Alisa and I shared an interesting email thread today. She wrote:
The place where I’m consulting [ed. note: a Hebrew School in NYC] has a very intense testing culture. As they become schooled in CI, the principal of the junior high, I’m told, is quite stuck on what standard to hold the junior high kids accountable to. He has been talking about using the straight up ACTFL proficiency guidelines as his assessment and grading map.?
The lead teacher is very concerned and asked me to initiate a conversation with the principal. This is what I sent last week:
I am quite familiar with the ACTFL Can-Do statements. I do not, however, believe that they will be helpful evaluation tools in [your] setting at the novice to Intermediate/low levels. In a nutshell, the rubric descriptors are not consistent with the language acquirer’s trajectory, because the descriptors are based on learning (rules, practice, memorization, studying) and not on acquisition (an unconscious process; a growing mental representation system (VanPatten)). To my mind, it also places an inordinate expectation of early output, at the expense of demonstrated comprehension of input.
As the document reflects, we think about language acquisition across ACTFL’s 3 Modes of Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational. One place where the ACTLF rubric diverges from CI strategies is by emphasizing and holding all students across the proficiency continuum accountable to all three modes. We know, for example, that students must receive a ‘flood of input for a trickle of output.” (Wong) This disqualifies the Presentational mode for novices, whose time is best spent interacting with and processing compelling and comprehensible input; not producing or presenting output. As I understand it, we have mostly novices at [your school], and we are trying to grow their linguistic foundation in Hebrew by providing them with compelling Comprehensible Input – orally and in writing. Language is not acquired through memorization or practice, so these tasks (on the ACTFL rubric) are not an appropriate use of the students’/teachers’ precious time.
Evidence of comprehension of input rules the day; and conducive behaviors are required to sustain attention; track the conversation; and contribute to a careful listening & understanding atmosphere.
As for the Interpretive Mode, there is no interlocutor with whom to negotiate meaning, or check for comprehension, (‘Did you mean…? I don’t understand…’) let alone someone to provide extra-linguistic cues and supports. From Novice/low all the way to Intermediate/mid, at which point students are more prepared to seek Comprehensible Input independently, the learner regularly requires a ‘language parent’ (Krashen) -a sympathetic provider of compelling and comprehensible CI, who can modify the input, as necessary, by adapting, restating, rephrasing and adding extra-linguistic supports (props, pictures, gestures, intonation, etc.)
These scaffolds are not available when the student has no interlocutor, though we often create, adapt or modify texts for our learners to reinforce and expand upon the oral/aural messages. You may have heard presentations or read about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) or other independent input activities. In order to be effective, these occur only after the teacher has front-loaded plenty of the high frequency language contained in the specially prepared and leveled texts. Otherwise, we’re setting our students up for more frustration and raising the affective filter, by requiring or judging them on a task that is not yet appropriate.
The Interpersonal Mode takes center stage in the novice World Language classroom. Students are awash in highly scaffolded messages, delivered by the teacher as ‘language parent’ at a slower pace, shorter, less sophisticated syntax, often beginning in the ‘here and now.’ (Krashen) The extra-linguistic supports described above are apparent to any observer: a word wall, props, posters, a calendar and other visual anchors, pictures, manipulatives, all harnessed to insure messages are understood. But the teacher is the Sun in the Interpersonal Solar System, and her ability to JOYFULLY deliver CI, keep it fresh and novel, engage the students, knit the community together, modify the input, check for comprehension, are but some of the planets in her orbit.
We should note that it takes a long time for students to be able to ideate in writing and in speech in the target language. Asking a novice to talk/write about him/herself flies in the face of 40 years of research; we call it ‘forced output.’ We do introduce literacy early on in the CI classroom – the research on the Power of Reading (Krashen) on language growth is indisputable. However, early literacy in the Hebrew classroom focuses on breaking and using the code to understand compelling, comprehensible messages.
As an alternative to the rubric you sent, I submit these, as a start, in its place. Some are more appropriate for higher proficiency levels.
Take a look and please, let’s continue this important conversation.
The above link is to the set of rubrics in your ANATTY – which I googled and found on the internet . I do not think he’ll use them as is, but I needed him to see that front line soldiers like you have forged an alternative.
I haven’t heard back from him yet – he acknowledged receiving my 1st email and said it would take him time to digest it. In the meantime I just sent him another email citing a BVP article, (thanks to Greg for posting it on the PLC a while back). In the article BVP discourages the use of the ACTFL Can Do’s as a tool for evaluating in a basic language program, recommending instead that teacher do something perhaps in the spirit of the Can Do’s but tailored to the content in the class….
I send this to you because I have a feeling I’m gonna get something back from the principal soon – and I may need help with my response. So that’s the background.
My response is not all that optimistic but I think it is realistic:
This is a unique topic. What indeed do we do when we encounter someone in power who clearly doesn’t understand and “needs to digest” the facts of what we know about how people learn languages? The message is that the person is above the teacher’s expertise and beyond the research, a kind of judge. My own response is to not try to go toe to toe with this guy because he clearly, at least in the way I see it, is one of those administrators who need to be right. That’s the feeling I get. So I would suggest that you avoid trying to do anything more than you’ve already done. It’s precisely “leaders” of this type who are not really leaders at all. Why? It is because they are not cognizant of the research and are thus bringing our profession down and keeping it down. We can conclude therefore that you are not responsible for their situation there in that school. Maybe you or someone in the PLC can craft some kind of response that would change his mind. That would be awesome but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. When people don’t get it, they don’t get it.