Bizarro ACTFL Article

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11 thoughts on “Bizarro ACTFL Article”

  1. Wow. I wish she’d had more of a focus. Instead she keeps dashing off in different directions. I wonder whether she has taught languages in the past. Robert’s voice comes through loud and clear if you’re one of the Storytelling community, but she separates out the pieces so that no one could really understand how teaching to standards has affected his teaching life unless you are already part of this community.

    Another problem I have with this article’s conclusion and the standards as well is that Culture, Communities, Connections and Comparisons are very well at higher levels, but as I think ACTFL understands them, they must take a back seat in the early stages of language acquisition. Yes, I teach songs, and try to connect kids to the local and national Russian-speaking community; we read the news and we talk about history (this week: WWII in Germany, thanks to Nathan’s find of a great short film). We even sometimes compare Russian speakers and Alaskans, especially Native Alaskan and Russian commonalities. But in the early stages, I want kids to take delight in the fact that they can understand this new language. I don’t like the article’s seeming denigration of those who would put the communication standard first. It has to be in front, and it has to carry the heaviest weight for the entire time that students are acquiring a language. The C’s are not all equal. Robert’s quote about how students become part of a community as they communicate in the language is apt, but I think the author misses the idea that it’s “community” with a little C, at least at first. The next area that I have trouble with under the Communication standard is that ACTFL doesn’t so much (in my experience) talk about how at first the primary mode is interpretive in an acquisition continuum, then interpersonal, and later presentational can become part of what student demonstrates. Presentational is never going to be an equal part of a language class unless students are training to be political candidates. Much about these standards is much more appropriate to students in their later years of study, rather than middle school and high school, if only for the reason that younger students are ego-centric. In this group, I have the feeling that we could all happily let students interpret for the first two years, if we had no one watching. But that’s a bit too heretical to say out in the world, and kids do want those interpersonal skills.

    There’s actually a lot to discuss about this article. I’m very glad that Robert was the spokesperson, since he was clearly articulate! But I’m sorry that she didn’t let his story shine the way it should have. We do have a big piece of the question about “how” answered. Whether we can carry it out in ways that satisfies our educators’ souls is up to each of us.

    Nice to see the 90% rule quoted.

  2. So well expressed, Michele, especially these three zingers:

    …they [the other four Cs of Culture, Communities, Connections Comparisons] must take a back seat in the early stages of language acquisition….

    …at first the primary mode is interpretive in an acquisition continuum….

    …we could all happily let students interpret for the first two years, if we had no one watching….

    Upon reflection, Michele, your sentences there reveal, to me at least, that the author doesn’t get Krashen. It has the feel of stuff written thirty years ago. Thank you for your insights. I was beginning to think I was reading too much into it, but my intuition was right: there isn’t much substance in the article. Makes one wonder exactly who makes up ACTFL, and why, and where it’s all going.

    I might add that Krashen has stated that he feels that the entire first year should all be in the form of auditory input. He said that in front of ten other teachers or district personnel in my classroom last month, so I know I didn’t misunderstand him. I asked him to repeat it. Can you imagine? ALL aural input? That makes so much sense to me for the first 125 hours, which is all a year is, right? Then we can read and do listening and reading for hundreds of more hours, and then we can learn to speak and write. How many ACTFL members think this way?

    1. I was stumped by that article. It was depressing to read. I am not an ACTFL member, and I admit I am not active in my state’s “language teaching community,” so I have no idea what’s going on “out there” in the rest of NH. I guess the “theme” for me was that there continues to be this artificial separation and categorization which just seems ridiculous. Like, ‘oh, there are 5 C’s that we have to devote equal time to, and so the ‘communication’ (the quotes around it ….puh-leeeez!) is just one of them. We just need to be able to check things off a list. ” It totally minimized the main fabric that weaves everything together. Robert’s voice came through loud and clear, but that is because I know him from this community. Otherwise, the way the meshed him with the other people talking about interactive activities, was pretty lame. I know I am biased, but everything pales in comparison to this group.

      1. ps Ben–thanks for the reminder about Krashen and the all-auditory first year. I want to do that next year with my level 1s. How do you think this would affect the process? Would I do the PQA and stories and skip the reading lessons? Would I literally NOT use any “reading” …to the extent that I might skip writing the structures on the board? Just imagining the literal extremes to this. Or would I do the “normal” sequence and just not try to do novels and free reading? Just floating these questions out there. I am not ready to give up on this year yet, so need to stay focused on my new and improved 95% goal 🙂

        1. Krashen obviously knows the importance of an auditory sound base in reading. And we all know that 125 hours in level 1 is truly a drop in the bucket to serve as a foundation for reading.

