A Question for the Group

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19 thoughts on “A Question for the Group”

  1. Your question about what to do when you and this colleague have grouped students at the same level is a serious one. The crux of the problem lies in the area of summative assessment. The larger answer to it is that ultimately the students and parents will decide.
    This kind of thing can’t be ignored in the larger community of a school. The only leg that your colleague has to stand on, the only things keeping her sinking ship still afloat, are the skewed memorization based results her students are getting on summative assessments.
    Since we are allowing our kids to be tested in the henhouse guarded by the foxes, the traditional teachers will keep thinking that their kids are stacking up o.k. against ours. But the truth is otherwise. Eric could write a book on just this topic.
    Unfortunately, there is no way to come to terms with what your colleague is doing, so don’t try. It is your colleague who now must change. Even in recent years, such colleagues could intimidate us into doing what they wanted. But they can’t do that anymore. What they do has been found to be very weak in terms of student gains and student engagement. Their well is dry.
    Languages are not acquired via memorization, and what our students know, planted under the ground but not yet in bloom yet, or even a sprig, cannot be measured. But at least a seed is there under the ground. In traditional grammar classes, because the students don’t hear the language enough, there is no seed even there.
    So is there any kind of common ground or common assessment possible, where the two of you would agree on some sort of compromise? I don’t think so. The person who needs to change is not you, because you are teaching for fluency and they are not.
    Wait for them, help them, encourage them, find school money for them to get to conferences, but don’t try to change their thinking. In my view it is best to react to their closed minds with open heart. Your colleague is the one who must now change.

    1. This is so relevant to my current situation and Ben nailed it.
      Our goals are different, our methods and curriculums are different, and our outcomes are different. So long as they get to match tests to their goals, methods, and curriculum, then our kids’ true abilities are not measured. Ironically, our kids still do okay on traditional tests, but the reverse would not be true. Give a textbook-taught kid a test demanding comprehension under fluency conditions and see our kids DOMINATE.
      I am in fact considering writing something on this issue this summer (more of a pamphlet than a book). Actually, I’ve written most of it already in various places and just need to put it all together.
      TCI/TPRS goal: proficiency AND fluency in the aural/oral mode at ALL levels (in layman’s terms: have a spontaneous and effortless conversation).
      Look at the proficiency guidelines and you’ll see that fluency with the level-appropriate language is not expected at every level. That’s where our goals differ from ACTFL. We don’t expect kids to wait until they’re Int-Mid+ to be able to fluently use the language. We want MICRO-fluency at every step of the way.
      Even when just assessing proficiency, if your high school program is not doing anything unique to these 117 schools in 21 different states (2010), then you can expect similar results (only 6% of students who make it level 4 reach Int-Mid speaking). And this used the STAMP test, which I’ve heard is also biased to some of the more textbook topic stuff, i.e. that 6% may have been even smaller.
      casls.uoregon.edu/pdfs/tenquestions/TBQHoursToReachIH.pdf
      If you remember Arnold from the ACTFL battle in October, he is an ACTFL-certified tester, designer of the AAPPL test, presents for ACTFL on proficiency and he told me that teachers tell him all the time that their kids are such-and-such a proficiency when in reality the students are below that level. Teachers haven’t been well-educated in assessing, nor teaching for proficiency.
      Traditional goal: language knowledge (not use), editing, written mode – fluency & proficiency are afterthoughts, secondary to knowing the vocabulary lists and grammar rules
      TCI/TPRS aligns with ACTFL much better than traditional textbook instruction and we have the ACTFL documents to back that up.
      I’ve found that the traditional guard falls back on the WEAK argument that their instruction prepares kids for college. All kinds of flaws there:
      1. Ask teachers to put their goals in terms of what they want kids to be able TO KNOW or TO DO with the language.
      2. The TPRS vs. Traditional comparative studies have been done with all kinds of tests and actually not even the best tests for measuring our students’ gains.
      3. In Dec 2014 IJFLT we see a study in which TPRS taught students increase at a much faster rate on the webCAPE (a college entrance exam given at many colleges) http://www.ijflt.org/images/ijflt/IJFLT-Dec2014/Roberts-CALA-Test-Scores.pdf
      4. College foreign language teachers speak entirely in the target language. Kids with better comprehension will be best prepared.
      5. How many kids actually major in the foreign language? How many have to take a foreign language in college? How many are even going to college?
      6. And for sake of argument, let’s assume colleges do want kids to know the grammar language and base grades on grammatical accuracy. . . then you can teach all that in the upper levels (labeling what they already know and showing them another way to think about it).

      1. Robert Harrell

        Last Thursday evening was my school’s Open House. During the evening a couple of former students stopped by. One of them is currently at a nearby university and taking German. His professor is an expert on Schiller – truly, if you want to know anything about this German poet, he is the man to ask. My student related that they were discussing a poem, and the professor was doing a comprehension check – only the professor momentarily forgot the English translation of a word. He was totally amazed when my former student supplied it, because we had used it when talking about a Christmas Carol I taught my students. Needless to say, my former student was “stoked”.

  2. What a timely post. We did our student learning objectives (SLO) today. I’m the only CI teacher in my department (I’m just a few months into this TPRS/CI adventure after reading Chris Stolz’s blog, and I just signed up for a Blaine Ray three-day workshop this summer). The department decided to do an IPA for our SLO to gauge how much our students have acquired to date, but we don’t count it for a grade. There’s way too much emphasis on production (both writing and speaking) in my opinion for first and second year Spanish. The current infatuation with IPAs is almost as bad as the obsession with only using “authentic resources.”
    My classroom is next to a traditional grammar grinder. We were both doing the interpersonal communication parts of our IPAs outside in the hall so that the kids didn’t have to speak in front of their peers. For how much of a ball buster this other teacher is on taking off points for missing accents on “estar” and missing/incorrect indirect object pronouns, I would need four hands to count how many times I heard “Yo soy quince años.” from his Spanish 2 kids, while my Spanish 1 kids were correctly using verbs that they’ve heard and seen a lot in class, even though they have never memorized them on a conjugation chart. Today was a great validating moment of the merits of TCI for me because even though I had to do something that coerced spoken output, I was able to see that my classes can yield higher proficiency without the memorization, homework, or crushed souls of a communicative/grammar-focused class.

