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What Happens When Teachers Use Comprehensible Input

Bob Patrick is a Latin teacher. Bob Patrick teaches with Comprehensible Input. He was hired for a part time position in a public high school with over 3000 students in Atlanta, Georgia. Bob was soon selected as Teacher of the Year in the Southeast and was a hot contender for the national title. His program grew at first because he encouraged the counselors to send him the students no one else wanted and then continued to grow because the kids loved his classes. He recently posted this announcement. Draw your own conclusions.

We are a progressive Latin team teaching collaboratively in a large high
school program striving to build and maintain an inclusive Latin program.

We are looking to add a fifth full time Latin teacher to our team. This
should be someone who is either a) an experienced Comprehensible Input/TPRS
user or b) is willing to adopt the practices of CI with a great deal of
support, mentoring and training from our Latin team. We are exclusively CI
and task oriented. No one on our team typically teaches more than two preps.

We are one of the largest elective Latin programs in a public secondary
school in the nation.

We are an untextbook-Latin program sourcing the content from multiple ages
as well as modern novellas.

We teach Latin to grades 9-12 with classes in levels 1-4 and also offer AP
Latin.

We are an exclusively CI and task oriented program.

We use Standards based assessments.

We teach in a large (3000+) ethnically diverse school in metro Atlanta
teaching over 20% of our student body.

Our Latin program mirrors the diversity of the school.

We have a very high student success rate and a retention rate of 50-60%
over four years.

We have built a reputation for working with all kinds of learners including
those with emotional and learning disabilities of which we are proud.

We have over 180 students in our chapter of JCL.

Georgia public schools in general pay teachers at the national average and
higher than most in the southern region while costs of living in GA remain
relatively low.

Our team members include: Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, Bob Patrick, and
Keith Toda

Interested persons should send letter of interest and resume to Bob
Patrick, Dept. Chair:

Robert_patrick@gwinnett.k12.ga.us


Robert Patrick, M.Div, PhD
NBCT-Latin
Metro-Atlanta, GA

Coaching for Coaches at the Agen Workshop 2017

Once you have found your sea legs in TPRS/TCI, you will want to share the joy and help other teachers start on their own journey. Coaching for Coaches is a special all day session for teachers who feel fairly confident about their own skills and want to help others to implement Comprehensible Input in their classrooms. And we all know that the best way to master a skill is to try to teach it to others.

Coaching for Coaches in Agen will be held Sunday, July 23rd, at the Centre Descartes. Teri Wiechart, Robert Harrell, Carol Hill, Judy Dubois, Laurie Clarcq, Kirstin Plante and Iris Maas will work with teachers who want to coach other teachers in the skills that make Comprehensible Input work in the classroom.
The Coaching for Coaches session costs 100 euros. Register here.

You may pay by Paypal or a bank transfer. If you have a French bank account you may pay by check.





About Noise and Circling

Some people on the moretprs list seem to have misunderstood a comment that was made about Tamara Galvan. I wrote this to explain how I perceived her classes.

Tamara Galvan teaches English as a foreign language in France. She is an amazing teacher. Parents fight to get their kids into her classes because they come out transformed. The kid who hated English suddenly wants to read books in English and continue his studies in an American university. What happens? They ACQUIRE the language instead of memorizing irregular verbs. She is also that rare miracle, someone who learned all they could about TPRS via this list and books and began applying it in their classes. What Ignacio was describing was not Story Listening, it was a very “traditional” Blaine Ray style lesson, complete with props and crazy ideas from the students; Tamara might be surprised to learn that Ignacio didn’t think she was circling. She just does it so beautifully that it doesn’t feel like circling. It feels like she’s having a genuine conversation with her students.

Also, she was not working with complete beginners, wha are rare in France where kids begin English very early, but with teachers that are often not proficient enough to flood their students with CI. Complete beginners may need the more mechanical form of circling. (I’ve used it with primary students and still had fun. They seem to accept it as part of the game.) The kids Ignacio saw with Tamara had had three or four very boring years of lots of incomprehensible input in school. But even the students of the most traditional legacy teachers manage to acquire bits and pieces of the language. The reason that Tamara was so successful, the reason her students had such big smiles, was that she made it both Compelling and Comprehensible from day one. She was with those kids, reading their eyes, checking for comprehension without seeming to, reading them just as we all do in any conversation when you need to know that the person you are talking to understands what you are saying. She taught the kids to signal when they didn’t understand and she questioned them to be sure they understood. Please do not believe that Tamara was doing anything but giving her students lots of Comprehensible Input with very minimal noise.

