Diana Noonan

For six years now Diana Noonan has been working on aligning Denver Public Schools WL with ACTFL and what then turned out to be, in December of 2009, the new Colorado State standards (novice low, etc.).
She trained teachers (those interested) in TPRS, who then worked together over recent years to design assessment instruments that align with those standards. Two levels are essentially done, and with incredible attention to detail (the writing and speaking rubrics are works of art if you really look at them). Upper level assessments and rubrics are in the works. Those assessments and rubrics can be said to be spot on with the expectations of the new standards.
What this has done for teachers in our district who use comprehensible input methods cannot be overstated. My own style is to hit the first year students with massive, massive amounts of CI, especially in listening. This year in particular, maybe because I was working with slightly more intellectually mature ninth graders instead of eighth graders for the first time, all of that CI has transferred into writing samples that I could not have predicted, and that are essentially ten times better than anything I have seen from my middle school students.
Aligning those samples/free writes with the writing rubric that all teachers in Denver Public Schools will give to their students this month has really reinforced my belief in the idea that input really does precede output, really really really.
In the same way, with speaking, by sheltering my level ones from any kind of artificial or forced verbal output this year, I am now seeing the spontaneous emergence of speech and it is a joy to be a part of in class.
I did less reading than I should have, it has always been a weakness with me because I just want to do all the speaking CI I can with my students, it’s just my nature. But I also know that when my students do start reading more and more and more at upper levels, because of all of that listening CI from this year, it will be effortless.
Recently, in preparation for the exit tests (we do pretests/posttests on every kid in the district on a district wide level), I have been putting some of the kids’ free writes on the white board so that we can fix the grammar in another colored marker together as a class.
The way that works is that we fix the grammar – the kids love it because now grammar makes sense to them in the context of the speech that they have heard – and when we do that I am all about praise. I am able to marvel, and it is genunine marveling, at what they can write.
I ask them if they pulled that writing out of their composition notebooks or off of the walls or where did they get this ability, and they tell me, to a student, that they pulled the words from the French words that were there “banging around in their heads”.
Yesterday, one student sitting next to where I was standing whispered to me in English, “I bet you are very proud”, and I said that I was. There is a difference between fake praise and real praise, and when I looked at the white board, because we didn’t do a lot of writing until lately in preparation for the writing samples, I was full of a kind of spontaneous praise. Like, inside I was thinking, “Where the hell did they learn that?”
The idea of FINALLY getting to look at some grammar seemed to make a few of the grammar heads (those kids who had tapes in their heads from conversations with their parents who told them that they learned languages – riiight! – by doing activities and exercises, not by just reading and listening and writing)  feel better.
There were so few errors! That must be because of the reading that we did do. I would have expected a lot more errors of grammar. But maybe it was because, during all of the auditory CI, I did a lot of writing on the white board, clarifying verb conjugations and the like.
When the kids write, I tell them to always ask themselves if they are writing in such a way that a French person could understand, and to not worry about spelling – to just do the best they could and then move on.
One kid asked me if she spelled the word “oiseau/bird” as “wazoh” would that be all right, and I said yes of course, because it is a correct phonetic representation of the sound that she knew.
However, since we had SEEN the word “oiseau” in class a lot in the overall CI process of whiteboard point and pause and in reading, she would never spell it “wazoh”, and I usually see some variation of “oiseu” or “oisau” or something like that, and then, over the years (they sign up for the next level because they know that they are good at French), the spelling all cleans itself up like it did for them in English. The fact that the kids had HEARD all of that French made them great writers. Their own pride was evident.
So this is to publicly thank Diana for all her perseverance in putting together those assessment instruments that align with the new state standards. It is such a joy to know that all the teaching that I did this year, every minute of it, was actually aligning with something real, and that I didn’t have to skew or twist my work in TPRS to align with some kind of instrument that doesn’t align with the new state standards.
That is to say, the work of
learning to listen first
learning to read because we listened
learning to write because we read and listened
learning to speak because we wrote, read, and listened
is something that, now in my first year in DPS, has allowed me to know the freedom of really teaching to standards. What I believe in (CI/Krashen), what I taught, what my kids learned, everything we did in class, the way they will be assessed this month, the state standards, they all align. It is a good feeling. Thank you again, Diana, for all of your hard work on this and, even more, for your uncompromising vision and refusal to compromise.



