Learning Lab Wednesday

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27 thoughts on “Learning Lab Wednesday”

    1. I will change my answer and say that I may try to set up a camera. I am just in a really funny place about what actually can be seen on film. Just settting up a camera and hitting record seemed at one point to me like an idea that would work but I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know how much in conveys compared to being in the classroom physically.

  1. That’s quite a drive for me too…..:)
    I have a longing to be in the Denver area though… weird huh? I am envious of the TCI hub!

    I am hopeful that perhaps some day we might replicate that (even in a small way) here.


      1. Deer shit mixed with beer. Just kidding. It’s probably because of the influence of Susan Gross and also Blaine chose East High here around 1998 to be the flagship school for TPRS. He came out to Denver often and did master classes. I met Bryce with his cowboy hat on at one of those. That lasted until 2004 when Diana left East to head up DPS. Now, seven years later, she has really changed things.

        1. What is the key behind the change? Are there so many people that have been exposed to CI that it is just picking up momentum? Word of mouth? Being impressed by what other students can do? Top down? Bottom up? Department chairs hiring CI teachers?

          1. The key to the change has been in Diana pouring her heart and budget into training every one in the district who wanted to be trained. Seven years of that. Training.

            And then, as older teachers, who on some level must have felt the way the wind was blowing, left, new ones came in. The vast majority of the kick ass CI teachers in DPS are quite young.

            Another factor has been the Learning Labs that Diana has set up. She gets us observing each other for PDU credits/salary bonuses, etc. offered by the district. We are now up to four required observations per year.

            Many of us who offer to host these half day sessions where we have a pre-meeting and a post-meeting with three classes observed just step up swinging in spite of our fears that we might fuck it up, because this is live real classroom work going on, where, as we all know, anything can happen.

            I don’t know, Drew, we’re just a bunch of crazy cowboys out here in tumbleweed country. Fueled by our Krashen passion. You and Harrell and most of the people in this blog community would fit in perfectly here.

            I know that many among this group feel quite alone in their experiences in their own buildings. they feel overwhelmed and confused on an almost daily basis. I feel that way. We are people who sense what is possible but don’t see it yet in our work at the level we want and it is driving some of us half nuts with stress but we keep on doing it because we can’t go back to what we know doesn’t work.

            There aren’t many Dianas around to redirect entire districts, especially big ones like ours. There is Michele who is galvanizing Alaska, no doubt. I have worked with her teachers and they are strong and talented and moving fast. Stuff is going on in little pockets.

            Where and when will we reach the tipping point? Who knows? But a tipping point will be reached, and each little bit of heartache and opposition and struggle that we feel as we walk each day with that trepidation that we all know, that strange fear, will one day turn into smiles of confidence, smiles of real acquisition, smiles that reflect the real function of language (to make each other happy) on the faces of kids yet unborn.

  2. No video. We do a lot of these.

    The thing is that you still have to get jobs through principals, but Diana is slowly training them to think in the new way, and when that happens with all of them, the change to hiring CI teachers will be much more common. It’s amazing what is happening. At one time traditional teachers in DPS had scorn in their speech. Now, they avoid Diana, they avoid discussion, and our Beniko Mason study is having problems because traditional teachers refuse to participate. You know why. The old mandate they had is now evaporated and they slink into shadows.

    1. I know why they refuse to participate. You probably do too, but I’m just betting that there is no way that any of their kids could understand even a little bit of a lengthy story read out loud with all those structures in it, much less improve over a six -week study period, when all the TPRS teachers’ kids probably get most of the story already and they are not going to have any trouble with at least the comprehension piece. I suspect the writing will also be a piece of cake, at least compared to what the others are doing.

      I still have those questions about the study story:
      -how many words was it, approximately?
      -how many times did the new vocabulary repeat in it?
      …and now I have a couple of others:
      -how many times did you read it to the kids before they did the comprehension piece? What about the writing piece? Did you read it at a normal TPRS (slow) pace, or faster?

