Hammer Needed

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11 thoughts on “Hammer Needed”

  1. I don’t like this percentage stuff. There, I’ve said it again. I have witnessed countless classes where the TL is spoken, and only three kids have any idea about what is going on. That teacher believes they are doing the best for their students: speaking in the TL 90% of the time.

    Percentage without comprehension cures NOTHING. I feel like it’s a place in which we get bogged down and miss the whole point–which is comprehensibility, not percentage. I do, indeed, understand the need for instruction to be delivered in the target language. English should not be the language of instruction in a French class, etc. (I know “we” get it, but I believe it would be foolish to assume that all traditional teachers get it.)

    In NO place in the blessed standards and guidelines is “comprehensibility” mentioned connected with percentages (could be wrong on this, am I?). Until that happens, I am not interested in jumping on the percentage bandwagon. We might actually get what we ask for: submersion (90% target language, but with no emphasis on comprehensibility).

    Shouldn’t it just be: Instruction shall be delivered in the target language and shall be comprehensible to the student at all times.

    Don’t mean to step on toes here, but this feels like a red herring to me.

  2. To answer Ben Lev’s questions:
    -the CA State Standards do not have any percentage statement in them
    -CA teachers are expected to teach to the State standards, not the national standards; the 90% statement isn’t even in the national standards, it’s in a position statement about “best practices”

    There is also nothing that says a school or district cannot require teachers to go beyond the standards, e.g. put a 95% target language goal in place. In many ways the standards are minimums. Unfortunately, most people perceive them as maximums, i.e. if I “teach to the standard” I have done everything I need to do.

    In Standards=Based Grading, that attitude is likely to get you an assessment of Basic. “I did everything you told me I had to do and nothing more.” Then the question is, “How well did you do it?” If someone meets all of the standards well, then you might give them a Proficient rating, but most teachers who have that attitude will have deficiencies in how well they perform. A teacher will never be Advanced (read “Highly Qualified”) unless he goes beyond the standards – just as students must go beyond what we emphasize in class to be considered Advanced.

    I really like Jody’s statement:
    Shouldn’t it just be: Instruction shall be delivered in the target language and shall be comprehensible to the student at all times.

    1. Well that bubble is burst. Bursted? Popped? This is so key, and a bit depressing, if not accurate, as are all statements made by our Chevalier de L’Ouest:

      …the 90% statement isn’t even in the national standards, it’s in a position statement about “best practices”….

      But the fact that we got it into our district level document is cool, because it does act as a wake up call and it does have many teachers in a seriously defensive position where, only a few years ago, Diana was in the defensive position against the traditional teachers, which represents a very dramatic and real shift in the conversation in our district.

      ACTFL continues, then, to be a kind of unnecessary ivory tower group of Easterners who like to talk the talk about current research. I guess the changes will occur at the district levels, if our model here in Denver is any example.

      Who works at the district level? We do. Saddle up, folks, we ain’t done riding yet. Ride out here to Breckenridge this summer and we’ll talk about it. If you are a district administrator, you can talk to and learn from the great gold mine we have in Colorado, Diana Noonan. Bring a hammer. She will show you how to swing it at the district level. Act locally, think globally.

  3. You are always ahead of us. That’s bc you live in CA. You are so right again. However, I see the 90% use statement as a necessary rung on the ladder to eventually push the consciousness up to the higher rung that you suggest in this jewel here:

    …instruction shall be delivered in the target language and shall be comprehensible to the student at all times….

    In the case where teachers whose feet are held to the fire by the 90% statement would fail to make their input comprehensible, there is even the real danger that they use their own failings as an excuse to go back to methods that “work” and discredit the new statement. I will call this to Diana’s attention, and maybe, since we are still in the pilot phase (it was extended by a year bc of its sheer bulk – we had no idea the amount of work it was), we might be able to add that key idea in there.

    In the meantime, stop talking about stepping on toes. We are dancing a crazy dance these days, and, esp. at this time of year, most of us are not concerned about a few mashed toes. We’re trying to get to the end of the year in one piece. Many of us are in a kind of mental hell right now professionally, which bleeds over into our personal lives. Without this disucssion and others like it around the country, there will be no change and kids will continue to think that they suck at languages. We have to stop that. I would sacrifice my feet for that change.

