Course Descriptions/Syllabi

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



44 thoughts on “Course Descriptions/Syllabi”

  1. To continue to directly address this idea of keeping our teaching lives simple, I just got a question about absent kids. This is another area in which we need to minimize our response. It is beyond my grasp how some teachers will allow a student who skips a class the option to make that work up.

    So, regarding what kind of make-up assignments to give absentees, my response is that nothing happens IF the absence is excused. That is, the student is not given a negative grade nor is the student expected to make up any work.

    This is an important point as we think about planning for simplicity this year. In comprehension classes there is nothing to make up. The kid had to be there for the CI and cannot “make up” the CI – that is an absurd notion. So nothing happens if the kid is excused – they just don’t get the CI*.

    If the kid has no excused absence, however, they get a zero on any work that I took that day and graded. I put that zero (usually on a quiz if I gave one that day) in the book when I enter the rest of the grades. It is then up to the absent student to provide me with an excuse the next day. If I am not given one, the zero stands. It is a very simple way to enforce a strong response on kids who skip class.

    *In the categories I found one thing chill said last year about absences for those of us who use imtranslator:

    …if a kid is absent and it is excused and they have an imtranslator account, all they need to do is cut and paste and they can read and listen to the story they missed in class….

    (Carol I have to tell you how wonderful it was to see you a few weeks ago in San Diego. Your hat is so perfect and when you sat in on my sessions later in the week I was so happy and relaxed because you were sitting there. It is a relaxing hat. You remember in San Antonio in 2009 what we went through – you didn’t have the hat – and so it is like we’ve come full circle to where we can see each other at conferences after all the hard work we do during the year and it is really a good thing. I’m already looking forward to seeing you and your hat next year at iFLT. I think I’m cooked on NTPRS, honestly. Just sayin’.)

    1. Thanks, the hat means I am having a bad hair day! A lot of water has gone over the dam since San Antonio and how we all have evolved in our abilities to practice TCI. I continue to be very grateful for this place to traffic in ideas and share the hits and misses of our daily efforts. I had a great time in the coaching room today with Dave Talone and Nathan Beck – mad skills there. Looking forward to dinner with Clarice, Christine, Sabrina, and MB before we go our separate ways. Your writings continue to inspire and encourage deep thinking about the art of what we are all trying to do. Merci mille fois, mon ami!

      1. It has been SO great meeting everyone and talking and learning. We really have something special going on in this PLC and I for one am very proud of all of our efforts. Sabrina and I were talking about how ahead of the game it seems we are, really, in our efforts with TCI. It’s really beautiful :).

    2. I think I’m finally going to take this advice seriously this year–no make up work if the student has an excused absence, but a zero if it is unexcused. My students just about always have excused absences, and it is such a pain to try to follow up on all the make-up work, especially as I have to re-explain first what they missed in class.

      Guess I thought the teacher-police would arrest me if I didn’t dutifully keep track of make-up work. Ah, this could make my life so much simpler this year. Thanks.

      1. Hi Lori,

        Don t we all fear the teacher police!
        I’m glad you are letting go though. That’ s my plan too.
        I guess the only time I would like the teacher police to give me a ticket is for speeding up when I go too fast, and force me to slow down (haha!).

      2. I am meeting with my new principal this week and I am actually going to explain this to him!!! >if a student is absent from my comprehensible input classroom, that means that s/he missed out on the comprehensible input for that day and the subsequent “exit ticket” (aka QUIZ) for the day. I cannot possibly recreate a 70-minute block for every day a student is missing. They can jump in and READ READ READ the story for the day!<

        Thanks!!! 🙂

        1. …if a student is absent from my comprehensible input classroom, that means that s/he missed out on the comprehensible input for that day…I cannot possibly recreate a 70-minute block for every day a student is missing….

