Piazza on Acquisition

In this comment-turned-article John Piazza makes a couple of key points about what actually leads to measurable and real gains in the language, in the true and not false way, and then he reveals his struggle with one of those false ways: (forced) homework. My comment to John is “stop giving forced homework” for the good of everyone involved. The reader is invited to comment. There is a beast to slay.

Personally, I don’t think the toolbox metaphor is useful anymore. It just seems to allow backward (“eclectic”) teachers to perpetuate their non-acquisition work. I’m rather following Bob Patrick’s lead (who is really following Krashen’s) in emphasizing that the ONLY thing that promotes acquisition is understandable messages in the target language. Everything else is a waste of time. Some teachers promote acquisition by accident, in spite of their methods. Other teachers do this intentionally and consciously. The former are not efficient promoters of student language acquisition, because so much of their curriculum is taking away from acquisition.

Also a note on homework. This year I went from teaching 4 days per week to 3 days in a 6 day rotation. Because sometimes I don’t see my students for 8 or 9 days if there is a long weekend, I have been giving my students weekly homework assignments during the interim, whereas I gave almost no homework last year. Relatively simple Latin derivative work that students can do on their own, and which most students would agree is useful and interesting. But this one addition has really killed me from an administrative/paperwork perspective. It takes me so long to keep track of the assignments, who turned in what, who turned it in late, who owes me missing assignments. I have kids who simply don’t do it, even though they want to. And for some of these poor kids, especially the ones who have learning and processing difficulties, it has really created a lot of stress for them and their parents. And this is what is dragging down their grade, and it takes up all my time. And none of this has anything to do with acquisition. So why the hell am I doing this? As I finish up the first quarter, I am seriously reevaluating what I’m doing, and asking myself what I’m doing for acquisition, and what I’m doing in order to stroke my professional ego, and compensate for my program getting gutted, which is not my fault.



6 thoughts on “Piazza on Acquisition”

  1. If you are forced to do homework by your school, make sure it is input-based, not output. I don’t know if derivatives are output but it seems that it is based on response to it.

    My school requires me to give 15 minutes of homework per night. (There are also always comparisons to the Spanish & French workloads — they get lots of workbook pages). Ben, at Annick Chen’s suggestion, told me about World Language Games. This is a customized, online-based set of numerous games. Some are word/phrase based, some sentence-based, and some story-based. There is also a “Study Guide” feature where you can put lists of vocab and sentence examples for those who really want a list of what they’ve been doing in class.

    The data entry part is the most time-consuming, but then it’s there forever. You turn “on” and “off” content and there are reports about student activity. It’s not super-fancy in its appearance, but it’s fine. It’s worked very well for me. I wrote a blog entry about it at: http://tprsforchinese.blogspot.com/2013/10/skritter-and-other-homework.html

    Mike Ahrens is the programmer, and he’s very open to teacher ideas (he created a new game within 3 days based on an idea I shared with him). You could contact him at mikeahrensWLG@gmail.com.

  2. My hwk criteria:

    1) Easy.
    2) Not more than 20 min/week total
    3) Like Diane N. said, “input-based.”


    1) If it’s remotely difficult– by which in a TPRS class we mean “they don’t understand”– lots of kids will either copy or not do it.

    2) Kids are WAY overburdened already with hwk. 5 hrs/day of school plus they have subjects where they can actually work independently AND productively– like math, English, socials, sciences, so they should be focused on those. Plus lots of them need family time, physical activity time, etc, plus poor people are working. I don’t want languages to be a burden: I want kids to show up, tune in, and learn, with no “oh GOD Spanish = homework” feelings.

    3) Reps of meaningful interesting C.I. build acquisition. Writing, like speech, is the RESULT, not cause, of acquisition.

    My hwk basically boils down to read and translate (a 10-12 sentence story) or write and illustrate a comic of a story. In both cases, kids are reading something they understand.


  3. Thanks for the reality check. I wasn’t really thinking about the FORCED issue as being central to the problem. I think I will begin by making my assignments optional, give credit to those who turn work in (and expand the options for independent work), but not mark down those who choose not to.

    1. I’ll be devil’s advocate here– if the kids do hwk for “extra credit” we have a problem. If we measure kids by what they can do, why mark hwk? If homework helps them learn something, why are we “marking” homework? Shouldn’t thier “mark” show up in improved skills when they get evaluated?

      These are Assessment For Learning ideas that Rick Wormelli etc raise.


  4. I understand your situation is unique John, I hope you find a good solution with all the helpful advice here.

    This reminded me of something that Grant Boulanger said in his presentation at MCTLC last month… (paraphrasing of course) “I ask my kids to show up and give me 50 minutes of rigorous communication in class, and I don’t take any of their time outside of school.” It’s a shared sentiment among many here, myself included, and the more we make it sound reasonable and obvious as he did, the more it will BE reasonable and obvious for other teachers, and parents, and students, and admins.

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