  4. This post has inspired me. I just emailed the two World Language consultants in the Ohio Dept of Education since we are in the process of adopting revised standards. Here is my email below:

    Mr. Wertz & Mrs. Robinson,

    I’ve been studying the draft for the revised standards and I’m thinking it’s missing something. I think the Ohio FL Standards should include, somewhere, ACTFL’s “Use of the Target Language in the Classroom” statement. It should be included in our standards that teachers and students should use the target language 90%+ of the time; I would even add to it that the input provided needs to be comprehensible. We are doing a disservice to our students by not providing as much comprehensible input (90%) as possible; too many teachers are teaching about the language in English, instead of teaching in the target language. We should all be held accountable to this. It seems as if many states’ documents mirror ACTFL but are just a bit too vague, leaving nobody in charge to hold anyone to standards. Denver Public Schools added the 90% use position to their LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice) document in 2011. The Denver Public Schools’ LEAP program is a drastic reform of teacher evaluation that holds teachers accountable to their standards. However Colorado’s State Standards did not include the 90% use position, which is crucial, so DPS added it to their LEAP program. The LEAP program is the most painstaking (and painful if you don’t align with the standards) teacher evaluation process ever created anywhere. I think we should really be looking at Denver Public Schools when it comes to foreign language education, they are truly in the 21st Century. The 90% use statement needs to be in our standards. When Ohio starts evaluating teachers based on performance and the standards, we need to make sure that we are keeping the best teachers in our schools; the best teachers are the ones who understand how second language acquisition works and they understand that FL teachers need to be using the TL at least 90% of the time in the classroom. Secretary of State Panetta has stated how critical it is to be producing bilingual citizens, if we are not effectively teaching languages, if we are not using the TL at least 90% of the time (and being held accountable to that), then nothing will change and it will continue to be business as usual. Unless the 90% use statement is in a state document, principals and administrators will be powerless to require anything resembling comprehensible input from their teachers.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this email and I really hope you consider trying to get the 90% use statement put into our standards or some sort of legislation at the state level. I am including at the end of this email the link to ACTFL’s Position Statments and I have also pasted ACTFL’s “Use of the Target Language in the Classroom” statement.

    Thank you very much,

    Chris Roberts

    http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=4368#targetlang

    Research indicates that effective language instruction must provide significant levels of meaningful communication* and interactive feedback in the target language in order for students to develop language and cultural proficiency. The pivotal role of target-language interaction in language learning is emphasized in the K-16 Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century. ACTFL therefore recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom. In classrooms that feature maximum target-language use, instructors use a variety of strategies to facilitate comprehension and support meaning making. For example, they:

    – provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals;
    – make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support;
    – conduct comprehension checks to ensure understanding;
    – negotiate meaning with students and encourage negotiation among students;
    – elicit talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time;
    – encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language;
    – teach students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when faced with comprehension difficulties; and
    – offer feedback to assist and improve students’ ability to interact orally in the target language.

  5. The answer to Ben Lev’s fourth question is in the first paragraph of the CA Standards:

    In order to succeed in the 21st century, today’s students need to develop linguistic and cultural literacy, including academic knowledge, proficiency in English, and functional proficiency in several of the world’s languages and cultures. The ability to communicate in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways in a variety of settings will ensure success i global community and increase intercultural cooperation and economic opportunity. As a result of linguistically and culturally appropriate language use, students will emily linguistic systems in a variety of global networks while carrying out a wide range of interactions. We can no longer afford simply to learn about languages and cultures but rather, we must provide students with opportunities to learn languages and cultures by participating in communicative interactions that prepare for real-world language use and global citizenship.

    From the glossary:
    real-world: Behaviors that occur in the target culture

    The CA Standards definitely imply less focus on explicit grammar instruction, unless someone can show that this represents “behaviors that occur in the target culture” (i.e. discussing their grammar in a different language) and that it contributes to learning the language rather than learning about the language.

    Emphases are in the original document.

  6. You da man Robert. This gives us something, at least, to hold up and yell about bc it’s there in the standards. That’s about the best answer you’ll get Ben and you can tell that principal about the second half of the first paragraph, this one:

    ….we can no longer afford simply to learn about languages and cultures but rather, we must provide students with opportunities to learn languages and cultures by participating in communicative interactions that ….

  7. Update:

    I emailed Ryan Wertz (the cowboy from the ‘Ohio has a problem’ thread) and Debbie Robinson. Well, the cowboy is in China until Wednesday so I got an automated response from him, we’ll see what he says when he gets back. Debbie Robinson responded and here is the correspondence between her and I:

    NOTE- “the purple book” is what we here in Ohio call our Ohio FL Standards book.
    ————————————–
    Mrs. Robinson

