Laurie Clarcq – We Don't Know It All

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4 thoughts on “Laurie Clarcq – We Don't Know It All”

  1. Interesting that you should post this Laurie – well written, by the way. Just today I received the ACTFL Connection newsletter with a link to Jay Matthews’s column/blog in the Washington Post. In it he describes his experience with foreign language and argues for abolishing it completely. Like many of the responders, I find his argument not totally convincing. At the same time, I have to admit that he makes some good points about “traditional” language instruction. Below is a link to the article. Scroll down and read the response by Terry Waltz, who uses comprehension-based instruction. (you will probably need to copy and paste this link)
    In another blog, Matthews describes the struggle Michelle Kerr went through in getting her credential through Stanford University’s STEP program and how the fact that she did not buy into the prevailing ideology made her a target for faculty members actively trying to prevent her from getting the credential and then trying to sabotage her search for a position. It happens in secondary schools as well, to both faculty and students – if you’re not “on board” with those in power you are marginalized and sometimes persecuted. Not what education ought to be about.
    On Saturday I attended a meeting for those who teach Languages Other Than English. While many good ideas were presented at the meeting, one section of the agenda dealt with California’s new Standards.* One of the participants described how a colleague who teaches Latin looked at the Standards and tossed his Latin book, deciding that he needed a completely new curriculum. The question, of course, was how students would do on the AP exam under the new Standards, and how to teach effectively. I mentioned my success with comprehension-based teaching. (Right now I have a 100% pass rate on the AP exam with my students who have come through TPRS; most of them are 3s, but that’s fine since I in no way teach to the test or do review sessions.) As the conversation developed, the ELD and World Language coordinator for a neighboring school district (let’s call them LB) went off on a diatribe about how another school district (let’s call them LA) was doing a disservice to their students by going fully “TPR” in their instruction. (LA actually uses TPRS, so I knew immediately that the coordinator for LB didn’t have all of her facts straight, but that didn’t stop the vituperation. Among her assertions:
    -TPR was never intended to go beyond the introductory phase of a language (according to her she had this from Asher and Terrell)
    -TPR/the Natural Approach (both of which she was obviously equating with TPRS) results in high-level speaking, listening and oral skills but horrible writing and reading; they are reaping the results of ELD’s earlier use of TPR in her district, and it’s horrible
    -Her daughter chose not to go to LA because “all they do is TPR”; the daughter did well on both the AP and IB exams but would not have if she had learned under TPR (pretty categorical statement there based on no comparative evidence)
    Around the table there was much nodding and acceptance of this “expert opinion”; obviously I was the minority here and chose not to fight the battle. The appointed time for adjournment was approaching, and I was not going to change any minds. For the first time I saw the venom that comes out when TPR/TPRS is mentioned. Wow. To this point I have enjoyed being in a district (neither LA nor LB) that has applauded the results of my work in the classroom and allowed me to present to others even though the district as a whole has not yet embraced comprehension-based teaching. I can’t imagine having to work with this woman as my district coordinator; it gives me a totally new respect for those who work in those kinds of situations.
    Laurie wrote: There are adults, very bright ones, who have nothing but contempt for schools. Adults who were brighter than their teachers and who dared to challenge them. Then were punished for it.
    I have seen this happen – actually, it has happened to me. Fortunately it gave me contempt only for the teacher, not education. Without bragging, I have a reputation for “knowing everything”, but I am happy to promote my students’ knowledge. In level 2 I do a unit on submarine warfare in WWII. This year I have a student who is a bit of a misfit but knows a massive amount about WWII – it’s his passion. While we were doing the unit, I deferred several times to his knowledge and told the class, “C—- knows far more about WWII than I do.” This gave him a boost in both his own and the class’s eyes. As one of my professors once told me, “A true teacher rejoices to see his student surpass him.”
    Thanks for letting me ramble (and vent).

  2. *Oops, I was going to footnote the reference to the Standards.
    Despite having been adopted over a year ago, the Standards have not been posted to the Department of Education’s website. Apparently the prevailing “wisdom” is that because the state cannot afford to print paper copies it isn’t publishing the new standards at all. The only places the new standards are available are websites where groups like California Language Teachers Association have gotten a copy and posted it. In addition, the framework for Technical Education totally ignores the role of a second language even though it has a section on “communication”. What are nurses, EMTs, policemen, firemen, etc. going to do when they are trying to help someone but can’t communicate with them? And a local Assemblyman has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would allow students to substitute Technical Education for Foreign Language as a graduation requirement. As a constituent of his I wrote him an e-mail but have heard nothing back. I need to follow up and ask why Assemblyman Furutani ignores his constituents. The battle is far from over.

  3. Robert the way you sat there and didn’t challenge that person is gold. Nicely done. We are but a small part of something very big that is going to take a very long time. Let us bide our time and just learn to enjoy the awesome fun of teaching using input methods.
    By the way, we can get somewhere between 5000 – 8000 emails to Assemblyman Furutani in a few minutes if we all decide that what we do for our communities has value enough , and, certainly, what you said up there is a sobering thought. Let me know.
    In addition, a few emails to the CA Dep’t. of Education might be a good thing. How can a state adopt new standards and not make them available to the public? That’s nutty.

  4. Thanks for the kudos, Ben. I was glad that I used the term comprehension-based instruction in my comments earlier in the conversation. It reminds me of a conversation I had recently in a different context. The person with whom I was speaking is planning to go to a “closed country” to share the Gospel. This person met with a government official and told the official exactly what the group intends to do and how they intend to do it but without using any of the “buzz words” like “missionary” or “church planting”. The official listened carefully and responded enthusiastically to this person’s plan because the official saw how it would benefit his people and his country.
    I think something similar needs to happen when we talk about what we are doing. Rather than tossing around acronyms and buzz words we need to talk about and describe the individual things we do in the classroom without the jargon. People generally respond more positively to that than to being blitzed with alphabet soup.
    I’ll let you know about the e-mails. Right now the bill has cleared one committee and is in the finance committee. Furutani introduced the same bill a couple of years ago but it was defeated; let’s pray it is again.
    Remember, California is known as the land of fruits and nuts. 🙂

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