If you are pushing the CI now, doing the Star, etc. I would say to wait a bit. If you are not your own department, and you have to align with someone else to prepare for common assessments, etc. make sure you do that. You want to have your kids exactly where your traditional grammar colleagues are on the syllabus. Don’t poke the bear. Everybody is watching each other at this time of year, but once you convince them that you are doing what they expect of you, in a few months, you can do whatever the hell you want.
I refuse to let the molders of my world, esp. right now, influence my mood. We will eventually break down – to dust – the old curriculum, and happiness and unforced communication will define our days doing our jobs.
Yes, we have been slaves to the corporate suck-need, their view of education, their need to make of us a market. But that’s what the current crisis is all about. Something new, a very loving and giving version of language education where happiness pervades, is on its way to us.
Some kids engage at the right amount. Some too much. What about the kids who withdraw? It is my position that, generally, kids who withdraw from interacting in a CI class have a reason to do so.
We all know that kids withdraw in traditional textbook classes from pure boredom. But when things are interesting (and they always are in a properly run CI class), then there is reason to respect the withdrawal of the kids in CI classes as more serious.
If we were to videotape hundreds of CI classes vs. hundreds of worksheet classes, we would see much more varied observable non-verbal authentic engagement in the CI classes than in the traditional classes. One thing is certain in CI classes – kids are listening more than they appear to be.
Relative to the discussion about assessment, I thought I would share the following e-mail exchange I had with a student today. Since the student asked, I decided to be straightforward and blunt. Names have been redacted to protect identities. Earlier in my career and before jGR, I probably would not have written a reply quite like this, but I certainly have assessed the situation.
On 5 May 2016 at 13:30, [concerned student] wrote:
Hello Herr Harrell,
I was just wondering if there was anything that I can do to makeup my grade to an A. Please let me know because a B is not okay with me or my mom! haha. Let me know what I can do to improve.
-[concerned student] (P:3)
Hi [Concerned Student],
Thanks for your e-mail. The best thing that you can do to improve your grade is actually very simple yet deceptively difficult. You know that a significant portion of your grade is based on the Interpersonal Communication Rubric. This is because Interpersonal Communication is actually the primary means by which people acquire a foreign language since it is based on making certain that the German you hear is understandable and gives you ample opportunity to indicate when it is not and then negotiate meaning so that it becomes understandable. The Rubric is adapted from the guidelines of the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages and describes what Interpersonal Communication looks like. You know it as the orange (goldenrod) sign that I point to regularly. As indicated by the rubric, a key component of Interpersonal Communication is actually participating in the communication, and that is where your grade reflects your struggle to meet the standard shown on the rubric.
Sustaining Focus, a key component of rigor, is more difficult for some people than for others, so I try to find ways to help with that focus. One of those mechanisms is the brain break that I try to give at various times during the period. Another support mechanism is assigned seating so that you are less distracted by sitting next to your friends. That is why I assigned you, [guy student], and [girl student] seats away from one another. However, you have chosen to move so that you can sit next to [guy student], and you spend your time in class talking to him and [girl student]. That means you are not participating in the class’s conversation, not listening with the intent to understand, not clarifying when you don’t understand, not contributing to the class conversation in German, not focusing on the class, and not giving 100% effort to your part of the conversation – all elements of the Interpersonal Communication Rubric. As a result, your Interpersonal Communication grade is lower than it could be, and even then it is as high as it is because I am being gracious to you.
I would like for your concern to be about how much German you are acquiring. If you were actively interested in acquiring German, your grade would not be an issue, but since you asked specifically about the grade, here is what you need to do:
– Choose to engage in a single conversation with the entire class in German (This may mean moving back to your assigned seat and away from [guy student] and [girl student], but you will have to decide what is more important to you.)
– Choose to sustain focus on what the class is doing, and not on what [guy student]and [girl student] have to say.
– Choose to listen with the intent to understand and ask for clarification when the German is not comprehensible.