    I’ve been studying the draft for the revised standards and I’m thinking it’s missing something. I think the Ohio FL Standards should include, somewhere, ACTFL’s “Use of the Target Language in the Classroom” statement. It should be included in our standards that teachers and students should use the target language 90%+ of the time; I would even add to it that the input provided needs to be comprehensible. We are doing a disservice to our students by not providing as much comprehensible input (90%) as possible; too many teachers are teaching about the language in English, instead of teaching in the target language. We should all be held accountable to this. It seems as if many states’ documents mirror ACTFL but are just a bit too vague, leaving nobody in charge to hold anyone to standards. Denver Public Schools added the 90% use position to their LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice) document in 2011. The Denver Public Schools’ LEAP program is a drastic reform of teacher evaluation that holds teachers accountable to their standards. However Colorado’s State Standards did not include the 90% use position, which is crucial, so DPS added it to their LEAP program. The LEAP program is the most painstaking (and painful if you don’t align with the standards) teacher evaluation process ever created anywhere. I think we should really be looking at Denver Public Schools when it comes to foreign language education, they are truly in the 21st Century. The 90% use statement needs to be in our standards. When Ohio starts evaluating teachers based on performance and the standards, we need to make sure that we are keeping the best teachers in our schools; the best teachers are the ones who understand how second language acquisition works and they understand that FL teachers need to be using the TL at least 90% of the time in the classroom. Secretary of State Panetta has stated how critical it is to be producing bilingual citizens, if we are not effectively teaching languages, if we are not using the TL at least 90% of the time (and being held accountable to that), then nothing will change and it will continue to be business as usual. Unless the 90% use statement is in a state document, principals and administrators will be powerless to require anything resembling comprehensible input from their teachers.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this email and I really hope you consider trying to get the 90% use statement put into our standards or some sort of legislation at the state level. I am including at the end of this email the link to ACTFL’s Position Statements and I have also pasted ACTFL’s “Use of the Target Language in the Classroom” statement.

    Thank you very much and I look forward to your response,

    Chris Roberts

    ————————————————————–

    Dear Chris,
    You are right on point and what you say will be included, as it was in the purple book, in the front matter of the standards.
    I’ve retired from ODE as if Jan. 13th, but will certainly pass your comments on to Ryan.
    My new gig is sort of related to Leon Panetta’s call to action. I’m working for the national K-12 Language Flagship initiative where we are trying to create pipelines of K-12 learners ready to enter the Flagship universities with solid language skills so that they graduate with a major in a discipline and advanced proficiency to carry on in that field. Quite exciting!
    Best to you,
    Debbie

    ——————————————–
    Debbie,

    Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it considering you’re not with the ODE anymore. I didn’t even know Ohio had a 90% use statement in the standards already, I will have to check it out.

    It sounds like you are involved in some very exciting things. I think it is great that there are efforts out there to make foreign language learning more important. As our country starts realizing the importance of languages, however, I hope our profession doesn’t turn into the testing culture that has taken over our country. Many find foreign language learning to be similar to other disciplines, however, as you know, it is extremely different. Many don’t yet understand that language acquisition isn’t an analytical, typical “school learning” process.

    I also hope that these new Ohio FL Standards are still very similar to ACTFL’s standards. I’d hate to see more forced output at early levels without enough comprehensible input being given.

    Thank you very much for addressing my concern!

    Chris Roberts

    ——————————
    Chris,
    You’ll be happy to know that the executive director of ACTFL was a reviewer on the draft Ohio standards, so the alignment is fine.
    I just looked at the purple book and while there is a section on the need for comprehensible input, there is no specific percent given. That said, I know we always talked about at least 90% in the TL. I will contact Ryan to be sure that comes across loudly in the revision.
    Thanks for your input.
    Debbie

  8. We don’t want the 90% use statement to “come across loudly”. We need it to be in the wording of the final document. Another thing to bring up with her is the line (Robert brought it up three days ago here) about teaching about the language vs. actually teaching the language. And you ain’t getting nothing on this from Werth. I’d bet you a steak dinner on that one.

    Also, re:

    …you’ll be happy to know that the executive director of ACTFL was a reviewer on the draft Ohio standards, so the alignment is fine….

    Why do I not believe that the alignment will be fine? Can you say book companies? Plus, from what you said Wertz told you before (six weeks ago), he won’t even want things to reflect the 90% use statement. He really doesn’t get that part.

    1. Here’s another reason not to believe that the alignment will be fine: The executive director of ACTFL, Martha Abbott, is a Latin teacher. Most Latin teachers do NOT want to see a 90% TL requirement, and at the very least, they will work to ensure that the dubious asterisk “exempting” Classical languages and ASL from an emphasis on spoken communication remains in the main document.

  9. Ben, I’m glad you revived this thread. I’m happy to report that in April, after all this wrangling, my daughter’s Spanish teacher ramped up to 80%-ish from 20-30%. My daughter even said that she was enjoying her Spanish class more than her other classes!

    At Open House I brought the teacher a Starbucks gift card. I thanked her for hard work and apologized for anything that might have offended. She said she
    ** appreciated** the dialogue and learned a lot. She was so happy to be given a small gift – I don’t think she gets many — and she looked me in the eyes and smiled. I’m obviously pleased with how it turned out.

    The other reason I’m glad you brought this back online is because I’m working part time next year and I’ll have time to try to investigate what it would take to get the 90% guideline written into the CA WL Standards. If someone has an idea about where to start, please let me know. Robert?

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