Don’t get me wrong. I like octopi perfectly well. Seeing one up close was a highlight of the one-and-only, will-never-do-that-again time I went scuba diving in Hawaii. (Turns out I have a few claustrophobia issues…) It wasn’t a very big one, of course, and it was interesting to see it cling to each of our masks in turn, trying to see what was inside.
But in the classroom, these are a totally different thing.
Classroom octopi do just what one is “supposed” to do. They read widely. They attend conferences. They network with other teachers. And of course, in doing all this, they come away with new ideas. Lots and lots of new ideas.
And new ideas are good, aren’t they?
They are, if they fit the most foundational ideas the teacher already has about how language is acquired. Which means the teacher has to weigh them against that idea. Every time.
The problem I see with so many new TPRS/CI teachers is that they are octopi. They are curious, and that’s a good thing. Of course, if they hadn’t been curious in the first place, they wouldn’t have gotten TPRS training.
But in the case of these new-to-TPRS teachers (and some who have been in the TPRS world long enough that one really wonders), they still lack the instinct of critical judgement. They are not used to looking at everything through the lens of Comprehensibility. Or really, the lens of how much is actually understood by students, which should really be called the lens of Comprehended-ness.
Many, too, may not be used to the idea of asking for proof. In traditional professional developments, you don’t ask for proof, at least not if you like your job. Or if you like being liked by your colleagues. You just write it down and then use it or not. But the message from the organizer who arranged the training is never anything else but that being said is a Good Thing to use in the classroom.
Once you subscribe to the idea to language is acquired, not learned, it should change the way you think about everything you do in the classroom. Number one, now you should be thinking about everything that goes on, every minute of time and every activity, and how these either provide comprehended input or serve some other, very specific goal. Because if you believe that language is acquired through comprehended input, it’s only logical to maximize that in the classroom, and not do things that don’t provide comprehended input to students.
It’s good to have one’s arms out to catch new things. But it’s even better to know what things to keep and which to throw away. Unless a new “thing” fits the best idea we have about how language is acquired, it needs to be thrown away. If the octopus just stuffs everything into its mouth, it’s going to end up ingesting plastic six-pack holders and other assorted debris which, even if it doesn’t end up hurting it, won’t do anything to make to octopus grow.
Think of digestiblity for the octopus as comprehensibility for the student. Feeding students things that are new and exciting, but which are not comprehensible, will at best only do no harm. We’re not in a school year to just do no harm. There’s not time for that. We’re there to use the most efficient way we know to drive acquisition. Using things in the classroom that don’t provide comprehended input, the best possible outcome is “it won’t hurt anything”.
Ask for proof. Put everything through the filter of “is it comprehended input or not?” If there isn’t any, and it isn’t comprehended input, it doesn’t belong in your “toolbox”.