      I haven’t finished writing my full story for my kids, so my own little “study” is going to be skewed because we’ve started the vocabulary already. But I really appreciated the list you had; it gave me a chance to look at my first-200-word list and tweak it a little.

  3. Question: How is the “non-CI” side of the study being run–or did I miss that?

    I guess I would feel the same way as they do if I were asked to do something I don’t believe in. In my case: cram unreasonable amounts of discrete grammar notions down my kids’ throats, try every short-memory trick in the book, and drill them and kill them until the moment of the test where they filled in the correct verb and indirect object. You’d have to kill me.

    1. Jody is right! I wouldn’t be able to do it either. But it seems as though it wouldn’t be so hard to just assess the kids through the reading that the teacher does. It would feel uncomfortable doing it in a district where you know that a big chunk of teachers are following a method that is clearly having success (kind of the opposite of what most of us face, at least in reputation).

      In fact, I have a feeling that most of us outside DPS might have colleagues who would be willing to do the non-TPRS side of the experiment. I have one French teacher and one Spanish teacher that I could ask, if you wanted. They’re young and pretty open to things. They’re hailed as being strong traditional teachers.

  4. When I shut down this blog a year ago, which lasted until May, it was to take some time to think about how I couldn’t speak honestly on the internet, which eventually led to this blog becoming a PLC for members only. See this post:


    I had been severely attacked by an IB principal who was defending his traditional teachers like a dog in an alley. Now, I see (in our inability in DPS to find teachers willing to do the study) a rare chance to challenge that very school, Lakewood High School in Jefferson County. Maybe they can put their money where their mouth is, as the saying goes.

    One teacher asked me amidst that conflagration to admit that her traditional approach was just as good as TPRS. I didn’t answer well or strongly in that moment like Diana certainly would have, and I still feel weak and shitty about that. Now is my chance to answer her question better, with a real study directly guided by one of the most published and credible researchers in the world and indirectly guided by Dr. Krashen.

    I will talk about this to Diana today. I love that you have a few teachers who might be able to participate, Michele. We just can’t lose this opportunity because we can’t find teachers. If we can’t find them in DPS, maybe we can find them elsewhere.

    What is ironic is that this morning just before I read what you and Jody wrote as comments, I spent an hour writing an open letter blog post requesting help from you all. This morning I feel that the study is kind of crumbling as it is just getting started for various reasons.

    My big fear is that traditional teachers will game the test. That is what they do. I did it when I was a traditional teacher. I could game the national French exam like a pro, producing the best scores in SC year after year at all levels for over twenty years with really smart kids even though if I did a study like this one those same kids would be outed as little robot trained gamers. I had kids passing the AP exams with very limited skills. You all know what I mean, especially in the light of what we know now about CI.

    Another problem is that I feel that we need more time for the study, like five months at least, with a larger number of teachers involved, with controls and classroom observations and interviews by Beniko going on all the time and controls over the gaming factor that Michele alluded to above. So I will get with Beniko and Diana asap. Paul Kirschling agrees with me.

    I like the idea that maybe we in this PLC could work with Diana and Beniko to make this thing happen – just thinking out loud here. What I do NOT want to do is be part of a flawed study because of the critical issues you two bring up in your comments above, included among them these:

    – how many times did you read it to the kids before they did the comprehension piece?
    – what about the writing piece?
    – did you read it at a normal TPRS (slow) pace, or faster?

    Those are from Michele and they don’t have good answers in the sense that nothing was done to control how those things would be done for uniformity in all participating teachers’ classrooms. Jody says it all right here:

    – how is the β€œnon-CI” side of the study being run – or did I miss that?

    So, there are flaws in the study connected to the traditional side. If they game it, we have flawed results. Can you imagine? We get gamed by talented traditional teachers and that doesn’t show up in the conclusions of the study and there are no demonstrable differences between the two approaches. That makes my socks roll up and down just thinking about it.

