Todd & A Series On CI (Part 16) – Overcoming The Obstacles To Making Input Comprehensible

Nope. Not when you’re trying to stay in the target language.

Instead, #TL90plus foreign language teachers try something like this to help students find meaning in a piece of incomprehensible L2:

Instead of *PAIRING incomprehensible L2 with comprehensible L1, teachers try to *PAIR it with comprehensible extralinguistic input (i.e. *representational, *gesticulated, *inflectional, *incidental situational and *constructed situational input) (Teachers can also pair it with comprehensible L2 as student proficiency increases.)

THIS CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS THOUGH!

Some students will look at the above picture and think, “Oh!!! Azul means SQUARE!” Another student might look at the picture and think, “SHAPES! He’s going to teach us about L2 shapes today!” (Do you remember any of this from last week’s post, which is entitled Obstacles To Making Input Comprehensible In A Foreign Language Classroom?)

Simply stated: the problem is the *PAIR is not matched properly (or specifically enough). (Click here for more details)

So…what can be done to overcome this obstacle?

1. Whenever possible, *PAIR EXACTLY.

AVOID using extralinguistic input that could mean more than one thing. For example, don’t use a THUMBS UP gesture to help a student find meaning in the L2 phrase for “I’m doing well.” He might think that you’re saying, “Good job,” instead. (Click here for more details on effectively using gesticulated input.)

2. *PAIR SUCCINCTLY

Depending on the proficiency level of your students, DON’T hold up a picture like this…

elephant-and-bird

…and say a whole sentence about it or sing an L2 song about it. NO! That would be like saying, “students: learn some L2 today by studying this L2 paragraph and, to help you out, here is an L1 paragraph that says exactly the same thing.” Especially if you’re teaching novice learners, that would be ridiculous! Students would think, “Okay!? Ummm. You gave us a translation, BUT how am I supposed to know which L2 words match up with the L1 words. This is too broad! There’s too much content. I need this broken down into WAY smaller chunks.”

INSTEAD…

  • Start simple.
    • Point to the bird.
    • Look at the students while pointing to the bird.  (This action suggests to the students that you want them to pay attention to the bird that you’re pointing to.)
    • Point to the bird again.
    • Say, “tweet, tweet,” while pointing to the bird.
    • Say, “bird,” while pointing to the bird.
    • Say, “bird,” again while pointing to the bird.
    • Say, “Class, repeat: BIRD.”
    • Say, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  BIRD,” while pointing to the bird.
    • Point to the elephant.
    • Look at the students while pointing to the elephant.  (This action suggests to the students that you want them to pay attention to the elephant that you’re pointing to.)
    • Point to the elephant again.
    • Make a motion/gesture that the students will know means elephant.
    • Say, “elephant,” while pointing to the elephant.
    • Say, “elephant,” again while pointing to the elephant.
    • Say, “Class, repeat: ELEPHANT.”
    • Say, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  ELEPHANT,” while pointing to the elephant.
    • Point to the bird and say, “A bird.”
    • Point to the elephant and say, “An elephant.”  (Repeat these last two steps)
  • Practice “the simple.”
  • Ensure that “the simple” is comprehensible
  • THEN add layers of complexity ONE AT A TIME
  • Click here to read an entire post about this.

3. PROVIDE *PAIRING VARIETY.

If you’re trying to help students find meaning in the L2 word for blue, show them the blue square and then show them many other blue things (i.e. blue circle, blue crayon, blue bird, blue elephant, etc). Then they’ll know that you’re trying to teach them a color word and not a shape or other noun.

4. EXACT *PAIR REPETITION.

Provide a variety of exact pairing instances over an extended period of time. This will allow for students to gain confidence for how the L2 word or phrase is used in a variety of situations. Each time you revisit the *PAIR, the meaning will become more solidified in the learner’s mind.

5. VAGUE *PAIR ELIMINATION.

If I’m trying to teach the L2 word for blue, often I will say/show what ISN’T blue (in the TL).

“This isn’t blue.”

purple

“This isn’t blue.”

red

“This isn’t blue.”

yellow

“THIS IIIISSSSSSS BLUE!”

blue azul

I do this all the time. When I’m trying to establish meaning for a piece of incomprehensible L2 (by pairing it with a corresponding piece of comprehensible linguistic input) I frequently say/show what it DOESN’T mean as well. In that way I eliminate incorrect/vague pairs.


Well, Sr. Howard…that’s nice…BUT:

“WHAT IF MY STUDENTS DON’T PAY ATTENTION!?”

angry teacher

“WHAT IF MY STUDENTS AREN’T MOTIVATED!?”

“WHAT IF THEY GIVE ME BLANK STARES EVEN AFTER I PROVIDE A VARIETY OF EXACT PAIRS OVER AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME?”

All of these questions can be summed up with the following sentence:

One of the BIGGEST ‘making input comprehensible’ obstacles in a 90+% TL use classroom is: the *PAIR isn’t seen/noticed/processed by the learner.

This is a huge problem because, if a student doesn’t process the instance of pairing, there can be NO STEP TOWARDS ACQUIRING that piece of incomprehensible L2.

Realistically speaking, this obstacle CAN’T be overcome 100% of the time.

  • Some kids are just too distracted.
  • Some students just have too much going on emotionally in order to concentrate on L2 class.
  • Some people are just down right nasty and like to cause trouble in class.

