Uninterrupted Flow

This is a repost from some years ago. I feel like I’m swimming upstream on this point in the group. Oh well – I’ll keep repeating it. Until we jettison all the L1 explanations in class, which are about ego and showing off more than they are of any actual value to the students, we will continue to wonder why our students’ gains aren’t as high as we know they can if we would just stay the heck out of L1.

Just to clarify that last sentence – we allow our L1 banter in class, yes, we just don’t intersperse it with periods of L2 input. Right? We spent years coming to that point – it is the MIXING of languages that we want to avoid. Do we all agree on that point?

Here is the article in support of uninterrupted flow:

When we compare an orchestral rehearsal to the actual performance, we see that there are interruptions created when the conductor stops the flow of music to make some point, and the musicians sometimes grab their pencils, bring their instruments down, lean forward, make a note in the music in response to the conductor’s comment, and then begin again as a group. When the flow is thus interrupted, it doesn’t hurt the actual performance – rather, it helps.

But what happens in terms of reading acquisition when we stop a reading class to talk about some point, usually one of grammar, using English? Can we interrupt our reading classes and get away with it as the orchestral director can?

In my opinion, no. It is my belief that we can achieve much higher rates of L2 input in stories and reading by not interrupting either one in the way that the conductor stops the flow of the orchestra in a rehearsal. Krashen has shown that any kind of “net” activity, making the acquisition (in both stories and readings) unconscious (when they focus on the message and not the medium used to deliver it), is the way people acquire languages.

If that is true, then the use of grammar to teach languages becomes exposed as a much bigger red flag than hitherto imagined. Instead of being a method that simply didn’t work, the constant feeding of the mind with junk food (grammar explanations) during class becomes an insurmountable obstacle, like a colossal boulder in the middle of a road, during the L2 flow of class.

 

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26 thoughts on “Uninterrupted Flow”

  1. I’ve been making a big deal about uninterrupted flow lately. I teach elementary school Spanish, and interruptions are usually the name of the game. But I’ve been talking to my students about momentum and how much more fun it is when we let the story momentum build and carry everyone along with it. This week one student likened it to a roller coaster, and that image has been working great: when we’re just learning the new structures and circling on them until we’ve got ’em down, it’s kind of like going up that first big vertical climb on the roller coaster. Once we get to the top (having mastered the key structures), it’s “Wheee!” as the story takes off and pulls us along for a riotous joyride. But if we keep stopping for interruptions during the initial uphill portion, the roller coaster slides back down and we have to start again. They seem to get that. It’s helped me gain some allies who now remind their classmates, “Come on, guys! We’ve got to get to the top!”

  2. I agree completely with the core notion of keeping the flow going. Next year, I plan to have as one of my rules on the wall: “respect the flow.” That said, I think that flow can/must include BRIEF English translations and/or explanations from time to time. What I am trying to say is that comprehensibility trumps flow of TL input. I am assuming that when you, Ben, talk about the flow of TL, you are assuming that that TL CI is always comprehensible. But what if the TL suddenly ceases to be CI even for one student? I just see in this notion of flow, taken out of context, a fine line between what we do on the one hand, and the old “immersion” approach on the other, where a teacher plows through in the TL in the name of flow. So how would we qualify this idea in order to make sure comprehensibility doesn’t get lost as the primary objective?

  3. John your question:

    …how would we qualify this idea in order to make sure comprehensibility doesn’t get lost as the primary objective?…

    is answered by your statement earlier in the comment:

    …comprehensibility trumps flow….

    It is true and a huge point to make that we have never made, one that I have never even heard made in the TPRS world. It is like it must be to be in one of those ultra extreme races like the one where they ride mountain bikes in a race from Canada to Mexico. You have to rest at the right times and yet maintain a constant flow of movement up and down the mountains to get anywhere (it is a 3,000 mile race). So you stop when you need to, because you have to, but you also keep on riding. It’s a great point John and perfectly expressed, again, in this phrase “comprehensibility trumps flow”.

    1. And another thing John, when we agree that the input has to be comprehensible, it points right to how we do our work of teaching. If we don’t actively work the room and if it’s not comprehensible to the kids, then we can forget even trying for flow. You have brought up here the thinnest of lines, between how much to favor comprehensibility (how much L1 to use), because without the flow, nothing works anyway. If that made sense. It’s truly a thin line there, in my mind. The BIG deal is to make it comprehensible with minimal minimal minimal use of L1, I guess.

  4. This post made me thinking about how elementary children acquire a target language. It would be pointless to explain grammar points to them as they won’t comprehend our “tech terms”. Instead, reading probably is limited in this level as well, pictures and imagines probably are used more often. I guess we probably should use “pop-up grammar” wherever it applies. Not seeing a reading time as an opportunity to teach grammar based lessons.

