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Ben Slavic

Krashen vs. Duncan

Krashen’s point that too much testing is a bunch of hooey and that poverty is the real problem vs. Duncan’s reckless positioning of the big governement testing guns leaves us with so much smoke that we can barely see our way through a lesson plan.
But there is a pathway through the forest of Krashen vs. Duncan. We don’t have to get hung up or bewildered because most school districts are unconscious of Krashen so far and therefore ask us to provide them with paperwork (Student Growth Objectives, Lesson Plans, Team PLC Goals, etc. that we know do not reflect best practices – Krashen – in the instruction of language students).
On the one hand, we need to reflect standards. (To me, Robert Harrell’s focus on the Three Modes is the right place to look on that – the interpersonal and interpretive modes, especially, are of supreme importance in the first two years. There is much discussion on this topic in blogs posts from early summer, especially in June – involving le Chevalier de Chicago (Frank) and le Chevelier de l’Ouest (Robert) and I think Nathan Black was in on that discussion as well – and there will be more to come as the Three Modes start to get owned.)
I will mention how the last of the C words – Culture – fits in to all this for me later this week. (hint: it’s not on my screen as a big deal, to be honest – in fact it’s a very minor deal and I will explain why I feel that way).
On the other hand, as we have been discussing here this past week, there is the tenacious grip of most language teachers ( I would guess more than 99% of us) who still write lesson plans and personal growth objectives around pacing guides and books. (see the link on this site “about TPRS/thoughts on pacing guides” for more on that point.)
As Robert said, this is done, being gotten away with, in states whose legislatures have, in the past few years, made the re-alignment with ACTFL (28 years after the 1983 ACTFL guidelines were written but better late then never). The California State Board of Education, for example, has clearly stated that they want the children of California to actually hear the language spoken at least 90% of the time in class, as per ACTFL. If this were a recommendation for dentists that the old way of fixing a cavity is now understood to be very bad for the patient, there would be repurcussions for those who refused to comply, but in education, nothing is done and the beat goes on.
The Denver Public Schools coordinator, Diana Noonan, however, over the past six years has focused a tremendous amount of energy and hard work on designing an instrument that, if it wouldn’t please Krashen (it wouldn’t) might please Duncan. It reflects Krashen and that is all we can hope for on that point – we don’t need to please Krashen; he doesn’t sign our paychecks.
So here in DPS, each June, a writing team consisting of ten TPRS teachers have improved on the preceding year’s test. It just gets better. It fully reflects the national and new (Dec. 2009) state standards adapted by the state Board of Education of Colorado. We have been writing our DPS instruments for six years now to try to align our district summative pre and post tests with Krashen and it has worked – it works! Thus the argument about standardized testing does not reach our ears. We implement Krashen in our classrooms; we make the big Arne Duncans and the medium sized Arne Duncans and the little building level Arne Duncans happy with such great data.
Our tests are weighted in favor of input to the tune of about 40% listening, 40% reading, 10% speaking and 10% writing. This is for the first two years only, as it should be, and next summer we will create the new upper level assessments, or at least level 3 assessments. They will probably reflect a different weight bias – we haven’t reached that bridge yet.
Teachers in Denver Public Schools who use the book don’t like this at all, of course, but their loud, sad barking has really been diminishing each year to where now their bitching and complaining about what Diana has fearlessly been implementing throughout the district is a faint echo of what it used to be. The image is one of a pack of dogs who have found a new leader to follow and the ones who don’t want to be here are literally riding off into the sunset or joing the Peace Corps or something.
Among the 93 WL teachers in our district, when, five years ago, three or four teachers, Paul Kirschling, Meredith Richmond, Diana and a few others were even talking about Krashen, now almost all of the new teachers to the district, about 20 this year, are eager and wanting training in comprehensible input. Times change! But what is happening here is not happening in too many other places. That is because of Diana.
Simply put, Diana has found a way through the dust. We align with Krashen fully and yet anyone who gets excited when they see a nice attractive assessment instrument would get very excited when they see our instruments as well. Diana has brought Krashen into an assessment that Duncan and his ilk would like. Neat trick, right?
So, in DPS, we test all year with light frequent formative yes/no quizzes that build confidence in kids, reflecting that recent thread here last touched upon by Jim in his comment today. But the heavily summative, Toconderoga-like yet fully reflecting ACTFL guidelines, tests are there as well. We do a pretest in the first days of school – I did mine today – and a post-test in spring. The results are clear and the scores are always indicative of the power of TPRS as a vastly superior method of teaching foreign languages.


  • frank jj
    August 22, 2011

    Hi, Ben, I’m in waiting for my London/Chicago flight at the Athens airport, where they have free internet. So I write to you this request:
    May we, I, see online somewhere examples of your district’s summative pre- and post- tests.

  • August 22, 2011

    Hi Ben, I second that request.

  • frank jj
    August 22, 2011

    Maybe Diana Noonan will allow you to provide us with at least a description of those summative pre- and post-tests. Or at least something substantially suggestive!

  • Kelly
    August 23, 2011

    As always, such amazing work is done here.
    I’m fascinated by the discussion of the Three Modes (maybe there could be a separate category for that?), and anxious to see how Robert Harrell’s grand experiment goes this year. I’m very curious about the nuts-and-bolts/mechanics of the assessment, especially since two of the three standards seem to be output-oriented.
    I feel so privileged to have access to this community. Thank you all!

  • Ben
    August 23, 2011

    Kelly I will set that category up tonite. If anyones can end me some links, at least a few, from that awesome discussion in June, the ones you think are the best, then it will save me some time tonight in setting up a strong category. If this is where we are going, Kelly is absolutely right to suggest a category for it.

  • August 23, 2011

    I was just going over some notes in preparation for a presentation I have this Saturday on the new German AP Exam. The German and French exams are organized around
    Oral Interpretive Communication
    Written Interpretive Communication
    Oral Interpersonal Communication
    Written Interpersonal Communication
    Oral Presentational Communication
    Written Presentational Communication
    Even the College Board recognizes the importance of the Three Modes. As I see it
    Interpretive is purely input
    Interpersonal is a mixture of input and output*
    Presentational is purely output
    *The teacher can determine how much and what kind of output the students demonstrate. Remember, interpersonal communication includes the act of Constructing Meaning, i.e. making certain that both parties to the conversation understand each other. I see all of the following as aspects of student-generated interpersonal communication:
    -“I don’t understand” signal
    -Deer-in-the-headlights look
    -Nod/Shake head
    -Say “Yes/No” in target language
    -“Oh no, oh no, oh no”
    -One-word answers
    -Cute answers in English (that the teacher then reiterates in the TL)
    -Short phrases (e.g. exclamations, comments from posters on the walls)
    If the teacher is not aware of or heeding these signals from the students, then interpersonal communication is not taking place.
    From the above we can go in the upper levels and with fast processors to more extended utterances.
    Don’t forget that we are expected to scaffold for our students. A few years ago I was required by my district to get certification to teach ELD/ELL. Instead of doing (Bilingual) Crosscultural Language and Academic Development ((B)CLAD), I did Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE). Only I really did SDAIG (German). The scaffolding and strategies that they presented were basically a review of what I had learned in my excellent Methods class and things I already did. CI/TPRS so aligns with all of these things that it’s ridiculous so many people don’t see it.

  • Laurie
    August 24, 2011

    I’m so glad that you keep going over this. I am getting a clearer understanding each time. This statement here:
    As I see it
    Interpretive is purely input
    Interpersonal is a mixture of input and output*
    Presentational is purely output
    is golden. Now I really really get it.
    with love,


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