A Blow To His Confidence 24

K, my former student who has written so beautifully and with such great courage about her experience promoting stories in her IB school this year, and the unexpected support she got from her wonderfully open teacher, now shares her thoughts on how next year is setting up for her. The blog is very direct and I wrote to her as much:
“K you have validated a lot of teachers in this email, all of us who believe that comprehensible input is the way to go in the teaching of languages. However, it may offend. So, it’s up to you. Do we publish this? Of all people to misjudge your brilliance, this French teacher has missed YOU, who you are, your refusal to compromise, your stance for change and truth and full exploration of what may not be popular in education but what may indeed be of great possible good to millions of people. What say you?”
Here is her response, and it is no surprise:
Of course, put it on the blog. I don’t care if she’s mad at me next year. Those who choose to be awful and say mean things aren’t worth my time, so I really don’t care. Thomas Paine in Common Sense stated: “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
So here it is, blog #24 from this wonderful colleague (I say colleague because, though still a student, she has taught a lot of French to a lot of people this year):      
Mr. Slavic –
I need some help. I have a few questions, that there might not be answers to but  please let me know what you think. I have known that next year I shall have a different teacher. It’s the way IB works. She next year, my current teacher my junior year, and either one of them senior year. The other teacher teaches traditionally and has been generally unwilling to try anything else. This is “fine” (not really, but that’s the way things work sometimes). Anyway, she came to our French class yesterday to explain our summer assignment for her class next year. I knew this was coming, too. She greets us in French, and when we all respond in French, she smiles…. until she sees me. She looks at me and smiles , but not a real smile, it’s fake and mean-hearted , almost like a disgusted smirk. As she passes out the packets, she says to me, “Next year, I will not tolerate any of that story stuff, I think it’s ridiculous . I respond, “Je sais, Madame. Je ne veux pas créer des problèmes pour vous.” She moves on and starts explaining what we have to do, and how important grammar will be next year. A girl from the lunch group asks “Why do we have to do so much grammar? Stories are better. They are easy and fun, and we get to know words that we actually use.” She glares at the girl and then at me. This girl talked to me afterwards and said that she was worried about French next year, and might not go. How do you explain to someone that they have to do something and basically lie because they still have to do something even if something else is way better?  Someone has to be the calm rational adult even if that person isn’t an adult. I will continue the lunch stories next year since no one can really stop me…. they can, according to a few supreme court cases about speech in schools, but they haven’t read those. However, my heart breaks for this girl and the others. Stories are better, they know it and so do I. This is (going to an extreme) denying kids the opportunity to have a high quality education where they can learn without hassle. In my opinion , it’s a human right.



19 thoughts on “A Blow To His Confidence 24”

  1. I hope others will offer thoughts in response to your question, Kaley. For my part, I would simply like to point out that this teacher, by focusing primarily on grammar next year, is teaching in direct violation of our newly mandated – by the state legislature of Colorado – standards. I would hope that Mrs. Anna Crocker, who coordinates languages in Jeffco, will be contacting this teacher about her position on this matter, since it is her job (Crocker’s) to make sure that her teachers align their instruction with state standards, not to mention to encourage, rather than discourage, students to pursue higher and higher levels of language study. If Crocker fails to do that, then both could theoretically be looked at by their higher ups in terms of their job performance. You may want to get your parents and the parents of the girl who might be frightened out of taking the course next year to contact Mrs. Crocker about that. I would also ask the 6000-8000 people who read this blog daily to send encouraging emails on this to:
    Sample email: Mrs. Crocker, thank you for your work in helping us in Jeffco align with the new state standards. As I understand them, please correct me if I am wrong, discourage language classes that primarily teach grammar. Rather, they want kids to learn what the language sounds like, what it means when they hear it, so that they can read and write it better, and then understand grammar that way, as a result of hearing it a lot first. The second year French program at Lakewood IB program apparently does not do that. Could you please look into that so that the teacher involved complies with the new (Dec. 2009) state standards? There is concern that those standards won’t be implemented by many Colorado teachers of foreign languages, and we want to avoid that. After all, legislation is legislation. Enough tax dollars are wasted in Colorado, so let’s not add this to the pile.

  2. First of all, Kaley, I just want you to know how much I admire you, your courage in speaking out for the best practices in second language acquisition and your vision …which in turn empowers super teachers such as Ben Slavic to continue in his own practice which will change the way in which second languages are taught not only nationally but internationally. And what is the goal…really? We all just want to communicate with one another…and if we achieve that goal…understanding messages in basic language which in turn lead to understanding cultural differences…perhaps we will get closer to the common goal….”World Peace”? Really is this just silly or is it real? And how do we get there? Through a common understanding of human nature and respect of differences. Thanks Kaley! You are a Rock Star! We need stories that relate to the personal experience…what else works? xxxooo diana

  3. Kaley, I wish you the best of luck in your REVOLUTION. It takes courage and guts. While you face this teacher who has made it clear this will be a fight on her part, stay cool. Stay professional. Sometimes you’ll have to bite your tongue in front of this person, sometimes you’ll can forge ahead. Stay calm so you know which is the best answer. You have shown again and again that you are very capable of choosing your words and ‘battles’ carefully! Bravo!
    Lots of people are behind you, some will help openly and some behind the scenes. There are fellow students, parents and those teachers in your school who support you, not to mention all of us here that have been following your amazing adventure! Petitions can help too. You have done this with grace and style. In the end, I know you will prevail.

  4. Right on, Carol. And, Kaley, what I really like is that you responded to that French teacher’s English with French. As much as you can, keep that up and encourage others to do the same. There’s certainly nothing impolite about that. Of course, I understand that it will be very hard for you to maintain and advance your own spoken French if she herself will only communicate with you in English.

  5. Hang in there Kaley. Don’t fight fire with fire; use water. We teachers have this annoying habit of rewarding our students for what we are good at personally. Your new teacher likely has had success learning French by working through what she experienced to be a “rigourous process” of hard work and drudgery, and likely expects that that is the only way to go about it. Keep showing your way. Keep showing your enjoyment and success that comes from doing what you know.

  6. So many of us get so much resistance for using stories to teach language! It doesn’t even make sense. But you handled it beautifully. I liked the way you showed support for your new teacher, while still standing up for what you believe in. That speaks volumes to the other people in the building. If it gets rough next year and starts to wear on you, remember that you’re not alone! A line from a Russian song that inspires me is something like “you can’t trample the soul with boots.” So don’t let this get you down. keep your vision. You will triumph.
    You are an inspiration.

  7. Vive la revolution! Much like freedom, I think that the joy of learning and communicating is hard to deny. You, your current teacher, and your lunchgroup are beautiful examples of what can and should happen. I can only hope that some of my MS students will carry some of the story forward into their (so far) traditional high school, like you have done. Your story is so powerful–you are so powerful.

  8. I got a follow-up email from Kaley yesterday – she told me that her group has decided to meet throughout the summer. How cool is that? A bunch of kids getting together to practice a foreign language. I need to remember to ask her how the use of computer translators, wordreference.com, etc. might affect them as they work together.
    I got an illustrated children’s book (for an art class) from one of my students today. It was a big riff on an Anne Matava story we had recently done. The sense of jsut plain wanting to do the book was in there in the same way that there is a sense of wanting to learn with one’s peers in Kaley’s summer plans.
    Connecting this to what Matthew Valdez (Stephen) said about a month ago about the use of translators and computer technology in classes (if it exists, the kids will find it and use it), the student who wrote the children’s book wrote to me, when she emailed to me her book:
    ” There are probably a lot of grammar errors, but hopefully not too many spelling errors because I changed my spell check to French and one of my family members helped me with some translations.”
    Or it could have been an electronic translator helping her on the translations. My point is this. When kids like Kaley start getting together to learn almost in spite of their teachers, when my story book writer does that because she is a terrific visual artist and simply wants to connect it to what she is learning in my French I class this year (the text blew my mind and proved Krashen’s ideas in a way I have not yet experienced – these kids – not all but you know the ones I mean – REALLY can write!), and when kids start learning from twexted music passages (I’ll fill in the blanks on that one in the next few months – talk about compelling CI!), then we know that we really are in a revolution. We really are.

  9. What an amazing individual you are K, to not only be able to change adult minds on this controversial issue of CI, but to convince your peers that learning a language via conversation and stories is worthwhile and enjoyable. The latter may be much easier because students are acting “in spite of” their teachers.
    I had a reaction like this today from a few students in my all girls class. While doing part 3 of your effortless block lesson plan Ben, the part in which they repeat after us, a student said, “Why are we doing this?” with obvious attitude. Because I am kind of at the end of my rope with this sub-group of the class and nothing ever seems to please them, I told them that they should teach themselves the language by writing their own stories individually using the words we were working with. Those 5 girls didn’t make a peep the entire time, but just sat there writing away, pages, about someone chewing with their mouths open or closed, I assume, IN SPITE OF my plan to simply create an oral story with the group in an easy, relaxed way. It was the easiest story ever with the 11 girls who DID want to do the story “my” way. My point is that they were completely engaging themselves for almost an hour without my interference, even if I disagree with their approach. They even discussed their stories on the way out of class. Would they have done this work if I had let them lie their heads down and take a nap, probably not, but still…
    Ben, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on twexting and how/if you think it can work in public schools. Duke is showing that it works down in Mexico. I’d like to see some output samples of some of his students, maybe some video. I think he’s working on it. Duke?

  10. Duke was actually here in Denver yesterday and we met. He told me about some footage – haven’t seen it yet – in which some kids in San Miguel can be seen literally hang out – glued to the twext text – I’m not sure what it’s actually called but it’s cool – or I guess tout simplement le twext, and not even knowing an hour has gone by as they try to decipher the visual booklet (so small and handy – really cool!) and match it with the YouTube song it’s about.
    So I know that some video of student response to twexting exists. He told me September. But that’s for the online part. For me, all I want for my students is a set of 35 twextbooks and my LCD to play the song and he said he would get me the first song much sooner than September, so I can quit talking a big ball game about doing CI from music and actually do it. Now that will be CI that is compelling because it will TAG INTO EMOTION, and not just emotion, but THEIR EMOTION! I have a blog from Jody about generating CI that tags into emotions – it’ll be up here soon. In it, she gives example of how we can choose questions that make it compelling and not just meaningful, if I can say that. Moving the CI into COMPELLING CI is happening now, I can feel it. Oh, and Duke told me yesterday that we could pick a song for the kids and we would be wrong every time. THEY pick the song and it gets twexted and then off they go, glued to THEIR song. I hope I’m accurate on all this, but that’s what I got from talking to Duke in the “Paris on the Platte” coffee shop (for real!) where we downed a pitcher of iced tea, where everything is for the best in this best of all possible states, Colorado.

  11. Twextbooks? Sounds way too much like textbooks… no me gusta. Plus, how can you contain the songs they are interested in within a book, unless it is created at the end of the year by them?

  12. Duke had to send me this bc it had too many links but here it is Jim:
    Thanks Jim for your interest. Ben, great to see you yesterday, you missed a fun party. I’m off to see Dave French right now, he says hi =).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wi5_iOG8NpU is a quick video. Click my name above and you’ll find more videos. These videos and me, maybe we suck. But my learners, they rock and roll and rule. They’re teaching me everything. They’re boss.
    At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiF59GV7Xeg they’re saying they use each twext for an hour or so, 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, adding up to an hour. Review. Repeat until bored. Search “twexter” on youtube to watch’em do it a little.
    The twexts fit into pocket, easy for quick review, wherever. Instant easy casual portable FVR. With each repeat review, the learners focus more and more and the new text, with less and less need to refocus on the faint twext translation between the L2 text. So they get more and more CI in authentic L2.
    But that doesn’t really matter. CI may be way overrated on this flog. What really matters is that they care about the Input their getting. They wanna know more.
    In the México lab, they’re caring about their input they get because they choose the songs. They wanna know more about the story in the song. They are the ones asking and owning the questions: what does this song say? What is it saying? How is this song my mirror? Who cares about this song? How does it feel?
    Many of the songs they’ve told me to twext are great. It’s been fun for me to learn from them. “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi, “Complicated” Avril Lavigne etc. Cool. But my judgment or approval isn’t really relevant. What do they care about some old guy’s musical taste? It’s their story. They are the boss.
    When the twext tool works well enough (September), it’ll be pretty easy for learners anywhere to twext their own songs directly, then improve the twexts in language exchange contexts (like lang-8.com etc). Twext’ll be testable between many language pairs. So we learners can find each other and teach each other and we’ll grow together.
    For a little more depth on how we’re using songs in Mexico to learn language, basically we’re just trying to talk about what the song says. Less focus on the language, more focus on the message.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5C_SVdtwWc shows my teacher Alexis making great strides in spoken output. It’s what he wants, to speak and improve pronunciation. He’s my boss, so I’m helping him as best I can. His only job is to tell me when he doesn’t understand. Otherwise, we just talk with simple language, and I try to circle slow as needed. We just try to understand each other and say what we feel.
    Maybe it’s anomalous but we’re getting results. The key result for me is proof that focus on songs are turning a formerly dreaded subject like ESL in México into a free voluntary practice which learners enjoy. That’s a good place to start.

  13. Can someone help me to understand what exactly is “twexting”? How (in one paragraph or less, please, if possible) does it replace spoken language and help people to learn to speak and understand language when they hear it. Or is it a replacement for reading longer texts? I didn’t read the original posts on the subject very carefully, so now I am completely lost. Thanks for any help you can offer.

  14. Wow! I just went ad read about twext – it looks like it’s exactly what we propose in TPRS anyway, just made more accessible now. The primary text is in the target language, and beneath that, in a smaller and grayed-out font is the translation, but by hcunks of language, not word-by word. It looks really fun, and I would like to play with it a bit. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  15. I’m also curious Duke, at what level your students are. Do you have experience with this with any true beginners?
    Thanks for the further explanation!

  16. Jim, the lab kids are beginners, in that they’re beginning to care about and enjoy the most basic vocal control of English, in their own terms. They’re about 15 yrs old. In their 3 years of public school grammar ESL they learned not to like English at all. In 3-6 weeks of delyric/twext/storyasking lab work, they’ve learned like English, and they have a practice they can continue using to like/know more and more English.
    So the answer is a qualified “yes”, this works with beginners, if they like music and songs and lyrics.
    We’re actively targeting some key output, so they can control basic messages like “stop”, “i don’t get it”, “what?” etc; so the kids can boss me and other English speakers around them. So they can be the boss of their own English learning. We’re also acutely focused on their dominion over of all question words, so they can ask their own questions. We focus on very popular well-known songs, so they’re interested in the messengers and the messages.
    Jody, I’ll get a simple overview video to explain twext soon. For now, it’s simple: twext is translation supported FVR your students can use in and out of class. There’s an extensive definition of twext or “chunk translation” and the twext tool here: http://twext.com/AligningChunkTranslations

  17. Duke and I met in 2007 at the Denver National TPRS Convention and since then we’ve “ben duking” it out on many aspects of language acquisition (get the double name pun there?… hee hee…). I think I had the best argument of my life with Duke on the back porch of my house a few years back. Fire.
    Duke holds that, no matter how much we think we are the master of ceremonies in the classroom, we are not. The kids are. Twext is just one aspect of that view of language acquisition, one more way – but a real way – to get them to read with a deep gut level interest that we could only hope to achieve as teachers.
    That is why I am interested in Duke’s work. In my personal and no longer private opinion, the notion of the wonderful storytelling teacher who commands and controls the kids’ rapt attention as new and fantastic details emerge in the story is not tenable. If it were, it would be all over every school by now.
    Especially lately on this blog, we have seen storytelling morphing into a very highly student centered series of comprehension based activities. And output isn’t such a horrible word any more, either. Comprehension based activities that grab kids have recently been shown here by Michele, Laurie, and I love the vignette told by Jim here yesterday about that group of snotty girls who, in spite of themselves, stayed focused on Spanish for an hour because what they were doing was ABOUT THEM.
    Let’s face it, there are as many versions of comprehension based instruction as there are teachers who have authentically studied Dr. Krashen’s work. I keep calling it an expanding galaxy and we are all stars in it – thousands of stars with new ones forming every day – each doing the best we can to honor the new commonly accepted fact that we can no longer teach kids languages as we used to.
    I will always do stories, of course – TPRS is a good way to do comprehensible input and, besides, I have those awesome Matava scripts so that even a klutz like me can make a story work. But I am more and more fascinated by how reading can engender really high quality CI in my classes. And Duke’s stuff is about reading; it is about a kid being riveted to a text so that when that is done, the kid naturally and enthusiastically wants to talk about it with anyone nearby who might be fluent in that language, even a teacher!

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