A Dog

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17 thoughts on “A Dog”

  1. I had a moment in class last week that this post reminds me of. My admin wants me to align with ACTFL. The thing about ACTFL is they have perfectly fine performance indicators that could be used to build a broad curriculum free of an emphasis on skills-building, but then ACTFL’s Can-Do statements seem to support skill-building and memorization. And my administrator is really pushing me to use the Can-Do statements. So I’m being pressured and then I am sorry to report that I fed that pressure to my students.

    I thought, “Hey I will have them work with a partner to see if they can do these things: ask a question, introduce someone. Well, 98% of them did all I asked them to with no sweat. You could actually see that they were proud of themselves. But two boys struggled. They were nervous and their accents were terrible. Granted, these two boys struggle with attending to the class’ input. But are they not doing their best from WHERE THEY ARE their young lives? Have they not acquired what they are able to? These two boys cared far more about their partners’ and tablemates’ efforts to control their mirth at their expense, than they did about any checkbox in French. I swore in that moment that never again would I assess children in that way, where they could feel wrong and especially be put on the spot in front of their peers.

    Then another question comes up – if they have not yet acquired the skill then what are they supposed to do? Memorize the language to support it?

    Well, let us just be perfectly clear – that is conscious learning. Any time we ask the students to perform conscious learning, it brings in questions of inequity, the same inequities that plague the entire school system. Some kids are faster memorizers. They will be favored by an assessment of their conscious learning. Others have more stable family lives and more time and support to memorize, and thus again they are favored in a memorization assessment. Others are not working through the challenge of a learning difference or slower memories, so they are again favored.

    I believe that holding kids to conscious skills widens the achievement gap and has no place in a district like Portland Public Schools whose stated mission is to eliminate the persistent race-aligned achievement gap. It also has no place in a comprehension classroom (Angie Dodd I am in love with that term) where the goal is to level the playing field and honor the natural ability of our brains to build linguistic competence.

    I am not sure HOW I will be using the I-Can statements to make my administrator happy, but it will NOT be in the form that I did that day. It deeply affected me that I put that task in front of those two boys. It felt like malpractice, especially since I knew when putting it in front of the class that it was not the best practices and also that I was only doing it because I was told to and did not stand up to my admin. Not one of my finest moments, and a reminder that even small amounts of forced output, even if it seems “easy” to us and to the rest of the class, even that can be hurtful to some students. I was so sad to see the truth about those I-Can statements – skill-building conscious learning targets that narrow the curriculum. They made me, a teacher who is 100% committed to providing the purest CI possible, to force output and make at least two kids feel that they are “not good at French”. Never again; I will take low marks on my evaluation before I will do that in class again.

    So, how to use the I-Can statements in a different way?

      1. I did say comprehension classroom. I feel like I got that from Eric. I like communicative classroom too. Maybe comprehension-based, communicative classroom. Hmmmm…..

    1. Tina, go on Justin Slocum Bailey’s blog! He has a post on this topic: how to use can-do statements. It would be worth sending that to your admin. bc in the post he explains that the indicators are simply that…indicators. They are not to be practiced. You don’t get to intermediate mid by practing the indicator. You get to intermediate mid when you have acquired enough language to perform spontaneously in the way that is described. I will go find you the link.

      1. Great point, Jen.
        Similarly, it was pointed out at ACTFL that proficiency is a goal, it is not a method.

        This past summer I heard a lot of people talking about “proficiency-based.” Proficiency is an end, a direction, a target, a milestone.
        So it got me to thinking and I starting to sign off with the following: “Comprehension-based. Proficiency-oriented.”

    2. I feel like ACTFL has been pretty clear that the I Can statements are just suggestions, and that we are encouraged to make up our own. I think Martina Bex blogged about that.

    3. Here are the two Can-Do s that Carol used in a demo:
      1. I can say how someone runs and where to
      2. I can state one thing that someone wants to do.

      I find it easy to imagine these in the context of a story. These Can-Do s do not give the level of text complexity. They could be word/phrase level, simple sentence, or complex sentence.

  2. Tina you nailed it here:

    …if they have not yet acquired the skill then what are they supposed to do?….

    I guess they are supposed to realize that they are not going to be any good at French. Just like they should, right? They have to be told that. That’s how the system works, right? Maybe if they just “worked a little harder” and “took it more seriously”….

  3. And of course they were boys. Let’s not even go there, to the suffering of boys in schools, unless we can change it. No more talk. If we are to reach those boys and really all the kids in a real way then let’s not talk any more or do studies about how boys suffer in a unique way in schools, let’s just fricking do something about how we teach so we can help alleviate their suffering. I am very glad you wrote the above comment, Tina. It is chock full of true things. Chock full, Jerry!

  4. Tina you are so brilliant. Challenging the status quo on points like the Can Do statements is necessary if we are to implement real reform. The way you are fighting on behalf of the kids and not on behalf of any system is admirable.

  5. I keep thinking back to what Krista said about the 5 to 7 kids controlling the classroom. Tina you are doing well to get MOST of your students involved. But, as you say, they are not actually involved. It’s just a little show. A fake show because it is steeped in conscious monitoring of the language as output far sooner than they can actually produce authentic (unconscious) speech, as you point out above.

    Please note that those two boys would be considered by most traditional storytelling teachers as “collateral damage” and dismissed as lazy. What you are aiming at, and I can almost hear the arrow whizzing by my head when you let it go, is to make sure that you teach in a way that honors everyone in the classroom, not just those 5 to 7 kids.

    Most people don’t think that teaching in that way is possible. But I know it is. I know it from working with you this summer, and with Mike Peto and Dave Ganahl and Elena Overvold and Steven Ordiano and all those other wonderful people. We can fight on behalf of those two boys. We can and we will.

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