The obvious form of circling where one statement generates a dozen questions and then we make another statement and ask another dozen questions can become mechanical and it becomes deadly when it becomes mechanical. I can understand the reaction of the student who said, “But you already asked that question.” I still circle, even with advanced students, but only when a tricky structure comes up and I want to be sure they are hearing it. I may ask only one or two questions, as if I’m checking to be sure I’ve understood. then I use the same structure in a different way and again ask a question or two. Laurie Clarcq compares it to sanding wood. If you stay in the same place too long, you’ll make a dent in the surface. So you sand a bit here, a bit there, but eventually cover all the table top.

When students are very weak and unsure of themselves and intimidated by the idea of being judged, they tolerate very little noise. Some seem to go catanic as soon as an unknown word pops up. Such students need input to be 100% transparent. But as they ACQUIRE language they also acquire confidence and become more tolerant of noise. If they find the input they are receiving compelling, they will tolerate even more noise, which makes them more able to navigate and communicate in the real world, where it’s impossible to eliminate all noise. I think of noise as something like bacteria. Too much of it can be fatal, but children who are raised in a sterile environment won’t be able to survive in the real world.

Laurie Clarcq, my mentor


She always signs her posts, love, Laurie. She was already a frequent participant in the discussions on the moretprs list serve when I began following it in 2006. She helped me understand how TPRS fit into a classroom, but she also helped me understand that the most important thing in the room was not the method, not the teacher, not the equipment, but the students. Unless the teacher was focused on them and their needs, there would be no miracle. Unless there was love and respect in the classroom, there would be no miracle. Perhaps love and respect were the miracle.

There are a lot of strong personalities on the moretprs list and strong personalities have strong convictions. Sometimes sparks fly and tempers heat up. Invariably, when that happens Laurie will post something that is both kind and open-minded. She has a special gift for seeing both sides, for knowing where people are coming from and understanding their pain. Again and again I admired her gentle wisdom and her skill at reconciliation and wished I could be more like her.

She has contributed to the TPRS movement in many ways. As a coach at NTPRS and IFLTC she has helped countless teachers gain confidence in their skills. After a comment she made on Ben Slavic’s blog, the author of TPRS Q&A, called her a TPRS goddess. https://tprsquestionsandanswers.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/what-does-t-p-r-s-goddess-laurie-clarq-say-about-circling/ With Michelle Whaley she helped make Embedded Reading and Movie Talk indispensable tools in the TPRS toolkit. On her blog, Hearts for Teaching at http://blog.heartsforteaching.com/ she has generously shared hard-earned insights gleaned from her long experience in the classroom. Reading her posts, I particularly appreciate her honesty. She doesn’t pretend to be a super hero teacher. She’s open about her doubts and struggles.

Currently, having retired from the school in New York where she taught many years, where she was well-known and respected by her students, she has accepted a new job in a new school in California. It takes years for a teacher to build up a reputation as “a good teacher” so that students enter her classroom knowing they are in the hands of someone who’s competent, someone that their friends and older brothers and sisters respected. New teachers have to start from scratch and prove themselves every single day. That is the challenge that Laurie has courageously accepted. On her blog she is disarmingly frank about her trials and setbacks, her little steps forward and minor victories.

I was delighted when Laurie told me that she was coming to Agen in 2016. I had met her face to face in 2014, but in all the rush and excitement of the big conferences, we didn’t manage to really get to know each other. Thank heavens, she came to Agen a day early, so I had some time to spend with her and immediately it felt like I was talking to an old high school friend, someone who knew me from way back when. We were on the same wave length on so many things that we were often finishing each other’s sentences. She was a great presenter and a precious addition to our coaching team. I hope she’ll be able to come to Agen again and again.
Love, Judy

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

The Agen Workshop is five years old this year. We have grown from a small gathering of language teachers interested in innovation to an international conference that brought together 80 teachers from over 20 countries in 2016.

