Redheaded Stepsister – 1

Got this. This is not the only such email I’ve gotten lately. Something is happening:

Ben –

Just wanted to let you know that, after dabbling in comprehensible input instruction for years, my school has decided to do away with it entirely. I can understand the decision – our admins spent a lot of money to get us trained but we could just never seem to get it. All four of us kind of breathed a sigh of relief when we heard the decision. Just thought you’d be interested to hear that.

My response:

I don’t think your team failed and I don’t think that comprehensible input language instruction failed you either. I think it was the way your team was trained. Things are now very different from the way TPRS trainings used to be so long ago. Those offering training in CI right now are all about the products that they sell. They aren’t worried too much about representing the research.

I don’t doubt that these people know the research, but I feel that the growing CI “marketplace” – where all someone has to do is hire a social media company and proclaim that they are an expert – has been too tempting for them as they choose what and how to market their goods and make money instead of directly helping the teachers.

The first to go over to the dark side were Blaine (not really him – he remains a stellar genius – but rather the people around him) and Carol Gaab. They found out that they could literally make millions of dollars by selling those little books. As we have been discussing here lately, the novels got in the way of promoting real CI because they made too many students – many of whom were weak readers in their first language in the first place – read the novels before they had absorbed enough auditory comprehensible input. I won’t go into that bc it’s all been spelled out in recent discussion here and in other places.

The CI car just went into the sand starting with the novels and now it can’t get back on the road. This has been a slow process lasting back to around 2000-2001, but it has been accelerating of late, since those glorious old days when Blaine was doing probably the best and purest form of CI ever done, until those around him started smelling all the dollars. Then the novels happened, all sorts of subtle but disastrous changes happened to what Blaine was originally doing, weak conferences and trainings started happening, trainers’ egos inflated to the point where now there are people who are just presenting off-the-wall material to too many teachers in the form of online activities, most of which do not, again, align with the research.

I stopped doing TPRS/CI in this new and ugly iteration years ago – there was just too much confusion and massive ego issues with the trainings. I was and still am and will always be very happy to have gotten away from those people – some of whom are just plain dark – and just do my own thing again.

I started doing a far more research-based version of comprehensible input language instruction in 2015 and am very happy with it has evolved into now in 2020. I don’t think that what is currently called TPRS or CI is going to go very far in the future. It can’t. It’s got a potato sack around its legs. Schools like the one described above will simply drop it eventually, because the current version makes teachers feel like they can’t teach and that is never a good thing, because they can.

What’s happened in the CI world is that CI has each day, each month, each year of late begun more and more to resemble its red-headed stepsister, traditional teaching, too much. One can hardly tell the difference anymore. The shine is gone from TPRS/CI. It’s sad. The thrill is over. The sisters have become twins. That is what has happened, and now with COVID-19, CI instruction has taken a blow from which it may not be able to recover, because the only reason CI was surviving as a foreign language methodology up to this point was that the kids were a captive audience to the CI instruction happening up to March when schools disbanded for the summer.

It’ll start up again whenever it does, and as long as the kids are physically in the room, 5 will process the class and the other 25 will fake their understanding (see link below). But the decline has started and will most likely continue until, in the future, people will have placed the terms TPRS and CI in the “passing fad” box.

It is going to be sad now to see the profession slowly head down the drain. There will be many jobs lost, victims of the change described herein, and now the “new” and warped version of traditional teaching mixed with CI – the twins – that has become the norm in the CI world – will further confuse things. I do think that there may be a CHANCE to make language teaching work. On verra. On va voir. However you want to say it.

Related: https://benslavic.com/blog/five-to-seven-kids-can-ruin-a-class/

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7 thoughts on “Redheaded Stepsister – 1”

  1. The issue is this- the pure novel brand of CI is super boring. The interesting stuff (i.e. the Invisibles and non-targeted) takes a dedicated type of teacher to embrace it.

