Need to Refocus

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106 thoughts on “Need to Refocus”

  1. An analogy to my charter school’s efforts in collective bargaining helps me wrap my head around this fight. In the summer of 2013 teachers at my school started to organize. It wasn’t until all the teachers in the school went on strike in March of 2014 that management recognized the union. Teachers struck for one day and management agreed to sit down at the table with union representatives. Since then, union and management have met weekly to hash out language for a contract.

    Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership tells us that every time we ask for something from management we need to expect to give something to management. This, they say, is how negotiation must happen. Hearing this message of the give-and-take dynamic from the die-hard warriors at CTU (e.g. CTU president Karen Lewis) made an impression on me.

    Change has happened in ACTFL (our honorable veterans here know much more about this than I do) over the years in favor of CI and Krashen, I understand. Hopefully more change will come. However, the textbook corporation powers, with Wall Street financiers cutting into the pie — public education in the U.S.A. is a $500,000,000,000 industry (see Diane Ravitch) — are formidable.

    At my tiny charter school, ChicagoQuest, 99% of the teachers struck on that cold March day. It was this critical mass that initiated real change. Perhaps, as you say in this article, Ben, our work has more power if we continue to develop our craft in teaching acquisition through channeling the unconscious and if we reach out and help our colleagues do the same. Then we build a critical mass from which we strike, or at least forego purchasing those silly textbooks.

  2. leigh anne munoz

    Ben — New ideas are so hard for people to absorb. I read about 50% of the thread, and I loved it — absolutely loved it.

    However, letting the thread go is ok too!

    Again, I loved, loved, loved it!!! Thank you for participating — ACTFL took notice of us, and that is no small thing!

    BTW — I saved the lame post by ACTFL dude Paul Sandrock — ummm.. I think he’s not on solid ‘rock’ — I suspect he is aware that he is on sinking ‘sand’ — yuck, yuck, yuck….

    1. leigh anne munoz

      BTW — you all have gotten me so curious about this odd organization that I have totally ignored for the entirety of my world language teaching career (except for one DISASTROUS foray into project-based learning in 2003 — wanted to jump off a cliff afterward — yes – I went to a conference led by an ACTFL guru first.)

      Gee whiz — the ACTFL convention is in San Diego in November 2015. Since I have been consciously re-packaging and explicating my entire way of teaching as “emergent curriculum with implicit learning focus” in a lame attempt to obfuscate my modus operandi to the intelligent people with whom I work… 🙂

      I wonder….do any of you think I could fool ACTFL and become a presenter under that topic in 2015?

    2. Very nice, Leigh Anne. Rock does turn to Sand eventually, and that dude sounds like he’s far along in that process. I was most disappointed by his meatless rhetoric.

      I’ve got to remember the “eventually” piece. The dynamic to describe what we are in right now is that we will lose battles but win wars. That’s how I think it will happen, and so this from Sean encapsulates my current thinking on the topic:

      …our work has more power if we continue to develop our craft in teaching acquisition through channeling the unconscious and if we reach out and help our colleagues do the same….

  3. I had to let the thread go too. I’m actually glad that I didn’t participate, not out of lack of desire, but the voices on the side of CI were so strong and coherent that I felt I would dilute the argument.

    Obviously Paul Sandrock has been following the discussion. He just made a number of us here in Alaska a bit crazy with a weekend presentation. His sidekick here is my Curriculum Director, who would have seen anything I contributed to that post, as it turns out.

    On Thursday, the same Curriculum Director sent all our language groups a webinar to direct Friday’s inservice-day work on the Year-Long Academic Plans that I’ve mentioned. The 40-minute webinar had a five-minute long attack on TPRS; an attack that was based in ignorance of TPRS. Every separate language group was to watch the webinar at their individual locations: Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish and Russian teachers all meeting in groups to write these plans. Every group had at least two or three TPRS teachers; some had ten to fifteen.

    Having read through the powerpoint to accompany the webinar, I noticed there would be something negative about TPRS. Late Thursday night, after district-wide parent conferences, I listened to the recording with growing horror. It had many incorrect points and was fiercely negative.

    I made a recording of that part of the webinar and sent it to TPRS practitioners so that they could be ready and not get distracted the next day. Our curriculum director was incensed (someone shared it with him; I admit that it was a little unprofessional of me, but knowing that our group would be attacked without warning, I felt it best to warn them). He sent an email requesting a meeting and telling me how unprofessional it was to send out the excerpt without permission and in advance. (My thought was, how unprofessional to attack a group without warning. We’re both wrong.)

    I issued a full apology, and got in touch with my union. I wrote him a note saying that I had good intentions, and that if he wanted to meet to discuss TPRS, I’d be glad to do so; if he wanted to discuss my behavior, it would be with a union rep. His response was that my actions further divided the group, and that TPRS in general is proving to be a divisive methodology. He couldn’t understand why I’d want to bring the union in.

    My colleagues (except for the one who turned me in) were grateful for the advance warning. They felt that those on the traditional side would likely be feeling validated and would turn on them.

    So yes…there is something at stake here, big time. I know that my director knows about the line of questioning on the ACTFL blog. I know that he feels very ill at ease. Betsy Paskvan wrote him to tell him that current linguistic research supports what we are doing in the midst of all this. I’m sure that, even in the midst of Pearson and all the other testing, the textbook authors and ACTFL are suddenly worried that what they thought was a mouse is now going to give them rabies. I’m sorry to say that Betsy’s daughter has not yet provided the research, but I’ll keep pressing. It’s critical, and we have the minds here to read it and make sense of it.

    I feel grateful to all of you who posted tirelessly. I am certain that the powerful words are part of why I am getting attacked in such a way. ACTFL is on the defensive. The good thing about being attacked so viciously is that it’s so obvious as to make numerous members of our community stand up for what we believe in. Everyone wants to go to the meeting with me. And on top of all that, one of our school board members has attended my classes numerous times and loves “my” storytelling approach. She has been agitating for it to become common use in district classrooms. She has attended iFLT in Colorado. If it comes to that, she will be able to help speak for me.

    1. Hundreds of deep breaths later, I’m going to chime in. It’s a good thing that I don’t live in Alaska. I’d be camping out on that administrator’s doorstep.

      The “presenter” in that webinar is an uninformed voice that someone has given credence to. There is no reason that we have to. Someone paid him to share his opinion. That certainly doesn’t make him right. In fact, given the circumstances, and the way that it all was handled, it is more than likely that his message was purchased, and presented as expert information, for a very particular result.

      I cannot give credence to anyone who begins a criticism of TPRS by identifying it by a name that is over a decade old and was changed PARTICULARLY because it no longer represented what was happening in TPRS classrooms. Nothing else he says is informed either.

      More and more it is important for us to remember that, at least in the last two decades, THAT THERE ARE NO EXPERTS. There are researchers, writers, presenters, teachers, educators, hired-guns and a variety of other people playing roles in our profession, but EXPERTS DO NOT EXIST.

      Those who have built a career on having an expert reputation are in a very insecure place right now.

      That is a SEISMIC SOCIETAL SHIFT. The development and growth of the internet has changed the very foundations of knowledge and information collection. An expert once had knowledge that s/he had collected through years of study, research and education. The work involved was in locating, understanding, then interpreting and sharing. Now we can jump from locating to sharing without having to understand and interpret….. and it happens every day.

      The power of being the keeper of the knowledge no longer exists.

      Academia is feeling the pain of losing that power. People go a little crazy when they lose power.

      We can stop calling it TPRS if you want to, but I think that within a few years, the campaign against non-elitist education (which is REALLY what we are a part of here) will attack again.

      (besides, this presenter doesn’t even really get CI. Are you serious??? OF COURSE teachers will admit to teaching non-comprehensible language. THEY REVEL IN IT. They create lists of why it is important and write about and present about it on a regular basis. If I weren’t busy teaching students, I’d set aside a few hours and come up with a number of examples without even breaking a sweat.)

      What is happening to Michele has little to nothing to do with TPRS or CI either. Michele is a highly-respected teacher, writer, educator, presenter and resource. She is also a supportive colleague, mentor, organizer and leader. The fact that she does all of these things AND uses TPRS only provided others with a weapon to use against her. The issue is not CI. It’s human insecurity, frailty, jealousy and…..wait for it….loss of power.

      What Michele does works. Because she has shared her experiences, it is also working in Betsy’s classes, Victoria’s classes and dozens of other teachers’ classes. It has created a wave of positive energy.

      For every action, an equal and opposite reaction occurs. Add emotion to that and you get the groundswell of reaction against her, her colleagues, and yes, even the success of her students.

      This is also what has happened at the ACTFL convention, in the conversation on the ACTFL site, at state conferences, in school districts and in departments.


      However, we can change one teacher at a time. That is how this “battle”, if you see it that way, will be won. If we don’t give up. If we don’t expect it to happen tomorrow.

      Eventually, a larger and larger number of thinking, logical, practical, dedicated educators will SEE that this works. The others, those who follow the tide or ride the wave of popular thinking, will never be solid enough to join us. And would we really want them to?

      As I said, I WANT to camp out on this administrator’s door. I WANT to start a Pro-Michele/Pro-TPRS campaign through out the Anchorage system. I WANT to flood ACTFL with scathing remarks about pride, power, ego and hubris.

      I wouldn’t be heard.

      That does not mean that I will be silent.

      We need to continue to speak to those that will listen. To those that will support. To those who are willing to be EDUCATORS rather than edu-crats or edu-consumers or edu-capitilizers. Worse yet, edu-egos.

      May God save us from the same fate.

      with love,

      1. Two things, really sort of disconnected, that I’d like to throw in here. I almost said this in reply to my recently published article in the Women’s Classical Caucus journal. Laurie called what we do “non elitest education.” BINGO! The Women’s Classical Caucus didn’t know a whole lot about CI when they asked me to write the article. What they do really focus on are the social injusticed built into status quo education. Nothing could have become more elitist than the teaching of Latin over the decades in this and other countries. So, while they didn’t know much about CI, they are deeply committed to teaching all kinds of things (let’s say the Humanities) in ways that make it available to all kinds of learners. You know that’s my passion around CI, and so, they flung the door wide open to me, to us, to what we do.

        Thematic units. All the hooplah blew my mind. I use the term for what I do in upper level classes. But, as I read how the term is used, it see the differences. To me, a “thematic unit” is the stuff I put together based on what students are telling me they want to discuss and read. Often a “thematic unit” starts as one thing, and as I see student interest (what is compelling to them) take a different turn, so does the “thematic unit.” I’ve got one going right now called “Ludi” (games) which has been going in Latin 4 classes since September. It has so far included the following:
        *A Dictatio introducing vocabulary for game playing
        *A Pixar Short (Jerry’sGame) to further develope vocab for game playing.
        *conversation (building vocabulary, circling, PQA) around game playing, players, places, rules, goals of the game, etc.
        * embedded readings from Seneca about what it was like to live above the baths where all the game playing was going on
        *learning to play and playing a Roman ball game called Trigon–completely in Latin.
        *discussion of a quotation from Quintillian about how children learn ethics from playing games (do they agree or disagree).
        *Free writes on playing Trigon and any ethical values they see lurking in and around the game.
        *A two day dictatio on 15 Roman virtues, what they mean, synonyms, ancient and modern examples.
        *Cultural research (the only thing done here in English) around Ancient Divination systems, Roman divination (which was done in one instance with dice) and Carl Jung and his understanding of Divination.
        *Conversation in Latin identifying 10 famous people in the world right now who have “troubles”
        *Two days in which students, in small groups, conduct oracle readings for these ten famous people and get wisdom advice for each of them.
        *Two days of conversation about the advice given to each and which seems best. Which Roman virtues seem to apply.
        *Free write about one of those people, the advice and the virtues.

