How do you go about choosing texts that best promote proficiency?
I am usually considered a “CI teacher.” Makes sense considering that I present at CI conferences, blog about CI, and write comprehensible novels. CI, or Comprehensible Input, refers to Dr. Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis. I use many of the elements of TPRS every day, but since I do not specifically focus on storytelling all of the time, or adhere to all of the steps of TPRS, I feel that “CI teacher” is a better descriptor of my approach.
Personally, I also really enjoy finding, sharing, and using authentic resources in my classroom. On twitter and facebook there are frequent attempts to pin down the exact role of #authres in the classroom. I would like to share my view on this as well as I how I treat #authres in my own classes.
First of all, I do believe that my classes should be VERY comprehensible. I don’t like a lot of ambiguity. And as a general rule, the less interesting something is, the less ambiguity high schoolers are going to tolerate. So, in selecting an #authres I am looking for something that is readily comprehensible, or at least comprehensible enough that I can exploit it for some teacher-provided comprehensible input.
For instance, if I want to discuss a news story, I might show my students an article or a short video about it (in Spanish). However, if the items are incomprehensible, I might use them primarily as a visual and speak about them myself in simpler language, focusing on a small amount of new vocabulary, relying on cognates, visuals, and previously-acquired vocabulary, and using very natural grammar and syntax. For higher-level classes, I might even type up an “embedded reading” in which I simplify the story for reading/discussion prior to delving in to the authentic resource.
Secondly, I believe that my classroom should be robust with language. I want to narrow the focus onto a handful of structures at a time (for instance, on Friday in Spanish 1 my students worked with the phrases “eats with good/bad manners; takes the food; doesn’t see that X happens) while recycling previous high-frequency structures (I was recycling puts, wants, likes–among others). While authentic resources are beautiful and look impressive, I cannot get as deep into conversation with my class by focusing on #authres. Storytelling–relating and comparing ideas and events to students own experiences, asking questions, making inferences, expressing opinions–all of these things are rich and lovely and so valuable to the acquisition process. I can provide my students with a rich, deep and authentic language experience.
In terms of reading, many people criticize the use of non-authentic level-appropriate readers. First of all, as a community we have yet to agree on what the word authentic means. Second of all, I will put my leveled reader-raised kids up against kids with a pure “#authres” reading experience any day of the week. Those readers are teen-engaging, real language, edited by multiple native speakers, and written by fluent users of the respective target languages. They focus on repeated use of high-frequency language structures in the context of a fun story. Full-disclosure: Yes, I have written several of these readers. I wrote them because I needed reading material my students would enjoy.
Anyway, the bottom line I am try to arrive at is don’t knock it until you try it. Don’t worry about what “looks good” or what others might think (yes, even ACTFL or #langchat). Try new things and when something works well and helps language stick inside your students’ brains, repeat it often! When you find something else that works better, do that.