An Open Letter to Helena Curtain

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33 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Helena Curtain”

  1. I feel like I missed something. What was the motivation for the letter?
    I am tempted to post it on the FLAME (Foreign Language Association of Maine) Yahoo group list serve.
    Thanks for the clear, great thoughts!

  2. Skip, last night Mark posted a comment on the ESOL thread and I commented. But then I started ranting and ended up with this. I was feeling pissed off at how Eric and Alisa have been ignored by so many lately. Their recent communication with Helena Curtain (which we haven’t gone into here) stays in my mind as an example of real courage and passion for what is best and right for students. I admire the fighting spirit of Alisa and Eric so much. So that’s the background on that.
    I rarely read or post on moretprs, but I did post that there last night. I feel very strongly about what I said. I’m so tired of kids getting the shaft because their teachers fail to listen to the facts. They don’t understand the research, their classes suck, kids quit languages in droves, the status quo doesn’t change, and Helena Curtain goes on decade after decade putting out the same old schlock, yet no one challenges that.
    I really need to let go of this. I think what keeps it like a kind of low rumble in the back of my mind all the time is the sheer number of kids who have felt, feel, and will feel that they can’t learn a language. It could be in the millions worldwide! I need to ask God to help me let this go so I can focus on the good things we are doing. Post it wherever you like.

    1. I think it is a beautiful message that all kids can speak languages. When I had read the first paragraph, I knew that those were your words before looking on the bottom of the post on the list serve. You keep those things in the present with us here. How I wish more would have access to these principles. I am thankful that you posted there. You never know how many educators will read it and be empowered to reach all students and keep it comprehensible.

      1. Mark you’re the one that started the whole thing. I find that really very funny. Here you start making some excellent points a few days ago about translation which I tried to rebut, because that’s what we do here since we trust each other enough to knock heads, and then as I wrote to you I then felt (mis)inspired to go post those same thoughts on the listserve, which I truly rarely do, and bam the list had a little attack of Snark.
        And there is no need to agree with me, because I’m not sure I even agree with me. I am all still working it out in my own head after all these years/decades. (Any of us who is honest in this work would say the same, I believe, because the field of this work is so vast and fertile and changing and wonderfully unpredictable.)
        But then Diane today in her comment here said this:
        …It seems to me that among the TPRS and CI teaching community, there are people with various roles. Some are more like CI activists and mentors/trainers. Ex, I think Ben, especially able to remind us of the unconscious nature of language acquisition and the imperative to teach in a way that does not demean the students or deny their ability to acquire another language. I think Terry is another like that though with different emphases.
        Others have a position allowing them to relate to those in the mainstream of teaching (ex, Carrie Toth, Martina Bex, I think of others). Those with more of that sphere of influence speak more carefully, maybe, and talk in language that the mainstream understand or could accept better. I don’t think it means a change of focus necessarily. Carol Gaab seems somehow to do both the activist and advocate side and yet have a voice with the mainstream….

        This looked pretty true on the surface and I made a nice kumbaya comparison with us all floating down a river and ain’t it great that we all have various roles and all that (I was feeling very Kurt Vonnegut when I wrote that).
        But then I saw this from Diane as I looked back over what she wrote above:
        …I don’t think it means a change of focus necessarily….
        It does for me. And I will write a post here on that topic to publish tomorrow which I can tell already will be possibly the most lengthy ramble in the history of this group in its eight years of talking and that is saying something, but I have to write it to test my thoughts to see if they have any truth in them because that’s how I do things. Stay posted.

        1. I meant that I didn’t see anything to disagree with in the post you made above. I can’t speak for everything you’ve ever written 🙂
          If people are staying in the target language 95%, that seems pretty good. Given the time restrictions of a high school language program, using the native language for 5% of the class seems a decent trade off. I think immersion works best when you’re also studying intensively.
          I’m also curious what TPRS teacher with high level classes do. Do people still translate or do they explain new L2 with easier L2?
          This is basically what ESL teachers end up doing. Expression1 = (more or less) Expression2.
          overjoyed = very happy
          I’ve been to Paris = I went to Paris and then I came back
          That sort of thing.

