Gag Me

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24 thoughts on “Gag Me”

  1. I get your gut reaction. I have the same. But there is another way to read this. . .

    Is a story done in class a familiar topic?

    What kind of practice?

    What does “memorize” mean: the process or product? There are certainly pieces of grammar our kids produce as perfectly grammatical chunks and not because they’ve acquired the underlying grammar.

    1. I gave the CI friendly interpretation, when yeah, the ACTFLite interpretations are more like: can you force output of textbook topics and vocabulary lists that your kids have drilled and practiced with partners. The “content” of the ACTFL Novice- Intermediate guidelines is definitely biased to the traditional textbook sequence, the content that is most commonly expected from a level 1-2 course.

      1. What I find somewhat sad is it suggests that novices can only output memorized dialogue. Having taught based on skill-building and then based on CI, I can feel the difference in how the students speak. There’s a realness in CI-induced output, the student is saying something, not just repeating memorized lines. At least, that is how different it feels to me.

        1. 1) Only at the Novice-Low level are they ONLY capable of stock phrases and individual words. Here are the sublevel breakdowns for functioning at the NEXT level (p. 18 of guide linked below):

          High – Almost always, with breakdown. Patterns of weakness. Cannot sustain the functions of the level above consistently.

          Mid – A little, but not most of the time

          Low – No development of the functions of the level above

          2) Do NOT separate the guidelines from the assessment tool. The proficiency guidelines, e.g. the OPI, are assessed based on interviews in which the language is supposed to be “authentic.” In other words, these are descriptions of what happens when forced to communicate with a native speaker.

          3) In order to earn a certain proficiency level, you have to maintain the functions of that level across many/variety of topics.

          Taking those things into consideration, our beginner kids are very much Novices still.

          My understanding of ACTFL’s guidelines and tests was greatly enhanced by 2 things:

          1) Experience. I took the Peace Corps version of the OPI at least 6 times.

          2) I’ve read (multiple times) the OPI tester manual (Peace Corps version which is supposed to be the same as ACTFL) and I have applied it to testing actual students in my classroom.

          1. Eric, you’re mostly saying in different phrasing what Diana Noonan said to me last week when I asked her opinion of the Novice sub-levels. She thinks they are valid, too. But it’s reasons #2 & 3 you list that makes it more okay with me. I still don’t like the word memorized. Like Robert said, it could be memorized, or it could be acquired. It’s just speaking in short phrases as the typical interaction level.

            Actually, last Friday in the SLA moment at the beginning of classes, I showed them an ACTFL proficiency chart and we talked about how it worked. The poster I have suggests length of contact (and type of study) in the language to develop various levels, and what kinds of jobs might require different levels of proficiency. I thought it was a fun conversation – my students were curious and had a bunch of good questions. I brought up that they have spurts into levels above them, but it’s the baseline that determines the level assigned. They asked what I last tested & I told them. We also talked about how the top levels (Superior, Distinguished) are not attained by all native speakers, much less non-native speakers.

  2. It should read…

    … I can communicate on very familiar topics using a variety of words and phrases that I have practiced and INTERNALIZED….

    Internalization leads me to think of building implicit knowledge or acquiring….the word practice could be misused too but we are essentially doing practice in a general sense.

  3. Just to play devil’s advocate a bit … 🙂

    We are, in a sense, talking apples and oranges. ACTFL and the Can-Do statements are all about performance. They describe the level of performance without regard to whether that performance is evidence of learning or acquisition (assuming we take “memorized” in a broad enough sense to include acquisition). We are interested in seeing “performance” that is the result of acquisition, the application of the mental representation of language.

    When I was in Poland during summer 2014, I memorized a few words and phrases that I thought I would need. As I traveled and used these memorized words and phrases, I genuinely communicated my needs and understood replies as long as they used those words and phrases or something fairly cognate to a language I speak. Interpersonal Communication took place, though on an extremely rudimentary level. I performed at a Novice-Low level. Today I remember basically nothing of Polish because I did not acquire it. On the other hand, I remember more Russian from classes with Katya Paukova in 2011 because I acquired some of that language. In both cases, though, my performance was at a Novice-Low level.

    I think what I am warning against is discouraging students who, for whatever reason, have made an attempt to communicate using the resources they have.

    1. Totally agree with the sage-like commentary Robert. Performance is ALWAYS taking priority over acquisition in our classes. Truly apples and oranges.

      When I grew up, teaching content was always the drive in instruction. Now in my district in Fresno, people are emphasizing skills and common core. Content can always be looked up they say. However, TRUE skills in language are acquired not learned. That is why assessments need to be reconsidered in World Languages. I always think that we need to keep the fire going –sometimes covertly.

      Thanks Robert for the excellent primers. They totally saved me with my BTSA supervisor.

  4. ACTFL does distinguish between classroom performance and real world proficiency. Performance is practiced (in some way) and limited to classroom topic. Proficiency is unpracticed and across a variety of topics. As the islands of performance are increased there emerges continents of proficiency. I think the image is apt. We start small and add to and branch out and connect. Whether various approaches get us there with the same efficiency, if at all, is a different question in my mind.

      1. Both Nate and Robert have highlighted the fact that proficiency is just what you can do – functional language ability. You can practice explicit knowledge and get a little functional ability (and that small success may be enough for some grammar teachers to stick to their methods), but it’s not at all what it would be if we worked on building a mental representation.

  5. You might enjoy the test demos at the AAPPL site: because the tests try to measure real-world proficiency.

    These are developed under ACTFL. Since my kids have to take the AAPPL test next month, I’m exploring the demo tests with them. The “A” test starts at Novice low and go into Intermediate, whereas the “B” test starts at Intermediate and goes into Advanced. The demos do the same thing, and it’s quite instructive. While I don’t really like the thematic setup, my kids actually enjoyed the listening and speaking parts of the demo. We haven’t tried the reading and writing.

    Once you get to the page, click on “demo,” and then scroll down to the tests. We had to do one, then go back to the demo page, or the next test was in Arabic. “Are we supposed to understand this?” No…

    1. I’m not a fan of AAPPL.

      Actually, I have a greater problem with the whole “native-speaker/ungraded” content. The proficiency guidelines describe the levels a student would demonstrate if having to survive in the real world. As a result, we measure large proportions of how much a student can COPE, rather than comprehend. How about giving them some content they’ll really understand? Instead, students have to scan the too-fast-paced input for cognates and a few textbook topic words in order to get the answer.

      1. Hi Eric I’ve been looking at your collection of movietalks and scripts can you tell me in what order you use these? What an enormous amount of work! I really like them. I used the story about the posit note love in the office this last week and went pretty well my structures were a little different than the ones you used though. Do you show the slides presentation with the reading before you watch the video?

          1. I was thinking of not bringing a single thing, no agenda, and being fine with that if I present to some group on TPRS. In this work there is no agenda and no one way to do it. Like you say, Eric:

            …pick any words you want to include…

            And in future when I work with group I will start the session by asking the attendees, just like I do in class, what they did lately that is interesting. In English. And as soon as we “feel the energy”, with just one personalized sentence (“Jenny went to the fair last night and won a kewpie doll!” I will get Jenny up (with no idea of where ANY of this is going except that I have one fact about Jenny) and I will then ask the key questions of where and with whom and then I will say that there is a problem and then they will tell me what it is and that will be my “presentation” at the “conference”. I am so tired of “presentations” at “conferences”. Let’s just get together and teach and be open to learn and build our skills!

            My presentations at future conferences will not be fancy powerpoints or anything, but rather modeling the method as I teach it in my own classroom with only this in my mind:

            One personalized sentence about what someone in the class/audience did recently.
            with whom?
            Class, there is problem…

            Nine times out of ten, when I do a story like that (although I still like to work from scripts) it flies high and I believe in the goodness of life. Right there in my classroom!

          2. Ben, I remember seeing a documentary with musician Jack White. He said it was important to improvise a performance. He said that the audience could tell if it was fake or not. The amazing energy you can get with improvisation is uncanny.

            Thank you for reminding me to keep teaching fun. I’ll try out the unplanned mini-story with my students this semester, they have tons of testing this year etc…

          3. One of the best ways I understood TPRS was watching you, Ben, demonstrate over and over again with participants “circling with balls” in French. I needed to see it done, not be told how to do it.

            It does help, however, to remind myself of simple pointers like going slow and going slow and going slow:) Because I was new to French, the teaching certainly didn’t feel SLOW to me. But when I’m providing comprehensible input in SPANISH, I have to go what feels like painfully slow for it to be slow enough.

          4. That is why doing trainings in other languages at conferences is best. I am going to be working closely with Wade Blevins, who teaches Cherokee, at iFLT and in Agen. Learning Cherokee from Wade is just about one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life. In those moments of focusing on the meaning of the (ancient) sounds, I am somehow made whole. It’s just amazing and reveals the true power of the CI process, and reminds us how sacred language is, how Cherokee is sacred, how there is something deep and powerful in that language. I could blather on forever about native languages, but perhaps it is best to just provide this link to some articles from years ago on the Sauk/Sak and Fox language:


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