Advocates of StoryListening (having students simply listen to stories, without comprehension checks or repetition of new language) typically report that “I feel it’s great” or “I just know they understand”. But from a factual perspective, let’s look at the conditions that must be met for StoryListening to work in a typical American primary or secondary public school environment.
1. The teacher must work in a situation where there are no common assessments with teachers who are not doing StoryListening using the same set of stories, because no targeting or repetition of the language is going on, so acquisition is through diffuse input and will take a considerable length of time.
2. The teacher must know how to keep language comprehensible to any level of student without checking for comprehension. This is one of the biggest pitfalls for all teachers teaching with comprehensible input — they provide comprehensible, not comprehenDED, input. They feel it’s comprehensible, but without asking, there’s no way to know what another person is understanding at that moment. And understanding wrongly will not lead to accurate acquisition. The rejection of such a simple and direct means of guaranteeing comprehension puzzles me.
3. The teacher must be teaching a language without specific literacy challenges (i.e., not Japanese or Chinese, and not the beginning stages of most any language with an opaque script such as Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.) or be willing to teach reading using a straight legacy memorization approach.
4. The level of the students must be such that a sufficiently engaging story can be presented in the target language, since students do not co-create. Co-creation is what TPRS uses for engagement and ownership of the text in the very early stages when stories are totally lame and very short.
5. The teacher must be sufficiently familiar with the students so as to be able to pick stories that will interest them. This can be a big challenge when dealing with native speaking teachers coming in from overseas who have no experience with North American students. It’s also a problem if a selection just falls flat in the moment. Since all the content is pre-set, there’s no way out before the bell rings.
6. The teacher must have some means of giving grades to students before the “endpoint” when they will have acquired something — whatever that endpoint is — through input without any concentrated repetition. StoryListening teachers say they’re in it for the long term. There are usually grades required long before that.
7. The teacher must have time to create the reading materials, a source to obtain them from another teacher using StoryListening for the same language and level, or read the same stories listened to in class, as the lack of targeting means that existing “off-the-shelf” reading materials will not be an option before a significant amount of time has passed. Without a lot of parallel reading using the same language that is not telling the same story or content, reading becomes boring and predictable rather than a means to further acquisition.
AND: Optimally, the teacher should be teaching a European language, one where words are fairly long and significantly different from one another, that is phonetically similar to English, and with very significant amounts of cognates, not a cognate- or loanword-poor language in which “every word has to be taught”. Students have a very hard time “holding on” to the pronunciations of words in languages that have phonetic features that do not exist in English (tones, additional consonant series, nasalized vowels, etc.), and have a very hard time distinguishing between individual words in languages where the words are short (even mono- or disyllabic) and similar to one another.
As I have said again and again, StoryListening may be just fine for more advanced students. I can’t justify its frequent use for beginners — and by “beginners”, I mean those in years 1-3 (approximately) of a typical high school TPRS course. The lower the students’ level, the less StoryListening is appropriate as a choice of technique for providing comprehended input. By all means, use it every so often as a distraction to reinforce language that has already seen a lot of repetition, but for TPRS level students, there are better ways to get more language into the heads more efficiently while keeping engagement higher across the board.