Last year some amazing teachers came together and while they were chatting over breakfast and having a long lunch and some good wine, inspiration struck. Now everyone is talking about Beniko Mason Nanki’s Story Listening as it is being implemented in the United States by Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden.

Beniko will be back this year and she has lots more up her sleeve to share with us. We are looking forward to seeing our great coaches, Anny Ewing, Carol Hill, Teri Wiechart, Laurie Clarcq and Robert Harrell again. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak will be teaching French, Daniel Dubois will be teaching Breton, Margarita Perez-Garcia will be teaching Spanish and Judith Dubois and Charlotte Dinscher will teach English. Diane Neubauer will be back to work with Mandarin teachers and we will have some pretty surprising announcements to make soon about the other members of our team.

Kirstin Plante and Iris Maas of the TPRS Academy will be running a training program in Agen the week before the workshop, so that their trainees can get two full weeks of professional development.

We would like to invite anyone with experience in using Comprehensible Input who enjoys sharing their tips and insights with others to make a proposal for a presentation. Presentations may relate to using TPRS, TPR, Story Listening, Movie Talk, reading strategies, ways to improve listening comprehension, student buy-in and motivation, anything of interest to teachers who are committed to providing their students with Compelling, Comprehensible Input in agreement with the ideas of Stephen Krashen.

The presentations should be about one hour long. Teachers at the Agen Workshop teach a wide variety of languages in widely different conditions, a fact which presenters should take into account. Some teach small children, some teach adults of all ages. Some work in schools, many are independent and itinerant. Some participants are experienced in using TPRS, others are just discovering it.

We are offering two meal vouchers for each presentation of an hour. We wish it could be more, but we also hope to keep the price of the Agen Workshop affordable to the many teachers who sacrifice their vacation time and their budgets to come share their ideas and inspirations with colleagues from around the world.

If you have a proposal for a presentation, contact Judy Dubois at judyldubois@aol.com with a description of your topic. I will send you a form to fill in and let you know as soon as possible if your proposal is accepted.

My Son Daniel

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

He went to Brittany and fell in love with a language, an ancient and beautiful language of Celtic mysteries and Gallic grace. He discovered that he could share his linguistic passion and his love of games with his students and began role-playing in Breton.
– There is a door. There is a big blue door. On the right there is a little yellow door. Which door do you open? Do you open it quickly or slowly?
– Behind the big blue door there is a tiger. It looks at you. Do you attack? Do you run away? Do you give it some meat? What do you do?

Then his mother started talking about something called TPRS. She talked and talked and he finally decided to go to the first Agen Workshop to see what she was talking about. He met Teri, who coached and encouraged him, Martin and David and Petra, Lynnette and Lori, who, like him, wanted to share their passion for a language with their students, who wanted to laugh with their students and Teach to the Eyes.

At the second Agen Workshop he taught two lessons of Breton, and people wanted more. So he taught more the following year and people were still asking for more. And he was having fun, laughing with his students and sharing his enthusiasm.

I have watched my son Daniel grow into TPRS and Comprehensible Input. Teri says he’s a natural, but I think he’s incapable of being anything but natural in front of his students. He has never tolerated hypocrisy, so when he looks at his students and speaks, they feel that he is a hundred per cent there, that he’s hanging on their answer, that he truly cares about what they have to say. No one taught him to Teach to the Eyes because he doesn’t know how to do it any other way.

He went to iFLT in Colorado and NTPRS in Chicago, saw many expert TPRSers at work and made a lot of friends. In Agen 2016 he met Stephen Krashen, Ben Slavic, Laurie Clarcq, Robert Harrell and Beniko Mason Nanki. He watched and listened and he learned and he adapted what he observed to his own personality, to his own language, to his own students. He returned to Brittany and taught Breton and English, as well as French on Skype, gaining professional experience without losing the twinkle of adventure in his eye.

Today I want to salute Daniel and tell him how much I admire his tenacity, his sincerity and the way he has grown into a vital member of the Agen Workshop team. Every time I see him teach, I remember that it’s all about having fun with your students, nothing more, nothing less.

