sensibility (traditionally defined as "language aptitude") is not a factor on the ability to process input.
"If you believe that there's some kind of rule you have in your head and you teach a rule and practice that rule, aptitude is actually predicated on that paradigm. It's an outdated paradigm." (minute 3:38)
". . . acquisition too complex to say, 'Ok class. Today we are going to learn ser and estar'. . . you can do that and you can test it, but then you're not doing language acquisition." (minute 7:20) from 6th video: http://learninglanguages.celta.msu.edu/sla-vanpatten/
We respect the implicit nature of SLA. I gave the cognitively-oriented hypothesis in an earlier comment, but Krashen's Comprehension Hypothesis is the well-known explanation. Learner preferences aside, it has been theorized that we all acquire in the same way.
"We acquire language in only one way, when we understand messages." (Krashen)
"Language acquisition is a subconscious process; while it is happening we are not aware that it is happening, and the competence developed this way is stored in the brain subconsciously." (Krashen)
: advice or opinions that help someone make a decision
: information that is put into a computer
: something (such as power or energy) that is put into a machine or system
Input from visiting scientists will increase the value of ourwork.
Teachers have considerable input into the school'sdecision-making process.
The surveys will provide valuableinput into development planning.
The program accepts input from a variety of sources.
an input socket
I would love to see more comments here. Let us stick to the question: the title of the thread.
The question has been put in other ways in this thread:
-How comprehensible are teachers really?
-How do you make input comprehensible for all the students?
-To whom is the teacher comprehensible?
-How do we enable the learner to comprehend the utterances quickly so that time in the language is maximized both quantitatively and qualitatively?
Here is the link to ACTFL's position statement.
I reason that if
1. 90%+ of the class is to be spent in the target language and
2. incomprehensible input does not aid acquisition, then
3. ACTFL is asking us to teach as exclusively as possible with comprehensible input
". . . acquisition too complex to say, 'Ok class. Today we are going to learn ser and estar'. . . you can do that and you can test it, but then you're not doing language acquisition." (minute 7:20)
from 6th video: http://learninglanguages.celta.msu.edu/sla-vanpatten/
Please do not confuse this thread with others. This is about answering a very specific question: What is CI really?" and so far there are only 3 of us commenting.
It's about alignment with a game-changing ACTFL position statement. If 90%+ of a teacher's instruction time is already in the target language, then I'd like it to be shared how he/she ensures the input is being comprehended by ALL the students.
It's especially relevant to the subject of the Oct/Nov 2014 The Language Educator. The editor, Sandy Cutshall, asked similar questions on this listserv on Oct. 13th and got no responses posted to this online community. This thread is about answering the first part of Cutshall's question: "What have you done in your classroom to support learners in understanding what they heard, read, or viewed (input)?"
Good points, Robert, about all CI not being created equal and about the necessity for a flexible curriculum. The last paragraph from my 1st post agrees with what Robert says is the learner's responsibility. Robert also asks what teachers can do to make "students want to make an investment of their time and energy to receive, process, understand, and respond to the information" and as he said, success of that will vary depending on the students and the day, but we keep trying. Besides saying that compelling makes the CI more effective, it may be, as Krashen suggests, necessary. It may be part of the C in CI. If not compelling, it may not be comprehended, even if heard.
"It is possible that compelling input is not just optimal: It may be only way we truly acquire language." http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/the_compelling_(not_just_interesting)_input_hyothesis.pdf
Eric Herman firstname.lastname@example.orgSpanish Teacher-------------------------------------------
Thank you this reminder about ACTFL's message, Mr. Hardt:
...[ACTFL] challenges us to provide "maximum target-language use" (input) coupled with comprehension of that input. Let us work together to stay on topic....
In my view, a large part of the frustration felt in the recent vibrant threads here (finally!) may in fact be described as resulting from a distinction between an organizing principle and an approach. Robert Harrell made that distinction in the past week and anyone serious about language teaching would do well to read it, since it reveals a gross, even egregious professional error by most language teachers:
...an example of incongruity between the organizing principle and the approach would be to claim to Teach with Comprehensible Input but organize the course according to a grammar syllabus....