        This is a “thematic unit” I think it’s going to continue with another couple of games to learn to play from Ancient Rome (a ball game and a board game for which we have information) followed by some embedded readings from Macrobius about the ancient Winter Solstice of Saturnalia. That should finish off the semester.

        So, this is a thematic unit, but it is, to use Laurie’s language from embedded readings, from the bottom up. It is built on and driven by what students find compelling. It is also built on and driven by the fact that in our program we have gone “untextbook” this year. Now, you want to talk about what blows the corporate world wide open in our field? Just suggest that we don’t need textbooks. As department chair in a department that is largely embracing CI, I am still stunned at how “covering chapters” still makes its way into our conversations. My mantra in the department has become: ‘We don’t teach textbooks. We don’t teach Standards. We teach human beings, and you teach XYZ language to those human beings. We have Standards, and they guide us,but we don’t even teach the Standards. We teach human beings.”

        I’ll be at ACTFL presenting with two colleagues on our Untextbooking adventure. And, if the subject of “thematic units” comes up, this is what you can expect me to say about it (all that I have posted here).

        1. Our friend Kate Taluga would say, “Brother speaks the truth.”

          My standard answer when asked what I teach is…..”I teach students, about life, using Spanish whenever possible.”

          This is one more thing that separates us from the powers that be in the ACTFL community. Where does it say anything like that on the ACTFL website? No where.

          This is not meant as a criticism…but as an observation. We come from different worlds. We have different values. We speak different languages.

          Having said that… language teachers, it’s so sad that we do not apply our skills to understanding each other. (the collective “we” :o)

          with love,

          Keep on blazing your own trail Bob!!!

          1. What a fantastic point, Laurie! We teach students first. It is their well-being, their self-esteem, the class as a community, that is our priority. That is our content. Culture, linguistics, and other academic subjects, are not the priority here. Not even language.

            And so great it would be if that were so in every subject in school. In many schools, that human aspect is separated from the curriculum and put into a 20-minute morning meeting. And if every subject were to make the “human” the priority, they’d see more student learning. That’s another one of those paradoxes, much like the idea that the more we try to “teach” about the language, the less language we teach.

  4. Note to the group: Michele sent me the link to the part of the webinar recording in question:

    I have always thought that Alaska and Maine are the two hooks upon which will hang a new national Skills Map of language instruction. And look what both states have been up to in October, one putting on a great training for 130 people and the other giving as good as their getting with the ACTFL leadership.

    Michele we have got to publish this event that you describe in more detail as an article here so let’s aim for publication of that article here by mid-week. I think that there are many curious minds who want to know more. Direct conflict with people who have their fists around the throat of language acquisition in the U.S. – how about that?

    Look at what Eric started. Look at Catharina’s argument and those four pages of text she sent in. Look at the webinar attack on TPRS. Look at the comments on the ACTFL list by so many of our group here. Look at the new thread started by Alicia Shapiro-Rosenberg on the ACTFL site, in which she says:

    …perhaps we are barking up the wrong tree by trying to change ACTFL or demand inclusion. Perhaps the time is ripe for the growing Comprehensible Input/proficiency-oriented teaching community to press for recognition and adoption beyond ACTFL….

    Dang, boy!

          1. Thank you for correcting me. Mostly -I- am the one who “sounds dumb”.

            Thank you Ben for keeping the blog private. I did remove my gravatar because it brought me straight into this site (no user/password needed). I am very private by nature, I guess, and writing online is still uncomfortable.

        1. Yes Catharina I went to lots of effort recently on blog security. We can’t keep people from spying and telling others, but that happened when we were much weaker nationally, five years ago, and now I personally think that attacks on people who use comprehensible input are on the wane, as entire departments turn to the approach. As time passes, things change. Courage is the operative principle in that change. So my suggestion is to be as honest as we can in all we discuss. I am trying to convince Michele to share every detail about the Sandrock thing because in my opinion bullying from one of the people at the top of ACTFL should be uncovered, not hidden out of offending someone. But that’s just me. I flip people off in traffic too.

      1. leigh anne munoz

        Michele — Just to clarify —

        1) The Dropbox sound clip is an excerpt from a talk from a guest speaker on World Language Learning for an inservice at your district — the clip addresses this guest guru’s take on TPRS

        2) The clip was made available online by your curriculum director and you previewed it last week.

        3) You sent the clip/excerpt to some TPRS teachers in your district

        4) All hell broke loose

        Heheh — my high school son does debate, and I think he would be able to take the logic used in this clip and make mincemeat of it in about 30 seconds….

        1. Leigh Ann, all is correct except for that the speaker is our Curriculum Director, and it was part of a longer introduction to the task we were supposed to complete in seven separate language groups that day: our language year-long academic plans for levels 1, 2, and AP. He sent us the webinar so that we could play it for our language groups. He had a number of brief cautions: to work together, to avoid focusing on grammar as goals for the specific quarters, and to not base the work on textbooks. He wanted themes (sound familiar?).

    1. Alicia Shapiro-Rosenberg’s contribution was amazing. A very clear statement that we can, with our limited hours, aim for dabbling here and there with the 5 Cs, or we can aim at the only C that matters to our clients, viz., Communication.

      What a stark contrast with the Cautioner-in-Chief (was that Paul Sandrock?) that Michele told us about. Here is a quote which indicates to me that he does not realize how easy it is to veer from making input comprehensible to the students:

      “CI is an amazing thing. It is what we should all be doing—at all levels of what we teach. We want to be able to provide input that is comprehensible. And if we are not we need be able to scaffold that information so that it is…Would any of you ever say, “Oh no, I am a teacher that provides input to my students that is not comprehensible”? And I believe in this. In fact, it’s my philosophy. I am a non-CI teacher.”

      Of course it is what we should all be doing. That was clear from Krashen’s “The Natural Approach” used in my methods class in the late 80s. The question was how to do it. That is what Blaine did. He brought Krashen’s suggestions to life. On pages 78-80 Krashen laid out the essence of circling by responding with gestures, yes/no, either/or, one-word answers. Blaine brought it to life with personalization and narrative. Our Cautioner-in-Chief does not even know that the first three letters of TPRS no longer stands for Total Physical Response. He might be less patronizing were he better informed.

      He is also out of touch with the reality of the average language classroom. I believe that it would be fairly accurate to say that yes there is a lot of comprehensible input going on all over the states. It is just not simultaneous. Sometimes there is “comprehensible,” i.e., the teacher speaks English. And sometimes it is “input,” i.e., the teacher speaks the target language in a way that is incomprehensible to the students.

      On the bright side, the person denigrating TPRS comes across as not knowing what he is talking about. I almost feel like I am committing the logical fallacy of attacking the straw man when I think about his remarks.

      1. Nathaniel this is such a true thing you say. My belief is that most if not all of those who say that they do TPRS or say that they understand comprehensible input really don’t.

        It usually goes back to their inability to accept that all we have to do is talk to the kids so that they understand and how that is an unconscious process. They truly and I say this with great confidence do not understand the role of the unconscious mind in language acquisition. If that is true, then it means they have to melt and reform their instructional clay and they don’t want to do that. The flames scare them. They like their clay. But nothing can grow in clay.

        No blame, because it requires a complete retooling for those who are willing to make the change, and who wants to do that, really? Only silly and loony people who hate teaching shitty and boring classes are willing to do that.

        By the way, a new person from Texas couldn’t get into the site here just after she signed up and she contacted me to fix it and she added this, which is just so cool:

        …your website ramped up my desire to be a better teacher, etc., last year, but now I’m stagnating and either am going to revert or get into your website….

        Now that is a person who gets it. I love that attitude of aggressively making sure that she learns this stuff or she is “going to revert”. That is honesty. She doesn’t want to revert. She will learn this stuff but the Sandhills of the world won’t.

        By the way, did you read the comment on the ACTFL list by the person selling the book about culture? She was saying that the heart of the five C’s is culture. My question there is how to teach culture in the TL if one doesn’t go through at least two years of pure communicative instruction.

        It’s what you said – they don’t get it. That is yet another reason to consider a new national group just for CI teachers. Those who don’t really get Krashen can stay in ACTFL and walk round in loneliness at the national conventions – I look at them at the conventions and I see loneliness in them – and those who do get what comprehensible input really means can be with us.

        I was with Jason Fritze in the Denver ACTFL national conference some years ago. We were just sitting in the lobby. I asked him if was going to any of the sessions. He said, simply, “No, I don’t attend those sessions.” Then he looked off into the distance.

        You know, what happened in Alaska must have been a terrible weight on Michele. But how will those kinds of insults, like the one by Helena on Carol Gaab some years ago, a direct hit, ever change unless the bullies are confronted?

        Anyway, great comment Nathaniel. Thank you.

        1. Could the new international CI organization act as a negotiating party with ACTFL. Organize us and represent us? Give us a new philosophy, a new mission statement.

          That Engracia person did the same thing on both threads: tried to sell her book. She doesn’t get it. Why would teaching culture be the best way to acquire a language? Isn’t the culture foreign to them, meaning they don’t have the background knowledge, possibly making the discussion less comprehensible. But that woman teaches at the University level. I’d like to see her try to get that shit to work with elementary kids.

  5. I know I am trying to refocus and I will. We will get our discussion back to what is best for kids in our classrooms, I promise. But the thing with Michele is just so ridiculous and so we must stay aware of that. Her job is on the line.

    I want to say here and make very clear that I have made extensive efforts to guarantee the secure nature of this site and I can say that it is 100% secure right now. But, if this discussion about what happened in Alaska yesterday, that webinar and Dr. Sandrock’s presence out there like some kind of overseeing agent, suddenly disappears from this site, it will be because Michele’s job is really in jeopardy.

    Michele told me this morning that the people who made the webinar don’t want it shared anywhere. I told her that they have no right to make that request, since they started the food fight. But the decision about whether that link above stays will be left to Michele. I am saying that you better go look at it while it’s up there.

    And on what Alisa said, that strong statement she made (above in italics – go to

    to read her entire post), I have to say this. I have already received two email messages stating that Alisa’s comment is too strong. I cannot agree. I think we have a chance right now to organize, from the grassroots up, literally, a new national leadership organization to offer those teachers who are fed up with ACTFL. I am not joking about this.

    If you could see how fast my fingers are typing you would not think that I am joking. Right there in Chicago are Ray and Sean and Alisa’s team. Those folks aren’t afraid of nuthin’. They and others, anyone interested in the nation, could begin today, in the comment fields below, to help with the organizational work I am suggesting.

    One of the advantages ACTFL has held over us for decades has been our lack of organization but clearly we can see from the events of the past few weeks that we are no longer as disorganized as we thought. I would personally support Diana Noonan to head up this new national organization, with Alisa right there in the mix and with Robert Harrell as some kind of dean to overlook some aspect of the operation, because he is Robert Harrell. We could hire Eric Herman as Research Engine.

    We can all vote for whom we want as leaders. I just want this group to happen. My thinking is simple. We have people like Diana and Carol and those in Alaska and Maine, there are good strong groups in many states, the Denver area is full of great talent and leadership when it comes to CI – I am thinking of all the DPS people and Diane Neubauer that are here. We have entire departments teaching with comprehensible input all over the country. There are those people in Atlanta organized around Dr. Robert Patrick. There are people all over the place, even in Kansas City!

    We kind of already have a national parent organization for CI teachers and we never really noticed it before because it has been so diffuse and because we are teachers whose primary focus has always been on we can reach our kids better in the target language and we are not a particularly political group of people. (We have better things to do.)

    But the events of the past few weeks have changed things. Maybe entering politics isn’t such a bad idea right now, as long as we keep as our big focus the mental health and well being of our colleagues who think that there is a better way to teach kids languages. Maybe the time is right for a new alternative flavor to the original one. Maybe the time is, as Alisa put it:

    …ripe for the growing Comprehensible Input/proficiency-oriented teaching community to press for recognition and adoption beyond ACTFL….

    The fact is that we have 292 people in this group alone who probably wouldn’t mind seeing an alternative national leadership group form up against the existing failed leadership, and there are a lot more people doing CI nationally than are in this PLC. I think many of them would like to kick this new idea around with us.

    So what if we had only 1% of the teachers who do CI in it at first? Real change always starts small. A real benefit is that we wouldn’t have to have any of those stupid public arguments about how to teach languages, and listen to all those snarky comments like the ones we’ve been reading these past two weeks. I think it’s a good idea.

    1. leigh anne munoz

      Michele — Incredible! Unbelievable! Your curriculum director must really feel threatened….


      Here are some ideas for our new international organization:

      Council on Language Acquisition Education and Research = CLAER

      Federation of International Second -language Teachers = FIST

      Association for Second Language Acquisition = ASLA

      🙂 I’ll join!

      1. I like FIST! Very creative. I also like ASLA, but I’m compelled to change it to ATLAS:

        Association of Teachers on Language Acquisition through Storytelling


  6. Don’t forget the 1000+ Latin teachers on Bob, David and my list. Traditional, explicit grammar, for sure, but curious about CI and SERIOUSLY interested in increasing enrollment and retention. For us Latin teachers (as well as teachers of French, German, etc), this is the true source of job security. And this is the critical mass that CI causes, be it student enrollment, or teacher enthusiasm, that frightens those who want to control and profit from FL education through textbooks. It is ultimately about control, and if you acknowledge that language acquisition is unconscious, without a set order, and dependent on compelling input, then nothing about the process can be controlled or micromanaged. As I’ve said before, this is revolutionary, and if we forget how extreme this can appear to others (because it is extreme!), then we speak up at our own peril. But if we keep doing it, in whatever way we can while keeping our jobs, then it will continue to grow.

  7. John yes of course we can’t forget the Latin Kings. Reports of the demise of Latin are obviously premature in the overall history of languages on planet Earth.

    John you said:

    …[Instruction based on comprehensible input] frightens those who want to control and profit from FL education through textbooks….

    This is something that we must really keep in mind when considering the idea of an alternative national organization to ACTFL. The fact is that whether we know the details (who? why? how?) in the relationship of ACTFL and the corporate world of textbook publishing or not, we will never make any headway into changing the consciousness of that herd. If they could not see the logic presented to them this past week by many of us, they in fact cannot be expected to change. They increasingly represent a kind of dead weight in foreign language instruction that we would be wiser to walk away from. Lighter, we can be a better fighting force for what we believe is best for kids.

    1. My dearest Ben,

      Within this community we also create, market and sell products. For that reason alone many people criticize what we are doing. I have heard it said many times that this entire movement only exist so that a few of us can have a salary. We start our own organization and that reputation will grow. Also, we too are human. Power will go to our heads, as some of our heads, as well.

      I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m just saying do it with your eyes open.

      Eric opened a fantastic can of worms. His question was epic. Show me the research. The support of so many of you was stellar. Not to mention brilliant and extremely well-written. You may not have changed the system, but I guarantee that you many many readers THINK. It doesn’t get much better than that.

      It also led to a question that many readers didn’t see coming, but perhaps a number of ‘experts” did. How impactful have the textbook publishers become in ACTFL decision-making? Where have ….and how often have…conflicts of interest been ignored?


      The written criticism may have been directed towards a variety of issues, but the unspoken examination of where ACTFL’S interests might lie is much more powerful.

      I am grateful that that examination now exists. It’s the kind of thing that keeps each of us just a little more honest. On both sides of the TPRS/CI question.

      We started teaching this way in order to offer a better option for our students. It’s easy to get carried away with all of the other things we have received in return. A little error-correction is good for all of us. As we ask ACTFL to reflect, may we always do the same ourselves.

      with love,

  8. I’m going to ride over to Diana’s house right now and ask about this. I really do feel for a million reasons that she is the person to head up this new group.

    I can’t wait to ask her what she would say about the fact that we already have iFLT founded directly by Dr. Krashen. Is this the organization we want? I don’t think so because iFLT sometimes pulls in people who resemble ACTFL people to me. Plus the name is not the name we want. I think we need a total fresh start so that the organization under consideration in this thread be comprised of only silly and loony people.

    I’ll see what she says. (I can’t call her because when I deleted all my emails a few weeks ago I also threw away my cell phone and gave away my car – all three have been the right decision for me now in retirement, but now I have to traverse Denver with no good bike trails.) I’ll get back to you. But those of you who met Diana in Denver and Chicago this summer know without doubt that she really is the perfect person to lead us forward in this new endeavor, if it happens.

    1. I caught Diana just as she was leaving to go to a wedding. I hastily summarized the idea of a new national organization. She said she would read all the threads both on the ACTFL site and on the PLC and we will go out and talk next week if anyone in the Denver area wants to come along.

      And by the way Diana is a vegetarian too, Melissa and Michele. So if we start a new organization you have to be silly and loony and it helps if you are a vegetarian. (I will say I’m a vegetarian if it suits my purposes. I’m a vegan sometimes when I feel like it and I also am on the Paleo diet when I’m not on it. I don’t eat animal products including dairy, no vegetable oils except coconut oil (really nice!) and palm oil, no refined foods, but sometimes I eat those things.)

      Why am I saying that I talk out of both sides of my mouth when talking about my diet?

      Because it really fits in with something Diana just told me when I was over there just now. When I mentioned what Paul Sandrock said on the ACTFL list and a bit of Michele’s situation to Diana, she responded, “But Ben, you know he totally supports comprehensible input! He is very much in our camp!”

      Apparently Paul talks out of both sides of his mouth too, but the difference is that he is not talking about his diet, which influences only him, but about things that affect a large number of people. On the ACTFL list Sandrock expresses no support for TPRS/CI. This is just a snippet:

      …teaching is complex: among other things, educators need to respond to learners’ different learning styles. Language is complex: encompassing many aspects of competence (intercultural, communicative, and sociolinguistic). So, language teaching is very complex!…

      And yet in private he talks us up real big.

      Dr. Sandrock, I submit to you that teaching a language is not complex at all and is really very simple and natural and, dare I say it, very enjoyable. All we have to do is speak to our students in slow and repetitive ways that are personalized and therefore interesting to them. When we do that they miraculously understand both with their ears and when they read, and the language classroom ceases being a place of torture for kids, where things are presented to them in such complex ways that most of them just quit.

      Paul, I submit to you that you might consider saying what you mean.

      So apparently there are two of you, one whose one position is based in politics, that is to say, on sand, and whose other position rocks. Which one will it be, Monsieur le Président?

      1. Ben,

        I did not say that he was in the “TPRS” camp but when I attended his session at whatever conference, I couldn’t disagree with what he was saying in terms of assessment. That is his expertise – assessment. He talked “proficiency ranges” and expectations based on years of “seat time”, etc. etc. I still don’t know what happened to Michele but I would like to read it…or listen to it. I will say again… we have to let go of the acronym, TPRS. It only hurts the CI movement.


        1. Wow I thought you were at a wedding. Are you reading the internet in church? You should be on the “inner” net right now!

          Correction noted. I misunderstood. Paul is an assessment guru. Well, ain’t that a fine kettle of fish! If we feel that we really want to base our own assessment on the proficiency guidelines, then we indeed do have something in common. Do you think he’ll come to dinner with us next week if we invite him?

          On the Michele thing, she may need to email you. I am waiting to see if she wants me to take down what is already posted here about her day this past Friday.

    1. CLEAR is already taken by the good folks at MSU.

      Please folks, do not share this webinar recording. It is honestly my life on the line. He can and very well may sue me. I am heading over to the CLEAR site to try to change the name so that he can’t search and find it.

      1. Is the webinar already down? I just tried to look at it. Clicked the link but nuthin’ there. I’m so sorry to hear about all of this Michele. That is the understatement of the year. I can’t even describe how it makes me feel. Ugh. Just ugh. I can’t even believe it.

        Yes. Refocusing. Me too. Energy follows attention. I’m all in on the new evolving group (duh).

        1. It’s still up; if you tried to listen on a cellphone or tablet, it probably didn’t work. I’m trying to re-record it, but am not being very successful. If someone else wants to do that and republish it under something like “methodology comments,” that would be fine with me. Let me know (wilwhale2 at gmail .com) if you do and I can take it down.

          1. Michele tell me if you want that link up or down. It’s mentioned twice here today and if your job is on the line it’s not worth however juicy that five minute clip is. We don’t need anymore reasons to want to form our own group.

            And Leigh Anne I like the FIST one. As in, I’m not quitting until I have blood on my fists.

          2. The link is down. I put the sound file into Dropbox. I will leave it there for another day. Please do not share with anyone else. It is not linked to anyone’s name, and while it is of course what the person sent out to be shared with about 100 teachers, it still is not something to use against anyone. I share it simply because I would not believe it existed if someone told me about it.

            I have a footnote about Mr. Sandrock. He observed my AFLA session on how to use storytelling to help kids achieve the Can-do statements, and watched a six-minute video of part of a class. He told me that the method I was using was too teacher-oriented. The video was supposed to demonstrate how to use a story as the means of repeating a particular phrase needed to achieve the Can-Do statement that I had chosen. We had an actor traveling around trying to buy tickets to a concert, and students were suggesting ideas for the story as it progressed. He didn’t understand because he’s never seen the method, and didn’t realize that would be only part of the class.

            He also told me (because it was a slightly overweight, pimply Special Ed student with a purple mohawk who was starring) that unless I was wanting to demonstrate how all students can learn, I should use more attractive kids in videos for presentations. I understood that he wanted to be nice to me and share ways to make presentations go over better, but I was a bit shocked. There’s probably no nice way to make that point. He compared it to how I would probably dress more professionally for the ACTFL presentation than I did for our Alaskan workshop session. He’s right…but in the end, I confess that I liked using the kid in question; I hoped it might make an impression on how we can teach any student language. I also wanted to show that using stories lets the kids with slower acquisition speed participate, while the kids with faster or higher levels of acquisition can shine on the retells and share funny answers, thus differentiating in a mixed-level, mixed-ability classroom.

            But that’s a different topic!

          3. But it’s VERY ACTFL. I know someone who submitted information and photos to ACTFL as requested. She did not seek out this “honor”. She was specifically requested by ACTFL to provide material. This person was told to retake the photos (several times ) and to redo the information in very specific (and posed, completely artificial) ways in order to meet ACTFL publishing standards. This is in complete alignment with that attitude.

            There are obviously quite a few gaps between where we want to be and where ACTFL wants to be.

            I used to think it an “honor” and a “privilege” to be chosen to present at the ACTFL conference. More and more I think that it is a venue that can be utilized rather than a honor to be achieved….

            with love,

          4. Sandrock wrote in his ACTFL post, midway through:

            Wiggins & McTighe use essential questions to focus a thematic approach, moving from “daily routine” to “What makes a balanced lifestyle? Is ‘balance’ viewed differently in my culture compared to the culture I am studying?” Heidi Hayes Jacobs also frames effective learning through thematic units. A thematic focus is a component of Advanced Placement curricula and International Baccalaureate programs. A theme such as Global Challenges allows learners to explore topics such as water shortage, disease, education for all, fair wages, or natural resources.

            “Organizing instruction around a meaningful context has been examined by Alice OMaggio Hadley (Teaching Language in Context) and Shrum & Glisan (Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction). Hale and Cunningham (2011, Evidence based practice using a thematic based unit for language development) report on the impact of the use of thematic units, improving vocabulary, reading, and written expression – as well as motivation. Lent adds that in thematic units learners benefit by exploring a topic through a variety of genres and thus considering different points of view (2012, Overcoming textbook fatigue).”

            Notice the use of the research like it’s gospel. However:

            1. none of us knows those studies except perhaps Noble, Harrell, Herman and a few others. We are not going to go read them. We don’t have time. We have to trust that Sandrock has vetted them.
            2. Since we can’t vet them ourselves and examine the real conditions in which the research was conducted, we can’t know about any flaws. That is a dangerous thing in this era of greed when people “fund” research.
            3. There is a general acceptance of research as proof of something even if small percentage gains are made. That is why I appreciate Krashen’s use of the word hypothesis in all his work. He knows nothing can be proven in a non-scientific field.
            4. Most research studies involve motivated learners and our days are filled with beet fields of unmotivated learners.

            I’m not trying to put down the research, but I’ve always wondered why we put such faith in numbers and all that stuff. I never quite understand what the point of some articles even is. Those small percentage point gains are turned into major proof for whatever the authors want to prove, the research is cited, people read it, and somehow the author has an edge up on the discussion, and whatever the reader is thinking is a little less certain now that the research has been paraded out in front of them, as Sandrock has done above. I almost sense a very low level amount of passive aggressiveness in an article that quotes that much research, since the author knows that few people if any are going to go in there and swim around in it instead of going for a walk or doing something on the weekend to rebuild their tired teacher’s souls for the good of their family and their students and themselves.

            I say this next thing prayerfully. I mean, praying that once and for all we could just believe that in reality the proof is in the pudding of the classroom where we can just go and see kids involved or not. Should not the atmosphere of a classroom count for something? We all know the difference between teaching out of a book and teaching using stories. It’s phenomenal. And yet Sandrock doesn’t touch in his comment on that idea, when in my view engagement counts for everything. Using stories, we can even involve students who resemble beets in our classes a bit more, giving them at least a more reddish hue.

            The kids with the stories must be learning more, because of their level of engagement. The kids using the computer programs with that dull look in their eyes, that non-engaged look, must be learning less. And yet that statement is considered false by so many people who rely fully on research to validate their ideas about what works best for kids in our classrooms.

            If our new group becomes a reality, I would like to suggest that we add a different, new way of looking at research. I think we should rely less on the research, because I just don’t trust the way it is conducted, and rely more on ourselves and what we know goes on in this work, which is so new and fresh anyway that I’m not even sure the old research would have any validity in this new thing we are doing, that holds so much promise and is so different from what came before.

            I hope that we can consider these things as we think about the possibility of forming a new national group, as some of us who dare to dream big begin to think about what it would look like. It seems that since forever the research has been used in ways that bring a mild form of deceit, reflecting the deceit in the general pedagogy of past decades.

          5. In a response to ACTFL I called Sandrock out on those comments.
            I made it clear that he was citing some researchers outside of the SLA field.
            And he didn’t cite any research. He cited books. Makes me wonder if he or any other ACTFL member has ever looked closer at that research.
            What is most scary is that to date no one ever shared citations from an actual research article and no one could explain any of that research. Yet, teachers have been just accepting that because ACTFL or some “guru teacher” says it, it is what is best.

            When someone cited Curtain’s book I was able to go and read and I shared with everyone that she had no citations for her thematic unit recommendation. No one seemed to care. No one came to her defense.

            I’ve said it again and again, it all depends on the type of test, whether it was delayed testing, and what the control group was.
            Unless this research shows that thematic units outdo a control group receiving CI, then it doesn’t change what I do. Even if it did show that it outperformed TCI, I’d wonder at what cost? What do we lose when we teach a thematic unit rather than teaching thematic-independent? We can do both. It’s not one or the other.

            There have been meta-analyses, e.g. Nassaji & Fotos, 2004; Norris & Ortega, 2000, that concluded that grammar was necessary and/or helpful. But I tell everyone that if they are going to read those papers (probably most haven’t), they need also read the other side. Truscott responded to the former in IJFLT 2007 and Krashen responded to the latter in “The Comprehension Hypothesis and its Rivals,” 2002. Krashen and Truscott kill it! 🙂

            We have the research to defend what we do. Actually, there is tons of it. While I totally agree that we can’t measure everything and that observing a TCI class is the best way to “sell” what we do, we do also have the “empirical evidence.”

          6. Honestly Michele I just don’t see how anyone who tried to get you fired would not be met with such a firestorm of criticism to where that person’s job would be the one in danger. What you have done in Alaska over the years is epic, and compares to what skip has done in Maine in terms of training teachers, illustrating and defending your methods at every turn, reaching constantly across the border to Russia, having what seems an almost constant flow of interested visitors in your classroom, your fine tuning work with the research, the work you do with so many people at the state and national level, all the traveling you do to get better at your craft, your presence at every and all conferences, your invitations to so many to come to Alaska and present, like Susan and Laurie and others, etc. Really, I think the video should be out there for all to see, but just let me know what to do from here. Again, you are far too respected and not just in Alaska for this to be anything about which you should be concerned. Brush the annoying fly away. There, it’s gone.

  9. Hi all,

    I am reading all of this now…since Ben actually did ride his bike to me house… and I promised I would read the ACTFL blog (?) but once I went to the ACTFL site, I couldn’t find anything that even resembled what he was talking (fast) about in the 10 minutes he tried to explain all of this to me. I just called Ben, but apparently he no longer has his cell phone… ? so if someone can help me find what it is I need to read or listen to? Perhaps I didn’t read closely enough to the above posts?

    In any case, my ‘gut’ reaction to what I perceive to be the thread above is that I do believe we may be in a position now to create a national group that can provide challenges to the corporate funded national organization. That said, the first step is letting go of the acronym TPRS. It only works against acceptance of the best practice strategies of CI. I can talk more about that later, but first I need to find the ACTFL blog that provoked Ben to ride his bike for 90 minutes in order to talk to me.

    My best to all of you… diana

    1. Diana I totally agree and it is without dispute on any level that the term TPRS is the very last name we want to reference in this new initiative. Not only is it totally misunderstood, it is also associated with Blaine Ray and the new group should not be associated with anyone who makes money from it. I go with Leigh Anne on the FIST name, or I could also be persuaded to vote for SLTA, Silly and Loony Teachers of America.

      Now I am going to see if I can find Carol in the crowd at the World Series, going for her third ring. She told me she will be the one waving the orange towel.

  10. Diana here is the link to read:

    It is the “Why Thematic Units?” thread started by The Research Engine a.k.a. Eric Herman on Oct. 9. Try to read all 80 posts, or skim them at least. As a whole they are important in that they kind of prove once and for all that we need a new national organization for us. The last comment by Arnold B. is a sad attempt to bring all of us together under the ACTFL banner of peace and love. Now I won’t actually do this, but I feel like telling him, like in that sound clip frequently heard on the Norman Goldman Show, “Ah, blow it out!”

  11. This will always be “us” vs. “them,” since we follow Krashen when he says that “CI is the only way.”

    I told myself I’d also stop posting to ACTFL, but what if I wrote just this?
    “Let us refocus: What about a broader statement from ACTFL inclusive of an approach to teaching foreign languages that does not necessitate thematic units and authentic resources?”

    Michele, while I don’t entirely follow what happened, I’m so sorry and I feel bad that you are in that situation. I listened to that clip and there are some outrageously inaccurate statements!

    I feel we have never looked to ACTFL for leadership. TCI has grown without it and then only later do we see what we can link to ACTFL in order to legitimize our work. Is it now the moment to show once and for all to everyone that the world is round?!

  12. I may be a bit off topic, but here it goes anyway. I am not a member of the ACTFL message boards where all this controversy is occurring. I have only read about it here and that is enough for me to say that I don’t believe I’ll be joining their message board anytime soon. What I did really want to bring up though is my student teacher. I have had him since mid-August beginning with in-service activities and he will be departing on Friday, Oct 31 and will continue his student teaching in another district. (He will be getting licensed k-12 Spanish any my district only offers 9-12.) I asked him yesterday (10-24) if he has heard anything about what/how he will be teaching when he moves. He said yes, after three emails, he finally got a response. He said that in pre-k and kindergarten they use the Muzzy program (don’t ask me, I’ve never heard of it) and for the upper elementary they use materials they have ‘come up with’ (from where he and I don’t know) and for the middle school grades they have a textbook. He actually said to me yesterday that he was terrified of teaching with the textbook after using TPRS/CI with me at the high school. I asked why and he said “everything is packaged into pointless topics [thematic units] that are contrived and just don’t make sense in the real world.” I could have hugged him. I told him to talk with his new cooperating teacher and see if she is willing to let him ‘stretch’ his wings with TPRS/CI while using the vocab from their themed units. I said what’s the worst she could say, no…which is no different that where he is now going in. I also told him that he knows my email and phone number and where I am (most of the day) so if he has a question/problem to feel free to call etc . I forgot to mention, he’ll have 9 classes per day…5 are on ITV…he’s really scared and I don’t know what else to say or do for him, but wish him the best. He felt the same way about TPRS/CI back in August and now he loves it and doesn’t want to go back and I am afraid that if he is ‘forced’ to use the book, that he will then realize that books tend to be easier because with them the teacher doesn’t have to ‘engage’ the students other than to say ‘open your book to p ? and let’s do Activity 1’. He won’t have to use his energy to think of new things to discuss during PQA or creative details to keep a story going. I’m afraid I’m going to lose him to the ‘dark side’. Ok, I’ve ranted now and I apologize for being off topic, but if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. Thank you all so much for your insight into all the other topics I read about here.

    Pat R

    1. Too bad we can’t get this kid hooked up with The Potter of St. Paul! That’d seal the deal for sure.

      Re getting licensed to teach k-12 in MN in order to be able to teach high school even… What’s up with that? Cost me an extra $3000 a couple years ago so I could keep my job. I’m using the k-6 part now, but what about people who don’t? Seems a bit unnecessary Minnesota. Oh, and guess what class I had to take to get the k-6 part certification? Hispanic Linguistics! It could have been any of several different courses, but that’s how it worked out for me. Funny, but in a sick and expensive kind of way though.

      I’m also a vegetarian. Protein comes from many sources, plant and animal. But really I don’t get what that guy (Sandrock) means anyways when he says most TPRS teachers aren’t getting enough protein in their instructional diet. What other method gets as much quality CI for students, if that is indeed what we’re calling the protein? (Maybe this is what Diana was talking about… That we who actually do CI in our classes understand that TPRS is superior in terms of delivering CI, but when we leave this CI bubble, its reverence wains.)

      Michele, I hope you’ll keep us posted, and let us know what we can do to help. I’ve seen you present several times, had the good fortune of conversing with you on a number of occasions about how to best reach students with the language, and have witnessed your passion and success via this PLC. And I’m one of hundreds, if not thousands.

      1. Jim. Did Sandrock say that somewhere? Or are you quoting my Director? If Sandrock said it, it means that our Director got together with him to decide how to best trash TPRS. And I’d love to have the quote. I will go back and re-read Sandrock’s piece of the ACTFL discussion, just for interest!

        1. Michele,
          I am so sorry that you are stressing out up there in Alaska! Please know that we are all sending positive thoughts your way in support. I also wanted you to know that I just listened to the audio link that was posted here on the thread through CLEAR…did you mean to pull that down? I was still able to access it on Ben’s post of October 25 at 12:26 up above.
          That guy’s vegetarian reference is as out-dated and flawed as his TPRS ideas. What he said about having to be careful in finding protein…yeah, that’s what people thought back in the 80’s when “Diet for a New America” came out! (Yes, I have been a vegetarian since then). He is still in the dark ages and hopefully anyone who was subjected to that webinar will dismiss his rants about TPRS and vegetarianism alike.

          Take care * hugs,


        2. That was Sandrock in the Dropbox audio file correct? I gathered this opinion from what he said in the audio when “cautioning” TPRS teachers about the completeness of their (or rather their students’) “diet”. Maybe I misunderstood what he was saying? I only listened once.

    2. Pat this is a most serious situation that you present. My own opinion is that this young teacher will not go over to the dark side because the dark side is so dark that they will welcome him and his new ideas. That program you described above is really primitive. I know because I did exactly that program when I started teaching in the 1970s. That was my program – Muzzy* for the younger ones and the book starting in middle school.

      They will probably be relieved that someone has brought in some new ideas. We can’t blame those who set up that horrendous articulation path. It is the result of stagnancy of ideas over decades. So he should be welcomed.

      The caution is that he play his cards out on the table completely and without reservation before accepting employment. When many of us interview, we need to play our cards close to the vest with our desire to teach using only comprehensible input methods, but in this case he must gauge the reaction of this team he would work with in the most open way.

      If they admit the truth that their way of teaching is from the 1970s (really the 1950s), and tell him that no one will cross check him once he is hired, because they know they can improve, it will work. Without the openness, if someone on this new team doesn’t like his ideas and wants to protect ideas that are now long dead, then definitely it is better to be unemployed than go to work with such fossils.

      *Muzzy is an animated program that appeals to really young kids. The characters, all animals, say single words in French. It is a very superficial product that leads to boredom after ten minutes. No focusing on any message even happens since most of the input comes in the form of one word utterances. It is useless and, after multiple views of the program in class, the kids start to hate Muzzy, the purple monster or whatever he was. The thud of foreheads on the desk became very common in my classroom when I was a young teacher, a long time ago.

  13. Just as a kind of afterthought to this refocusing we are in the midst of this weekend, I am starting to see how this whole thing with ACTFL is a clash of ideas and not a clash of people at all. Indeed, people emerge as very small players on this vast playing field of change we are now on in our profession.

    So when Eric and I got into a fist fight in a private series of emails with one of the dudes from ACTFL over the past few days, I think we both saw it as personal and now as we both step back from this whole thing with ACTFL, we see it’s just about ideas. The arguments Eric and I took to that dude were irrefutable if one accepts how people really learn languages, but this guy couldn’t get it. He didn’t want to get it. If he got it he would melt. It was ideas vs. ideas and this guy’s entire professional ego was tied into his view of teaching.

    This guy’s views were so typical of ACTFL’s vague message that there was a bit of Jeremy from the Beatles’ movie Yellow Submarine in this guy. Jeremy is the little professor dude in that movie who goes around saying, “Ad hoc loc and quid pro quo! So little time, so much to know!” God bless his heart, but no one is going to win a fight with a bunch of Jeremys.

    I relate that little story simply to give more credence to the greater CI community’s growing desire to separate from ACTFL. If they are thinking black and we are thinking white, then why are we even talking to them? If they think that people acquire languages through a complex series of activities, all carefully chosen by the master teacher and based on thematic units and reading authentic texts, or whatever is presented in the textbook or computer program du jour, then we just need to go our separate ways.

    As Laurie said to Michele last night:

    …there are obviously quite a few gaps between where we want to be and where ACTFL wants to be….

    Or as Eric said:

    ..this will always be “us” vs. “them,” since we follow Krashen when he says that “CI is the only way.”…

    We need to get that if we are going to move forward with this new initiative suggested by Alisa. The fact is that we kind of already have a national organization, it’s just not organized. We have been too busy working in our classrooms to even think about organizing. But now we need to get that done.

    My bike ride to Diana’s house yesterday was filled with a sense of urgency, like I had to get over there as a messenger with an important message from one set of people to one very special leader.

    It was a “Ride like the wind, Bull’s Eye!” moment for me. I felt like Paul Revere. I imagined my helmet turning into a three pointy hat, but then I reminded myself that I am a Broncos fan and that weird thought went away. (That was a message to Gabe Crosby).

    Just to be clear, I don’t want to fill the airwaves with my own wishes for our fledgling idea of a national leader here to lead us in our removal from ACTFL, but I have to say that if anyone knew what Diana has done in Denver, they would see that she is the one to lead us. It is time, as they say.

    Diana spends her time training and directing the 100 teachers in Denver Public Schools, having orchestrated a shift of the numbers of teachers from five to eighty-five over the past six years, and she has done it with hard work and dedication to the ideals we know work for kids.

    No one works as hard as Diana. She is an assessment machine, having put at least a half million dollars into the writing and designing of not perfect but still state of the art assessment instruments in DPS over recent years. She also organized with some help from Carol Gaab the iFLT conferences of the past four years (Los Alamitos, Breckenridge, San Diego and Denver) and of course those at NTPRS this past summer know that she graced the podium as the keynote speaker and Blaine was lucky to get her to do that.

    If a teacher in our district wants to learn it, Diana will go in and observe and coach and train that teacher privately. She will use her budget not for pricey photos and brochures with only good looking kids and teachers dressed for the photo. Instead she will go into the teacher’s classroom and devote all her attention to that teacher’s growth in CI with 100% patience. She also makes Krashen do the dishes when he is in her house.

    Without Susan Gross and Diana Noonan we would have nothing here in Colorado, or at least that is my opinion. So I say, “Noonan for President!” Of what organization, we don’t know yet, but “Noonan for President!” anyway.

  14. you are right — it is all about ideas. Some say “we” have drunk the Kool-Aid, as “we” (defined as CI practitioners) are a cult (actually “they” consider TPRS practitioners a cult). So, as Diana says, we NEED to separate TPRS and CI….and instead inform people that TPRS is a “way of DELIVERING” comprehensible input. CI itself is based on extensive SLA research. It takes many different shapes and forms, but it is the ONLY way to acquire a language, just as we did our first language. I do very little thinking before I speak English (I know – that can be BAD!! hahaha – but you KNOW what I mean!!!) because it just flows out naturally.
    The year I started with CI, my kids did a family tree project (I was still in the same department, with the same expectations though!!!) When my Level 1 students – in March – were presenting their family trees, I was blown away by their pronunciation. It was the first time in my 3-4 years of teaching that I had Level 1 kids speak so beautifully. I had to stop at one point during the presentations and tell them that – and ask them if they were all watching Spanish tv or movies outside of class. They all said “no. it’s because YOU speak to us in Spanish all the time!” that’s when I knew it worked!
    Now, yesterday, one of us here on the blog presented to a state’s conference. She went into observe another presentation during her down time – it was on the almighty “performance projects”. She said the room was FULL – but then the presenter made a comment about the kids speaking “caveman Spanish.” Well, YEAH!!!! if class time is only spent getting ready and preparing these projects, and having kids “spontaneously” talk to EACH OTHER for interpersonal “practice” (as I was taught yesterday in one of Maine Standards workshops) then they are just perpetuating and cementing the “caveman” accent.
    At my workshop yesterday – and it JUST hit me – she said that people remember 80% of what they see, so therefore we should only use authentic texts. Wait — then why can’t we use readers that are written purposely for acquiring language? Why can we only use texts that are written by native speakers for native speakers? BUT…it’s OK for kids to hear “caveman” Spanish? She also corrected me when I said that you can write in English on the board with the TL to facilitate meaning. She said, “no, no, no – Laura Terrill said that you can NEVER do that! you can not bring English into it at all!” I simply said I did not agree because I do not have time to play guessing games with my students.
    So, it is clear that “their” methodologies are not based upon research. And, Paul Sandrock and Laura Terrill, who trained the state of Maine teacher-leaders, are not quite sure what “comprehensible input” truly is. This teacher-leader yesterday started her presentation all in French, to show how she teaches her classes. I *think* she was telling us to “take the red folder (because she picked it up), and to take out the yellow sheet (because she pulled it out of the folder)” but other than that I had NO idea what her words were or what they meant, and so I stopped listening to her, and decided instead to tune her words out and just watch her actions, like I was deaf. I was NOT getting input at that point, because it was NOT comprehensible. It certainly was not compelling! 🙂
    She then went on to say that we need to keep doing comprehension checks, because the kids need to know that we support them. She suggested thumps up and thumbs down. I need to ask: how many of YOU have students who will give you a thumbs up if you ask the whole class if they “understand”? all of the kids who are self-conscious and DO NOT understand will give a thumbs up. The 4%’ers will give a thumbs down if they don’t, because they’re getting 95% of it anyway!! so they are not scared, they are not ashamed, and they have always been supported by teachers and will continue to be all the way through AP in all their classes! (ok rant over!) So, it struck me as sad that she “cannot include English” insofar as to ask the kids, “what did I just say?”
    I will admit — “they” are making progress though. “They” just need some more training in *CI* (not TPRS….that can come later – when they start to understand what TRUE ci really is.)
    Michele – I did not listen to that clip – missed it last night and don’t know how to find on dropbox – but I echo everyone else….I am so sorry!!! and I am appalled at Sandrock’s reaction to that student! THAT is an example of what I run into — “oh, you know, the kids with low literacy rates…they can’t learn a L2. They need practice reading and writing in English first.” Well, Maine’s new law states that all students need Intermediate Mid to graduate with a proficiency diploma (don’t worry about that proficiency – we’re working on that! Very interesting backstory to that and we’ll see how it unfolds!) That ALSO includes kids with IEPs!!! So, let’s see how the teacher-leaders trained by Sandrock and Terrill can train teachers to meet those students’ needs, as opposed to our own in-state CI peer coaches.
    Fellow Mainiacs…..we ARE leading the country — Jay Ketner even said that we are the first state in the country to institute the Proficiency graduation requirement LAW, which includes even kids with IEPs. I want to be a coach now more than ever!!! But I also WANT TO BE coached first! I want my students to be able to hit Intermediate Mid without Performance tasks!!! because I don’t believe I can get them there in 80 hours a year if I have to waste time on them “performing” instead of demonstrating “proficiency.”

      1. As a “big question,” we need to ask teachers to consider how comprehensible they really are. Then, as a another big question, we ask how many repetitions of a word are necessary to acquire it. That’s the power of being in a TCI demo in an unfamiliar language. TCI is more than comprehensible, at least with beginners – it’s translatable/transparent.

        “Research shows that particularly at low proficiency levels, L2 words are directly connected to their L1 equivalents (Jiang, 2002; Kroll et al. 2002; Kroll and Stewart, 1994). Whether words are learned with L1 translations or pictures does not affect connection to the L1, it happens regardless (Altarriba and Knickerbocker, 2011; Lotto and De Groot, 1998). However, even newly learned words can also access meaning directly without going through the L1 (Finkbeiner and Nicol, 2003).” – Nation, 2013


        I haven’t looked closely at the studies cited, but assuming Nation’s interpretation is the right one, we have scientific evidence in favor of translation. Won’t all vocabulary acquisition researchers say that translation/glossing “speeds up” vocabulary learning? But none will say that studying an L1-L2 flashcard is sufficient to acquire all the aspects of knowledge of a word.

        Krashen, in the non-targeted paper, did suggest that the natural way of acquiring vocabulary is to pick up a piece (5%) of it’s meaning with every encounter. He is a bit critical of our insistence on being translatable. Then, in Nation’s newest paper, he goes over how much we’d need to read in order to learn incidentally, aka acquire.

        I confronted him though, arguing that 12 repetitions of a word is way too low to think a student will acquire that word. Apparently there is research that suggests even fewer repetitions are necessary when learning via reading, so Nation chose 12 in order to not bias his argument against incidental learning. I’d bet that research was done with educated adults.

        But what we do when we “establish meaning” by giving a translation is very different than a traditional approach. We don’t have kids study flashcards and memorize meanings. We give the meaning and then proceed with tons of CI to get that word acquired a la natural. That brief translation, point & pause, is making the ensuing input more comprehensible.

  15. Well, after disappearing for a few days to concentrate on getting my presentations ready thursday and friday, I have to admit I’m fired up after reading this thread.

    International organization?

    As Laurie said and Bob Patrick echoed, it must be about EQUITY in the world language program for me to be on board.

    THat, in and of itself, is radical.

    Michelle, I’m sorry about all this. It’s so hard to know how to respond sometimes.

    Laurie, thank you for your level-headedness and reminders to be humble and that this too shall pass. You are, of course, right.

    But, it’s also true that great change only happens when we challenge the status quo.

    thinking about ths a lot today….

  16. I’m following all this with interest, with sympathy for Michele (and so many others who have been hurt by people who felt threatened by a different way of doing things). Please, remember that you are WORLD Language teachers and make your new organization international rather than American. There is a whole wide world out there and at least here in France I have found people willing to listen to another way of doing things. Not all of them, not the ones that are working in the ministry and being paid to tell teachers how to teach, but everywhere, I believe there are teachers more interested in seeing their students progress than in maintaining their position as recognized experts.

  17. Oh boy, what have I missed by not checking in here for a few days? But I wholeheartedly agree, refocusing is a great idea. We need to keep our eye on the prize – happy kids who love acquiring a language (of if nothing else, sitting in our classroom)!
    It makes my head spin to read what’s going on around the country – I’m so sorry, Michele, for what you are going through. I truly can’t wrap my head around the motivation for some people to go after those who have the biggest hearts and the brightest minds.

  18. I have finally caught up on the ACTFL thread, missed the video, and just caught up on this thread. Where to start? We just had our monthly Tri-State TCI meeting at William Penn Charter school in Philadelphia. La Sripanawongsa – one of our gifted Mandarin teachers – was our host. She just came back from a summer at Middlebury and was sharing how she had tried to promote TCI among her colleagues. Their response was that they already did CI just as she was describing it. The problem is that they were, in reality, not doing it. These are the ACTFL/ thematic unit people.

    The rubber has now met the road – the two conflicting visions of CI – with both sides trying to support their “best classroom practices” based on each side’s interpretation ACTFL pronouncements. I have been at several ACTFL events where many of us have been encouraged after hearing Van Patten and Richard Donato views on CI. Cooler heads have cautioned not to be fooled as ACTFL sometimes gives the impression of talking the talk. This recent conversation, if nothing else, exposes their real agenda. Maybe the time has come to break away. I am not a member of ACTFL, but would feel uncomfortable in an organization where two philosophically disparate groups are trying to justify what they do with their students jive with statements that are cherry-picked from ACTFL resources. Maybe it is time to let our freak flag really fly.

    With that said, many of our members present at ACTFL. They often present to packed houses. To Laurie’s point of capturing the hearts and minds of teachers one at a time, where does splintering off to a separate group leave us? I am totally in agreement that the time has come for a new group. I understand the TPRS name is problematic . A lot of people have worked very hard to get us to this point – Blaine, Susie, Carol, Diana, Laurie, Michele, Katya, Joe – we are standing on their shoulders. I would not want that to be lost as we take to the barricades.

    I appreciate all of you more than you will ever know. I have said it many times before, but I truly do feel blessed to be a member of this group. @Ben: Thanks to a comment you once made I am off to the beach to ride my folding bike!

    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about this forming a national/international CI advocacy organization. I’m not totally convinced it is in our best interests at the moment. I will be swayed by a simple and strong argument.

      My reasons: I think the CI movement is strong, really strong. Nothing scares those in power more than powerful grassroots movements. They are decentralized, and therefore more difficult to attack. TPRS, despite its badassedness, is surely something that can be undermined and attacked. And TCI is vulnerable too, but about as vulnerable as gravity. TCI is the movement based on the CI hypothesis that is approaching axiom status. (I make that statement but wonder what Krashen would say.) When the TCI movement becomes an organization, it becomes easier to attack and co-opt. Right?

      I think our latest move (thanks in largest part to Eric’s courageous lead) to approach ACTLF en masse (from different sides and tribes) was a successful and advancing move. Perhaps we have not convinced ACTLF to change their position statement (I don’t think it’s time to necessarily give up on that thread though), but we certainly have convinced them that they should pick their words/statements carefully and base them in research because we are paying close attention.

      IF we were to realize some sort of coherent organization, I suggest it be to act more as a federation of local/regional groups. Federation Of Comprehensible Input Users (FOCIU) … ok, that sounds a little too much like “fuck you”. Maybe drop the “users” and just have FOCI (doesn’t that mean “focuses” in Latin?).

      For a federation to exist, the regional groups must be strong. Of course we’ve formed and are forming those regional groups in earnest right now (e.g. Tri-State TCI, MN TCI, DPS, etc). Won’t a national group take the steam out of those more localized units a bit? What if we were to submit a tipping point… 100 regional groups worldwide with at least 10 members each must exist and sign on before the federation were to coalesce. Too Patrick Henry? I don’t know.

      I’ve only been at this TCI stuff since 2008, and so for others of you who’ve been involved for longer, or more seriously, in the TCI movement, and with more push-back in their districts, maybe the time seems more imminent. For me, it appears more of a distraction from the grassroots regional organizing (says the guy who has only attended ONE state conference while attending several national conferences over the last 7 years… I’m working on this though, more to do with ability-to-attend and unawareness than it does disinterest.)

      That all being said, if an organization transpires, YES to Noonan for Prez.

      Cheers to all of you, I can’t imagine where I’d be in this process without you!


      1. Jim perhaps you are right and that this could be a false peak for us. Perhaps we do need more work locally or on a regional level before moving it up to a national level. It’s definitely a point to knock around. I don’t know. Maybe we could give Diana time to extract herself from DPS, make the new national leadership position a paid one, and try to lure her out of DPS, where she has shown that she can deliver the goods, before asking her to just take on a new job without giving her time to leave the old one. I think that what Diana chooses to do in relationship to the timing of this thing is key, because I am certain that she is the one to take on this role, and I am certain that without her, the new organization would flounder.

  19. Michael Coxon came to our rescue. He wrote what Ben and I weren’t in a position to write. Go read his response to Arnold.
    Then, look what has been started. There is a new thread questioning the apparent equal weight given to the 5Cs in the ACTFL logo.
    In response, someone pointed to the Can-Do’s, which I have my own issues with, since they are so output-oriented and topic-based. It also still doesn’t make sense to me that we be assessing in the 3 modes at all levels, especially the presentational mode, which encourages us to teach for learning.

    1. Bill Heller brings up the Annenberg video clips. In our methods course we had to watch them, analyze and reflect upon -fine- teaching. It was painful: rehearsed and memorize speech, sophisticated art projects that belong in the art class, immersion elementary classes (how is that relevant when we only get 60mn/week), and so forth. In one comment to my professor (about a specific video clip) I wrote: “I thought we were not supposed to teach like this!” Response: “You have to become more tolerant Catharina.” I am still working on that.

      Bill Heller just dug an even bigger hole.

      1. Catharina I had to use French in Action (Annenberg) at a local community college at the same time I was learning about TPRS around 2001 – 2002. It was painful for me as well and I was the teacher, as I watched the students needing college credit being submersed in French in a way that resembled a tsunami. Even college students needing credits – thus motivated learners – couldn’t learn with that program. And the accompanying materials (there were three or four total books they had to buy) were so complex to use that I never used them. I now see something I didn’t see then – a lot of money was being made from that materials-heavy program that was funded by big money itself, the Annenberg Foundation. Money making money. Hmmm. I asked the department chair at the time if I could just talk to the students in the language and she said no. I guess her fear was that since she taught the next level classes (102), which were also based on the French in Action program, the articulation path would not be there. Few students did the work, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, I gave them all passing grades out of compassion, as long as they came to class and tried, and quit that part time gig after just a few years. It was a complete failure. I’ve heard that some high schools still use that program.

    2. I would like to post the following over on the ACTFL list, but would like to see if there are inaccuracies in what I say first – what is below is kind of a rough draft. So I am asking the group to advise me on the following text before I publish it in response to Mr. Coxon’s comments yesterday:

      Mr. Coxon writes with courage and accuracy. He dispels some of the misinformation that has been out there for years.

      Many teachers have simply chosen to ignore such attacks as the one Mr. Coxon rebuffs and go about educating themselves about comprehensible input instruction anyway. They have looked beyond the mythology and have found their careers changed for the better.

      In fact, there are very few TPRS teachers around anymore. Most identify themselves simply as teachers who use comprehensible input (CI), or as TCI teachers, which is a larger umbrella term that has largely replaced the term TPRS in many districts. It is a term which includes many more strategies than just those included in the Three Steps of TPRS, hence the now common use of the wider term.

      For example, five years ago approximately 5 of the 100 WL teachers in the Denver Public Schools used TPRS in their instruction. Now that number is 85 out of 100, but they say that they use TCI. The details of the change can be found elsewhere and are not germane to this discussion. The change was not easy, and many teachers left out of disgust with the rabble upstarts, but it is accurate to say now that there is at least one major metro area using comprehensible input and not thematics to teach languages.

      Blaine Ray deserves complete credit for starting all this, but, to repeat this key point, use of the term TPRS among professionals shifting their instruction to comprehensible input (because themes, however defined, didn’t work for them) began to dwindle in about 2008 and has now been largely replaced with the term TCI.

      It’s a new day and someone needs to say that. Mr. Coxon did exactly that in a most emphatic way. Perhaps it is now safe to say that the decades-long “TPRS Wars” are over, and something far larger has replaced the term TPRS. That something is not just connected to Krashen but also to researchers like VanPatten, Elley, Truscott, Asher, Hastings, and Beniko Mason. is replacing the very term TPRS. That “something” will always include the term comprehensible in it, even if the details change from teacher to teacher.

      However, let us be duly cautioned: it is unlikely that a teacher can be successful teaching themes/thematic units/semantic sets while actually using real comprehensible input at the same time. Teachers who foolishly claim that they use comprehensible when using themes misrepresent what they are doing.

      Real comprehensible input happens when the conscious mind/analysis of language is not involved as per this statement by Dr. Krashen:

      “Language is acquired through comprehensible input. It is an unconscious process that happens when the learner is focused on the message, rather than the language itself.”

      Themes simply do not lend themselves to comprehensible input. Students cannot acquire the vocabulary necessary to discuss themes in the TL in the way Dr. Krashen describes because there isn’t enough time. Teachers who say they do so invite distortion of what comprehensible input is. They use too much English, their instruction is not really comprehensible, rather, it is incomprehensible, too much output is involved, etc.

      Those who claim that they use comprehensible input when teaching themes, and teachers who promote the teaching of culture using comprehensible input, have a faulty view of what comprehensible really is and how it truly functions in fluency based classrooms that teach for actual acquisition over learning.

      CI requires a nearly complete turning over of the process of language over to the unconscious mind – this is not immersion – and until those who claim to use comprehensible input get that point clearly in their minds, they will continue to diffuse false information about teaching using comprehensible input and the change we are in now will stall in many classrooms.

      For a teacher to actually be using comprehensible input the instruction must be comprehensible and it must, at least for the first few years, be offered in the form of input. In that light, it is easy to see how large numbers of teachers who based their teaching on themes could not possibly be doing actual comprehensible input. They say they understand and apply Krashen, but they don’t, not really.

      It is interesting to note that two very strong proponents of TCI, who shun the ACTFL recommendations on the use of themes and authentic texts, have recently been chosen by their state organizations as Teachers of the Year for 2014-2015. Those two teachers, who have worked for years to promote the use of comprehensible input in their states and at the national level, are Skip Crosby in Maine and Michele Whaley in Alaska.

      Besides those two at the state level, two of ACTFL’s five finalists for national Teacher of the Year in 2013-14 (Dr. Robert Patrick, Georgia) and 2014-15 (Carrie Toth, Illinois) are teachers who base their instruction fully on comprehensibe input.

      I am grateful to Mr. Herman for asking the questions that have opened up a discussion that has allowed us to dispel some of the myths about TCI.

      1. After Michael hammered Arnold (thank you, Michael!), Lance refocused the discussion. Do we want to enter into an argument over what really is CI in this same thread?

        I think pointing out that TPRS is too narrow a term to describe us and that TCI is more appropriate is important. TCI can mean TPR, TPRS, Natural Approach, MovieTalk, and FVR of graded readers.

        It’s important we ask the big question: “How comprehensible are teachers really?” Many claim to teach with CI, but they hugely overestimate the comprehensibility. That’s why taking a TCI class in an unfamiliar language is so eye-opening – you see how easy it is to be incomprehensible and the anxiety it causes. You also start to respect more the natural process, in which tons of input precedes any real output. In fact, what we do in TCI, at least at the beginning stages, is more than comprehensible, it’s transparent (translatable). A big element of making it comprehensible is targeting language (restricting vocabulary) and that language targeted is chosen due to it’s high frequency and/or high-interest. That is also what makes teaching for fluency possible – 98%+ vocabulary coverage.
        Fluency = the ease, speed, and quantity of comprehension and comprehensible production.

        Maybe you should also encourage people to go observe a TCI class.

        I’d be careful how you use the term “theme.” When you say “theme” I think you mean it more in the sense of “topic.” I think some of us TCI thematic units and are successful, but because the unit goes narrow and deep and because it includes the key ingredient of compelling input: personalization. Carrie Toth does thematic units.

        My original point was that we wanted a more inclusive statement, which allowed for thematic-independent instruction, which is equally, if not more, effective. I was arguing that ACTFL re-word their statements so as to include what we do – which is generally not to teach with thematic units and not with authentic resources.

        I also don’t know who Donato is. . . how about also mentioning Warwick Elley, John Truscott, James Asher, Ashley Hastings, and Beniko Mason?

        1. I’ll take those things into consideration and also break the post into two parts because it is too long. Thank you, Eric.

          Consider posting this paragraph you wrote above. In my mind it is most important:

          …it’s important we ask the big question: “How comprehensible are teachers really?” Many claim to teach with CI, but they hugely overestimate the comprehensibility. That’s why taking a TCI class in an unfamiliar language is so eye-opening – you see how easy it is to be incomprehensible and the anxiety it causes [ed. note: Eric hear you may want to clarify that last statement about anxiety. I think you should also say something about how students must completely change how they react to comprehensible input and that such a deep change in them is an indication that the teacher is using CI in the way intended]. You also start to respect more the natural process, in which tons of input precedes any real output. In fact, what we do in TCI, at least at the beginning stages, is more than comprehensible, it’s transparent (translatable). A big element of making it comprehensible is targeting language (restricting vocabulary) and that language targeted is chosen due to it’s high frequency and/or high-interest….

          or some variation of it. That would make two people making the case for TCI.

          1. It sounds like a good start to a new thread to me: what is Comprehensible Input really? An important topic. Now that people’s attention is on that Forum, I think it’d be read. Maybe a short reference to that in the why thematic units/authres thread first?

          2. I just learned that the acronym “TCI” is a textbook company that makes interactive textbooks for social studies programs. Google the acronym. Looks like we need to come up with a different one!

          3. It also stands for
            – Theme Centered Interaction
            – Technology Competitor Intelligence
            – Temperament and Character Inventory
            and a host of other entities and ideas not related to education. I assume Louisa is referring to “Teacher’s Curriculum Institute”.

            A check for “CI” reveals an abundance of ideas and entities as well. Even TPR has multiple meanings. CBI conflicts with “content-based instruction”.

            My opinion is that if we strive to avoid all conflict with acronyms, we will come up with utter nonsense or needless complication as far as the full version is concerned. I believe that a textbook company dealing with social studies, history, geography, and economics is sufficiently removed from language teaching and acquisition that we do not need to change an acronym that is becoming widely accepted. The meaning should drive the acronym, not the other way around.

            (With all due respect, Louisa)

          4. No problem, Robert. I just want to add my two cents and let it be out there that we have considered that angle…. 🙂

          5. I have learned more about FL pedagogy in the past week than I did in the first 8 years of teaching. I just started my 9th.

            Thank you Eric. I cannot say that enough.

          6. I just replied to your post:

            You start with an important question. Another way of asking it would be “To whom is the teacher comprehensible?”

            Unless the input is comprehensible to the learner, it is not comprehensible. It doesn’t matter how slowly the teacher thinks he is going or how simple she thinks the sentences are, if the learners (students) don’t understand then it is for naught.

            Perhaps a more useful idea is that of “ComprehendED Input”. Then the question becomes one of finding ways to enable the learner to comprehend the utterances quickly so that time in the language is maximized both quantitatively and qualitatively, i.e. achieving the 90%+ goal while making sure the learner finds the language comprehensible, compelling, even “transparent”. When there is a common L1, as is the case in most elementary and secondary schools in the US, a gloss (often written rather than oral) often serves as an effective tool. When there is no common L1, as in many ESL/ELD classes, the situation becomes more difficult: teachers must resort to more ambiguous expressions of meaning, and students must tolerate higher levels of uncertainty and ambiguity. There is, however, as far as I can tell, no reason for the teacher in the former situation artificially to create a situation identical to the latter situation, especially if – as Finkbeiner and Nicol (2003) indicate – students resort to L1 for meaning anyway, particularly at the beginning of acquisition.

          7. Excellent posts, Robert!

            I was so excited with what I wrote in that new thread. I hope many people will read it and be shaking their heads in agreement.

            I felt like Brain from Pinky & the Brain when I told my wife in response to what I was doing last night: “trying to take over the world!” haha.

          8. I do believe that the old order is starting to crack. I can just hear Laurie addressing this. No doubt, ACTFL is feeling some serious pressure here.

            My caution, and this is something I have only realized during the course of the ACTFL thread and as a result of our direct participation in it, is that the people we are talking to are just now starting to understand what we have been saying all along.

            They are just now seeming to become aware of a point of view about teaching that they always thought was lightweight, something to toss off as flawed (TPRS) while they continued year after year to ignore the obvious freight train of success that has been roaring down the tracks in our classrooms, more every year, while they continued to speak in boring terms about boring teaching ideas in boring ways with boring people who talked out of boring mouths, basing their work on research that they never read and can’t even find when they need it, while watching their enrollments continue to dwindle in a sense of outrage as ours continue to expand rapidly.

            A good example of what is happening can be found in Robert’s post last night to Luann Smith, bless her heart. He dismantles her position:


            We should just probably cool it and let these people maybe shift their attention over to the much more positive thread started by Eric about what comprehensible input is.

            Just my opinion. But it seems fair to give these people time to think about what we are saying. It took me eight years to absorb this way of thinking about teaching after my first twenty-four years of being just like them as an AP French lang/lit teacher.

            If we all went over and commented on the new What is CI? thread, it would probably be the most professional thing. We have their attention now, so we don’t need to be so crazy about making sure we have their attention.

          9. That said, I am very curious to see what Arnold might respond to the latest barrage. For some of these folks, if they were to crack their minds open just a bit to actual Krashen instead of Krashen-as-they-want-him-to-be, there would be some very emotional reactions as they open up to the preposterous idea that language acquisition does not involve focusing on the language. It would blow entire lifetimes of work to accept that, and many of us have already done it, have already worked through it ourselves, so we know it ain’t easy. I’m talking about the guy who in his first post said that he “didn’t have a dog in this fight” but later shared that he works for ACTFL.


          10. The ACTFL thread has brought insights.

            I love how when we talk about the kids more and don’t make themes the center of our classes, it is so cool to see kids who are not typically the “smart” ones in the school flourish.

            We can take pride in our redefinition of what being smart even means in a foreign language classroom. We love to see kids with angry eyes and chains and tats sometimes become the stars of our classrooms. They love it too.

            One thing we haven’t talked about much is how the playing field is leveled for us too. When we use CI we get to teach as we wish, expressing ourselves in ways that reflect our own individual personalities. We are not slaves to a set curriculum, to a set of themes.

            As long as we talk to our students in the TL, we are doing our jobs, and their deeper minds will do the rest while they sleep, having heard and read enough of the TL in class to start building a foundation for real fluency.

            So a teacher exploring CI instruction needs to know that they don’t have to be a certain way. If they see themselves as not showy in the classroom, then they can teach in a reserved way without all the jumping around. If they want to jump, they can jump.

            As long as the CI is there, one need not be an actor. One can be who one wants. So when we establish meaning, we can just tell them what it means. we can sing it, we can gesture it, or we can dance it.

            Those in the Chicago War Room may remember how different each teacher was in Step 1. Some totally got into the gesturing, some spent ten minutes on one word and said it like 150 times but it didn’t get boring and then there was one whose style was to dance with arms outstretched, one arm pointing to the word on the board and the other pointing in the opposite direction for grace and balance. Was the instruction comprehensible? That’s all that counts.

            So it’s not just the kids who get to have their individual learning styles honored in this work.

            The reason I said that is because I was thinking how in ACTFL the playing field is not even for students, and not even they can argue that point, but it is not even for teachers either.

            There is a kind of cultish group of people who can really sling the research around who write on that list by first saying things like, “I wasn’t going to weigh in on this, but [now that you need me to] I will say the following.

            And then they say a bunch of stuff that sounds really impressive but I wonder how it translates from their hallowed heads down to the teacher in inner city Philadelphia who is just trying to get through class by reaching a few of her students.

            ACTFL seems to have this thing going on where there are good teachers and not so good teachers, as one of their members wrote at the beginning of the themes thread. The good ones probably go to the national ACTFL conference and look snooty, and the bad ones just stay at home and wish they didn’t work with the snooty one.

          11. Check out VanPatten’s recent work, which he mentioned in the videos. He shows that when language acquisition is defined as the ability to process input (rather than linguistic knowledge), then there is NO correlation to grammatical sensitivity. You see, grammatical sensitivity is a main part of the Modern Language Aptitude Test for “aptitude” and that is what researchers of the past have used to conclude that this “aptitude” plays a key role.

            From abstracts:

            “Our conclusion is that when instructed SLA is viewed as processing, variables such as explicit information and grammatical sensitivity may not play the same role as when instructed SLA is viewed as rule learning.”
            – VanPatten, 2013, The Modern Language Journal

            “Because our measure of aptitude as grammatical sensitivity did not emerge as a factor distinguishing the three groups from one another, we argue that this component of aptitude is not a factor in whether learners are able to reset parameters. We also found that all participants, regardless of group, demonstrated sensitivity to case-marking violations, suggesting that aptitude as grammatical sensitivity plays no role in the acquisition of underlying features related to case or to the surface-level markings of case in Japanese.” – VanPatten, 2014, Studies in SLA

            I started reading the 2nd article and VanPatten talks about the UNCONSCIOUS!

            “As learners (over time) process morphophonological units in the input, this processing feeds these internal mechanisms, and a L2 system is built unconsciously in the mind of the learner.”

  20. Disagreements can be positive, and usually are when we disagree with someone we respect. When I encounter someone who can not accept the idea that there may be a better way of teaching than the one they have invested years of their lives in perfecting, I pray that they will grow some more and discover that they themselves are far more than just a method and can not be defined as ” a traditional teacher”, “a communicative teacher” or “a TPRS teacher”.

  21. My first reply to the discussion is to Luann Smith. I’m replying to Deb Mol next. Then I will have a general post that, I hope, will help refocus the original discussion.


    I’ve been away from the thread for a few days. (Wow, a lot has gone on.) Had other responsibilities not intruded, I would have responded to this post earlier.

    Obviously we read from different perspectives. Could you give me evidence from the text (i.e. the various posts) how this thread has become a “witch hunt with ACTFL as the victim”? So far I have seen repeated requests for research. How does that constitute a witch hunt?

    In the 21st Century Skills World Languages Map, ACTFL (the co-producer of the document with the Partnership for 21st century skills) includes what appears to be an absolute statement. In the “Today” column, the phrase “use of thematic units and authentic resources” is contrasted with “using the textbook as the curriculum” under the “In the Past” heading. Mr. Herman’s question for research is a not unreasonable response to that statement. ACTFL appears (and there has so far been no official statement from ACTFL to the contrary) to dismiss all other organizing principles and materials. If there is no research showing that thematic units (however they are defined) are indeed the single best organizing principle, then the ACTFL position should be broadened to include other “best practices”. As far as I can see, no one has dismissed thematic units as being ineffective; they have simply questioned whether they are the most effective.

    So, I would appreciate it if you could show me with textual citations, where this has become a “witch hunt with ACTFL as the victim”.

    Oh, and while you are at it, could you also answer my other questions:
    1. What is your passion? I told you mine.
    2. What did you intend to imply with your adage of “figures don’t lie but liars figure”?
    3. Why are you not sharing your years of research and compiled statistics? I still think that you are being unnecessarily cruel to withhold them from people who are asking for them.
    Perhaps you missed the questions when I replied to your previous post.

    Thank you,

    1. ARGH! I wrote a pretty long post, but when I submitted it, I go the dreaded “Your account has been disabled” message. I definitely need to copy those before I submit so that I don’t lose them.

      1. Well, Robert, I just read your response to Debra on the ACTFL thread and I have to say that it is in my opinion the best single response on the entire thread. It is right to the point. Wow. Seriously, I think we can all go home now. So don’t worry about having lost to the disabling gremlin that other longer response you mentioned – this one, along with Eric’s very succinct point made next to yours, is just fantastic.

        1. Did anyone read Amber’s new thread on ACTFL about “building a language program”?
          She is basically asking why so many students drop FL class?
          Could it be because of inefficient methods? boring textbooks? a lack of sound
          FL pedagogy? students not feeling successful?

  22. ACTFL’s 21st Century Skills Map is so big and complex that people will pick and choose what they feel comfortable with, if they use it at all. Perhaps the most interesting part is the “Then and Now” part of the Introduction which Eric and Robert have pointed out to us. What ACTFL is pointing toward is where we find controversy with many.

    Partly it is a matter of exclusiveness, as Eric and others have reiterated. As Robert made obvious recently, if several options are equal then why are they not equally included? Partly it is a matter of definition. It has become clear through the approaching 90 posts that not only is there no research to date, there is not even a clear idea of what is meant by “thematic units.” What has been made clear to me is that it is not something connected with a textbook. Robert pointed out the contrast between Then (textbooks) and Now (thematic units).

    This is crucial. ACTFL has called for the end of certain characteristics of the the FL classroom:
    1. Students learned about the language (grammar)
    2. Coverage of a textbook
    3. Using the textbook as the curriculum
    4. Synthetic situations from textbook

    Thinking about these Pre-21st characteristics, I am not sure how strongly we can accuse ACTFL of having sold itself to the textbook companies. I think we need to see evidence of that.

    What ACTFL has done, in my view anyway, is to challenge the place of the textbook. Like the 90%+ statement, this list calls for an undermining of the textbook as the core of the class. I will be referencing it in the future.

    Given the lack of definition for thematic units, perhaps, in the short term anyway, it is up to us to define what we do thematically. I am not good at this. But perhaps, the theme of CWB something like “Everybody is important.” Is “Problem-solving” a theme? That takes place in every story. Also, a lot of the TPRS books could come under the themes of “Global Awareness” (from the Map) and Justice. And back to Eric’s point, could we not define stories as thematic organizing units?

    Further we could define important themes as worthy of sustained focus throughout the year and over a program of study. We could refer to recurring themes–like they come up in real life–rather than Quarter 1 themes and Quarter 2 themes.

    Since we are not necessarily sure what ACTFL is pointing us toward, let’s define what we mean. But since we are sure what they are directing us from: topical vocabulary and decontextualized structure (grammar), let refer to that as we refer to the 90%+ position statement.

    1. I am not suggesting the redefining of themes as a long term, best approach. It is only as a defensive measure against those who would try to use the Thematic Units against TPRS and other non-thematic approaches to TCI.

    2. Interesting ideas, Nathaniel. At least as far as CWB is concerned, I think you can use the College Board’s AP Global Themes: “Public and Private Identity”. As we learn about our students we perceive how their public identity coincides or diverges from their private identity (but only after we establish a relationship of trust so that they begin to reveal their private identity). If you have to include Essential/Enduring Questions, then you might do something something like “How do activities (sports, choir, band, etc.) express and shape identity?” “How do the perceptions and attitudes of others affect one’s public identity?”

      I rather imagine we could do something similar with almost everything we do. For example, I just started Anne Matava’s “Table Manners 2” story. It includes the vocabulary “scolds/yells at”, “You eat like an animal!” and “Finish it!” This can easily fit into the theme of “Families and Communities”. Students reflect on how their families are like or different from the family in the story. Essential/Enduring Questions: “How do eating habits reveal family connections?” “Who in your family is the disciplinarian (i.e. “scolds”)?” “What roles do various members of the family fulfill?”

      Does that sound nicely “academic”? And yet what we really are doing is tell an Anne Matava story and have fun with it.

      When my district adopted the GRR (Gradual Release of Responsibility) model and insisted that everyone in the district adopt this “new” “best practice” (which is essentially identical to both the traditional Five-Step Lesson Plan and Madeline Hunter), I quickly realized that I simply needed to adopt the terminology and keep doing what I was doing. Once I had that down I could turn in lesson plans that my then-principal thought were wonderful and be left alone. As others have pointed out before, we need to learn to speak the language of our administrators. I was fortunate in that my administrators recognized that there were other versions of this; being a very centralized district, however, they wanted everyone to use common terminology defined in the same way for all. It was a “practical” decision that I could live with.

      1. Oh, another “Essential/Enduring Question” for Private and Public Identity could be “What role do relationships and trust play in revealing one’s private identity?”

    3. Thank you for this post, Nathaniel. I don’t think ACTFL is the enemy some are making them out to be, and I don’t think they view TPRS as their enemy, and they certainly don’t view comprehensible input as their enemy. Their “official stance” on CI, in their own words, is that teachers should:

      provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals; and
      conduct comprehension checks to ensure understanding

      With their 90% statement, they go out of their way to insist that the input is comprehensible, and even insist that we ensure understanding with comprehension checks rather than just assume we are being comprehensible as we blabber on. They really care that we are providing input, and they really care that the input is comprehensible. In this respect, we are on the same team. In terms of textbooks, semantically-related vocab list, and topical units, we are all on the same team.

      In terms of themes, I don’t think we are actually very far apart either. Jason Fritze has been quoted several times here as saying you have to talk about something. If you go into some of my colleagues’ classrooms, however, you will realize this is not the case. They follow the textbook and don’t talk about anything, except verb conjugations and noun/adjective agreement. When ACTFL says we use themes (instead of textbooks), I don’t think it needs to go any further than this. I teach at an IB school, and from time to time lead workshops in the region/state for other IB teachers. IB is all about thematic units (in the Carrie Toth sense, not the textbook sense). The discussion I have with teachers as we look at creating their units is very often exactly the same: E to IE stem changing verbs is not a theme or a unit. Food is not a theme or a unit. You would be surprised at how many teachers simply don’t talk about anything in their classes. They just learn how to conjugate, and learn a long list of related nouns, and can’t envision things being any different.

      ACTFL’s insistence on themes, to me at least, is all about using the language to talk about something, rather than using L1 to talk about the L2. This is exactly what we do, and we don’t even have to get defensive about it or bend over backwards to prove we are doing it. We are picking a fight that needn’t exist. Eric asks if a story can be a unit theme. Of course it can! We are using the language to talk about something meaningful. That is exactly what they want from a theme, and exactly what we are doing. Is it helpful for us to package it in the sorts of language and questions Robert lists? Sure, if only because it shows people unfamiliar with SLA what sorts of awesome things we are doing in our classes. Jumping through hoops for admins will always be part of our jobs, and that is hardly a cumbersome hoop to jump through.

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