Some More History

…the “target structures” are just a means of giving the kids language so they can accomplish the ultimate goal of communicating ideas….
Claire said this here last week and this pretty much nails it.
Under Eric’s guidance, we are recently starting to see that the target structures play a far less critical role than most people think. They are not necessary. It’s not a method.
Communication is necessary and so why and how did those structures even get added into the mix of the soup that became current TPRS?
Claire then asked a question:
…Is [targeting structures] common in foreign language education or just a TPRS thing?….
That is so huge. I can suggest one possible typically long winded answer to it (which short answer would be that it is “just a TPRS thing”):
(Disclaimer: I may be off on some of the details here and so would need to get Diana Noonan or Carol Gabb or someone like that to verify what I say here.)
Susan Gross in the 1990s played, in my opinion, an even more important role than Blaine in defining and presenting TPRS to people. She packaged TPRS for those who couldn’t just jump into the Blaine pool. Her influence in this packaging process was at the heart of what TPRS became.
Susan was working with Blaine by actually presenting with him a lot during those early years but he was the pot and she was the fire beneath it. In her own dynamic way in these workshops she gave people ideas like “structures” to hang their teachers’ hats on. The pot (Blaine) and the soup in it (TPRS), came to a fine boil because of the fire (Susan) beneath it. Without the fire, the cold Blaine soup would have never even made it onto the menu of ways to teach a foreign language.
Steps were argued about – how many? We went from 3 to 12 to 17 and back to 3 over a period of just a few years. Target structures appeared, very early. Reading was of course brought in because it was the big haymaker in this work and needed to be. TPRS took shape and became a method, because Susan saw in those early trainings with Blaine that teachers needed to have everything in boxes.
It is possible that without Susan TPRS may not have happened – it may have stalled. Susan was the concrete bridge over to teachers who needed something concrete from what Blaine was presenting. She defended, defined, gave concrete form to what she knew was too vague for them. (One of her favorite things to say at conferences was “Just talk to the kids!” but she knew it was too much for them to handle; being teachers they needed to intellectualize it.
Of course that intellectualization and failure to see what Susan and Blaine were really saying in the early days – that TPRS was not a method but a process and a way of simply being with children in a language class – as necessary as it was to attract people’s notice, also destroyed its subtle beauty and we ended up with the “TPRS Wars” of the past 25 years as aggressive traditional teachers took out, form under their desks, clubs with nails in them and continue to fight for their turf. And so we have all these teachers like John Bracey, John Piazza, jen Schongalla and so may others who are having to put up shields to keep from getting clubbed by people who, being four percenters and having become teachers for that reason only, have no more ability to “just talk to the kids” than they do to fly to the moon.
Now Eric has brought us full circle after these 25 years as this work is starting to take on some kind of closure and return to Blaine and Susie’s original version of this work. We are starting to see again how simple and elemental this work is.
In view of our recent discussion on whether to make PQA optional or not or to drop it all together, Eric has been writing in that direction here for quite some time without just saying it.. The difference between Eric ad Susan being that Susan didn’t have near the research base that Eric has – she just had her own inimitable raw genius based on 30 years in a classroom.
What we do know is that storytelling didn’t include PQA and targeting structures in the beginning.
A side note: we have always had the research on our side. We have always known that the textbook has no basis in research and is based almost 100% on corporate interests, and ignorance. We have always had important links between us and the ivory tower dudes like VP and Krashen and, most importantly to me personally, Vygotsky. Krashen has always seen that Blaine’s conscious effort to base a way of teaching on his (K’s) work is the best expression of his research. (He announced that in Denver publicly in 2009 at a meeting I got to be at – it was like being at the signing of the Declaration of Independence for us.) Why else does Krashen hang out with us every summer at conferences?
So we can suggest that the actual presenting of three structures with a story and other such machinations was a way of placating those who couldn’t get the enormity of the change from one of complexity and living in the mind to one of simplicity and living in the heart.
Again, this is only my opinion based on my own intense years of training with Susan from 2000 to 2008 or so. But in all these years of postings (5,351 posts and 43,112 comments), I personally have not written one word that in some way is not a reflection of something Susan Gross has taught me. That is why I say every chance I can that Susan Gross saved my life.