    I know teachers (mostly those who are sympathetic to CI but have not taken the plunge) who KNOW that if they would learn the Invisibles and go NT they would end up doing less work while being more effective- but they don’t want to put in the time to learn something new. Or they say things like “Greg, that stuff just fits your personality, I prefer to teach with units”

    Or the new one which is floating around Twitter is that we are somehow doing kids damage by not teaching them culture in their first year of a language! (Answer to that is a novel which weaves in culture which you can buy from one of the mega companies!)

    Teachers say they want structure but when I point to the Star Sequence even that is not “enough structure” for them. They want the novels because it can be done more like a textbook: with the teacher’s guides, quizzes, tests, etc that are ready made for you.

    Or they will say that things that I do like keeping all of my stories in a class storybook for the students on Google Documents “seems like too much work”. It’s not! I have a system and spend max 10 minutes a day on it. These same teachers will spend hours grading on weekends.

    That being said I do 1-2 novels a year. The reason? The population (especially of parents) that I teach very much like to see “rigor” and it looks like we are “doing something” other than “just telling stories”.

  2. Great points from you both, Ben and Greg. I’d like to add that I see a HUGE emphasis on what I call “worksheety” CI, where someone makes a worksheet and either offers it for free or sells it on Teachers Pay Teachers, but since it’s not a grammar worksheet, teachers think it’s CI, or presenters represent it as such, and teachers who haven’t undergone training think they’re doing CI/TPRS….But the real CI/TPRS is what you do, Ben, (and Blaine, and probably everyone on this PLC) it’s the daily energy and language use and love and in-the-moment “isn’t this wonderful that we can all use this amazing language and have so much fun with it”….And that’s why Blaine always said after school, he could go play golf, because he didn’t have worksheets to grade, copy, or pay for. Your classes had that same feel, Ben. But for many, it’s hard and scary because it’s so unpredictable, but what great rewards!

    1. For those who don’t know Dori, she is from Colorado Springs (I think, or Parker?) and has been on this blog space since the very beginning, and observed me when I was teaching middle school in SW Denver at the beginning of my TPRS dance way back in the early 2000s.

      One thing about Dori is her support for me has never wavered, nor has her kindness. She gets my vision and to hear from you now Dori makes me feel very grateful and very happy. Much has changed, but we stand by our guns and hope for the best, and when we get such messages of support as your above it makes it all easier to bear, what has happened to the research.

      I want to hear about your boys. How are they? They must be young men now!

      I do want to say this: Your comment above is not just another comment. It rekindles my wavering hopes that someday we will get back to the real TPRS, the kind Blaine did, and it makes me feel less alone. Honestly, without our small group here and the periodic wisdom posted by people like Craig the Teacher from Heart and Unmatchable Alisa and The CI Guy Greg (who really really gets it!) and Matava the Script Writer and Laura the Angelic de Avila, I don’t know what I would do.

    2. This is an amazing time. I was just thinking/knowing how the Bastions of Sadness (schools) are slated for a big redo. It’s time for the admins/ACTFL/textbook publishers, TPRS “experts”* – and all others in our profession who are so fricking FULL OF THEMSELVES – to play less of a role. Them and their workshits.

      Yes, we’re on the fringe. Now. But when language teachers finally start to see through the eyes of their students, through the eyes of their hearts, when they realize that all we have to do is communicate via love, intuition and a strong mechanical system (the Star Sequence is an example), then we will see something.

      It will be so grand! It will be grand and glorious. In the same way that we moved from instinct to intellect, we will soon move from intellect to intuition. We are doing so now, and it will affect everything. It won’t be like it was. It will be about love and happiness. Just in time, right?

      Envision it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVAQl7qq-aI

      So in the meantime, teachers….keep on teaching!

      Related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hD8d4Lpm_0

      *there are no experts, there’s just us….

  3. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Yes. Workshits. Pardon my accent.
    These serve as ‘evidence’ up the food chain – IMO that’s the driving reason why Ts use them.
    Lots of New Age names for this – like ‘visible learning.’
    ‘Evidence’ that the Ss are engaging w/the content & earning their grade, which is ‘evidence’ that the T’s are earning their paycheck. It’s all about documentation.
    If we were accountants, these workshits would be our ledgers:{

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