I’d like to finish with a note that Daniel wrote to Ben Slavic:

I’ll just paraphrase on what you wrote Ben. Your post rings a mighty bell because that’s exactly what I feel like when I’m in my classroom (universe). We efficiently understand (comprehend) something because we’re interested in it. When we’re in the process of learning something from someone, we learn best from someone we have a personal (special) relationship with, someone who has showed us that we were the most important people in the world and someone who really meant it doing so. The classroom of a language teacher (I personally prefer the term ‘a language transmitter’) has to be that special place where you feel like you belong to a community. And I do transmit (teach) the language having in mind that I’m willing to create a bridge between people, between me and the people I’m dealing with. That’s my focus and that’s how I define my own ACTFL (we do have similar nonsense classifications in France) proficiency scale : LET’S CREATE A BRIDGE WE CAN ALL WALK ON TO GET TOGETHER. LET’S COMMUNICATE

When the Required Curriculum is Way Too Much!

Recently a teacher posted on the TPRS Witch Facebook page about what I believe is a common problem: “My students continue to struggle because I am required to ask too much from them too soon. Is there any way to combat this? I feel like a failure on most days but when I reflect it’s the overall expectation that is just unrealistic.” Few teachers can afford to ignore Required Curriculum. I wanted to respond, but thought it deserved more than a short comment.

For generations textbooks have been slicing language up into pieces that students were expected to learn in a very logical and carefully calculated order. The experts didn’t always agree on which tense to start with, Simple Present or Present Continuous, but they all agreed that you start with the “easy”, basic fundamentals and gradually build on them. They grouped vocabulary into themes. We taught all the family words, then the house words, later we learned to talk about the weather, the seasons and sports and going through customs. Whether the curriculum was based on grammar or communicative activities or whatever, the basic principle was that students learned bit by bit, the grammar rules and vocabulary lists, until four or five years later when they could actually carry on a conversation. This approach has always reminded me of Johnny Cash’s song, One Piece at a Time, and gives similar results. The students, the few who persevere, have a lot of bits and pieces but they don’t necessarily fit together very well.

What’s wrong with bits and pieces? What’s wrong with focusing on the simple fundamentals first?

I think the teacher who posted the comment accurately identified the real problem. “The overall expectation is just unrealistic.” For generations teachers have been blaming the students, saying that they were lazy and unmotivated. Otherwise, how could their disappointing results be justified? I had a wake-up call the year I was given a truly exceptional class to teach. The students were extremely intelligent, hard-working and highly motivated. I got along well with them and they did everything I asked and passed all their exams with flying colors. But I couldn’t help but notice that the lessons they had diligently learned for my tests were quickly forgotten. When I heard of Krashen’s distinction between learning and acquisition, a light came on. Some of the students went on to actually acquire the English language, but if I had anything to do with that it was because they had enjoyed my classes and felt more comfortable listening to films in English and engaging with English speakers.

Expecting students to memorize vocabulary lists and grammar rules and then apply them in order to be able to produce language is totally unrealistic, yet it is what the textbooks encourage, however modern, flexible and “communicative” they try to appear. Teachers who have grasped the importance of maximizing Comprehensible Input and teaching language in context rather than “a piece at a time” realize how impossible the textbook expectations are for acquisition. “Is there any way to combat this?”

TPRS teachers have been struggling with this dilemma for decades now, and some have come up with a solution that seems to work, or at least appease their non-TPRS colleagues. Since, basically those who follow the textbook or the required curriculum are asking their students to memorize vocabulary, the TPRS teachers give them the same lists of vocabulary to learn … at home. In class they use their limited time to furnish their students with comprehensible input. They may or may not target certain high frequency words or structures, but they don’t waste class time on low frequency vocabulary. That goes on the lists and there’s a quiz to validate what the students have learned. Just as in the other classes, students who want the grade will learn the words and students who don’t care won’t. And just as in the other classes, the students who learned the lists will immediately forget them. In your class students are actually acquiring language and high frequency structures that will enable them to use the words they need when they need them.