    1. …I was able to see that my classes can yield higher proficiency without the memorization, homework, or crushed souls of a communicative/grammar-focused class….
      Crushed souls. Wow. Yup. Such a term would have been attacked in our buildings before as histrionic and overly dramatic. It’s not. It’s an accurate statement and not dramatic at all.

      1. I have 3 or 4 in Chinese 2 this year, in fact. I have hoped for each of them to find success this year, to show they can acquire another language, and each has shown improvement. Sometimes there are sparkles but it’s mostly still rather sad in class for them.
        (Why aren’t there any crushed souls in Chinese 3 or 4? Because they stopped taking the language after year 2.)

    2. Great story Marc! We need these stories. And welcome to the PLC!! Yeah, Chrisz’ blog is great!
      (Hey Chris, I shared your Waldorf/TPRS comparison with the teachers at my son’s “Waldorf-inspired” preschool… they’re all friends and great people and found the connection to what we do in L2 and what they are trying to with L1 development a pretty cool connection. I’m really glad you wrote that!)

  3. Is it possible to explain to other (legacy) teachers that there’s nothing wrong with teaching grammar and how to talk about structures, once those structures have been ACQUIRED? This is the way grammar is taught to native speakers. It’s all about putting names and labels to things that are already spontaneous and natural.

    1. “This is the way grammar is taught to native speakers.”
      Judy,
      That is one of the many insights that our new Latin teacher walked away with from Laurie’s presentation. It was so refreshing to have my colleague tell this to me (instead of me trying to help her see it). She probably needed to hear it in the course of Laurie’s presentation and in conversation with John Bracey. She is also reconsidering the whole X# of chapters in a year thing. I am amazed.

    2. This is how it seems to be over all areas of our ed systems… one example I noticed the other day while subbing in a 4th grade English classroom… learning about genres and character development and all that BEFORE having devoured those genres and acquired their characteristics. Bored the hell out of the kids. Pry made them think that reading science fiction was laborious and baggage-heavy. Same thing happens in math classes, chemistry, foods (to a lesser extent), etc… we teach to the left brain way too prematurely. This is of course my opinion.
      With FL, what we do, you’re right Judy, it’s pointless to explain it until it has been acquired (unless you have 100% of 4%ers…)

  4. Great point Judy. But in my heart I applaud those teachers, the teacher I was for 24 years. Why? Because can you imagine being so talented as to be able to learn a language without hearing it? Just by looking at how the words of the language fit together on paper? That’s pretty badass. But only a few people can do that. Most need to hear it first. So I had to change. I’m glad I did. It’s more fun.

  5. http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Can-Do_Statements.pdf
    My experience with speaking to colleagues about acquisition has not been very successful over the years. I have learned a lot on my journey. One thing that I try to stay focused on are the results of student learning.
    TPRS and TCI just has better results in almost all ways. This year our district was BIG on incorporating “learning targets” in all classrooms. They wanted us to write I CAN statements. This did not go over well with veteran teachers. However, ACTFL’s I CAN statements really shines some light on the shortcomings of traditional language learning classrooms.
    I think ACTFL language and resources can be used to the advantage of the TPRS teacher to have conversations about the results of student learning. That is what all this is about…STUDENTS.
    As I have learned from spending time with Joe Nielson…I will challenge any traditional teacher to show better results than those from a TPRS classroom. I have filmed hundreds of students, saved writing samples for multiple years, and record my lessons, and share results with anyone…guess how many colleagues are willing to do the same? In 5 years, it has been ZERO.
    (okay sorry…that was a bit of a rant).
    The I can statements can get conversations moving in the right direction. They come from a more “objective” source. Good luck!

      1. Whoa Ben…that was a great discussion! I loved what everyone was sharing…I will be going back to read more.
        I don’t ever mean to advocate for a grammar syllabus or semantic sets in the traditional sense.
        Much of this discussion in the above links reminds me of some of things discussed in the ACTFL battle of 2014. I like this statement from Eric…
        “…the Can Dos stink of semantic vocabulary sets (traditional themes). We have research that shows that teaching vocabulary in related sets (vertical instruction) is less efficient than horizontal vocabulary instruction. We do get to a lot of these semantic sets during a year of TCI, although mastering the semantic set may not be our goal.”
        I think we might agree that the ACTFL I can statements “STINK” of semantic sets as well. This doesn’t mean our kids aren’t proficient at using vocabulary and grammar that can be found in thematic units. I am never afraid of meeting other communicative compentency standards because I rarely find “advanced” students being competent. I see Honors type of students competent in the moment but try asking them a week later and their perfromnace dwindles quickly:)

  6. Good points all. My colleague Leanda’s level 3 French kids pump out 800-word, 3-tense stories while our “communicative” colleagues’ kids write shitty 100 word info paragraphs. Her 3s CRUSH the 4s by any standard…including orally…DESPITE NOT HAVING TO “PRACTISE” Talking ???????? Soul crushing indeed.
    Ppl who don’t want to learn, won’t. My dept head and neighbour have both said “I’ll never do TPRS” and have refused free demos. Lame. Ignore the whiners and do as Harell sez: show them RESULTS.

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