          This is so true. It breaks the old idea of make up work all to pieces. What make up work? There is no make up work in a CI classroom. Get over it. Educating admins on this is something we have to do. If we tell them how CI works and they can get it, good for them. If they don’t get how we really learn languages, and then put pressure on us to provide make up work for absent kids, then there will be conflict that neither side needs. We have to explain what we do to those who don’t understand. Sabrina is considering coming to Denver to work with us. In order for her phone interview last week with a DPS principal to go properly, Paul Kirschling, who is vacating the position Sabrina is considering, physically went into the school a few hours before the interview to educate the principal as to what to talk with Sabrina about (this is a brand new principal). He didn’t want the wrong person hired after spending 16 years in that school doing CI, which he started doing long before most people. Paul told me he literally sat the principal down at 8:30 a.m. on the day of the phone interview and said, “Now, you need to talk with Sabrina about the following things…”. And he ticked them off. The principal had, for example, never heard of Krashen. Now how is that principal qualified to hire someone in languages if they never heard of Krashen? So Paul, knowing this, set up the content of the interview. That is what we have to do. The one thing we really need to let go of this year is that we must in some way entertain or respect the position of textbook teachers who attack us. We’re done with that. The world is no longer flat. It’s a new day. Most of us would probably agree that using English to teach a language and using things like textbooks has gone from kind of plausible three or four years ago to, this year, just dumb. Yet many people are still doing it. Someone has to share with them how kids learn languages. If not us, who? Mary Beth certainly knows this and is not one to shy away from what she sees is the right thing to do in the situation she finds herself in up there in Maine – the principal is new and needs some guidance. She will provide that for the principal proactively.

          1. Andrea Westphal

            Ben, you said,

            “What make up work? There is no make up work in a CI classroom. Get over it. Educating admins on this is something we have to do.”

            My question is, “What/ how is the best way to educate our admins?” I’ve never been asked to do this (educate my administration), but I have tried to informally explain what I do on a number of occasions to gain their support. I did have the experience from hell a few years ago because the administration just didn’t get that I couldn’t assign make up work. I’m terrified of having to relive this experience. Let me explain:

            My second year teaching French, and my second year using CI, I had a student diagnosed with brain cancer. He didn’t return to school after Thanksgiving break and was assigned a homebound instructor. He was still enrolled in French, and I didn’t know what the hell to do (I had only been teaching 3 years) so I assigned some bullshit lessons from the internet just so he was doing something and was in the language. I never was asked to assign a grade, and the administration gave him credit for the class.

            Then, the next fall, he’s enrolled in my French II class. I initially thought it would be no big deal, until I found out that he wouldn’t be attending (actually present) in class until second semester. The admin agreed that I could base his final grade off of his work in second semester. Well, as it turned out, he maybe showed up to class 20-30 times the entire year. I ended up having to assign bullshit work again – something that he could do from home. So I assigned some verbs to conjugate and memorize, and I gave him the reader that he missed out on from first year French. He didn’t do the work, and I didn’t pass him. I was accused by his parents of not teaching him or being qualified. The school gave him the entire summer of 2012 to do it; and then when he came back last fall and I was questioned by the Special Education teacher and his education advocate because now he’s not capable of memorization work. They wanted to take my lessons for him to outside sources to “check” my work. I refused.

            I don’t know how the situation ended, but it has left me wounded. I need to know how to educate my admins and good CYA techniques. What would you have done?

          2. Holy cow Andrea! This situation seems like it should have been the responsibility of admin. How can you teach a student who is not present? The circumstances, in my opinion, were so extenuating that the admin should have allowed him to enroll in an online course or just skip it and wait until he was back in school…or some other more clear plan than allowing him to remain enrolled while hardly being there. What happened in his lab science classes? I always wonder about this bc that is another situation where kids really need to be in school to do the labs. The school needs to figure out how to deal with these situations. They are all different and require all parties to be on board with the best strategy. You are teaching an interactive class. Interactions mean students need to be present. It was really unfair that you were expected to assign work and then criticized for what you assigned.

            Why didn’t the Special Ed / ed advocate step in earlier to let you know the student could not memorize? This is an egregious lack of communication on the part of those who had critical information that they neglected to share with you.

            You did the best you could in that situation, with the information you had. There is no ideal way around this, but I think everyone involved needs to be sharing all the info so they can be on the same page. Assigning outside work is a crap shoot. It depends so much on the student and how invested he / she is. One suggestion is to compile a list of links to websites, youtube videos, etc. that you could have teh student work with. Also, sending class stories and have them work with those using textivate and/or imtranslator. Those are just ideas off the top of my head. Not ideal, but ok in a pinch.

            AS far as educating admins, maybe copy and paste some or all of these posts from Robert. I am planning to do this myself. Not sure if I will edit / condense or use them as is, crediting Robert of course. I might write up a concise summary to send to admin and then attach the longer documents for reference. NOt sure yet. Anyway those are my thoughts!

          3. Andrea Westphal

            Thank you for your insight, Jen. It was a hellish experience. I, too, thought that the admin dropped the ball. I have no idea how his lab classes were completed. I am quite sure it was hell for all of us (excluding his English class). The first year we were all very compassionate about the situation, but when his parents turned on us in the second year of the ordeal, it was hard not to take it personally.

          4. Andrea this has engendered a long response and I apologize for that.

            This situation simply reveals that the system is flawed, not the teacher. It is an unaware system in the sense that I don’t think it even knows what it put you through.

            It put the blame for the situation on you. I would ask if we should internalize messages from such organizational entities that we are in some way wrong. Teachers do that all the time for some dumb ass reason.

            We are not wrong. The system in which we work is flawed. That you feel wounded is a source of anger to me, but again, that would be a poor reaction on my part.

            I am so glad that you sent this comment in Andrea because even this year many of us are in fact going to be accused of some level of incompetence by a monstrous organizational entity that cannot understand its own flaws and therefore puts them off on teachers in the form that you described above, but also in countless other ways ranging from assessment attacks to pedagogy attacks to personal attacks from idiots.

            Just yesterday we were doing some DPS writing team upper level assessment writing with Paul and Diana – we don’t have our third and fourth year tests done yet – and we went to lunch and the topic of administrator support came up again. We discussed how having admins who actually understand what we do is THE KEY to the kind of nonsense you went through. (MB is meeting with her new principal to do this very thing tomorrow and wanted to see all the Robert Harrell articles in advance of that meeting so I sent them to her).

            The discussion about educating admins – and this is the core of my response to you – hinged on a point Paul made about how educating ANYONE has to do with the quality of the instruction and we patted Diana on the back – what a fearless leader! – there at lunch because it is HER uncomprising district leadership work over the past seven years that have switched Denver Public Schools WL from only 5 CI teachers seven years ago to over 80 now.

            (We get together and socialize often – if you are reading this in the Denver area come to Joe Dzietzic’s house , 4936 Irving tomorrow nite, Thursday, beginning at 5:30 BYOB. We have a professional unity of purpose but one that goes to the level of the heart and so is far beyond merely a professional allegiance to each other.)

            Our real allegiance is to children who can’t defend themselves against shitty teaching. That allegiance that we have to each other in DPS allows us to emotionally and practically withstand and defend ourselves on all levels against the kind of assault you experienced. The group must protect the indiviudal and you had no one there to protect you.

            So it all depends on leadership. For us Diana goes to DPS admin on a consistent basis and she has educated the people in our district who really count, Antwan Wilson and Suzanna Cordova, the people just under the DPS superintendent – who is more a figurehead – and they got the funds to send 35 of us to the first iFLT three years ago in LA and they get what we do pedagogically.

            So how do we get our leadership of those in this PLC to function like Diana Noonan? We keep advocating for our position.

            Just this morning I sent the following email to my principal and WL area AP:

            Josefina and Gabriella I hope you are resting well and gearing up. I’m really looking forward to this year at Lincoln. We have some energy going in WL and that is what it is all about!