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn

15 thoughts on “Some More History”

  1. It wasn’t just the teachers who needed something other than “just talk to the kids”. The kids need(ed) it as well. Unless we carefully structure what we do in some way, students think that suddenly there are no rules and run amok. It is a natural reaction to the mental straitjacket of the normal school setting.
    In addition, the larger the group, the more structure we need. That is simple group dynamics. How can any single conversation interest and include 40 people for any length of time, especially when we are supposed to do it day in and day out?
    Here are a couple of things I have observed over the years:
    1. Beginning classes require the greatest amount of energy, structure, and guidance (rules). What we do is so divergent from the school norm, that we have to retain some semblance of “the box” for students’ comfort. Otherwise they feel vulnerable and operate in self-defense mode. The opening of the walls needs to come gradually. (Think of someone who has been on an extended fast. The first meal cannot be Thanksgiving dinner; they must instead gradually re-introduce their body to food or something that is entirely healthy will be harmful because the body can’t handle it.)
    2. Students who stick with TPRS/TCI for four years deal in the last couple of yeas much better with the freedom they have. The classroom – even when large – becomes much more like a real conversation among friends. Students begin reminding each other and the teacher to stay in the target language.
    3. As mentioned above, smaller groups are able to focus better than large groups and generally need fewer rules. Last year (2014-2015 school year), I had a combined 3-4-AP class of 13, and only 2 of those were third-year students. Many days we simple arranged the chairs in a circle and chatted in German. I would supply a word or phrase here and there as needed, but the students for the most part directed the class. We had some great discussions about Harry Potter. One of the most memorable moments was when I asked which Hogwarts House is the best and why. One of my students started out, got stuck, asked to use some English (permission given), said one word in English and then proceeded to give – totally in German – a masterful defense of Slytherin House. Not a lot of people can do that in English, but he did it in his third language.
    I consider myself extremely fortunate to have attended a couple of Susan Gross’s workshops, most notably a two-day workshop for CLTA in Fresno and a Carol Gaab workshop in the Dominican Republic. At the CLTA workshop Susan paid me a huge compliment. On the second day we had some time to practice different skills as well as ask questions, etc. As we were wrapping up and putting things away, Susan said to me, “I really think you get it.” That was definitely big.

  2. Ben said…
    “So we can suggest that the actual presenting of three structures with a story and other such machinations was a way of placating those who couldn’t get the enormity of the change from one of complexity and living in the mind to one of simplicity and living in the heart.”
    I say…brilliant!

  3. “1. Beginning classes require the greatest amount of energy, structure, and guidance (rules). What we do is so divergent from the school norm, that we have to retain some semblance of “the box” for students’ comfort. Otherwise they feel vulnerable and operate in self-defense mode. ”
    Yes. This.
    Robert, could you spell out how you structure first year CI student classes? Freshmen. I would love to hear specifically how you keep “the box” feeling for the kids while introducing CI practices. I am making so many mistakes. Feeling like I don’t know which way is up. I know that we each need to adapt to our specific situations, and I have not done a good job with that, relying on “how I usually do things”. Anyway, I’d love to hear what week one looks like for you, just so I can envision how I might tighten up the ship for second semester. We are on a block schedule so I get to “start over” in January (if I even make it til then :0 )

      1. I have 80 min. classes for one semester. So it is 80 mins a day 5 days a week for “90 days” (theoretically). That is “a course” in this school. So my current classes, “Spanish 1, Spanish 2, Spanish 4” end in mid-Jan. Then I will have “Spanish 1, Spanish 3 (with mostly kids that I did NOT have this semester) and 4 rounds of “8th grade Spanish” which will be 4 week sessions cycling through 4 different groups.
        It’s my first time on this type of schedule, plus new in the school and brand spanking new to a really pervasively negative environment where the majority of the kids are really suffering on every level. I have said before that it is not a stretch to say the whole community is PTSD. I don’t say that lightly. I am completely overwhelmed myself and I get to go to a stable home every night.

        1. 8th Grade Spanish sounds neat. I am so sorry to hear of the environment and the difficulties. So glad that you get to start over in January.
          I am not Robert, but here are some suggestions I thought of for keeping the “box” feeling, which of course you may have already thought of. I teach night school and I am finding that my night school kids are not comfortable without a “box”.
          1. Have a daily routine. and weekly routine and stick to it insanely. For instance, reading time then attendance, then calendar time, then a short session of TPR, then discussion/story/reading time, then dictée or writing time, then a closing quiz and grade it. If the discussion/story time is too long, since you are on block, break it up with a short quiz/dictée and then do more input, then a short quiz/dictée, then more input, then a final quiz/dictée. The kids will feel like they need to focus because there is an “assessment” or “grade” coming every fifteen-twenty min.
          2. I got rid of desks, which might lead to the “out of the box” feeling but send a clear message to kids that this class is different, and also there is NO WHERE TO HIDE! I was surprised to find that when I needed a kid’s cell phone to time something in class, like eight kids had cell phones in their pockets. I was shocked that they had them in class, because no one has EVER taken one out, all year. I do not credit my amazing management or my fascinating input, but the fact that there are no desks to hide your phone under.
          3. Have a weekly routine that includes some predictable quiet activities that will give you a break, like reading, a dictée, writing time, listen and sketch, Sr. Wooly, whatever you can use to rest briefly during the maelstrom of a school day, week, year, career…
          4. One thing you can try incorporating into the routine is something I just developed for my eighth graders, who are a bad bunch, which is a story for input that they work afterward to highlight and mark up. For instance, they read yesterday a story I wrote them. Then they underlined all the verbs “to be” and circled all the verbs “to have” (which is what the textbook is teaching in chapters 1-3). Then they re-wrote a couple paragraphs in the first person (story was in third person). This, to me, is still input, but it is more like traditional schoolwork because, voilà, it is on a piece of paper. 🙂 Of course, it is much less personalized because I just write the story, but they actually did not like personalization. But they are a … special group.
          Maybe these helped spark some ideas…hang in there, my friend.
          What city do you teach in?

