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24 thoughts on “Pronouns”

  1. I just sat through a two-day work shop on creating common formative assessments with our districts 100+ foreign language teachers. I’m not sure what some of these other fools are thinking but one team created an assessment where the kids are given an incorrect sentence and they have to find and correct the errors.
    Can you imagine the relevant data from that assessment?

    1. For years I have heard an anecdote that, I believe, applies here. According to the anecdote, agents who are trained to spot counterfeit currency get their initial training, not by encountering counterfeit bills but by handling and examining and experiencing the real thing. Only after they have experience with the real thing do they get tested with counterfeit money. (BTW, according to the website here – – this anecdote is true.)
      In the same way, students need to experience real language and get a thorough grounding in that before being exposed to anything else. Why in the world would I deliberately expose a language learner to counterfeit language?! They’ll produce enough of that on their own. :-p
      The group that Drew described truly doesn’t get it.

      1. I just wanted to agree with my own quirky experience: I love designer handbags and I can spot a fake one from miles away because I’ve seen pictures of and held REAL bags. lol

  2. Hence the reason this woman is now out of education. (Thank Goodness!) Not because she didn’t get data…but because she just didn’t get it!
    with love,

  3. Ben, this sentence rang loud as I read it:
    “Maybe we can all learn the same thing at the same rate in the same classroom at the same time.”
    This comment of mine leans more toward motivation that ability I think, but it is an anecdote that I always remind myself of when thinking about these standardized data. A young woman in my town, whose parents homeschooled her (more “unschooled” really), refused to read for most of her childhood. I don’t think her parents really knew if it was an ability thing or a “want to” thing, but they tried to stick to their guns and not pressure her. Finally, when she was like 9 years old, she started reading, not children’s books, but novel and such. We had a barter fair a few weeks ago and I went to her blanket and started looking at her books that she was passing on. Chomsky, Tom Robbins, Bukowski, at she is only 20! Stories like this make me wonder sometimes what the hell we’re doing in our English programs (and extrapolate that to our schools in general). I think this data push must be resisted right now, lest we lose the ability that stems from intrinsic motivation.

    1. “…lest we lose the ability that stems from intrinsic motivation.”
      My wife and I are both teachers. My wife is talking more and more seriously about wanting to leave the profession because of our administrators, district and state policy-makers just not getting it. This drive for data, when it trickles down and works its way into very fabric of our daily teaching (ex. requiring teachers to quantify all daily learning goals via scales, posting those numbers, having these numbers as talking points in class with the students, differentiating instruction to meet the different needs of our numbers, er, I mean ‘students’…), not only frustrates teachers, but also leads students to believe that its all about the grades, all about the numbers, and NOT about fostering curiosity that leads to intrinsic motivation.
      Some random thoughts from my day today at school:
      – my boss, after our training today on DI (differentiated instruction), says, “Yeah, when I observed your class the other day, your advanced students looked bored.” I say, “Yes, those are all [and there are many] the native Spanish speakers that should be in our Spanish for Spanish Speakers program [which we have].” Her [very frustrating] answer: “Yeah, this is why you need to differentiate your instruction.” [I see, so I have to teach what, literature or AP Spanish language grammar stuff to these kids at the same time that I am getting students to understand spoken Spanish for the first time in their lives? The boss doesn’t get it?]
      After my observation the other day, I said to my boss immediately following, “I’d love to get your feedback!” Answer: “Don’t worry – I’ll write it out for you to read on iObservation [new teacher evaluation software being used]. Today I asked, “Just wondering if I would be receiving feedback on my last observation…the suspense is killing me! [hoping the light hearted humor would lead to some good-ol’ human-to-human on the spot feedback, encouragement, and/or constructive criticism…anything].” Answer: “Yes, there’s no wi-fi in your building, so I still have to upload your observation data [from the new ipads that all the admins were given to do their observations]…”
      Intepretation: I do this because I have to. I am not interested in giving you feedback on your teaching. I will be telling you via the no-way-to-discuss-it computer program exactly how you are doing regarding all the required district-mandated posted learning goals, scales, data graphs,…
      Today one student says regarding my calling him out on his repeated use of English, “This is stupid yo…this class is whack.”
      Another student, another period:
      I was explaining how their other teachers actually deliver what they are teaching every day in an invisible box – a box called English. A box they never really pay attention to, but its there holding together everything the teacher says. I explained how I used to teach out of that box too – my box had may things in it – Spanish grammar rules, vocab. lists, etc.)…but how foolish that was. I explain that my job it to just bring a new box to them – a box called Spanish (definitely not invisible for most of them yet)…AND..(here’s the point)…that it doesn’t matter WHAT I bring to them in that box, so long as we are learning to understand that things that come out of that box.
      Student says: “Wow, I see what we are doing mister! It’s not at all about what we are talking about, just that we are using Spanish together.”
      Topics that went so well (compelling) via CI this week so far, and yet were in no way planned:
      Gun control (really! This came up – and went well – and its only a level 2 class)
      The science behind the extra day in a leap year (why that was compelling for them, Idon’t know – but it worked. How’s that for our Connections standard that the ACTFL advocates?)
      So anyone who has read this blog lately knows I’ve been trying hard to make some scales/rubrics that allow me to keep my job AND really represent what I want my students to get in class. And now we are already having training on the next step…”Got your scales? Good. Now use those numbers to differentiate your instruction to meet the varied needs of your students.”…okay fine, but can I finish trying out my scales first, tweeking them as necessary, before I start getting data to differentiate when I’m not even convinced that data (beyond the immediate, in-the-now feedback via eye contact in the class) will help or even how I could teach in an appropriate DI way for foreign language teaching?
      Goal: Just keep trying to make it all work but NEVER lose my grasp on simplicity first and focus on my students in-class efforts, praising them the whole way. I’ll try to get my scales working first and to hell with applying any numbers to DI for the time being….

