Carol Hill

Carol sends these end of year thoughts, which kind of fit right in with Robert’s comment citing the Patrick Lencioni book:
I have been processing a ton of information from all of you. Thank you. This space and its community of professionals continue to be a source of great comfort and inspiration. This is the end of my second full year using TPRS. Since I work in a vacuum surrounded by skeptics, I seem to spend too much time second guessing myself and feeling the sting of subtle comments that let me know that my friends and colleagues think that I am somewhere “out there”. Like you said the other day, Ben, and it is so spot on – your comment about sitting under an umbrella with rigor stamped all over it.
A friend of mine from college days is the department chair of languages at a local community college. We have a dual credit relationship with them. She suggested that we meet in September so she can verify what I am doing in the classroom so they can continue to offer credit to my level 3 and 4 students! What a joke, she should have been here yesterday when my fellow teachers were trying to figure out how to curve the Spanish final having students who managed 24’s and 36’s on their “rigorous” Spanish exams!
Anyway, I have intentionally not asked my level one and two classes for any output – especially in written form. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I included a writing sample on my final. I gave them 30 structures to define in English, attached Susie’s writing rubric* to the test and let them go.
Of course the writing was not timed and they had whatever time they needed. Wow, was I blown away. My French ones were routinely churning out way over 100 words. Naturally, accents were all over the place and the spelling was not always perfect, but, with that said, I was encouraged.
My level twos have for the most part mastered the use of the past tense vs the imperfect. In the past, I have had upper level students who never got it simply because their brains were rule- bound – they could never break free of the rules. I have a student whose native language is Korean. She tells me that she processes from Korean to English to French – she output 159 words!
Thanks to Nathan, I was reminded to use their writing to gather ideas for structures that they want to use. These writing samples will inform my instruction for next year.
I know that we are all at different places in our TPRS walk. I had a tough end of the year. We came back from Easter vacation the same day that AP testing began which was a challenging way to end. Some of my classes were really suffering from story fatigue, but I am now in the lovely place of eagerly anticipating September. To anyone else out there who suffers from time to time with nagging doubts, I say just trust the system, trust the kids and trust your instincts to know the importance of keep on keeping on!
*Here is the link to Susie’s writing rubric:



7 thoughts on “Carol Hill”

  1. Hi Carol,
    I am intrigued by your results on the final. Your kids did not seem to have a problem scoring on the “traditional” assessments even though you took a completely different approach to teaching from the rest of your department.
    I was not as lucky. I had to give a grammar final that was in line with the rest of the department and I was convinced that my students would breeze through it as they have shown me all year how comfortable they are with the structures that “popped up” during our lessons. Well, I was in for a very unpleasant surprise – they absolutely bombed the exam and I was the one curving. I truly don’t know what happened. Granted, it was very hot the day of the exam but that alone would not explain this shocking outcome. I am wondering if it had to do with the layout of the exam, it was all multiple choice and I never use multiple choice for my assessments. On the other had, I imagined that this would make it so much easier for the students as they would surely (?) recognize the correct structures. Is it possible that they over-analyzed the possible answers?
    I still believe in the power of TPRS, as what I am getting from the students during our classtime together proves that it works. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a total novice, but I am trying more and more and following Ben’s suggestions from his book “TPRS in a Year!”.
    My question to you, Carol, is: Did you do anything in particular to prepare your students for the exam? Also, you mentioned that you gave them 30 structures to define in English and they rewarded you with an output of over 100 words. Did you give them the structures to define AND separate writing prompts? Or were the structures in themselves the prompts for the writing samples?
    Thank you so much in advance for your clarification.

  2. Yes, Brigitte, I will try to clarify. First of all, I am the only French teacher which is a blessing and a curse. At exam time, it’s the former. If I could have done it, I would have given a huge reading the way Ben explained in an earlier post, but I tend to try to balance what I do to give the appearance of the kind of test that makes the admin’s hearts flutter – in a good way. My pricipal observed me for the first time in 18 years last February and was impressed with the class. My department chair is a little more skeptical, so I gently offer writing samples to her as proof of academic rigor. I am really trying to fly below the radar, so Robert’s comment about accountability got me thinking. With that said, I think the difficulty is doing CI in class and asking them to turn on a dime and be assessed in a way that they were not assessed during the year. The exam I finally came up with this year was a blend of Mike Miller’s exams which he posted on the more listserve, Susie’s examples of chapter tests from her blog, Blaine’s style of workbook pages, and Carol’s style of question in her textbooks.
    My exam had two parts. Part one consisted of 75 multiple choice vocabulary words – kind of based on Ben’s color coded lists – some think that makes the test look serious and if the kids do well they must be learning. Listening came next. I said something like “How old are you?” in French of course, and they had to choose the correct rejoinder. This was followed by a series of pictures. I made a statement and the kids matched the picture to my statement. They were totally in their comfort zone. The next task was reading. I gave them a story that they had created and removed words – not verbs – words like and, or, but, to, to the , on, etc. They had to insert the correct word – I did give them a word bank since I did not narrow down the choice of stories that I was using. That seemed only fair. Then they had an unfamiliar reading that they had to answer yes no questions about. Then they had to read false statements and reread the story to pull out the words they needed to correct the false statement. Oh, I forgot that there were ten multiple choice where they had to choose the verb form that correctly completed the sentences. I was so excited about the writing results, that I have not paid too much attention to the verb forms. My guess would be they did less well on this part. One of my weaknesses is working through the POV changes. They are solid with the third person singular and plural of regular vers when they can see the -ent ending. They saw a lot of tu and je in dialog in their stories, but the I never explicitly “taught” the verb paradigms. But I go back to the point that I was amazed by a lot of the writing. So, they handed in part one and picked up a list of 30 structures that they defined in English. They took these structures and anything else they knew to tell me a story. I asked for 50-75 words. When I stopped in to answer questions during the testing period – I don’t proctor my own exam – a sparkler (boy) who is great at playing the game, but not a fast processor, asked if he could write more than 75 words. I was really encouraged. I also consider myself a novice. There is lots of room for growth in my TPRS repetoire, but every year, I feel a little stronger and more self assured about wh

  3. Oops, new computer keyboard! I am more confident about what I am doing. In my heart, I know that I could not do what I am doing at my particular school, if I had to hand my kids off to a more traditional kind of teacher. As for prepping for a different kind of assessment, I am sure there are others on the blog who can weigh in. It may have been Carol Gaab who said she took time at the end of the year to do workbook stuff with the kids if she knew they were going to a traditional classroom. Maybe Anne Matava could expand on what she did when her kids when she took a break from stories. This could be an interesting conversation. Sometimes I feel like in addition to the kids, I have to learn to play the game too.

    1. Thank you so much for your detailed response explaining your final. While I also have to hand over my students to a more traditional teacher (there are only two of us German teachers in my district), I am lucky in that my colleague supports what I do in the classroom. Since he is the senior of the two of us, we go over the topics/grammar points that he wants the kids to be familiar with when they join his class, but I am free to get them there any which way I choose. The only time I am limited is when I have to follow department outlines for certain tests and finals. I guess, in the end what really matters is how much German the students will have acquired by the time they leave my class. The students themselves are the best judges of their abilities, and their feedback in that regard is very encouraging.
      Again, thanks so much for explaining your approach. It will definitely help me when I plan my assessments for next year.

  4. I bought in to playing the game too. But, since in Denver we now write and rewrite assessments directed straight at the proficiency standards every year, I am now totally free of that.
    Each of the 93 teachers in our district has to teach to those standards because their students will be tested based on those standards and they can’t fake it anymore. The shoe is on the other foot. Which means all of a sudden CI is cool, and books really are a badge of dishonor.
    Today we just finished 11 very intense days of rewriting, completely throwing out the NY State testing models that were the only decent thing we had to base our work on until now. DPS WL coordinator Diana Noonan has been working on this for seven years pretty much 24/7. We worked until 5:30 today and almost had to be thrown out of the building.
    Diana is a real leader, not a fake one. She refuses to show even a morsel of respect to anything that doesn’t align with current research and standards both nationally and in Colorado, which are essentially the ACTFL guidelines written at the state level.
    Yes we are lucky. But is luck really the word? Is what Wall Street is doing correct? Do we enable those in our society who hurt others to continue doing so? Do we support book companies with new $15K to $25K orders each summer, knowing that we can’t teach shit out of those books and that they turn kids off from learning languages? When are we going to be done with that?
    Aligning with the standards is my passion and why I am so out there and I make no apologies for it. Yes, of course, I defend the right of all language instructors to teach as they best see fit, but not at the expense of children.
    Are we to continue to try to please those who are using means of assessing kids that are based on 20th century models now gone just because many of the teachers who still use them started teaching way back then? Things have changed, and we must assess honestly, and not cave in to outmoded ways of thinking.
    The world is no longer flat, is another way to say it.

  5. I can also defend my right to teach the children who are in front of me as I see fit. I do what I can to promote change but spending all of my energy trying to make others see the light is not the best use of my time. I know who I am dealing with. All of the points that Robert mentioned in his recent post – especially the element of fear – describe my school. I really envy anyone who is in a forward looking ,creative environment where new ideas are embraced and celebrated. It would be nice to have the freedom to just take off and find a place where like minded people share a common goal.. I do not have that flexibility I count it as a victory that my enrollment is up, kids are choosing French . The admin has stopped suggestiong that I pick up a few Spanish classes just in case…For the most part, I am left alone to do my thing. People are noticing that French is a different experience and I do have the support of the guidance department which is good. The other positive is the academic freedom I have as the only French teacher to do what I feel is best for my kids. It’s a survival thing.

    1. …it’s a survival thing….
      Rarely is this brought up. It’s like we’re supposed to have it together all the time. I don’t. I am ultra sensitive to those around me and probably couldn’t make it in that situation Carol.

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