...many teachers and educators use the analogy of "choosing the right tool from the toolbox". This is a useful analogy if we understand the limitations. Unfortunately most teachers use this analogy to mean that they feel free to borrow and use whatever practice or strategy looks inviting to them without regard for the method or approach to which it belongs. If we extend the analogy a bit, they are taking tools from a completely different toolbox. It is like taking tools from a plumber's toolbox to do surgery. Could there be something useful to the surgeon in the plumber's toolbox? Potentially (after all, surgeons sometimes use pen cases to do a tracheotomy in extreme situations), but isn't it much better to use the tools in the surgeon's toolbox to do the surgeon's job? Borrowing practices and strategies from another method or approach is similar. Sure, there may be some ability to adapt them, but wouldn't it be better to use the tools designed for the job? I fear that the "eclectic approach" generally results in a hodgepodge or jumble of quickly successive practices that lack cohesion....
This non-alignment described by Harrell, this inability to use the right tool (comprehensible input) for the right job (teaching languages), is slowly making its way into the consciousness of some language teachers now in 2014, but it remains largely buried under a massive pool of educational sludge that has been sitting on top of our profession for over a hundred years, one very connected to the textbook and to the idea that people can learn a language by thinking about it hard enough or by speaking it often enough. So the clean-up will not be fast and easy. No amount of surveys from Bill Gates or the ACTFL leadership will bring the changes needed - it will be a grassroots movement from the bottom up and it will happen from teacher to teacher.
Chris Stolz, in commenting on Harrell's article, adds:
...we must remember one thing about APPROACH and what Robert called "the toolbox": not every approach/tool works in every subject....
...you CANNOT learn basketball by watching it: goal = process. You CANNOT learn a language by speaking it: goal does not equal process. Direct feedback to a kid in an English class about writing will improve it; all the language feedback in the world will not and cannot change what happens with language acquisition. Jigsaws and peer teaching are superb tools for a novel study, or a social studies unit on the Romans, and absolutely useless in languages....
When Stolz says that you cannot learn a language by speaking it, he shuffles the deck on many teachers. He knows that input must precede output by many thousands of hours if one is to in fact master a language. He knows that working on input in the form of listening and reading for thousands of hours before expecting any quality speech or writing output to emerge is now a fact in our work and one that is finally just beginning to get proper attention. What Stolz outlines in the second paragraph of his comment above is true and changes everything for language teachers.
Thank you for taking the time, language educators, to dialogue on the question, "How do we make input comprehensible for our students?" Greg expands on the idea that Comprehensible Input makes learning easy in the foreign language classroom. I like that. I thought I'd build off that idea. If I use a word or word chunk in the TL in my classroom of which I have not established meaning (i.e., written the word on the board, translated through writing and verbally, shared a gesture or sign language for that word, and asked students to try to sound out the word with emotional effect) than I can't expect that word or word chunk to be comprehensible for the student. Right? Now, we have cognates that we may not need to establish meaning for, and we have little words (for the lack of a better term) that we may not need to establish meaning for - e.g., I may use a reflexive pronoun while in a conversation with students alongside a verb that they already have intimate familiarity with, but not fuss with establishing meaning of that reflexive pronoun until we read that reflexive pronoun in a passage (mini-story) and translate that passage together. That said, it takes training and discipline as a teacher to stay in-bounds and make the TL comprehensible for their students. It is what we have to do. Contrary to what others have said in this thread, I don't see how I could ever be exhausted with finding ways to teach comprehensible input. My students' ability to acquire the TL depends on it. If my students say that learning Spanish (my TL) is easy in my class AND they are showing me strong interpersonal communication skills including; good posture, clear eyes, responding non-verbally, and responding verbally (starting with answering yes/no questions), then I know that the TL is settling in, nestling, getting cozy on the sofa next to the fire in that space we call the unconscious, where language acquisition occurs. I want my students to say that learning Spanish is easy in my class. I also know that a student who demonstrates strong interpersonal communication skills won't say that learning Spanish in my class is easy unless I make the input comprehensible and compelling. Making input comprehensible and compelling is not an easy task. Yet, it is not a complicated task. So, no. I won't tire of learning from and learning with others how to teach comprehensible input. Thank you all who have helped me along the way. I wish I could turn to ACTFL more for help in this regard. The 90% in the target language position statement and the articulation of interpersonal communication skills has been helpful. But we need more from ACTFL on how to help us teach comprehensible input. Thanks for reading!
