It is most important that the teacher who wishes to use comprehensible input effectively put aside the general notion of using the target language in class in a general way. What does this mean?
It means that we teach specific structures. Krashen’s idea of non-targeted input may make sense in the theoretical world, but there is the question of available time. Most of us only have three or four hours a week with our students. How can we immerse our students in a sea of non-targeted input in that amount of time?
Because of this fact about available time, it can be said that this is one area in which Krashens’ theories don’t apply to our work in schools. As people who work in school buildings, with the sea of unmotivated students who walk into our classrooms every day, we must target structures.
I find it very helpful to ask myself before each class, “What do you want to teach?” or “What are you teaching?”
To me this really helps. I target these structures, for example:
- assis(e) en face de – seated across from
- ressemble à – looks like, resembles
- il ne faut pas – you must not, one must not
That’s what I want to teach. I don’t want to teach a story, a list of words, a book, any other combination of language no matter how it is packaged, but those three structures.
How can my students, in level 2, with about 175 or so hours of French out of a necessary 15,000 hours, be expected to understand a story or read a book in the target language in that amount of time? My students need a lot more hours than 175 to start being able to understand non-targeted language in auditory and written ways.
But I can teach those structures.
The difference that most people may not grasp, the mistake they make with TPRS and with CI instruction in general, is that in their ignorance they don’t target a few structures over many classes – they get too vague with their comprehension based instruction.
They think that going over the structures, using them in class less than a hundred times or so, is enough for acquisition. It’s not. It’s not enough for acquisition or anything resembling acquisition.
Students have to hear the structures used much more than a hundred times, and in context that is meaningful and interesting to them, before one can say that there has been acquisition.
If you like, we can label as “non-targeted” all the other words that form part of the din of the story, those little connecting words that the skilled instructor communicates but does not include in each utterance (only the target structures are expressly repeated in each utterance throughout class).
Yes, those words are not targeted and they get acquired in sleep in a way we cannot understand or worry about, so we quit focusing on them or targeting them in class. We let the unconsious mind organize all that, all those other words.
We just focus on the structures. A generalized kind of non-targeted comprehensible input is a lofty goal, a wonderful sounding process, but not one that is achievable in the classrooms and in the available hours that we work in. It can’t be done.
So we target structures. It can be said that we do both actually. It’s a gnarly topic – we target a few structures so that all the other structures can be acquired in a non-targeted way. Maybe that’s a way to say it.
But we target structures because of available time. Krashen wasn’t thinking about available time when he did his research so he promoted the idea of non-targeted input in a general way over lots and lots of hours of input. That doesn’t apply to what we do. In my opinion.
Anyway, all I do, all the work of my own twelve years at this, I just ask myself what I want to teach and in each class I focus on those few things, targeted, and I find ways to make them interesting, usually a Matava or Tripp story, since I can’t write stories that appeal to kids like they can.
Always ask yourself, “What do you want to teach?” If the answer is not a few targeted structures, if the answer is vague, then reconsider what you are doing. Learn to teach one or two or at most three targets per class.
Or, you can spend much more time on those three structures by dragging the work with them out over a week or two, as I do, in the form of a taxonomy as expressed here: