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Ben Slavic

Ohio May Have a Problem

I got this from Chris today:
Ohio is currently in the process of revising and rolling out new, revised Foreign Language Standards.  Currently, I’d say they align fairly well with ACTFL’s 5 Cs.  I emailed and asked the World Language Consultant in the Ohio Dept. of Education about the standards and how friendly they will be to TPRSers.  I mentioned how we don’t believe in forcing output, especially in the beginning phases of language acquisition and I said that I hope the new standards will not be detrimental to teachers whose teaching aligns with Krashen.  Here is his response:
Thanks  for your message and your interest in Ohio’s next iteration of World Language content standards.
 To answer your question, the new standards will be quite friendly to teachers who use a variety of communicative methodologies, including those who use TPRS. However, they will thwart those who would misinterpret  Krashen’s theory and message by designating input as the be all and end all in their classrooms. While input is critical, we must also look to others like Swain and Long for other critical communicative components like comprehensible output and negotiation of meaning. Our revised standards, like the national standards and those of the other 49 states, seek to strike a balanced approach to communicative, performance-based teaching and learning.
Chris again:
What do you make of this?  Does this sound “good” or is there need for concern here in the Buckeye State?  If you have the time or interest to check it out, here is a link to the Dept of Education’s site with information on the new standards:
My own opiniated response:
Chris next time don’t identify yourself as pro-TPRS. That sparked this guy’s ire and condescension. But the much larger point you make is really serious. 90% use of target language in the classroom, the very position statement of ACTFL, clearly implies, since the kids don’t know the language yet, that the instructor would be the one to use the TL 90% of the time. Do the math. Also this guy doesn’t really get Krashen’s ideas about the natural emergence of language and how by not forcing output early we get, and have seen all over the place now in our classrooms, tons of naturally emergent output later. This guy doesn’t get Krashen, and if people who think like him are in charge of Ohio, then YES, there is ample reason to be concerned for the Buckeye State. 
Note in particular the tone of the response. He doesn’t like you. He knows better than you. If you are right, then he is wrong. And how can he be wrong? He works for the Ohio State Department of Education, right? The thing is, this kind of “see only what you want to see” is what we will get in some states if the wrong people (those who don’t really get (a) the national standards and (b) how people acquire languages) are in charge, then each state will align not with national standards but rather with the think-speak of those sitting at the desks in your state’s dep’t. of education cubicles.
I say Harrell writes a letter to this dude, we all get a copy here, and send it off as a mass email. This cowboy needs to be jammed. In the roller derby sense. Robert, use this text from Inga, which I read tonite from Grant:
“To the man who has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” -Mark Twain
As applied to traditional language teaching:
man = traditional language teacher
 hammer = explicit grammar lessons/text book/conjugation charts/rules
 problem = 96% of language students
 nail = improper conjugation/lack of agreement in gender or number/missing accent marks (and the list goes on) (it’s quite a nail…)


  • Dori V.
    December 6, 2011

    I agree with your assessment of the situation here, especially with the choice of the verb “thwart,” as though TPRSers are subversively trying to undermine world language education. I had to read that part twice because I was sure I’d misread. I also get concerned with his use of the term “performance-based” because when people don’t understand comprehensible input, they forget about the all-important interpretive standard and go straight for presentational, so that “performance-based” means speak and write, neglecting read and listen. I can tell you from personal experience that as a French teacher adopting a child in Guatemala, I could make myself understood in Spanish (thanks to Fluency Fast classes) but I had a hard time understanding what was said back to me and then responding appropriately. Not so “performance-based.” Hope this guy gets downsized.

  • Jody
    December 6, 2011

    “a balanced approach to communicative, performance-based teaching and learning” = gag me
    BTW- in TPRS and the CI methods that “we” use, negotiation of meaning by the instructor and student are constant:
    Teacher asks question. Students answers correctly. Teacher checks for comprehension anyway. Student answers confirming comprehension.
    Teacher asks question. Student gives sign for “low/no comprehension”. Teacher modifies speech, gestures, explains, clarifies, etc. to increase student comprehension. Student responds. Teacher checks for comprehension.
    Teacher asks question. Student responds with incomprehensible or incorrect answer. Teacher uses variety of “meaning-centered” responses to student to increase their comprehension and give them more input.
    TPRS/CI methods depend on some sort of “output” from student to continue conversation–or target language would just be noise from the teacher. Output from student stimulates the next Input from teacher which leads to output from student, etc. It’s called a conversation. By listening to the output from the student, I (teacher) know how to modify/engineer the next input to guarantee best comprehension scenario. If not, what’s the point?
    There is a complete paradigm disconnect between them and us in my opinion. Both sides hear the same information and interpret it correctly within their paradigms. For instance, I have observed (on a daily basis in my shared classroom) a teacher who uses the 90% target language goal. Unfortunately, students comprehend almost nothing except for the very top kids and they miss a ton of stuff–but she’s using the TL.
    I also notice that most trad teachers believe that they are completely following the ACTFL standards. They interpret the meaning of those standards very differently than we do and will argue their interpretation to the death.
    Paradigm difference: input leads to output or output leads to output? Huge difference. I have a difficult time arguing the standards or anything else when the philosophical foundation of how language is acquired is so different between camps. It seems like a waste of time to me.