            By the way, I met another cool AP out in San Diego, Yolanda (can’t remember her last name but she is the AP at Hamilton) and she was out there checking it all out. Anyway, Diana Noonan (organizer of the conference) told me that Yolanda was meeting with Antwan this week. After her conference experience, she said to Diana that this ‘method’ should be “mandated” in all WL classes in DPS. So I feel that this is another reason for us in WL at Lincoln to stay strong and positive about our leadership role in the district. Antwan has always supported us and we can move forward in that spirit, because the thing we need now is for more and more admins to get that what we are doing is pedagogically correct. Also, we have drawn into the Denver area two storytelling superstars, both from Chicago. One will be at TJ and the other at Valor Christian but still in the area and we can draw on them as we continue our work in WL.

            See you soon!


            Is it politics? Not really. Maybe it is. At the end of the day and at the end of my career I won’t call it politics, I will call it advocating for kids who can’t advocate for themselves. I don’t know why, but the three and a half decades of seeing FL classrooms that resemble tombs has gotten to me. What right have traditional teachers to make kids feel stupid? (Du calme, Ben…du calme!)

            So the point Andrea is that you are alone in a system that is out of balance and you have wrongly seen yourself as having done something wrong and you have not been able to get that because there has been no one next to you to tell you how crazy and wrong the situation you were in with that kid was. I personally consider what you experienced to be a form of emotional abuse of teachers and we have that category you may want to read in about Bullying of Teachers here.

            So what would I have done? I think my point is clear Andrea. We can’t do this alone. I would not have done it alone and what you did was more than proper because you WERE alone.

            The thing is when you are in a district where you have no support – and this is just my opinion – what CAN you do? You were truly in an impossible situation. They got you in a game of Gotcha! They wanted you to give him a pass when he failed.

            Anyway, good on ya’ for surviving that one and for doing the right thing. And it is a strong caution for the rest of us to avoid locking horns with a monster. Why do that? We will get crushed. And some of us WILL be in similar situations this year.

            That is why we have to get support. I don’t know. I’ve written myself into a kind of acceptance of the anger that I initially felt when reading your comment so I will just let it go now.

          5. Andrea Westphal

            Thank you, Ben. I know that technically, I AM alone in my district, but I at least I have this PLC. I’ve thought about throwing in the towel on numerous occasions thinking that the mountain before me is insurmountable. At least I have the French program all to myself and that makes the load a bit lighter, AND I have a new principal this year that doesn’t pretend to know anything about WL that at least verbally supports what I do. I am going to try and take advantage of this opportunity – I see it as an opportunity. I’ve not utilized this group as much as I would like. The goal I have for myself this year is to stay plugged in (I think I might have stated that as goal last year too). Again, thank you!!!

          6. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak


            You may be alone in your district and that is very hard, yet at the same time you are not alone. There is of course this PLC, which is and continues to be a lifeline or a ” bouée de sauvetage” for many of us.

            I believe that we can fight this feeling of isolation, which is daunting and paralysing by forming groups and getting together at a local level. This is what we’ve started doing in Chicago last month. 7 of us gathered informally to talk about our successes and challenges last year and to think about ways to move forward and keep the momentum going in a spirit of collaboration.

            I read somewhere that you would attend NTPRS next year if held in Chicago.

            I’d like to invite you to attend our next meeting in Chicago on the 17th of August in which we will discuss and demo ways to get started doing CI 90% or more of class time and in 100% comprehensibility (topic I just rambled on a few minutes ago in a reaction to Robert’s post) . I will add you to the email list and hope you can make it. Ben may even make it to Chicago to help us that day but no promises there, just a very wishful thought…

            The invitation is extended to anyone who can make it….

          7. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak


            The only email adress I could find for you is your school one. Could you kindly include your personal email adress as a comment here so I can add you to the list.

          8. When your kids kick butt in their final exam, and when you have few management issues (because class isn’t stupid and/or incomprehensible), and when your low-end kids get 75% for the first time, and when kids start saying they wanna be in your class… THAT is when you start “training” adminz. You walk the walk. They’ll want to talk the talk. Hang in there.

  2. Sharon Reiter

    Okay, Ben, in order to get a better grip on this concept, of nothing happening to their grade if absence is excused, are you saying they get an “exempt” for the quiz and for the jGR grade?

