This week’s #langchat was a particularly lively discussion. The topic was about choosing texts that best promote proficiency. However, it seemed that there was a debate forming about the value of authentic resources (#authres) and whether or not TPRS teachers would use them.
I am usually considered a “TPRS teacher.” Makes sense considering that I present at the National TPRS Conference as well as at TPRS Publishing’s summer conferences and have even co-authored some TPRS curriculum. However, for the past couple of years I have been calling my self a “CI teacher.” 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 methodology.
Personally, I also really enjoy finding, sharing, and using authentic resources in my classroom. On Thursday, during #langchat, I felt like there were some 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. EVEN IF I AM NOT A NATIVE SPEAKER 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 even agree on what the word authentic even 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 a couple of these readers. I wrote them because I needed reading material my students would enjoy. I am not getting rich, so please don’t accuse me of promoting these readers to pad my own pockets! My full-time teaching job is MUCH more lucrative than writing novels for Spanish students, believe me!
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.