Blaine on Targets – 1

On April 7 of 2016 – the time when I was running at full speed away from TPRS (see Hit List category on this page) – I had asked Blaine a seemingly innocuous question in an email but it seems more important now in light of recent developments:
Me:
“Blaine, in the 1990’s did you target anything before doing a story? I am interested in the progression of it over the years, if targeting structures has changed or pretty much remained the same in your approach to teaching stories over the years.”
Blaine:
“TPRS started with the idea of pre-teaching all vocabulary. As the stories got longer and the vocabulary got more advanced that became more and more of a problem. I remember spending 2 weeks pre-teaching vocabulary for a story. It was awful. The pre-teaching evolved more and more into teaching mini-stories. It turned out that teaching mini stories was the best use of time anyway.
“We do put targeted structures in our materials because I don’t think teachers would even look at our stuff without them. They are definitely as a group addicted to the idea of structures.
“While I don’t know, I really don’t think they are needed. I have been teaching class all week and I don’t use structures. I look for break down and then practice the breakdown. So when I see breakdown, I then have a structure to work on. The structure comes from seeing where the student isn’t confident.
“As long as teachers get the idea of teaching the frequency words, I see nothing wrong with using those verbs as curriculum. I think most teachers will teach better with structures.
“I was in a class this week where the teacher was using the word “got stuck” in Spanish. At two other schools I asked the non-native Spanish teachers if they knew the word. Not one of them did. I think working on any verb that isn’t pretty high up on the frequency list is not a very good use of time.
“I do think that getting confident with a frequency verb means that the students are at least confident is the I, you, he/she form in the present tense.
“This might have been more than you wanted. It is an interesting idea. Krashen is against structures and he very well may be right.”
Blaine
Me:
“I am writing a new book. Can I use some sentences from your response above?”
Blaine:
“Yes. I think those ideas are important.”
 

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4 thoughts on “Blaine on Targets – 1”

  1. “I look for break down and then practice the breakdown. So when I see breakdown, I then have a structure to work on.”
    This makes sense with what Blaine told me at ACTFL: He teaches one sentence at a time. I understand this to mean that he teaches a sentence until it is comprehensible to all (as opposed as to teaching it for output). Breakdown, or failure to understand must be addressed in order to have CI. This is also called staying in-bounds.
    So we start the conversation. (Or maybe a student does). Or we fish for a topic or we work from a topic and fish for something interesting about that topic. The topic may come from a picture, an event, the weekend, a MT, a story listening. (By topic, I mean the something that we talk about, since, if we are going to talk, we have to talk about something.)
    We follow the interest. We stay inbounds. We teach to the eyes. We look for breakdown. We fix the engine with comprehension. We advance the communication a sentence at a time.
    “The structure comes from seeing where the student isn’t confident.” Confidence lowers the affective filter as working on the structure increases comprehension.
    I am just trying to synthesize what all is happening.

  2. What you describe is the “what”, Nathaniel. It is focusing on comprehension and the exchange of ideas. What I think is happening, and has been for years, is a kind of subtle argument among us about the “how” of the what. One how is to use targets but that has been dealt a crushing blow by Krashen lately when he said that T1 does not align with his theories. So each of us gets to define how we want to do it. It makes sense – we each have different teaching personalities. My inner compass says to align with the research, however. That may have nothing to do with your comment above, of course.

  3. In the early 90’s I attended one of Blaine’s first workshops. Lucky for me he was assigned the same book I was. I bought his vocabulary lists and rights to his vocab tests. So targeting was big for me at that time. I also had the 10 minutes of Disney films on Fridays. The kids would write down ten words they understood. To get them to challenge themselves, they would generate a class list and I would create a mini-story from it. It was always more interesting if the words were interesting. My proudest moments were when they began to volunteer to create the stories as their classmates acted them out. The output was not forced for them and they enjoyed forcing my output.

  4. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I was there when Blaine (afterwards) objected to the use of “got stuck.” But it was Winnie the Pooh trying to get into the tree/house, and he’s chubby – so the native speaker used, “got stuck” (se atascó) and though it’s super low freq, it felt completely appropriate…and comprehensible. She (the teacher) established meaning and had the word plus translation on the board. I think if the Ss got the meaning of it in the context of the rest of the lesson, then who the heck cares whether they retain ‘se atascó’ or not?
    It’s more respectful to use the word needed than to constantly circumlocute/dumb it down. This is where the art of teaching & decision-making enters in. She could have said, “Winnie the Pooh could not enter.” But she served it up more naturally and the kids understood.

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