  4. My view on this was that target structures were a simplification. Blaine said that there should be no more than three new structures. And then he went on to tell about spending an entire class on one new structure. Compare this to the cram in 50 words in a week in a week or less. Three structures was a simplification. Posting the Q words was a simplification. Clarify meaning and use the words was a simplification.
    Like many FL teachers, I always wanted my students to carry on with me in the language, but I did not know how to do this. Susie talked about going through her years of creating conversational activities. I never got into that. Maybe just too lazy. Maybe that I thought like so many that we had to teach the parts and it was up to the students to come up with the wholes, the synthetic approach.
    Three structures, Q words, and circling. For me that was an all important step in moving to where I am.
    “OK, Kid’s, Let’s talk.” About what? What is my role? What is the role of the students? Where do we start? How do we proceed? And how do I give them a grade? I did not know. I did not know anyone who did know. I needed the structure. I still need it.
    And the group may have come full circle (back to conversation). But it is at the level of the individual that each of works through the process. Without having a CI experience each of us has to have concrete direction and instruction for moving toward a CI experience with our students. So we continue to work through the issue of what is absolutely and minimally necessary for this conversation to occur with our students.

  5. There is 1) TPRS-for-traditional-departments, 2) TPRS-for-beginner-teachers, and 3) TPRS-for-optimal-acquisition.
    #1 is all about how to COPE, DISGUISE, and MODIFY – round peg in square hole.
    #2 includes TPRS curriculums and anything else that provides the SCAFFOLDING teachers need to communicate comprehensibly, like circling and targeting.
    #3 is TPRS that fits with THEORY, especially that of Krashen. And remember that theory is not just an idea – it’s based on research evidence and experience and has to be congruent with it all.
    One misunderstanding is that #3 means you are flying by the seat of your pants. FALSE. You can still use scripts and be doing #3. But #3 means sheltering, not targeting.
    One other way to look at this is on a continuum: TEACHING COMMUNICATION.
    I think VERY few of us do #3, some because of departmental restraints, some because of a lack of education, some because of a lack of teacher ability, etc. And I also think that #1 is the reason the potential of CI methods has never been fully actualized – even TPR and Natural Approach curriculums and textbooks are made to fit the traditional paradigm, hence why Krashen renounced his role in the Dos Mundos Natural Approach textbook.
    This is THE REVOLUTION – a new paradigm: new approach, new assessments, new methods (I prefer calling them “tools”), and new curriculum.
    The term “structure” is infamously VAGUE. Read every critique of Krashen ever. Listen to Krashen admit that about his term “i+1” in episode 6 of Tea with BVP. “Structure” in instructed SLA often means textbook grammar point. Do people acquire textbook grammar? No. Are we trying to teach and target textbook grammar? Not me. In version #1 of TPRS, yes.
    A TPRS “structure” is a word, phrase, or word string. What exactly is the “structure” you are focusing on? I think many TPRS teachers believe they are teaching the structure as a CHUNK or FORMULA. Chunks and formulas are performance coping mechanisms – ways to get you to communicate beyond your level of acquisition – in place of actual acquisition.
    I could teach a bunch of language chunks and formulas and I could get some kids to appear accurate and fluent way BEYOND THEIR ACTUAL LEVEL of acquisition, especially beyond their grammatical acquisition. This is one reason I adamantly oppose using free/speed writes as evidence of acquisition.
    In fact, teaching language as chunks and formulas can be HARMFUL to acquisition. Giving acquirers ready-made formulas eliminates the need for active processing of the input. Let me try to explain: if you’ve been taught “tiene que ir” means “has to go” then when you hear it in the input you may hear it as one memorized chunk, rather than process each individual morpheme. Same goes for what would happen when you produce it. You wouldn’t have to construct it morpheme-by-morpheme, but rather spit it out as a memorized chunk. Although the instruction was traditional, this formula-based instruction has led to overuse and has delayed acquisition, which is a cautionary tale for us, e.g. Lightbown, 1983:
