I Am A Fool

Diana Noonan is spearheading a three year program in our district to get some hard data on TPRS programs through three years. This would involve articulated TPRS-only programs from middle to high school in Denver Public Schools in which TPRS is the sole instructional approach in the classrooms used. District TPRS teachers who want to be part of the study must, according to Diana:
…. agree to NOT use the textbook, to NOT teach ABOUT the language in English and to use the target language in the classroom 90% of the time ….
Now that puts a lot of “TPRS teachers” out of the running. It puts me out because, although I don’t use the book, I still talk about the language in English too much, and I can’t say that I am at 90% use of L2 – maybe 75% on a good day except when I am being observed. But I want to be part of this initiative, because I know that if we in DPS do what Diana is asking for, then in three years we will have some total kick ass students, some monster processors, some L2 dancers.
Our assessment instruments have been in the development and refinement process for a few years now, and they are good. So I am going to lay aside the toys of the past, swat away the stink flies of the old ways when they get into my mind, and do what Diana says. I am so glad to get this ultimatum now when it is not too late.
Yes, it has been a gnarly February, but that is no reason to shirk what I consider a sacred  pedagogical responsibility to the kids – to let them see and hear L2 as much as possible in the classroom. If my national parent organization, the new CO state standards, my boss Diana, my student Shelby, and my colleague Dirk are all screaming the same thing to me today, then I might as well listen.
Shelby is a superstar who happened to come in with her parents for parent conferences tonight. I asked a few questions about how the class was working for her. She told me point blank that everything we have been doing in class, with the exception of
general discussion in L2 (she particulary mentioned the value of One Word Images),
PQA type stuff, and
Read and Discuss,
was not working for her. Total honesty. She was basically echoing Krashen. Then, right after that discussion, I drove home and got the email below from Dirk, who was reacting to my statement somewhere on this site that I sometimes use grammar terms in class. Here is what Dirk said:
What is this sh–?  Throw them a bone?  Grammar terminology in class? I know February is a tough month but…don’t be throwing too many bones. Stick to your guns, hoss. I had the “afraid of the package” script just fall flat yesterday. The minute we start mandating content is the minute we start to lose them.
Needless to say, Dirk is a free thinking PQA kind of guy, like me. It’s funny how the old way can creep in when our guard is down. It’s funny how we stand in front of everyone with our TPRS hats in our hands and ask for the approval of a system that we don’t even like, that has not proven itself of any value to the world, and has turned off countless kids to language study, and made many of them, like Shelby’s sister, hate it.
Diana and Shelby and Dirk have reminded me once again that input based methods, Krashen based methods, i.e. speaking to our students in massive amounts of L2 and having them read tons in L2, whatever that method is called, is where my heart is. I am not a begger. I don’t need to stand before, nor do I need to ask for the approval of, people who are proven failures at what they do in the classroom.
Thanks, guys. I get it in my mind, but when confronted with the reality of keeping the CI afloat for 40 of 45 or 80 of 90 minutes in class, I forgit. Maybe this is true of others. Could our own lack of actually walking the walk (I can’ t possibly be alone in my mea culpa moment here) be implicated in the lack of data that we currently have after all these years of TPRS?
Tomorrow, I will try again to use the language 90% of the time. And I certainly won’t let English ruin everything for me (I learned that one a few weeks ago, but caution – it is like the SLOW skill in that it needs constant reminders).
In three years, I will have let my colleagues down if we in DPS don’t the data we want. Damn, people, all we have to do is exactly what Diana says and we will have some data the gods will envy!
And, we will have our novice high/intermediate low kids after those three years, too. Personally, if I don’t do what ACTFL and the new Colorado standards and Diana and Shelby and Dirk are pointedly reminding me to do, then I am a fool.



4 thoughts on “I Am A Fool”

  1. I think you can use English to bond with your students and deal with the most severe rules infractions – you have to really in those cases – but everything else including the most boring details of what you ate for breakfast or where you were yesterday is more effective in L2…

  2. Until Diana’s initiative for our district described above, I just plain went into English too much. About anything. This is not a complex point to make here, requiring all sorts of nuanced discussion. Even though I claim TPRS, for over nine years now I would typically be doing nice L2 CI for ten minutes or so, and then, just when the plane was off the ground, something would make me think of something, and I would casually but immediately break out of the CI into an (always highly embellished) version to my kids in English about how, with an nice German violin strapped to my back and late for a class many years ago, I rode my new French bike smack into the side of a huge light blue touring bus at an intersection in Strasbourg, France and broke the hell out of my left collarbone. THIS IS WHAT I CAN NO LONGER DO WITH THIS NEW DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS INITIATIVE. We need data and we need good, accurate data, and we need it now. If I want to do stuff like that again I can do it in three years after this study is over, perhaps. Diana wants 90% French in my classes and I will try as best as I possibly can with the natural and huge limitations of the naturally skewed school environment to deliver that product. I will do so by sheer mental effort of overiding those little forays into English, by simply not “going there”. If I need to put a teaching assistant with a squirt gun in the front row, so be it. Actually, with me, the squirt gun wouldn’t work at all. I would need to be tasered.
    And one might suggest to me to just tell the bike story in French. But I can’t for at least two reasons – it would interrupt the nascent CI that was being developed, and, also, the bike story was personalized about me, not about my kids, which doesn’t work. I can write a story about that event and make a kid the central character and then it would be o.k. and then tell the kids that that really happened to me later. But I WILL stop with the L1 digressions.

  3. I hear you, Ben. Those needless digressions (and they are ultimately needless) are so easy to get into. We need to be like a business in this sense: get rid of everything that does not contribute to the end goal. It it doesn’t help me accomplish what I need to accomplish, I can’t afford to do it.
    I have found, though, that every once in a while, after you have established a relationship with your students, they do want to hear what happened to you – but only every once in a while, and only after you have become a real person to them. That’s one of the nice things about having students for four years, we actually are able to get to know one another and develop a relationship over time. (BTW, would you believe we actually had a lively theological discussion in German 4/AP as a result of reading Luther’s “Ein’ feste Burg”?)

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