Laura on Standards and Common Core

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36 thoughts on “Laura on Standards and Common Core”

  1. …the school representative working to smooth us into SBG told us we should be looking at intermediate-low by the end 2nd year. Is this really doable?….

    Of course not. That’s laughable. Who said that? Really, who are these clowns?

    Personally Laura I have always thought Int. Low was about a 3 or 4 on the AP exam and we only get that with TPRS/CI kids rarely at the end of level 2. Usually it takes 3 years of CI to comfortably pass the AP with a 3, and some 3rd year kids get 4’s. I tend to think that a motivated kid can get to Int. Mid or High fairly easily with CI at the end of three years. Kids with TPRS/CI get to Novice High often in DPS at the end of level 1, many land comfortably at Novice Mid after their first year at the lowest, so the ACTFL chart clearly was written as CYA by traditional teachers. By defining outcomes in that way, they reveal that their standards aren’t very high:

    – after one year of study 55% of students are at a Novice-low level and 1% are at intermediate-low. (what this is really saying – in my opinion – is that the teacher taught almost uniquely to the 4%ers and brought them along at the expense of the 99%. So sad. Is this a misprint? I mean, Novice Low is like REALLY LOW. Even kids who have no clue can sit in a TPRS/CI classroom for a year and score Novice Mid.)
    – after two years of study almost 60% are at Novice-mid. (again, not so with TPRS/CI trained kids – we get those kinds of numbers after one year)
    – after four years of study 35% are at Intermediate-low level. (this is a pathetic sentence. After four years kids most kids should EASILY be at Int. Low. – that is just sad.)

    I would change this to read that with CI:

    – after one year of study 100% of students are at a Novice-low level …
    – after two years of study 75% are at Novice-high.
    – after four years of study 85% are at Intermediate-low level.

    These are my opinions only.

    Are those ACTFL numbers for real? Is this a joke?

    1. I might add that we achieve those kinds of results with CI without assigning homework and big tests, which require memorization. We respect our students’ lives outside of the school building. In doing so, we respect our own time. It’s a win-win. Why teach little in class and then give a ton of homework? Why not teach a lot in class and give little to no homework?

      1. Or as one of my Social Science colleagues put it:
        “No homework and better command of the language? Works for me!”

        In The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn quotes a teacher as believing that far too many teachers try to make up for poor teaching by assigning homework, essentially placing their responsibility (teaching) onto their students. Her tenet was that the best teachers give less homework because they are able to “cover” everything and enable students to learn it during the allotted class time.

    2. Ben, I agree with your assessment. I note that you do not inflate the stage at which students should be (e.g. maintaining that they should be Advanced); you rightly note that a much higher percentage of students can achieve those levels with CI than with “typical” instruction.

      There is, however, one thing that you do not note, and that is the retention rate. Stop and think about how many students drop out of traditional programs at the end of year two and then at the end of year three. That means that 35% of basically four per centers are at Intermediate Low after four years. With CI/TPRS it’s 85% of a much larger population because more non-four per centers are going on to the higher levels. When you consider that, it makes the numbers even more significant.

      1. …35% of basically four per centers are at Intermediate Low after four years….

        OK now that isn’t just an indictment but a scathing one. I hadn’t thought of that. Really, it’s mind boggling and further proof that unless the students are focused on the meaning (i.e. proper speech and reading) and experiencing it from the point of view of the unconscious mind, processing meaning and not structure, they can achieve but little in four years. Because Novice High is still pretty frickin’ low. For four years of work it’s simply beyond the ken, and totally abysmal. All those AP kids getting 1’s and 2’s after five and six years, some of them rejoicing at their 3’s (Intermediate Low/Mid), and a few brainiacs getting 4’s – thus justifying all the work of the now victorious teacher* – and it all gets swept conveniently under the rug bc of the (interesting, don’t you think?) timing of the reporting of the scores in mid-summer.

        *victorious because, of the 200 kids who started in her program four years before, five passed the AP exam for a whopping win percentage of 2.5% students experiencing success. That means that 97.5% of her students failed to do anything meaningful with the language. Now that is a shitty use of tax dollars! Oh well, as per Krashen’s statement mentioned by Robert, we are certain that those 97.5% of kids leave their high school programs full of confidence and optimism, chomping at the bit to continue their language study after high school. And that’s a good thing bc we know that the language departments of our nation’s colleges and universities are brimming over with professors who are adept at teaching everyone they get, and they never complain. It’s a good deal! There’s always a silver lining.