A teacher will feel unnecessarily overwhelmed if she feels like she should be able to effectively control every factor AND enable her students to pay attention all the time.

There are, however, some things that can be done to help maximize the amount of time students are noticing and processing instances of pairing.

Identify which of the following three scenarios is the reason for the disruption:

1- OVERWHELMED. The learner is willing and focused but doesn’t process the instance of pairing because the incomprehensible L2 is too unsettling.

The solution to this problem is pretty simple and I’ve already discussed it (in detail) in this post“Why Aren’t They Getting This? – Input: Multiple Forms & ICI.” You might also want to check out:

2- DISTRACTED. The learner is willing (and sometimes focused) but external stimuli causes his attention to be on something other than the teacher’s instance of pairing.

There are many solutions to this problem. Here are some of my favorite tips:

3- UNMOTIVATED. The learner is unwilling to engage because he doesn’t value the lesson activities enough AND values something else MORE.

I have classes that go well, and classes that don’t go so well. The classes that don’t go well usually have a handful of students in them that care too much about what their peers think. They try to show off in front of their peers. They try to give me a hard time so that their peers will think they are cool/rebellious. The students are paying LESS attention to what I’m trying to do and MORE attention to verbal and nonverbal input (from peers) that effects their social status. It’s a MULTIPLE FORMS OF INPUT situation (except that the overwhelming/distracting/competing input isn’t coming from me, it’s coming from their peers!)

The situation is difficult, but not hopeless. Here are some tips on how to deal with it.

  • Present your material in attractive and meaningful ways. Textbooks, pencil and paper are useful. However there are more engaging ways of presenting/studying material. Be thoughtful about choosing activities/materials that are relevant, creative and inspiring. The more meaningful your class is the more students will be willing to temporarily set aside their worries about peers during your instructional time.
  • Consider the learner. At the beginning of your lesson are you thinking about your instructional plan ONLY? Do you think about the students and gauge how they are feeling? Do you adjust your plans to accommodate the ‘feel’ in the room without unnecessarily compromising your instructional goals? How much do you smile? How personable are you? How much do you know about the students you teach? The more your students feel considered, the more open they will be to the input you offer them. You don’t need to be their friend. However, the more they feel valued, the more they will be willing to value what you have to offer them.
  • Help students feel emotionally safe. Many of your students are emotionally vulnerable. They will always be wanting to feel emotionally safe. Is participating in class too risky? Will they feel shame if they make a mistake? Will they feel that making mistakes is okay? What will the teacher do if a classmate makes fun of his peer? Does the teacher pay attention to all of the students, or only the ones who are most verbal or popular? Students will be more motivated to pay attention to you when they feel emotionally safe in the classroom environment that you create.
  • Help students feel valuable. Students will be more likely to care TOO much about their peers if they don’t have positive conclusions about their own value as a person. People easily forget that they are valuable. People easily forget that their perceived value doesn’t have to change based on the opinion of others or based on their social or academic performance. Take time to remind vulnerable students that they are valuable apart from what their peers say. These kinds of things will help students care less about the opinions of their peers; freeing up mental capacity to pay attention to academic things.
  • Place distracting students at the fringes. If a student’s lack of motivation disrupts class continually, try putting them in one of the back corners of the room. Do your best to work with the students that ARE motivated. And, who knows…maybe the unmotivated student will start to show interest after they watch from the fringes for a while.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

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Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 15) – Obstacles To Making Input Comprehensible In A Foreign Language Classroom

It happens to all of us:

  • The kids don’t try. Students are always saying, “Teacher, I don’t get it. I don’t know what that means!”
  • The kids don’t pay attention. We work so hard to prepare a high-quality lesson and it seems wasted because some of the kids aren’t even motivated enough to pay attention.
  • Some kids aren’t the brightest crayons in the box. We make the answer as obvious as possible and the students still look at us confused.

Research and workshops CAN BE helpful, but when you try to implement those proven techniques in a classroom full of 24 students (all of whom have their own problems) it’s not so easy to get the results you hoped for.

What goes wrong? What are the obstacles that teachers have to overcome if they’d like to use the target language over 90% of the time? Although the following list won’t be comprehensive, here are some common obstacles that can keep a teacher from reaching their TL use goals.

Problem #1 – The student says, “I don’t get it! I don’t know what that means!” (i.e. Students keep saying they don’t understand even though teacher is using visual aids and gestures to help students find meaning. Teacher works hard to find good visuals. Teacher works hard to speak L2 slowly. Students still don’t get it.)

Examples from class:

  1. Teacher says the L2 word for “to play” and shows a picture of kids playing in order to help students find meaning. Teacher later finds out that the students misinterpreted his picture. They thought he was trying to teach them the L2 word for, “sports!”
  2. Teacher says the L2 word for “with” and shows a picture of a big, bold, red plus sign. Teacher later finds out that the students thought he was teaching them the L2 word for “doctor” or “hospital.”
  3. Teacher stands, points out the window and says the following L2 sentence, “It’s a nice day out today, isn’t it?” Students give her a blank stare and don’t respond to the question at all.

The problem is in the *PAIRING. The *PAIR is not exact or is not matched properly. (Click here for more details.)

Don’t give up! When these things happen, some teachers conclude that students just aren’t ready for L2 immersion. Teachers conclude that they should stay in the target language with level 2 students but not with level 1 students. There are things you can do to pair more effectively. (Stay tuned for tips in next week’s post.)

Problem #2 – “The blank stare” from your students. Maybe your *PAIR is effective and matched properly, however sometime’s there still is a blank stare.

Examples from class:

  1. Recently I was SURE a student would be able to respond when I said, “Stand up,” (in the target language) especially because I even used my hands to motion for him to stand. I thought I was making it as simple as possible.  One short command.  One very obvious gesture.However, he gave me a blank stare.  NO RESPONSE. I thought to myself, “How much more obvious can I make it?”

The problem is that there are multiple forms of input (which are coming at the learner) and one of those forms of input is too overwhelming. It’s so overwhelming that it’s limiting the learner’s ability to process any of the other forms of input. (Click here for more details.)

Don’t give up! When this happens, you don’t have to revert to L1. Try communicating (for a while) with fewer words or even NO WORDS. It will help the student grow accustomed to paying attention to the extralinguistic input that you’re offering him. (Check out these examples.)

Problem #3 – The most obvious problem: some students just don’t pay attention. They lack motivation.

Examples from class:

Maybe the students are…

  • …not the studious type and are too bored by school work.
  • …worried about a boy that they like.
  • …thinking about the science test they have next period.
  • …upset about something that’s happening at home.
  • …angry that a friend intentionally ignored them in the hallway before class.

These problems are huge BECAUSE *pairing can’t happen if the students aren’t watching or focused on each instance of *pairing.

It’s an unfortunate reality that we have to deal with. It’s unfortunate that we not only have to do OUR job of TEACHING but ALSO have to bend over backwards motivating students to do THEIR JOB of LEARNING.

Don’t give up! All the things you do to motivate your students are very worthwhile! (Don’t forget the starfish story! “It makes a difference to that one!”)

If you find yourself particularly overwhelmed with unmotivated students, check out next week’s blog post, on Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language. Maybe you’ll find one or two things that you might be able to use in your classroom. (If you can’t wait for a week, you can check out this post or this post in the meantime.)

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd


*Disclaimer: This term is my own and I’m using it for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that this is the term found in formal, academic writing.


See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 14) – How To Make Input Comprehensible In A Foreign Language Classroom

Q- “How do you make input comprehensible?”

A- “Hmmm. I’m not sure what you mean? Do you mean something like Question #1 or do you mean Question #2?

  • Question #1: How do you help a novice student know that you want him to pass out the worksheets when you say the L2 sentence for, “Please pass out these worksheets?”
  • Question #2: How do you help a student come to a point of understanding a piece of L2 that he currently doesn’t understand?

If you’re looking for answers to questions like Question #1, it would be more clear to phrase the original question this way:

Revised Question #1 – How do you help a student find meaning in an L2 immersion environment if most of the L2 input is going to be incomprehensible for him? (For a list of practical answers to this question see ‘More Answers To Revised Question #1’ below.)

This is an important revision because Revised Question #1 and the question at the top of this post are definitely NOT interchangeable. The answer to Revised Question #1 is *PAIRING and the answer to the question at the top of this post sounds almost the same but is clearly different: REPEATED PAIRING.

*PAIRING happens when a teacher leverages different forms of extralinguistic input so students can find meaning in an L2 immersion environment even though the L2 input is incomprehensible. More specifically, *PAIRING is matching a piece of incomprehensible L2 with another piece of input (extralinguistic or linguistic) that is equivalent and meaningful. (i.e. 1- Like when a teacher gestures for a novice student to stand up while saying the L2 word for, “stand up.” The L2 word for, “stand up,” is the piece of incomprehensible L2 and the accompanying gesture is the other piece of input that is equivalent and hopefully meaningful. This is an instance of extralinguistic pairing. 2- Like when a teacher hands out a flashcard that has the L2 word for “stand up,” on the front and the L1 word for, “stand up,” on the back. This is an instance of linguistic, L1 pairing.)

REPEATED *PAIRING is…:

  • …a teacher gesturing while saying the L2 word for, “stand up,” a few times on Monday, a few times during Tuesday’s lesson, a few MORE times on Wednesday and even more times throughout the rest of the school year.
  • …a student not just looking at his L2 vocab list on Monday night, but again on Tuesday and again on Wednesday night and again on Thursday night before the test.
  • …giving the learner multiple chances to see a meaningful equivalent of an incomprehensible L2 word/phrase.
  • …the answer to Question #2 (above) and is a correct way of answer the original question at the very top of this blog post.

The purpose of REPEATED *PAIRING is to make what was once meaningLESS meaningFUL. When an instance of PAIRING is repeated enough times (over a long enough period of time) a piece of L2 input that previously had been incomprehensible to a student can become meaningful.”


More Answers To Revised Question #1

There are SOOOOO many answers to Revised Question #1.

1- There are entire methods/systems of foreign language teaching devoted to providing answers to that question. Here’s a post I wrote two weeks ago containing 37 Links To Online Resources that discuss such methods.)

2- I write “Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language” to give practical, step-by-step and (hopefully) reproducible answers to Revised Question #1. I’ve written practical advice/strategies for…:

…Teaching Grammar While Staying In The Target Language.

…Introducing New Vocabulary While Staying In The Target Language.

…Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible.