– Choose to contribute to the whole-class conversation
– Choose to give 100% to doing your job in the class
As I indicated above, this is really quite simple but deceptively difficult. You have to begin by deciding what you want. If it is to acquire German, I am more than happy to help.
Thanks again for your e-mail.
Here are some quotes from the documentary on Mr. Rogers’ life that resonated in my own mind with the work we do. They point to the way in which we might design future curriculums, with more interest in what the child is really experiencing in our classrooms and less on the subject matter itself:
“It’s you I like, you yourself [ed. note: and not the grades they make]…”.
“You don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.”
“What people need most is to feel that others care about them and know that they are trying their best.”
The mental health of many people in our profession is unraveling before our very eyes. Many are retiring early, quitting, etc. There is no small amount of suffering involved. You know what is happening because you are in the middle of it.
My prayer in this post is straight to our Creator who doesn’t want us to suffer like this, with all the electronic shit in our classrooms, the danger of infection, the messed up planning because we don’t know what to plan for, etc.
It’s a long post, but please read it anyway. Of all the 8,156 articles and all the 56,672 comments posted here over the past 15 years, I am asking you to read just this one post. Read it all the way through. Just this one.
Some may remember a month ago when I kicked those three guys off the PLC because they weren’t able – no blame – to wrap their heads around the truth and the new heightened levels of awareness around the George Floyd murder. There was that stink those guys brought.
I chose to kick them off because they voiced their opinion that in America different points of view are all part of the fabric of our society. I don’t agree with that. We can agree to disagree on whether pepperoni pizza is better than mushroom and sausage, but not on issues of morality.
Even the best scripts cannot approach the levels of engagement that are generated by a problem that emerges from the students right in front of us.
If we can somehow find the courage to allow our students, through their characters, to guide our storytelling boat through the waters of metaphor and into the depths of shared unconscious experience, we will learn something.
If we can find the courage to jump into the waters of unplanned stories with strong images and characters whose characteristics suggest strong, real problems, we will be continuously and pleasantly surprised about the depths of what is possible in our language classrooms.
For those who have been reading here for years, you may remember that the pro-NTCI points in a series of articles that began appearing here about ten years ago keept growing. We’re up to 75. That’s a lot of points to support NTCI!
Here’s the newest list:
Below are 75 points worth reflecting on:
Nobody at ACTFL has ever said anything about you having to communicate with your students while using certain words. Try doing that in English at the dinner table. It’s not so easy! In fact, I find it impossible and after trying it for 15 years when I was doing TPRS, I finally gave up five years ago and focused on what the research says that conversation can’t be planned out. The result is the Ultimate CI Book, which in my opinion is far better than any other way to use CI, if the person can wrap their head around the concept.
A teacher in our PLC community made the comment below today. We need to look into it. We need to respond. We need to help this teacher come up with a plan of action. We need to make sure that this never happens again. I will bring this to the attention of both my Zoom group and this PLC. We need to act on this by coming up with all the information we can right now in strong response to what happened in that class that day.
“If it ain’t fun, I ain’t doing it.” I read this in a post a couple of days ago and it’s has become my mantra ever since as I hesitantly — skeptical of every tech teacher idea about remote learning as well as the faux enthusiasm to start the school year — began with students today. And it will continue to be my mantra for some time. Thanks, Ben, for helping me get through this.
What is this work really about? It’s about laughing with kids. If you spend your time in class laughing with kids, and it’s in the target language, you will probably end up by the end of the year having taught a nuclear explosion amount of language compared to what is possible in what you were doing before.
When you are laughing with the kids, you are certainly not laughing about the structure or the form of the language, or its single word lists and rules, but about its content, the message, its contextual richness, its groupings of understandable words, bigger and bigger each year from word chunks to sentences to entire paragraphs to entire stories, what Rabelais calls the “substantifique moelle”, the bone marrow of something.