    For the first six absences my school doesn’t even count excused or unexcused absences. After six, then they start looking for a doctor’s note. Of course, there is nothing to keep me from demanding my OWN requirement for a written excuse from their parent. At your school, do students have one extra day to bring a note from their parent? I had one kid with 21 absences, but was a senior, and the administration was not going to let him fail. I think the kids at our school already have that figured out. Yes, he had knee surgery, and his grandfather was at death’s door at least two times and apparently the student was the ONLY one in the family to stay with the grandfather at the hospital all night long, and on and on. However, I do know for a fact that several of the first six absences were for inconsequential reasons, like going deer or turkey hunting.

    On the other hand I had kids coming to school, so sick all they could do was sleep through the class. Another policy at my school, an absent-free record but passing a class, exempts them from the final in that class, but of course in reality they were not present in class.

    For someone with many absences because of illness, would you give them a reader to translate? Even then, how would you calculate a jGR grade?

    Last spring I was ready to make every day a “free day” as I had a couple kids going on this field trip, and that State convention, or math competition or music competition and then be sick in the middle of it… ALL considered excused absences according to policy. Yet, they missed an equivalent of one week of my classes. I think some join every possible club just so they can get out of as much school as they can.

    Know that I DEEPLY appreciate your input, Ben. Thanks.

  3. …if absence is excused, are you saying they get an “exempt” for the quiz and for the jGR grade?…

    Yes, I go to the computer when they give me the excused absence and replace the zero with an X, a “no grade”, which neither hurts or helps them. As I said, I give no “make up” work. How can they do work they weren’t there to do?

    My school can’t keep up with all the absences so I’m not a good person to ask and the kids game the system all year. 75 absences won’t even get you to truancy court. But yes they get one day to bring the excuse (but it will grossly misrepresent my own efforts*). Your free six days is really off the wall. Do you then start with parents’ notes after that?

    …for someone with many absences because of illness, would you give them a reader to translate? Even then, how would you calculate a jGR grade…?

    I would not give them a reader bc being in class and listening to comprehensible input is what enables them to be able to later read in the TL. I would not try to assess someone who wasn’t in my class. I would tell the administration that and let them deal with it.

    If they insist that I assess a kid I barely know or have rarely seen in my class, I am not sure what I would do. Most of us give some bullshit work and the kid doesn’t do it and we pass the kid. I don’t know.

    That is why I like this PLC – it’s not Ben’s Advice Column – the entire group is one big problem solving machine, as you have seen.

    *I have learned to accept unexcused absences on an emotional level. It would be petty to take it personally. My kids’ lives are hard. And that is a gross understatement. Poverty sucks.

  4. I enter attendance, and the school computer phones home if the kid is away. If I don’t get a note, anything (worth marks) done in class can be made up at a time inconvenient to the kid and AFTER they have done garbage duty outside my window. (Holy crap do they ever hate that…and it’s also a positive contribution to the school community). I also check notes.

    In Spanish class, I told them: “if you aren’t here, you miss out on input. Which will in the long run affect your mark.” This year, out of 50 kids taking Spanish, the three that failed were the kids who skipped. I documented, sent them to counsellors bla bla bla. None of them whined when they failed– they knew why.

    I don’t have time or energy to deal with absent kids. I REFUSE to make up extra quizzes, work, etc cos Johnny went to McDonalds instead of class. If they’re too dumb, or Spanish is THAT difficult/boring, well, they fail.

  5. Oops I should clarify– if they’re too dumb to realise that they have to be in class to learn (because 90% of kids don’t do anything to learn it outside of class), so they choose other options, they fail.

    Of note this year– my IEP kids all passed. TPRS worked for them.

  6. As for a syllabus, my high school requires it. This year I turned in no syllabus whatsoever for any class. Nobody ever asked me for one and I forgot all about it. They are mostly bullshit.

  7. I recently spent a lot of time creating a detailed course description for my Latin 1 class and will be doing it for my other levels as well.

