I wrote about message count at the end of 2017. The idea came back to me this week since I’ve had a LOT of free time due to state testing and other end-of-year random events. I’ve found that this free time is good for trying out some things that don’t need much continuity, like one-off activities, or something I never got around to but have resources for, and dare I say…experimenting…the last couple weeks.
One of my experiments was to see how well students could read a textbook that previously took months to teach. Another trial was using the final 15 minutes of a class to do a simple perspective rewriting. That is, after we read a text, I asked how we’d go about rewriting the first narrated sentence as if the character had been speaking herself (e.g. Quīntus et Syra eunt became Syra: “Quīntus et ego īmus“). For any dialogue, I asked how we’d go about rewriting it into narration (e.g. Syra: “adoptāre ovem volō” became Syra ovem adoptāre vult). The teacher linguist can immediately spot this as a classic 1st person to 3rd person et vice versa conjugation activity. The students? They had to think, and think hard. The process wasn’t exactly smooth, or brief. It definitely wasn’t compelling, but students remained complacent.
Now, some teachers might find a benefit to that kind of thinking going on. I’m sure it holds a high place on someone’s taxonomy. I can tell you, however, that it was just plain hard work, without much pay off. After those 15 minutes, I noticed that students had processed just three sentences of input. THREE SENTENCES?!?!?!?! Not only that, but the message content was the exact same as we had already read earlier during class. I began to think more about how many more sentences students actually process within 15 minutes when the focus is on meaning, not some grammar practice exercise.
That, right there, should be compelling enough reason to spend more time with input, and less with…well…whatever else. Even just 15 minutes of this other thing robbed my students of what could’ve been much more input, and more meaningful input. I could’ve reread the text, asking comprehension questions, and then more personalized questions (re: PQA). One question per statement doubles the input. Two per statement triples it. In a text with 18 messages, asking both a comprehension and personalized question increases input by another 36. With a couple different student responses, and the teacher then restating them, I’m sure there could be over 75 additional messages for students to process. Compared to the three during the grammar exercise I gave a try, there should be absolutely no question of how much more effective comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) is for providing input.