This is part 2 in a 6 part series. If you haven't, please go and read part 1 first. It is on the first principle of the Comprehension Hypothesis: Acquisition and Learning and its role in social justice in the classroom.
The Natural Order Hypothesis
The natural order hypothesis holds that "grammatical structures are acquired... in a predictable order" (Krashen, 1983, p. 28). However, one should note that this does not mean that every learner will acquire grammar in the exact same order, nor does it state that we know the exact order for each learner or each language (Krashen, 1983; Patrick, 2019). There are some grammatical concepts that are more naturally acquired early on and some that can wait (Krashen, 1983). Whatever order something may be acquired in, the key to it is understandable messages in the target language (Krashen, 1983; Patrick, 2019).
I want to address what I see as two pieces to this hypothesis and its role in social justice separately. The first is the use of high frequency vocabulary as a leading factor when considering in what order one should "teach" something. The second is a further discussion on the argument some make against CI in the first post: that by following CI, one is "dumbing down" language or presuming that BIPOC cannot survive or flourish in a traditional, non CI, classroom.
High Frequency Vocabulary
There are a number of frequency lists out there for any language: top 5 verbs, top 7 verbs, 50 Most Important Verbs, etc. All of these lists are important and can play a great role in helping teachers determine what words they want to focus on, target, etc. (please note that this is not the post to argue for targeted vs. untargeted... WHOLE other thing). What I want to consider, however, is that these lists are just the beginning of the work we need to do as teachers to use this hypothesis for the delivery of comprehensible input.
Frequency lists are often based on verbs that apply to daily situations or situations people find themselves in most often (and that is useful). Latin frequency lists tend to look at literature (from a time period, from a certain style, etc) and pull the words most frequently used (and that is useful). However.... our students are coming with their own experiences and histories. Just because a word is used a lot in one place does not mean that it will be meaningful, comprehensible, or culturally responsive for our students. As teachers who use the Comprehension Hypothesis, we must look at all of this and make rational and culturally responsive choices about the words we use with and put in front of our students every day.
Take, for example, the Latin word villa. This word means a country-house or a farm or villa. It does not mean "house". And yet, quite often Latin textbooks will introduce it early on to mean house or home and subsequently teachers will use it to mean that as well. I did this at one point in time too. villa does not appear on the Dickenson Core Vocabulary list at all. domus, which does mean house or home, is number 73 on that same list. casa which means a simple house, a cottage, a hut, shed, cabin, etc. does not appear on the list either. insulae, which means (in this context) literally means "house for poor people" opposite domus or villa , means something akin to an apartment building/apartment and is number 908 on the list. When one considers these three words and their original Roman meanings and what they would be today, it is hopefully clear how inappropriate a word like villa would be as a "stand in" for house. Even a word like insulae and domus would need context. Frequency lists are just the start. In order to deliver true CI to our students, we must consider these lists, the words in our target language, AND our students' own experiences. When comparing my home to that of the Romans, I likely lived in a casa maybe a smaller domus; in my dreams it's a villa meaning farm. It is a one story home with a larger yard and lots of trees. When I first started teaching... I lived in a town home. I could have probably used insulae or casa to describe the setting, with some context. Long story short: we have to use words and know their FULL meaning. The fact is, housing is an issue steeped in racism. Red-lining is real. Chances are your district was built in a racist way. We need to be aware of that.
The Natural Order Hypothesis and the argument against it
Teaching and education are systems that has long valued and both overtly and covertly pushed a white supremacist agenda. I say this as a white teacher who has benefited from this system. There are a host of resources on this. I will direct you to this page of my site for some resources. At the top are resource by type; I am always looking to add to it. The one I want to focus on today is Christopher Emdin's work. If he is not part of your reading and research, move fast, and add him to your list.
Take a minute and really think about the things most schools value: dress codes that target girls, LGBTQIA+, and BIPOC girls and boys, sitting quietly, speaking in a certain manner with specific language (e.g. ask vs. ax), etc. All of these things feature and put on a pedestal the typical experience and expectations of white children (Emdin, 2016). They target anything that doesn't fit into this image. Black students in particular are often targeted for their language use, clothing choice, natural hair, etc. Girls and LGBTQIA+ youth are targeted for any clothing that "pushes an agenda" or shows off a shoulder. The same is true of a grammar syllabus. I am also going to put this out there: If you argue that you want all "smart" students including BIPOC, you still have a problem.
Grammar syllabi, wanting all "smart" kids, etc disfavour and discriminate against: BIPOC, disabled children, children who do not come from affluent homes, children who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). When you say things like this, when you teach explicit grammar or require things learned in a certain format, order, etc., when you then test on these things and require perfection, what you really are saying is that you only want a certain type of learner.
Comprehensible Input, when truly and properly considered and used, requires that we do this work. CI looks at the students in your room and say, "how best can I help these students acquire language and succeed"? So, let's take a look. Who is in our classroom and how can we help them succeed on their terms?
Emdin, C. (2016). For white folks who teach in the hood: And the rest of y’all too. Boston, MA:
Krashen, S. (1983). The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Alemany Press
Patrick, R. (2019). Comprehensible Input and Krashen's theory. Journal of Classics Teaching, 20(39), 37-44. doi:10.1017/S2058631019000060
This particular blog is dedicated to social justice workings in my professional and personal life.