I would like to share something I wrote this back in 2007, when I was still trying to make TPRS work for me:
“When we divorce ourselves from any idea of establishing meaning, defining words, teaching from a word list, keeping up with a high frequency list, connecting our instruction to a chapter book that not all the kids could read, or even of the very idea that we are there to “teach”, then we have arrive at the threshold of a new world, a new experience as teachers.
“We are no longer clever entertainers who worry about how to make a home run story (home runs are boring in baseball – it’s become that kind of sport) so that we can become Teacher of the Year. We are just people talking to other younger people in a spirit of shared meaning and a desire to communicate and uplift each other’s experience of life by means of the vivid experience of imagining things together.
When I was in high school, I attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. Classmates included a kid whose family owned 51% of Coca Cola, Ward Lay of Frito Lay, Jim Lear of Lear Jets, whose dad used to fly him to NYC for lunch on Sundays from the school’s airport, which was next to our golf course there in Northern Indiana on Lake Maxinkuckee, you get the idea.
I was horrified when, while driving to the grocery store this morning, the expression “That’s very white of you!” popped into my head. It’s something we cadets used to say to each other all the time, in a humorous way, or so we thought.
We are looking for a way out. One way out of the mental pain we are enduring may be related to focusing again on how kind you are, to find a softer mental state, a way out, through your kindness, because who is kinder than you?
Please go into all the classrooms – online and brick and mortar – now, using your angels or however you do that (I’m impressed!), and let kindness, your particular brand of kindness which is like nothing else, bless the administrators and parents and teachers as they struggle to bring real things, real things, to their children, who are going through the near insanity of those first days of any school year, let alone this one.
Please give us teachers who try to do new things – really new things that are better than the old crap we used to do – tthe strength to endure the rancor that some inflict on them in their buildings. Help them to see all that difficulty as coming from you, for your own special reasons since, as God, you have things to teach us all, and that makes it not so bad. I’m not willing to take any abuse from colleagues, but if it comes from you and it is there to teach me lessons, then I’m all ears.
You have taught many of us very successfully through past trials that we can grow through the suffering we endure as teachers, and in my opinion teachers suffer a ton.
Help us see our role in this phenomenal change that you obviously want and help us embrace it and bring strength and courage to our work each day, so that one day the teachers who make kids hate languages and feel stupid as language learners will all be gone, and kids will feel smarter in our language classes than they have in the past, so that it will all be new.
Many of the teachers who make kids feel stupid, who have – not through any conscious malicious intent on their part but it happened anyway – strayed far from the research, may they have their hearts and minds blessed by you, so that they can wake up. Teachers will wake up because you bless them, not because they work harder. It takes your blessings.
We know that all things come of you, O God, and not from ourselves. If we could just remember that one, it would be a big thing to remember, and our minds would be less tortured, more soft, and our students would see it. Like you did with Mr. Rogers.
May we all therefore receive your blessings, receive your touch, because just one instant of your touch, your blessing, what you came to give, is worth all the suffering we endure for our entire lives, and indeed – if one believes that stuff – the entirety of all of our lifetimes.
You brought us the research, it’s here now, and so now help us put it into place. We get that it’s time for that. We get that it’s time to grow. You’ve made that perfectly clear and all we have to do now is put it into place. I’ve been trying to do that for 20 years, and it seems so long, and I am so tired, but for you it’s just a flash, and instant, within your eternity, which is pretty cool.
If we can have as our goal this year the putting into place of the research, then we can play our part in healing our country, because if our kids, all the millions of them taking languages, feel good about their language class, feel that they can do it, then 1/5th of their day at least will be happy, and maybe that happiness, that giving-them-maybe-just-one-class-to-look-forward-to-going-to that day, will spread out to other classes and they won’t have to suffer so much this year.
