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Yup'ik RavenStorytelling in the Yup’ik Immersion Classroom

The Natural Approach

The Natural Approach to second language acquisition is based on five hypotheses proposed in Krashen’s Monitor Model:

  1. the Acquisition-Learning hypothesis,
  2. the Monitor hypothesis,
  3. the Natural Order hypothesis,
  4. the Input hypothesis (to which I also add Swain’s Comprehensible Output),
  5. and the Affective Filter hypothesis (Krashen and Terrell, 1983).

The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis claims that language learners have two independent ways of developing competence in a second language. Of the two, the most important is acquisition. Acquiring a language is a subconscious process similar to the way children develop ability in the first language (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Language learning on the other hand requires conscious study and knowledge of grammatical rules and being able to talk about them. Krashen believes that ‘learning’ is less important than acquisition. At Ayaprun Elitnaurvik at the primary level, we focus primarily on acquisition. Grammar study is emphasized in the later grades when students have acquired sufficient competence in Yup’ik (Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, 2003). TPR Storytelling focuses on the acquisition of language rather than the learning of language by presenting items in meaningful, observable way, rather than teaching grammatical rules and vocabulary lists (Brune, 2004).

Krashen’s second hypothesis, the Monitor Hypothesis, summarizes the relationship between acquisition and learning and defines the role of grammar. Acquisition is responsible for becoming fluent in a language, while the learning system performs the role of the ‘monitor’ or the ‘editor’ (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). We use acquisition when we initiate sentences in second languages, and learning as a kind of after-thought to make changes and corrections (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). This can be illustrated with the example of the students in my class requesting a drink of water. When they stumble the first time, they use the gesture for drinking water to help them remember the word and say it correctly. Because I do not want to hurt their self-confidence, I do not pay too much attention to their pronunciation (Asher, 1993). If I understand what the student is trying to say through the gesture, I simply repeat the word back to the student and then let them get a drink. In TPR Storytelling, new vocabulary is introduced before the story is told and meaning of words and grammatical forms are explained as they arise within the telling of the story itself (Brune, 2004).

Krashen’s third hypothesis is the Natural Order Hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that the acquisition of grammatical structures follows a ‘natural order’ which is predictable (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Krashen and Terrell hypothesize that there is a predictable order in which grammatical components of the language are acquired (Ray & Seely, 2001). Because TPR does not place an emphasis on grammar (Asher, 1993), students can acquire language in its Natural Order. TPR Storytelling deemphasizes grammar explanations because according to Krashen’s Natural Order Hypothesis, grammatical explanations have little or no effect on the order in which grammatical structures are in fact acquired (Brune, 2004).

The fourth of Krashen’s hypotheses’ is the Input Hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that we acquire (not learn) language by understanding input that is a little beyond our current level of (acquired) competence (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). In the Input Hypothesis, the learner improves and progresses along the natural order when he/she receives second language input that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Krashen claims that acquisition for learners can only take place if they are exposed to comprehensible input. Comprehensible input is language presented to the student in such a way that the student can understand without the need of translation (Anderson & Marsh, 1998). The learner must always be challenged, but never to a point at which frustration sets in. In accordance with Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, TPR Storytelling places a heavy emphasis on the comprehensibility of the language used during the course of a lesson (Brune, 2004). The very fact of using gestures to show what happens in the story makes the input comprehensible.

Merrill Swain (1985) has claimed that comprehensible input is not enough. She suggests that students acquire language most meaningfully when they also have the opportunity for comprehensible output. They need to have a setting in which their attempts at communication are valued and shaped to make them acceptable and understandable (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004). Cummins and Swain (1986) argue that immersion students do not demonstrate the ability to speak (or write) like native speakers, not because their comprehensible input is limited, but because their comprehensible output is limited in two ways: 1.) Students are simply not given – especially in later grades – adequate opportunities to use the target language in the classroom context, and 2.) they are not being ‘pushed’ in their output. They add that immersion students have developed, in the early grades, strategies for getting their meaning across which are adequate for the situation they find themselves in with their teachers and peers (Cummins & Swain, 1986). Because of this, there appears to be little social or cognitive pressure to produce language (Cummins & Swain, 1986). TPR Storytelling encourages comprehensible output by providing students the chance to practice using vocabulary and sentences in the context of the story. Given practice for comprehensible output during the stories, it makes it easier for them to use vocabulary and phrases more spontaneously in their everyday interactions with each other. One day I had a student who was upset about something and another student comforted him using vocabulary from one of our previous stories. The sad child’s mood changed before I found it necessary to intervene to help solve the problem. In these ways, TPR Storytelling encourages students to use Yup’ik with each other.

Immersion language teachers recognize the need for a structured learning environment that attends to language development and content. Also needed is having predictable instructional routines and patterned language for transitions between subjects (Curtain & Fortune, 1997). The students need to have a setting in which they are given many opportunities to produce new forms and to communicate (Curtain & Fortune, 1997). Students need more opportunities to use the language and more wait time for responses without immediately supplying answers (Curtain & Fortune, 1997). Other strategies to increase student output are interactive partner and cooperative learning tasks (Curtain & Fortune, 1997).