    3. I’m posting this comment basically as a reminder to myself to post something for you all later. The Ohio Dept of Education has brought to us, along with our revised standards, a chart of target proficiency levels by year. It’s even differentiated between the different levels of languages. I’ll post a comment later with it when I find it.

  2. Laura, your school representative is either misled or living in a fantasy world (or dishonest, but we won’t go there). Consider the following:
    -The largest umbrella organization for foreign language says that 35% of students are at Intermediate-low after four years.
    -The traditional “levels” of foreign language instruction are not equivalent to the stages of language acquisition.

    It seems to me that your rep has fallen prey to the mindset that “our school district can/must do better than everyone else.” It’s that competitive edge thing. You should ask the rep on what basis he or she rejects ACTFL’s statistics. They are, after all, the result of years of research. Show him or her the chart and ask for the data to support any other position. Try to do it nicely – you just want clarification so you can understand better how the district plans to do better than anyone else in acquisition. Will they double the hours of instruction? Will you get students for two hours of language every day rather than one? Time on task is the key, so they must be planning for you to spend significantly more time delivering Comprehensible Input so your students can excel in that way.

    The FSI number is one of the most widely misunderstood and misused numbers around. Everyone (especially administrators) likes to quote the “hours to acquisition”. Krashen – and he’s one of the good guys – at least keeps the information transparent that these are class hours. What he isn’t saying (through, I believe, no fault of his own) is what the base population for these statistics looks like. The Defense Language Institute / Foreign Service Institute deals with the following:
    It must be kept in mind that students at FSI are almost 40 years old, native speakers of English, and have a good aptitude for formal language study, plus knowledge of several other foreign languages. They study in small classes of no more than six. Their schedule calls for 25 hours of class per week with three to four hours per day of directed self-study. (Emphases mine)

    In other words, the base population
    -is mature
    -has experience in learning languages formally
    -demonstrates aptitude in learning languages formally
    -receives instruction with support from the native language (English)
    -has extremely small class sizes
    -studies 3-4 hours per day outside of class

    Does this sound like any high school students you know?

    So first of all, you cannot expect the same or similar results because the nature of your population is so different. The students who complete the courses at the FSI/DLI are highly motivated and present for (nearly) all sessions. If they miss more than a couple of classes – for whatever reason (including legitimate illness) – they are dropped from the program. These classes are closely related to their careers and job opportunities, not some theoretical “someday” use. They are mature, so there are not the same issues with “raging” hormones and continuing brain development that you get with teenagers. (Just today I caught one of my male students “making eyes” at a female student. He was embarrassed that I caught him in flagrante delicto, so to speak, but a number of us in the class – including him and the girl – had a good laugh.) They have only these classes to attend to, so they are not distracted by math, science, English, sports, etc. When it comes to priorities, most high school students rank foreign language rather far down the list. If they have a math test or English paper coming up, they will sacrifice Spanish or French or German so they can get the other done. The FSI students have already demonstrated aptitude for formal language study (i.e. they are probably four-percenters), so the population is pre-selected for success; our students often come into the class convinced they are “bad at languages”, without motivation to learn, dealing with life issues far more significant than adding another language to their skills set, operating on too little sleep, etc.

    Can the two populations be more dissimilar? And yet, people throw out that FSI number as some sort of nearly magical set point.

    In addition, consider the difference in settings. The FSI brings together a pre-selected group of teachers and students, all with a single focus: “learn” the language. That support alone is worth a lot. Which of your English, Math, Science, History or other colleagues would encourage students to “blow off” their class for the sake of learning a foreign language because that foreign language is so important? If your school is typical, each teacher considers his or her class the single most important thing that a student has to do in life and assigns tasks and homework accordingly. Many students at my school have as much as 3 hours of homework per night in a single class – and they are taking up to 7 classes.

    Does anyone bother to take the differences in setting into account?

