Great bio from Clarice here:
I can’t believe this is my 27th year of teaching. I graduated with a degree in Spanish and a minor in cultural anthropology/sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The economy wasn’t very good, although not as bad as now, so I could get part time jobs in retail, and finally landed a job in a bilingual social service agency. Events happened that took me to Houston where I worked for the National Tourist Office of Spain for two years. It was there where I had the epiphany that in every job I had ever had I was most joyous was when I was teaching. So, I packed my bags and returned to northern California, earned my teaching credential at CSU Sacramento, interviewed at my alma mater, Oakmont High School, and have been teaching there and in the Roseville Joint Union High School District, in Roseville, California on Interstate 80 near Sacramento about halfway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe for 26 and a half years now. I met my husband when he was substitute teaching at Oakmont 22 years ago. We have two beautiful sons, ages 20 and 17. Both sons attend(ed) Oakmont High School where I teach and both have had a tremendous effect on how I choose to teach now.
I taught like I was taught, as I think we all do when we start out unless there is a really good university methods course. I had an inspirational teacher who although did not use TPRS (because it didn’t exist yet), did use a lot of CI methods. She spoke slowly to us, established meaning, and gave us so much confidence in our abilities that we didn’t greatly fear speaking to anyone. She still had to use the textbook; we still conjugated verbs, worked on noun/adjective agreement and the like. I learned so much and was able to speak so well I thought that if I just taught like her everyone would learn. I didn’t really understand that I was a 4%, so of course I learned well and two trimesters in Yucatan and a year in Spain didn’t hurt at all.
I was what Susie Gross calls an eclectic teacher. I created games, interactive communicative activities, projects, you name it and I probably did it in my classroom. Once our schools started AP programs in the late 80’s and early 90’s, oh Lord, but that changed everything. The argument was we had to teach with the end in mind, which really meant the students would be subjected to even more grammar, listening and pronunciation tapes and vocabulary lists, and never mind that very few would even get to AP or want to get there by our teaching them that way. I remember telling one of my Spanish 1 students, that I knew he could learn Spanish because he had already learned his first language, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to learn his Spanish the way we had to teach it in the classroom. It broke my heart then and I am horrified to this day to know I was a dream killer. Our focus became to get students prepared for the exam. Our students rocked on the AP Spanish exam, we had 90-100% passing rates but at what cost? Fewer than 5% went on to AP and a then week after the exam; the students didn’t want to use the language at all and even believed they couldn’t.
Too many times Foreign Language teachers have been the dream killers. We have been the gate keepers to the universities and if a student couldn’t pass levels 1-2, or whatever level a university requires, they couldn’t/can’t go straight to a 4 year university. In the case of AP too many teachers discouraged any students they thought wouldn’t pass the exam from taking the course. They would tell students they weren’t AP material. We have taught our students they are not smart enough or hard working enough to learn another language. Shame on us!
I believed for years there had to be a better way. I quit doing projects, I hated them anyway. As a parent, I resented how much time the homework and projects, which started when my sons were in kindergarten, take away from family time. So, I quit giving homework and did more hands on activities in class. I used technology. I taught a special repeaters class which was 90% males who failed because they wouldn’t do the homework (stupid worksheets, flashcards and useless projects), needed to move, and were angry and afraid because they felt stupid for failing the first time around. I loved those classes, but I still wasn’t satisfied because so many could understand so little.
In the summer of 2009, a colleague and I attended a 2-day Blaine Ray Workshop in San Francisco. It changed my life. After 23 years of being considered a very successful and traditional Spanish teacher, I jumped into TPRS with both feet and have never looked back. Fortunately, at least for now, I am the department chair and I have been able to push TCI as the only way to go in Spanish for all new hires.
When I started this CI journey, it was Ben’s blog that helped me every day. Blaine inspired me to finally cast off my chains of tradition and seek freedom for myself as a professional and for my students. But, it was Ben’s blog, books and DVD’s that gave me the baby steps, the skipping, the jumping, the million other little things that I could use immediately, even if I failed, which some days I did/do abysmally. The lifeline you, Ben, and the others threw me last year in the “water wings” blog helped lift me up so I could keep lifting up the other two TCI teachers our department.
I have to say there have been plenty of days when I know I have done a very poor job, but when I look at my students’ quick writes, I hear them speaking Spanish or come home and find my son, who has been lucky enough to experience TCI in Spanish 1-2 and now in IB (4-5,) and his friends speaking Spanish when they are playing around, it brings me joy.
I know that teaching on an 90 minute 4×4 block schedule with 41-42 students makes it difficult to build the relationships necessary for our students to learn, but not impossible. But building relationships in a short amount of time is difficult for me. We are just now finishing the third quarter and it’s the second week of November. A couple of weeks ago I realized I had let some of my kids fall behind. I misread them and what they knew. I’m getting those kids back on track, but we are done with each other in another four weeks. There is this one girl who is so loud and obnoxious. She was suspended for five days because of fighting. But when I look in her eyes I can see the little girl who wants to be loved. In these past two weeks, she finally trusts me and is settling down and learning, but she’ll be gone in 4 weeks just as the real change is starting to happen.
My biggest struggle may really be a personal/spiritual problem. I am an impatient person. I have a terrible time staying in the moment. Slowing down enough to look a different student in the eyes with each word is agonizing. When I can do it, it is amazing. I think I must be suffering from dementia because I just can’t seem to stay there in the moment with an open heart. Maybe because some students are able to take advantage when I get that open, and then it all goes to hell in a hand basket. But, what is so wonderful about TCI is that because I have to be so open, I have made a large of “love” deposits (no matter what I said above). Those “love” deposits help me and my students start each day anew.
I jumped into TCI with both feet and can never go back. We have to succeed. Our former principal fully backed us on TCI and the changes we have made. She stood up for us when our students don’t do well on the District Common Assessment which is an end of the year exam made from a test generator from a textbook we no longer use. (All the money our district has paid to get us trained by the DuFours, Marzano, etcetera and the Vice-superintendent in charge of curriculum development has never had us write curriculum and then a common assessment. It is embarrassing to share how things get done. Now, we are to buy new textbooks so we will have a core vocabulary/core curriculum. Not my words, the Vice-superintendent’s words.) Our principal had to retire early last year due to an inoperable brain tumor. Our new principal seems to want to support us, but he says show him the data. That is what I need: Data.
I have to get better. I have to help our other teachers get better. We have to help each other get better and we have to get data. So, help me oh Ben’s blog, TCI and data are my only hope.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
20 thoughts on “Clarice Swaney”
The data piece is in process, a big process just now getting started in Denver Public Schools. Dr. Beniko Mason running point but not without the step by step involvement of Dr. Krashen. More on that later as it develops. But if you want data and if we get what we think we’re gonna get, we’re gonna have some data.
Ben, cooking up some data? We’ve talked here on the blog about the data monster, but not about preparing him a meal…
Please, more on this soon. The current educational environment runs on data fuel and, well the reality is that good data DOES say something. I am hoping to not be wasting my time with the continued thinking that I am putting into my scales. I hope that I can get some real data for my own classroom. Rule one, though, is that things stay ultra simple. But…if I CAN capture some sort of demonstration of learning gains with real numbers that were not so difficult to gather, then all the better I suppose.
Keep us informed of Denver’s effort’s (and Krashen’s?) to get data.
The data monster we will feed is not the same one we are required to feed in our buildings. This is not a monster at all, but, finally after all these years, a carefully thought out study by Dr. Mason that will slay the bullshit data of today by removing the tacit agreement among teachers that text book companies are good at coming up with data that holds water, as per the last fifty horrible years. No promises yet but Beniko is now here in Denver, Krashen will be on this thing, as Diana told me a few days ago. The horses are in the gate, but we need some traditional teachers to get into the study. We need somone to run against, to compare foot speed, as it were. Basically, we plan on gathering the first credible data on TCI yet. But, the horses aren’t running yet. There is so much opposition, much of it unseen because it is in the form of a rabid kind of ignorance in the profession.
It’s hard for the traditional teacher when doubt begins to chip away at the “way I have always done it”. I recently watched a documentary on charter schools. The teacher in one class was wearing an earpiece. As she was teaching, her colleagues in the back of the room were coaching her – mostly focusing on her questioning skills (not a wl class). Of course, this school was having great results. I shared that with a colleague, since coaching is a big part of who we are and she was appalled that someone would be “telling” her how to teach. Instead of seeing the benefit, her takeaway was that the teacher must have been incompetent! It’s a mindset. It’s a way people define themselves. When someone gets a whiff of self-doubt – maybe I have been wrong all these years – the defenses really go up. Data will be helpful, but finding a traditional teacher open enough to an honest, empirical exchange of ideas?
Clarice: Close your eyes and see me (and many others) linking arms and moving forward with you. I am so glad we met.
Ben, perhaps you could create a “data” category for the blog that could contain any sort of finding, be it a teacher’s account of rising enrollment/retention since switching to CI, testimonials, academic studies referred to, etc. Basically, anything we could use to arm ourselves against the doubters.
John, Blaine tried this and it never flew. I had five 8th graders rank the state on the national French Exam one year and he told me to send those scores to somebody but nothing happened. It’s all disorganized and messy and therefore not accurate with us. Diana and Beniko will finally get some data that, because the study is done by arguably one of the great scholars in the world right now and supported by Krashen, will have some real teeth. We don’t need to gather data because even if we did people always want to see what they want to see, but the study we are planning here will, when published in a few years, be irrefutable.
I am curious about what Clarice, the original poster, means by “data”. I find the term to be overly generic in the discussion. We could be talking about so many different things. John mentions rising enrollment/retention comparisons, testimonials, etc. Clarice mentions textbook-driven district common assessments. What kind of data will ever be enough to convince “them”? I say this because massive data, which supports Krashen’s theories, has been around for decades and is still ignored. Thus, this discussion.
My sense is that traditionalists find discrete point, decontextualized, grammar-driven, accuracy weighted, short-term, memory driven data to be valid and sufficient. CI practitioners dread these cram fests and believe the data they generate to be invalid.
CI practitioners favor data that shows positive comparisons in areas like those that John mentions and CI communication tasks like “whole writing”, listening and reading omprehension, and acquired (not memorized) speaking ability; these strike fear to the hearts of the traditionalist.
Philosophically, the trads believe that accuracy, from the very first days of instruction, is the most important feature of learning language. CIers believe that understanding the message, transmitted in the language through speech/reading), is the most important (grammatical accuracy being important at the later stages of language acquisition and/or when necessary for clarity of message).
I know there are districts that are trying to “bridge this data gap”, including different kinds of assessments which include writing and reading. Unfortunately, they continue to weigh “accuracy” heavily at Levels 1-3. I see no bridge. I don’t believe that the trads are interested in “our kind of data” and I’m certainly not interested in theirs. Seen enough of it for a lifetime. They can’t convince me with it. Can we convince them with ours? Doubtful.
The data already exist–and not old data. Krashen posted something recently about recent CI research that’s been done–published in IJFLT (not exactly a journal thousands are reading). I’ll have to find the citing.
I agree with somebody (was it you, John?)–that concentrating on improving our craft trumps everything else.
I found the Stephen Krashen quote: “We have been trying, some of us for the last 35 years, to provide the evidence supporting the theory underlying TPRS, and there are studies specifically showing that TPRS works. The evidence is overwhelming, in my opinion. The easiest way to find it is ijflt.com, a free online journal, as well as my website, sdkrashen.com. There are, of course, those who disagree, and claim to have counter evidence. To my knowledge, all responsible attacks and criticisms have been answered and they will continue to be answered, in the professional literature.”
“I am curious about what Clarice, the original poster, means by “data”. I find the term to be overly generic in the discussion.”
So do I. I have asked our new principal what type of data he wants to see. Last year, as he started stepping in for our previous principal as she was fighting her illness, he was excited about our increased enrollment numbers. Last week he told me those numbers really don’t mean anything. The increase in numbers could be explained because we are easy teachers and that reputation is getting around so more kids are signing up and going on. (I know I should have had a comeback for that but I don’t really think that fast about those things. I think it was at this point that I asked our principal a question my fellow TCI teacher has asked, “Where and what is the data that supports the textbooks and projects?” He basically said we weren’t going to have that discussion.) I then asked what kind of data will suffice. I was told we will need to look at AP numbers and scores, which is difficult at our site since we don’t have many students sign up for AP Spanish, they are taking IB Spanish instead. That of course could be argued as easy vs. hard since I use CI in IB and the Honors 4 and AP teacher, if there are enough sign-ups for a class, has the students complete tons of vocabulary lists, grammar exercises and write 1-2 essays a week in which she uses an error correction sheet with which they have to figure out exactly what the error is and then fix it.
It’s the lack of clarity on what data are necessary that makes my heart pound, my palms sweat and wakes me up at night and won’t let me go back to sleep. What exactly and how exactly will we gather it? Blehhh!
This guy is a politician disguised as a building administrator, clearly. He finds a way to negate your increased enrollment, then almost in the same breath finds no reason to see anything wrong with the traditionalists lack of any data whatsover. This guy plays a good game of Gotcha. I recommend getting some sleep and not even allowing your deeper mind to try to come up with something on how to deal with this guy. It’s a big sickness. It’s a fairy tale. All the people in the land are under a spell. How else to explain it? So, if it were me, I would choose to sleep in the field of poppies rather than go on down that yellow road. There is no grand and magnificent Oz – just meatheads like this guy.
Nobody has any counter data, they just say they do. That is what is so frustrating about the trads. I hear you, Jody, completely. But it occurs to me, as I mentioned to John, that what is really needed is some direct comparison based on the same exact material being taught by the trads and the CIers (great terms you used there). That is what we are trying to set up here in Denver. Right now, we have one traditional French teacher, a native speaker who is as traditional and vocal against us as they get and who, bless his heart, is willing to teach the same material over an extended period of time that Paul Kirschling, Reuben Vyn, and me will be teaching in our high schools. We need two more traditional teachers to round out this scenario so Beniko can go to work, but nobody else wants to play. We may have to go out of district – we’ve approached Columbine High but they don’t want to play either. That is where we are now. If we can do this, teaching the same material in two different ways, the data will be more easy to manage. I can say one thing, those of us how know Diana, I have never seen a fire in her eyes like on this project. She knows what is at stake and the opportunity we have with Dr. Mason right now.
I’ve just read this thread. Thank you, Clarice, for your post!
I believe that there is some data to be collected in the form of surveying our students. And, I believe that these survey questions should be linked to SLA theory. Questions like, “When in class/doing homework/testing, rate your level of anxiety” or “If you don’t understand something said in the target language, does your teacher make sure you understand before moving on?” I’ve been wanting to develop a survey that gets at the heart of why a CI + P class works so well. Tying in the P is something that the Suits will like to see. If your students overwhelmingly report a positive relationship with you, it’s not about being an ‘easy’ class, it’s obviously something you are doing.
On another note, I think the best way to convince your admin is to have him/her come in and watch your class. If you are tight on the discipline, per Ben’s rules, you are checking for comprehension in multiple ways, multiple times per class, you are modeling what “A” work looks like, your Interpersonal Communication targets are clear… man, you just can’t argue with it.
On a third note, it’s about proficiency. One of the things that Dr. Mason and Diana should do is to have both sets of kids complete 10 minute free writes. In the spring the CI kids will be able to write a ton. they’ll be able to write fluidly – with fluency. With better word order. From the heart, not memorized regurgitation. It’s about proficiency. It’s about proficiency. It’s about proficiency.
On a fourth note, compare the following data:
In the last 4 years the total # of students enrolled in Spanish when from:
Spanish I (three years ago) = X (there were X boys and X girls)
Spanish II (two years ago) = X (There were X boys and X girls and X% attrition)
Spanish III (last year) = X (There were X boys and X girls and X% attrition from year 2 and X% attrition from year 1 and the boy:girl ratio is now X)
Spanish IV (this year) = X (There are now X boys and X girls and the overall attrition rate from year 1 is X% and the ratio boy:girl is X%)
then, analyze for socioeconomic if you can or ethnicity if you can.
Ask your administrator if this amounts to equitable teaching – Offer TCI not as the answer, just as a better way.
PS. I just had an interesting conversation with a PhD candidate in language learning and he suggested that the overall rate of attrition from year 1 to 4 across the country is 50%. I don’t know if this included just public schools or not, but I’ve _never_ heard of those kind of numbers (except in Harrel’s German program!). Does anyone have comparable information?
Thank you, Grant. We must be on the same wave length. I went to our numbers guy and got him to run some of the numbers you mention above. I especially like your suggestions regarding the subgroups. And I think the principal will like that data.
The district likes us to conduct a student evaluation/survey of our instruction on a yearly basis. Your ideas about the survey can be adapted to that. ?
oh, SURVEY gods, where are you??????
Grant you are such a GENIUS!!! Seriously – our numbers are falling off a cliff after Level 2 (no lie — this year we have a TOTAL of Level 3 in Spanish of 8 students; and in French only 5 students……how can we sustain a program with attrition rates like that?)
I try to explain what worked for me last year, then in another conversation I explained “Circling with Balls” and one of my colleagues said, “oh, is that one of your TPRS ‘things’ ” and instead of being defensive, just said, “yes, it is TOTALLY what the guy in the video we watched today (that our principal had us watch — the TED talk with Peter Benson, and igniting the “spark” in kids) was talking about — it’s what I do the first few weeks of class to get to know the kids.”
But, then someone else said that we need to know what the KIDS are saying – and I suggested that we ask the principal to take a survey of the kids who have chosen not to continue past Level 2 and ask them WHY? (esp. when they know how beneficial learning the language is)
I had my hopes up about this person the other day – I don’t know if the open mind will stay. I am the only CI teacher out of the 4 of us, but me and the other two were trying to explain to that 4th that it’s about proficiency – NOT accuracy in Levels 1 and 2. That person’s argument is that s/he wants to prepare them for the rigors of college.
This person also stated that the Level 4s kids who did not want to move to Level 5 (of course the 4%ers) did not want to take 5 bc they didn’t want Spanish to negatively affect their overall GPA!!!!! So, we have THAT to deal with too!
We really need a way to collect data of our own. We do not have relevant assessments; we cannot afford the National Language Exams (French Contest and Nat’l Spanish); and the NYS Regents that’s online is only for one level. I want to do a pre-assessment next week when they start, but don’t know what it should be!
Ours in DPS is significantly better than the Regents and getting better fast. But everytime I bring it up with Diana about sharing it around she mumbles something about proprietary and ignores me. I guess it’s the property of Denver Public Schools. I bet there is over $200,000 in it over the past four years, perhaps a lot more. My thinking mb is to cool things down a bit and let your own numbers do the talking. Those people don’t want to engage in dialogue with you. Just sayin’. Choose your battles. Just my advice, but I have the scars to prove that we must know when to back off with the CI talk if they clearly don’t want to hear it or even think about changing to align with the national standards, the Three Modes, the 90% Use Position Statement, and all the other new stuff that will determine whether they have jobs in four years.
yes, I went into it not wanting a battle; however, when our numbers are THIS low, and people are asking for solutions, how can I be quiet, when I see (from learning French from you, Donna and Susie; and learning Mandarin from Linda) how easy it is to acquire a language first-hand; and after I have done research on comprehensible input for my research graduate course? Then after all the work we have done on this blog this summer on rubrics (and all the money I spend on professional development traveling to CO) and they tell me “we have to do our grading THIS way.” all while addressing the LOW numbers in upper levels — I felt a need to try to HELP – to be the solution, not create a problem!
BTW, our common assessments are all output-based!!! THAT is why I am trying to find RELEVANT pre- and post-assessments.
Ben, as per your suggestion prior to Breckenridge…..I asked Diana @ Breck if I could talk to her at anytime that week about pre- and post-assessments. she said that we could probably have a SIG about it, but unfortunately that never happened (what a busy, crazy week!) So, I never got to talk to her about it; therefore, I am asking here, now.
I’ll ask her to email you. She is one busy boss, trust me. To take an entire district of teachers five years ago with four out of one hundred teachers doing CI to (now this year) sixty out of a hundred, she had to have been busy. But I will sound the alert here. I truly believe in your vision, but I still say, based on experience, that you are in a crushable place professionally right now and since you are in your second year I would take all my energy and put it into getting kids to sign up next year bc they have fun and let your numbers do the talking. Just sayin’ again and not trying to be obnoxious.
Here is the link for the Regents Exams: http://www.nysedregents.org/
Second Language Proficiency is for Level 1
Regents Exams by language is Level 3
Not perfect, but available.
Laurie straighten us out on Guy’s question. If you were at Blaine’s session, please?