26 July 2017

CI - I Still Have Questions

I got so many great tools and ideas from attending the CI workshop with Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden, so conveniently located in my home state! I know I said I was going to "stay home and process," but I figured I could handle two days within an hour's drive, right?

And still my world's a little more upside down.

Sr. Slavic and Sra. Hargaden were passionate and completely forthright, but I can't help but question a few of the underlying tenets that seem to form the foundation for this particular branch of the CI tree. These are questions I feel I need to research more, whether in my own classroom or through more academic pursuits.

But they're questions I need to ask and attempt to answer to make sense of what I do.

Are we the only ones who care?

"I get it, you're one of the 4%." 

I was expressing my first-day iFLT anxiety to Sr. Slavic: I couldn't remember ANYTHING after my first day of Russian! My drive for mastery was floundering! I could remember after the Mandarin language lab, though, and I felt SO much more confident being able to say "Gimme chocolate!" and "No I won't give it to you!"

Apparently this is not a normal thing?

I mean, I totally buy that the inner workings of grammar and linguistics will only appeal to about 4 in every 100 kids I teach, but to want to speak the language you learn? I mean, isn't that kind of what everyone wants out of a language class? Maybe only 4% of us are as impatient as I am, but I dunno. I think I'm going to have to conduct my own survey when my students come back in *EEK!* two weeks. I may even adjust accordingly and withhold speaking assessment until later in the semester as recommended by our CI Liftoff gurus if it turns out I really am as weird as Sr. Slavic thinks. If my kids are really satisfied only being able to rehash stories and descriptions we come up with together, it may well be worth it to ease that pressure still further.

Is there zero crossover between learned and acquired language?

I've long since accepted that there was a difference between "acquisition" and "learning" in language oh let's call it development. Personally, I thought both were a good thing, especially in the limited context of a non-immersion learning experience, which, hello, high school Spanish 90 minutes a day. I figured the learning could help organize what was absorbed, you know? Graphic organizer style, slotting the information for retrieval later.

No, Sr. Slavic said. That is what happens when we sleep! And we cannot force it! 

Now I am aware that sleep is needed for such input organization, but, I never connected input and, you know comprehensible input.

What's more, Sra. Hargaden says, acquired competence and learned competence "represent two distinct knowledge systems between which there exists no link or interface (Krashen, 1985)."

HOWEVER. I still cannot make myself believe in a magical Language Acquisition Device from God. I think there is an explanation possible for how language is processed, and I'd wager it's strikingly similar to the way other understanding is acquired (I guess that makes me a "cognitivist"). I've noticed nothing but similarities with language when sitting in on my son's Suzuki lessons for violin. I don't know how anyone could argue against an affective filter existing in math and reading. I'd say our brains are built to process patterns like music, math, dance, etc, but language happens to be the most ubiquitous set of patterns.

And then I come back to Making It Stick, a #langbook from years past. One of the first illustrations of real rather than perceived learning was flying a plane--all the manuals in the world aren't the same as being in a cockpit, but still you want your pilot to, you know be familiar with them, right? Language is usually a little less life-and-death, but I'd say flying is a decent analogy for output otherwise.

Still, does their manual knowledge actually transfer to what they're doing in the air? Or is it mainly--or ONLY--what they acquire contextually in simulations?

Perhaps it was kismet that this post came across my Twitter feed after I'd had a few sleeps to process the workshop. The author blew my mind all over again.
Additionally, grammar rules have a big drawback. Using them to make your own sentences, without first having a feeling for the grammar, leads to imposing your own assumptions. Those assumptions are necessarily based on your first language or on your own guessing.
That makes a lot of sense, right?

So all this time, when incorporating conscious learning activities, was I just providing that false sense of security described in Making It Stick that comes of a "lecture or...text is a paragon of clarity" that students think they already understand, and thus never take the time to process it for themselves?

Is language enough?

One time at ACTFL, I started a Twitter tiff between two of the great minds in our field.
I tweeted something Greg Duncan said in his session about motivation that I thought was very wise, very in-line with what Daniel Pink tells us about motivation and what Stephen Krashen tells us about the affective filter. Apparently though, it ran in direct opposition to what Dr. Krashen had just discovered in his case study demonstrating that language is not a motivator in itself, that it's what the language allows you to do that motivates.

Sr. Slavic said he probably agreed with Dr. Krashen, but again, I think there's an element of truth in both points.

Which I guess is why I do what I do.

I firmly believe that the thrill a kid gets from being able to say or understand something is real, and a taste of the mastery that Daniel Pink describes as one of three key motivational factors. However, I also feel that there has to be a purpose as well, and I think Krashen is right in that sense, too.

So here's my conundrum: if language itself is not (alone) what motivates, how can our only goal in our classes BE language? How can we develop instruction only around developing language skills--whether they're hearing, reading, writing, or speaking? How can we just let the class flow based on where the language leads? How can we expect silly stories and "images" to be enough for weeks on end?

I am not ready to give up my hard-won high-frequency focus, even if I do give up the conjugation charts I discover now might not have been helping. Nor am I ready to give up the immediate, authentic purpose of a public product, of PBL. What is the point of stories about happy cheese and unhappy books if all they are able to lead to is understanding of themselves, if all they lead to is more silly stories?

Maybe only 4% of us are impatient enough to demand immediate application.

I'll just have to ask.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post! Our WL department as a whole is just diving into how to use TPRS, mini stories, and other CI strategies within our thematic units (still working on transitioning to IPAs) to provide more input and get more student motivation going. I understand the need for un-targeted and compelling input, but I'm still on board with preparing a "targeted" short story for each unit where students can get those repetitions in of essential phrases in levels 1 and 2.