  5. Yeah that’s why Susie always says to just say “this means that” and leave it, like we say, in French, “nt” on the end of a verb means “they”. It doesn’t sound right to our grammar based minds. but to the kids, not only does it make sense, but any more than that, esp. the use of actual grammar terms, would be way too much.

  6. What comes to mind about interrupting the flow for comprehensibility is that we can write a word on the board with its English translation, without saying it in English. Maybe to the brain there is no difference, but it feels different to me, to not open my mouth and use an English word.

    Ben, I love the word “hitherto.”

  7. In response to Anne’s point, I would say that, in my experience, if I simply write a word on the board during class, I cannot guarantee that all students will notice it UNLESS I stop the flow of the class to point it out and say it in English, and if I don’t say it, I could be leaving behind kids who are auditory and will not notice it unless they hear it. It goes back to the idea of “comprehensible trumps flow.” I don’t think there is any way to establish meaning effectively for all students in the room without interrupting the L2 flow. But I don’t see any problem with it either. Ideally we want to limit the number of out of bounds words, and work hard to establish meaning at the beginning of the story/discussion with lots of reps. This will limit the number of times we need to interrupt the flow. But it still may be necessary and/or desirable when 1.it is clear that students still do not understand an in-bounds word, or 2. when the use of an occasional new word will forward the story and maintain student interest. Also, I agree that establishing meaning does not imply explaining the grammar. Translating the form of the particular word is so much more effective, even though our 4%er minds want to hear us pontificating jargon.

  8. This whole thing is such a meditation on imperfection, right Jody? Here we are, after all these years of trying to be being perfect and focusing in our classrooms on only those kids who have the potential to be made perfect by us, and then just trashing all that, realizing and even embracing (!) how our jobs are not about being perfect at all, but are instead about simply being with children who rarely have anyone who just accepts them as they are. They are so bashed emotionally. Their childhoods – in the Huck Finn sense – have been taken from them. They spend lots of time alone with videogames. They go to school only to be compared, analyzed, judged and branded, they have so little real hope in the real sense, and then they see a teacher, one teacher, in one of their classes who doesn’t play it like the other teachers, and their hope goes up, and the teacher’s hope goes up, and, because of the method, real human contact is made, the kid feels that he or she as a person seeking to be happy actually counts for something, the kid perhaps fears the teacher will “turn” on him, but the teacher doesn’t, instead trying constantly to find the point of human interaction as a point of delivery of not only the language but of a feeling that they are all right and not guilty and they don’t have to be perfect, and the kid has a little more hope in life at the end of each day because of the time spent with you. It’s not about prepositions.

  9. So here I am today, watching the second video I have now taped of my classes and I am embarrassed. But it was the students who were interrupting the flow….what to do? (I will post these videos when they are YouTube ready, though I am most reluctant to do so.) What happens with the best laid plans? Sometimes I feel like a mouse in my classroom, with my students who want the reins. I try so hard sometimes to have a connection with my students but how can we lead them (mine being younger ones) into a trusting relationship where they feel OK with flow? Where they feel safe to let their guard down? Sometimes I think that they break the flow because of their own lack of confidence. Perhaps I am just overanalyzing a couple of bad classes…

  10. …sometimes I feel like a mouse in my classroom, with my students who want the reins…

    We understimate how clever they are, how much they want to derail us in the delivery of our instruction. A few really want to work with us, many are just in a kind of passively scared place, and there are thoes agressive few who want control of the class. Kids are programmed by the current system to resist. It is part of their growing up process, to test the limits of our power in order to gain their own. But our classroom is the wrong place to do that and we can’t allow it. The result of not being super aggressive in the fall with the jerk kids is that, now in December, we may be teaching classes that we are not particularly fond of. It’s always due to a few kids that we weren’t aggressive enough with. My big move of getting my two worst kids out of my classroom by demanding that my administration respond to me was the right thing to do. That class is completely different now, and we have bonded.

    There is no one answer. TPRS is certainly not the answer. We don’t get out of having to learn to confront and gain control over our classroom via a teaching method, even one this conducive to bringing about proper behavior in a language classroom. We have to go beyond the notion that anything can fix the overall system. It’s broken, don’t forget. It’s smashed in smithereens and we work in those buildings with the shards all over. We can’t snap our fingers and have our students replaced with perfect angel kids. All we can do is our best, and pull the shards out of our feet when we need to.

    What does it look like when we have lost control? It’s not kids hanging from the rafters. It’s much more subtle than that. The kids’ takeover really takes the form of an innocuous looking but extremely dangerous set of random comments in L1 during class.

