Authentic resources versus CI? Or a happy marriage of the two?

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.

 

9 comments

  1. Kristy, I found your website recently and I have been reading it for about two weeks. I juts want to say thank you very much for all your work and your willingness of sharing your lessons.
    I am a native speaker, just have been in the United States for seven years and I always thought I was going to be an excellent Spanish teacher because I am NATIVE with an excellent Spanish. Guess what I am learning from you and some other amazing no native speakers teacher. I have to say the best Spanish teachers I have found are No Native speakers. Thank you so much for sharing your material.

  2. I think it is hilarious that a teacher would dismiss a text just because it was written by someone whose first language was not Spanish. Hilarious or obscene. Here is a short list of major authors who learned English as a second language(or third, or fourth) and wrote major works of literature in English: http://stason.org/TULARC/education-books/find-books/10-What-English-language-authors-learned-English-as-a-second.html#.UYDCM8u9KSN

    By the way, today is state testing day throughout California. One of my students borrowed my copy of Noches misteriosas en Granada to read at home tonight. 🙂

  3. I also agree…well said. This year in particular I have focused most of my instruction through TPRS. However, the novelty and my skill level have its limits. I use Eres tú María and Mi vida loca as methods to deliver CI lessons. Recently, in my level 2 classes I have even used the dated La Catrina DVDs to deliver CI. I only recently started experimenting with Movietalk.

    I wish there were better /more video resources that could be used to deliver authentic language, stories, culture for those of use that use TPRS methods. The videos are presented in the “real time” but I do the retells using past tense and build grammar pop ups into the lesson or episode. Students do great retells either speaking or timed writings.

    The students get into the stories and it gives me a opportunity stay in the target language. We have a month left of school and around here it would be a challenge to have students interested in reading a story.

    After being labeled the TPRS guy in my department of 14 other teachers I too much prefer to use TPRS under the umbrella of being called the CI guy. I think it is easier for teachers to wrap their grammar loving, note-giving, worksheet using minds around.

    Thanks for the post Kristy!!

  4. So what you’re saying is that by teaching and selling your books you still make less than most in the business sector? I kid 🙂

    Thank you for clarifying. This post makes lots of sense. I think for those of us who cannot jump on the TPRS ride do so because we know telling silly stories everyday (not implying yours are silly, again just referencing what I’ve experienced in three different TPRS sessions at language conferences) by using the same theme and same method, day in and day out for several weeks would bore our students. However, the way that you’ve evolved to where you are now– to create an environment of only CI– is key.

    I think my definition of authentic resource is also changing. To me, what’s most important is that all sources I use be in the target language: authentic or not authentic. I have no problem with taking an authentic source and substituting verbs my students know to help build meaning around what I want them to learn. What good does it do throw an “authentic” article/commercial/song and not help them navigate how to interpret it (not translate it)? Or if we do use something “authentic” without changing it at all, then we need to scaffold with vocabulary or skills they will need to be successful. It is not OK to use a song that students have no idea what it means to simply fill in the blank with the verb tense we are studying, give yourself a pat on the back for using an authentic source, and then move on to circlling the same tense in an “authentic” article. There is no language learning there either.

    What I’m trying to say it is not one vs the other, but rather a blended union of using CI and authentic resources to teach our language THROUGH the culture. I’m tired of seeing teachers treat culture as a subset of the language (OH shoot! Chapter is almost over and I should spend a day talking about Peruvian food!) Why not start with a cultural topic, find authentic resources to help teach your students through the topic, and find comprehennsible ways to show students how the language is used easily so that they’re always using the language AND learning about the culture. Is that too much to ask?

  5. Well said Kristy! I whole-heartedly agree.

    I think Comprehensible Input is the big umbrella and TPRS is an excellent method/example of CI. I would suggest that many of us (i.e. you, Carrie, Carol, Laurie, Michele, Martina, and others) agree that TPRS along with Embedded Readings, MovieTalk, readers, character developments, etc are all methods that can provide CI.

    1. I am wondering, Cynthia, how much of CI methods are truly distinct from TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling)? Is Embedded Reading not a part of Reading? Is not character development an aspect of Storytelling? And what about circling? It is true that the elements of circling are found in Krashen’s The Natural Method, but did we not learn the circling process itself from TPRS?

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