This and a following post from the intense days here of 2014 will be of interest to any PLC member who is being attacked by high school grammar teachers:
John Bracey was attacked by colleagues and we got a thread going about it last month. Among other things, for those who remember the original thread, John was blamed “for kids choosing to drop the Latin classes at the high school because they were ill-prepared by ‘non-rigorous’ [Bracey’s] classes.”
This made Robert Harrell bristle. He then wrote this response below about rigor as a comment in that thread. I republish it here in the light of the current ACTFL discussion, which is not on rigor but rather is connected to the ongoing discussion about recent points raised by Eric Herman and other members of our group on the ACTFL site:
It should be noted, however, that one of the talking points we must generate with ACTFL is in fact the one around the topic of rigor. The definition of rigor can range from students simply focusing on a message to what Alfie Kohn calls “onerous” rigor (see below). That is too wide a range and yet we cannot seem to get Paul Sandrock and his colleagues at ACTFL to go any deeper with this.
As John was professionally rebuked/attacked, most of us either have been or will be. So we need to have the facts straight in our responses, and the definition of rigor is part of our education if we are to claim actual and serious differences between what we do and what traditional teachers do, in spite of a statement by Paul Sandrock today on the ACTFL list which was designed to whitewash such differences. I know it’s confusing. There are posters on this site that reflect what Robert explains. Find them on the posters page of this site –
Here are the facts as laid out by Robert, and thank you Robert for your continued leadership in this time of confrontation with ACTFL:
1. What do the high school teachers mean by “ill-prepared”? Are the students unable to participate in Interpersonal Communication at the proper ACTFL Proficiency level? Are they unable to demonstrate acquisition-level proficiency in Interpretive Communication? Are they unable to perform at acquisition level in the area of Presentational Communication? Are the students unable to read and comprehend Latin? Are they unable to understand spoken Latin? Are they unable to write in Latin at their ACTFL Proficiency level? Are they unable to speak Latin at their ACTFL Proficiency level?
The first three Modes of Communication are emphasized by both ACTFL and College Board (AP) as indicative of ability in the language. The second four are the discrete skills that most teachers test. While I prefer to discuss the Modes of Communication because they are more holistic, the four skills will also do in this case. The issue is not the ability to conjugate a verb or parse a sentence. It matters not if I can identify an Ablative Absolute; if I cannot communicate in the language, it avails me nothing. If these high school teachers can demonstrate that your students as a group are less able to communicate in Latin than their students, then they might have a case for calling your students “ill-prepared”. My belief is that your students communicate far more effectively than theirs; they just can’t fill in the blanks on the worksheets because that is meaningless work, and you have taught them that language has meaning.
2. What does the administrator mean by “non-rigorous”? How does he (and the high school teachers) define “rigorous” and “academic rigor”? Just today I discussed with my classes what rigor in a language class looks like. Borrowing from the Department of State, I explained that there are four components to Rigor:
a. Sustained Focus: students need to be able to focus on the topic and participate in it for an extended period of time with the aid of brain breaks, varied pace and activities, and mediative questions at increasingly high levels to pique student interest.
b. Depth and Integrity of Inquiry: the goal is not to “cover” a certain amount of material but to allow sufficient time with the topic for students to explore it in depth, develop questions, and begin to find answers.
c. Suspension of Premature Conclusions: students learn to look for the “outliers” that cause them to question the “rule” rather than simply accepting the first hypothesis that comes to mind.
d. Continuous Testing of Hypotheses: even after developing and confirming a hypothesis with evidence, students continue to test and re-test the hypothesis in a variety of situations and under different circumstances.
The Department of State quotes Alfie Kohn in stating: “People talk about ‘rigorous’ but what they often mean is ‘onerous,’ with schools turned into fact factories. This doesn’t help kids become critical, creative thinkers or lifelong learners.” (in O’Neill and Tell, 1999, p. 20)
In the TCI classroom, this definition of rigor looks like the following:
1. Students sit up with squared shoulders and focused eyes, listening with the intent to understand, participating in a single conversation in the target language by hearing what the speaker says, responding appropriately to questions and statements, and offering appropriate suggestions to sustain the conversation.
2. Students explore the topic (story, PQA, etc.) until both they and the teacher are satisfied that sufficient inquiry has been made. There is no push to “cover” a grammar point and move on.
3. Students do not have the conclusions (i.e. rules of grammar) presented to them at the beginning of the lesson. Instead, they suspend premature conclusions and allow their subconscious mind to draw conclusions about the language based on evidence (i.e. how the language is used in real-world communication).
4. Students test their hypotheses about the language by testing them in actual speech and writing as well as looking for exceptions to the hypothesis through listening and reading. That this is happening is often revealed by the questions students ask (e.g. “I thought it was ‘die Toilette’. Why did you write ‘zu der Toilette’? Why did you say ‘Ich habe‘ rather than ‘Ich hat‘?”)
Doing work sheets, conjugating verbs, declining nouns, adjectives, and pronouns – these are all onerous but not rigorous. Assigning them as homework merely increases the onus, not the rigor.
My guess is that your instruction is, under this definition of rigor, far more rigorous than the high school teachers’ instruction but also far less onerous. No wonder students bail when they get there: they have to work harder but are challenged less.
Read more articles on Rigor: