Anyone under pressure in their buildings to focus on output (“show what they know”) may want to visit the arsenal of articles collected here over the years and offer some of them to those fool-hearted administrators who have nothing else to do but challenge their teachers when they don’t fall into line with other teachers in their articulation paths who still align with the outmoded methods of the past century. I of course am referring to Tina’s situation in Portland right now. Tina is not alone. I would guess that this week in our PLC at least 30% – 40% of us are under some kind of direct of indirect attack, above or below the surface, in their building or from another building (usually a high school traditional teacher pressuring a middle school CI teacher, which I call nefarious).
In 2011 I got an email from a person I don’t know. I read it from time to time to remind me of how far we’ve come, because there was a day when people like this ruled the world, back in the Jurassic period of language instruction. Here is is:
From: steve leggiero <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 8:32 PM
Subject: Please stop deceiving the public
With all due respect, what you wrote and I cut and pasted below is so false it disgusts me. As a teacher of Russian and one who has mastered this language, to mislead people like this is just wrong. Not only do most people in our country speak our language wrong, but we are far behind the rest of the world in 2nd language acquisition, mostly because of these “fluff” theories. If you are trying to make money selling something, can’t you find something material that will not cloud the common minds. Have you really mastered a second language?
Being on the other side of the pond, I had never known how deeply entrenched in the old ways England was until now. I knew that Bob Patrick, after doing a Latin CI workshop at King’s College and Oxford a few years ago, told me it was like opening a can of sardines with one hand, but lately the image of the Recalcitrant Brit Educator has taken on even new meaning.
A few examples come to mind:
Judy Dubois told me once last year about how a strong young American teacher of English over there in France with her, one who really gets what comprehensible input is, Tamara Galvan, is currently being given grief by her English evaluator in France, evaluating her as “too American” in her teaching style. We’ll see about that. As Tamara’s mentor, Judy will see about that, I am certain.
Bliss Munoz works with Polly in Illinois. She has a question. It comes under the heading of re-educating administrators. Ain’t it amazing that by and large these folks don’t get what we do? Anyway, give Bliss some solid answers so she doesn’t have to sweat this uninformed dude. Anyone with a name like Bliss should get great answers.
My name is Bliss Muniz. I teach Spanish at a high school in Illinois. I have been using TPRS with my students for the past two and a half years. I’m so thankful my colleague Polly introduced it and you to me. To keep this short, I’ll cut right to the chase. I’m curious to know what you think about student-directed learning in TPRS. My evaluator mentioned not seeing this in the two class periods he observed at my summative meeting. We were creating a OWI in one class and students were individually reading a story in another class. I tried explaining that the students create the story (from my asking), and for the class that was reading, they were reading individually… I’m meeting with him again next week. What are your thoughts on student-directed learning with TPRS? Thank you for any insight!
This is from John:
I just spoke with our principal in the hall, and I used that opportunity to reiterate the value of WL teachers in helping schools meet their goals of becoming less segregated. After I spoke with him, I sent him a quick email (below) reiterating what we spoke about. With Silicon Valley “disruptive” educational gurus proclaiming that Google translate will make FL study obsolete, and arguing for replacing FL with coding classes, we need to defend our craft against the tech-money voices which call for our demise.
Here are some exerts from a recent comment here by Paul Kirschling of Denver Public Schools, for your edification and enjoyment:
…this job is too difficult to do and still wind up feeling like a fake….
…one might as well get into sales and actually make some money….
…I will not judge but do wonder how long one can last doing something you know is ineffective….
…lots textbook teachers are confronted with feeling like fakes, and that is what animates them….
I got this in an email from a group member today:
…love the kids but harder to steer the CI ship with older kids traditionally trained under a different teacher each year of Spanish….
I think that this statement is very true. We talk about this from time to time here in our discussions, but over the years that sentence has just grown and grown in veracity in my own mind. Sometimes I think that there is nothing ruder than a kid who has somehow gotten it into their minds that the way to learn a language is through verb conjugation charts. It’s just so gnarly when a class puts out that vibe. I want to take all the boxes of donuts, those big flat boxes with the window in them so you can see what kind of donuts are in there, and instead of offering them to those kids as a peace offering if they would only consider stories, scurrying into the closet with them and eating them all myself, ruing the day I first ever heard about Blaine Ray!
Ben and group:
My principal expects me to resign on Monday during a meeting he’s scheduled. Am I the first person to have been forced to resign after writing a story script about religious tolerance? Yeah, it’s that much of a sucker-punch.