    “. . . much language teaching is ineffective or even counter-productive actually frustrating the process of language acquisition rather than serving it. . . the learners heard and practiced certain language forms correct grammatical forms, of course dozens or even hundreds of times. In class and, for a period of time, outside of class, they appeared to ‘know’ these forms in the sense that they used them correctly in appropriate contexts. Later however, some of these ‘correct’ forms disappeared from the learners’ language and were replaced by simpler or developmentally ‘earlier’ forms. . . We hypothesized that, had these learners been exposed to English in an environment where there was a wider variety of language forms in the input and where there was less pressure to practise correct forms, the learners would have used the base forms the uninflected verbs in their earliest utterances, adding the grammatical inflections at a later developmental stage. In this sense, it could be argued that their development had been slowed down by the too-early insistence on correct production of certain language forms which would be expected to come later in a ‘natural sequence’. The tentative recommendation with which we concluded our reports on the research described above was that the insistence on practice of correct forms be replaced by a greater emphasis on providing learners with a variety of language in meaningful and motivating contexts” (p. 102-103).
    Some teachers may justify this “fake acquisition” approach to teaching chunks and formulas because school demands output at such an early stage in development. Sorry, but that’s cowardly. The actual solution is to educate ourselves and others about how acquisition happens and not settle for PSEUDO-FLUENCY.
    I do not trust teachers’ accounts of their experiences, at least not until I have a lot more information about them – it all depends on how you measured the results. E.g. How many teachers know how to measure acquisition of a grammatical point? Teachers, please be more cautious with your throwing around willy-nilly of claims of what has been acquired. How do you know?
    I think people really misunderstand what “targeting” and “structures” and “sheltering” mean. I used to also misunderstand. Using a script does not mean you are necessarily targeting. Sheltering does NOT have to mean totally FREE and open NOR does it have to mean MORE WORDS. I’m positive now that “targeting” is not what I want to do, at least not for the majority of instructional time – maybe some massed reps of words at first introduction in the input is good. Nor do I want anything to do with teaching “structures”!!!
    A separate issue, what I’ve now moved on to, is whether sheltered+narrow is better than sheltered+wide. From my perspective, we’ve afforded way too much to FREQUENCY. Frequency is not a big deal to UG theory and Processability Theory, nor to Input Processing theory. If our teaching reality suggests that frequency is a big deal, then that is one way practice can contribute to theory.
    We’ve also assumed that instructional TIME constrains us from doing what is best. How could what is good for the long-run not be what is best for the short-run? More word exposure does not have to mean poorer structural acquisition, nor does it have to mean poorer vocabulary acquisition. And I definitely do NOT prioritize grammatical accuracy (structure) over vocabulary. Vocabulary contributes WAY MORE to comprehension and production than does grammatical accuracy.
    I don’t have the answer, but I no longer have a bias. The most honest answer is that we just don’t know what is better, sheltered+wide vs. sheltered+narrow.
    Finally, referring back to Lightbown 1983, I’d like to say that the greatest advantage of TPRS over any other teaching method is it’s meaningful and MOTIVATING CONTEXT. Students more actively process and produce more meaningful output because of it.

    1. I agree with your points on timed writes as weak acquisition evidence.acquisition is something very difficult to measure, actually. Still, I think they are the most unobtrusive way for us to show growth, even if that growth is not a true reflection of acquisition.

    1. Damn. Still didn’t work. I had arrows and dashes to represent a continuum between teaching approaches. #1 to #2 to #3 on a continuum of language-focused to communication-focused.

  6. Maybe I am missing something here, Eric: “Sheltering does NOT have to mean totally FREE and open NOR does it have to mean MORE WORDS.” My understanding of “sheltering” would be constrained and closed and fewer words.

      1. I think it is the “have to” that is throwing me off. I would think that sheltering “does not” or “cannot” mean free/open/more words.
        I like your idea of a continuum of TPRS. I do not see all of the factors as a continuation (e.g., dept. constrained to beginner). I am trying to tease out the underlying factors. It could be considered from the point of view (pov) of the individual or from the pov of the department. It could include the amount of mixing with traditional/textbook one is required to do through external forces or constrained to do through individual experience/comfort/desire.
        So there is constrained (externals) TPRS, scaffolded TPRS, and (maybe) class-driven TPRS?
        There is beginner, advanced, and master (compare TCI Maine: Initiate, Padawan, Knight, Master.)
        There is Incongruent /Mixed (w/traditional) and integral (research and experience fit hand in glove with practice)…

        1. Less free/wide than natural speech for a native speaker. But sheltering can certainly mean wider input than a targeted approach. The idea behind sheltering is to just communicate in a comprehensible manner.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,

$10

~PER MONTH

Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben