Monthly Archives: March 2009

Discipline Preceeds Instruction

Recently I have been getting too lax with my discipline. I never knew that it takes discipline to apply discipline. It really does, though. I decided to start fresh today with a new seating chart. That improved things incredibly! Then I started enforcing my rules again and it had an immediate effect.

One class was really pushing me to see what I would do. The interesting thing is that in that moment I needed to be stronger than them in order to have them understand my expectations. I was and I was so happy that I was. I applied the consequences with empathy and when I did that it made it so much better. [For me and them]

It is so true that discipline preceeds instruction.

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Great comment from Norm Veilleux

Here is a great comment from Ben Slavic’s Blog

Don’t remember where I read this, but it was by a biggie in the SLA world (VanPatten I think) who believed that learning styles do not apply to language acquisition. There is only one way to acquire language and that is by comprehending messages. Language acquisition is so specialized and mainly unconcious that learning styles and their accompanying types of activities are not effective. I’ve dug up a few other quotes that I’ve used during workshops that really help explain the importance of input. I’ll paste them underneath and Ben you can use as you wish if you haven’t come across these already.

(From Input to Output, Bill VanPatten, p.25)The concept of input is perhaps the single most important concept of second language acquisition. It is trivial to point out that no individual can learn a second language without input of some sort. In fact, no model of second language acquisition does not avail itself of input in trying to explain how learners create second language grammars.
(Gass, 1997, p.1)

Although SLA as a scientific discipline is only four decades old, one of the most fundamental discoveries that revolutionized the way people thought about how languages are learned involved the concept of input. Although it might be a bit grandiose to imply that the discovery of the role of input is on par with the discovery of the earth’s rotation or the existence of the subconscious, the point here is that in the small work of SLA research, the discovery of the role of input completely altered the way in which scholars conceptualized how languages are acquired. Today, all theories in SLA research accord input an important if not critical role in how learners create linguistic systems.

(VanPatten, 2003, p.28)

Language acquisition happens in only one way and all learners must undergo it. Learners must have exposure to communicative input and they must process it; the brain must organize data. Learners must acquire output procedures, and they need to interact with other speakers.
(VanPatten, 2003, p.96)

Every successful learner of a second language has had substantial exposure to input as part of the process of language learning.

What kind of input is optimal for acquisition? The best input is comprehensible, which sometimes means that it needs to be slower and more carefully articulated, using common vocabulary, less slang, and shorter sentences. Optimal input is interesting and/or relevant and allows the acquirer to focus on the meaning of the message and not on the form of the message. Optimal input is not grammatically sequenced, and a grammatical syllabus should not be used in the language classroom, in part because all students will not be at exactly the same level and because each structure is often only introduced once before moving on to something else. Finally, optimal input must focus on quantity, although most language teachers have to date seriously underestimated how much comprehensible input is actually needed for an acquirer to progress.
A Summary of Stephen Krashen’s “Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition” By Reid Wilson

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To correct or not?

Corrections have been something I have thought about lately. There is this part of me that wonders how much good it really does in terms of language acquisition. In my experience so far, I think that mostly it does little to nothing. The people that it may help are the 4%ers. So what does that mean for us? What do we do with errors, either in class or on tests. Should we kill ourselves over grading.

Well, this may be a little radical, but I am starting to think that the purpose of tests are to let teachers know what has been acquired and what has not been acquired. In other words, tests are for the teacher, not the student. Tests let us know which CI to focus on more. What a different way of looking at it.

This is good news for us as teachers. Even being a TPRS teacher, I still feel weighed down by grading. And I am a minimalist. I do not take papers home or work from home. Also, my testing is online and mostly graded by a computer. You may be thinking, how can this be or wow you must stink at your job? Well, that may be, but I am keeping myself afloat in this overwhelming profession.

You see, if we know that constant error correction does not do much, that means that we do not have to grade that much. It also means that we can relax when we hear our kids speak with terrible grammar. It just means that they need more interesting CI, that’s all. We don’t need to get upset. We just need to listen to our students and adjust our teaching accordingly.

I am find more and more that language class is meant to be the beginning of language learning or a springboard. It provides them with experience in the language so that when they leave they are ready to handle more advanced input. Without the language class, everything would be white noise and it would be much more difficult to acquire a language. The language class is not meant to make them perfect in L2. It is what helps the students to get their foot in the door.

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Entering the 4th Quarter

Well, I am entering the 4th quarter of my first year of teaching. I must say that I feel like I have been through a lot. So much has changed and I now see the value of experience. It is something that really can’t be taught, but just has to happen.

I have known a lot of first year teachers that have ended the year pretty beat up and bruised, possibly thinking about quitting. I don’t feel this way. It has been rough at times, but I feel strong enough to continue.

I know I can make it through the 4th quarter and for what it’s worth, I know that I will be okay. I have been through some storms, but they have all passed.

One thing I have learned is to not take things personal. When my students are bored, I can’t take it personal. When students complain about my class, I can’t take it personal. When the story bombs in class, I can’t take it personal. All I do is smile back and get back on the horse.

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The look of engagement

I love seeing the look of engagement in my students eyes. It is a mixture of authentic excitment with happiness. It is not there all the time, but when it comes out it is wonderful. I long for this look. It is what keeps me going. It is what lets me know that I can do this.

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The greatest obstacle in TPRS

This week I had a student teacher observe my class. It was wonderful to see someone who was interested in TPRS and how it worked. I am sure that I overwhelmed her with too much information. I can’t help it, I guess.

When I observed Ben Slavic’s class, I observed for a little bit  and then he just threw me in there. He asked me to teach his 7th grade students. I was so surprised and nervous. I thought that it went horrible and I was so scared because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing.

When this student teacher came to my class, I was in a similar position that Ben was in for me. So, I decided to throw her in there. It was so wonderful to observe and it helped me to realize one of the greatest obstacles in TPRS, the fear of just doing it.

If we can overcome the fear of doing the method, we have overcome the greatest obstacle in doing TPRS. If the fear is gone, then we are free to learn and just go with the story. We can learn to be free with the stories and not worry about messing up or which question to ask or whether the students are bored. Once we do this, I think we will see incredible gains in our own development as teachers.

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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Teaching Discoveries

We bring life

We bring life into the classroom. But we have to be careful how we do it. It must happen with CI and P. The CI is a little complicated. It involves going slow and then going slow some more. Taking time to let the brain acquire the language. The P is also a little complicated. It must be about anything that is interesting to the students. How do we as adults know what is interesting to them? Well, there are a few different ways to do it. You can spend hours doing research or you can just ask them. The catch, though, with asking them is that they need to feel comfortable enough to tell you. Some will and others won’t. But as long as we have CI and P in the classroom everything thing will go just fine.

There are several advantages to teaching this way. Teachers at first will notice that they have almost no planning and less grading. But the real gem of it all is the relationships that are developed with your students and knowing that you helped them to do something that many people in our country never achieve; knowing more than one language. Hopefully, this trend of monolingualism will start to fade as more teachers see the posibilities of CI and P.

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