  3. For those who like me don’t get over to the moretprs list much, here is Terry Waltz’ response this morning to what I said above:
    Well, the only thing I would comment is — actually I and my students translate quite a lot. It is the only way to accurately check comprehension. It is the only way to accurately and quickly establish meaning, without a load of interpretive dance, guessing, mime, or thousands of dollars spent buying fruit to hold up for 20 seconds. (I have the image of a trainee teacher struggling into class with a full-sized wheeled suitcase burned into my retinas forever. And yes, it was full of fruit.)
    It is true that we USE, not ABUSE, translation and English in the classroom. This comes in high contrast, IMO, to legacy methods. As a person who has worked extensively with interpreters and translators, as well as “ordinary” students, I can assert that translation only becomes onerous when it is asking students to translate things they cannot easily understand. If they are decoding, translation is awful. If they are comprehending, it is easy. If the students thoroughly understand the language being used (as is our goal in TPRS, always — since our i+1 is the structure, not the meaning, unlike traditional methods which believe that “uncertainty is good”) ‘translation’ is nothing more than stating the meaning in the native language, a language in which expressing ANY meaning is automatic and effortless.
    I always find it amusing that legacy proponents constantly ask CI people for proof. Thanks to comprehension checks using the shared native language, I can demonstrate at any point in my class that my students really, really understand what’s going on. I suppose their mime does work across the curriculum to theater studies, though.
    Terry Waltz

    1. And my reply to Terry on the list:
      Terry I am such a fan of the Din that I want as little L1 in my classroom as is humanly possible. I know translation is necessary, and I appreciate your points. But over the years I have adopted a very cautious attitude towards L1 use. My own use of L1 is extremely limited in class as well. I want that Din to happen after class so much that I just try very hard to make sure I stay in bounds to what most people doing this work would consider an extreme degree. When the class is peppered with little bursts of L1 here and there on a frequent basis, the Din takes a hit and I believe it affects overall gains. Plus, I consider it unkind to constantly be challenging kids about how much language they are understanding. It’s too much like school with me being some sort of authority who always wants to know how much they are getting like they are capable of being stupid. I probably should never have become a teacher for that reason, because all I ever want to do with my students is hang out in the TL with my kids and laugh. I would add that I don’t believe that translation is the only way to accurately and quickly establish meaning. Comprehension lives in the eyes. I certainly agree with your point against the position that the teacher needs to become some sort of interpretive dancer or mime to get their point across. I only use a word or expression if I know that my students already know it. Otherwise, with all that translation, I lose purity of respectful contact with my kids and class becomes an exercise in pushing them all the time to know things, know things and be smart, when all I want is a love fest in my classroom. I’m still a hippy I guess. So as far as introducing a new word, I just wouldn’t say it. I know they won’t remember it anyway, and that is why I only use Point and Pause on the target structures. My whole thing is about staying 98% or more in the L2 and getting as many reps as I can only on previously taught structures and on the structures for that day. It is all based on my own desire to present a class that leads my students to have the language banging around inside their heads for the rest of the day and that night. My definition of comprehensible input is transparent input.

    2. Do you think that the language being taught has some connection to what degree of translation is necessary?
      The vocabulary burden for English speakers learning Chinese and vice versa is very great. The same for Japanese students learning English.

