Monday, August 21, 2017

Pop-Up Theory

At IFLT this past summer, during the Q&A session with Stephen Krashen and Bill Van Patten, Krashen said that he felt that the CI movement had progressed enough in classrooms that one could now introduce "pop-up theory." Much like how CI teachers can give brief, 30-second "pop-up grammar" explanations during a lesson, Krashen expressed that one could now do the same with Comprehensible Input theory in a class and explain to students how language was acquired. I found Krashen's comment to be very interesting, because although I do try to establish a classroom environment (safety net) and student behaviors (being an active listener, teaching to the eyes, interaction with the target language) needed for acquiring a language, I had never really explained to students why all of this was necessary. 

Today in my Latin 1 class, I introduced students to their first reading. For the past two weeks, our Latin 1 instructional team (Bob Patrick, John Foulk, Rachel Ash and I) has been focusing on Circling with Balls and TPR, so Rachel wrote up a very short story using the vocabulary which had been introduced. I was a bit hesitant to show this reading to my students, because although the reading utilized limited vocabulary with lots of repetitions, in doing Circling with Balls and TPR, I had not been focusing specifically on these exact words per se. Instead, I had been doing more of an untargeted vocabulary approach and running with whatever words came up in class or were needed to keep the dialogue compelling and moving along. Imagine my surprise when as soon as I projected the reading, many students immediately began to translate it aloud without my prompting! We ended up doing a choral reading and a round of Stultus with it, and afterwards, I asked students to show me on their hands what they thought of it: 1 being very difficult to understand, and 5 being very easy to read. All students rated it a 4 or 5!

As a follow-up, I asked students, "So why was this so easy to read? This was your first time ever reading a Latin story. I never once gave you a list of Latin words to learn. I never once told you to make flashcards. Why do you know these words?" I got a bunch of blank stares, as students tried to process my question. A student then replied, "Well, you have been saying these words all the time these past few weeks." My response: "Exactly. All I have ever asked of you these past two weeks is to simply listen to me, to understand what I am saying to you in Latin, and to signal me when I am not understandable. You acquired these words SUBCONSCIOUSLY through listening to me and interacting with the language. These words are now inside you. That is how one acquires a language. When you say that this class is easy, it should be. Acquiring a language should not be difficult and should feel effortless if I am doing my job correctly." I could have gone on for awhile telling students about Comprehensible Input theory and the three C's of CI (heck, I gave a 5-minute lunchtime talk about this at IFLT, so I could have talked their ears off), but like Krashen said, "pop up theory" is all which students need. 

So I encourage you to introduce "pop-up theory" to your students. If students can start understanding their own language acquisition process through occasional short, 30-second explanations, they will more likely buy into what you are doing.


  1. I especially love the third paragraph.

  2. I tried copying and sending this entry from the e-mail and it failed, so I went directly to the blog and did the same and it worked. But it makes me wonder if you would not want your items here sent elsewhere (in this case, the editor of a journal for French teachers in Canada). I will be sure to honor that if that's the case.
    p.s. I don't know why our YouTube video shows up here. It has nothing to do with teaching fl.

    1. Pat,

      I am not sure to what you are referring in your comment about these posts being sent elsewhere. I do not mind if people want to post links to my blog and to specific blog posts. If folks want to forward blog posts which they receive via email, I am fine with that too.

      Also, I am unsure about the "YouTube" video which you say appears here. I do not see any in this particular blog post.

  3. This is exactly how I got my students on board with the method in the first place! I told them that although the singing, movement, and repetitive stories might seem a bit kindergarten, it's like a life hack for their brain, and will make learning Latin a breeze! After 2 weeks, they've seen the results for themselves, and even my steadfast "just let me translate the whole story" kids from last year have bought in. Sometimes, they do listen to reason. :-)