May our work with languages be pleasing in your sight, and may we fully remember in every minute this year when we are standing in front of our students, or talking to them in those little boxes, that whatever we do that day is our best, and that through all the ups and downs of it, you are doing something that we could never understand but that we trust is perfect in thine eyes and that’s all that matters. Whether we are perfect or not is not our business but yours, and you know how to do it. So we can drop the perfectionism mirror now.
May we especially have your blessings this year on the online thing. Wow, right? The online thing? You’ve thrown a really great breaking curve ball to us in that one area and we are REALLY not going to figure out without your blessings and help.
May we do our small part with languages, which knit nations together, so that the world, your world and as our brother Voltaire says is the “best of all possible worlds” (and he was right on that one!) can start to heal now.
We go forth now into the 2020-21 academic year with all faith and trust in your loving guidance and compassion as we try, against stupendous force, to reach kids in the real way.
Lord hear our prayer.
Kindergarten Day allows us to see our students in a different way – not so much as students but as real children. We read from picture books like “I Am A Bunny” or “Trains” or from counting books with pictures of things like four apples, and five flowers, etc.
We read from these books for fifteen minutes or so. If the book tells a story, we can tell it, or we can just talk about what is in each picture.
During this time, we become kindergarten teachers. The kids’ eyes are riveted on the pictures as we sit in a chair in front of them. We read the books with all the heart quality we can muster.
Our national parent organization has done a good job of identifying the Communication Standard as what should be the main focus of our work.
However, over the past thirty years as the research became more and more clear each year, they never found themselves able to cast off the textbook model, which has almost nothing to do with the research but has made companies like Realidades millions of dollars.
Classic hypocritical policy – give lip service to the research but don’t change what you are in reality asking teachers to do – perpetuate a dead pedagogy so that you can keep the dollars flowing.
Miriam Met, a trainer like Helena Curtain in the old days, a PhD in language whatever from Philadelphia and a very big deal in language teacher training over many years, came to Denver in 2006 to do a day long training for almost two hundred foreign language teachers in Jefferson County.
She was accompanied by a representative from Realides, since her presentation that day on foreign language methodology was about how to use that book.
What the fuck?
Does anyone see a problem with this? It was a training in best practices in language teaching. But since everyone was using the book back then, and due to “trainings” like this most probably still are, I guess it made sense to our district coordinator to invite Mimi. I didn’t appreciate it much, because I was in my fifth year of trying to learn how to do TPRS after 24 years of using the book, but I had to go because it was a required training.
Something happened. A teacher asked her, “What about TPRS?” and she said, “It’s just another tool in the toolbox.” The teacher asked a follow-up question: “Can you tell us about it?” And then Dale Crum and I, sitting in the first row, both of us saw her eyes flutter shut in confusion. We both saw it – that is how I know it happened. (Dale, along with Diana Noonan and Meredith Richmond and Blaine Ray and Susan Gross brought TPRS to Colorado.)
Mimi was stumped. She was a Realidades person. But she was in front of 200 teachers. Being a liar, she recovered with lightning speed. She asked if there were any teachers in the workshop doing TPRS. Dale and I and three others – out of 200 people – raised our hands. Mimi asked us to line up in front of the group and I was very nervous because I was still learning it – it actually took me 8 years to get TPRS, with the rules and all.
She asked us, “How do you define TPRS?” We all gave our definitions. I can’t remember what I said, but she then kind of dismissed us and moved on with her description of how to use Realidades.
As we left the training, I walked Miriam and the Realidades cartel representative, who all day was selling Realidades paraphernalia in the back of the hall at a big table looking very officially a part of Miriam’s presentation. I asked Miriam what she thought of TPRS. Again, she told me that she considered it “just another tool in a teacher’s toolbox”. And off she was chauffeured by the Realidades rep to the airport. I guess she was late for her plane, because I was brushed off her shoulder like a fly.
Those were the days when people thought that a textbook was needed to teach a foreign language. Indeed, in the current version of Realidades, every ten pages or so, there was a little box on a page that instructed teachers how to use the TPRS approach to teach the words presented in that chapter. No matter that the teachers weren’t trained in TPRS, as long as the new book contained the new buzz word TPRS, all seemed to be in order with the Realidades people.
What I consider to be really messed up was how the agenda for our Denver workshop (Jefferson County Public Schools) was labeled at the top “Cincinnati, Ohio”. It was a canned sales pitch for Realidades, essentially. Mimi just got on a plane, flew to the city, told people how to use the product, the rep was there to close the deal, and back home they flew. That’s what business men do. I remember sitting in there corner like a caged animal all day, bored out of my mind but unable to leave, and wasting a day of my life to that stuff, just sitting in that meeting all day.
Over the years I have referred many times to this incident. Mimi’s flip statement about TPRS as just another tool among many seemed very wrong to me. How can comprehensible input be a tool in a teacher’s toolbox? It is the support pillar of everything in language education and has been proven so. It felt intuitively wrong, what Mimi was saying. I revered Krahen’s research and to just blow it off like that was weird to me.
What she said stung me. It still does. All the searchable articles here mentioning Mimi and Helena Curtain, who has her own category here, are attempts to debunk their 1950’s era position on what is best for kids in language acquisition. I defend the right of all teachers to do what they think is best, but not at the expense of children.
I can’t wait until the ESL community gets outed for not aligning with the research. It’s coming! Bam!
In the new POST-COVID model of education, teachers must learn how to identify people with narcissistic traits and deal with them so that we have a lot more AUTHORITY and command a lot more RESPECT than we have in the past as teachers.
I highly recommend a book by Dr. Christine Northrup called Dodging Energy Vampires. If I write any more books, the next one will be on classroom management and how to identify the narcissist/vampires among the students and DEAL WITH THEM bc we will have trained ourselves to RECOGNIZE them.
I had a motorcycle when I was younger. I had it long enough to know that – no blame – cars were not trained in SEEING motorcycles, esp. at intersections. I sold it after too many close calls.
So it is with kids of color in language classrooms. We have to learn to SEE differently in our work. Do we SEE all of our students in either our online or physical classrooms? Or do some of our students leave our classrooms each June without having been able to function as an actual person that year?
…we, as teachers, need to know how and where to direct Tanisha so that her voice is given value….
This is the task, indeed! First, we have to know how to teach the class so that Tanisha is included and not excluded bc of interstitial racism.
(I know the term is institutional, but I call it interstitial bc it hides between spaces and can’t be seen, and crowds kids of color into little invisible spaces, little bubbles where we can’t see them, in our classrooms, clobbering kids like Tanisha. So interstitial racism in our classes is the enemy.
When we create small ten-minute pockets during class for the kids to read whatever they want, called Free Voluntary Reading as per Krashen, we are putting far too much emphasis on that kind of reading. Why?
Because the research wasn’t done in classrooms, where there are so many distractions, and where the kids are encountering reading material they really don’t know, with tons of words they don’t know.
Nor do the kids particularly care about reading in class, which shoots the “voluntary” part in the acronym out of the water.
I got this question:
Ben – I understood that you don’t think it is a good idea to give extended readings to students at the very beginning (novice low, 1). Can you explain further the reasons why?
The reason, and this is only my viewpoint, is that kids read at different speeds and so when they are all told to read together in the same room at the same time then things like comparing their speed of reading to others happens. This taps into children’s fears that they might not be good enough.
APCI stands for Activity Pack Comprehensible Input instruction. It’s the application of CI to worksheets to learn lists of words. That’s what’s happened to the CI movement.
We need a revolution. TPRS has failed, gone off the rails, gone splat.
WE NEED TO STAND UP FOR THE RESEARCH. WE NEED TO REPRESENT THE RESEARCH IN OUR CI INSTRUCTION. We don’t do that anymore, bc we fear the powers that be – from the department chair to the admins to the district office, where in all three areas ignorance about how languages are acquired reigns supreme.