Here’s a quick note about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) and other collaborative storytelling methods and strategies…
They require interaction.
This has become painfully obvious to me after teaching on Zoom for over a year in a public high school, where responses to polls are few, participation is low, and circling is next to impossible in most contexts (unless you happen to have surprisingly high levels of participation). I mean, we can certainly fake circling by doing something similar via those polls and chat, but it moves a LOT slower than that in-person question after question pace complete with reading the room (i.e. “teach to eyes” etc.). On Zoom, the process gets bogged down. That’s not circling. The point of circling is to give students a massive amount of exposure to a small set of words by asking many different questions that students can answer without hesitation. It’s actually the answering of questions that’s so key, not only to keep an eye on who might be getting lost (and then ask “what does X mean?” comprehension check), but also to get the details you ask for, as well as the surprise responses that can take the story in an unexpected yet highly compelling turn. Hence, interaction.
Yet “interaction” can be woefully misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean full-on conversations. That’s not what we need with collaborative storytelling at all. We need to provide students messages in the target language via a process that might feel ad nauseam to us, but is probably just enough (or maybe not quite enough!) for the beginner. That’s happens from questions, statements, and then restating everything that happens.
THAT kind of interaction is crucial. Other types of interaction might occur, or even prove to be beneficial in certain cases, especially in other activities, but without student responses during collaborative storytelling—not just the ones that get details—we got nothing.
Before having the opportunity to present a couple workshops, my mind was blown quite sufficiently during the week. Overall, the Advanced Track with Alina Filipescu and Jason Fritze got me thinking about aaaaaaaall the things I’ve forgotten to do, or stopped doing (for no good reason) over the years. Thankfully, most of them are going to be soooooo easy to [re]implement. As for the others, I’ll pick 2 at a time to add—not replace—until they become automatic. This will probably take the entire year; there’s no rush!
Jason referred to high-leverage strategies—those yielding amazing results with minimal effort (i.e. juice vs. squeeze), and I’m grateful that he called our attention to everything Alina was doing while teaching us Romanian. ce excelent! I’ll indicate some high-leverage strategies, and will go as far as to classify them as “non-negotiable” for my own teaching, using the letters “NN.” I’ll also indicate strategies to update or re-implement with the word “Update!” and those I’d like to try for the first time with the word “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways organized by presenter:
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Spring semester Tea with BVP starts up again this week, but before the winter break, Bill VanPatten dropped what that weird keynote speaker at ACTFL 2016 would call “mind grenades,” and he dropped quite a few. If there’s one episode to listen to, it’s Episode 43. Among others, here’s one gem that sticks out, and sets up this week’s episode:
“In fact, nothing in a textbook is psychologically real” (click here for a psychedelic treatment of the audio)
- “The problem we have is textbook materials…if you look at them closely they’re probably not input-oriented, or meaning-based…here at MSU, for example, all of our homework is input-based (e.g. sentence-level).”
- “I think we need to do away with seat time requirements, and we need to do away with grades.”
- “As a profession, we need to start making the argument that language is not like other subject matter. We gotta stop treating it like that.”
- “One of the questions [aspiring language teachers] asked was ‘how can we study so we can do better on our state proficiency exam?…what tenses should we be studying so I can pass this?’ and I said ‘well you CAN’T study for a proficiency test’…you’re a language teacher, what have you been learning about language and language acquisition that you don’t know the answer to that question yourself?!”
- “Output is a byproduct of acquisition, it’s not really necessary for acquisition…there are some people who claim it is, but there’s absolutely no research that shows that it is!”
- “There was work that came out in the 70’s showing that actually your knowledge of grammar emerges from interactions with people…it’s about participating in conversations that you gain accuracy in knowledge about a language.”
- “Any of us can open a textbook, open a page, and memorize a page and it winds up in our conscious knowledge, but what actually is in your head is something quite different…the fact that you can conjugate a verb doesn’t mean that’s what you access later on.”
- “That’s the problem we have in SLA—there are facts, but people just don’t want to believe them.”
- “Talking doesn’t make you learn anything…you do not have to talk in order to learn language, language will get in your head by just listening and reading and watching and seeing.”
- “Getting input into your classroom is not my idea of SLA—that’s just SLA. input is necessary, so the consequences is that we need constant exposure to input for our student.”
- “The people who were videotaped interacting improved, but then another group that just watched the videotape (and weren’t students themselves) improved just by watching the interaction…and this wasn’t grammar class, just interaction…the group was listening in on other people’s conversations and acquiring some language at the same time.”
- “If your classroom is interesting, I could be talking to Angelika but if Walter is listening (because we’re doing something interesting), he’s gonna acquire language.”
- “Sometimes slipping an English word is the fastest way to get that meaning across…if your focus is on communication and you spend all this time going around and around and around and people still don’t know what they hell you’re talking about, you could’ve had 10 more min. of Comprehensible Input and interaction because all you needed was one word.”
“Output is when students, or language learners actually use language to create a message of their own, from scratch.”
Yep, that would rule-out Sentence Frames (e.g. My favorite food is _____), and any other scaffolding when it comes time to creating a message. The result is “traditional language practice” which has not been shown to lead to acquisition. A single genuine utterance (e.g. “pizza”) as part of a communicative event (e.g. “Charles, what’s your favorite food?”) is more beneficial in the long run.
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