    Finally, just do the math. Taking a Class 1 language like Spanish (supposedly these are the “easiest” languages for an English speaker to learn) as an example, we have the “750 class hours”, but those are not the only hours that the FSI students are exposed to the language. In addition, they engage in self-directed study for 3-4 hours per day. Taking an average of 3.5 hours per day for 5 days a week, we add 525 hours of exposure to the language. That means that the “magic number” is not 750 hours but 1275 hours for this elite group of language learners. (25 hours per week over 30 weeks; 750 hours of class time at 5 hours per day = 30 weeks).

    How much exposure time does a high school student get? Most students at high school do little or no foreign language homework – and much of what they are assigned has no value in acquisition. So just figure the class time. At my school, we have 180 “instructional days”. Our classes are approximately 50 minutes long. We lose four days each year to finals. We lose another four days to state-mandated testing. We lose instructional time to announcements, school business (taking roll, dealing with call slips, etc.). We lose language time every time we speak English. As a result, we probably have the equivalent of about 150 days of instructional time. That equals about 125 hours of language exposure per year – if the student is never absent, never lets his mind wander, never stays late for another class, never gets a call slip, etc. Over four years, that means the student has had 500 hours of language exposure – less than half of the FSI calculation. But I am convinced that given the population, those FSI numbers are meaningless. And my math is on the optimistic side.

    So no, this is not doable. Not in any way shape or form.

    I do thoroughly agree with Krashen’s comment that our goal is (or ought to be) to create autonomous language learners, because we will never in four years at the high school level create high-level foreign language speakers. But CI/TPRS can produce
    1. students who understand how to learn a language
    2. students who can advocate for themselves in language study
    3. students who are fluent at a basic (novice to low-intermediate) level

    I am reminded constantly (because I have it posted in my room) that “Fluency is not knowing a lot of words; it’s using a few words in a way that sounds natural to a native speaker.”

    Hang in there, Laura.

    1. Oh yes, I used Class 1 statistics for my math. The numbers increase algebraically when we move to the class 2, 3 and 4 languages. Japanese, Chinese and Korean, for example, require 2,740 exposure hours for the FSI students.

      That brings up another issue. When the 750 hours are bandied about, most people do not account for the fact that the FSI classifies languages according to difficulty for English speakers to learn. German learners should not be as “far along” as Spanish learners; Vietnamese learners should not be as far along as German learners; Chinese learners should not be as far along as Vietnamese learners.

      The College Board says that the AP course should be a fifth-year course at the high school level, yet we regularly jump students from year 3 to AP at California schools, because language instruction generally starts in 9th grade. Yet the State Standards call for language instruction from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade.

      That’s another good question for your rep. If you are going to go to Standards-Based Grading, does that mean that the district will begin language instruction in the elementary school? If it’s a California school, that’s part of the Standards; I imagine most other states are similar.

  3. You know, I just did the math here on my end…..I only “get” my students for another 30 days!!! I am starting to see growth this week; MAN! I wish I had them till June!!! How many others are on a semester schedule and have to “let go” of their students in January?
    and….how can we accurately measure where they are when they keep getting bounced between CI and traditional teachers? sorry….I guess I’m rambling!
    I still help with pre- and post-tests…..if anyone can help/shed some light/give some advice, I would appreciate it!

  4. One other point for Laura to take to her experts is that the typical drawing of movement “up” through the levels from Novice to Intermediate and Advanced is an inverted pyramid, because it takes exponentially more time to achieve each level. That’s why while it might take one year to get to Novice Mid, it can take five years to move to Intermediate Mid, and even then the student has to want to be part of the journey.

    I firmly believe that with good class attendance and attention, four years of good CI instruction will result in most kids’ getting to an Intermediate Mid in listening, possibly in speaking. Reading might be more challenging, and writing definitely difficult to reach, at least in my classes, where L1 grasp of reading and writing are not secure. Intermediate mid means being able to show an understanding of time and general grammar (it’s “emerging,” though there are many mistakes), and the ability to work at a solid, multiple-sentence level across at least four or five topics. Students might reach Intermediate mid in some areas in some topics, but not others. Some of my Russian 1 kids sound like intermediate mid already if they’re telling a particular story that they really bought into, but it really requires a lot of time to get to that level across the board on topics that they can’t prepare for in advance.

