Nathaniel Hardt was our PLC Teacher of the Month here in March:
He was recently observed. That report is below. As we all know, Nathaniel is in a class by himself with comprehension based instruction and clearly knows so much more than the administrator who observed him. The report is not easy to read, so be forewarned. I would compare the ability of this administrator to even evaluate what Nathaniel was actually doing in his classroom in terms of actual SLA research to bringing a clown out from the clown car and having her pilot a space shuttle. How about all 300 of us write a letter to this fool?
Scott and I just got our evals (almost identical — copy and paste is an administrator’s best friend.) I was looking from some feedback as I ponder what to do next — if anything.
Hello PLC: A CI/TPRS friend, Scott, and I received almost identical evaluations (for separate levels). We are deliberating whether we should respond at all to an evaluator who in time past has shown herself to be relentless and vindictive when challenged. I thought would toss this up for comment and discussion as we consider whether and how to respond. The next step, as noted below, is to provide time for curriculum mapping and common exams, so any comments will still be appreciated.
Note: This was not a TPRS lesson. It was the final part of a school-wide theme. The theme was STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). The department choices included Friends of the Rainforest, which a few of us selected for the lower levels. I focused on the coquí which both a native organism and a cultural icon or Puerto Rico. The culture/STEAM unit included watching a short you-tube of a coquí making it onomatopoeic call, dictating the lyrics of the coquí lullaby and writing them on the board as students called them back to me and spelled the words in Spanish, establishing meaning for unknown words, watching two other renditions of the song on you-tube, and singing through the song several times as a group. Students had to recognize the call (after playing the call, I asked “¿Qué es eso?” = What’s that?, to which they answered, “Es un coquí” = It’s a coquí); imitate the call—mimicry or onomatopoeia (Question: “Qué hace el coquí?”= What sound does the coquí make? Student Answer: “Coquí”); draw a coquí from a projection of google images and copy the words of El coquí; sing El coquí with the class to show that we understand how that cultural icons/products can create cohesion; recite or sing El coquí in front of the class.
This set of activities met several requirements. First, it was a school-wide theme (STEAM) activity. The animal call and drawing represent the naturalist’s contribution to Science. The drawing and the song answer to the Arts segment of STEAM. Second, it fulfilled our Cultural Literacy school-wide rubric. Third, it also supported our “Interactive Communication Skills” school-wide rubric (The Shepherd Hill student demonstrates effective interactive communication skills (speaking and listening) – understanding and responding to a variety of topics and points of view) which, for the Presentation element says, “Generally speaks clearly and distinctly at an appropriate rate, volume, and tone. Body language supports presentation.”
When the evaluator walked in the last student was declaiming El coquí. From there, I started asking the students in L2 questions about the coquí based on what we had been doing for the previous few days. It was not circling really. It was more a review and wrap-up type of a QA conversation with the bulk of the conversation coming from the most capable Spanish speaker in the room. (Perhaps asking Qs in Spanish is a red flag that something is amiss—ah ha—must be up to doing TPRS.)
Well that is the background for the quotations that follow (from my evaluation).
Comments on Engagement Strategies
“When I [evaluator] entered the room, a female student was standing in front of the class. She was reciting the words to the El Coqui song. She spoke very softly and looked extremely uncomfortable, in my opinion. I would suggest that students who are so obviously uncomfortable be allowed to stand by their seat rather than be required to stand in front of the class. Perhaps, standing by their seats would be more comfortable for all and create a more positive environment for learning.”
Note: I asked the student a few days later if she felt nervous. She seemed offended and said, “No. I am a dancer and I perform in front of people all of the time.” She is a quiet child and tends to look down (although she has been much better at clear eyes during the past term); so it is understandable that one would misinterpret her actions.
“For the remainder of the period, Mr. Hardt continued making comments and asking questions about the song replacing el coqui with una rana and other animals. The class also sang the song. Mr. Hardt explained the difference between calor and color. Most students did not appear to be engaged in the lesson and simply sat quietly. The instructor did the majority of the speaking during the class.”
Note: the evaluator sat behind the students and so was unaware of eye contact or lip movement.
“Comments on the use of Instructional Practices
The lesson objectives and essential questions were not posted. It was difficult to ascertain what these were during the observation. Additionally, the instructor did the majority of the speaking during the class. Although comprehensible input should be part of the class, student output should also be an important element of the lesson. The four language skills listening, speaking, reading and writing along with culture should be included in the instruction. All students should be called upon during a class period with few exceptions.”
NOTE: My essential question is “¿Qué quiere decir?” which has been on the right side of the board all year, although the words “essential question” have been erased.
General Comments for the Teacher
“I am very concerned that the lesson that I observed in this class was unlike the lessons observed in Spanish I classes taught by other instructors. As we have discussed previously, the department will need to spend time insuring that students have the same basic class regardless of the instructor. Although I certainly support the use of a variety of instructional techniques to meet the varying needs of students, it appears that you and one other instructor are using the TPRS methodology exclusively and not following curriculum mapping or using the standard textbooks purchased for each level of instruction. Although there are benefits to TPRS, there are also concerns. It is my understanding that the other members of the department are uncomfortable with this methodology and are frustrated in the next level by students from your classes who have gaps in instruction. Although the philosophy of TPRS is based on the premise that individuals should acquire their second language using the same process by which they have acquired their first, research is divided on whether this is possible. In particular, evidence points to the fact that one cannot reproduce the first language acquisition environment. Other research states that students constantly exposed to this type of language do not typically understand authentic language used in day-to-day communication. I have also found research that expresses concern that TPRS cannot be aligned with ACTFL (American Council of Teachers of Foreign Language) proficiency standards and its exclusive use results in large proficiency gaps and poorer AP scores. I provide these points of view as a starting point for department discussion. I know that you can provide benefits to this methodology.
“My suggestion is that teachers use a variety of instructional techniques, including TPRS, to meet established curricular objectives. A singular instructional methodology, in most cases, does not meet the needs of all students. TPRS is only one way to provide comprehensible input. In order to insure consistency in classrooms, I will ask that common unit tests be developed and used by all teachers teaching the same class. This will be a school-wide emphasis next year. However, I will provide some professional development time before the end of this school year for the foreign language department to begin this process as a result of the concerns expressed in this evaluation.”