We in this online community should be so very appreciative of our Alisa for her unlimited and always expanding awareness of what is going on in our profession. In what looks like some serious backsliding in mainstream WL education, there is a new term out there called “WL Core Practices” that didn’t get by Alisa’s net. I’ll let her explain in this important post:
Sometimes I think it’s my professional responsibility to speak up and ‘correct’ misguided thinking or interpretation regarding what it is that we do in our CI classrooms. With teacher mental health in mind, though, I often exercise the self control required to let the egregious misrepresentations float on by, especially on the Nandu or ACTFL Community listservs. Today, I was feelin’ kinda rant-y though, when I skimmed a post on ACTFL Language Educators, and I proceeded to blow through my entire lunch period crafting a response. It seemed a worthy project at the time, but I know that it’s really not.
However, I thought I’d share it with you and perhaps the PLC, because it brings up a body of work in our field that I was heretofore unfamiliar with: The WL Core Practices. Unable to reign in my curiosity, and with a dull lunch in the teachers’ room fridge, I set out to set this lady straight.
Here’s what I wrote – not to the LE community forum but to her personal inbox, because I considered the possible cat fight that could ensue, (I referred her to the ‘Authentic Resources’ online catfight from a few years ago!) and with what’s going on nationally, I’m really not in the mood…
Here’s her query:
and my response:
I wasn’t sure what you meant when you referred to the WL Core Practices, so I found Lynn Johnston’s
and read about them.
If these are the same practices you are referring to in the Language Educators’ Digest in the ACTFL communities discussion, then I do believe there is a fair bit of discrepancy between the Core Practices and Teaching with Comprehensible Input (which has been around in TPRS form since the 1990s.)
Just a few discrepancies to start:
Core Practice #1: Use the Target Language as the Vehicle and Content of Instruction –
Core Practice #2: Design and Carry Out Interpersonal Communication Tasks for Pair, Small Groups, and Whole-Class Instruction
No, not really. We see the teacher as the primary provider of hi-quality input, and seek to optimize that input. Novice to Intermediate/Low language students do not possess the ability, yet, to provide high quality input to their peers, so we, the teachers, invest our time in providing the oral/aural and written input, often gleaned from class-created images, collaborative stories and texts. Demanding output from our students in the form of ‘pair & small group… Interpersonal Communication Tasks’ is not a part of our CI framework.
Core Practice #3: Design lessons and tasks that have functional goals and objectives, to include specifying clearly the language and activities needed to support and meet the communication objective.
No, not always. We often implement emergent classroom banter using high frequency language in use around topics of high interest, tailored to the group. Many CI teachers DO NOT work from a chapter vocab list, thematic or semantic set of vocabulary. We do not specify the functional goal (letter writing; ordering a meal, engaging in a sales transaction), rather, we spin stories and scenes, read legends and articles, retell and review, respond to visual anchors, describe, invent and create…
Many of us run classrooms very different from the curricular approach described in CP #3. We may backwards-plan the language in use in order to be able to comprehend a text, (for example, to read a leveled novel) but these are written with a hi-frequency list in mind, so their contents emerge in any ancillary conversation, eliminating the need for tight conversational ‘planning.’ Our goal is to flood and soak our students in high quality, compelling, comprehensible input, not to ‘train’ them for specific communicative interactions, like those in the IPA.
Core Practice #4: Teach Grammar As Concept and Within Meaningful Use in Context
Actually, guided by the work of Dr. Bill VanPatten, Dr. Stephen Krashen, and others, we do not teach explicit grammar in Novice through Intermediate/Low. While certain features may pop up in context, or if a students asks (rarely) we may give an extremely brief explanation in layman’s terms. We do not ‘test’ on grammar or expect/request grammatical accuracy in output. Research tells us that grammatical focus on form is not even developmentally appropriate (in L1) before about age 14.
Core Practice #5: Design and carry out interactive reading and listening comprehension tasks using authentic cultural texts of various kinds with appropriate scaffolding and follow-up tasks that promote interpretation.
Depending on the definition of the phrase, ‘authentic cultural texts of various kinds,’ we roundly reject the notion that using materials created by and for native speakers is appropriate in the Novice to Intermediate L2 classroom. Instead, we modify & adapt existing texts, and create original texts to meet the needs of our learners’ developing mental representation system (VanPatten). Rarely if ever are we able to open a book – even a children’s picture book written in the TL for a native-speaking child – and use it ‘as is.’ Generally, we use the pictures as a story board and re-create or re-script the text to meet our learners’ needs. For a fuller discussion from the ACTFL community site debating the use of authentic texts, please refer to:
Core practice #6: Provide appropriate feedback in speech and writing on various learning tasks. The ACTFL Core Practices webinar with Dr. Eileen Glisan focuses on providing corrective feedback in oral interactions. Corrective feedback, or responses to student utterances containing an error, is a tool to scaffold learning for students.
CI teachers do not purposefully correct student output – oral or written. Simply put, feedback should be meaning and content based (certainly at the Novice to I/L level). We do not encourage students to correct each other, as suggested in Lynn Johnson’s blog. Our focus is on input, and the students’ demonstrated comprehension of that input. We know that this is what drives acquisition; not correcting output.
Elementary Spanish Teacher
Winnetka Public Schools