    1. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak

      Is this Michele Whaley? I’m unsure if there are a few Michele on this blog. Excellent point Michele. I think it ‘s easy to get complacent in thinking our kids have reached a certain level b/c they are able to talk in full sentences based on stories they have acquired, but are unable to express themselves comfortably when they are asked to talk about topics they were not exposed to or don’t have the right vocabulary for.
      BTW, I watched your video this weekend (the one where the boy wants to go to the grid, loved it!!!) I studied Russian in high school and have a very warm spot in my heart for that beautiful language.

    2. Michele, you bring up a point that is usually lost in the discussion–a student can, and probably will, be at different levels in each of the 4 skills. We know understanding comes before production, yet we lump all the skills together as one level.

      The other difficulty has to do with what I call the Language Mountain–what you know of the mountain depends upon which trails you have trod. My kids may seem pretty clueless if asked about some of the “typical” thematic areas, but are able to understand and speak well about what they do know. I just don’t know how you can standardize that.

      As much as I fear where SBG can lead, I welcome the attention. My neighbor’s A-student daughter just spent 4 years in a public high school Spanish class and is not up to the level my level 1 kids are by mid-year. It is so unfair that kids can give up so many hours of their lives for nothing. I just hope people with actual SLA creds get to decide how to push FL programs to provide the opportunity for real achievement.

  5. This is a very important thread…. Ben, is there a way to put this under a topic heading like that could be identified when asked to defend the progress or “perceived” lack of progress of students?

  6. This is a very important thread. And Laura is right. Foreign Language is going to be put in another impossible situation just like the situation it is in right now. Currently text books feel that students should be picking up the language like crazy. By third year they should be speaking like a native ( despite all the conjugation and grammar exercises) and they should be delving into advanced grammar and classics even though they have not had any exposure to it ( teaching the textbook way) the two years before. Only CI classes do what the textbook thinks that the grammar way will do. But Administrators and ” the people who make us do all this stuff” never take CI into account. It just doesn’t matter to them. So what do we do? How do we combat it? AS Laura said, it’s hard to tell right now. Will this affect out JGR? It’s hard to tell.

  7. We don’t know how traditional teachers’ lack of awareness of the importance of CI will play out. In their classrooms, it leads them to define, via ACTFL, very low outcomes as per the above discussion.

    What they are doing is like rolling a new car off the assembly line and boldly stating that in fourth gear it can go an impressive 30 miles an hour. It’s just pathetic. We know that with CI fuel it can go 120 mph!

    So for me in my own mind I don’t care what they do in their own classrooms, I have no control over that, but in my own classroom I won’t let them take their shitty fuel (the book, computer bells and whistles and all that other sugary fuel) and bring it into my own classroom.

    In that sense it is so nice to be at Lincoln where the norm is CI and nobody will ever possibly get into this building to teach a language without proper CI credentials.

    So Darren I guess my own answer to the way we combat it is to keep that crap out of my classroom, and to unload emotionally here on the blog when my bitchy edge gets to the point where I need to vent about how ridiculous this whole situation really is re the lack of acceptance of CI into WL classrooms in our nation.

    Krashen came up to me on the beach at iFLT in Los Alomitos after reading a few of my articles supporting his idea that we acquire languages unconsciously and pointedly said to me, “What don’t they get about the word ‘unconscious’?” I sensed in him an air of frustration but one tempered by acceptance and many years of being attacked.

    In the same way, we are going to have to develop our own thick skins about how prevelant the sheer ignorance about the power of CI (listening and reading both) really is among our colleagues. My prayer for this group is that we can all one day live in TPRS/CI friendly buildings.

    So skip I could put it under admin/teacher/parent – that category, or should I label a new category (what do I call it?) and hope we can reference it there? Tell me what to do, someone, and I’ll do it. If we had a super reader who could chronicle similar recent content to this thread into one easy to find place, it would be great, bc over the past year we have a ton of great articles and comments about just this topic of rigor and real vs. perceived progress. Hey skip, maybe “Real vs. Perceived Progress” could be the category. What do you think?