Giving Activity Directions While Staying In The Target Language.

3- In an effort to answer Revised Question #1, some articles and blogs provide answers that are too vague and incomplete like, “make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support.” I wrote a series on practical tips and specific examples for how to do this. Click on the links below to access those posts:

That should be more than enough answers to Revised Question #1.

Have fun repeatedly pairing so that you can make more and more incomprehensible L2 comprehensible for your students!

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 13) – “Language Acquisition Magic”

“Language Acquisition Magic”  …I don’t really like the phrase anymore.

  1. It makes it sound like acquiring a language is easy; and I DON’T think that’s true.
  2. It also makes it sound like there is a perfect formula for how to teach a foreign language; and I don’t think that’s true either.

However, I used the phrase several months ago while writing a series on comprehensible input and, in today’s post, I’d like to explain what I regret and DON’T regret about using it. Here’s the phrase in it’s original context:

“Making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition ‘magic’ to occur.”

What I DON’T regret:

In class, there are instances when I watch a student use the target language without even realizing it. It almost seems like L2 slips out of their mouth by accident or without expending intentional intellectual effort. Here are some examples:

  • One reluctant student blurted out, “I don’t want to,” (in the target language!) when he got randomly chosen to participate.
  • A 1st grader said, “sit down,” and, “quiet,” (in the target language) to an off task classmate.
  • A 4th grader said, “That’s not for you! That’s for me!” (in the target language) when I playfully stole his pencil.

It feels like magic, when those things happen, because:

  • we never formally covered that L2 content in the curriculum.
  • it seems that some students said those things without even realizing that they were speaking another language. (I notice that this happens more with the youngest learners.)
  • often, the students that said these things are not the stereotypical “overachieving students.” Sometimes L2 phrases like these popped out of the mouths of the ones that have been known as the “quiet” students.
  • the process of acquiring those L2 phrases wasn’t difficult. It didn’t involve copying, memorizing, drilling or homework. I would wager that most students felt like it was even fun and enjoyable.

Now for an important SIDE NOTE devoted to answering the question, “What is causing this “language acquisition magic” to occur?”

The answer, summed up in one word (and over-simplified) is: *PAIRING.

Pairing what?” you may ask.

Pairing a piece of incomprehensible L2 with an equivalent and meaningful form of extralinguistic input. It can be ANY form of extralinguistic input. (i.e. *representational, *gesticulated, *inflectional, *constructed situational and/or *incidental situational.)

It’s also effective to pair incomprehensible L2 with other linguistic input, namely L1 input (aka: translation) or comprehensible L2 input (aka: a definition or using context clues). However, when a teacher starts pairing in this way, the pairing experiences start becoming less “magic-like” and more “academic-like” or “study-like.”)


What I DO regret:

Besides the 2 regret-statements that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I regret including the bold part of the statement:

Making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition ‘magic’ to occur.”

I regret including the phrase because I think I used it incorrectly. I think I’ve had an incorrect (or at least an incomplete) understanding of what it means to make input comprehensible.

Up until recently, I THOUGHT making input comprehensible went something like this:

Sr. Howard thinks, “Okay…the students are about to walk into my classroom. I need them to stand up in the middle of the lesson, but they don’t know the L2 word for, “Stand up.” Uh-oh. What am I going to do? Hmmm. (Pause) Oh! I know! Maybe I can make the input comprehensible to my students by gesturing or motioning for them to stand when I say the L2 word for, “Stand up!” Yes! That will work marvelously! I’ll make the input comprehensible with the use of a gesture!”

I no longer think that’s correct. A gesture doesn’t make an L2 word comprehensible. A gesture, instead, offers the student another available form of input that he/she can use in an attempt to find meaning. Even if a student stands up, when I gesture and say the L2 word for, “Stand up,” it doesn’t mean that I made the L2 word comprehensible. It simply means that the gesticulated input that I used was comprehensible. More than likely, the L2 word remains incomprehensible. Furthermore, the L2 word will remain incomprehensible until the student can perform the appropriate physical response without the cue of an available form of extralinguistic input.

Here’s the same situation but with a change in vocabulary that indicates a more clear understanding of what’s happening for the learner:

Sr. Howard thinks, “Okay…the students are about to walk into my classroom. I need them to stand up in the middle of the lesson, but they don’t know the L2 word for, “Stand up.” Uh-oh. What am I going to do? Hmmm. (Pause) Well, it’s not likely that anything I do in class today will make the L2 word for, “Stand up,” comprehensible. It will likely take more time than we have during today’s session for that L2 word to become comprehensible. It will take repeated instances wherein that L2 word is paired with an equivalent and meaningful form of extralinguistic input. Once the students have experienced enough of these pairing instances, they will be able to perform the appropriate physical response without the extralinguistic cues. Until then, however, I can use these cues to communicate meaning even though my L2 input fails to communicate meaning.”

 

 


 

So at the end of this post I think I’d like to throw out the original sentence:

“Making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition ‘magic’ to occur.”

…and use this revised sentence instead:

“Providing engaging instances for students, wherein pieces of incomprehensible L2 are repeatedly paired with extralinguistic forms of input, can be great fun for both the teacher and students in a foreign language classroom. It can even make parts of the L2 acquisition process feel less work intensive for the learner while still allowing for exciting performance results that, in the best of instructional moments, feel almost magical.


Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Back To Todd & “Which Form Of Input Is Most Effective For Facilitating L2 Acquisition?”

I took a break.

During the past 2-3 months I haven’t continued the series on CI with Todd.  However, I NEED TO GET BACK TO IT because at the end of each of those posts I listed some questions/discussion topics that I promised to address.  Do you remember them?

Todd will help me discuss and/or continue to discuss…:

  1. …the nature of input and comprehensible input.

  2. …different forms of input.

  3. …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.

  4. …making input comprehensible.

  5. …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.

  6. …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.

  7. …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.

  8. …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.

In today’s post I’d like to tackle #3: “a qualitative analysis of the various forms of input.”

FIRST, I’ll list the forms of input that I’ve delineated in the series so far.  Feel free to click through the links if you need a refresher on their definitions and usefulness for facilitating L2 acquisition.

Forms of extralinguistic input:

Forms of linguistic input:

(*Things to keep in mind about the above list:

  1. I don’t think it’s a comprehensive list.
  2. You shouldn’t think of this list as a well researched piece of language acquisition theory.  I’m not an expert in the field.  I don’t even know the names of the real/academic terms used to talk about these forms of input.  They are just terms I’ve developed as I’ve tried to reflect on my own practice.)

SECOND, I’ll confess that I’ve changed my mind about this whole ‘qualitative analysis’ thing.  When I first started this series, I thought that some of the forms of input were more useful (or effective) for facilitating L2 acquisition than others.  However, several months later, I no longer think this is true.  Here’s what I think now:

  1. Each of the forms of input have equal degrees of potential to help facilitate L2 acquisition.  (How, you may ask, do they help facilitate L2 acquisition? They can be used to make a piece of incomprehensible L2 input meaningful through *PAIRING. See this post, Vocab List Analogy, for more on *PAIRING.)
  2. In an L2 immersion environment NONE of the forms of input will help facilitate L2 acquisition UNLESS certain factors are in place. 1) The learner notices and processes the instance of *PAIRING. 2) The instructor *pairs effectively.  (An effective *pair happens when an isolated and noticed piece of incomprehensible L2 is PAIRED with it’s exact extralinguistic match OR when a teacher uses comprehensible L2 to help a learner make sense of a piece of incomprehensible L2. See this post, A Common Teaching In The Target Language Mistake, for more details on effective pairing.)

Based on these two statements we can draw the following pedagogical conclusion:

A teacher should feel confident using any form of input for pairing as long as she pairs effectively and invests reasonable effort to increase the chance that a learner will pay attention to each instance of pairing.


Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 12) – Forms Of Input: Inflectional Input

In class, have you ever:

  • changed the tone/inflection of your voice to indicate that the L2 word you’re using is a question word?
  • made the tone of your voice sound angry in order to help students know that your L2 phrase meant you were displeased with something?
  • added urgency to your voice to communicate that you wanted students to hurry in order to finish an activity?

I’m sure you have.  We’re always using inflection or changing the sound of our voice to help us communicate what we mean.  (See an interesting post about this on a public speaking website.)

So how does this apply to staying in the target language with your students?

Although I’m not sure about this (and I DO need help thinking this through…AND I would really like it if you could pass on the titles of previously published work on this topic)…

…it seems like another way teachers can help students make sense of incomprehensible L2 words and phrases is by using an extralinguistic form of input that (for now) I’ll call *inflectional input.

Here’s a story to illustrate my point:

I love eating something yummy in front of my students.

  1. It makes them drool and I love to tease them!
  2. Since my food is yummy and attractive to them, everyone in class is watching.  It helps me get their attention.
  3. Even though they don’t consciously process the thought, everyone in the room knows that everyone wants my food and wishes THEY could be eating it too.
  4. If I suggest to the class that I’m willing to share, there’s an immediate and high level of motivation for them to use the target language in order to express their desire to have some.  (i.e. I hold the food item out in front of them and say (in the target language), “Do you want some?”  Then they all dramatically shake their heads, “YES!!!”  Then I say, “Repeat: ‘I want some!’ Repeat: ‘Can I have some?’ Repeat: ‘Please, Sr. Howard'” Etc.  It’s fun.

How do the students know that I’m willing to share my yummy food?

  • I gesture.  I hold the food out in front of them and maybe point to it.  I might also raise my eyebrows.  The term I’m currently using to describe all of this is *gesticulated input; using gestures to help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2 words and phrases.
  • I draw upon what I know everyone is currently thinking about.  (i.e. “I want some of that yummy food.”) Since I made them think that thought (by bringing out the food and eating it in front of them) we could say that I was using *constructed situational input.
  • I say an L2 word/phrase with the RIGHT INFLECTION.  I DON’T say, “Do you want some?” in an angry tone.  I DON’T say, “Do you want some?” in an urgent tone.  I say, “Do you want some?” (in the target language) with a tone that expresses my willingness to offer/share. (Note: if I did use an angry tone or an urgent tone, the students would be CONFUSED.  They would ask themselves, “Why is he holding out food but then saying angry L2 words?  This makes no sense!”  However, when I use the appropriate tone, it helps the students find meaning or confirm the meaning that they’ve found in the other extralinguistic forms of input.  For this reason, I think it’s appropriate to include *inflectional input in the list of various forms of extralinguistic input that a teacher can use to help help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2.