    Thank you guys for your input here. Maybe I can talk Diana and Beniko into using the wealth of talent in this group, our group, to push this project forward to a more credible level and avoid any gaming bullshit and make the study much larger in the process.

    I can’t believe Krashen is ready to sign off on what Beniko does on this without getting more involved. He must know that this is our big chance to get the first credible field study of his ideas out there. He needs to support us big time on this thing instead of sitting around LA sipping on Vente lattesthinking about the research side so much. He needs to put on his boots and walk around with us in the trenches for awhile, rallying the troops in this daily warfare we experience.

    We’ll see what happens. I’m thinking that we should put it off until the fall, so we can set it up better. I’m not going to stress myself by putting a lot of energy teaching and testing those (untested) scripts from Anne (except script #1 was a major homeroom in all my classes) unless we build some better controls into the study.

  5. Tell me how I can help. I am totally open to participating, and/or trying to recruit others, and/or (squeamishly, but I’ll do it in the name of double blind studies) teaching grammar for a set period of time :0 and/or participating in some variation or “practice version” of any of this. Or whatever. I don’t know how to design the study, but am totally willing to pitch in however I can. Courage, mon frere!

  6. I’m in, too – don’ t know how but anything to have this miraculous movement gain momentum. Even though our district only has two of us (big district, too, but the rest of the teachers are traditionalists), I know that the administration would be totally on board. Obviously, they have seen first-hand how the level of engagement by the students in the CI classrooms compares to the other classes and they like what they are seeing. Plus, 90+% use of target language is something that they don’t see/hear in any of the other classes either (or so they tell me). So, whatever we can do to get this study off the ground.

  7. Brigitte and jen – when I told Diana about Michele’s offering, she said that we wouldn’t be able to do it because of the distance and the time which is fast becoming a factor in this because they are all running away.

    Fine, but in the fall how cool would it be to get a really big sample from all over the country, even New Jersey, using common CDs and a much more standardized process, and do it right.

    Or we could just move the level of study from level 1/2 to level 4/5. That’s when the differences really show up. It’s like two lines peeling away from each other in opposite directions.

    Matava and a few others have produced or are now producing their first 4/5 pure CI kids. That would be an amazing thing to study. The people in Maine who have seen Matava’s Hogs know what I mean.

  8. OMG, can’t wait to watch this process unfold. And Ben, you’re one brave soul – I would die if Krashen walked into my classroom! Hats off to you and all of you out there in Kick-Ass-Territory!

    1. Brigitte the plan for Wednesday is to do some PQA – I am testing an idea to see if I can use finger pointing gestures to establish meaning for more than just third person. We have all done some form of this in class, but I am going to try to capture it on film (as per Chris’ request) so that we can discuss it later this week after the observation and see if it can be used to “widen” our concept of PQA, since I have already suggested a new kind of PQA in terms of much longer sessions. I also want to know if it is possible to PQA three verb tenses without confusing the kids too much. It will probably end up that I am trying to do too much in PQA with these new ideas. PQA ideally is a simple process where we tell what a word means and get lots of reps on it so that the story can be understood. Now I am suggesting that we use PQA to practice voice and verb tense. I can’t see it working. But what the hey.

      So I would like to experiment with that on Wednesday, get it on film since the camera will be up anyway, so that we can discuss it here later this week, and see what happens. That will be in my 8th pd. class on Wed., then a regular story (9th pd.) and then a reading (10th pd.). That is the goal, anyway. We’ll see how it works out on video but I’m glad Chris suggested that to give us some more talking points about the three steps.