I would like to respond to Engracia Schuster's comments, in the hopes of her clarifying one of her ideas. I appreciate her response to Eric Herman's original question. She says that "it is not a matter of which methodology to implement, rather understanding how language learners learn." Indeed. Ideally, any language teacher would organize their instruction based on what is most beneficial for students' language acquisition, not based on his/her own preference of methodology. My confusion comes from Ms. Schuster's comment on how she thinks a language teacher could best organize instruction. She says that after "facilitators briefly introduce topics, vocabulary and grammar not in isolation..." students then do "activities that require learners to research further, practice, think, collaborate and add information for the purpose of establishing meaningful communication..." The title and central question of this thread is "What is Comprehensible Input really?" So, my question for Ms. Schuster is, in which part of the instruction she describes do students receive Comprehensible Input? It sounds like the students' attention is on the "facilitator" only briefly before they are directed to "activities". What is the facilitator presenting? If he/she only "briefly introduce[s] topics, vocabulary, and grammar", I don't understand how this could be a significant source of Comprehensible Input. If there is extended TL conversation with the students on the given topic, I see how this could be Comprehensible Input. However, "vocabulary and grammar", even if presented in the TL, are not Comprehensible Input if we understand Comprehensible Input to consist of messages that the learner understands. Vocabulary and grammar are merely vehicles for a message. Vocabulary and grammar, even if understood by learners in the TL, are not Comprehensible Input, unless they are embedded in messages. Also, I wonder how Ms. Schuster ensures that Comprehensible Input continues when the students are directed to the mentioned "activities." Or does it continue? What are the students researching further? What are some examples of what they are practicing? Is their collaboration done with fellow learners and, if so, is it done in the TL? Even if the students are collaborating with each other in the TL, doesn't this create a situation where they merely get repetitions of Input they have already received (this would not be harmful, I simply wonder to what "collaboration" refers)? I.e., language learners cannot possibly generate new TL that they haven't yet acquired. To summarize my above questions to Ms. Schuster, where exactly does the Comprehensible Input happen in your classroom, and how do you ensure 1) that your students understand the TL and 2) that they get a sufficient amount of repetitions for acquisition to happen? I wholeheartedly agree that students should be actively, not passively, involved in the classroom, but I would like to know how you recommend facilitating this while simultaneously ensuring that students receive a steady flow of Comprehensible Input.
I look forward to maybe reading some examples of how you provide Comprehensible Input in a student- (not teacher-) centered classroom.
Thank you for your participation in this question that is crucial to students' success and the advancement of our profession. Thanks also in advance for your response to my questions.
Greg Stout, French teacher
Hello Gregory, and many thanks for your questions and the opportunity to clarify my position. I apologize in advance for my long response. I will begin by pointing out that there have been three related messages/threads in this blog: "What is comprehensible input?", "Why thematic units, why authentic resources" and "Share your authentic resources opinion". I have found valuable research cited as well as experience shared in all three threads. I will also add that I teach at the college level (elementary and intermediate Spanish) and my needs may be different from those who teach young children. My focus is on advancing students' learning (language and culture) and doing so in the most interesting, effective and efficient manner, given the amount of material to be covered and the tight time constraints. I have had many failures and successes and, after more than 20 years teaching Spanish, have come to the conclusion that the only way to teach culture is by integrating it in the language learning process as much as possible (most efficient way). That said input is then extremely important, of course. I do not dispute the value of reading entire novels and watching movies in language learning. Besides immersing yourself in the target culture, these are the best ways for the motivated learner to learn a language and understand a culture. On the other hand, my students do not have the luxury of time to read novels or watch movies in class. Whether the content of an "authentic" novel or movie is "easy" (comprehensible) or not, we do not have the time in class and it is difficult to keep all students engaged (I prefer to refer to students as learners, but I will continue referring to them as students for practical purposes now). Another problem I have faced is the textbook. I use textbooks because students need a reference for consultation and to study from. In my opinion, though, most textbooks are too inductive. They are written more like lesson plans for the instructor than from the student's perspective. In fact, they do not provide enough "comprehensible input" and, if they do, it is seldom connected to the language learning process. Often language and culture are presented as two separate sections of a chapter or unit. They should not be. By culture I mean engaging context. Context should strive to always be engaging and often be "authentic" (inclusive of the foreign products, practices and perspectives). It should also be "comprehensible" and, in my opinion, challenging. I envision textbooks having two components: the teacher's instruction book (not annotated on the margins but specially designed for instructors) and the student's manual. The student's manual should include the strictly necessary grammar and vocabulary, lots of input opportunities, and lots of activities that require students to think critically about the language and culture(s) being learned, integrate the target vocabulary, grammar and culture per chapter, and provide opportunities to perform a function, or functions, in the target language and in culturally appropriate settings.