19 thoughts on “Diana Noonan”

  1. What a joyous and meaningful post! My greatest admiration Diana Noonan for paving this road.
    One note: “maybe because I was working with slightly more intellectually mature ninth graders instead of eighth graders”
    Krashen has always said, “Older is faster.”

  2. Hi Michele. What is amazing is that Diana is so willing to share whatever she has done with others. She is down in Albuqurque doing a FF workshop today, but I will ask her to contact you about the hows and wheres of getting those rubrics. There is a ton of stuff she has done on the WL of the DPS website, but I am not sure if those rubrics are there. Isn’t it wonderful that we have the internet to share information like that? It reminds me of the fact that The Battle of New Orleans was fought just AFTER the signing of a peace treaty in Ghent, over in Europe, so that English and American warriors were killing each other after the peace! It took six weeks for them to find out that the war they were fighting was actually over. So, now with this lightening fast method of sharing ideas, we all grow and learn much faster. Thank you Al Gore!

  3. Ben, I was sitting here doing some reading for homework, and I just had to stop and log on here. The article is called A View from the Foxhole: Elevating Foreign Language Classrooms. I’m still on the first page so this is hardly a critique. But, the first citation was Myriam Met. Then the author cites Krashen and Met as if they support each other. (Which I know gets your goat.)
    In one of the earlier paragraphs, the author states that reform in education is rarely truly effected, it is easier to change the names of things and call it reform but to continue to do the same thing as previously. Then, she states that there is little practical change in students’ ability since the communicative methods such as Krashen and Met have put forth.
    I have to think that the study showing few gains in students’ abilities has to be a result of little true reform having taken place in the field. Where we see true reform taking place, such as Michelle’s classroom, Blaine’s classes, etc. we see true changes in students’ abilities.

  4. These rubrics are totally geared to the success of the student. All are in color. The writing is a generalized scene, outside, with a lot of people doing different stuff/activities, so that the kids can choose which of the details to write about. Yes, Michele, the speaking is (three) story strips – we hold them out like a deck of cards upside down and they pick one and say whatever they can about what they see. I have made it very clear with my ones that are not expected to say much of anything, just as happens with small children. I can tell they appreciate that. And I can guarantee that, because I am not getting in their face to speak now, they will be that much better speakers later.
    I wanted to add another thing to that post above – I figure I have about 80 or so hours of speaking to my classes this year, and so the most focused kids can be said to have themselves about 80 hours of eye contact with me. What I am seeing, and certainly there is no science here, is that those kids with whom I have maintained the best eye contact are by far the best writers. Of course, these are the more outstanding students anyway, those open to the overall process, but all the same, it is interesting to see the connection between eye contact and writing. It feels like there is a kind of ratio – in my imagination or not – between how much time I spend looking in their eyes during stories, and they back, and how well they write.

  5. Dear Michele and Ben, I went to the website listed above to view Diana’s rubrics but the ones indicated in black were not available and French Listening & Reading was only available with a Log In. But I presume I can’t log in if don’t register first, and there was no given means of registering. How do I register? Can I register some way even if I’m not a DPS employee? If not, it would be very kind of DPS employee to copy them on to this website: Ben’s.
    I also presume that the rubrics indicated in black are not yet available at all? Will they be available later the website?

  6. I just picked that number. We have had about 30 weeks of school X 5 days minus some so around 140 classes X 45 minutes = 105 possible hours and I figured I hit about 80 of them in the target language overall, hopefully. I talk a lot.

  7. Frank, I had the same experience and came to the following conclusions:
    -the ones in black haven’t been posted yet (perhaps not even fully developed)
    -the French Reading and Writing is an actual exam (under the category of “Proficiency Exams”), so it needs to be password protected to keep students from accessing it
    I’m guessing that if you want to see it, Diana will have to send you a copy or registration. Just my guess, though. Ben or Diana (when she checks in again) can give you the real scoop.

  8. For the cover letter that introduces my current professional resume, I’ve just taken the liberty to revise and title Ben’s untitled free-verse summary of the natural, comprehensible-input nature of FL acquisition:
    Hearing compelling speech made comprehensible
    And so focusing upon the speaker(s)
    Learning to listen first
    And beginning to speak only when ready
    Learning to read because we’ve listened
    And learning to write because we’ve read
    Much listening, reading, and writing
    And so learning to speak freely and well

  9. I goofed. You have to go to the part of the site for students and parents. Here:
    And if you go to this page, just a couple of the links under “Rubrics” for writing are active. http://curriculum.dpsk12.org/lang_literacy_cultural/world_lang/assessment/teachers.html
    There are other interesting links that you can get through on this site, including, under “standards,” a 73-page description of the new Colorado content standards for languages. It is very complete, but it’s helpful to have at least those first levels of rubrics to see how the assessment will play out.
    I’m not a Denver teacher, so I couldn’t log in either.

  10. Take the liberty Frank. Take whatever you want. It’s just all recycled Susan Gross information. Hey Robert, that was a good explanation. But I will defer to Diana on the details. I’m sure she’ll check in after her FF class is over.

  11. The CI method summarized in Ben’s untitled 4 lines of free verse and my titled, special-purpose, slightly revisionary 8 lines up above may present a problem for some in writing an honest, meaningful, detailed, and respectable syllabus where one is scrupulously required and monitored. But that problem should not at all be an insurmountable obstacle.
    Just draft a general, rather than overly specific, meaning-based scope of which types of words and structures the students will learn to comprehend in diverse student-interest-related contexts not yet fully specified because not yet interactively revealed. As for the sequencing, pacing, and fully realized coverage of your scope, state outright that they are highly flexible due to the nature of the spontaneous, real, compelling, student-interest-related classroom discussions that are continuously at the heart of your program and conducted as slowly as necessary so that language acquisition rather than mere learning about a language can take place. Only indicate in advance mandated big summative-exam dates but not their scope; i. e., don’t box yourself into a need to impose hasty, catch-up instruction.
    Make it clear that although detailed global sequencing is undesirable if the goal is maximum basic language acquisition, for each micro phase you should rigorously follow the reiterative natural-aquisition learning sequence: (1.) students learn to comprehend oral speech on a topic that comes up for conversation; (2.) they begin to speak a bit on that topic; (3) they learn to read on that topic; (4) they learn to write accordingly; (5.)ultimately, after much listening,reading, and writing, and some speaking throughout, they learn to speak and write freely and better than at first ( or even fairly well).
    If you are required to coordinate your sequencing and pacing with that of one or more other instructors, regularly meet with them to accommodate each other as much as possible but do so without destroying the integrity of your own program. This and other related matters be more easily said than done, so I welcome any and all suggestions.

  12. Hi all….
    First of all, I am humbled by the words of praise that I receive for just promoting and offering professional development of the best practices of second language acquisition to DPS teachers. Thank you Ben! Yes, the rubrics are on our website and we will be updating the changes to our planning and pacing guides as well as the changes to our course outlines and assessments. Teacher training is the top priority for all of us and in that spirit…
    I encourage all of you to attend the iFLT Conference, July 27-31 at Los Alamitos HS, Long Beach, CA. This training will be amazing with the following presenters…Berty Segal-Cook, Jason Fritze, Carol Gaab, Donna Tatum-Johns, Linda Li, Carmen Andrews-Sanchez, Karen Rowan, Leslie Davison, Dr. Shelly Thomas…and more.
    There are discounts for first year teachers, student teachers and five or more teachers registering from the same school or district.
    As a presenter this last weekend in Albuquerque at SWCOLT, I was impressed by the interest in TPRS. My hope is that those teachers can find the funds to attend this national conference.
    My best…

  13. I can share the writing rubrics but not the speaking. Just send me an email: diana_noonan@dpsk12.org The Proficiency Assessments are from New York and are copyrighted. The assessment that we are currently writing is ‘our own’ and I’m unsure whether we will be allowed to share it but if we can, I definitely will do so. This assessment includes present, past and future time for levels one and two students. For the speaking and writing we have created our own assessment which is quite different from the NY test. There are story strips and images that students are asked to talk or write about. We are constantly reviewing and revising what we have written in previous years in order to ‘get it right’. This is the 5th year that we have administered this assessment as a pre and post test. We are gathering data on the results and this is helping us evaluate our program.

  14. Diana is doing (and has done) more than any other district coordinator in the nation to truly promote communicative teaching. She has held the line in terms of professional development with her teachers. This is NOT an easy thing to do. Many teachers want a “bag of tricks” or some way to “get those kids talking” or teaching ideas that are “fun” or “creative.” Diana has ceaselessly promoted TRUE communicative teaching, which is entirely based on the principle of comprehensible input. Many times she must have felt like had a target for a birthmark, but she has fought the good fight for the betterment of all.

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