After taking a year off from my program, I am re-applying to earn my Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership. I plan to focus my dissertation on targeted and non-targeted instruction. Here is the "Professional Interests" section of my official "Statement of Purpose":
My academic and professional interests center on increasing student achievement by inspiring, supporting, and increasing the value of teachers as they inspire students and the community. In particular, I am interested in increasing the effectiveness of foreign language instruction through using Comprehensible Input. Traditionally, language has been taught using discrete word lists and grammar rules. Conversely, Comprehensible Input involves simply having students listen to and read messages in the foreign language that they can understand, while their brains subconsciously acquire the vocabulary and grammar along a natural order (Krashen, 1982). Currently, the majority of what we know about second language acquisition relies on the work of two researchers, Dr. Stephen Krashen, who is the most widely recognized researcher on second language acquisition and is the founder of modern theory, and Dr. Beniko Mason, who has researched the benefits of extensive free voluntary reading as the primary means of language instruction. While most teachers have moved away from using only rote memorization and drills for language instruction, many teachers blend these traditional methods and their derivatives with Comprehensible Input methods, creating an “eclectic” approach. However, both Dr. Krashen and Dr. Mason argue that Comprehensible Input is the only thing that works, and that anything else is either ineffective or inefficient (Mason, 2016). Further complicating the issue is that many teachers who believe that they are using Comprehensible Input are merely drilling vocabulary and grammar through reading and listening, sometimes referred to as “targeting”, which results in teachers and students regressing back to conscious effort to master vocabulary and grammatical forms and eroding the effectiveness of their teaching and learning. Instead, Drs. Krashen and Mason propose that teachers should simply focus on communicating comprehensible and compelling stories are so interesting to students that they forget that they are supposed to be learning a language and instead simply experience it (Krashen, 2016). Grammar and vocabulary lists, which currently form the backbone of most foreign language curricula, should be replaced by observable behaviors that indicate student proficiency in authentic communicative interactions (C. Ensor, personal communication, October 14, 2016).
This poses a major philosophical and practical challenge for most foreign language teachers, especially those who work within our current system of education. If students acquire language subconsciously at at different rates in unpredictable interactions, how can we assess what they learn and assign grades as our system dictates? What we know about how students learn requires a complete overhaul of our foreign language programs as well as re-training the teachers who deliver the instruction. Rather than measuring student mastery by artificial grading deadlines and percentages, students should simply be provided opportunities to experience the language. Since it would be unfair to hold students accountable for mastering skills that they cannot consciously control, conversations about grades and credits must be replaced by conversations about proficiency levels and real-world application of skills.
At the present time, there is enough compelling evidence about language acquisition to support exploring these systematic and revolutionary changes. However, little to no research nor resources exist to help teachers and administrators apply this information to real-world classrooms and programs. There is a certain sense of security in adhering to lists of items to be mastered by the end of the year, and many teachers either cannot eliminate these “targets” due to outside pressure from departments, administrators, or other sources, while other teachers will not eliminate them due to fear. Dr. Krashen recently proposed that instead of targeting chunks of language, teachers can achieve similar or superior results with completely non-targeted and unpredictable language experiences, even within the limitations of our education system (Krashen, 2016). I wish to test this hypothesis.
Krashen, S.D. (2016). Keynote address. 2016 COFLT-WAFLT Fall Conference, Portland, OR.
Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Krashen, S.D. (2016, July 26). Targeting 1 and Targeting 2: Working paper [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2016/07/targeting-1-and-targeting-2-working.html
Mason, B. (2016, October) The power of comprehensible input. Conference presentation at the 2016 COFLT-WAFLT Fall Conference, Portland, OR.