Krashen talks about the Natural Approach. Blaine Ray creates stories with his students in a most natural and effortless way. Susan Gross talks about the need to personalize our classrooms – what is more natural than that?
We can always get more relaxed with our kids, more natural with them. But the big irony is that we have to relax to do so. We have to appear less driven and frenetic in their eyes – only then will we attract their attention. They are trained in smelling out fake instruction.
How can we be real in our classrooms? How can we bring less intensity, which drives them away? It’s a Catch-22 – in order to reach our kids, we need to kick it back a few notches.
If I contribute anything to the discussion about how teachers can get get better at TPRS, I would like it to be in this area of becoming more natural in the classroom. I don’t think that agenda driven TPRS classes can work in the way that TPRS classes that are natural and free from overplanning can work. In the former we ask water to flow upstream, whereas in the letter we allow water to flow where it will. In the former, there is no flow, in the latter, water becomes oceans.
So in TPRS I want to help create activities that will allow the teachers to bond with their kids, in a natural and highly personal way. I don’t want to talk about why and how TPRS works so much. Leave that to the scholars.
“Covering” certain materials does not, cannot, and never will, work. This is what teachers who use textbooks are forced to do. It is implied by the textbook companies that teachers will be able to get the interest of their students if they do the activities presented in the book. Any teacher who has been at it for awhile knows how false that assumption is.
It doesn’t work because it is forced! “Hey kids! Today we are going to learn about ordering a meal in French!” and an internal groan goes up from all but a few of the kids. They don’t need to know that right now! They are not in a French speaking country and they are not hungry. So the lesson will then be forced, especially when the kids have in the back of their minds that they are going to be tested on this material. Or if they have to do a little memorized dialogue about it for a grade. Or if they just had lunch.
Where are THEY in the equation? Pleas don’t tell me that those little fake memorized dialogues they do with the silverware in front of class include them in the equation. Just don’t do that. If you tried to convince me that those little canned dialogues that you make them do help them learn L2, I would run away from you.
It is unnatural to teach things for which there is no immediate need, it is especially unnatural to test on those things, and it is unnatural to exclude the personalities of kids who are in the room when studying the language. If Krashen is right, if VanPatten and the others are right, that there must be a need to communicate in a social setting before language can be authentically acquired, then Blaine Ray has hit upon, up to this point in my own experience anyway, the only way to set that up, because in PQA and in stories, students are consistently placed in situations in which they actually want to find things out.
Let’s just mention a few of Krashen’s ideas here to refresh our memories about what he is saying about how we acquire languages – we can’t study Krashen enough:
1. Communicative Competence is defined in sociocultural terms, meaning that interacting in L2 is more than just a mental exercise, but a participatory, social one. Robots cannot converse.
2. The Affective Filter Hypothesis states there is a “filter” or “mental block” that keeps L2 from “getting in” – the lower the filter, the easier it is to learn L2. Thus, human contact of a relaxed nature, i.e. reaching kids in a way that is meaningful to them, increases acquistion of L2.
3. The Affective Hypothesis states that factors of motivation, interpersonal acceptance, and self-esteem deeply affect learning L2. Thus, we reach students by focusing on them and valuing them as human beings in our classes.
So, if we relax more, the flow of language will increase, and interest and meaning will go up due to that very relaxation. This change has to come from us, because the kids’ sense of trust and play and interest has been wounded in our schools. Further, as stated, we need to personalize our classrooms more and more, to the extent that the sharing of information of L2 actually bears on real things about our students.
We can no longer teach in a world of make believe, of ridiculously complicated curricula, of absurdly priced, complicated books filled with minutia that reach few kids. We can no longer teach in a world of distanced energy with our students, one in which the taste of testing sours every bite that the kids take of the language.
It really is a world of make believe that we have created in foreign language learning. What a sad thing we have done – we have forced our precious children to sit in worlds in which they are not really interested – our classrooms, and we have done it for over a hundred years. Any right thinking individual would want to do everything in their power to change that.