Conversation with a Principal

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55 thoughts on “Conversation with a Principal”

    1. Yeah those principals seem to have something like a hard drive of certain questions that they ask like “How do you plan your instruction to bring your students along through the different levels of learning French?” Lots of those. I always felt stupid when I couldn’t answer them and after all this work with CI I still felt mildly silly in those meetings so thanks for pointing that out Leigh Anne. I am starting to see that I can’t answer the questions bc the questions don’t make any sense.

  1. “The students are the curriculum.” This is very much my situation, since I am now tutoring, which means I’m free to give my students anything that is compelling and comprehensible to them. And don’t I love it. One baccalaureate student had never acquired the fundamentals. She read “Felipe Alou”, was able to talk about it during her oral interview and came out with a decent grade. Another younger student read Pride and Prejudice, unabridged and is now reading everything I can find by Ursula K. Le Guin.

    I think of a plant growing with roots deep in the soil. All we can do is water it. A lot of the water drains off, but some gets absorbed by the roots, carried up the trunk, becomes sap and through a mysterious process the plant grows and produces new sprouts and buds. The more we try to control the plant’s growth, by putting it in a pot called curriculum, giving it special fertilizers and carefully measured and timed watering, the more delicate and fragile the plant becomes. If we water it too much or not enough, it dies.

  2. In case anyone is interested, I am working on articulating a “Philosophy of Teaching Foreign Language” and posting on my blog. So far I have discussed the impetus for doing this and spent two posts on the question “What is the goal of my instruction?”

    You can check out the posts here:

    https://compellinginput.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/growing-pains/

    https://compellinginput.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/toward-a-philosophy-of-teaching-1/

    https://compellinginput.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/toward-a-philosophy-of-teaching-2/

    In the final analysis I agree with Ben that the nature of acquisition means that we cannot do things the way our colleagues in other disciplines do them.

    Not so incidentally, this afternoon I read “In Praise of Incidental Learning”. I recommend it and will write a post about it later.

    I know Ben wants to keep all the theoretical “stuff” out of the PLC, so if you want to consider some of that, read my blog. It won’t all be theory and research, but a lot of it will be – at least in the next several posts as I work through how to present TPRS/TCI to my more traditional colleague who will be teaching one section of German 1 next year – and who is my likely successor when I retire. Feel free to make comments there, too.

  3. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    ‘Bringing students along’ is just another way to ask for growth-over-time data. It’s an obsession. Since you teach at an American school are they trying to follow Danielson? What best-practice teacher evaluation model is she echoing? Daniel Pink in DRIVE (his book on motivation) says that ‘critical evaluation’ is counterproductive – doesn’t motivate. What are you supposed to get out of such a go-nowhere discussion…what takeaways to improve your practice? Isn’t that the purpose of teacher evaluation?

    On my last one I was glad to get a “keep doing whatever you’re doing” nod and wink!
    We’ll see what my current summative says – I have my mtg this afternoon.

    I find it hilarious that after nearly 40 years she’s putting the burden on you to articulate how/why you are so successful. That’s what she gets paid to do, isn’t it?
    I mean, she observed it. You have explained the ABCs of SLA.
    Let her try to parse the ineffable…

  4. Steven Ordiano

    I think you articulated well Ben about the beauty of communication. I also enjoyed the fact that you admit being in the dark about assessment. You said that “we” were working on it. Lastly, the LAD explanation was very useful and can help me articulate to open more free-thinking colleagues who I’m going to meet this Saturday regarding our French Immersion camp.

    1. Is immersion the way to go? I’m not as knowledgeable in foreign language, but in second language education, “immersion” =trash. Pure trash. Long live bilingual education and humane L1 support.

      1. Steven Ordiano

        We had an immersion camp for 2.5 days at a beautiful forest. Tons of incomprehensible input and forced output. I am preparing myself to take it over in about 5-7 years, I hope. How would a CI camp look like?

        1. I’ve often imagined doing something like this Steven. I once took a “Spanish field trip” up to Hermit Lake shelters on Mt. Washington. It was basically an excuse to take a field trip, but I billed it as “Spanish only” which of course it wasn’t BUT it was kind of CI-ish (way before I knew there was such a thing).

          CI camp could be super cool bc…it’s a CI camp, so you can define what it looks like, how it’s structured and not even worry about being compared to “immersion” camp. Because it’s not immersion. Heh…and kids would come out of it eager to keep going on their own instead of “omg I cannot wait to speak English!” I really have no idea, just a hunch.

          I think that word is used frequently to mean a buncha different things. Seems like most folks call anything that is not textbook-y “immersion” for lack of a better word.

          1. You guys. Start a CI camp please. I went to an immersion weekend in high school. But CI camp would be so much better.

          2. Steven Ordiano

            Yes. Me too I went once in HS. There were many level 2s with puzzled faces. The level 4s survived but didn’t thrive.

        1. If you’re at an intermediate level already, though, I think it can be good. A student of mine went on a summer immersion program last year for 2 weeks. She came back with huge gains in language. But that’s because she was hearing i+1, not i+25 like the kids who went to the camp but knew zero Chinese when they got there. She said they had a rough time.

  5. Bryan Whitney

    I second the idea that our students are our curriculum. Our curriculum is their everyday lives as well as their imaginations. We teach students to communicate in the target language through personalized conversations and the creative story creation process, both of which cannot be predetermined to be truly relevant, authentic, and creative.

    If we use the Innovation and Learning Skills from the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework): Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity, then predetermining an entire curriculum is inauthentic and contrived.

    Personalized education (and dare I say it: truly student-centered education) is totally incompatible with predetermined curriculum documents.

    1. Nice, Bryan: “Personalized education (and dare I say it: truly student-centered education) is totally incompatible with predetermined curriculum documents.” So often the idea of “student-centered” is equated with “students do pair practice and verbalize a lot” but they do so in quite prescribed ways. That’s not student-centered, that’s curriculum-centered.

        1. Best curriculum = No curriculum
          Just a system for channeling kids’ ideas and providing language they can understand so that their LAD can get to work.

      1. Steven Ordiano

        Yes Diane. Many of the language teachers in my area think that “practice makes perfect” and if you “practice” just long enough you’ll magically begin speaking correctly. This is considered/mistaken for “student-centered” when in fact Bryan said it best.

        1. Plus it is BOOOOOOORING!!! So the motivated thrive and the others check out. I was motivated, and I survived and went on for a second helping in college. But most kids are not like that. Especially the most vulnerable kids. I like what Ben said once, that he teaches for the kid in the back of the room with the black hoodie pulled over his face. THATS the kid we need to keep in mind in our teaching and assessment.

    2. Cherie Thomas

      I recently met with the HS French teacher to swap our level 1 Performance Task papers. Even though my kids papers (on average) were several paragraphs long, creative, contextually accurate, some even switching correctly between several tenses, I could see her rolling her eyes and shaking her head at the grammar and spelling errors. In a moment of weakness, I planned a grammar lesson on the immediate future with my 8th graders who have been complaining that they are not prepared for what they hear they will have to do in HS French. We have of course been using it all year with pop up explanations. They were frustrated, bored to death, and it was terrible. In the middle I just started asking them questions about the 8th grade formal this weekend: who are they going with, what are they going to wear, what will they do, etc. They laughed hysterically gossiping about their friends, sharing details, and talking in the future tense. I knew better, but it was a good reminder to me to always focus on the kids, and let the language happen.

      1. Doesn’t hurt that your husband is the principal of the high school. That’s a brazen lady. Especially when he gets TPRS. Not a good move on her part. Are there still such people around? I’ve been too spoiled in Denver Public Schools and here in India with Linda Li I guess. Why don’t you ask her to provide you with some writing samples of ALL her kids? They won’t be good across the board – only three will be good and five will be decent. The rest will suck. And they won’t communicate real ideas like your kids’ writing can. Better yet, have those kids come in for a class with your kids. Then she’ll sweat. Real salty sweat, I bet. Bless her 19th c. heart!

        1. Cherie Thomas

          Ha Ha! It’s not his school. She’s a sweet lady, but he’d have never hired her. His 2 hires this year are attending iFLT b/c he won’t hire someone who isn’t on board with TPRS. All of the HS samples were the same paper with a different name at the top. 40-60 words max, location, weather, 2 activities, and still had inaccurate spelling and verb endings! I know there are ways that I can improve, but I love that my kids are not afraid to use what they know in fun and creative ways. They aren’t afraid of making mistakes or being corrected, they just have fun with the language and communicate their silly middle school ideas. I’m trying to figure out how to handle our vertical alignment discussion this summer. I foresee a lot of nodding on my part as she tells me how unprepared my kids are.