My advice if you have a required curriculum is to look at it carefully and decide what is essential and high frequency and thus automatically present in your comprehensible input lessons, and what is not. Don’t sweat the grammar, because you are sheltering vocabulary, not grammar, so you’ll be giving your students a fully operating grammar system from day one. It’s the difference between buying a basic car with a operating motor already installed and sneaking parts out of the factory “one piece at a time.” Take all the remaining fluff, make a list and divide by the number of “vocabulary quizzes” you want to give. Tell your students to learn the lists for extra credit. You could even challenge them to write stories using as many of the words as possible. In all possibility, your students will know the low frequency vocabulary on the lists as well (or as poorly) as your colleagues’ students. But your students will have acquired a machine that runs and your colleagues’ students will have all the parts and not know how to put them together.

About Very Narrow Listening, Stephen Krashen, Michael Jordan and Jackie Chan

Download (DOCX, 120KB)

(At the TESOL Colloquium 2016 in Paris I presented Very Narrow Listening to a large group of friendly English teachers who seemed quite interested in the concept. I promised to post my presentation on my TPRS Witch blog, but returned home to discover that our entire neighborhood had no internet connection and it took Orange five days to repair the lines. My sincere apologies to those who have been looking for this article for the last week.)

Good morning. Today I want to talk about a problem all language teachers have: our A1 – B2 students who find it impossible to understand native speakers either face to face or in authentic resources. When we know that listening is a fundamental skill, perhaps the most important of all skills, how can we help them? How can we make our oral input comprehensible to them?
When I ask students to listen to a scene from a film, typically they blame their difficulties on the actors. “They have an awful accent. They don’t articulate, they swallow half the words!” When they say the actors are speaking too quickly, I reply that they are listening too slowly. This gets a smile, but it actually is the cause of their inability to understand spoken English. They are taking too long to decode what they are hearing.

The importance of listening was illustrated by Dr. Ashley Hastings’ 1995 study on Focal Skills. A group of English learners was tested to determine which of the four skills, Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing, was their weakest. Then the students worked exclusively on that one skill during an intensive course that lasted four weeks. Those whose lowest score was in Listening spent four weeks working on that one skill.

In tests given after completion of the course, Dr. Hastings demonstrated that not only did the Listeners progress five times faster in their ability to understand spoken English than the control group that had worked on all four skills, they also matched or did better than the other groups that had concentrated on reading, writing or speaking skills. In short, the best way to improve in all four skills is to concentrate on Listening.

Although Listening is such a vital and fundamental skill, the typical textbook offers very little to help students improve their ability to comprehend spoken English. Most “listening exercises” are simply recorded conversations with comprehension questions. Some manuals try to help students pick up clues so that they can better guess at the content but such exercises are basically exam practice. Michael Jordan said that if you practice something wrong, you get very good at doing it wrong. Stephen Krashen said that “Weighing the pig doesn’t make it any fatter.”

Knowing that acquisition comes through comprehensible input, how do we make oral input comprehensible to our students? As teachers we can shelter vocabulary, speak slowly and check frequently for comprehension, but these are professional skills that our students won’t often find in their conversational partners out in the great wide world.

Many many years ago I started trying something with films. I wanted my students to be able to enjoy the treasures that come from Hollywood and are available everywhere in the world. It seemed to work, the students enjoyed it and when I was teaching in a large French lycée it kept classes of 35 boys quiet and focused for an hour. One student told me years later that the only pages from the lycée that she had kept were the ones I gave out to accompany The Lord of the Ring.

At that time I knew nothing about Stephen Krashen and Comprehensible Input. When I did learn about the Acquisition hypothesis, it helped me to understand why what I was doing with films was effective. With Dr. Krashen’s permission, I call the exercise Very Narrow Listening. He has described Narrow Listening as an ideal way to acquire language by listening repeatedly to short recordings about a topic that the learner finds compelling. Since all the recordings focus on the same topic, vocabulary will be sheltered.

For Very Narrow Listening I begin with a short, two to three minute scene of dialog from a film my students find compelling. I prepare a transcript and blank out a certain number of words, usually one word every line or every other line. I will explain further on how I choose the words to blank out.

The first time I show the scene to my students I may choose to mute the sound entirely, so we discuss the characters who are present, what we know about them and their actions. This helps students to have an idea about the context and they may guess at what is being said. I think a video is much better than a recording because the visual context helps to make the spoken dialog comprehensible.