  4. Hey Ben,
    Carrie Toth just posted on more about your letter to Helena Curtain. I think she should get a response. I don’t think people understand fully the reason for the frustration that TCIers feel towards ACTFL. I mean, on the one hand we use their 90% recommendation to push TCI.
    This is what I have on “the other hand…” Could others chime in on what exactly our “issue” is with ACTFL and Helena Curtain?
    1. ACTFL puts too much pressure on early output
    2. The Standards like Communities, Connections and Culture seem to be in stark contrast to Susie’s insistence that we just “TALK (CI) to the kids”
    3. The insistence on IPA also seems to be in contrast to “just talking to the kids”
    4. The project based assessments seem unnecessary and take tons of time away from CI.
    Overall, I think my issue with ACTFL is that though they claim to espouse 90% CI – it seems that MOST everything else they espouse seems to detract from true TCI.
    I also secretly wonder if our definition of keeping the class 90% CI and ACTFL’s definition of keeping the class 90% CI differ.
    How far off am I. Would what I write here be an adequate response to Carrie (whose work, teaching and friendship I appreciate greatly) as to why “we are out to get ACTFL?”
    Thanks everyone. I have been struggling with this ever since I started the TOY process and felt torn between doing what “ACTFL” says is right and what I have long been doing since I started learning how to keep my classes in CI…. I would really like to help Carrie, and others, (including ACTFL) understand our concerns.

    1. Skip read my response to Michele in “Focus on Form – 3”.
      Post the above to the list. It’s the best possible response we could post on the list, since we’re not getting too many views of other PLC members anyway, as it seems many of the group are now doing what we should be doing – resting deeply in the only part of the year we can.

  5. Here’s what I wrote to Ben yesterday:
    Thank you for stating your truths to moreTPRS. Everyone doesn’t have to agree. It’s what you feel in your heart to be correct. While moreTPRS has chosen to hang on your comments on translation and the title of the message, there was a lot more beauty in your message. For sure, there is a lot of L1 slack in all our classrooms that can be tightened up.
    Part of the difference in opinions here is that Terry and Carrie are more open to compromising TCI practice – Terry sees it as the only way to realistically get along in the traditional departments so many of us find ourselves in – Carrie sees it more as the political move: get some power, play politics, and then start advocating for change. But then who she is also depends on all those conforming elements (thematic units & UbD crap).
    Also, Ben, since you haven’t been following the moreTPRS convos this year, let me tell you that many have gotten ugly, personal, and attacking. People over on that listserv right now are hypersensitive to that. For Terry to say so quickly that she will “agree to disagree” is actually quite impressive, perhaps due to her respect for you, given her history of disagreeing to the end. Some of the response Ben has gotten can also be due to the nature of a public vs. private PLC.
    Perhaps a different title of the message would have been more appropriate. People on moreTPRS are oblivious to all the internal struggles this PLC has had. I feel HC is not the primary enemy and neither is ACTFL. They are both way more progressive than the mainstream classroom in the US today. ACTFL has been pushing “proficiency” since the 80s and yet teachers still don’t understand how to assess it or teach for it. Regardless of what “approach” mainstream FL teachers claim to be using, the vast majority are using their approach to teach a textbook scope & sequence, rendering their efforts much less effective and efficient. That S&S is highly unnatural.
    I disagree with parts of Carrie’s response. We should be able to critique and to discuss our disagreements. From those discussions we get some of our best insights, but those conversations have to be done in a way that is respectful, in a way that is not condescending, in a way that is open to change from all sides. When people post their “truths” in such a way that they sound like they are not open to ever changing, then that is contrary to healthy debate and to “learning/science” in general (our “truths” are hypotheses and something better comes along or a fact contrary to our position arises, then we have to be open to change). We need norms of debate that people will abide by if we want something fruitful to come out of it.
    I’m not sure that giving ACTFL a break is acceptable. They are supposed to be our leaders. They are supposed to be the most educated and yet as we saw in Mike Coxon’s AZ standard writing battle, the ACTFL lobbyists want to go on with their “pie in the sky” 5 Cs. I also sense in this message that Carrie is bitter because the October battle could have played negatively on her campaign to be teacher of the year. I would think ACTFL above condemning Carrie just for association with comments by other TPRS’ers.
    I also question ACTFL’s motives and I think we have good reason to question them. Remember Arnold Bleicher, the guy from the October battle who tried to make TPRS look bad? Well, that dude is an OPI trainer and worked 4 years on the development of AAPPL (the ACTFL’s performance assessment which is biased to topics). Here is what he wrote to me in a personal correspondence back in October (and he has no reason to bad mouth ACTFL):
    “I have asked for years for ACTFL to have a position on textbooks but they are heavily sponsored by textbooks so they can’t really bite that hand. ACTFL is a non-profit and they spend a ton of money developing things, but membership is the primary income. Bite the textbook publishers hand and that will hurt. Politics.”