          1. Cherie said:

            …I’m trying to figure out how to handle our vertical alignment discussion this summer….

            Man we had one all day VA meeting in the fall and one in the spring. Both complete wastes of time. The traditionalists copied the Table of Contents of their books and the others put in the ACTFL performance indicators. No discussion, two different camps. Linda Li just zoned on out of there mentally and people missed a chance to be educated. BUT the good thing was that we got Claire kicking up sand in the air here on assessment and look what we have going now. So the meeting in an odd way was a big success. But I don’t envy you on a summer day in the beautiful state of Virginia sitting in one of those meetings.

          2. Cherie Thomas

            My plan is to have it at a vineyard, with a glass of rosé in hand so that I can pretend that I am back in Provence while listening to all of the grammar and lists of useless vocab my kids “need to cover”.

          3. You deserve your glass of wine. I know it sounds like many of you just want to fly under the radar and keep doing what you do, awesome CI. I say, go for it.

            You shouldn’t have to fight this fight, but if any brave soul thinks they’re really sick of vertical alignment–you have everything you need to end it, or you will this Fall.

            Decades ago, ESL teachers had to redefine our curriculum because the “need to cover X, Y, & Z” curriculum wasn’t working. Kids were learning and unlearning about isolated elements of language for tests, but not able to acquire and use language. It’s not a big deal in foreign language but it would be a national crisis in ESL. We were forced to reform our ways.

            As much pressure as there is to document and show growth, it is widely accepted in the ESL world that for early language learners, standardization of some kind of district-wide “vertical alignment” is not to be desired.

            We broke away from traditional grammar-translation methods by asking: alignment to what? We align our curriculum and instruction to assessments of where kids are in terms of both cognitive and linguistic ability (where they are) and affective domain (what they value or are interested in).

            Even though my colleagues don’t feel a sense of urgency for Newcomers and SIOP is still a thing (roll eyes)…okay, ESL does kind of stink sometimes…even so, ESL teachers have the curriculum fight down-pat. Our kids define our curriculum, we keep our eyes on them.

            I stand on the shoulders of some ESL greats, but I think some of you could be foreign language greats for your schools. I suspect we will have so many beautiful reports from the field this Fall.

  6. OH yeah! Great weekend reading for me, as I am now faced with somehow explaining or “bridging” my students into ??? My gut says I probably won’t do this, but I also feel the need to explain / justify my existence in the classroom.

    Right when I was getting super pumped about being here, I got cut yesterday along with 24 others in the district. Budget line item. Last in first out, I get it. I take solace in the fact that I was not fired. I actually signed a letter of intent last week, and everyone (especially me) was super happy I was coming back.

    They are eliminating Spanish altogether and while I have not heard explicitly I betcha a million dollars the “rationale” will be that kids can “learn in the online academy.” Of course I have reams to say about that, but bottom line is that those classes are all organized in the textbook way. So my current “Spansih 3” students will definitely NOT be in “Spanish 4” because I have not done one single traditional thing. Hmmm. It’s disgraceful really. Not at all because of me but because here is a very bare bones district with nothing to cut. And they cut 24 of us. Class sizes will skyrocket, electives eliminated. Tell me how that “improves the school?”

    Good news is that kids are mobilizing. I got a lotta love today and solidarity. I am so proud of and inspired by their fierceness and commitment to their school. Big meeting happening 6/6 so some of the damage can be reversed. We’ll see.

    Anyway, I don’t want my last 5 weeks to be ugly. I want to continue to enjoy the kids. But I may have to buckle down so they don’t get left hanging. Ick. I was already looking down the road and also feeling how awesome it is creating this program from scratch and have it be full-on CI. Disclaimer: at the moment and all this year CI has pretty much sucked. But I’m creating community and confidence. So I was looking forward to going deeper next year with the kids already “trained.” OH well. Impermanence, right?

    Next step for me??? Not sure. Not rushing or forcing it. I don’t feel like applying to another school so I may put energy into adult / community / homeschooler classes. Maybe I can offer it here thru adult ed.??? If I got reinstated I would take the job in a heartbeat, but I have zero interest in going to another school. Very weird considering my rocky start.

    Watching it all like a movie.

    1. jen, I feel for you very much, this must feel like a loss or at least an unexpected and unwanted surprise. You have been through so much this year, and you have freely and generously shared your ups and downs so that I felt like I was right there with you. I am sorry to hear this news. You have a gift in your understanding of the suffering that comes with attachment. But it is hard, isn’t it? It is for me! I get real attached. Please email me if there is anything I can do to help you in any way!

      1. Thank you!!! Yes, a shock I was not expecting, especially given the last few weeks of very positive feedback and great excitement from students that I signed up for another year (1st spanish teacher in 5 years ). I just never thought about budget stuff.

        And yes there is a possibility I could be reinstated. I think if the city council gets overruled somehow by citizen protest + school board support it could happen. Like I said, kids are mobilizing, parents are speaking up, etc. We just need to get ppl to the city hall on june 6.

        I may “accidentally” do some movie talks about Gandhi or MLK or ??? Suggestions welcome. It’s cross curricular AND real life AND I just found out from an English teacher that they happen to be starting Thoreau / transcendentalism, so….hmmm. Kids already know I’m all “No a la violence, si al amor!” Could be an interesting “unit.”

    2. If they have any brains at all they will find a way to reinstate you, jen. The community building you’ve done that took a full year of constant work and the cultural impact that has on the school as a whole should not be overlooked. If your district is anything like Chicago Public Schools, most likely they will reinstate many or most of you guys. Many of these threats done for the “sake of the budget” are PR games played by politicians. It’s impressive you have students and the community speaking out. I’m sure the powers that be are listening!

      jen, I think you should write a book too! Your story is super interesting and important. Sounds like you’d have some unique characters in this book too, these students of yours!

    3. I read every comment you made this year jen and it started bad and got progressively better, much better! So sad to see this. However, you will win, if the school doesn’t. Online Spanish. Great.

      But such growth for you this year! Congrats. Love that they are coming to your help. Can’t say why, but feeling that only good will come out of this.

  7. Wow, jen. This just keeps getting more and more interesting. You sound really strong and positive in spite of all of the uncertainty. I’m with Tina saying Go jen!

  8. In a casual conversation with my mom yesterday I found out that my uncle didn’t start speaking until he was 4 years old. This uncle has some 12 siblings, give or take, in the home. And he was a middle child. Now, this uncle has a PhD. So yes, every child starts speaking when they are ready. They are no less advanced if they don’t speak until later.

    1. This is so fascinating Sean! I had a student 3 years ago whose mom was very concerned about my “approach” because her daughter “doesn’t do auditory.” She was pretty strong in saying that the daughter “would not be able to learn this way, because she did not start speaking until she was 4.”

      I pointed out “well, she speaks perfect English now, right? In fact, she is an acute observer, pretty big talker and a detailed storyteller.” This gave her pause, and she softened when I reassured her that this was not “audio boot camp” and I reminded her of gestures, facial expressions, context, reading (daughter is an avid reader) and just generally being part of a community (this family is super community oriented). Anyway you can guess the rest. Student thrived, loved it, no big deal. I have often wondered about getting students to ask their parents / caregivers when they first started to speak (words / phrases / full sentences) because it seems like that would be an interesting indicator for acquisition.

  9. Not to toot my own horn (okay, maybe a little), I just finished another post on my “Toward a Philosophy of Teaching”. In the two most recent posts I explore how cognitive science and neuroscience research inform what we should be doing in the classroom. Here’s a summary:

    Propositional Knowledge and Procedural Knowledge are two different kinds of knowledge.

    They and their associated memory stores are handled by two different systems in the brain.

    Propositional Knowledge is handled by the conscious mind.

    Procedural Knowledge is handled by the unconscious mind, which is significantly more powerful than the conscious mind but does not mean either unintentionally or lack of focus.

    To read the full post, go to
    https://compellinginput.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/toward-a-philosophy-of-teaching-4/

    1. Thanks Robert. And the article you shared about “incidental learning” was very informative. Prompted from that article, I’m tasking myself with looking into what elementary school teachers with this Shared Reading approach. Sounds like something that could help me with my Spanish heritage classes.

  10. I love this post Ben! Most people would have walked out in frustration, like me, and kept a potentially great rant to themselves without ever articulating it “on paper”. I’m sure the articulation of that rant was not easy.

  11. Yeah and thanks Jim. That was one of those you can’t sleep but you don’t know you are awake but you keep having the same thought and it’s the middle of the night and so you hit the keys with the one goal of getting back to sleep kind of events. I have never been able to articulate what I am thinking to others, esp. figures of authority, with spoken words in the moment. I feel insignificant in those meetings, like I have to explain myself. How to explain a 15 min. chant (happened today) that emerged spontaneously in a lesson plan or curriculum doc? From 9:03 to 9:18 – Chant. Materials needed: Dictionaries to beat on the desks with. My whole career has been one of stuffing down feelings of fun and dance with language. In a word, my mind has blocked my heart. I know all things have a reason and now I have realized that it is ok to follow a fun idea in class and expand on it and not care if I’m teaching what I’m supposed to be teaching, whatever the heck that is. Glad those 30+ years are over. Glad to have learned what I really want professionally! (Release of heart and freedom from admins who squirm in their seats when trying to pin me down on some obscure point that has nothing to do with anything but their egos.)

  12. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    So much of this fabulous PLC venue has been (for me) a celebration and sharing of improvised & spontaneous ‘fun and dance with language.’ Another part has been how to articulate our professional expertise via: meetings, conversations w/colleagues, admin, parents, students, each other; and yet a third part has been how to perform Kabuki Theatre – Yes my badge and the sign on my door says WL class so I’ll insure you see/hear some familiar connections/memories to SCHOOL – assessment/grades/report cards, evaluations, feedback, maybe some posters, literature, etc…
    but behind the mask and costume it’s us having fun and dancing in the language….
    I look forward to our work through assessment as I feel we are gaining clarity and the cred & legitimacy with such practices and documentation.
    But will we ever be able to stop pretending we have pre-planned a rigorous curriculum with all the finalized measurement tools at the ready? Will our Judges ever be willing to look/listen at what we’re doing and appreciate all the expertise, skill AND ENERGY that goes into it, and more importantly, that our work yields not only language gains, but JOY & FUN for our kids?

    1. “Will our Judges ever be willing to look/listen at what we’re doing and appreciate all the expertise, skill AND ENERGY that goes into it, and more importantly, that our work yields not only language gains, but JOY & FUN for our kids?”

      I hope.
      It’s a brave question you ask and a brave thing you’ll be doing if you take this on. It’s not for the faint of heart. People in Denver Public Schools or other places with a high number of TPRS teachers need to lead the way first I suspect.

  13. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Sometimes I direct a fantasy documentary – like an extended TED talk with footage – of “Evolution of Language Instruction” – and there are clips of Ben w/that jaunty orange cap doing Kandy the Korn; there’s you, Claire, steely eyed and thick-thumbed, thumbing through your authentic assessments onscreen, explaining the unique situation of BICS learners (acquirers), there are snippets of Dr. Krashen over the years talking about Pleasure vs. pain/effort and the effects of reading; there are big hairy hoody-wearing teens-the kind that put their heads down or flip-off the teacher – enthusiastically offering crazy details, footage of jobs like the artist and the bleater, the mailman and the student director…Bill VanP is in there talking about (no) rules and mental representation….Then for dramatic juxtaposition there’s a few brief scenes of a grammar dragon legacy classroom, maybe a side by side student retell…the camera pans the sullen expressionless adolescents surviving yet another double block of cloze dialogues…
    Hey I’d pay to see it!

    1. Steven Ordiano

      I would pay to! More immediate, I imagine you Alisa making a video montage of all those images and experience you described above with some captions or narration from you. Totally cool because you include theory, the archetypes of students and our work in class and target less stories like kandy the korn.

  14. Alisa I have thought the same thing. There is a fine documentary waiting to be made on this way of teaching languages. It could focus on some kid as she goes through her hidden hoodied day in a typical American high school and then get her breaking out of her hiding place during just that one period when she goes from black and white to full color in her language class. All kinds of scenarios are possible.

    Alisa just a public note of thanks for you. You have enriched the discussion here over the past year to a degree that is impossible to measure. I am so happy that our community, so small and being kept that way on purpose by me, moves forward as it does each year as a dedicated group of intensely honest teachers. We may be crazy in some ways, but our honesty of intent cannot be questioned. What you share with your kids and bring to us from your classes on a daily basis is just so helpful to so many!

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