ACTFL Might Be Serious

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11 thoughts on “ACTFL Might Be Serious”

  1. Yes! I saw this as well, encouraging news.
    Here’s my question:
    How do state standards (which don’t have the 90% TL guideline, at least here in California) and the ACTFL standards relate? Are CA teachers obliged to follow the ACTFL guidelines and stds? I was told by the local HS principal that his teachers only are required to follow the CA stds, so the ACTFL 90% guideline doesn’t apply (!). Can anyone comment on this relationship?

  2. Hi Ben,

    Here are the two comments I made under “Hammer Needed”:

    1. To answer Ben Lev’s questions:
    -the CA State Standards do not have any percentage statement in them
    -CA teachers are expected to teach to the State standards, not the national standards; the 90% statement isn’t even in the national standards, it’s in a position statement about “best practices”

    There is also nothing that says a school or district cannot require teachers to go beyond the standards, e.g. put a 95% target language goal in place. In many ways the standards are minimums. Unfortunately, most people perceive them as maximums, i.e. if I “teach to the standard” I have done everything I need to do.

    In Standards=Based Grading, that attitude is likely to get you an assessment of Basic. “I did everything you told me I had to do and nothing more.” Then the question is, “How well did you do it?” If someone meets all of the standards well, then you might give them a Proficient rating, but most teachers who have that attitude will have deficiencies in how well they perform. A teacher will never be Advanced (read “Highly Qualified”) unless he goes beyond the standards – just as students must go beyond what we emphasize in class to be considered Advanced.

    I really like Jody’s statement:
    Shouldn’t it just be: Instruction shall be delivered in the target language and shall be comprehensible to the student at all times.

    2. The answer to Ben Lev’s fourth question is in the first paragraph of the CA Standards:

    In order to succeed in the 21st century, today’s students need to develop linguistic and cultural literacy, including academic knowledge, proficiency in English, and functional proficiency in several of the world’s languages and cultures. The ability to communicate in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways in a variety of settings will ensure success i global community and increase intercultural cooperation and economic opportunity. As a result of linguistically and culturally appropriate language use, students will emily linguistic systems in a variety of global networks while carrying out a wide range of interactions. We can no longer afford simply to learn about languages and cultures but rather, we must provide students with opportunities to learn languages and cultures by participating in communicative interactions that prepare for real-world language use and global citizenship.

    From the glossary:
    real-world: Behaviors that occur in the target culture

    The CA Standards definitely imply less focus on explicit grammar instruction, unless someone can show that this represents “behaviors that occur in the target culture” (i.e. discussing their grammar in a different language) and that it contributes to learning the language rather than learning about the language.

    Emphases are in the original document.

    **New comment**
    3. How would the principal react if all of the teachers in the school started “teaching to the contract”? By that I mean things like:
    -no meetings of any kind outside the contractual hours
    -no coverage of another teacher’s class unless required by the contract
    -no grading or lesson preparation outside contractual hours
    -no helping administrators with things like covering detention unless required by the contract
    -no coming in early
    -no staying late
    -no volunteering to be on committees
    -minimal involvement in accreditation process (only what is absolutely required by the contract)

    I can guarantee you that administrators would brand that kind of faculty as “uncooperative” and “difficult” and, no matter what their public statements, would complain in private that these teachers were not doing their job.

    While this principal is technically correct that the 90% guideline “doesn’t apply” as part of the requirements of the State Standards, he is totally ignoring the ethical component of any endeavor. As ethical professionals, we are required to give our students the best education of which we are capable given our circumstances. If there is a known “best practice” that is key to the teaching of my content area (as using the target language key to learning the language and not just learning about it), and I willfully disregard it, I am being unethical. Since we teach more by example than by precept, is this principal comfortable teaching students to disregard known facts, wise counsel and “best practices” for the sake of their own comfort or ease? Will he exhibit the same equanimity when students decide to ignore his advice to them?

    (I know, I’ve probably overstated the case, but I genuinely believe that deliberately giving students less than the best is unethical to say the least.)

    Anyway, keep going back to the opening statement of the California State Standards and ask the principal and teacher to explain to you just how learning about Spanish in English accomplishes the stated goal of learning Spanish.

    1. I have a PowerPoint from Brandon Zaslow, one of the key writers of the CA Standards. In the PowerPoint, Brandon writes:
      As “content” rather than “performance” standards, California identifies what will be taught and asks schools and districts to determine the speed and emphasis for learning based on local needs and goals

      The CA Standards also contain this paragraph in the introduction:
      Real-world communication occurs in a variety of ways. It may be interpersonal in which culturally appropriate listening, reading, viewing, speaking, signing, and writing occur as a shared activity among language users. It may be interpretive in which language users listen, view, and read using knowledge of cultural products, practices, and perspectives. It may be presentational in which speaking, signing, and writing occur in culturally appropriate ways.