Now to your main question, "... in which part of the instruction she describes do students receive Comprehensible input?" My short answer is ... always! As I speak to my students in Spanish, require they ask questions in Spanish, present material in Spanish, provide learning activities in Spanish, require they research in Spanish, write about their research in Spanish and share their findings with their classmates in Spanish input is always present. It is made comprehensible by keeping it at the right level of the students' functional ability (our job as teachers is to know what the right level is and where we must take them from there).
Now comes my longer answer. In the absence of time in the classroom environment, brief introductions to topics may be my own short lecture, a videoclip, a short story or reading, a song and more (as "authentic" as possible). These are the topics or themes I imbed throughout a unit of language study. Throughout that unit the theme or topic is always present, making sure the basic vocabulary presented in the unit is simply a springboard for further learning, not a list of vocabulary they must memorize and regurgitate. I also make sure the grammar presented is not done so in isolation, but we recycle past grammar at all times, connect it to new grammar points and practice the new grammar points. I try to take advantage also of the opportunities to bring other grammar points not in the unit when the opportunities arise (are brought up by students). Input in class is connected to output (also a springboard to output). Students learn best by doing. We introduce, we model, we ask students to produce... The classroom may be the only opportunity for many of our students to practice the language and I make sure they do. If I take too much time with input then they are not producing enough. But, we said "comprehensible" input was important. I agree and we need to strike a balance. Homework is usually done individually (at least at the college level). I give two kinds of homework weekly. One is input to output driven, the other is skill building. We know what skill building looks like, mostly taken from the textbook or workbook. The trick is creating the other type of activities (so far mostly not present in textbooks or workbooks). That is, creating engaging (learner-centered) activities that promote further research and output (I would have said communication, but both input and output are components of communication). The secret to a successful outcome for these types of activities is carefully thinking about how the activity fits in the entire learning process (learning outcomes and objectives) as well as giving very clear and specific instructions to students. It would be impossible to provide much detail here (this post is already longer than my book!). Here is a simplified version of what such an activity (or series of related activities) may look like:
I have not cited any research, others have done that. I am speaking mostly from my own experience and I am happy to share it with you. I may have forgotten something important but, in sum, comprehensible input is not only possible in a controlled environment and does not necessarily need to be extensive (but it is in everything we do), it can take place also outside of the classroom. Comprehensible input is most effective (and I would say efficient) when it is of interest to students and it is connected to output. In my opinion, quality is more important that quantity. Should it be "authentic"? Not necessarily as far as I am concerned, but it should authentically reflect the target culture(s). Please do not hesitate to ask further questions, or let me know if I did not answer your question or questions.
Good morning, Greg!
