Forced Input

There’s plenty of talk about forced output (i.e. when students are told to produce language beyond their proficiency level), yet not much has been said regarding forced input. Forced input occurs when students are given a text above their reading level, or told to listen to something beyond their comprehension. Perhaps this is even assigned, and affects the course grade. Forced input also occurs when students are given or assigned anything that lacks a communicative purpose. Forced input is not very meaningful at best, and incomprehensible at worst, which means the target language is less likely to be processed and acquired. Are you forcing input? Let’s see…

From a forced input perspective, it makes sense why so many language teachers avoid authentic texts, which I’ll define broadly as “unadapted texts not written specifically for the language learner.” N.B. there are other definitions that vary even within ACTFL itself, but the common idea is that these are not learner-centered texts. Even if not #authres, teachers have been giving students all sorts of above-level texts under the guise of “rigor,” or erroneously in an attempt to provide “i + 1,” for years. Latin teachers are especially prone to this given both unrealistic expectations from The College Board, as well as The Latin Problem of Distinguished level texts, in general. Even though #authres and Distinguished texts are part of this, the situation can more simply be stated as any time a student understands less than 98% of the vocabulary in a given text, that text gets closer and closer to being forced.

Uh oh.

Yeah. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when most teachers present above-level to far-above-level texts unintentionally, though quite frequently. 98% text coverage is very high, and most teachers aren’t patient, or trust Second Language Acquisition (SLA) enough to be reading texts at such a low level and for such a longer period of time that students actually need (vs. curricular plans and demands). N.B. the Every Text Tier Challenge can help address that.

There’s another aspect to forced input that’s more affective. While input lacking a communicative purpose is less meaningful to the learner, it’s possible that even given a legit purpose for reading or listening, the input is so uninteresting that students process none of it!

Uh oh.

Yeah. This occurs a lot more than most teachers would like to admit. Of course, I’m not suggesting that our job is to entertain students every day. Sure, I’ve had days when students are having so much fun that they’re shocked when the bell rings, but I’ve also had days when students could not care any less about a text, or video. Not every class can be a home run, nor should we put that kind of pressure on ourselves.

What I am suggesting, though, is we should keep student interests in mind, and personalize content whenever possible, especially when content isn’t inherently exciting. For example, if a text is boring, ask questions that might make the experience more enjoyable. That could work, or more accurately it’s probably the only thing that works with a boring text. I’m also suggesting that we zoom out of the daily and take a look at the curriculum as a whole. A couple years ago, Jim Wooldridge (Señor Wooly) shared how he reached an all time low teaching a unit on types of fabric!? Maybe it’s time to ditch units like that, right? I bet every teacher could think of 2-3 units that students never seem to be interested in, yet somehow is part of the curriculum. Guess what, it probably doesn’t matter what you do; it’s likely forced input and students won’t pick up a thing! Therefore, ditch those units! For Latin teachers, it might be that students could not care less about Roman coins or something, and the topic just doesn’t connect. Ditch that unit, and explore a Roman topic students might be more interested in. Ask personalized questions and make the experience more enjoyable. That way, you’ll less likely be forcing input.

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