Tina on the Gold Standard

Recently someone posted on the More list asking about how and when to gesture to establish meaning, and their query was met with a strong assertion that establishing meaning through gestures is just not to be done. The person with the question said that he did not want to lead anyone astray so he rescinded his question. This is really too bad since there is no one right way to do CI.

The only way to truly lead anyone astray would be to tell them not to convey comprehensible messages to their students. The point of CI teaching is to make the language comprehended by the students. Whatever order we want to put things in, whatever method we want to us of establishing meaning, reinforcing the meaning, checking for comprehension, the gold standard is not some pre-determined order or set of rules or steps. A particular order may work for some people with some classes on some days, but not for everyone, everywhere, all the time.

The gold standard is: Did my students understand the messages I conveyed to them in spoken and written form today? If the answer to that question is yes, then you did CI correctly.

There is, to me, no need to keep a rigidly-defined set of steps, dos, donts, ins, outs, or what have you. I personally think that is an error. What works in some classroom across the country, with a different student population, in a different language from yours with a different reaching style/personality than yours, might not work for you.

But as long as we are making the input comprehensible, making the messages have meaning to the students, acquisition will occur. It might not occur on the timeline WE want. It might not proceed according to a pre-determined syllabus. In fact, it probably won’t. But it WILL happen, as long as we are giving our students’ brains the fuel they need to acquire language – comprehensible messages.

It is the freedom to “talk about whatever” that attracted me to TPRS in 2005 when I discovered it. The freedom to be in the moment and be present with my students. I think that the more rules and steps and such, the less successful comprehension-based teaching is, the harder it is, and the less engaging it is for teacher and students. Others disagree but that is my experience.

The work of gaining CI skills, then is to work on simple ways to make ourselves comprehended without too much to think about, working on foundational skills to support us no matter what content we are teaching. And assessment that only looks at comprehension of messages.

There is no one right way to deliver CI, so we can look at the different ideas out there and decide what approach makes sense for our own particular style and needs, and our own unique students. There is a set of foundational skills and a mindset and a framework to help make instructional decisions in the moment (should I worry about what tense I am using? is a framework that can be dropped, for example). But there is no RIGHT way to deliver CI.

Cos if it ain’t comprehensible it ain’t CI. Since delivering messages is all it takes, then it follows, ergo, there ain’t no wrong way to give CI. If we’re giving them CI then we’re doing it right. To repeat, if it ain’t comprehensible then it ain’t CI so rest assured, if they are understanding whatweyou say and what they read, it’s all good.

Tain’t what you say it’s the way a’cha say it…



3 thoughts on “Tina on the Gold Standard”

  1. I think the issue is linking only one method to the way CI is delivered in the classroom. The thing is that one can deliver CI in several ways not just through TPRS because CI is not a method, and sometimes the TPRS purists forget that detail, a big one.

    Talking about “standards” of good TCI practice, can we bulletpoint a list of the skills that a teacher heading toward a comprehension-based Language classroom should master. I know some aspects always will be in a grey area but it would be helpful to have a a general reference.
    Besides being able to engage learners in communicative experiences organically through the use of comprehensible input, what else can be part of that list? Story-hunter? Speech register adaptability?

    1. Fully agreed, Carmen, TPRS isn’t a synonym for CI!!!

      Having been a TPR-enthusiast at the elemantary level for the last two decades has taught me a lot. My young students enjoy learning by movements so much it’s often like a treat. I’m working working with a TPR tape in year for and we’re having fun bc of the noises which sometimes accompany the language and also bc the pauses between sentences are much too long for them having been trained in this kind of listening comprehension for more than two years now.

      But I find that stories are a more natural way to use other tenses than the present simple and continuous forms.

  2. I believe that there is no Master here since we work with something innate and fluid. We can only improve on ourselves in being caring and compassionate to our students when when they act out. We are like parents in this regard. That was my takeaway from a workshop with Jason Fritze. To me, skills to be worked on are going slow but steady, Teaching to the eyes, gesturing words that will come up in your class but before all of that, it is classroom management. I’m not sure if it is the camera but both Ben and Tina are sages when it comes to management. Every video I’ve seen, they are patient but connecting directly with students about a job and expectations …. consistently.

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