  • Robert Harrell
    December 6, 2011

    I have to agree with Jody. Most programs ignore the importance of the conversation, i.e. the interpersonal component.
    I also question whether Chris’s correspondent understands Krashen. From what I have read and heard, Krashen is not against output, nor does he consider it unimportant. He is against forced output – and that is a significant difference.
    Recently I came across a TED Talk that provides, among other things, a time-lapse audio of the presenter’s son transitioning from saying “gaga” to saying “water”. Imagine if the poor kid had had to wait until he said “water” perfectly to get that first drink. The comments about modifying language are also significant for us as classroom teachers. The presenter points out that it was when the caretaker’s speech “dipped” to its simplest form that utterances (output) were elicited from the child. (Voluntary utterances, btw.) I’m sure this is what Krashen is going for when he talks about “transparency”. I think the first half of the speech is most relevant for us as foreign language teachers.
    Here are the URLs:

  • December 6, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this video. I also found it interesting that it mentioned how certain words are associated with a location or an experience. I starting thinking of ways to get these locations and experiences into the classroom. Great video!

  • Grant Boulanger
    December 6, 2011

    Robert, I also saw this TED talk recently and it blew me away.
    The particular detail you mention – the caretaker “dipping” to maximize the comprehensibility and to model the correct form really resonated with me. That’s something we need to flesh out here. I need to watch it again, but I recall he said that there was a spike in the dipping right before the child started to audibly approximate the correct form .
    What does that look like in a beginning TCI classroom? Or, perhaps more appropriately, in a year 2 classroom when real language is beginning to blossom? I feel confident that a camera would also catch us dipping.

  • Laurie
    December 7, 2011

    Dear Jody,
    Your piece above is STARTLINGLY BEAUTIFUL AND ACCURATE!! May I quote you? You so get the CI scepter for this one.
    with love,

  • Chris
    January 3, 2012

    I’m pasting a link that has a ppt on the new standards here in Ohio, a draft of the standards and a SURVEY to be filled out after looking at the standards.
    This could be a chance for some of the the brightest people involved in TPRS to help us out here in Ohio.

    • Chris
      January 3, 2012

      Sorry, been busy with family and trying to take it easy. I’ve been lurking and reading all of the blog posts but haven’t found the time to comment much, even though there have been A LOT of posts that I’ve wanted to join in.

  • January 4, 2012

    Chris, do you need action from us on this? And if so, what are some “text bites” that you’d like in the comments? I started the survey, but the important part seems to me to be the “comments on strengths and weaknesses.”
    Without even getting into the language of the proposed standards or whether I could possibly agree with them, the first thing I can say is that there are too many! Our English standards here in Anchorage suffer from the same issue, and we’re trying to cut them into manageable pieces (the group is; I’m staying out of it for once). There is just too much there for teachers to be aiming at. We’re finally realizing that we need to get more global, just as these standards need. It seems to me that the first list they offer (before stating the standards) would have been plenty. Like most things done by committee, the written piece has been honed perfectly, but everything in the world is in there, and it becomes a totally urealistic document for any teacher, parent or student to really use. I fear that there is no help or comment of a reasonable nature (in my case, yelling, “STOP!!”) that can halt this. It’s like they asked what food is nutritious for children and then started listing every food from every culture, instead of offering the food pyramid and giving some hints on how to use it. I was thinking our state standards were too bare, but at least they’re manageable as a list:
    So give us some guidance. I was able to open the survey, start it, and then jump out before the end. I assume that keeps me from having my comments recorded…hope so! The end date on the survey is either the 6th or the 9th of this month, so if you want action, it is necessary now.

    • January 4, 2012

      I was just looking through them to realize that they’ve done an overview, and then they have – samples? – of the activities that could help show standards are being met. It doesn’t say that, though, and there are very high expectations. ACTFL standards say that students aren’t able to defend an opinion or describe at length until they are Advanced-level proficiency. Are students in a K-12 sequence in Ohio coming out at Advanced levels of proficiency? Do they expect that sequence to be typical? Or are the kids usually in the standard 9-12 language classes? In that case, could they really write and perform an original song, poem, or play for “audiences near and far”? Does that mean a TPRS story for those in the classroom? (doable) or do they mean a real play, on stage (and so on).
      That’s just one little example of what bothers me in the document, not even to get into it. I am so glad I’m not trying to write standards. It is a job for people much brighter and on-task than I am.

    • Chris
      January 4, 2012

      Hi Michele,
      I’m not sure of what types of “text bites” could be used to argue our point. I’m very new at TPRS and the research behind TPRS which is why I’m coming here for help because I probably wouldn’t be able to do a very good job of defending TPRS against the Ohio Dept. of Education.


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