Manifesto

This is a post that I put on FB in early 2016, a few months before the appearance in the next year of the two “natural approach” books. I post it here because, as I look back on it now, I see that it is a kind of manifesto on the subject of non-targeted comprehensible input instruction:
What to focus on?
Recently a teacher from my PLC attended a conference or workshop near her. She is new to CI and TPRS and eager to do the work, so she eagerly bought up many materials and books, but soon felt hopelessly overwhelmed. This is my response to her post on her feeling of being overwhelmed:
I consider the early days of TPRS and those conferences, some of which are still going on just as if nothing has changed in twenty years, to be confusing and frustrating. I compare it to PCs vs. Macs. The work is becoming more and more intuitive and it is in that idea that, in my opinion, the answer to your question lies. Find a way to become intuitive in this work. Find a way to swim to the open waters of this work, where the debris of over-thinking and intellectualization cannot mar the soft beauty of this work.
Don’t think too much about the use of novels and targets and circling and counting reps and all those other things, those things associated with the old TPRS, because they are really confusing, just as you say.
You are not crazy, all the information is. The less we fret about all the details about TPRS and CI that are splattered all over the internet, the better we can teach.
Thinking too much about this work prevents stories from getting high off the ground, precisely because the instructor has to think about too many things. Just learn to communicate with your kids about stuff that they care about and that comes up naturally in class. To respond directly to your point about not knowing where to start, I suggest you start from images created by the kids. Then I suggest you use the fourteen jobs I suggest in my newest book, and ask the questions according to the template offered in that book (A Natural Approach to Stories). The less we tie our instruction to word lists and curricular objectives and semantic sets and those totally frustrating thematic units, and the more we tie what we do to the natural interests of the kids, the higher our CI planes get off the ground.
Simplicity. What is it in this work? I think there is a category here on that word. Also read some of the articles in the category on flow.
The fact that you articulate the issue so well, and your statement that organization is not a great skill of yours, those two things that you said make me feel that, once you let go of all the TPRS baggage, you will be able to feel much more confident about this work because your teaching will be much simpler. You will start from an image created by your students and you will see something.
Have heart. The less organized you are in this work, the less “teaching” that you put on the kids, the less that the kids feel that their teacher is trying to stuff knowledge into their heads, the more neat things you will see about this work. When you embrace the extreme gentle simplicity that lies at the core of this work, then, like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol, you will see the kids’ beauty and then you will be moving past where TPRS used to be, stuck in thinking about how proficient the kids are on some scale of proficiency when they can’t get to any real level of proficiency unless their hearts are open and and they trust you and feel as if they are not being taught in the old way of testing and data collection and all that old stuff we used to do. It doesn’t work with languages and that is why I say we need to get rid of targets and, if we can by the grace of God, all testing as well.
On the point of testing, the kids will pay attention in class because they want to, not because they have to for a test. And why try to measure their proficiency when we don’t do that with younger kids when they learn their first language and the kids learn it just fine anyway?
There are many who tell me not to say these things to newer people. If I were to share this with the iFLT page, I would get “concerned” replies explaining to me that not everyone can teach in this simple way. I disagree.
How to describe the voyage away from the mind and into the heart? Let’s not even try. This work is a practice, a meditation, as jen has said here for years and years. So maybe if you did a search on the word yoga some more things would come up. I would say that of the 7000 posts and 47000 comments here over the past ten years, a good 25% of them address this topic of how to simplify this work.
So feel happy. That is the single most important quality we can have as language teachers. And if you are caught up in trying to figure out all the information there is out there on TPRS/CI, you can’t be happy. Your mind short circuits your heart when there is too much information.
I do feel that the single most demanding thing that we can do as teachers is to try to be happy in our classrooms. And we must try to do that against all odds, because most secondary school classrooms are dark and scary places these days. I just spent four decades experiencing mild to abject fear in my seven buildings in South Carolina and in Colorado. God helped me or I would never have made it. Not even close. In fact, I find my discovery of a happier way to teach extremely bizarre. Like, how did that happen? I used to hate teaching!
But one day,and I think that this is the promise of CI, we wake up and find that we ARE happy in our classrooms. The sooner we learn how to apply the great truth that Susan Gross first said around the year 2000 that in this work that all we have to do is “just talk to the kids”, the more we will plummet into the real gold mine that this work can become if we don’t yammer so much about it (yammering is of the mind) and just start our classes trying to really hear what the kids want to say to us that period (listening to others is of the heart).
It just doesn’t happen fast, is all, so you do have to factor that in when you read this. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

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1 thought on “Manifesto”

  1. Below is the above-referenced passage from A Christmas Carol. After his awakening by the three ghosts of Christmas, Scrooge ran into the street and had the following conversation with a passing boy (ital. mine):
    Scrooge: Do you know the butcher shop in the next street?
    Boy: I should hope so.
    Scrooge: What a remarkable and intelligent boy! Do you know if they have sold the prize turkey that was hanging up in the window? Not the big one! The enormous one!
    Boy: The one as big as me?
    Scrooge: What a wonderful boy! So witty! It’s a pleasure to talk to him! Yes, that’s the one!
    Boy: It’s still there!
    Scrooge: It is? Go and buy it! Oh, what a lovely boy! I think I’m gonna like children!
    The words in italics indicate Scrooge’s changed perception about children. Of course, if we are teachers, we certainly are not scrooges, but do our students know that? Do our families know that? As Scrooge takes a real look at this child, he sees the child’s inherent value and wit. He sees the real person.

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