Kevin's Question

Kevin asked about where some of see this thing going. In a comment, I compared the situation we are in to a being at the butt end of an elephant. I said that the situation we are in stinks. Here are a few additional thoughts on a Sunday morning:
The 96% of students who find themselves unhappy in their foreign language classrooms (most of which are, importantly, run by 4%ers) are not even remotely conscious that there is another way to do things, a way that would bring them success. Therefore, most will give up and dismiss their grammar driven/computer driven (computers can’t teach languages) class as just another boring class. Such students leave at ridiculous rates, so that schools shouldn’t even call their what they offer in languages as “programs”. Rather, they are more aptly termed “language drop out factories”.
In a few weeks here in Denver ACTFL will prove that again. With the exception of very few teachers (Carol Gaab, Bryce Hedstrom, etc.) who are devoted to spreading the message of comprehensible input even in a hostile environment, most presenters at ACTFL will be there to sell books or some kind of computer driven approach to language learning that really doesn’t work. Carol and Bryce will feel the heat and have learned not to use terms like Krashen, TPRS, Blaine Ray, etc. when they present.
The result is that the 96% of students who are not served by the former 4%er students – now teachers – who occupy roughly 99% of the language classrooms in the country are quite powerless to make any changes and, unlike the current vocal 99% in the streets drawing attention to the economic situation in the country, the idea that students could make a difference in this argument is ridiculous. They are similar to peasants in pre-revolutionary societies who don’t even know that change is possible.
This is true also of the teachers who have found a way to make the 96% enjoy their language classes and want to continue on via comprehensible input methods. Those teachers, many of us on this site, won’t be vocally occupying any schools in the country any time soon.
Most of us are just hiding in their classrooms, trying to figure out a way to do comprehensible input while being watched, in a tremendous irony, by the very teachers who are causing so much misery in children’s lives as they trample on dreams with verb conjugations, mostly unknowingly but, in the light of current research, that is no excuse. Very few have the support of their building administrators and colleagues. I count myself lucky.
It’s all about the tipping point concept. Whether the Occupy Wall Street movement eventually works depends on how many Americans, other than the vocal few now in the streets, buy in and add their voice and do something. There is some hope there right now.
But there is currently no action and therefore no real hope for any change in foreign language classrooms in the United States. Too many people are saying just take the high road and let our teaching do the talking. Now, let’s be clear – it isn’t talking very loudly.
The ignorance of most administrators on top of the ignorance of the vast majority of teachers and the 100% ignorance of students and parents on this point seals the deal. It is highly doubtful that the battles in the streets will be moving into classrooms any time soon. People aren’t making any noise. There is no ass being kicked. That is because kicking the ass of an elephant is hard to do and, even if successful, the elephant would hardly notice it.
The teachers who understand comprehensible input fail at much too high a rate to make the method work in their classrooms, and those who do get stifled by those around them who don’t. Private sites like this appear to protect free and open discussion, so that discussion like this one can be shared with people of like minds without professional backlash, but we are just too few and far between, literally, to be of any consequence until a tipping point is reached. A tipping point will be reached, just not for a long, long time.
It’s a grim situation, and why I responded to you before, Kevin, as you are new to all of this, that the CI movement doesn’t amount to much more than a sliver in the behind of an elephant, occasionally irritating the elephant enough to rub its behind against a tree, which just crushes the sliver even more.
This is going to take some time.



16 thoughts on “Kevin's Question”

  1. No. Just Carol and Bryce is all I know. Maybe a few others. Does anyone know? Look, I live down the street and I’m not going. There is nothing there for me. Just a bunch of time machines that all lead back into the last century. Been there done that. Literally.

    1. Isn’t it the ACTFL the ones that put together the proficiency guidelines that at least seem (correct me if I’m wrong) pointing language teachers in the direction of proficiency development versus vocab./grammar knowledge? And what about the 90% usage in the classroom idea? in what light whould we really see ACTFL?
      And regarding the whole elephant thing – isn’t it mostly true that (and this is a very large stab here…coming from a passionate language teacher nonetheless…) that the US essentially does not care about leaving its island of monolingualism? In Orlando where I am, intererst is high amongst the already Spanish-speaking population here to see the schools – I believe – help them preserve their linguistic heritage here in the states, but amongst English speaking monolinguals there just is no deep current of desire to even care about taking language learning seriously.
      Are we kidding ourselves? The U.S. eventually finding itself into learning the rest of the world’s languages – at the level of a tipping point? Perhaps, eventually. Maybe for economic motivations, we’ll learn Chinese – but I do not believe that is strong enough of a motivation any time soon. It’s a matter of geographical isolation (unlike language-rich Europe) and already being speakers of the world’s lingua franca.
      Way too many generalities in my string of ideas there…just some thinking out loud.

  2. ACTFL is our national parent organization but the individuals who go to the conference pay little attention to the (90% in L2) position statement or to anything else in there really, unless it fits their agenda. They get real excited about computer driven language instruction and activities that don’t work. If you dare ask them to consider the chasm between them and ACTFL’s umbrella ideas, they scoff at you, calling you radical in your alignment with those ideas.

    1. “…the individuals who go to the conference pay little attention to the (90% in L2) position statement…” My district colleagues all swear they speak 90% in the language. As my son can attest, his Spanish 3 teacher spoke nothing but Spanish in class, but he seldom understood what she said. These teachers don’t seem to understand that if the input is not comprehensible it is gibberish to our students. But it really is easier to blame the kids, as being too dumb and lazy to get it.

      1. …it really is easier to blame the kids, as being too dumb and lazy to get it….
        And, Clarice, these are children. Are they not safe in our care? Is speaking to them in a way that they cannot understand and then judging them on that failure not a form of mental abuse? I think it is. And I don’t use that term lightly.

  3. I went to ACTFL in Boston last year. Though I was largely disappointed I did find some CI stuff. Mira is going and her workshop was really great.
    I do not think I would go again though, especially if it weren’t close to home.

  4. In my small corner of the world, hosting an adult Spanish class, once a week, has done well for the TCI message. Many of my students have kids or grandkids in the traditional FL classrooms, and that usually means they see a difference of reaction (them and their kids/grandkids) to language instruction. Also, my brief explanation of why I teach how I do at the beginning of each “term” gets my point across. It’s only been one year that I’ve been doing this, but I have a strong feeling it is doing something for the movement, perhaps more than when I’m in my high school classroom. (but that time with the young ones is also important, because it is doubtful they will put up with crap FL teaching when their kids are in school.)

  5. I am registered to go. Just seemed like it was in my backyard, so it was worth a shot. I do have a list of about 7 presenters (including Carol and Bryce) that are at least TPRS/CI based. If anyone else is planning to go and wants the list, I can email you the names and times. Hopefully I will learn something worthwhile!

  6. I just went to a regional conference this weekend – how thoroughly disappointing and frustrating. As expected, there were no workshops even remotely dealing with CI. One particular presenter was talking about using UbD to teach culture to 7th grade (1st year) French students. The whole project was in English and when I asked her if this was solely for our benefit as there were teachers of other languages attending her session, she seemed baffled and said that at that level you HAVE to do all that in English as they wouldn’t understand anything yet. What is the point????? Then don’t do something like that if you think the kids don’t have enough language to complete this kind of assignment. What a complete waste of class time.
    A lot of the other workshops were highly technology driven and presented by business people (not of the language teaching profession) who were not able to connect the various applications to classroom use.
    What a let-down! Hopefully, there will be something resembling CI/TPRS in upcoming conferences in the NY area sometime soon. Our district had to tighten the belt considerably (just like the rest of the country, I suppose) and they started by cutting professional development opportunities. So, traveling across the country for a conference (no matter how beneficial) is just not in the picture right now.

  7. Here is the info I have:
    Dale Crum: Classroom Management Strategies for New Teachers
    (Friday 1:15-2:15pm)
    Leslie Davison: Six to Sixteen-All are Preschoolers in a Second Language
    (Sunday: 8-9am)
    Kristy Placido: Bridging the Path to Authentic Texts
    (Saturday: 10-11am)
    Mira Canion: 7 Irresistible Activities that Connect Teens with Reading
    (Saturday: 11:15-12:15)
    Noah Geisel: 21st Century Toolbox for Personalizing Language Instruction
    (Thursday: 9-12pm)
    Carol Gaab: “P” Stands for Powerful- 7 P’s for Success in the Language Classroom
    (Friday: 10-10:50am)
    Bryce Hedstrom: Stories Worth Retelling- How to teach with Legends
    (Friday: 3:45-4:45pm)
    Dr. Frederique Grim: ACTFL Research
    (Saturday: 3-4pm)

  8. I know. Bryce suggested these 8 presenters as he believed that the individuals are at least supportive of a CI approach. The titles of the classes don’t necessarily seem to have much to do with it, but I am still anxious to see what they have to offer. I’ll let you know if I hear anything worthwhile.

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