*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 11) – Forms Of Input: L1

I do speak L1, sometimes.

“When?” you might ask.

Well…I rarely use L1 to help students find meaning in L2.  (There’s plenty of other fun and effective ways to help them find meaning!  See here and here and here)

I rarely use L1 when giving directions for a learning activity or game.

Although L1 IS a form of input that foreign language teachers can use to help students find meaning in incomprehensible L2, I prefer to use L1 only in the following situations:

1- When students forget what we’re doing.

One time I was pretending that I couldn’t find one of the 3rd graders in my class.  In the target language I would teasingly say, “Where is Monica?  Where is Monica?  Where is she?!”  The students would get excited and want to tell me where she was.  I would give them the L2 words to say, “THERE she is!!” or, “she’s RIGHT THERE!”

After repeating this interaction 2 or 3 times, I heard a student say (almost under her breath), “Okay.  Let’s start learning now.”  Her tone of voice implied that she thought we were merely wasting our time with silly games.

The student forgot that what we were doing was more than just games.  She forgot that everything I do, in class, is full of purpose.  I’m not just teasing.  I’m speaking only L2…and having fun doing it!  I’m using situational input* and gesticulated input*.  I’m pairing* these forms of extralinguistic input with brand new L2 vocabulary.  I’m helping students acquire bits of L2 without even realizing that it’s happening!

In moments like these, when a student forgets the point of what we’re doing in L2 class, I may pause instruction in the target language to say a few sentences in L1.  (…especially when I get the sense that doing so will increase everyone’s motivation to stay on task.)

Generally I’ll say things like:

  • “I’m making this really easy for you!  Some classes are hard work.  Some classes require you to memorize lots of things (vocabulary, math facts, etc.)  Not here.  In a way, L2 class is like T.V.: all you have to do is watch.  If you are watching me you will be learning L2.  The moment you stop paying attention…you won’t know what’s going on.  I don’t ask much of you.  But I do ask this: watch, watch, watch!”
  • “Everything I do is on purpose!  Even when I make you laugh.  Even when I take attendance.  Even when I ask someone to close the door or turn off the lights.  It’s all on purpose.  If you are watching, you’ll have hundreds of chances, during every L2 class, to learn L2.”
  • “You have a job to do!  Your job is to watch.  When you’re watching me, you’ll be learning.  Sometimes I do silly things.  But it DOESN’T mean that L2 class is silly time.  L2 class is LEARN TIME.  I have a job while you’re in here and YOU have a job while you’re in here.  There’s lots of other times for being too silly.  There’s lots of other times for talking with friends.  Right now, let’s ALL do our job.”

As soon as the students are back “on-board” with what I’m trying to accomplish, I switch back into L2.

2- On an “As-Needed” basis for new students.

Every week or two a new student will transfer into our school.  Most of the time the new student is fine and doesn’t need any L1 orientation from me.  However, if a student is particularly intimidated by my L2 immersion setting, I will speak a few/phrases of L1 while the rest of the class is occupied with something else.

They might be phrases of orientation like:

  • “You’ll do great in this class.  All you have to do is watch.”
  • “If you’re not sure what to do, just watch the other students.  Do what they do.”
  • “We’re in the middle of this activity.  You’ll do a great job.  All you have to do is ____.”

At other times they might be phrases I use to endear the student to me:

  • “Wow.  You seem like a really great student.”
  • “I can tell you’re really getting this.”
  • “Hi.  Welcome to L2 class.  Is this your first day here?  Do you have any brothers or sisters that came to this school with you?”
  • “If you ever see me in the lunchroom or out on the playground, and you need something, just let me know.  I can help you if you ever need any help.”

3- To teach 1st year students one or two of my routines.

My 1st year students are kindergarteners.  We would have a hard time making it through 40 minutes of 100% L2 instruction (on the first day of class) without a little bit of orientation in L1.  So I typically take the first half of the first class to:

After that, we are able to spend the rest of the school year staying in the target language.  It’s a lot easier to stay in the target language than I thought it would be before I first started.


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
  • …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
  • …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.

STAY TUNED!

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 10): Forms Of Input – Using L2 To Make Sense Of L2

This week I showed students some music videos of Ecuadorian pan flutist, Leo Rojas.

leo rojas

Since they had never seen or heard anything like it, they were intrigued!

After playing the video for 90 seconds (or so):

  • I paused the video.
  • I pointed to the musician and his instruments on the video screen.
  • Shaking my head I said (in the target language), “The music…The music…The music is NOT…The music is NOT…”
  • (Then, I started walking towards the Puerto Rican flag while shaking my head.)
  • “…the music is NOT from Puerto Rico.” (I pointed to the Puerto Rican flag.)
  • I continued, “The music is NOT from Mexico.” (I pointed to the Mexican flag.)
  • “The music is NOT from Cuba.”  (I pointed to the Cuban flag.)
  • I continued shaking my head, “no,” while walking to the white board.
  • When I got to the white board, I started shaking my head, YES and saying/writing the following TL phrase, “The music is from…Ecuador.”

Immediately after writing the sentence on the board I said, “Look class,” and proceeded to open Google Earth to show them Ecuador’s location on the globe.

They loved it!  I even showed some pictures of Ecuadorian landscape (available on Google Earth) while another Leo Rojas song was playing.

I didn’t speak any L1, yet every student was engaged, attentive, and understanding everything that was happening.