          Yet some of us read four novels in level 1. I don’t think the kids get as much as we think when we do that. They never do.

          It’s all a personal decision, I guess. But Diana really pushes us in level 1 in DPS to read a ton. It goes against my intuition and I’m glad Krashen said what he did.

          I personally wouldn’t dump the structures early on – they are a key part of Step 1 and are necessary for the auditory piece to work from PQA into stories. They provide good introductory steps in reading. Each time we point and pause there is some reading instruction going on, and it just takes a few seconds.

          I would do PA in May, and flood the airwaves with speech up until then. I’d add in step 3 stories in January. Skip has the record on this – he does PQA into the winter. I think it’s brilliant. Greater personalization, by far. Huge practice on the basics, the rules, all of that. Why run too fast too early? We think it normal to start stories and readings after something like 40 hours of exposure to the language. Doesn’t feel right to me. But it’s the same thing that Michele and jen addressed when writing above about that ACTFL article. As jen said:

          …there continues to be this artificial separation and categorization which just seems ridiculous. Like, ‘oh, there are 5 C’s that we have to devote equal time to, and so the ‘communication’ (the quotes around it ….puh-leeeez!) is just one of them…..

          So also, we think that reading and even freewrites in the first fifty hours should get equal time. I don’t. I don’t ask kids to ride two wheel bikes at the age of five.

          I’ve been teaching level 1 classes for all my eleven years with TPRS, and that has caused me to really feel that in the first semester the kids are not ready to read novels and readings based on stories. All the experts, esp. Susan Gross, have continuously hammered home the idea that reading should be effortless. How can effortless reading happen when kids are the eqivalent of one month old children (I know that there are differences) when 5 year old kids can’t read very well even then. Plus, many of my students have great difficulty reading in any language. I think we are fooling ourselves about how much they can read early on. Of course, that is excepting FVR. That should start early (it is part of the unconscious acquisition process and therefore is vastly superior than, say, reading a novel, which should be an unconscious thing but most of us blow that and make it into more of a conscious analytical activity by parsing the reading up way too much and losing any chance at getting a movie going in the kids’ minds. Of course, one must add that most of the books we have to read now render our kids unconscious by the sheer force of the boredome built into them, but that’s the wrong kind of unconcsious reading from the kind Susie is talking about).

          I shouldn’t be putting up all those blog posts about PQA right now, actually, except we do need to use these classes to practice for next year. I think more and more RT blog entries would be well timed in the next few weeks if I can get them into the queue. I’m very happy that Annemarie did some RT with Piratas this past week. Just to say here that PQA is a fall thing, and reading is a March to May thing for me, anyway.

          To answer your question about how an all auditory process would affect the process, I think it would be great for the kids, but totally freak out everybody in the building and at the district level regarding end of year exit testing. I think it’s wrong for them to still test at each level in terms of the four skills. We must pull our attention away from the four skills as the four pillars of foreign language education in the U.S. right now and focus more on input early. ACTFL’s Three Modes of Communication and 90% Use position statement shows us that there is impetus toward change even there. It just shows the rift between the great researchers on comprehensible input (Krashen, Mason) and the ossified old guard whose consciousness sits on ACTFL like a million pound chunk of concrete, made up of articles like Sandy Cutshall’s recent one on “communication”.

          Just rambling here. I’m glad we are studying an approach that will never be standardized, and will always reflect what each of us thinks is best for our kids. For me reading is an upper level thing, to put it in one phrase.

          I hope that response had at least some degree of clarity to it!

          1. I do love the idea of almost all auditory input, except for a couple of things. First, we have a certain number of visual learners, and reading takes time (especially in languages with different alphabets, where people need to learn to decode). I do believe that those of us who know how to read are different in that way from children. If we know how to read, then seeing the words knocks the meaning into our heads in a new way. I keep seeing that my adult classes soak up new words in miraculous ways once I give them something to read. It’s as though reading gives credibility to what they’ve heard. In my student classes, the sponge-like learning is mostly in those kids whose reading skills are strong, so I do have to remember that the adults are totally self-selected.

