5.12.16 Tea with BVP Takeaways

It’s good that my goal wasn’t to summarize and respond to every point made on each Tea with BVP show. Why? Of all the shows, the recent Season 1 Finale had treasure troves of gold to respond to. Several of those nuggets stand out for me…

Authentic Texts
I agree completely that too much emphasis is being placed on authentic texts.  The readers for whom those texts were written possess far great proficiency than your average student who won’t make it out of Novice High by the end of high school. This issue is near and dear to my heart given the Classical canon I was expected to study. For me, this case is closed, but I am more than eager to talk about highly-adapted authentic texts for the Novice through the creation of tiered embedded readings. I utterly reject the mantra of “edit the task not the text,” which I first was introduced to in grad school via Shrum & Glisan’s Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction.

Grading & Assessment
Two points were made; 1) whole language assessing, and 2) not grading engagement. Bill doesn’t isolate language (e.g.pronunciation, grammar,  etc.), and instead just assesses communication holistically given a goal. This is great example of what I’ve recently heard as “authentic assessment,” and eliminates the need for too many limited assessments with multiple rubrics, etc.

In terms of grading, there are many teachers using participation rubrics to assign a grade. Bill talked about why we should avoid that. See what Terry Waltz has written about on Nuerodiversity. You might be familiar with my DEA system variation, which has accounted for anywhere from 0% to 50% of a student’s grade in different teaching environments in the past couple years. Previous versions of DEA focused on specific routines and behaviors students had to do or else they would lose points. I’ve now moved to only focusing on poor routines and behaviors that inhibit acquisition, or make it harder for other students to acquire. Shy kids do just fine in my classes, but wouldn’t do so according to certain participation rubrics out there. If you use those kinds of rubrics, try to find other evidence that proves the shy kid knows your target language, and grade accord to that.

Bill’s preferred phrase is frequency of input instead of repetition of input. There’s not much difference between the two terms…or is there? The former could discourage certain practices that don’t lead to acquisition, for example, repeating a phrase to ensure that it’s acquired. As Bill noted, certain learners will acquire a word after only a few utterances, while others need thousands of repetitions. Thus, frequently using phrases for the sake of frequently using phrases might be overkill for one kid, and nowhere near what another needs. Since there’s no way to know for sure, the logical solution is to not worry about that, and instead focus on meaning.

The TPRS community advocates for what I’ve seen mentioned as “dense CI via repetition.” I agree with this. What I don’t agree with is stressing over those repetitions, or forgoing genuine communication in pursuit of “getting reps.” There are tactful ways to expose students to phrases without overdoing it, or to avoid repeating phrases so artificially that it becomes transparent to the students what you’re doing (re: consciously learning, and getting bored quickly). Some would argue that our limited classroom time calls for a hyper awareness of massive numbers of reps, or “optimization,” as I’ve seen it put. It might, but it also might not. Eric Herman gets amazing results from teaching with “less massed repetitions in favor of more spaced repetitions.”

Non-targeted Input (“just talk a lot and have fun”)
A classic TPRS practice is to choose 3 target structures (phrases) to use in storyasking. A different perspective on choosing 3 target phrases would be taking Bill’s advice of “just talk a lot and have fun,” yet limiting the number of new phrases. For example, let’s say I have a few phrases in mind on Thursday, so I begin class discussing a topic naturally. Within a few minutes I look at the board and noticed I’ve used 3 new phrases. At this point, I’m done. It doesn’t matter what phrases I had planned…students cannot retain too much new input, and we’ve already used them up. Since I limit to 3 phrases (Terry Waltz has even recommended just 1 new one and working from there!), this non-targeted input also aligns with the concept of “shelter vocabulary (unshelter grammar).” I think that both those who target a few phrases and those who don’t (yet limit the number of new ones) are actually successful because of this same concept.

Because I allowed students to drive the discussion, not only was that an example of student-centered teaching, but it’s also what I call “compelling diversions.” Compelling eclipses Curriculum in return of investment, every time (just ask any teacher who planned something that flopped). Since Bill’s advice of “just talking” inevitably includes the most frequent language, there is no damage done. Eric Herman also states that he teaches using “unplanned, non-targeted, sheltered vocabulary.” Check out these speaking results he shared recently.

There are many reasons to target, and many reasons to repeat phrases so students receive understandable messages. Given these last two points from the show, however, the biggest takeaway for me is that it doesn’t matter TOO MUCH 1) how many reps of 2) particular phrases I’m using…the Net will take care of it if I “just talk a lot and have fun.” Maybe this is providing CI smarter, not harder.


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