Then I play the scene with the sound and ask what students have understood. Usually they have only caught a word here and there. This is when they tell me that the actors are speaking too fast and don’t articulate.

I then hand out the script I have prepared and ask them to listen to the scene again. They are not allowed to have pens in hand at this point and no one should write anything in the blanks. I ask them to simply follow the dialog with a finger, to show that they are able to follow what is being said. Many of them will find this simple task quite difficult.

Of course the scene will most likely contain vocabulary that they don’t know. I let them ask for definitions of unknown words, which I write on the board and explain. They will focus on this new vocabulary, but in reality I’m not interested in their learning the words on the board. This is not a vocabulary exercise. Words that are repeated several times and are important to the context may be acquired, or they may not.

Now I play the first lines of the scene for the third time and stop. I don’t want the students trying to write words in while the scene plays, because they will soon be lost. It’s not possible to write and follow the conversation at the same time. After almost every blank I stop to give them time to write and we check to see if they have found the right word. If they haven’t heard it, I replay the bit as often as they request it. This is not a test, but a learning exercise. So we listen again and again and again. We stop to fill in what they have understood. We go through the scene phrase by phrase. When all the blanks are filled in, we listen to the scene again while they follow with the transcript. Then I ask them to turn their pages over so that they are not reading and we listen to the scene one last time. And I ask them, “How much do you understand now?”

In general they will understand most of what they are hearing, the very words which sounded like gobbledy-gook at the beginning. I’ve had students say, “It’s magic!”
Why does it work? Krashen says that Narrow Listening is effective when the recordings are compelling, short and the context is limited and familiar. I think Very Narrow Listening works because:
1) Filling in the blanks feels like a familiar activity, not particularly difficult, lowering the affective filter.
2) The activity is enjoyable because students feel successful. As a matter of fact, weak students often shine, seeming to have a better ear than some of their more academic comrades.
3) Identifying the words in the blanks is team work, the result of collaboration, promoting group spirit and again lowering the affective filter.
4) The films are chosen because students find them compelling. We discuss the situation so that the context is familiar and sheltered, helping students find the missing words.

Students who do Very Narrow Listening frequently progress in their listening skills, but also in reading, writing and speaking. Why?

We all know that magic tricks work because of the magician’s ability to focus our attention elsewhere. My students are focused on filling in the blanks, but actually my goal is to get them to listen to Comprehensible Input attentively and repeatedly. Do you remember the scene in Karate Kid, where Jackie Chan makes the boy take off his jacket, throw it on the floor, pick it up, hang it up, take it off the hook, put it on, take it off, throw it on the floor, over and over and over again? The boy thinks he’s being disciplined, but the day that he has to fight his enemy, he realizes he has acquired the spontaneous moves and gestures that he needs to be victorious. While my students focus on the blanks, actually they are in the process of acquiring the language of the scene, the vocabulary and grammatical structures as well as the pronunciation. Their speaking skills will improve because they will find it easier to say words that they can now actually hear. Their reading skills will improve because they have been reading the transcript repeatedly and automatically their writing will improve because of the progress in reading.

How do I choose the words for the blanks? This is really the secret of the exercise, what makes it effective. The words I choose are words that I’m certain my students have ALREADY acquired. The EASY words. I usually pick common nouns and high frequency verbs. I want my students to be able to recognize them, so I make it as easy as possible. Please, don’t try to trip them up, testing if they remember a particular grammatical structure. Set them up for success. You will find that it’s never as easy as you thought. After all, you can hear all those words, while your students hear mostly noise. You will often realize that you need to change some blanks, that they were not as obvious as you thought.

I hope you will try Very Narrow Listening and see for yourself how effective it is and how engaged your students will be. Let me know what films you used and how it went for you. Let me know if your students also say, “It’s magic!”

P.S. At my presentation at the TESOL Colloquium 2016 in Paris, someone suggested creating a site that would have transcripts that could be shared. I have nothing against the idea and would gladly share the ones I have, but I suspect that each teacher knows the interests and level of her students best. I constantly adapt scenes and create new ones to match my students’ needs. I wonder if maintaining such a site might not be more work than creating new transcripts as needed.