  11. What does it look like when we have lost control? It’s not kids hanging from the rafters. It’s much more subtle than that. The kids’ takeover really takes the form of an innocuous looking but extremely dangerous set of random comments in L1 during class.. I totally agree Ben. This happened to me last year and by the time I realized it, it was way too late. I’m working hard on it this year and I can say that I have gotten better, but I still need to work on it. In about 4 weeks, I get a new set of students so I will definitely be on the lookout before it starts.

  12. Good deal Angela. If we make classroom discipline our number one concern, and deal with each kid if and when it is required, then we can make this stuff work.

    By the way, I am freezing all new blog content for a few days. It is because of Jennifer’s comment – I must work hard for a few days internally to try to fully absorb what she wrote.

    I am happy to be getting to this level of honesty and candor with this group. Please keep us posted. We are all in this together. Few places are places of trust in the whole world and this site is starting to be one for me. It is because of the people.

    When we have each other with whom to honestly share what we are going through (thank you again Jenn for your courage today), we get to the real reason for this blog’s existence. I refuse to go through this work alone, and I refuse to put my poetry out there for all to see, lest some of the machine hearts see and criticize me because they misunderstand the depth of the work involved in this shredding process.

    We will go through this together even if there are only ten of us. That’s what I said when I changed the format and I meant it. We will speak honestly or not at all, and we will not do any posturing here. We will not criticize each other.

    We will draw those to this group who bring open heart only – people like Kate Taluga Bearer of Myskoke Truth, the two Jjens, of course Laurie the Wise and Brave, one of the True Leaders, my Kind and Fearless Brother Bryce Without Whom I Would Never Go Into Battle, the Chevalier/Poet/Scholar from the Western Region Robert, the Classicist from the Bay John, the Potter from the North Land Grant, the kind hearted Queen of Germany from the East Brigitte, the Most Under Rated Teacher Ever Whose Wisdom and Inights Surpasses Everyone’s Jody, The Practical Iowan of Great Knowledge Jim, The Incomparable Creator of Scripts Matava, the Beautiful and Most Honest Skip, the Disappeared But Not Forgotten Ones like Brian (where the hell did he go?) and Libby and so many others, the many New Ones, the Bringer of Knowledge to the Arctic Michele, warm Chill All Devotion to Best Teaching, Drew the Fearless, David Young the Warrior, I could go on on on making names up about all of the wonderful souls who comprise our group, all of you who are my heroes, who help me believe that I am not crazy and who help me believe in myself. Thank you.

  13. Another thing Jennifer is the simplicity thing. I will never work in a setting that literally gives me too much shit to do. And that is a serious question as well, one we can’t push aside. Because if we really do have too much to do, and it overwhelms us and makes us crazy, then how can we learn story telling and the actual teaching part? I’m not just talking about the data gathering part but also the study halls, you name it. Maybe the profession is not “do-able”. I am only half time this year, and it is almost too much. Were it not for my refusal to get bogged down, and to keep my eye on the simplicity goal, I would be overwhelmed. But I REFUSE to be overwhelmed. I have ways of cutting corners that are unbelievable. That is because I don’t believe that the administrators even read half or a small fraction of what they demand from me and my colleagues. It’s a dance. They dance the Intimidation Dance and we dance the Self Preservation Dance. There is something really messed up about that last sentence. It shows how far out of balance we have become, and how far we are now from the old ideas of what a teacher is, their role in a society. After all my years of teaching I am held to the same accountability tasks as new teachers, implying that I need to be watched and ironically by people who don’t know my field. It is all crazy and I just wanted to let you know that you are not crazy. SIMPLIFY what you can. That will help.

  14. The single most pointed to class norm on my “High Five” poster is: “Support the flow of Spanish.” I point to it whenever there’s an interruption. I intentionally state it in the affirmative (as opposed to, “Don’t interrupt the flow of Spanish.”)
    Elem kids constantly want to point up story connections to their lives during story spinning and I’m constantly training them to wait til the very end of class rather than interrupting the flow, as in, “Jump rope? My little sister loves jump rope! She got a new jump rope and she’s always asking me to play with her!”
    They see/feel no difference between revealing these connections in L1 and say, PQA – I really don’t think lil kids know which language we’re ‘in.’
    Sometimes when interrupted I mention that we’ve just had a 17 minute Spanish flow, and reiterate that our goal is to stay in Spanish throughout the class…

    1. I like the phrasing, Alisa, and I think I’m going to change the poster on my wall for next year. It’s what I’ve been looking for — and I’ve used “flow” to describe what I’m asking for during class but it’s not on the classroom expectations poster now. Positive wording is great, too.

      1. I don’t know about anyone else, but once I get a class trained with the rules, the one that I continue to really use all year is #2 – one person speaks and the others listen. BUT I can see getting into this one being used all year as well.

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