Monday, November 20, 2017

Majoring on the Majors, and Minoring on the Minors

I have returned from the 2017 ACTFL Convention in Nashville, and as always, wow, what a conference! Even though it was a quick trip (I was just there for all-day Friday and part of Saturday morning), I got the chance to attend some great presentations and co-presented a presentation on Tasks and Communicating in the Comprehensible Input Classroom with Rachel Ash, Bob Patrick, and Miriam Patrick, in addition to squeezing in some quick hi's and hugs with folks whom I have not seen in awhile. 

Although conferences like this are great for a gathering of world language teachers from across the nation in one place, unwittingly, it is brings up debates (sometimes heated) about teaching, pedagogy, etc. Unfortunately, the CI community of teachers is not immune from these disagreements, such as:
  • TPRS should be the sole way of delivering comprehensible input in the classroom, since story-telling is engaging.
  • TPRS is one of many methods of delivering comprehensible input, so we should not pigeonhole ourselves to just this.
  • If you want to implement CI in your classroom, then you need to go all-in. There is no room for dabbling or transitioning. Using CI methods while still teaching grammar-translation is wrong.
  • If you are a newbie to CI, do not go all-in, because you are going to burn out. Instead, dabble/transition in order to build your CI foundation.
  • I teach with CI novellas as part of my curriculum.
  • I do not use novellas and think that they should only be used for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).
  • I do not think that we should use authentic resources, since most are incomprehensibe, are full of native idioms, and do not use high-frequency vocabulary.
  • I think that authentic resources are fine as long as they are adapted and/or are language appropriate.
  • We as CI teachers should be using targeted vocabulary and structures, because that helps keeps things focused.
  • We as CI teachers should focus on untargeted vocabulary and structures, since we want students to determine the focus of what we discuss.
  • We should strive to be 90% in the target language at all times.
  • 90% target language usage is a suggestion, not a prescription.
  • I only attend NTPRS and not IFLT, because ________________.
  • I only attend IFLT and not NTPRS, because _______________.
  • (For Latinists), we should only be using classical literature in our classes, since that is our standard. Anything non-classical related has no place.
  • (For Latinists), the Latin language spans over 2,000 years of usage. Why are we limiting ourselves to an ancient time period when Latin is still spoken today in the modern world? Language is fluid and changes. Why keep Latin stuck in the 1st century?
You get the picture. As you read the above, you may have very, strong views one way or the other on those topics. Unfortunately, what i have seen come from these debates is the emergence of camps. While I am not naive enough to think that differences in opinion will not arise, I also think that these disagreements keep us from our guiding focus and become divisive.

When it comes to teaching using Comprehensible Input, we need to determine what are non-negotiables - what is that MUST be implemented or has to occur in order for language acquisition to occur when facilitating Comprehensible Input? In my opinion, here is what I consider to be non-negotiables, and note - they are simply a summary of Krashen's Hypotheses:
  • Learners acquire language through the delivery of understandable messages and will progress in their knowledge when they comprehend language which is slightly more advanced than their current level, hence i+1. As a result of input, students will produce output when they are ready.
  • Language acquisition is subconscious, hence it is long-term memory. Language learning is explicit and conscious, but it is short-term memory. Our goal for students is language acquisition, not language learning.
  • Our focus should be on meaning and not form. Self-error correction only occurs through explicit language learning. In language acquisition, errors will occur, but our goal should be comprehensibility. Self-error correction will occur for learners on their own timeline.
  • When one's affective filter (or "stress") increases, learning decreases.
  • Learners pay attention more to compelling comprehensible messages than to less-compelling comprehensible messages.

To me, that is our foundation as CI teachers - those are the non-negotiables. Those are the major points on which we must both major and strive to protect in our classrooms. Focusing on the minor points and turning them into major points is where we begin to become divided. To discredit CI teachers solely because they are not implementing TPRS in their curriculum does not make sense to me. In good faith, we need to realize that these teachers are still delivering comprehensible and engaging input through other means.

Though we are all bound to have our opinions on the "best" way to implement Comprehensible Input, we all have the same end goal: student language acquisition. I think that these disagreements occur, because we as CI teachers are so passionate about what we do. However, when we learn to major on the majors and to minor on the minors is when we will gain perspective that we are all on this CI journey together.


  1. I appreciate your perspective and agree with it wholeheartedly. I have recently (this semester) stumbled on your blog and videos on YouTube and you have helped me immensely create a more input friendly environment in my Spanish classes. I especially like the dictation activities you have shared and my students like them as well. Thanks for sharing!

    1. So glad to hear that you are finding my blog helpful for your classroom instruction.