Compelling – 3

Tina Hargaden said:

Using emergent targets, for me at least, has invited much more creativity into my work. I am looking forward to starting the year next year with no targets, because I foresee much more engagement and trust from the kids. The trust comes from the facts that a) using emergent targets honors their voice, interest, and creativity and b) the new jobs hand over much of the control of the storytelling/review/literacy process to kids, so the class is more student-centered than it was without the Story Driver and Professeur 2 (especially) and 3) the kids sensed that the stories were freer and more responsive and that they would actually include a fun plot that – this is important – wrapped up! So they will, I think, be able to trust us more that we will share control with them as well as tell interesting, responsive, and satisfying stories.

Putting people above the language is the most key aspect, to me, of untargeted work. The high frequency words will be used with high frequency whether or not we target them. That is why they are high frequency. You basically have to use them to communicate.

I also see this as a question of distributed versus massed practice. I have found, for me and my kids, that distributed exposure (over time, in many contexts) to a word or structure/phrase/expression is best for acquisition. Massed practice (where we repeat it many times in a few sessions), for me at least, is not as effective. Using the HFW in a less-intentional way allows for a more natural, spaced-out (distributed) exposure to the words. And then too, the fact that the stories are more responsive and emerge from the actual people in the room, makes for more engagement, and of course engagement is the cornerstone, the foundation of any comprehension-based language acquisition program. If they did not attend to the input, how will they comprehend it, and thus acquire language?

And, hey, looks like there is some research to back up my teacher/learner experience in thinking that distributed exposure to the vocab (even HFW) could very well be more effective than massing the exposures in a targeted situation. This just in from the American Federation of Teachers:

Kristine Bloom and Thomas Shuell (1981) taught 20 new vocabulary words to high school students enrolled in a French course. Students either studied the words for one 30-minute session (massed) or for a 10-minute session on each of three consecutive days. The groups were indistinguishable on a test administered immediately after practice, with each group remembering about 16 of the 20 words. A retest administered four days later, however, showed that the distributed practice group still remembered the words (15 words correct), whereas the massed practice group forgot much more (11 words correct).

Another study was conducted by Cornelius Rea and Vito Modigliani (1985) with third-grade students. In this experiment, one group was taught spelling words and math facts in a distributed condition and another in a massed condition. A test immediately following the training showed superior performance for the distributed group (70 percent correct) compared to the massed group (53 percent correct). These results seem to show that the spacing effect applies to school-age children and to at least some types of materials that are typically taught in school.

– See more at:



6 thoughts on “Compelling – 3”

  1. “If they did not attend to the input, how will they comprehend it…?”

    This gets right to the heart of it. We can just keep going with our less compelling input, leaving less traditionally academic kids behind-but why?

    I loved the research Tina cited. So insightful! It’s just a fact that methods that encourage incidental vocabulary acquisition are superior– if only we can get out of the way and stop insisting on what WE want kids to learn.

    Classrooms where kids “figure out” language and make connections themselves- using higher order thinking to apply new language to “build” schematic constructs. If let their brains do what they’re programed to do and pick up what they will, students will make more meaningful connections to more fluently recall language. This constructivist take on targetless instruction fits well with our constructively-aligned curriculum.

    Tina, I can’t wait to meet you and pick your brain Monday!

  2. …methods that encourage incidental vocabulary acquisition are superior….

    I love this sentence. I love it because of that word incidental. When kids aren’t locked on to the story, because the targets are not natural, which makes the class less than compelling, they tune it out. They aren’t stupid. They know when their minds are being directed down a certain path. For many years now we have talked about the nature of real conversation is, but then we turn around and follow some S and S because some dude says we have to. Are we that afraid?

    1. “For many years now we have talked about the nature of real conversation is, but then we turn around and follow some S and S because some dude says we have to. Are we that afraid?”

      I would that many may be afraid however next year the door is off the hinges. No more hiding. I may have to write somethings up for my district supervisor but I will use an untargeted story for my observation. It worked well for my evaluation which included an awesome student retell to wrap up the story. I was shocked because I asked for a volunteer.

    2. I was just emailing with Stephen Krashen about working without targets (he is mostly in favor, unless there is a need for a student to focus on certain words – a doctor learning medical terms in a short period of time before going abroad to practice medicine or something like that) and he said that this issue of distributed versus massed practice was important.

  3. I love this qualifier, which really does put a big hammer down – wham! – on the entire discussion:

    …if only we can get out of the way and stop insisting on what WE want kids to learn….

    These comments by Claire are perfectly timed for iFLT. Let’s get bright orange t-shirts with those ideas on them. That way everyone can know who the hippies are.

    1. I’m here in Chattanooga and the Fluency Fast classes are cooking. Cooking with GAS!
      I had the great pleasure of being in Jason’s Advanced Spanish and Sabrina’s Advanced French class today. So much learning and it’s only Day One. My sister Nicki and my niece Avyanna, age nine, are here with me and they’re taking Karen’s Beginning Spanish class. We are all getting a lot of great input. Even a nine year old and an eleven year old (both of the kids are in the beginning class) can become part of the group and learn alongside adults when they receive what our brains are designed to run on in order to acquire language – interesting and understandable messages. There’s too much to say now. But the huge piece of learning I got today – the big thing – was that losing kids is easy as pie. Our main goals are simple. Talk in a way that is understandable and make it interesting so people want to learn. Anything we can find, develop, borrow from the theatre, or adapt – anything that makes the input interesting – that is what we should seize upon like a cool drink of water in the desert. And anything that makes smiles anything that pushes our conversation into compelling…well, that’s like a milkshake after an hour running in Savannah heat. We need to grab onto that straw and gulp.

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