  4. Wow Brian, you have to put up with some shit at your school eh? Stay sane, sounds like you’re doing a good job of it while keeping folks on their toes (what state are you in anyways?)

    1. Hey Jim,
      Thanks for the positive words – when it’s all said and done I do stay quite sane – I think its the love of trying to teach kids. To hell with the rest (well, until the boss comes around 🙂 ). I’m in Florida.

  5. Brian there is a week long discussion at a big table here. I can only absorb one plate of what you wrote at a time. So far I have read:
    Plate 1: your wife thinking of quitting.
    Plate 2: your effectively being told to teach two Spanish classes in the same class period.
    I stopped there. I will return to this. But we can’t walk away from the kids now. And I know you feel the same. My thought is to feel the burn, and then realize that we are the ones in charge. Administrators who don’t get it cannot be allowed to become our enemies. They are reacting to INTENSE pressure from their own bosses. Ultimately the answer for me to all this is to simply be conscious, present and happy with my kids in my classroom. That’s it. There are some great websites to help us keep that thought in mind, but, besides the “mental health” category here, there is one place where we should go at times like this, when we feel we are losing and when we feel like giving up:

  6. Ben’s comment that Administrators who don’t get it cannot be allowed to become our enemies. they are reacting to INTENSE pressure from their own bosses– I say . . .who are reacting from our legislatures.
    Why not call up those young people who are at the edge of voting now or are voting? The parents who have seen the results of their students really liking school and speaking languages other than English from working in your classrooms and ask them to advocate at the legislative level.
    The legislatures are the guys/gals who are making this push into stuff they don’t know so they can say to voters–see I did something about your crummy education. Vote for me again. And the reality is that all they have done really is bring great teachers to the edge of quitting. Let alone have young people entering college figure out there isn’t any money in teaching and there is a world of hurt to be had.
    Every day I am grateful that I work with young people. I know I make a difference in their lives. But, every day I see more and more great teachers come to the line and say–is this worth it? Then they connect to a kid–really connect and they plow forward through the paperdrift of hoops to jump.

  7. Update:
    Saw the boss today. She stopped by room during planning period – she was on her way to observe the class next to me. Perhaps she was going to observe my class as well (?) – I do not believe that she knew I had planning…but that type of speculating is neither here nor there…
    the bombshell announcement: she is retiring this year and she tells me, “Yeah, this whole new observation thing is just…” and she fades to silence. I said (in my typically blunt way), “Wait, YOU don’t like the…” and then she stopped me to say, “Wait, I have to go to the class next door.” A few minutes later she did come back and asked, “What was it you were going to say?” And so I said it again, “YOU do not like the new observation system either??!!!!” She deflected a little bit, but spoke the truth: “Well, it’s not JUST that…” and went on…
    I should not celebrate – I have no idea who may come in next year. But it was validating to see even my own boss be critical of what she herself if forced to do. You guys are right: its all coming from high above. But is that reason to feel alright?
    To be clear: despite my own rant above (from yesterday) – I am quite at ease when it comes to work – in fact, I am still excited to be in my first year of FINALLY being away from the old school way of foreign language teaching. I love finally having a direction that is actually taking my students somewhere.
    Yes, my wife’s frustration – I can’t guage it that well. She keeps mentioning the crap that is coming down the pipe and how it makes her want to jump ship, but I do know – and she does say – that she loves to work with the young kindergarten children that she sees everyday.

  8. For those who have read my bio, I’m a Spanish teacher by day and a PhD candidate by night (often working late into the night, actually). My graduate work is primarily in religious studies, but I also have some sociological training that makes me want to ask all of you a question . . .
    Where does CI-based instruction stand as a social movement? It’s a new approach, and paradigm shifts don’t happen overnight, but has “our side” taken the next hill in the battle, are we at a standstill, or are we in retreat? I see that the moreTPRS list has roughly the same number of posts today as it had 5 years ago. And on this blog we often speak of ourselves as a besieged minority (as in this “Pronouns” thread). So I’m wondering where the movement actually stands and what the prospects are of actually winning the battle someday?
    I have some thoughts on this, but before going on a lengthy diatribe about CI-based instruction, “accountability” in American education, and our society in general, I’d love to hear what you all think.