  8. Thank you all for your thoughtfull comments. The perspective is very helpful.
    However, after all the contributions, there is something still quite unsettleling to me. Maybe this is because it takes me much longer to understand higher level concepts in English than it does for all you native speakers.
    My problem is that I don’t really assess my student’s speaking abilities and I will say it at the risk of sounding very ignorant, I find the ACTFL levels are written from a grammar textbook in mind. We don’t teach lists, categories, memorized phrases, etc. and this is what I read they use as guidelines.
    In the past, when I was new to CI and I thought I would be expected to assess speaking, I had students talking and went around with a rubric listening to them. Even with a good rubric, it all sounded quite terrible to me, so I decided never again to sink my students grade bc they can’t speak.
    To me, truly believing in what Krashen says about language being acquired unconsiously and producing it only when they are ready, means really, really not asking them to produce speach.
    So, how do I know what students can do with the language. For the great majority of students that take two levels of a FL, I don’t think they can do much. They can understand quite a bit from what they have heard or read over and over in classes where the goal is 95% Spanish. But they cannot have conversations about basic personal topics, preferences, needs, or any of those lists that ACTFL uses to separate levels.
    I only hear some coherent sentences start to come out unforced, after three years. And I mean some. I have read, here on Ben’s blog, that many CI teachers sit down with students and do oral assessments. This just doesn’t make sense to me.
    I find that there are no clear guidelines for what to expect after every year of CI instruction. The SBG police are setting those for us using the grammarian’s parameters. We are trying to comform to this, and it doesn’t work.
    Ben’s proposal at general percentages after each year of CI instruction are helpful, but still based on output. Because the ACTFL guidelines are based on production.
    When I ask who are the people writing the Common Core standards for FL, I have in mind the need I feel for us as a community to set those standards ourselves unless we want to keep making things up all the way. We invent when we give a grade, we invent when we say someone is at a 4, 3, 2, 1. We spend so much wasted time at the stupid grade game, it makes me sick.
    Couldn’t something like Robert Harrell’s rubrics based on the Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational (much later) modes adapted to CI just be the “standards” that we work toward?
    I know that after three years my kids can read and understand authentic literature. They still confuse tense, person, etc when they talk about themselves, their interests or whatever, and I couldn’t label them at an ACTFL level.
    Thank you for reading this far.

    1. me, truly believing in what Krashen says about language being acquired unconsiously and producing it only when they are ready, means really, really not asking them to produce speach….

      I totally agree. And yes, in DPS we are forced to assess speaking, even in level 1. I don’t know why we do that bc your point is, in my view, absolutely true. I will ask Diana. It’s crazy to ask a kid to speak – as crazy as asking a 10 month old baby to speak. WHAT DON’T WE TEACHERS GET ABOUT THAT?

      Since we have to, we only weigh speaking and writing output on the district assessments in our district at a combined 25%. Still too much, though. I love the honesty in your comment, Laura. Everything you say makes too much sense for the average schoolster person.

      A parallel pain in the butt is that, if it is true that the brain needs to not be interrupted with little shotgun blasts of English in class, why do so many of us, and I’m the worst at this, continue to add little or even big chunks of English into our instruction? Why do I do that? It seems important and really cool at the time, but all it does is throw banana peels on the hard charging Porshe tearing down the road, wanting the pure fuel of unadulterated L2 with no fake additives. It’s the same point you make. If we know it doesn’t help the kids, why do it? Same with too frequent testing. The baby needs to be fed, not weighed all the time. All kinds of hypocrisies in what we do, all of them brought about by the fact that we are not even really language teachers, we are something much different – we are language teachers in schools. That is huge difference and forces us to do things that don’t lead to acquisition, early forced output being the most egregious of them.

  9. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak


    You are right on! All these measurements are totally arbitrary. They claim to be research based but they are not. Noone can fit in a category exactly. I hate rubrics, because you always have to fit a circle into a square and it doesn’t work. It is approximate but there is always going to be exceptions, making it totally unscientific. But it is political, and more importantly it generates revenue . I don’t assess speaking either, how could I ? Everychild is different in where he/she is with the language, and although there is a natural order to acquisition, it is not the same for everyone ( I know it sounds contradictory but Krashen says that ! ) . It is totally arbitrary like it is arbitrary that a chair is feminine in French or Spanish and that a blackboard is masculine. Is there a logical reason?
    No, someone decided on it and everyone follwed and acquiesced.
    Furthemore, don’t you see it everyday in your classes? Kids understand what you say but they cannot repeat it. Comprehension preceded production and there is a lenghty time gap before they can start producing.
    ACTFL is the closest we have but I agree they are not a fair representation!
    OK enough, got to go speak some more French to my kids, hoping one day they ‘ll want to continue learning it becausee it was fun and they thought they could do it.

