"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 21, 2013

Because of the common core, do it wrong

In Larry Ferlazzo’s Ed Week blog, Amy Benjamin first agrees with comprehensible input and then does a strange about-face:


Amy Benjamin agrees with the idea that we acquire language “mostly” via comprehensible input and then does an abrupt about-face, claiming that students need “regular practice and targeted instruction” in academic language, activities based on word-lists. She goes on to assert that students need formulas to master academic writing, even though she still notes that writing is “informed by input.”
No. There is no evidence supporting this view. There is massive evidence for the superiority of comprehensible input/reading as by far the best way (really the only way) to develop academic vocabulary and academic writing. Just because the common core demands these competencies, doesn’t mean we should use ineffective and painful methods to try to teach them.

For some recent articles on this, please see:
(First two available at: http://www.sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=2)

Reading and Vocabulary Acquisition: Supporting Evidence and Some Objections. (Stephen Krashen, Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research, 1 (1): 27-43, 2013.)

Direct Instruction of Academic Vocabulary: What About Real Reading? (Stephen Krashen Reading Research Quarterly, 47(3): 233. 2012)

Krashen, S. 2012. Developing academic proficiency: Some hypotheses. International Journal of Foreign Langauge Teaching, (2): 8-15. (available at ijflt.com)

Some of what Amy Benjamin wrote:
But the fundamental things apply: Language--and literacy skills--are learned mostly through comprehensible input and the need to understand and produce messages. So says Stephen D. Krashen when he reminds us of the primacy of inculcating the reading habit in students by offering them the time and materials to read freely for pleasure. It would be a grave mistake to forfeit our efforts, time-consuming as they may be, to entice students into the world of reading in exchange for "test prep." That would be like diminishing the time you spend exercising in favor of watching a television show about the benefits of exercise!
Beneficial and essential as free voluntary reading is, students need regular practice and targeted instruction in the language of academics and business. Teachers need to immerse students in aural and written academic vocabulary, both Tier II (generic academic words) and Tier III (domain specific terminology). By far, the best resource for this is the Academic Word List (AWL) compiled by Averil Coxhead (2000). This list may be found here. Various free, classroom-ready activities based on this list may be found at my website.
Students are expected to compose written arguments in various subject areas, but it is in English classes where they should be taking apart arguments, such as seminal speeches and daily editorials (op-eds) to see exactly how they work. Students should learn the elements of argument, rhetorical devices, appeals, and sentence frames, including transitional and contrastive words, to hold complex ideas. Here is where I believe the use of formulas and models is effective for the novice. But, again, writing is a secondary function of language (output), one that is informed by input (reading a well-structured argument). Just as art students learn to go to museums to copy the masters, novices at writing need copious models as well as guidance as to how those models work. The more terminology we have for the components of argumentation, the more students can use those components as tools for their own writing.

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