The subtitles of the video pretty much outline the situation. What I’m telling you and the PLC otherwise is that when I gave the 7th grade teachers a heads up about the story and why I made it, the principal called me into a meeting and explained that he thought it was a bad idea. Particularly, he felt that singling out the student was the worst thing I could’ve done (that girl had power, man, and I’m not sure how I would’ve been able to change that power dynamic WITHOUT singling her out!). He added that there were “500” other ways to go about everything, and said that any chance to connect with that girl was gone. What he doesn’t know is that there was absolutely no chance from the start, and that other students began to fall under her spell.
If a child already speaks the language in a traditional class, there is an argument in favor of that native/heritage speaking child taking the class. They won’t learn anything, but there is an argument that they take the class.
They can look at the language mechanically. And when the teacher corrects these kids because they can’t make participles agree with objects, then they have something to talk about in the teachers’s lounge and the student has another teacher to dislike.
But in a CI class, when our every focus is on our students listeing and reading and listening and reading some more, then what can we teach the child who can already do those things at a level far above that of our students?
Last year we had “the war” with those 18,000 ACTFL soldiers (they call themselves the “Language Educators”). Alisa is pointing at a new possible battlefield. If we go there, let’s play nice. That was brutal last year. Robert and Eric and others here in our group handed their asses to them on a plate. Instead of arguing with them about how languages are really acquired, and I think this is what Alisa is suggesting, let’s them give some good ideas that they can use. PLC members are invited to cut and paste entire Primer articles or blog posts here onto the link below. If even just 15 of us did that, we would gain some friends. Without having to reduce them to rubble, which is basically what the Bear and the Jackal did. And don’t use the term TPRS.
This is from John Bracey:
I have attached a copy of a test given during the first month of Latin 2 at our high school. Is there any possible way to prepare kids for this kind of thing with CI? It is is this exact kind of assessment that my former students are bombing and I’m getting blamed for. I would love to see if the PLC has some ideas.
John Piazza (CA) and John Bracey (MA) not only share the same first name. They also are at the forefront of change in the Latin world in the U.S. We all know Bracey’s riveting story of being an oak in a storm in his building (understatement) over recent years, but Piazza’s is pretty much the same. Piazza sent me this yesterday and if I weren’t so old I would have done a cartwheel:
Hi Ben – exciting news. Just had my follow-up meeting from my first observation with my new administration. I am on cloud nine. She is a long time ESL teacher, and she knows the politics of my school, and she is committed to equity. In short, she gets it, and today’s meeting confirmed this. My evaluation basically said that I was not doing enough work in the target language, at higher levels on Blooms taxonomy. I said I was more than happy to oblige, but what about the traditional expectations as well as the AP exam and my traditional college who teaches it? She told me that those are no longer our priorities, because they are not best practices in language teaching, and they exclude most students. As for the privileged parents and my colleague, she told me not to worry about them. In other words I’ve been given marching orders, and I have been given protection, without qualification. There will certainly be bumps on this road, especially while I am graduating out the legacy students. But this is very exciting, and represents the next step forward for me. The chaos and strife that have occurred on my campus, have also resulted in a renewed commitment by the administration to equitable practices in all classes at all levels. No school administrator anywhere in this country can any longer afford to ignore the direct connection between exclusive pedagogy and the perpetuation of racist institutional practices. I would recommend that any CI teacher who is facing resistance call out their school’s commitment to equity.
I just sent what is below to my administration as well as my vertical alignment team. I wanted to share it with the group. Whenever one clicks on the “send” button with stuff like this one always has a kind of nervous feeling, but I sent it anyway. I’ve got to fly my freak flag:
I am sending you some more reading material. I know you only wanted a few articles but I feel these warrant your attention. They are (three) articles from my online PLC. They directly relate to our work together.
A teacher has locked horns with a parent simply because he uses best practices in foreign language instruction. Again, right? Who in our group has NOT had to schlep this scene? I think that he handled it beautifully:
I wanted to follow up a bit to gain a better understanding of your curriculum and plans to introduce textbook and workbooks. What is the goal for year one of middle school French and how does it compare to first semester of high school French 1/2?
As a parent, I notice that James is not understanding avoir or etre and thinks “est” is spelled “a” and vice versa. He also said he feels the reading time in class is frustrating because he can’t really understand what he’s reading. He is a pretty rote learner and loves worksheets (the opposite of me or his brother) but I also want to support him appropriately and better understand the curriculum so I can correct him when appropriate and ensure he is understanding the language correctly.
Lance Piantaggini below makes a very strong argument on the topic of specifically how to respond to attackers. He elucidates reasons for attackers’ motives, describes their mindsets and finishes by suggesting three talking points – designed to not be directed at any single individual – that are very hard to argue with. This article, which I am filing under the When Attacked category, comes at a good time considering recent discussion here. It clears the air and gives us a highly professional response option to the ugliness of the past.