    1. Thank you for what is, as usual, a clearly spoken comment, Eric, one which really makes me feel much much better. I was wondering where the usual PLC voices were, but I attribute that to summer. Robert will be traveling all summer so it’s all the better that you chose to weigh in on this.
      As the years go by, you continue to align your spot-on, razor sharp intellect with your internet voice. I learn from you because of both, amidst the cacophony of the general discussion about CI that I see out there with my own eyes, anyway. I don’t care if 18,000 ACTFL language educators didn’t hear your message last fall. It doesn’t take away from its strength and accuracy.
      The best thing you said, for me:
      …ACTFL has been pushing “proficiency” since the 80s and yet teachers still don’t understand how to assess it or teach for it….
      N’est-ce pas! People don’t get the second half of that sentence, especially. CI is not about what ACTFL wants it to be as discussed by skip this morning (did you post that, skip?). It’s about input and more input, and then, after lots of input, they we add in some input. Maybe in level three, when we have the same 30+ kids in our classes because of all the input and fair teaching, and the kids can rock a story, and they have read a ton, we can start thinking about output. Thank you Eric and skip, for helping me understand today. I won’t make the same mistake of going back to the list. I am sure it is a good resource, but just not for me.

    2. Eric bless your heart and mind again. I am SO thankful that you shared what Arnold said to you in October. I knew that what he said was true, but I had no proof:
      …I have asked for years for ACTFL to have a position on textbooks but they are heavily sponsored by textbooks so they can’t really bite that hand….
      If they won’t listen to one of their trainers then that says something. This involves Helena as well, if you know the details.
      We just live in America, the country where corporations were given legal status five years before our LGBT community members. I think Curtain is a shill for the corporations, and I know for a fact through personal experience that Mimi Met is. They are lobbyists. When lobbyists are involved, things take on a confused haze. That accounts for ACTFL’s fuzzy leadership.

  6. Eric,
    Thank you! Would you post an edited version of the above as a reply to Carrie? Once what I wrote is commented on/edited I would post mine as a reply.
    I totally missed the “october thing” – I have not been on the More list for what is now going on years…..
    Finally, what exactly does ACTFL gain by insisting on backwards design, early production, project and thematic based assessments, and the Connections, Communities and Cultures standards. Why can they not JUST focus on the proficiency piece and moving students along their well articulated proficiency scale.
    Oh, and congratulations for FINALLY being out of school!
    Ben, I am TRULY sorry that i woke you up from your much deserved nap….:(

  7. Skip the October thing was colossal. Eric singlehandedly confronted the ACTFL Language Educators group (18,000 strong) and very heavy hitters jumped in like Michael Coxon and Nathaniel Hardt and Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg. They basically got into an ax fight that they won, in spite of the size of the opposing force. I know – it’s not about fighting amongst ourselves and we language teachers are supposed to sing kumbaya yadda yadda but this was an exception. This was raw and public. Eric sparkled. Does anyone have a link? Or skip if you go to the ACTFL site and locate the FL Educators discussion board you can scroll back to October. Typically their posts over there get like 0 or 1 comments per day on a busy day (for a group of 18,000!), but Eric’s got over 100 angry responses in about a two day period. They were pissed. Eric stirred them up the ACTFL hive. After 3 weeks of futility (during which Eric first asked the question about where the research on the textbook is) and in which Paul Sandrock tried to smooth the waters and failed (because the waters can’t be smoothed), our fighting force retreated back to this PLC. It reminded me of action against the Federation in Star Wars.