I appreciate your interest and questions and will address each of your questions briefly below in italic: 1. You wrote that you teach elementary and intermediate Spanish at the college level. Are your elementary learners true beginners? Most of my experiments with this approach are with advanced beginner and intermediate students, but I do have my true beginners also research culture from the start in the target language. It is good to expose students to the target language. They actually realize they understand more than they thought they would and feel good about it. The assignments are very easy at first (titles of current events, biographies of famous people...). If so, how do you begin with them (first day, first hour) to bring them to the point they are able to use the outside resources independently, and how long does it take you to do that? I am not sure I understand the question. The very first day of classes (for true beginners) I give an overall introduction to Spanish-speaking cultures and world languages in English, but I go on to teaching how to introduce each other in Spanish and they do. Next is teaching them how to ask for help in Spanish and so on. Each year I wrestle with the best way to move learners from "I can say 'Bratwurst'" [pronounced with a broad American accent: Brat worst] to using German for communication. I never teach vocabulary in isolation. I introduce vocabulary and grammar, and immediately start creating sentences, or simple questions and answers. If the sentences are personalized (not memorized textbook sentences) and/or accompanied by pictures the better. When introducing a second language they already have a first language as a reference, so it is not starting at 0, we can make comparisons between both languages. 2. When you explain grammar (I really like that you address address questions as students pose them and that your classroom is open enough for them to feel comfortable asking), do you do so in Spanish? I try, but if it is a difficult concept and too advanced for their level of language proficiency, I may repeat in English or provide examples in both, English and Spanish (again comparing both languages). How do you ensure it is comprehensible and comprehended - and how difficult do you find it to do this? After 20 years experience, you may now find it pretty easy, but did you have much of a learning curve of your own to accomplish this? My students' reactions guide me. If they look at me like I have two heads, I change my approach. I repeat or provide more examples. If they seem to understand I ask them to practice to double check and work on fine-tuning. Then move on. I don't strive for "mastery" but for constant improvement. I want my students to feel comfortable trying and making mistakes. I usually thank them when they make a mistake that provides an opportunity for me to explain something. Then we practice the right way. As I stated in my previous message, I take advantage of opportunities. This semester my students have been wrestling with the reflexive verbs (they always find them difficult) until in one of my classes a student was trying to tell us a friend got drunk last weekend (practicing preterit). She didn't know the verb in Spanish and I explained it was "emborracharse", a reflexive verb. Suddenly, all students became interested in reflexive verbs and understood the concept (whatever works!). I would never have taught that particular verb, but used the fact that I had the students' attention to quickly go over reflexive verbs. 3. While I certainly agree that online resources can be comprehensible, how do you ensure that the resources are in fact comprehended? How long did it take you to find, gather, organize, and evaluate them? I'm sure you continue to find new resources and integrate them into your course, so maybe you could estimate how long it took to establish a foundational corpus of resources. I select a few sites that I feel have simple Spanish language and are safe. For example, es.wikipedia (Wikipedia in Spanish). It is very easy language, short readings, mostly accurate information. Other good sites for starters are department store sites (to view the products offered in other countries), official tourist office sites, and so on. For news, BBC in Spanish is great. Start with titles, continue with sports or music or art, and so on.... I am more careful with other sites, such as YouTube. I constantly look for new and appropriate videos. For listening activities I do use the textbook activities often, adding music, videos, short stories and other depending on the level, the topic, and time. Students need to bring a summary of what they have comprehended. I don't ask them to write extensively and I am flexible. Sometimes they copy directly from the site (I don't allow the entire report copied) but that is good language they are copying. I ask students to skim over the information and answer some guiding questions (generic for that particular assignment). I tell them my questions are just that, guiding questions, and that they can do more or less depending on what they find out and what they can handle. This week my (advanced beginner) students did a report on a famous historic figure. Each student had a different Spanish-speaking country. Their reports were brief, but the information was great and provided another teachable moment for me. One student spoke of Atahualpa, another of Queen Isabella of Spain and another of Simón Bolívar (among others). In a few minutes, following their reports, I explained (in Spanish) the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the fall of the Inca Empire, and the wars of Independence in Latin America. I kept it simple. They were so proud to have contributed the basis to such an interesting discussion! I thanked them for the opportunity also.... 4. Given your (very valid) critique of textbooks and your comment about this post being longer than your book, did you write your own