  9. If Krashen could do what we do, I would be afraid. As it is, I want to teach him something that he can’t do, but only intellectualize about. Somebody has to do that. Jason and Linda Li are his best teachers, I would guess. At some point one must leave the ivory tower that one has so carefully constructed and join the rabble and learn from them, from the peasants who do the grunt work. Beniko told me last week that she wants to learn how to do it, and we in DPS are going to teach her as this long study unfolds. She’s excited about it. She should be. In the end, if the researchers find no way of applying their work, they are all little Jeremy’s from The Yellow Submarine, running around the Sea of Holes and muttering, “Ad hoc loc, and quid pro quo, so little time, so much to know!” So much to know my ass. We already know about comprehensible input. The secrets are all unveiled. Now, we need troops on the ground, teaching classes, making it work, for the kids. That’s where the work is now. In the classrooms. We’ve got enough freaking data. Hello!

  10. Things to consider: if you can get CD’s, that’s a start.

    When my kids write the National Russian Essay contest, they have to sign that they had no previous knowledge of the topic and that they had no help on their product. Knowing that they’ll have to sign helps keep me honest.

    Maybe requesting that another teacher proctor the critical pieces and not even sharing the script with the teachers would work. The CD would be something only their kids would hear. Another issue might be one that I have in my level 1 class: lower-level English speakers, and kids with LD’s. Especially the latter could skew a result. It might be helpful for the kids to have to do the same exercise in English, so that it’s clear if need be that their memory is more of an issue in writing what they comprehend than is the language.

    Hah! I know! If there could be CD’s, there could also be recordings on line, so that kids could listen to it a number of times, or at least play a bit and then write, play another bit, and so on.

    I’d be really interested in helping out however you needed (except I won’t volunteer to teach in old style, partly because I can’t remember how I spent my time; mostly because I can’t stand the idea of wasting kids’ times and hearts.

  11. I am much more concerned about the “cram” effect on results–especially from teachers/classes where cramming for tests is the norm. It would be interesting to see if the “gains” in both kinds of classes last longer than 3 months let’s say.

  12. Jody –

    Beniko is building in a long term retention piece here. The study will end March 2. In May, then, unannounced, we retest both groups. Nice, huh?

    (By the way, Diana called and has gotten a teacher over in Aurora for French. The pool of teachers is small, which concerns me, but we are doing something. Then we can concentrate on the fall data collection.)

  13. I’d like to see if we could do something in our District here in Minnesota. We have a smaller Language Dept. (21 teachers) in comparison to Denver, but we have French, German and Spanish teachers at least ‘dabbling’ in CI and TPRS.

    We are struggling a bit to develop and maintain good District-wide assessments throughout the year. We use the MLPA, a Unv. of Minnesota product to assess at the end of each level. It seems reasonable, and was what lead me to make the leap to drop the textbook completely when my reading scores were not what I wanted to see.

    Grant, Ginni, Melanie and I are/have been on the blog and Grant, Ginni and I are a PLC in our District. Our Curriculum Director is excited by the national PLC offered here with this blog.

    Let me know if we can look at doing something either officially or unofficially as the Beniko study moves forward. Ginni and I teach levels 1/2 and 4 (a sophomore-level college course).

  14. Shannon I will send you Diana’s contact information. If any of y’all there in Minnesota are coming to iFLT, I strongly suggest that you pick her brain for the Learning Lab model that she has developed, which will be a lot easier for you to implement with only 21 teachers (we have 100). We strongly feel that that model is a big factor in our growth into more and more CI use for all our teachers.

    Also, in terms of assessment, we have spent a lot of time – seven years each June for two weeks of writing – developing assessment instruments that are based totally on comprehensible input instruction. Needless to say, over the years this has pissed off a ton of DPS teachers who don’t buy into the approach, but, each year, they get weaker and weaker and quit and a lot of their hot air has now dissipated into a kind of grudging acceptance that that is how their students will be evaluated on the pre and post tests each year. It’s like slowly pushing an opponent to the mat in a wrestling match until their knees buckle.

    You are always welcome to visit as well, Shannon, but this summer seems like the best opportunity to get with Diana. I know that our testing materials are proprietary to the district, but you can get ideas and such, as it were.

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