Thanks so much for the support. I have been getting my butt kicked this year. I had finally subdued my other enemies at the end of last year, but then I was betrayed by the other Latin teachers.
I sent them a huge number of freshman this year, but not the ones they thought they deserved. There were students who were on IEP’s or 504’s, athletes, ELL, “average” in addition to 4%ers.
They complained to my department chair that my kids were totally unprepared for their classes. This gave my department chair, who despises me, all the reason he needed to launch a witch hunt against me.
I thought our Eastern Knight was over the worst, but apparently not. Yesterday our
Western Knight John Piazza (not to be confused with the Chevalier de l’Ouest Robert Harrell) alerted me to the fact that another particularly ugly chapter (is it even possible?) was happening with our gallant John Bracey. If anyone doubts the old adage that “hell hath no fury like that of a spurned grammar teacher” just read the links below first or click on the “John Bracey” category on the right side of this page to get the backstories before reading the latest report from John. One really can’t appreciate John’s newest report without knowing what has led up to it, so I will hold back John’s newest report for a few days to give everyone a chance to read/reread the silliness that has led up to this new situation and get our bearings. These are in order over the past two years so read from the top and go down to the most recent:
Our Steven Ordiano in CA joins a long list over the years of teachers here who over the years have had to respond to administrators who – despite good intentions – cannot seem to understand the actual nature of comprehensible input instruction. Steven is not the first nor will he be the last to be asked to fit a square peg into a round hole.
However, this story has a silver lining as Steven describes below, and, as usual, Robert Harrell plays a part in it. It seems that even without his knowing it, in this case, Robert le Chevalier de l’Ouest can be seen swooping in on horseback to bring the dragons to the attention of his sword, the mighty pen, or as it is in this century, the mighty keyboard.
This one is from Keri:
I have a question that maybe the PLC could help me with. Last year was my first “TPRS” year and, of course, those students are with other teachers. (I am the only TPRS / CI teacher in my department.) A teacher came to me concerned because she has a student that I had last year and she said that she is seriously struggling with grammar. The bigger problem is that that student received an A+ in my class last year. I really don’t want to have the reputation that my grades are inflated and my students don’t know anything.
I got a note from our PLC member Steve and in it was this jewel:
…I have tried to continue quietly about my business without being confrontational when people make statements that are uninformed and imply that language acquisition is based on output….
I wish someone had told my confrontational self that years and years ago. I’m a slow learner, but the way Steve puts it, it is almost impossible to disagree with the deep truth it expresses. This sentence paves the way now for less talk about the value of CI relative to other ways of teaching and turns us in the direction of spending a lot more time in 2015-2016 focusing on strategies, skills, new ideas, and on our mental health.
Once it hits us about what comprehensible input really brings to our teaching, some of us tend to push hard to get it going in our classrooms and in our buildings. That’s my tendency and over the years good advice from the group, advice of recent note from Judy which I will post as an article here, has helped me cool my jets a bit on this. The general and best advice has been indeed to cool it with others, give them time to get their eyes focused amidst the brightness of the change, close our doors and teach, and let them adjust their teaching in a natural way at a manageable pace because they want to and not because we want them to, even if it takes years.
This is good article from Robert Harrell on classroom discipline and a reflection on what it means to act like an adult in a school so that students can have real adults around them and not teachers trying to be their friends:
As part of obtaining my credential in California, I was required to take several classes in methods, classroom management, etc. One of the most valuable of those classes was taught by “Buck” Marrs, and one of the most valuable parts of that class was the unit on “Who owns the problem?”
John Bracey rocks Latin and for those who are not aware of the tidal waves he is causing in his school you may want to read one or two of these articles before reading his current Report from the Field below:
I just had a really interesting experience applying for a teaching job that might be worth sharing with the PLC.
Nathaniel Hardt was our PLC Teacher of the Month here in March:
He was recently observed. That report is below. As we all know, Nathaniel is in a class by himself with comprehension based instruction and clearly knows so much more than the administrator who observed him. The report is not easy to read, so be forewarned. I would compare the ability of this administrator to even evaluate what Nathaniel was actually doing in his classroom in terms of actual SLA research to bringing a clown out from the clown car and having her pilot a space shuttle. How about all 300 of us write a letter to this fool?
Michael shares with us the results of that meeting he had last week. The point he makes is that when discussing the use of comprehensible input with people/colleagues who quite simply don’t want to hear our positions, we should not try to convince them. Instead, we need to learn to play a broken record for them: ACTFL wants us in the TL 90% of the time. It’s a good cautionary tale for those of us who like to engage people in our buildings about CI vs. the textbook. We don’t need to do that any more than we need to go out and argue our position with a drunk.