      Ask the principal and teacher how the use of English facilitates any of those three modes of communication. (We both know that limited, targeted use of English does facilitate this, but you don’t have to tell the principal that.)

      From the “Communication” section of the Standards:
      In order to achieve communicative competence, students convey and receive
      messages effectively. Students actively use language to transmit meaning while responding to real situations. Moreover, they process language in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways while interacting with a wide variety of audiences. As they progress along the Language Learning Continuum, students engage in communication that is age and stage appropriate.

      The subsection lists what students do in communication. The only thing that changes in this section is the kind of language used.
      Students use:
      formulaic / created / planned / extended language in the various stages.
      In each stage they
      1 Engage in oral and written conversations
      2 Interpret written, spoken and signed (ASL) language
      3 Present to an audience of listeners, readers and ASL viewers

      The elephant in the room that is, unfortunately, not stated specifically, is that this communication is in the target language. Ask the principal and teacher to explain to you just how teaching about the language in English meets the CA Standard for communication.

      BTW, the remaining communication standards vary depending on stage. I’ll list the ones for Stage I (Novice) because I think they are a good reminder for us that what we are doing in TCI is dead on:
      4. List, name, identify, enumerate
      5. Identify learned words, signs (ASL) and phrases in authentic texts.
      6. Reproduce and present a written, oral or signed (ASL) product in a culturally authentic way.

      Notice that there is no indication that students at this level/stage are producing on their own. They are identifying and re-producing.

      Hope this helps, Ben. Don’t let the principal use the CA Standards as a cop-out. Ask him and the teacher to explain to you how what is happening in the classroom meets this communication standard and represents a “best practice”. (One of the current buzz words in my district)

      1. One more thought, while I’m at it, on the relationship of the 90% position statement to the Standards.

        The CA Standards are, as noted above, content standards. The 90% position is a statement from the parent organization for teaching foreign language in the US that this is the “best practice” for accomplishing the goals of the standards.

        So ask the principal why he encourages his teachers to ignore “best practices”. If he tries to tell you he doesn’t, keep going back to his rejection of 90%, which is a “best practices” statement from the parent organization. He is in fact – no matter what he says – encouraging his teachers to ignore “best practices”.

        (I keep putting the term in quotes because of its buzz word status.)

  3. Word!

    This was the impetus I needed (not to mention a day of no students) to contact my local college’s Education Office director. Done. Hope I get the chance to present to them about this!

  4. They will say the same thing they always have and will believe it to their core–also believing that it does NOT conflict with standards:

    Students need to learn the structure (grammar) of the language first and consciously. They need to be able to name the grammar and spout out verb endings at machine-gun speed. Then, they will be able to consciously put the pieces together to speak and write. Ergo: the easiest way to “learn” the structure is by having it explained in English. (They also believe that if students knew how to do this in English, they would be better speakers and writers of their first language.)

    Reductionist theory FL theory at its best.

    Without dismantling this fundamental paradigm, I don’t see how this behemoth will ever change. 90% won’t do it. Logical argument won’t do it. I can’t tell you how many very-well “educated”, powerful people stand by this way of thinking about how classes should be organized.

    1. Jody,
      Are you sure you’re not a Latin teacher? You have just nailed the core of their arguments and justifications for bad language pedagogy. It’s refreshing to know I’m not the only one facing these obstacles, but disheartening to know how common this attitude is even among teachers of modern languages. The one thing that even the most open-minded teachers in my community can’t seem to let go of is forced production during the first year, the notion that output gives rise to output. It also impresses administrators to have students spouting Latin phrases, regardless of whether or not they understand what they are saying. How do we dismantle the paradigm when people are not willing to hear the research or see the results?

  5. Jody, what you describe is what sucks the life out of us as TCI teachers. There is truly a dark and powerful force out there. The key as Jim has alluded to is, I think, the colleges. Maybe happy parents and kids play a roll. I think too that the more young professionals who see the light with the method and pick up the mantel will gradually improve the situation. May I live to see it:) BTW did anyone notice the price of these webinars? Steep.

  6. What IS different is that students from CI classes are happy and successful AND are able to use the language long after class ends. I cannot tell you how many students in the past 10 years have come back and told me about an incident many years after Spanish in which they were able to utilize their HS Spanish. That NEVER happened before TPRS, in my room anyway!!

    CI programs also grow in size. Other programs are shrinking. This expansion may be slow, but mathematically at least, it gives me hope. :o)

    with love,

  7. Robert: You rock! I’ll re-read your comments a few more times before I start or organize my next steps. There are about 15 families at my daughter’s school who are equally concerned…

    …I was going to say “livid” but I’m trying to filter the anger out of my voice — it doesn’t help. I need a rigorous, reasoned, and civil approach to this project or it won’t work. I don’t know why but I am honestly pissed about this, the mediocrity, the way it demeans our profession and ruins so many kids chances to be be multi-lingual….

    …where was I: Thanks!!! Robert, I’m very encouraged.

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