Today on the show, Bill did not give the same definition of Forced Output from Episode 18 when he told a caller that anything more than one word responses (e.g.yes/no, either/or, fill in blank) was considered “forced” (listen to that brief definition, here). Why? He was thinking about that term in a new way, referring to what happens when you make someone speak in an activity or task, which may not have anything to do with what has been acquired (e.g. “I am teacher, you are student, do this.”). The definition of Forced Output was expanded by Karen Rowan on Mixler to include any “Output beyond the level of acquisition.” Bill’s previous definition along with Karen’s mean that although acquisition rates vary, all students can give a single word response, so it is the only thing we should expect. Anything else is a bonus.
We also got a definition for Output as “any learner production that is embedded in the communicative context/event.” Martin Lapworth noted that this immediately rules out a lot of what’s been going on in classrooms involving certain acts of speaking and writing, which some teachers have misunderstood as Output for the sole reason that something is coming OUT of their head that other people read, see or hear. Here’s how we can categorize Bill’s take on some examples of exercises, activities, and tasks within the context of Output…
Exercises for language practice (Not Output):
– Translation (both L1 –> L2, and L2 –> L1)
– “Repeat after me” (such as the Audio-Lingual Method)
– Reading aloud in L2**
– Requiring complete sentences (as opposed to students voluntarily using them)
– Using sentence frames**
– Retell Timed Write
– Expecting a single word during the interpretation, negotiation, and expression of meaning (e.g. yes/no, either/or, fill in blank)
Here’s some clarification on the examples…
L2 –> L1 translation (i.e. target language to native language) could be a source of Input as the interpretation of meaning if the learner understands what they are translating. In this case, translation would be a partially-communicative activity, or possibly a fully-communicative task if there was a clear purpose. For partial- and full-communication definitions, see this post. Another use of translation, and perhaps the most important, is to establish meaning, although I make the semantic distinction that when establishing meaning a native language equivalent is given instead of a translation, since I think of translation as a sentence- or paragraph-level process. This, no doubt, is influenced by my days as a Classicist, which wasn’t the most enjoyable language experience I’ve had.
Since Bill stated that there is 1) Output used in a communicative context and then 2) there’s everything else (i.e. practice), some types of Forced Output, such as requiring a complete sentence for the sake of practicing a full sentence, possibly might just be Exercises for language practice. In this case, Forced Output is a misleading term because it’s not actually Output given the lack of a communicative context. Listen to that episode for more on the trouble with these terms. The takeaway is that you shouldn’t expect Output beyond what a student is capable of, so a single-word response is a safe bet.
Sentence frames might contain understandable, yet unacquired L2 used in learner language production of speaking and writing. That is, they could be Forced Output, which means they could just be Exercises. What should we do with them? Mira Canion recently mentioned on the iFLT/NTPRS/CI-Teaching Facebook Group that by starting a sentence and having students finish it (with a single-word), understandable sentence frames spoken by the teacher can serve as Input. Aside from single-word utterances to complete sentence frames in a communicative context, other uses don’t result in the kind of Non-Forced Communicative Output that we want as the backseat (or at most, passenger seat) accompaniment during acquisition.
Many teachers use Timed Writes as evidence of growth, although showing growth is a school thing, and has nothing to do with language acquisition per se. If teachers grade Timed Writes for accuracy or expect complete sentences, this could be Forced Output. If teachers use Timed Writes later for different purposeful tasks, then the partially-communicative activity becomes fully-communicative.
Next, we arrive at what I feel is the biggest takeaway from the episode, although there was some good stuff in there about providing Input for students to select options and meet impossible Critical Thinking demands placed upon us in the current educational landscape…
The only fully-communicative use of Output, even though we know that Output takes the backseat (or at most, passenger seat) to Input, is single-word learner language production in a communicative context. Teachers see this most often as responses to questions they ask. To repeat, anything else is a bonus.
**Not asked on the show, but inferred based on definitions given