After many blog posts in the past couple of weeks regarding text or task, Can-Do Statements, this “camp”/ “that camp”/”your camp”/”my camp”, etc. I went on a quest to explore and clarify my thinking and to find where the Venn diagrams intersected. Where do we agree? Where do we disagree? I will start by filling in my circle. Others can fill in their circles. From there we should have a better picture of what we hold in common.
These are my definitions of terms that I throw around in the post. They are not the Absolute definitions, but my definitions that are here to communicate to you the reader, my thoughts more clearly.
Language Acquisition—It is a subconscious process; language acquirers are not usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact that they are using the language for communication. The result of language acquisition, acquired competence, is also subconscious.
Stephen Krashen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, p 10.
Comprehensible Input—This refers to messages that learners hear or read and understand.
Proficiency– The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are descriptions of what individuals can do with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context, p. 3. In language, proficiency is a language user’s functional ability to use language in the real world. In other words, proficiency describes what a language user can DO with a language. Paul Sandrock, screen 10 of 61.
Sympathetic listener—Someone whose Language Acquisition is beyond that of the learner, who is so focused on the message that they ignore or do not hear any errors in the language of the learner. Someone who is willing to negotiate meaning.
Teaching—I use in the generic sense of all that happens in a world language classroom.
What you will read is my perspective of the best way to use the precious minutes we have with our students, the perspective of me as a teacher who attempted to spend as much time providing Comprehensible Input to my students, a perspective I came to from years of experience and from reading and listening to Stephen Krashen, Bill Van Patten and others.
- My philosophy of education for the students in my French classes that they would be able to communicate in a culturally competent way with native speakers of French. This has been true from my first day of teaching. In reality, it goes back farther than that. It has always been my personal goal and my reason for studying French.
- My second goal for myself and for my students is to engender a feeling of accomplishment; joy; and a love of the French language, culture and people.
- I believe that students come to us with their own goals for knowing another language. Some want to reach towards the highest levels of proficiency that they can accomplish. Others are there just to experience the joy of another language and are less concerned with proficiency levels. Each individual has his own goals and we need to respect those differences by offering as many opportunities for each to accomplish and go beyond those goals.
- I believe that Language Acquisition is the foundation for any Proficiency Level goals, Novice to Distinguished.
- I believe that keeping as many learners in language programs is a very important factor in determining the best way of teaching world languages. Having a greater and greater number of students staying in these programs, with lower average proficiency levels shows greater success than having a smaller number with higher average proficiency levels. Students who stay in our programs longer will grow to higher levels of proficiency. See a recent blog post Creating a #NationofAdvocates: From 90% Target Language to 90% Retention by Grant Boulanger, CSCTFL Teacher of the Year, 2016 and Spanish teacher in St. Paul, MN.
- I believe that we must instill a sense of practicality in knowing another language, a love of the sound of the language(s), the beauty of its culture, the desire to have more and more of the language on the tips of their tongues. Truly creating Lifelong Learners is the greatest accomplishment of education.
- I believe that for Language Acquisition to occur and for language proficiency to continue to grow, students must hear copious amounts of input that they comprehended.
- I believe that it is the teacher’s job is to provide those copious amounts of comprehensible input.
- I believe that only language that has been acquired will be available to a language user in real world situations, in instances of real communication with other users of that language.
- I believe that we are in separate schools of thought, not separate camps. My idea of “camps” is like my saying I love the Wildcats and you love the Blue Jays. I do not believe that is adequately describes our differences. I believe our differences are really fundamental. I suspect that we see the path to proficiency differently. And though we may use some of each other’s techniques, we may not have the same way of seeing how to best use the precious minutes with our students. Though we may not share the same schools of thought, I think we are all in the same camp—that camp of wanting Lifelong Learners of languages, of creating a #NationofAdvocates (see above.)
- I agree with Stephen Krashen when he asserts that the best use of the limited amount of time is to devote it to provide comprehensible input, where the focus is on the message and not the form, and students are not expected to produce in the second language until they themselves decide they are “ready”.
An analogy is a child learning how to walk. No amount of practice will have this happen before it is time. Instead parents need to feed the child nourishing foods to build strong bones and muscles. Parents need to allow movement, again to build strong bones and muscles. When the child is “ready” and starts to pull himself up and make attempts to locomote, parents move the dangerous furniture, catch him when he falls, and let him try again and again. It is when he has acquired all the needed aspects to walk that he will walk. Then parents give him all the opportunities to practice his new skill. I see Language Acquisition the same way. We teachers spend our time building the foundation of Language Acquisition in many different ways, then when the student is “ready” language will fall off his tongue.
- I believe that communication at the level of I + 1 is a fun way to grow in proficiency in another language. It works best when interacting interpersonally with someone who can help the students fill in the gaps in their acquisition, someone who has more of that language in their brains, and someone who is a sympathetic listener. I believe that in the classroom, it is the teacher who can best provide that I + 1.
- I believe that output has a very important role in a Comprehensible Input classroom. I believe there are different types of output that I define as output type A, output type B and output type C.
Let me explain. Back in the day students filled in decontextualized blanks. They mindlessly repeated after the teacher. They memorized dialogues and spit them back. That was output type A. These were very common, but did not lead to Language Acquisition.
Output type B, for example, is student-to-student practice before they have acquired the language necessary to complete the activity. These activities do not lead to Language Acquisition.
- Output type C is any output activity that comes after the students have acquired enough of the language to accomplish the task. At this point, I believe that adding student-to-student work is a great way for them to play with the language on their own. This kind of output is the proof of Language Acquisition. It is FUN. It shouts to the world “I CAN SPEAK FRENCH!” It is such a RUSH to actually communicate with someone in another language. This kind of output has always been the end goal for my students. I want them to feel those same feelings of accomplishment when they communicate with a speaker of another language.
- I believe that output type C creates another valuable tool for Language Acquisition. This type of output can show students where there are gaps in their Language Acquisition. It can lead to negotiation of meaning and then more input which will help to fill in the gaps.
I look forward to engaging with others to see what is inside our intersecting circles. Professional dialogue is synergistic and can only lead to better outcomes for our students. I look forward to this dialogue, as I still have so much to learn.
Many thanks to my CI Peeps who help me think more clearly, more deeply, and in new ways.
Teri Wiechart is a retired French teacher and has been a TCI trainer and coach since 2000. She was also the President of the Ohio Foreign Language Association 2013-2014 and is currently the Program Coordinator for iFLT 2016.