This is taken from a response in comment form to Kevin a little while ago. I think it was a comment but I wanted to make it a post. It is just more discussion about a fact that I must keep trying to remember if the method is to work for me – that learning language is almost an entirely unconscious process:
It’s not possible to consciously analyze and reduce a spoken or written text into pieces in an effort to understand how the parts of the clock work together. Doing so entirely prevents us from experiencing the expansive nature of the unconscious process that reading really is. What does that mean?
What we used to do was to take a reading and, since the kids couldn’t understand it, use the obvious tools we had – our conscious minds which we as humans have learned to solve problems with – and go to work.
That is reductionist picking apart of a reading in an effort to “understand” it. Unfortunately it works with building rocket ships and understanding math but not with languages, because all of the things that have to do with language acquisition happen out of reach of the conscious mind. Oops!
And so the fact that we can’t “understand” and acquire languages in that way – using our conscious minds – even in reading, has overturned the apple cart on everybody, especially the traditional teachers but also the book companies and a whole lot of people who are just standing there scratching their heads and reacting to this new truth like babies, crying and moaning and saying it isn’t true.
But it is true. In both listening and reading, we focus on the message and not the words. We have to do that for thousands of hours before the speaking and writing can fully emerge in the real way.
That deeply complex process, more complex than anything the conscious mind can ever dream of handling (not that the conscious mind dreams) kicks the conscious mind out the back door, since it is totally ill-equipped for such a complex activity as listening to or reading words in fast moving blocks of sound.
Think how many words we process in very short amounts of time when people speak to us or how many words we process when reading a text like this (352 so far) without ever once thinking about the grammar or how the words are put together. That’s pretty nice work and your mind read them all without once breaking this text down into little pieces to figure out what they mean.
This is Krashen 101 and it is at the core of the shift we are in. People just don’t want to let go of control of the language – which is a magnificent thing full of wonder that they want mental control over – and just trust that it will work if we just speak to the kids or give them a text that they can read (emphasis on the “they can read” part).
So the fact that it is all unconscious and yet we try to make it all conscious explains the difficulty, in my opinion. You can’t serve two masters and the master in this case, as Krashen has shown so convincingly, is the unconscious deeper mind and not the conscious parser of details that is so limiting in so many aspects of life and is made of straw. That’s how big this shift is – we can’t even understand it by analyzing it and reducing it and breaking it down into pieces.
I was speaking at the writing scoring with my DPS WL colleagues about a week ago and there were two new teachers among the twenty new hires into the district this year (traditional teachers are heading fast for the exits).
One was from Denver University and the other from Middlebury. Both are clearly wonderful superstar 4%ers. The first had never heard of Krashen. The second told me honestly that Krashen had been dismissed by most of her instructors in her entire training both in undergrad and in grad school. What an indictment of university level language training!
Both are now in pretty tough schools and about to have their asses handed to them on a plate. Their only hope is to escape to the suburbs where they can find some nice 4%ers so that their worlds don’t crumble under the new truth that we can’t teach most kids in the 4% way.
Look at both the university and suburban clientele – both are very much about being in charge (conscious mind), “getting it done”, watching the weak fail, stepping up to the plate, taking the bull by the horns. It is an illness visible everywhere now. Those two teachers are toast. It’s over before it starts.
That same destructive “I want my kids to learn more!” block of ice – the belief that the conscious mind can be used in language acquisition, is starting to melt, and more than a few people don’t like that. I didn’t like it either. But get over it. That was then, and this is now.*
We learn languages because our students are made to understand by us in an artful, elegant way that is characterized by:
- Staying in Bounds
- Checking for Understanding
while insisting on strong choral responses in short one word y/n or single word answers from the group We do these three things or we fail. We have split into two camps (no big deal) in the world of TPRS/CI instruction because some of us like me totally accept the Net Hypothesis** and some of us believe in front loading vocabulary first. It doesn’t matter.
We can do both because TPRS/CI instruction is so strong – it gets the job done. That debate is for later but it doesn’t matter – the big bad boy of TPRS/CI is on the field now and scattering the old wringwraiths (those who want to still teach using the conscious analytical faculty) all asunder.
It’s gotten ugly here in DPS where 20 of us do it well and 60 want to do it well and are flocking to Diana’s trainings and learning labs and the other 20 – I observed them yesterday – are just standing there looking a bit foolish, honestly.
So Kevin let go a bit on this one. You want them to have their Caeser salad and eat it too. They’re not ready for the salad yet. They need a big full course meal first, made up of plenty of big plates of comprehensible input in the form of listening and reading. The Caesar salad can come later. And cut the cheese out – it’s not good for you. The data bank of vocabulary will slowly build as your students acquire more and more words through discussing and reading more simple texts and then, at the right time, you can all dive into the salad.
The new way, just letting go and enjoying being with the kids and doing lots and lots of input first with them in the form of fun listening and reading, waiting for all the complex wiring to magically but over long periods of time emerge naturally, is very much a complex thing made simple.
That’s the short answer, Kevin. Another way to say this is just relax and don’t try to force flowers to bloom.
*for more on the shift see: https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/09/13/then-and-now-2/ https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/09/13/past-vs-today/
**for more on the Net Hypothesis see: https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/08/29/too-many-stars/ https://benslavic.com/blog/2011/08/12/dr-krashen/ https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/02/28/net-hypothesis-2/