One practice I use for students to practice output is having a “Show n’ Tell” where students are invited to bring an item to share/talk about or just talk about something important in their lives. Another way students can practice their language output is through print. Students may be given time to write in their picture journals and write their thoughts. Once students begin to express themselves orally, it becomes the teacher’s task to provide encouragement and opportunity to communicate with one another in a variety of ways (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004). One year when I taught fifth and sixth grade social studies, I was struck by the students’ hesitancy when given the opportunity to tell a story using flannel board pieces. Their simultaneous emotions of being hesitant and excited to try something new triggered my thinking that more opportunities such as flannel board storytelling would provide some needed spontaneous usage of the language. With my first grade, I have found the importance of mid-morning breaks after our snack time and water and break times for students to have an opportunity to have leisurely breaks in the classroom. I noticed a lot more Yup’ik conversation goes on during these breaks that I didn’t normally witness during lessons. As immersion teachers we need to be ever persistent and consistent in expecting students to use complete sentences during their speech. For example, when students want to know if we’ll be having gym that certain day, they’re inclined to ask, Qirvan, gym? ‘Qirvan, gym?’ instead of Qirvan, gym-arciqukut-qaa? ‘Qirvan, will we have gym?’ When I respond back to them, Qirvan, gym?, they take it as a cue for a more complete sentence in which they ask again, Qirvan, gym-arciqukut-qaa? ‘Qirvan, will we have gym?’ To which I respond enthusiastically, Ii-i, gym-arciqukut! ‘Yes, we will have gym!’ There are other instances when students struggle with conveying thoughts. Because of all the gesturing involved with TPR Storytelling, the gesturing aids in conveying their thoughts as they speak.

Krashen’s last hypothesis, the Affective Filter hypothesis suggests that a number of ‘affective variables’ play a facilitative role in second language acquisition. These variables include motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. Learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped for success in second language acquisition. Low motivation, low self-esteem, and debilitating anxiety can combine to ‘raise’ the affective filter forming a ‘mental block’ preventing comprehensible input from being used for acquisition.

I believe that the climate we create in our classrooms makes our students feel at ease and lowers their affective filter. TPR Storytelling stories cause laughter among the students during TPR Storytelling sessions; they feel comfortable knowing that they won’t be singled out. Students are faced with questions that are at their challenge level and are never made to feel frustrated. Spontaneous singing may be additional evidence of a low affective filter in my classroom. My students will subtly start an Eskimo dance song they know right in the middle of a class lesson while they are on task. One student will begin a song quietly and then while the students are busy with their work, the others join. One year I had a visitor who noticed this. I told her that if it doesn’t interfere with their learning, I allow it. I also notice that I’ll begin humming or singing a few words to a song and then the class will (at times unexpectedly) chime in regardless of what task they are doing. Then without a prompt, the class resumes the lesson. They all know though that singing isn’t allowed while we’re eating, as advised by our parents and elders.

Together these hypotheses form the basis for the Natural Approach. The Natural Approach emphasizes real communication for practical purposes. The focus is on the learning activities and not the language. Students indirectly acquire linguistic understanding through direct involvement in learning and play activities that are meaningful to them. Grammar study is introduced in the later grades when students have acquired sufficient competence in the target language (Yup’ik) and are ready for this sort of analysis (Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, 2003).

Many teachers have found The Natural Approach to be effective in promoting student comprehension of the language but have had difficulty moving the students naturally from comprehension to production (Anderson & Marsh, 1998). TPR Storytelling takes students beyond merely listening, understanding, and producing single-word responses. The medium of storytelling provides the framework within which students contextualize the words they have learned. TPR Storytelling focuses on input by providing many input-based activities before students are required or expected to speak and/or write. Teachers focus on providing ample amounts of Contextualized Comprehensible Input (CCI) in which learners are exposed to planned, sequential and repetitive and engaging stories (TPR Storytelling, 2006). TPR Storytelling focuses on output by involving students directly in telling and sharing stories with each other and an audience. As I have observed in my own classroom, learning a language becomes fun unconsciously and students (including the more inhibited) are eager to volunteer for parts in our weekly stories.

The stories are often exaggerated, personalized and usually have humorous endings (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004) which brings laughter into the classroom thus keeping the students’ affective filter low, an important factor in the language acquisition process (Cantoni, 1999). With the TPR Storytelling drama in the mini-stories and the practice in speaking over time, it seems to also decrease the speaker’s anxiety (Ray & Seely, 2001) or, as Krashen puts it, it “lowers the affective filter.”

In summary, TPR Storytelling focuses on acquisition of language rather than the learning of language by presenting items in meaningful, observable ways, rather than teaching grammatical rules and vocabulary lists (Brune, 2004). TPR Storytelling provides Contextualized Comprehensible Input (CCI) in which learners are exposed to planned, sequential and repetitive and engaging stories (TPR Storytelling, 2006). TPR Storytelling encourages comprehensible output by providing students the chance to practice using vocabulary and sentences in the context of the story. Given practice for comprehensible output during the stories, it makes it easier for them to use vocabulary and phrases more spontaneously in their everyday interactions with each other. TPR Storytelling also lowers the affective filter by engaging students in fun and often funny dramatic routines that allow them to practice speaking without fear of being singled out, challenged or corrected in overt ways.

 

 

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction What is TPR Storytelling?
Total Physical Response The Natural Approach General Steps of TPR Storytelling
My Classroom: First and Second Grade Sample Mini-Stories References
Additional Resources Project (pdf)  
 

 

 

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Last modified April 7, 2011