How did this happen?  How did I make it comprehensible?

1- The incomprehensible L2 words were written on the board:

“The music is NOT from Puerto Rico.”

“The music is from Ecuador.”

2- I made the L2 words for, “the music,” comprehensible by pointing to an image of Leo Rojas and his flutes.  (Pairing* L2 with representational input*.)

3- I made the L2 words for, “Puerto Rico/Mexico/Cuba,” comprehensible by pointing to the flags as well as their locations on Google Earth.  (Pairing* L2 with representational input*.)

4- I made the L2 word for, “NOT,” comprehensible by shaking my head, “no.”  (Pairing* L2 with gesticulated input*.)

5- That leaves two unpaired words.  The L2 words for, “is,” and, “from,” really didn’t need to be paired* in order for my students to infer meaning.  Why not?  My guess is that the incomprehensible words became sufficiently meaningful at the moment when enough of the surrounding L2 words had obvious meaning.

Which leads me to the simple point that I’d like to make in this post.  (Even though it’s an obvious point, I include it here because in this blog series I’ve been trying to delineate a comprehensive list of ways that students can find meaning in an L2 immersion environment.)

Another way that students can find meaning is by inferring meaning from surrounding, comprehensible L2 words.  (aka “context clues”)

I’m aware of 3 specific ways (although I’m guessing there’s more):

1-  Synonyms.  A student may, initially, be confused by an unfamiliar L2 word.  However once a comprehensible L2 synonym is paired* with it, the student easily finds the necessary meaning.

2-  Context.  A student may not know all of the words in an L2 sentence.  However, if he knows enough of them, he can infer sufficient meaning in order to “get by.”

3-  Simple Definitions.  (Or “Using L2 To Make Sense Of L2.”)  I picked the term “Simple Definitions” although I’m unsure of what term to use for this third point.  It’s not ‘circumlocution’ is it???  I need some of you to help me out with this concept by writing in the comments section below.  I think circumlocution is when a person intentionally uses more/extra words instead of using fewer, more precise words.  I guess the obvious foreign language classroom application of this would be an L2 student learning to use lots of extra words to try to describe something he/she can’t find the precise word(s) for.  (BTW I just found this neat archived #langchat summary posted by Calico Spanish on this topic.)

If that’s what circumlocution means, that’s not what I’m looking for.

I’m looking for a term to describe how a teacher will use familiar, simpler words (which aren’t synonyms) to help students find the meaning of a more complex word.  Sort of like a dictionary definition, except using very informal language instead of formal language.  I’m thinking of how I help my daughters learn new L1 words.  When there’s a word they don’t know, I don’t pull out dictionary definitions.  However I DO use simple L1 words to explain unfamiliar L1 words/concepts.  The other day my daughter asked, “Daddy what does, “getting carried away,” mean?”  I said, “It means when a person doesn’t know when to stop.  Like if two friends are wrestling, they get, “carried away” when they wrestle so much, and so ROUGH, that they start knocking down all the things in the living room and wrestle so much that one of them get’s hurt.”

Anyway.  That’s enough rambling.  I think the simple point of the post is clear:

L2 teachers can help students find meaning in an L2 immersion by using familiar L2 words to make sense of unfamiliar L2 words.


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.


The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
  • …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
  • …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.

STAY TUNED!

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 9): “Pairing”

These posts are probably helping me more than they’re helping you.

Writing them is allowing me to articulate, for the first times, exactly how I’m helping my novice students acquire their first bits of L2.  (Disclaimer: My writing is not research based.  I’m merely writing about my experiences.  The terms I’m using I’ve coined myself and aren’t taken from formal academic writing.  One day, I’d love to learn the “official terms.”  Until then, they are what I’m using to organize and explain why my novice students are thriving in an L2 immersion environment.  (BTW…please feel free to respond with comments and links to helpful academic resources that you’ve read/written that talk about some of these same topics.)

In this post you can read about an important technique I use that I’m calling “pairing” and other summary thoughts (in Q/A form) regarding what I’ve learned from writing the first 8 posts in this series:

Question(s) #1– “Sr. Howard, how is it that your novice students are able to follow your L2 instructions?  How are the students not only surviving but thriving in the L2 immersion environment that you’re creating?”

Answer #1– I’m realizing that it’s NOT because they are finding a LOT of meaning in the L2 words and phrases that I use.  In fact, a lot of the L2 words/phrases are still INcomprehensible to them.

Students AREN’T finding meaning (in an L2 immersion environment) because they’ve suddenly become more fluent in L2.

They are finding meaning because I HAVE become more “fluent” at leveraging various forms of extralinguistic input.

In class, they gather meaning from comprehensible and compelling extralinguistic input that I repeatedly “pair” with incomprehensible L2 words, phrases and sentences. “Pairing” is what makes the pieces of incomprehensible L2 become increasingly meaningful, and eventually comprehensible. My own (non-research based) explanations and examples of the various forms of extralinguistic input that I use can be found by clicking on the links below.

  1. Representational Input
  2. Gesticulated Input
  3. Constructed Situational Input
  4. Incidental Situational Input
  5. Inflectional Input
  6. Procedural Input
  7. Melodic Input

Question #2: “Sr. Howard…you just used the word “pair”.  It seems like a significant word.  What do you mean by “pair” or “pairing?””

Answer #2: “Pairing” is what a traditional L2 vocabulary list does:

azul – blue

أحمر – red

bonjour – hello

спасибо – thank you

再见 – good bye

“Pairing” matches an incomprehensible L2 word/phrase with something comprehensible.  “Pairing” helps an L2 learner find meaning in incomprehensible L2 words/phrases/sentences.  A traditional vocabulary list matches (or “pairs”) an incomprehensible L2 word with it’s L1 equivalent.

In my 90+% TL classroom I “pair” as well.  However, I don’t “pair” an incomprehensible L2 word with its L1 equivalent.  I “pair” an incomprehensible L2 word/phrase with an extralinguistic equivalent.

See examples of how I…


Question #3- How does this ‘pairing’ technique benefit my L2 learners?

Answer #3-

  • It allows them to actively participate in all L2 immersion instructional activities while still having a small L2 vocabulary foundation.
  • It facilitates a process in which pieces of incomprehensible L2 input become comprehensible.
  • A traditional vocabulary list has the potential to be very UN-appealing (aka “boring,” “tedious,” “work-intensive”) to anyone except a highly motivated L2 learner.  “Pairing,” as I’ve described above, can allow L2 students to find meaning in potentially more engaging/exciting/meaningful ways.
  • In some instances, it allows students to learn bits of L2 by accident.
  • Students slowly/eventually start using L2 spontaneously and appropriately.  L2 fruit!
  • It allows them to not only learn what L2 words mean but ALSO experience what some L2 words can feel like. (i.e. exclamatory L2 words feel exciting, L2 reprimanding words feel corrective, L2 praise words feel encouraging, etc.)
  • As a student’s proficiency level increases, the need for extralinguistic support decreases. Incomprehensible pieces of L2 can now be made meaningful by *pairing them with comprehensible pieces of L2. See this post for more.

Question #4- Are there any other things you do to help “pairing” in a 90+% TL classroom go well?

Answer #4- Yes.  I “use fewer words” because input has quantitative qualities.  (Click here for more info.)  I also use strategies to keep students from being distracted by other forms of input.  (Click here for more info.)


The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue discussing my developing (and non-research-based) thoughts on…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …obstacles to making incomprehensible L2 input meaningful in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the *pairing obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.

STAY TUNED!

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Todd & A Series On CI (Part 8) – Forms Of Input: Incidental Situational Input

actfl 90 plus target language

A KID SNEEZES and you say, “Bless you,” in the target language.

THE PHONE RINGS and you say, “Telephone!” in the target language.

IT STARTS TO SNOW OUTSIDE and you point and say, “Look class!  It’s snowing!” in the target language.

TWO FRIENDS START CHATTING when they’re not supposed to.  You get their attention and say, “Quiet, please.  Don’t talk.  Pay attention,” in the target language.

A STUDENT DROPS A PROP/piece-of-equipment that you’re using in class.  You guesture and say, “Careful!  Careful” in the target language.

These are all examples of using “Incidental Situational Input” to help novice students find meaning in an L2 immersion setting.

It’s not a strategy that you can write into a lesson plan or plan on using.  It’s not one of the main strategies that a teacher will rely upon in a 90+% TL-use classroom.  But it’s a fun and effective strategy nonetheless.

It’s a little bit different than what we talked about last week regarding “Constructed Situational Input” in which a teacher helps students find meaning by creating a situation, scenario or experience wherein the observer(s) know(s) exactly what’s being said or what’s about to be said.”

With “Incidental Situational Input” a teacher doesn’t CREATE the situations.  She takes advantage of the spontaneous, random or INCIDENTAL situations wherin the observer(s) know(s) exactly what’s being said or what’s about to be said.


The THEORY behind the PRACTICE

In part 4 of this series on input theory we observed that:

“If a linguistic form of input is incomprehensible to a student, attempts can be made to communicate comprehensibly by making extralinguistic input available.”

In part 5 we observe that:

“There are several forms of extralinguistic input.  Each can be used strategically by an L2 teacher to attempt to make L2 (linguistic) input comprehensible.”

In this post (part 8) we observe that:

“’Incidental Situational Input is one such form of extralinguistic input in which a teacher helps students find meaning by taking advantage of spontaneous situations, scenarios or experiences wherein the observer(s) know(s) exactly what’s being said or what’s about to be said.”


Language Acquisition Theory Statement:

“Incidental Situational Input” (as defined above) is one of several forms of extralinguistic input that a teacher can use strategically to help students acquire L2.


The conversation is just beginning.

Over the next several weeks, the posts on Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language will delineate the massive implications that simple sketches (like the ones inserted throughout many of the posts in this series) have on foreign language teaching and foreign language acquisition.

I will discuss and/or continue to discuss…:

  • …the nature of input and comprehensible input.
  • …different forms of input and comprehensible input.
  • …a qualitative analysis of the various forms of comprehensible input and their usefulness in facilitating foreign language acquisition.
  • …making input comprehensible.
  • …how making input comprehensible and meaningful (to foreign language students) can cause language acquisition “magic” to occur.
  • …obstacles to making input comprehensible in a classroom full of students.
  • …strategies for overcoming the making-input-comprehensible-obstacles that exist in a foreign language classroom.
  • …a comprehensive rubric for assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language teacher.

STAY TUNED!

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).