I Wanted to Vomit

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13 thoughts on “I Wanted to Vomit”

    1. Corinne Bourne

      Jeff, Thank you for your suggestion. I have never met Pat, but I am already totally in debt to him as he boxed up a ton of authentic Russian resources and sent it to me when he retired. I’m very bad at asking for help, but I am so grateful for the support of this group and will contact Pat a.s.a.p.

  1. The rigor description found by Robert Harrell in the Dept. of State website might be useful for “evidence of rigor.” That is found here: http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/44875.htm I would use Robert’s great Primer document at https://benslavic.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/TCI-FAQs.pdf to base my evidence.

    It talks about relevance, too. So if someday Corinne gets a demand to show with empirical evidence and citations that her course is also relevant (!) she could use that, too.

    Boy, teaching 8 (or is it 10??) courses sure leaves time for this kind of burdensome reporting!

  2. I agree that Pat and Katya are the go-to resources in this situation, as well as Robert Harrell. Surely Katya could provide some advice or materials that would satisfy this UC tool? After all, she does teach for the Military. This top-down crap coming from universities, where they try to tell us what/how we should teach kids is such BS.

    Corinne, I met you at Diane’s Grieman’s house a few years back, and it would be great to re-connect if you find yourself in the bay area.

  3. Robert Harrell

    Pat Barrett is a guy and would, I’m sure, be willing to help.

    As far as rigor and relevance are concerned, you can’t beat what the US Department of State has to say on the matter. Here’s the URL to the relevant page –

    Include in your course outline the Department of State definition – and reference the source with the URL. Then if you get any resistance you can ask if the chair disagrees with the US Department of State and why.

    There are four elements of rigor:
    1. Sustained Focus – you ask students to do that daily by being physically and mentally present and attending to the class conversation (see jGR)
    2. Depth and Integrity of Inquiry – you pursue topics in depth by remaining with a subject until students have explored it satisfactorily
    3. Suspension of premature conclusions – there are many ways that TCI meets this
    4. Continuous testing of hypotheses – it is here that TCI is far superior to any grammar-driven method; students are asked to test their hypotheses about the language continuously as they hear the language and formulate ideas about how it is constructed (Grammar-driven methods tell students without giving them opportunity to test their own hypotheses)

    In their discussion of this, the Department of State includes asking “mediative questions”, which means we ask open-ended questions that encourage students to think about their thinking instead of just producing a single correct answer.

    Relevance is addressed as well. Here are elements of relevance:
    1. prior intellectual or emotional connection to content – how can they not have it if the topic is about them; we also explore topics in which students are interested (I have talked extensively about films and Harry Potter, for example) and with which I as the teacher have a connection that I can mediate to my students. (Yes, students will often get excited about something because the teacher is excited.)
    2. It is connected to real life – again a “duh!” for TCI
    3. It is appropriately timed – not much we can do about this one except observe, for example, that first and fifth periods are not optimal times for class
    4. It actively engages or involves us – we demand that students become engaged; we can also plan activities that are both comprehensible input as well as engaging
    5. Someone else has a contagious passion or enthusiasm – we should teach our passions; I’m sure that part of the reason Ben’s students engage with “Le Petit Prince” is because Ben loves it so much, and they have a prior connection to him; I once had a student tell me that she wasn’t terribly interested in the Middle Ages but enjoyed my unit because I was so obviously enthusiastic about it
    6. It is novel – which brings us to the much-maligned flying blue elephants; there are, however, other ways to make something novel

    After you have defined rigor and relevance, you have a solid basis for showing that your syllabus meets both criteria. Part of the problem in education is that so many people use terms like rigor and relevance as buzz words without ever defining them. Consequently they don’t really know what they mean by the term, and they don’t have a common ground for discussion because the words can mean different things to different people. By defining them in your syllabus, you take away the ambiguity and ability of the administrator/department chair to change the meaning during discussion.

    Another thing you can do is go to the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners as well as the World Language Standards for California Classrooms Kindergarten through Grade Twelve and ask the administrator/department chair to work with you exactly where a third or fourth-year language class ought to fall in a sequence that is designed to take 13 years to achieve Intermediate Mid proficiency. Become really familiar with what students should be able to do at Novice High because that’s where they should be at the end of three years – and not even consistently there in all topic areas. Your administrator/department chair has unrealistic expectations, even according to ACTFL (which is often overly optimistic). Also be sure to ask the administrator/department chair what he means by “lower-level college work”. You want him to think as deeply about his assumptions as you do; plus you want to be certain that he is providing you with the “rubric” by which he is judging your work.

    1. Thank you Robert. Once again you lay it all out for us in clear terms. I particularly appreciate this in your response to Corinne’s dilemna:

      …ask the administrator/department chair to work with you exactly where a third or fourth-year language class ought to fall in a sequence that is designed to take 13 years to achieve Intermediate Mid proficiency. Become really familiar with what students should be able to do at Novice High because that’s where they should be at the end of three years….

      It is indeed clear that Corinne is being asked to cram 13 years of practice into four years, which is the thing that what made me want to vomit, because I can just imagine (have accepted myself in the past) the kind of pressure found in this man’s ridiculous and hubristic position.

      (I might add as an aside that I don’t think that ACTFL is accurate with the 13 year estimate. Their lack of appreciation of the real power of comprehensible input instruction – when done in the real way – makes them blow that figure up. I think we can get kids to IM in eight years easily, if we had such a program available.)

      I want to punch that guy’s lights out, quite frankly, because I see an attitude that is found all too often in sheltered, four percent fed, university people that is not real, does not connect to the real world. That Corinne teaches TWO languages at those levels (I am guessing 7 or 8 classes) is, in truth, an insult to her dedication and professionalism. It proves the adage found in education that the really good teachers suffer more in their jobs because they are given more responsibilities because they are so good at them.

      That is the other thing that made me want to vomit – Corinne’s workload. I advise you to reconsider everything you are doing for that school, Corinne. I don’t see it as a good thing, but that is just my unasked for opinion and I apologize if I am overstepping my bounds on that point.

      We must realize that in four years we can get some of the brighter kids to intermediate low. Generally in DPS we are seeing intermediate low status as a fourth year thing, with the superstars often getting there earlier. I have about five kids who currently in level 3 are listening and reading comfortably at IL but not producing at that level.

      That relates to the point Robert alluded to about how the four skills vary, so that a kid will be at a lower proficiency level on output than they are on input. One thing is true – there is a huge jump from IL to IM, and this is what outrages me about what this guy is asking for from Corinne.

      It’s complex. Diana has a clear view of what to expect after a certain number of years, and I will try to remember to ask her and get some more information back here about what we can expect in terms of proficiency levels after a certain number of years.

      Three things are certain:

      1. Programs that don’t use comprehensible input in their instruction lag far behind those that do in terms of ACTFL gains.

      2. Programs that don’t use comprehensible input create imitations of gains, more than actual gains, in my opinion, because of the way four percenters learn. The vast majority of students never get to NH or IL status because they drop out after the second year and the four percenters become the wheels on the chassis of the AP teachers and university people, who are going to appear increasingly out of touch with each passing year as the profession shudders through the changes it is in now.

      3. Corinne is working too hard. Most of us are. We take our work ethic from the years before we heard about CI, and we apply it to our CI teaching now, but it is not a good mix. We don’t need to be always thinking so hard to think of all sorts of new and fancy ways of reaching our kids with CI. We have the Three Steps of TPRS and we have R and D. That’s plenty, along with the kinds of things listed in the Two Week Schedule. All we have to do is enjoy talking and reading with our students in the target language. I guess that is too much for many of us to accept, since we are teachers – the simple idea that we can be happy in our work, and that this way of teaching gives that to us if we could but give ourselves permission to receive it.

      1. I love your point 3. Ben. I have been practicing not working too hard for two years now. And now I have an admin. who seems to want to make me reinvent the wheel because writing “better” lesson plans will somehow make me a “better” teacher. Why can’t I be allowed to just enjoy being at work with the kids? I didn’t even mention my 2 week schedule to him because he would “flip out” if he heard me say that I use the same plans “over and over”, God forbid.

  4. Is Michele Whaley a blog member here? I know she teaches Russian up in Alaska. Here’s her TPRS blog: http://mjtprs.wordpress.com/. Perhaps she could be of service.

    Also, ALL of what Robert said is golden. At my last foreign language in-service in January, we were given an ACTFL document showing the different expectations of acquisition for each level of schooling in an easy-to-understand graph format. I’d be happy to hunt for it and scan it if you have trouble finding that on the website.

  5. Pat Barret still posts on moretprs and his e-mail is there. He has retired, so he might have the time to work this out with you. My former student, Delphine Ducros, who remembers your classes in California fondly, has qualified to teach English here in France.

  6. Michele Whaley

    I wish Erin were right and that I knew something. Honestly, I do nothing like Corinne, and yet when third-year Russian class volunteers come over from the local university, they are often amazed by what my first-year kids are doing, and they’re behind my third and fourth year kids.

    When Corinne wrote to me about this, I knew I was not the person to answer it. I can’t understand how these admins think that anyone could expect this level out of kids in high school. Most kids can’t do that kind of writing in their English classes, much less in another language. I feel blessed that (so far) this kind of garbage hasn’t hit us.

    Hmm…what is in writing for your upper-level French classes? I’m sure you’ve thought about just tweaking those to fit the Russian requirements.

    I’m so sorry, both that you have to create this and that I am of no help.

    1. Corinne Bourne

      You are so much help to me on a regular basis! I am always grateful to you.
      I have to say apart from thinking I can walk on water, which is a daily pressure, my admins are super supportive, it’s just that they can’t help me write this and they don’t realize how difficult it is, with the expectations of the university individual who’s assessing the program.
      Yes, I did try tweaking the successful French IV honors 🙂

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