    It’s not for kids and it’s not for parents because it is way too long and doesn’t include specific classroom items such as the rules, rubrics, policies, etc. I will not be sending it home, would not want students reading it, and would only direct a parent to it online if I thought they really wanted to read it (and I doubt this will happen in my career). I agree this stuff is best taught through practice in class and explained briefly at Back to School Night or in phone conversations when needed. I have a short syllabus I send home a couple weeks into the year with the rules and a “newsletter” with info about what to expect in Latin class, but these are about 2 pages and I like having them just as an organizational piece for myself and as a reference point with parents, should I need one.

    But this course description that I just worked on is more of an explanation of why I teach according to CI and how the principles of CI are applied to the classroom. It draws from and quotes the ACTFL’s position statement and the California State Content Standards to show that what I am doing is aligned with research and standards. It also draws from the ACTFL’s 3 modes for explaining how students are evaluated in class.

    So it is for my admins, to show that I’ve done my homework and cover me in case I should need it in the future. It’s a requirement that I have it on file to have my courses approved by the board.

    It’s also for other teachers. As a Latin teacher, teaching with CI always seems to require a lot of explanation. When I have student teachers, observers or other Latin, or other language teachers who are interested in how I teach it is the creed of my program that I can refer them to.

    It has also been something for me too. In talking about this with Bob Patrick, I realized that making this document about my program has helped me better articulate a sort of mission statement for my program and at the same time it also has improved my confidence that I actually am more in alignment with ACTFL and my state standards than I realized (and California’s standards are pretty good as far as CI goes). I also benefited from looking more deeply into the 3 modes and I learned some things there that are informing my teaching in new ways.

    I wouldn’t have done this in the first place, but ironically I couldn’t add a non-AP Latin 4 course until I made a description of it. That’s what got the ball rolling on it, but I’m glad I’ve spent the time that I have. It’s not something I’ll revamp each year, and even if I don’t have to use it for much beyond the board approval for my courses, it’s been a good journey for me to articulate at least for myself, and a few others, why I believe in what and how I teach.

    1. Hi David, agreed on this kind of exercise. Last year I had to put into clear wording why and how I was teaching for parents of a difficult child. It really boosted my confidence and made my own planning easier after that. I shared the same with my administrators as we talked about that situation, and they didn’t notice it was revolutionary — it seemed that I sounded knowledgeable and supported by research, and they don’t realize the difference from other styles of teaching I’ve attempted. Parents likewise.

      1. And having a course description might be helpful in keeping myself in line as well, a reminder for me of what I need to do in each class.

        I just saw some good ones on Carrie Toth’s website

    1. Chris, no problem, here’s a link to a file on Box. I value anyone’s input on this; this is just the first draft I’ve worked up. Feel free to comment on or correct my content, verbosity, spelling, grammar, or make broad suggestions regarding length, organization, content, terms, redundancy issues, etc.

      Also, I have used or paraphrased occasional sentences I got off the blog, written by Ben and Robert Harrell. I’m asking permission here to use these sentences – they came from the discussion last year on assessment and the 3 modes and were stated so well I wanted to use them as they were or slightly altered (but I can rephrase them if you like, Ben or Robert).

      A couple things to mention about it too:

      So far I have finished a first draft for Latin 1, and the other levels will be pretty similar, just changing certain parts to reflect different standards. I used a structure that matches the other descriptions that are on my school’s website, but wanted Latin in particular to explain the methodology of the course (CI) so anyone, especially admin, or another teacher, (but also a parent) could understand it. So in a way, these Course Descriptions are supposed to be a sort of a manifesto of my whole program and a place to which I can direct someone who would want to know more, or cover me in admins eyes and show that I am in alignment with the ACTFL and CA State Content Standards.

      The length has been a concern of mine since it is quite longer than the other course descriptions for Spanish, French and German at my school, but these course descriptions are not trying to define CI, so it is necessary for more length to explain that foundational part of the course. Plus since it’s not document I’m requiring parents to read, and more of a CYA document, I think it’s good to have the detail.

      Also, I have intentionally not included specific rubrics, rules, class policies, etc. since these things change from year to year and the course description is going to stay the same for a number of years (I hope). I’m trying to include stuff that is conceptual and broad and not likely to change much with the adjustments I make to the course from year to year. But I would like to know if you think anything seems TOO specific or if some sections could/should be omitted.

      Thanks! -David

      1. Hi David – I read over your document, and I think it’s great. As you mentioned, long if used for parents or students, but as a description of what and why you teach as you do, I didn’t find it redundant – except perhaps explaining the 3 steps of TPRS so specifically. (I think this partly because Step 2 for me is not so often a full story, and that would be limiting.) But it looked like you were using a template that required you to include “Instructional Materials” so that fit there. I thought it was an excellent description of level I classes related to the 3 modes and expectations for production by students.
        One thing I wondered b/c I’m not in CA: do the CA standards themselves include ASL so frequently in their subpoints? If not, if sounded like a lot of mention of ASL. I know you use sign language often for gestures.

        1. Hi Diane, thanks for the feedback. It’s nice to have outside opinions affirm how it reads. I left in the part about the three steps mainly because I wanted that core process for the class explained briefly, especially to other Latin teachers and observers whom I introduce my class to. I’m glad you mentioned the ASL signs too.

          I do use ASL signs a lot in my class and I mention that in a number of places in my course description. I wanted to make sure to include gesturing and signs throughout my description because I do in fact grade students on their participation for using them. As I was reading up on the 3 modes I noticed that gesturing was specifically included in the interpersonal mode and that was encouraging for me.

          I personally love using signing as a way of keeping kids attentive in class. It gives them a way to participate without oral production or much distraction. It doesn’t create any noise for me to compete with; I can deliver CI while kids are required to engage in a form of production (signing) that they are ready for and is not disruptive.

          And you are right, the California State Standards themselves mention ASL a lot, and I understand that this is done for language classes that teach ASL INSTEAD OF an oral language. I just pasted the standards into my document, leaving the clauses for ASL in there. Now that I think about it, I may remove the ASL part from the standards themselves since the goal in my class is teaching the Latin language and I only use ASL signs to clarify meaning and to learn the words. Having them in the standards themselves might get a little confusing; they are not placed in the right context for how I use them in class.

          Thanks for bringing my attention to this. I think removing the ASL in the standards themselves will clean them up some.

  8. There were a few workshops dedicated to the the upper levels at NTPRS. Let me get home, unpacked and rested a bit and I will start posing here the hi-lites of the workshops on upper levels that I attended.

  9. Looks good.

    Dunno why a CI teacher would want their beginner kidsto “negotiate meaning” in the target language (you quoted California standards for that one). My impression is that the kid-on-kid “conversation” that we see in “communicative” clasrooms is not helping us deliver quality input. Just my two cents– overall, this is a doc that mind-maps your ideas nicely.

    1. Chris, that is a good point – we know it takes a long time for beginners to “negotiate meaning” orally in the target language. That is why I tried to make sure I described the negotiation of meaning throughout my document as being non-verbal, signed, in English or in the target language. Negotiation in the target language is an ultimate hope and goal, but in the right time.

      Reading up on the 3 modes this summer helped me in my own view of how students are expected to progress in terms of performance according to the modes and ranges. For that reason, I don’t really view the “stages” of the California Standards as referring to YEARS in the language or really ANY quantifiable amount of time. Based on ORAL production, most, if not pretty much all of my kids would be in Stage 1 well into their second year and many into their third. That’s why I try to make an emphasis on trying to negotiate meaning in other ways, such as non-verbal, signed and English responses. In the other modes (interpersonal and interpretive) students may achieve to higher stages (or for the ACTFL ranges). In my course descriptions for my other levels I will indicate that students may still be acceptably functioning in Stage 1 in some of the modes (especially presentational), OR may begin to function sometimes within the later stages too.

      The ACTFL uses “ranges” of “novice, intermediate and advanced” and explains that in a TYPICAL FOUR YEAR PROGRAM learners may begin to perform within the LOWER INTERMEDIATE RANGE. This seems reasonable to me, and I know that my students will have a range of abilities, some perhaps PRODUCING in the novice range, but INTERPERSONALLY AND INTERPRETIVELY understanding probably higher.