  10. Grading speaking can be as easy as “I understand you” and “A native speaker can understand you.”
    I am pressured to give an oral final at the end of the semester and that is basically my rubric. Most students fit in between the two and end up with a 2.5.
    Not the most ideal situation but I have to assess speaking somehow.

    Robert, I’ve read the first chapter of Kohn and can’t wait to finish the book.

  11. I’m just sitting in on a Chinese 2 class with Annick Chen right now. It’s a DPS Learning Lab with about seven teachers/admins and Diana is here. I am trying to observe without thinking about what technique Annick is doing for a change. Usually I script out what she does. But today I am looking at one thing. What is that thing? Annick’s mood. She is cheerful, so cheerful! The kids are definitely bathed in following the story as it unfolds. This means that they are totally focused on the message, not the language. They’re relaxed and engaged with occasional laughter. We can talk forever about standards and proficiency levels. I know that what I see here now is the real deal. The rest of it, all the assessment, ALL of that, is in my view fairly unimportant. I am in the back of the room. The kids’ faces tell it all. The stress has been removed from this activity of building towards fluency. The class just ended. It felt like five minutes to me. Lesson learned today: teaching doesn’t have to be a pain in the ass.

  12. I am so confused right now!! Where SHOULD a student be after “x” number of hours of instruction? I am wondering if our school should change our recommendation of how many years of study to what level of ACTFL you are in — colleges should be requiring that!
    We currently are on a semester block schedule – daily. (so I see the same kids every day, for a block of 70 minutes – we have 4 blocks a day – for one semester.) Our program is split into 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, then 3, 4 and 5 (this is the first year for Level 5. These kids came IN at Level 2 Honors {all of Level 2 in one semester} as Freshmen and they all did eXTREMELY well – this class is 100% full – all 6 of them! – of 4%ers…all Honors students. I taught this group 2H back when I was a traditional teacher, then they went on to my colleague who is a traditional teacher. In October these students created an hour-long video about a thriller/fantasy. It was VERY good!!!
    But, last year my colleague had a Level 3 Honors class that struggled the whole semester and NONE of them decided to go on. So we don’t have a Level 4 this year. We will have a Level 3 in the Spring, but with only 8 students!!
    Now there is talk of our schedule changing to 80 minute blocks, and remaining on the semester schedule instead of changing to full year and meeting students every-other-day. It is being proposed by Admin that we do away with first and second year levels split up into two sections, so they ultimate “get” a full year to cover a year of a language. So, they are proposing that we now do in one semester with levels 1 and 2 what we used to do in two semesters. They feel that by doing this, it frees up their schedule “time” to be able to take a Level 3.
    My concern: 1. they are still going to quit after completing Level 2 because they can. They do not like studying a foreign language. 2. they will become frustrated and see it as a waste of time because only 2 semesters of a language will NOT get them anywhere — no matter what the methodology. 3. so numbers overall will drop even further, and 4. one or more of us will be out of a job!!
    Just sayin’……thanks for listening! 🙂

    1. **I inadvertently wrote:
      “so they ultimate “get” a full year to cover a year of a language. ”

      It SHOULD say, “so they ultimately ‘get’ a HALF year to cover a year of a language.”
      (Robert, thanks for understanding my typo!!!)

  13. mb, you raise an interesting perspective. Imagine a setting in which students take a Classroom Oral Competency Interview* and a Classroom Writing Competency Assessment and receive an ACTFL rating. Then they receive that designation on their transcripts. Colleges and Universities can see quickly where they perform and decide whether or not that meets their language requirements. Schools might even be able to correlate the performance level to high school credits, so that a student who comes in at Novice High receives credit for 3 years of language study.

    *Today at a COACH workshop we presented, Jason Fritze told us about a university final exam. The students were given a telephone number to call. The person at that number spoke to them in French and gave them another number to call. When they called the second number, they participated in an Oral Proficiency Interview. That is a truly authentic assessment.

    Your other concerns are well founded. Your administration is still working with a cognitive model of language learning; in that model, students can “learn faster” by “cramming”. However, we know that it requires exposure to Comprehensible Input over time to acquire a language. It’s similar to learning to play an instrument – or acquiring anything / putting it into long-term memory. A shorter exposure each day over a longer span of time is far more efficacious than a longer daily exposure over a shorter span of time.

    Here’s the abstract of an article on sleep-dependent memory consolidation.
    Molecular, cellular, and systems-level processes convert initial, labile memory representations into more permanent ones, avail- able for continued reactivation and recall over extended periods of time. These processes of memory consolidation and reconsoli- dation are not all-or-none phenomena, but rather a continuing series of biological adjustments that enhance both the efficiency and utility of stored memories over time. In this chapter, we review the role of sleep in supporting these disparate but related processes.
    I think it’s been mentioned in the PLC before, but sleep is essential for learning and acquisition, and being able to “sleep on it” is important to the process. By cramming more to assimilate each day, we shortchange the process in two ways: 1) There is simply more information to assimilation and 2) There is less sleep time to process it

    BTW, sleep deprivation is a significant impediment to learning and acquisition. We have known for years that teenagers’ sleep cycles are not geared to school schedules, yet we persist in our traditional start times. Electricity and the myriad pieces of equipment powered by it have significantly shortened our sleep time – most people today suffer from some degree of sleep deprivation, and it affects our daily performance, moods, and intellectual ability.

    Try Googling “sleep-dependent memory consolidation” and “slow-wave sleep and memory consolidation” for other interesting articles. There is still a lot to learn, but we know enough to know that your school’s proposal will not enhance learning or acquisition.

  14. At what point then do schools need to be “called” on their deleterious and inhibitory effect on students’ real learning? I don’t think it is going to be for some time, as the focus now seems to be not on how we learn but how much we learn. Bummer.

    Thank you for this comment Robert. Indeed, we may not have understood everything in that article (who would want to?) but we know that what is heard during the day is processed in sleep at night and THAT is how we acquire langauges.

    The process doesn’t need our help in the form of direct memorization (truly pathetic) and homework and all the stuff that is done by the vast majority (99%?) of language teachers these days.

    Instead, we go to sleep, the mind parses through everything, every word, every phrase it heard that day, takes into consideration subtleties like accent and emotion and how they are part of the meaning of the word or phrase, and then it is either accepted/acquired or rejected/not acquired as part of the growing language system.

    The input gets processed at night in sleep. The less input, the less acquisition, because the part of the brain that REALLY learns languages didn’t get enough input in a natural way that day to work with. Instead, it got a lecture on boot verbs.

    (Why are these points about input being necessary for acquisition and how it is all an unconscious process considered to be so radical is my question.)

  15. Arggggh! MB I feel your pain…it is so hard to watch students drop out of the program…especially when they were acquiring AND enjoying it. It is heartbreaking.

    First, can you change what is happening? If you have a shot, then go for it. If not, take a deep breath and give your time and energy to what you have control over. You’ll break your heart and suck your soul dry otherwise. State your case, then focus on your students.

    If you can change it, you need to accept that they believe what they are doing is logical. (notice that I did not say right) It serves a purpose for them. Any alternative that you propose must address that purpose, or it will not be listened to. Sadly, “because it is better for students” is not usually a good reason.

    How do your colleagues feel about this?

    love you,

  16. OK, my DH spoke to the principal about this proposal of his and told him that his department is fully against it. The principal told my dept head, “Then have them come talk to me.” Soooooo…….I plan on going to talk to him.
    Please folks, please help me with – I need some talking points. I’m too emotionally attached to this right now and sure could use all your help! I don’t want to sound like a bumbling idiot when I try to explain this to my principal.
    like Laurie said, “ARRGGGGHHHHH”
    You know, on one hand, I feel “ok, I will just continue with TPRS/CI and get that input into them and do pop-ups to get the grammar into them. We will read, read, read!”
    BUT, on the other hand, not everyone in my dept believes in TPRS, does not know or understand anything about CI (“CI, Immersion = all the same! it’s just semantics”) and they are willing to spend a couple of weeks on a grammar topic. If they continue drilling in and cramming (in such a short period of time) in material, then the kids will get bored, frustrated, not do well, feel and BE unsuccessful, and in turn, just quit this course that we have solely as an “elective.” then some of us lose a job. :-/

    1. I haven’t followed this thread too closely but, to address just what you wrote above, I would ask if the zeitgeist of your department is shared by most of the educators around you, with you as the sole exception? If that is true then you may need to give some thought to quieting your saber, I think, and I don’t think that you should go in there and rattle well built cages of thought, however fallacious.

      If the vision of those around you is that the kids feel and in fact are unsuccessful in most WL classes nationally and that the epic failure of WL education in our country is a normal thing, can you then just change that by saber rattling? Just think about that question honestly and proceed accordingly. I speak from much personal anguish on this topic.

      This topic has come up hundreds of times here. It is always the same question – how do we act, having seen in our own classes such joy and success in so many of our kids, when confronted by teachers who still think that languages should only be accessible to the few and who have in fact been THE single greatest force in it being now generally accepted that language learning is only for a few in spite of the fact that everyone speaks their first language fluently?

      Do we fight and scream, like I have for some many years, kind of stupidly, or do we stay quiet and do our work quietly and let things work themselves out by staying out of the politics and by trusting the Force?

      One would think that there is some force in education or government or in the water we drink or somewhere that WANTS our kids to remain turned off to the HUMAN INTERACTION required in TPRS/CI classrooms and tuned in to the entertainment available to them via the media so that the kids see our instruction as some kind of threat to be endured until their midafternoon smoke with their iphones, where they can become robotic again.

      How strong is your point vs. how strong is their point at the level of your building and district – that is the question. If your point is weaker, then what are you doing? Do you really want to look like a nut case by your colleagues and thus endanger your source of employment? How open are they to what you say? It’s a great question, that last one.

      I ask again – do the educators responsible for those children really want them to learn or not? They may not, because they shoot so many new ideas down so often in such obvious ways. I don’t think they want change on behalf of the kids, actually. They lie to themselves, sans le savoir. Krashen who? Krashen is only only one of the most influential thinkers of the day, but he, like Chomsky and Vygotsky, just don’t seem to be important, which is really odd.

      Not a very positive comment mb, I know, but neither is the atmsophere in which most of us work. This is not to say that I don’t agree with your points, of course I do. I just think we need the Saint Francis prayer on this one. Like for real.

  17. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak


    Tell him Rome was not built in a day. Ask him if he was getting a custom house built from scratch, would he want the workers to rush it and do a hurried job or would he prefer them taking the time it takes to build a proper foundation and make it a long lasting home ?
    We are not talking efficacy here, and yes sometimes things can be done better faster, but in the case of language acquisition, the process is a comprehensive one, one level at a time, like an onion peel. Cramming vocab and grammar (in essence what s proposed here) will lead nowhere except to make kids frustrated, resentful , and probably never again wanting to take another language. You need to go in force and assail him, wish I were there to help you make a case!
    Bonne chance .

    1. I sent mb some information in a private e-mail, but I’m going to go ahead and share one item with everyone. It comes from a Treatise in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Florida.

      The pertinent information is found in the section on “Massed vs. Distributed Practice”, beginning on page 9. It’s a very good explanation of the proven fact that “distributed practice” (i.e. in a number of sessions over a longer period of time) is far more effective for learning/acquisition than “massed practice” (i.e. long sessions of practice). It holds true for both music and other fields of learning:
      Studies on spaced practice support the idea that the sheer amount of time spent in practicing a composition is less significant than the total amount of time that passes while the music is learned, for the understanding of the music grows during rest periods as well as during practice periods. (Emphasis mine)


      The information processing that takes place between short-term and long-term memories needs a period of time without interference. Pauses can, therefore, be regarded as “information-clinchers” and the most ideal method of retaining new material may be to sleep after learning it.


      Furthermore, advice from Miller and Peters that “longer rest periods are superior to shorter rest periods in perfecting psychomotor tasks”25 would indicate separating the practice sessions with significant rest periods.

      While this is specific to music (and in particular the bassoon), other studies have shown that this applies across the board. The knowledge is very widespread, and it would certainly not be a “best practice” to ignore it. (BTW, this is part of why I prefer a traditional schedule to a block schedule.)

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