Bob Patrick

Getting Rid of a Big Buuuuut

Image result for bottle of wine

This is a decent bottle of wine. It’s also a bet. I bet you this bottle of wine that nobody can refute what follows. Go on…take  the bet! (Mormons and other teetotalers, we can do a bottle of Portland’s finest kombucha, how’s that?)

We all know that C.I. works for language acquisition. Actually, we know that C.I. is the only thing that works. As linguist Bill VanPatten put it on his show, “the benefits of grammar-focused teaching are purely incidental.” That is, when we give students worksheets, or force them to talk/memorise scripts, or memorise lists of words or grammar rules, or whatever silly thing the textbook preaches, they pick up (a wee bit of) language not because of these activities, but despite them.

We have research to support these claims.  Yet, we still have colleagues, Headz, Adminz, Faculty Adjunctz, Evaluatorz, some Parents, and even some students, who say a version of “buuuuut…C.I. doesn’t work, because _______.”

That’s a biiiiiig buuuuut, and nobody’s pedagogical self wants to walk around dealing with THAT, sooooo…TPRS Questions And Answers is proud to present, Getting Rid of a Big Buuuut, aka “the short n sweet for the haters.” Some people don’t like, can’t or won’t read, or don’t “believe in” science. This is for them. Here goes. Thank you: BVP, Robert Harrell, Terry Waltz, Blaine Ray, Bob Patrick, Tina Hargaden, Eric Herman and others for many of these ideas. Note: these work. But you have to tailor them to audience, etc.  As always, YMMV.

  1. “…buuuuut people need to talk to acquire language.” 
    Robert Harrell: OK, so you need to talk to learn to talk. Right. What language would you like to learn?
    — Uhh, Urdu.
    OK, let’s start by speaking Urdu.
    — But I don’t know any Urdu

  2. “…buuuuut we need to [consciously] know grammar rules to speak a language.”

    Me: Which sounds better, I like to run, or I enjoy to run?
    — I like to run.
    — …
    Who taught you that “rule”? Did you practice that “rule”?
    — …

    Terry Waltz: *takes out phone and turns stopwatch on*
    Terry: Say three sentences about what you did last night.
    Uh, I cooked dinner and ate with my kids.  Then I watched the news. Later my husband put the kids to bed.
    OK, now, say three sentences about what you did last night, but don’t use the letter “s”.
    I, uhh, cooked dinner and I ate with my uhhh children. Then I watched uhhh TV. And my hu– er, partner– put our ki– err, children– to bed.
    Terry: Your first took you 4 1/2 seconds. Your second took you 16. How easy is it to speak when you have to think about your own language?

  3. …buuuuut if your kids don’t know how to conjugate verbs and fill in the blanks, how are they going to be ready for [high school/middle school/Uni]?”

    Vice-Principal in a Portland school: Riiiiight, good point.  Let’s have a look at State/provincial standards. Hmmm. I don’t see anything here about our curriculum preparing students for any specific subsequent classes.  Could you show me that?
    Colleague: …

  4. …buuuuut they still NEED those skills.”

    Tina Hargaden: Suuure. Let’s have a look at State standards.  There is going to be something in there that says, “students will be able to conjugate verbs and fill in worksheets.”
    *looks up the Oregon World Languages Standards re: what
    Novice High students should be able to do.*
    Tina and colleague: read that students at this level “understand, exchange, and present information about familiar topics in everyday contexts using a variety of rehearsed or memorized words and phrases with attempts at creating simple, original sentences and questions.”
    Tina *shows colleague examples of how students can read and write stories in, and understand spoken Blablabian*
    Tina: sooooo those verb conjugations.  Where do the Standards mention them?
    Colleague: …

    Note: if you can find ONE State or Provincial language curriculum that includes verb chart filling out, pronoun-placing etc work as an objective, that bottle of wine is on me cos you, uh, “win.” Go on, get your Google on!
  5. …buuuuut students need to know all the words for food if they will ever survive in France.”

    Terry Waltz: I’m a certified, professional Mandarin-English translator and I  lived and worked in Taiwan for years. I still don’t know all the words for the food I typically eat there. Neither do the people who live there. And when we don’t know, we just point, and say I’ll have that.

  6. …buuuuut students must know all the numbers from 1-3,998,231.6, all the location words, all the colours, the alphabet, all the basic body parts, and the words for clothing.

    You (in your head): ya right cos when I go to Taiwan, I’m gonna need to say “I need 87 pairs of blue pants to wear on my legs A and B under the raincoat.”
    You (actually; thanks Eric Herman): Why?
    — Well, these are the basics of language.
    You: What do you mean?
    — They are used a lot. Basic. Also they are in our textbook as the first units and they are on the exam I have been giving for the last 45 years.
    You: I wonder.  How about we look at frequency lists to see what’s most used?
    — Sure.
    You: *show them the Wiktionary Frequency Lists*
    You: *press CTRL F to search the list.*
    You: OK, let’s see whether or not “yellow” is in the top-1000 most-used words in Spanish.
    You: *type in amarillo. Nothing comes up. Type in sea (“is” in the subjunctive form, typically taught in Level 4 or 5 in textbook programs). Sea is the 150th most-often-used word in Spanish.*
    You: Hmm that’s weird, well I guess we better ditch colours in Level One and start teaching the subjunctive.
    — …

  7. …buuuuut when *I* was in school, WE learned Latin by memorising verbs and lists of other words.

    Bob Patrick: You took Latin in high school?
    — Yeah, and I got 91.358%.
    Bob: Quid agis hodie?
    — …
    Bob (s.l.o.w.l.y.): Quid agis hodie?
    — …
    You: It’s normal for any student to forget some language over time. But you had trouble understanding me asking you how are you today? in Latin.
    — …

    Note: Kids, don’t try this in parent-creature int– err, I mean, student learning reflection conferences. And if you do, let me know how you did it politely.

  8. …buuuuut that input stuff doesn’t work, because students aren’t learning grammar.”

    Blaine Ray: I believe the best thing a department can do to show who is learning the language and who is not is to share timed writings. If departments required teachers to bring all timed writings from their classes, then it would show who is teaching well and who is not. Teachers wouldn’t be able to pronounce that their students are learning. They would show what their students have learned by bringing in writing samples of all of their students.”

    You: That’s possible.  Why don’t we see? I propose this: let’s you and I choose a picture of, I dunno, a boy walking his dog. We’ll each project that in front of our classes. Students will have five minutes to write about the picture.  They can’t use phones, notes, dictionaries, etc.  Then, we’ll compare.
    — ….

  9. …buuuuut [C.I. instruction, using stories and other interesting materials] is too teacher-centered.”

    Bill VanPaten: The [C.I.]  classroom is NOT teacher-centered. It is teacher-led.

    …buuuuut [C.I. classes are] too much about fun, and not enough about real communication.”
    BVP: Entertainment is a valid form of communication.

    …buuuuut [C.I. classes are] too much about stories and characters, and not enough about exchanging information.”
    BVP: [C.I.] is communicative, since it has an expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning in a given context.

    …buuuuut teachers who use TPRS [and other comprehensible input strategies] do not teach enough explicit grammar.”
    BVP: What’s on page 32 in the textbook will not be the language that winds up in a student’s head.

    …buuuuut in a C.I. class, there is very little interaction with input, because students are listening to stories and questions, not engaging in conversations.”
    BVP: Interaction with input simply means indicating comprehension. Students can do this in many ways.

10. Colleague/Head: “We all have to use the textbook, common assessments, etc, because we need to make sure everybody’s students have covered the same material, so if one teacher’s kids go to another teacher next year, they will be prepared.”

(Ideally, read Mike Peto’s response and try that).

You: such as?
— well in level 1 students learn food vocab, to eat, regular present tense verbs, pedir, etc
You: does it say that in the State standards? Is that a level 1 outcome?
— well no, but, we need some kind of framework
You: I agree. Let’s base it on State/ACTFL standards, and not textbook units.

K folks, have at it.  Refutations = you get a bottle of wine!

Bob Patrick’s awesome student-generated story idea

Ok ppl this frikkin’ ROCKS! Bob Patrick, who majorly rocks the T.P.R.S. party–in Latin, no less– came up with a cool idea as story warm-up which he calls “one word at a time stories” and Ben Slavic, that relentless acronymist, called O.W.AaT.S. Here it is:

1) make cards with 10-15 words in TL and English that will be in next story.

2) put kids in groups of 3

3) give kids 2-3 new words. They have to start writing a story using the 3 new words. The teacher circulates. When a group gets 1 sentence done– on scrap paper– teacher checks it (opportunities for pop-ups!)

4) when the sentence is good, it gets put on larger, poster-sized paper. The kids then write a second sentence. Same procedure followed.

5) when they have used their 3 words, they trade words with another group and keep going. They have to include 1 dialogue and they can’t use any notes/dictionary/new words except the ones on flashcards.

6) teacher has a sentence limit– e.g. 15 sentences total– then at end of class teacher can type them up for reading the next day.

So I told my colleague Leanda Monro (level 3 French via pure T.P.R.S.) and she gave Bob’s idea its own spin. Check it:

A) she wants to kids to acquire “Jingle Bells”– “Vive le Vent“– in French (well, a bunch of the vocab in it, anyway).

B) she’d asked a Christmas-themed story about a boy lost in the pine woods in winter, searching for his belovéd (she falls into the lake, and is rescued by a crew of Good Smaritan dogs, who feed her hot chocolate). While le petit garçon is wandering around looking for his girlfriend, he runs into a collection of random people while babbling poetry.

C) Leanda cut up 13 new words. They looked like this:


D) the kids were put into groups of 3 and their assignment: write a poem– what le garçon is babbling to himself in the woods as he wanders– using the new words. Each group got 2-3 words to start.

E) When a group got a sentence done, Leanda would correct, they would copy onto bigger paper, and they would move on.

F) the finished poems became the basis for PictureTalk (a.k.a. Ben Slavic’s Look and Discuss) and the kids were hooked– their own work. Here are two examples:



G) Here’s the kicker: when Leanda played them “Vive le Vent,” and asked them comp questions, she estimated the class was around 90/90 (9 of 10 kids got 9 or 10 of 10 questions). The activity was a really good vocab front-loading tool.

I like this: kids can own it (their stories), it’s not crappy output, it shelters vocab, it will become good input…nice work.

Leanda Monro btw is nothing short of a pedagogical genius. She teaches– wait for it– Humanities (English and Socials mixed), PowerFit (brutal, hardcore physical training mixing aerobic work with freeweights plus lessons on anatomy, diet, etc), Level 3 French (via T.P.R.S.) and Social Justice 12. Oh and she’s won bodybuilding championships a few times, is a personal trainer, and at 5’2″ and I am guessing 110 lb soaking wet could probably pick up a 300-lb dude and throw him 20 feet while smiling and reciting French poetry in a really nice accent. Ya, Leanda rocks.