12 July 2017

I Was Wrong about #Authres

Promise not to laugh? This is how I understood using authentic texts seven years ago. I do not know where the magic number 200 came from anymore, and WOW was I out of touch with even the CONCEPT of novice language learners. (Dra. Moser now claims she doesn't remember me struggling in grad school: Exhibit A, Dr. M. Exhibit A.)

It must have been somewhere after that post that I got it into my head that #authres (you know, hip Twitter speak for "authentic resources"--not just texts) was the only way. I know there were some intense bonus #langchats some weekends when I got to hash the concept out with some of the most brilliant people I know (how did I have the TIME??).

Ultimately I think much of the problem then came down to the understanding of the literal meaning of the word "authentic"--and all of the positive connotations associated with it--versus the jargon term that limits its application to resources "by native speakers for native speakers." Sr. Wooly spoke very persuasively on the topic in a candid, non-musical video once, and I agree that it's wrong to effectively tell our kids their language production will never ever be "authentic."

Basically, I think we need a less loaded word to describe written/spoken/sung texts that were created expressly for communication within the target culture rather than for instructional purposes. I still hold that there is a fundamental difference between the function of everyday "realia" and input designed for acquisition. I think there's an inherent difference in the cultural weight of "insiders" and "outsiders." I think there are deep connections at the heart of that distinction related to cultural appropriation and amplification.

Since we don't have a more genteel and global-minded word yet, I'll still use the term "authentic resources."

But I have changed my mind about them.

Somewhere between my grizzly grad school days and my tempestuous Twitter tirades, I had somehow equated #authres with target language usage. Over and over, I'd hear, "We have so little time with them, shouldn't we spend that time in the target language?" And somehow in my mind that became, "We have so little time with them; shouldn't we spend that time on authentic texts?" I don't know if anyone ever actually said that or even implied that to me, but I got it into my head that we had to have all authentic, all the time.

It was bad. There were actual tears during listening assessments one year. The telenovela trailers were too much.

In my quest to keep things "authentic," I forced my students to struggle with resources--especially videos--that were not appropriate for their level. And you know what happened? Nothing. Well, frustration and nothing--no learning, or at least very minimal learning.

I gradually came to accept that the picture books I had amassed were not automatically superior to TPRS novels because they were written by native speakers, about native speakers, for native speakers. My kids did not give one HOOT about Federico Garcia Lorca or a story they couldn't understand about a little girl looking at volcanos and then...swinging? Oh sure, maybe it would have been "good for them," like, I dunno, ipecac. But they did  nothing to make them feel confident OR connected like they were supposed to.

Agentes Secretos, on the other hand, was a hit--even if I only got them through 4 chapters. They felt capable and excited by their own abilities to understand. They maybe learned a little something about Francisco Franco too!

It was a positive experience, an experience that made them feel like the language COULD be theirs. Just like "Guapo" did for the next class, when kids were whipping out vocabulary we'd sung along with just for fun in order to ace their final interpersonal assessment.

Have I abandoned #authres? Me?? No way. Never. David Bisbal just put out another album, after all, and his buddy Luis Fonsi just shocked the pop charts in ways that might just make my class a little more receptive, even if I can't actually play the Justin Bieber collab in class. And what's more, you'll have to pry the infographs and fun videos from my cold, dead hands while we're on the topic.

I don't quite know how novels or stories are going to fit in my curriculum this year, but I do know that #authres ain't enough if I really want my students to embrace and enjoy a new language. I've learned a lot from iFLT and passionate PLNs online.

I was wrong about #authres all the time, and I hope a better balance in the future will help my students feel more authentically connected with other languages and cultures.


  1. I love everything about this post. You are my hero in so many ways. Keep rockin' it.

  2. THIS... Just THIS! This is what has been percolating in my head for some time now. Thank you for writing this.

  3. I second both opinions! This is a great post!

  4. I totally agree! You nailed it! Consider we are always learning in this great adventure of teaching. What makes you such a good teacher is that you always do what you believe is best for your kids. 7 years ago we thought authres and full immersion was the way to go. So we did the best we knew at the time. Now research is showing us an even better way. You acknowledged this publicly, and this will probably help a lot of other teachers accept it. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love this! It extends on my "defense" during someone's anti-TPRS speech a few days ago. It is always possible to have too much of one thing. However, a mixture of a lot of things is best and you adjust for the students who are sitting in front of you. Anytime someone tries to do something exclusively, there can be trouble. A good mixture of CI novels, TPRS, and as much #authres as appropriate for your kids and theme can be blended well!