  8. I have been reading and following with interest, and without much time to say anything. Besides the well-stated things Eric just said above, here’s a thought I had after watching the field of language teaching pretty closely for several years. I’m sure this isn’t relevation but must be what others have seen, too.
    It seems to me that among the TPRS and CI teaching community, there are people with various roles. Some are more like CI activists and mentors/trainers. Ex, I think Ben, especially able to remind us of the unconscious nature of language acquition and the imperative to teach in a way that does not demean the students or deny their ability to acquire another language. I think Terry is another like that though with different emphases.
    Others have a position allowing them to relate to those in the mainstream of teaching (ex, Carrie Toth, Martina Bex, I think of others). Those with more of that sphere of influence speak more carefully, maybe, and talk in language that the mainstream understand or could accept better. I don’t think it means a change of focus necessarily. Carol Gaab seems somehow to do both the activist and advocate side and yet have a voice with the mainstream. More power to her!
    Then there is the vast majority of us, going about our teaching and sharing here and there as opportunity arises with coworkers and teachers in our area, or beyond if we start talking online. In my view, all these are good.

  9. Well said, Diane. Tis a complex picture for sure! The waters of change run quietly for a long time, building energy, and then they hit rocks and rapids form, and soon the quiet river is wide and powerful and active. Maybe we are getting into the rapids. One day we will all arrive at the sea, and the days on land (textbooks) will be forgotten. Each of us is part of the river, and yet each bubble is different, as you say. At last we are finally moving, whatever part of the river we are in. At least we don’t have to walk by classes with kids in there doing worksheets. Poor shits.
    HOWEVER, if there are opposing ideas in the river, like all the stuff skip mentioned here today and I hope posted about input vs. output, project based, all the stuff “TPRS” teachers do that flies in the face of Krashen and the role of the UNCONSCIOUS, then we have a problem. Yes, too many who claim to do CI instruction DON’T. They make their CI instruction a an activity of the CONSCIOUS mind, which is NOT WHAT KRASHEN HAD IN MIND and I can report that I have stared intensely into his eyes on this point, standing on a beach once with Laurie Clarcq.
    A river cannot work when parts of it roll uphill and parts downhill. I wish we all agreed on what storytelling entails. We don’t. Our lack of unity has kept us from reaching the ocean, in my opinion, and continues to do so. So yeah, it’s cool that we all have different roles, but it’s not cool that some people are currently instructing in ways that only remotely resemble the original information put out by Blaine and Susie and the other trail blazers. I have tried so hard over the years to keep us to their vision, but we are so few here. Just my opinion, I could easily be way off base on this.

  10. I posted a message to Carrie yesterday morning and I think what Eric wrote was brilliant. A third party observer is probably scratching their head because they are unaware of the back story. Eric’s response helped. This was part of my message.
    “I really empathize with your message and what you went through a TPRS representative. There are some TPRS teachers that are often ready for a “battle” or even looking for it. There are numerous historical reasons and anecdotes for this BUT it is time for all of us to move on from that history and to choose our battles well.”
    The morelist has gotten a bit ugly and it is a SHAME because that is supposed to be the place that a very new TPRS teacher can go to learn more and get support. Lately, it has been a place for know-it-alls and ramblings that are often off the TPRS topic. I think it is important that we let our guard down to hear what Carrie is saying…TPRSers need to CHILL OUT so that their voices can be heard.
    I am still thinking about Judy’s horse analogy and how by creating calmness we can create an invitation for others to re-approach us. And they WILL re-approach us because the value of what our classes and teaching offers is powerful. And make no mistake….we need the Toths, Bexs, insert other, on our side and in the world. They are the bridge builders helping mainstream teachers connect with the world of CI…making even the purist TPRSer better at their work.

  11. Beth Heuermann

    I want to thank everyone for all this discussion recently. Now I get it! We were told by our district that we have to write curriculum to match the state standards, and they paid some of us to attend a 3 day workshop at the end of school in May to start working. They brought in a consultant (who I think is affiliated with ACTFL) who told us that we had to develop 6 curriculum units for each level with thematic themes using authentic texts, and several of us have been thinking “Where did this come from?” Four of us in the dept. are using TPRS, and I at least am in a panic thinking, “how can I do this? How can I find authentic texts that students can actually understand that is interesting/compelling?” And it seems like SO much (extra) work! This discussion has given me the shot in the arm I needed to try to resist the thematic units curriculum writing project.

    1. I think the whole “authentic texts” movement misses the point in that they confuse the end with the means. In addition, most people confuse “authentic text” with “literary text” and further fail to understand the meaning of the term “text”. In addition, there is a bit of sleight-of-hand going on with the meaning of “authentic”.
      What is the end? For students to read authentic texts, including menus, advertisements, road signs, shopping lists, etc. – not just works of literature.
      What is the means? Reading texts that are comprehensible. They don’t have to be “authentic”*, just good (well-written, correct, and interesting) language that learners understand. Our students are emergent readers, and emergent readers need texts – “authentic” or not – that are at their level of acquisition.
      We don’t give first-language learners “authentic” texts; we give them simplified texts. My first Bible was a children’s Bible, not the King James text. We don’t start children off playing fast-pitch baseball, we start them with T-Ball. We modify the activities/texts to accommodate the ability of the learner. Why should it be different for a second/foreign language?
      Definition: When dealing with printed texts, ACTFL and others define authentic as “a text written by native speakers for native speakers.” This comes from a book that was written a couple of decades ago, and everyone seems to accept it as the definition. So why not read simplified texts for first-language learners? Because 1) they are written for children, and a steady diet of them will not meet the interests of adolescent learners, 2) they assume a great deal of language exposure that our students do not have, and 3) they assume a great deal of cultural exposure that our students do not have.
      Here is the sleight-of-hand: The same authors who insist on “by native speakers for native speakers” with regard to written texts also talk about “authentic oral communication” in the classroom between the learner and teacher and among learners. I’m sorry (actually I’m not; I’m actually offended by this bait and switch), but since a second language learner is by definition NOT a native speaker, there is absolutely no way that any conversation involving that learner can be “authentic” according to the definition.
      If we accept a different definition for oral communication, shouldn’t we be calling people out for their inconsistency?
      Finally, according to Common Core, a “text” is not just words on a page or screen. A “text” can be a photograph, a dance movement, a play in football (read the defense!), etc. So make some of those your “authentic text”.
      When I get back in August I will look at some of my books on SLA and see if I can put something together on this. Right now I need to run.

      1. One more thing (I’m back briefly from morning duties) …
        Far too many people hear “use authentic texts” and think “use ONLY authentic texts”.
        While I cannot speak for ACTFL, I imagine that they are not saying authentic texts only. I do know that the presenter from College Board who led the AP workshop I attended in 2011 did not mean “authentic texts only”. In fact, her advice was to use graded readers as part of the preparation that leads up to reading an authentic (literary) text. My medieval book (far more than my pirate book) was written to do precisely that: read a bit and then use what we have read as a jumping off point for a short “authentic text”. For example, in one chapter the hero meets a famous German poet, and I provide an interpretation of one of his most famous poems; then we read the short poem. I also use school materials published by Klett Verlag as part of the unit. They’re a German publisher, and I use their black-line masters for German history classes: written by native speakers for native speakers. Ta-da! “Authentic texts”. We also do some heraldry – it’s a great review of colors and shapes – and I use German, Austrian, and Swiss coats of arms as examples. Once again, authentic texts (just not printed words).
        So, in the discussion about authentic texts, keep returning to what has actually been said. (A Common Core Standard) There is a huge difference between saying, “Use authentic texts”, and saying, “Use only authentic texts”.

        1. So, so glad you clarified. I keep having this discussion with my students when visitors ask them what “authentic texts” we use. I point out posters, letters, FB posts, infographics.
          The kids also need to know when we’re using best practices and why.
          1. There are many forms of authentic texts.
          2. Not everyone believes they should be a full-time resource. (One of our immersion teachers does, but she’s not CI.)