textbook? (Or was that a reference to "Critical Thinking in Language Learning"?) I did not write a textbook, I was referring to my first (and very brief) "Critical Thinking in Language Learning" book. Instructors at the college and university level generally have greater freedom of choice when it comes to a textbook and other materials than do public school teachers, whether elementary, middle school, or high school. If you wrote your own textbook, how did you organize it and what did you include in it? If you are using a textbook from a major publisher, how do you adapt it for various factors such as order of acquisition, necessity of comprehensible input, and contextualization? I adapt to the textbook we have selected as a department (the ideal textbook simply does not exist). I start each unit with the culture (mostly tacked in the end of most units), give students a small related project (research to writing to speaking) as follow-up and continue with the lesson. I always try to integrate the culture into the language activities and make personalize them also as much as possible. Students do many of the book or workbook activities at home (drills). 5. Learner language, especially at the Novice level, is likely to contain numerous errors in grammar, syntax, pronunciation, etc. Do you have concerns that having students give significant amounts of output will reinforce errors through repetition? If not, what is your view about why not? If so, what do you do to counteract that? I am not concerned at all. I do believe in correcting students as they speak (some teachers do not), but do this in a non-threatening manner. I explain these are typical errors at that stage of the language learning process and what the correct way is. I believe students need to feel free and motivated to try. When they realize they can communicate in another language they like it and keep trying. For the most part it works. Some students need more structure and reinforcement and I work with them, but I don't feel holding the entire class hostage to boring drills is fair. 6. When I was in college and graduate school, much study was indeed done alone. However, some of the most fruitful study was in study groups or just getting together with friends and working on the same course. Do you encourage your students to pursue this as an option? Absolutely! My students naturally do work together, or sometimes I ask them to do some research together particularly if they share an interest. Mine is mostly a commuter school, so group work outside of class is not always feasible. They work together primarily to practice speaking, but I prefer they do the research and writing individually so that they concentrate on what they are doing and learn from the activity, not from other students at that point. We do a lot of pair and group work in class, students get to know each other well and are comfortable with each other. 7. Would you describe your course format as "flipped" (or "blended"), to use the current buzz word? Yes, I believe my class resembles more a "flipped" class. While they do some writing at home (results on their research) they also write a lot in class (not long composition, there is no time). The reason being that in class they cannot use translators, or have a friend do the writing for them. Some students are shocked when I first ask them to write a few sentences right in class, they can't hide! They are used to having to speak in Spanish from day one also. I guess they get over the shock the first day. They become comfortable speaking to each other in Spanish and I try not to put them on the spot (in front of the entire class), unless it is a skit or play and they agree to do it. Sorry for jumping about on the questions and for having so many. If you don't have time to respond fully, I certainly understand. At least a couple of comments would be greatly appreciated My pleasure! I certainly do not have the answer to the many challenges we all face as foreign language teachers. I am simply sharing some approaches I feel have worked for me.
Like children talking through tin cans tied together with string, we continue to have poor communication around these publicly stated recommendations by ACTFL:
1. the use of thematic resources in the WL classroom. 2. the use of authentic resources in the WL classroom. 3. the use of comprehensible input in the WL classroom. 4. the use of the TL in the classroom.
An upgrade is in order so that we can better communicate on these topics. The discussion needs to be less muddled. Too many teachers are involved now, and many are confused, and if the teachers are confused, so will their students be.
Specifically, we need clarification from ACTFL on these questions:
1. Will ACTFL continue to advocate solely for the use of thematic units as an organizing principle in foreign language classrooms in America? 2. Does the recommendation that teachers use authentic texts in the way described in the ACTFL literature still stand, in consideration of recent discussion on this list? 3. Is it possible to agree on a definition of what comprehensible input is and what it is not? It has become clear in recent weeks that definitions of this key term vary widely among members of this group. 4. In the same way and closely linked to the question about what comprehensible iput actually means as a pedagogical term, ACTFL's recommendation that we use the TL in our classrooms 90% of the time can be interpreted in varying ways. Thus, it also needs clarification.
The professionals listed below are charged with leading ACTFL forward into this new century of change, and they, as the ACTFL leadership, are asked to respond to the questions raised above. We all need to get back to our teaching and spend less time here jousting about the recommended foundational principles on which our language instruction lies. It's time for that to happen. Too many students are being indirectly affected by the existing confusion.
Marty Abbott Executive Director
Paul Sandrock Director of Education Elvira Swender Director of Professional Programs
Andrew Amadei Training & Certification Coordinator
Amanda Cynkin Assessment Development Coordinator
Tony Unander Media Coordinator Lori Haims Senior Manager of Training and Certification
Yesenia Olivares Quality Assurance Coordinator
Michelle Paradies Project Manager
It is suggested that among this list we contact in particular Paul Sandrock, Elvira Swender and Amanda Cynkin, since their job descriptions seem to most align with our four questions. To contact any of the people in this list by email, the reader is invited to go to:
"An upgrade is in order so that we can better communicate on these topics. The discussion needs to be less muddled. Too many teachers are involved now, and many are confused, and if the teachers are confused, so will their students be."
So, if teachers don't agree with you they are confused? Too many voices? Really?
"Specifically, we need clarification from ACTFL on these questions:
1. Will ACTFL continue to advocate solely for the use of thematic units as an organizing principle in foreign language classrooms in America? 2. Does the recommendation that teachers use authentic texts in the way described in the ACTFL literature still stand, in consideration of recent discussion on this list? 3. Is it possible to agree on a definition of what comprehensible input is and what it is not? It has become clear in recent weeks that definitions of this key term vary widely among members of this group. 4. In the same way and closely linked to the question about what comprehensible input actually means as a pedagogical term, ACTFL's recommendation that we use the TL in our classrooms 90% of the time can be interpreted in varying ways. Thus, it also needs clarification."
As an actual member of ACTFL, I hope their answers are as follows:
1. Yes. There's no compelling evidence to change and compelling and current evidence has been proffered to support it.
2. Yes. I've been to many sessions on how to do this skillfully, even at beginning levels. Using authentic documents not only provides content about which to communicate, but also provides an instant cultural context - a two-for-one!
3. Apparently not. Most of us "get" what i+1 means. It's not 100%. Translation is not necessary to guarantee comprehensibility.
4. The lengthy explanation of the rationale for the 90% recommendation on the ACTFL website is sufficient and 100% comprehensible.
"We all need to get back to our teaching and spend less time here jousting about the recommended foundational principles on which our language instruction lies. It's time for that to happen. Too many students are being indirectly affected by the existing confusion."
Given the paucity of replies, I wager that most have already gone back to their teaching because "jousting" at the straw men you and others continue to raise is tedious and fruitless. Using the ACTFL Listserv to attempt to bully and badger people into validating your beliefs (through an organization many of you don't even support) is offensive and counterproductive. There is no confusion. Students are well-served by teachers who embrace proven "best practices" of communicative language teaching. The new NCSSFL/ACTFL Can Do Statements reflect the latest evolution and refinement in how we can more effectively build ongoing growth in proficiency for all learners. Disclaimer: I am not peddling "how to" manuals, workshop tickets or controlled vocabulary readers.
Hello Gregory, and many thanks for your questions and the opportunity to clarify my position. I apologize in advance for my long response. I will begin by pointing out that there have been three related messages/threads in this blog: "What is comprehensible input?", "Why thematic units, why authentic resources" and "Share your authentic resources opinion". I have found valuable research cited as well as experience shared in all three threads. I will also add that I teach at the college level (elementary and intermediate Spanish) and my needs may be different from those who teach young children. My focus is on advancing students' learning (language and culture) and doing so in the most interesting, effective and efficient manner, given the amount of material to be covered and the tight time constraints. I have had many failures and successes and, after more than 20 years teaching Spanish, have come to the conclusion that the only way to teach culture is by integrating it in the language learning process as much as possible (most efficient way). That said input is then extremely important, of course. I do not dispute the value of reading entire novels and watching movies in language learning. Besides immersing yourself in the target culture, these are the best ways for the motivated learner to learn a language and understand a culture. On the other hand, my students do not have the luxury of time to read novels or watch movies in class. Whether the content of an "authentic" novel or movie is "ea