            I am pretty sure though that “effortless” will never be in the same sentence as “reading” in my first-year classes.

            We are still writing words on the board, right? We aren’t doing everything by gesture and picture alone.

            I’m feeling incoherant here, but I just wanted to consider keeping the baby as we throw out the bathwater. Or as we want to throw out the bathwater. I do think that saving novels for second semester at least is a good idea, but I keep flashing on watching Katya teach Russian to adults who are just delighted to be able to comprehend written language by the end of their first three hours. It’s like when they find they can say something…they are just absolutely thrilled. Comprehending written language tells them they’ve learned something. (Speaking it effortlessly tells them that they’ve acquired it.)

            One other unconnected thought: in this article, there is a quiz for educators. “Translation” as a way of checking understanding in reading is panned. I saw that Scott also said last fall that he doesn’t like translation because kids aren’t called on in real life to translate. They’re called on to communicate. But when I want to know who understands what, I find that the translation exercise is about the best. And in reality, my kids are often in the position of translating: when they take stories home, their parents ask them what the story means. When they hear Russian in movies, their friends/family ask whether the subtitles are accurate. When they run into me in the hall and we have a brief conversation, their friends instantly ask what that was about.

          2. One thing about Krashen is that he has never taught in a secondary school. So to go with the ideal model of massive early aural input only for thousands and thousands of hours might be impractical in schools. I am just raising the point, that’s all. I’m saying that I would love to do nothing but input for the first year with some reading (less novels, more readings from stories the kids create) thrown in there later in the year. But could any of us do PQA and stories all the time anyway? The kids do need that moving around in different parts of their brains during class. Krashen talks about the Natural Approach but there is nothing natural about having kids for 50 min. per day or, like kate, once for 30 min. or like Anny twice a week for 30 min. Writing is not the worst thing in the world, in that sense. Michele you are so on point in your last two comments. It’s just a discussion. No conclusions at all and I’m not suggesting a big change in how much we read in level 1. It’s all up to the individual teacher and I am saying what feels right for me in my own experience. Just pushing on the envelope. (Where did that expression come from, anyway?)

  3. It seems ridiculous to view “communication” as just one element to be integrated into one’s language curriculum. This goes back to the problem of seeing all methods and approaches as equally useful “tools” in the language teacher’s toolbox. But if your primary purpose is to sell advertising space, you want to welcome all potential customers.

    1. That is precisely it! If you are going to prescribe modes and standards that aren’t going to be possible to teach in a natural way, you will make everyone feel better if they can buy materials that purport to help you succeed.

      I don’t actually have that cynical a view. My view is that, like many documents, the Standards document was written by a committee. Because that committee had people who think as I did, just four years ago, it has a lot of stuff in there that doesn’t fit with true acquisition. I do remember that Dr. Krashen has told us that while Storytelling is the best thing there is, it’s not perfect. We have more to do here.

      Still, we have a unique view. Notice that we struggle a lot to stick to it. We support one another. This is not a typical group of teachers. We don’t keep our stuff secret. We share openly, and we’re willing to let others watch us at any moment, not just when things are perfectly set up.

      So…I know the magazine needs to sell ads, and that they’re misguided. But I have to believe that the magazine exists in the hope of helping people learn languages better. They just don’t understand how yet. I wonder whether the standards will change, too, when our kids get to be the ones in charge.

      The same magazine had a great article on the use of TPRS in a college classroom and the results there. (Someone sent me a link to the article. I’ll try to find it for you.) Things will be changing!

      1. I keep trying to put in the link to that downloadable pdf of the Language Educator, but this site won’t let me. Instead, go to my blog (click on my name above, I think) and read today’s post on Spring Break. I put the link there. It takes a while to download, but you’ll be able to see the entire article from above (in slightly better format) as well as the article about the Spanish teacher’s research on page 54.

        The winds of change are ruffling the pages of that magazine!

  4. Robert Harrell

    I certainly don’t devote equal time to all of the C’s. Communication is clearly the most important – that’s part of what I was trying to get across when I said that Communication encompasses all of the others. Hm, let’s see . . .

    Communication is knowing how (culture, connection and -yes- grammar) to say what (content) to whom (community).

    Yep, sounds like all of the others are subsumed under communication. So what’s most important, the dynamic whole or the individual parts?

    At least the article quoted me accurately – something that doesn’t always happen in journalism. But all of you are right, it was disjointed and all over the map.

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