      2. Good catch on the (double) use of “authentic,” Robert. I might add that often times (usually?) the teacher is not a native speaker either. I know the teacher in my classes isn’t a native speaker. Authentic oral communication indeed.
        So let’s rewrite the definition. An authentic written or oral text is a text that might plausibly have been produced for a native by a native speaker.
        1. It is a text that a native speaker might write/speak in the same situation.
        2. It is a text that a native speaker would understand given sufficient experience and background.
        An inauthentic text would be one from outside of the native speaker’s realm. E.g., adding the Spanish noun marker and morpheme to an English word is not authentic. “El booko” is not authentic; “el libro” is. Neither is “Voy a pusharte” (meaning “I’m going to push you”).
        The name “Sevilla” is authentic whether the Spanish authorities print it on a sign for Spanish drivers or I, as the non-native speaker and Spanish teacher, print it on a whiteboard for American students. “Seville” is not an authentic Spanish text no matter who writes it for whom.
        So, more simply, an authentic Spanish text is one that could be accepted as Spanish.
        There is a place for the “by the native speaker for the native speaker.” It is a goal that we should for and against which we can measure progress in the language.

    2. Beth,
      I only read what you wrote about the consultant just now. Be careful. We had one too. (And that’s one of the possible reasons I’m on the way out.) You can write these and be faithful to TPRS, but it will take some creative work. If the consultant has come to your district, the times are probably changing. Don’t fight openly.
      If you can, use some units that are already prepared, or use the examples that the consultant gives you, and tweak those to fit you. Remember that some examples of authentic texts that you can typically find for many themes include pictures, artwork, songs, poems (both of those last two can be for children), advertisements, cartoons, infographics, posters, blogs, emails, restaurant/hotel/park/cafe reviews, and others. I can find many of these for Russian at the drop of a google search.
      We used what we already had or what was quickly identified as examples, knowing we would not necessarily have to use them behind closed doors. (Laurie says to use the first reasonable item you find in a search.) We limited the vocabulary very strictly so that we could use it over the whole year.
      We had to lead up to the AP themes by the fourth year (that’s why there are six themes). It was extra fun to mix in the IB themes. We looked at those and made simpler themes for the first year and a half. As we’ve said here, we don’t need themes or units in TPRS, but we have those themes, because they’re true of life.
      If I were home, I could send you part of the examples, but truly, think about it: almost every story you’ll tell in class has stuff like: families and communities (generational disagreements), science and technology (health: drinking and eating, wanting to eat too much chocolate, falling asleep in class, using computers or phones), public and personal identities (how do our characters act in public and private, what’s the back story), and so on. You just have to look at the six big topics (ugh, see p. 27 of this and you’ll know how to dial the topics down. We used one of the Masha and the Bear cartoons to fit almost every one of those themes: working with others, cooking, technology of washing clothes, what we expected the bear to want to do and what he did…
      Look at the requirements with a creative eye, and you’ll be able to do the writing without the angst and the negative attitude that might have been part of what cost me my program.

  12. Embedded Readings are a great tool for helping students reach the point where they can read a “text written by native speakers for native speakers.” I may use three or four easier verstions before I give them the original. Of course, I’m doing this with people who are not beginners.

  13. I love this Ben!! The crux of it… the subconscious/unconscious… thank you so much for continuing to hold the frame on this huge point. The current can pull us away from it if we don’t keep it front and center.
    The part about classist classes was powerful too, and can’t be overstated.
    I haven’t been to the More list yet to read other responses. But I read this thread entirely and appreciate the many comments. (Though I haven’t finished reading Robert’s latest primer on authentic texts yet. I’ll want some coffee for that one. Not because it’ll be boring. No no no. But because it is so full of fresh and concise thoughts, containing a hearty lexicon required for such specialized and deep critique. Refreshingly subversive to boot. Kind of like reading Chomsky.)
    I am so looking forward to seeing a bunch of you up in St. Paul in… 2 days!! I never was a summer camp kinda guy, but I am now. You guys and gals are a real super bunch to have the privilege of mingling with.

  14. Harrell compared to Chomsky. I see it as well. Robert is a phenomenal thinker and writer. He would have fit real well in there with our founding fathers and their philosophe brothers of the time in France. He is a true philosophe. How lucky to have him in our group, guiding, directing, clarifying, providing texts for the Primers, etc.

  15. Jim the position that I expressed in the original article on translation (spurred by some excellent points made by our Mark Koopman here) should not have been sent over to the list but nevertheless I sent it. My gut feeling was a kind of anger that Krashen’s Din (unconscious piece you referred to above) was being traded off for the need to survive in school, allowing more new words into a class than is healthy for the kids. Carrie Toth and Martina Bex represent a growing trend away from pure Krashen, the Din, the unconscious piece, the need to stay as long as possible in L2 to protect the process that Krashen identified as the key to the entire language acquisition process. Michael Coxon defended me gallantly, as is his style (he is another philosophe, like our Robert), but the general feeling in that discussion was reflected not so much in any one comment on the actual list but in some private emails I got like this one from someone who has been doing TPRS for a very long time:
    Hi Ben,
    I’m not so worried about hurting Helena’s feelings (or the feelings of folks who think she is the queen of all goodness.) She’s no wilting violet. Her flock? They might need the solace.
    What I am worried about is your reckless use of “We” in your open letter. It made it sound as if you were speaking for TPRS/TCI teachers. As a rhetorical device, use of “we” like that undercut your argument and weakened your case–either under the heading of “vague generalization” or “numerically vague expression.” (Who is this “we” you speak of?) word.
    It would have been less of a problem if you hadn’t argued that TPRS/TCI teachers have abandoned translation. Your re-ification/ re-fetishizing of immersion classroom sets you apart from a whole lot of TPRS/TCI practitioners. It’s strangely irrational, and contradicts our case for assessing on the fly, adapting, to really caring about what students know.
    But it is on Helena Curtain/ACTFL’s list of Best Practices.

    I embrace this kind of comment. It is no accident that I have lately decided to read all I can about our Founding Fathers. They had huge fights with each other, and it made us all the stronger. I especially invite the criticism of the great mind of the agente provocatrice Terry Waltz, which, if she comes off as harsh at times, is just the kind of mind we need to move this thing forward and not let a kind of new status quo come in. I just don’t want to go over there to the list very much, and, as I said, shouldn’t have published the Curtain article in the first place, and never with her name.
    Bottom line for me is that I don’t really see how, if Blaine based all he did with TPRS on a deliberate and conscious study of Krashen, which is a true fact, and if Krashen is all about creating a Din in the minds of the students as much as can be done in a classroom, then what kind of TPRS will there be if we get further and further away from that? And Jim thank you for your support on that point – it means a lot coming from you. This new TPRS – and I still fully appreciate Judy’s welcome thoughts on this topic in the TPRS1 vs. TPRS2 thread – won’t really be based on the role of the unconscious mind in language development, will it? And so then the question becomes how can TPRS with lots of L1 thrown in even work, if the student is made to keep thinking and thinking and hearing more new sounds than they can handle, just so the teacher can get the story across? It’s not about the story, but about the target structures – that is how I understand it.

  16. Let’s be specific about what Judy said relative to the above discussion:
    …If it’s all right for a teacher to use your book to transition from whatever method she was using to TPRS, isn’t it all right for teachers to gradually introduce as much TPRS as they can into their classes, testing how much they can do without being condemned by colleagues and their administrations? Carrie and Martina and others are trying to help people do that. Often it’s just a question of using the right vocabulary and I admire people who are able to manipulate the jargon so they can go on doing exactly what they want to do….
    For me this is just a reminder, a lesson, to stay away from discussions about what is right and wrong in the field, and rather give full focus on this PLC to things that work for us and align as much as possible with comprehensible input as originally defined by Krashen. It’s a good reminder and what Judy wrote to me on this topic is excellent and I will go back and read it from time to time.

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