On a page about managing participation, the following idea was presented:
Students earn points for doing anything that contributes to language acquisition…speaking to you in the target language in and out of class, asking questions, answering questions (even if their answer is wrong), winning in games, engaging in partner work, etc.
Well, that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Of course we want to promote behaviors that do contribute to language acquisition.
But — does speaking in the target language promote acquisition? It’s output.
Does asking or answering questions? It’s output.
Does winning a game? Probably involved output, but not necessarily. But do you have to win to be acquiring?
Does doing partner work? (Um, I think my positions on partner work in the language classroom are pretty well known by now.)
Anything that promotes acquisition? Really?
What those things promote is an environment that is orderly and compliant, with visible engagement (the kind that admins like). There is no guarantee of acquisition through these behaviors. (Nor is there any indication that acquisition would not occur. They have nothing to do with acquisition, that’s all.) The only behaviors that truly promote acquisition are listening or reading with comprehension.
So, to be clear and precise, this system rewards students for any behavior that promotes the kind of classroom environment the teacher wants. Nothing wrong with that. It’s probably a very practical system, it has all the “positivity” hallmarks that are so in vogue right now, it doesn’t involve a lot of work for the teacher. What it isn’t, is acquisition-related.
The whole system sounds very much like the one that has been in use at the Hawaii STARTALK for six or seven years. Students earn “camp dollars” for engaging in behaviors that are viewed as promoting their language learning (but only outside of class, since the intention is different at a residential camp). However, the catalog of behavior that are rewarded with camp dollars has seen some drift and expansion over the years. The result is an economy that may not value what we are really focusing on (or think we are).
There’s nothing wrong with wanting kids to ask questions, talk to you in the target language, and so on. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting kids to practice the “apple dance”. But they aren’t directly linked to acquisition, by and large. And that distinction is increasingly being lost as more and more people come into the “Comprehensible Input” philosophy but don’t *really* come into it, or don’t really *get it*. I think it’s worthwhile to be careful to maintain these distinctions. Because otherwise, the drift keeps drifting, and soon you’re ending up somewhere you never intended to go.