      It seems to me that both the CA standards and the ACTFL are fairly broad and take into account the fact that different students will make different levels of progress in each of the 3 modes at different rates for different languages. I really felt I got a good handle on the whole thing from reading the Performance Descriptors booklet on the website.

      1. The CA Standards also say that a kid can be in stage 2 content but stage 1 structures.

        It’s hard to get people to understand that movement from stage to stage is unpredictable and different from student to student.

        It’s also difficult to get people to realize that Stage II isn’t Spanish II and Stage III is most definitely not Spanish III.

        I do, however, like our standards in CA.

    2. My take on “negotiate meaning” is that in order to stay in the TL and for a student to deliver a message to my brain, I, the teacher, need to ask as many yes/no questions and clarify until I know what the kid’s message is.

      I think we start negotiating meaning on day 1 of level 1.

      Do you play football? Do you play volleyball? Oh, you play volleyball? She plays volleyball? Does she play volleyball?

      Isn’t that a negotiation of meaning on between 1 person and then eventually the class?

        1. Yes, and students in the beginning (and later stages) of language acquisition should “negotiate meaning” non-verbally from day 1 on. Eye contact, the stop signal and general body language all accomplish this very efficiently.

          Even we as native speakers negotiate meaning at non-verbally and unconsciously in our native languages all the time. And especially with kids having increased exposure to textual social media (texting and Facebook) and less time and opportunities to negotiate meaning face to face (i.e. dinner with the family, extended conversations with adults, etc.) it is essential we give these skills high priority in our classrooms.

          1. Exactly! I feel like the interpersonal skills, whether or not the kid even learns L2 are critical. These skills are literally becoming extinct. With the big technology push, we are being forced to use more tech for everything. Fine and dandy. I embrace change. But we are still human beings and we need to interact. In person.

            Last night I had dinner w/ 2 colleagues. One was telling us about her daughter’s first boyfriend. “They don’t know each other! They live an hour away and so all they do is text and face time.” I applaud her effort as a parent to make sure that her daughter & beau spend actual time together. In person. The other colleague talked about certain students who were her advisees–9th grade girls, who aside from lacking confidence, lack skills in “the art of conversation.” May sound frivolous until you think about some of the consequences–this girl was with a boy & “didn’t know what to talk about so I just started kissing him.”

            What we are doing is essential. Period.

  10. In my classes, if a kid is absent, I exempt them from the daily quiz score (otherwise they get a 0) if they translate on paper one of dozens of stories I have printed out and ready for this kind of thing. I use Blaine’s LICT extended readings for this, as well as other really simple kind of text that is repetitious and will take them at least one half hour to complete. Remember, they don’t get a grade for this, they just get exempted from the day.

  11. Has anybody here had to use a syllabus template? We have switched to them at my school this year – we are essentially forced to do all that long syllabus stuff.

    My administrators apparently need more paper. Mind boggling, considering that nobody understands our new schedule and they can’t get kids in the correct classes at my school.

  12. I’m sorry for those of you who have to fill in a particular template (although it does keep you from having to invent a structure…). As the years go by, I see that the “required syllabus” (see David Young’s post!!) has evolved into a big ole lie. On the surface, it appears to be a way to keep parents and students informed about the course and how to be successful in the course. Back in the day, it was actually used to hold students accountable for required work etc. However that is rarely the case now. It is most often used to “hoist teachers by their own petard”, so to speak. If our “paper” says we will do X, Y and Z….and we don’t…then someone may hold us accountable for that. I’ve learned only to put things on that paper that I am willing to do. And while I’m willing to do a great deal for students, I’m not willing to do a heck of a lot for “the system.”

    The temptation is to use those papers as a way to daydream about how wonderful the year will be, the amazing activities will take place, the phenomenal production that will occur that will make my program and my students look amazing. Then the year starts, reality kicks in and I don’t want to be held accountable for an impossible dream.

    I’m going to try (hah!) to be succinct!
    with love,

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben