Michele Whaley

Michele went to those 32 hours of OPI training recently and below expands on some of her earlier comments about OPI:
Here are some more comparisons between the ACTFL Proficiency Criteria and how TPRS teachers work.
At the ACTFL Novice level, students are not yet communicating autonomously. They are able to make lists and speak in memorized phrases.
In TPRS, we are constantly asking for those lists. We don’t have to say, “Here is a picture of people in a restaurant. What might they order?” Instead, we have a structure: “wants to eat.” We find out that Pink Floyd is our hero of the day, and then progress: “Pink Floyd wants to eat . . . ?” We get our kids to establish that upper level of Novice High by having them fill in our lists and say things in the dialogues. At this point, grammar is not as important as output.
In the Intermediate level, students are able to use simple sentences, all the way up to strings of sentences. As they get to Intermediate High, they are starting to control time frames and cohesion elements, and they can describe and narrate. Grammar is more important at Intermediate High, but at Intermediate Mid, there are many, many mistakes.
In TPRS, our kids probably learn “because” in the first week. They certainly start early to deal with time, and we are using past and present from the beginning. We model the upper level speech and we differentiate by asking superstars to explain why things happen, or how they happen. By the end of second year, we are certainly asking them to describe and narrate, every time they tell a story. In some cases, we are asking them to support arguments and explain what might happen in a particular set of circumstances. We start to read articles and discuss world events. All these are part of what speakers at the Advanced level can manipulate…in full paragraphs, with control over time frame.
We are fulfilling what ACTFL says we should be doing to reach for higher levels. And we don’t even advertise it!! All the school districts in the country should be hiring TPRS teachers, because every moment we are following TPRS principals, we are also doing exactly what our profession says we need to do to move our students up. Fascinating. I’m proud to work with all of you!



1 thought on “Michele Whaley”

  1. I went through an OPI interview years ago in SC. I remember that the professor at U. of So. Carolina who did the interview was very intent on getting it right, and it felt very artificial. The entire affective invisible world piece, which in real language is so important, was removed. I was a lab rat. The question was what would happen if I was on my way to a job interview and suddenly found a hole in the sleeve of my jacket. Hell, I’m not sure I’d want to answer that in English. I mean, the whole time I’m answering I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, she wants me to use the word for sewing machine or thread or tailor or men’s shop or whatever – stuff I would use in daily speech. Gosh, I guess I’ll tell her I’d take off the coat and try to find a men’s shop, or maybe I could really get creative and tell her I’d go to the job interview, OMG, sans jacket.” Boy, that stuff is really something that I can get into so that they can rate me on how well I speak French. If I did that to my kids they’d feel bad about their French, because the interviewer’s game was “Let’s see how far you can go. I’m in charge.” I don’t know. I did go to the ACTFL site and it said:
    “…the topics that are discussed during the interview are based on the interests and experiences of the test candidate….”
    Hmmm. A hole in my sleeve. A job interview. Yeah, I’m really into that stuff, all right. Who are the real experts in language? They are my students. I accept them where they are and we all work together to get them better and we keep it fun. Hopefully, there are other teachers in the world who don’t see their jobs as their being the experts and their kids jumping, jumping to reach the cherries on the tree that the teacher has already climbed. That’s so old. The real teachers jump down from the tree and grab a branch and pull it down so that the kids can reach the fruit. That’s what I see at the core of what Krashen has brought us. It’s about effortless, unconscious fun. Is that so weird, y’all? I can see the OPI thing being used in important government interviews, but when they interview teachers or kids and tell them that they have been rated at a level that is “less than”, as I definitely felt in my interview, how is that supposed to make the teacher feel? It’s all about control.
    Of course, I can argue the other side of this. We need to know if teachers applying for a job are qualified. But, hold on. Why isn’t the OPI used in most job interviews? I have seen people hired to teach French who can barely speak French, but are good writers and deliverers of book based lesson plans.

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