    1. Speaking of new approaches, I think you’d all like to read Daniel Coyle’s post on a bill of rights for students.
      And if you like that, check out the fifth comment underneath it, which will refer you to an article in Wired. Sorry to keep adding the “and then…” but a comment deep under that article is about a school where they don’t assign F’s. They work with the kids until the kids get B’s, no matter what. I copied it out and sent it to my principal. It’s long, but oh so worth it.
      That article in Wired is here:
      The comment you’ll be looking for is by Charlotte Wellen. Amazing stuff.

  9. I was just talking via email with Carol Gaab tonite about ACTFL, being held here in Denver in a few weeks, and we both agreed that most of the conference will be, in terms of actually learning things that would result in language acquisition, useless. This is of course with the exception of Bryce and Annick Chen and Leslie Davison and maybe one or two other CI experts who will be presenting. But when I go, which I have chosen not to do this year, as I told Carol, I walk around and walk into a session and pretty much feel like a dumb ass right away. The session presenters are so polished but I don’t undestand them! I told Carol that I just feel stupid in those sessions like on how to use computers to teach language (that in itself is a weird concept for me), etc. This is not the opinion of 99% of those attending, however, who go into those sessions and feel energized, so either I actually am an idiot, which the test scores of my students don’t indicate, or something is going on that I don’t understand. Some kind of double speak. When only a few teachers in the world even resonate with Krashen, and that, in my opinion, is a true statement, then one can see, Kevin, that our 1% – if we are that many – is not much more than a small splinter in a really big elephant’s ass. We are so small, in my view, as to be nearly invisible. Occasionally the elephant gets in a position, when she sits on us, for example, as to feel our presence, but that’s about it. We’re just going around embedded in this big elephant’s ass. It stinks – that’s the business end of an elephant. That is why I won’t be going to ACTFL this year even though it is just a short Light Rail ride into town from where I am in Littleton. Be clear, most who claim TPRS/CI don’t do it as it was intended anyway. Which makes the splnter more like a microbe. Just my opinion. Am I incorrect on this? Are we microbes?

  10. CI-based instruction and CBI (content-based instruction–which is supposed to be comprehensible) have been around in “immersion education” and “esl” for 30-40+ years in Canada and the U.S., so not exactly new (Krashen, Cummins, Gennesee, Swain, Vygotsky, Curtain, etc.). CI in middle and high-school foreign language classes? Yes, that’s relatively new.
    CI-based instruction and CBI don’t TEST well in a discrete way since they are “whole language” methods. As you’ve noted, we are not exactly living in enlightened times in American schools . Thus, the uphill battle.
    I share Ben’s moral stance in our daily practice with kids. There is no retreat for those of us who do this every day. We literally cannot go back to using ineffective methods which exclude most kids from successfully acquiring language in a classroom setting. The Dark Ages are not calling my name.

  11. –no matter how microbial we appear to be. It just takes a couple of microbes to start a serious infection. I just keep on plugging on–staying as far away as possible from sanitized workshops full of quick fixes for Monday morning. I know you know what I’m talkin’ about.

  12. Responding to Kevin: I teach privileged kids, but my situation is unique in that I teach Latin to ALL OF THEM, not 1% of them, which is what happens in many schools. CI allows me to make the traditionally closed world of Latin and classics not only accessible but interesting to my students. They don’t know it’s hard, or not fun, or requires decades of slogging through dictionaries and obscure commentaries, and so they are not intimidated. As far as they (and I) are concerned, they own Latin just as much as anyone who ever read or wrote it, because my students are alive, while the rest of them are either dead or professors. To teach CI methods, or even to attempt to do so, in my opinion, is a social movement, analogous to the 99% movements playing out in our country.
    BTW, Ben: ACTFL is offering a Latin workshop this year: 7 hours of listening to AP teachers and administrators talk about the details of the Latin AP. Only 35 spots, so act fast! I’ll save my money for NTPRS in Vegas.

  13. I went on with a long rant on this thread a few days ago, so I thought I’d out another update here:
    So the boss came by again today BUT this time, she’s all in a happy mood (no iPad in her hand meant no offical observation was happening)…and what does she do? She starts to talk to my students in Spanish and then willingly takes my invitation to come and sit on the stool in front of the class and join in in our Ci discussion. It was real: she took whatever basic questions they were able to ask her, she reacted to their no-comprehension signals (I taught her about that), and the were interested! No English the whole time – maybe a solid 5-10 minutes of CI with the AP. I’ll take that as an a-okay. She knows that this is the most Spanish she has ever heard (from me and the students) in my class in all these years. Good day.
    Also – Ill write on this one later (gotta go), but I felt I was flying today! Lots of buy-in from the students! I have some new ideas for CI, etc…good way to end the week.

    1. Sorry to post again to just vent my frustration on my grammar mistakes in the above post…okay, now I feel better. 🙂 Left-over trauma from my own grammar-student days? lol

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