Becoming Whole – 1

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43 thoughts on “Becoming Whole – 1”

  1. I just typed about half a novel venting about the above only to get an error message when trying to submit my post. Hopefully, I can channel that same outrage once more.
    So, I was reading your wonderful post, nodding my head at everything you said about why and how most of us here became teachers in the first place.
    Then I get to the bottom with that letter from the “supervisor” (a word that I cannot bring myself to type would be more fitting here, though). I felt like had been punched in the gut. How can this wonderful colleague of ours go on doing what he/she knows is best for his/her students knowing what he/she is up against – a person who has no clue how true, real-life language should be taught/acquired. At least my chairman knows that his knowledge of the intricacies of TCI is limited but he is willing to learn about and along with me because he also knows that is a far more superior way for anybody to learn than anything else that is out there. What can we do to help this colleague? I am so mad/sad right now. We all know how hard it is to forge ahead against the tide, sometimes it must be all but impossible, especially if our livelihoods are threatened because we don’t want to/ cannot play the game that happens to be popular in that particular district/department?
    Please, please, whoever you are, there must be a way for you to keep doing what you are doing, which is the right thing while at the same time making this horse’s ass (I apologize to all horses) think that you are taking his/her words of “wisdom” into account. I hope you know that you are right and they are WRONG!!!!

    1. Brigitte I have lost so much to error messages. It gets my pulse up to 165 in half a second when I realize what happened. Now, I try to remember to write in notepad.

      I hope what I wrote isn’t over the top. But I am tired of that feeling of having to censor my thoughts and what I say. Can you imagine how some educators would react to the above? Yes, this community must stay private.

      1. Yes, I can but NO I don’t want to imagine it. It took me a while to get that trusting feeling but now I have it and it does feel good. Every once in a while we need a place to vent and I am glad that yours is it – THE place, I mean. I know that I am among like-minded individuals here. However, it is just as important to know that nobody will hold back with their honest opinion when warranted and necessary. Making this blog private showed a lot of in- and foresight on your part.

  2. Brigitte and Ben, thank you so much for this post. It was I who got the above evaluation…She stayed for all of five minutes and then shot this off to me. It felt like a punch in the gut, to be honest. I sent an email to my supervisor thanking her for her feedback and inviting her to stay longer than five minutes, please feel free to watch a whole class! And please come see me in more than just the one class! (she only stops by this one 5th grade group and has never seen me with any other groups) I also requested that we have a department-wide conversation re: our expectations of our kids with regard to their output. I actually think that this could be the seed from which our program grows stronger. We are a charter school with a focus on language learning and the Principal is really CI-friendly. Just not a whole lot of understanding of how L2 is acquired.
    Thanks for the kind words– it eases the blow! But I am determined to take this and use it to make the school stronger. Our kids deserve it!

    1. Kate, kudos to you for hanging in there. I’m afraid my devious mind would prompt me to insist that all conversations with and in the presence of this supervisor be conducted in complete sentences only – until someone finally comments that we don’t talk that way in everyday conversation. Point made.

  3. Wow, with your kind of determination you’re bound to succeed. Good luck to you. Now it doesn’t sound all that hopeless after all – at least you have some people in your school in your corner – that’s half the battle right there. Actually, it doesn’t even sound like it’s going to be much of a battle at all. All you have to do is show them how it’s done and how much your kids love the process (as I am sure they are). Please keep us posted though, I’m curious how it plays out. Majorly rooting for you!!!!

  4. Anyone have any advice on how to approach the situation? Like I said, our school is dedicated to language learning so the potential here is HUGE. But how to best go about educating supervisors about L2 acquisition? Anyone have any experience with this? And how do people cope who are in schools/departments who might not embrace CI/TPRS, etc? I want to make our program the best it can possibly be- our kids deserve it.

    1. I’m with you Kate. My district is very dedicated to language learning as well. Our superintendent thinks FL should be part of the core curriculum. However, the grammar/textbook teachers have dominated this district for years. In fact……hmm…. before I say this, is there anybody in Ohio on this blog? Very important for me to ask this now before I say what I’m going to say.

      But, anyways….I’m pretty sure that these teachers have the district curriculum director in their pocket, but she could probably easily be swayed if I managed to get enough research and talking points to her and the superintendent. I already have my principal on board with TPRS. He loves what he’s seen when observing me. I kind of feel like I’m racing against the clock in my district because at the high school they are pushing for common assessment with all of the teachers and it’s just a matter of time until that trickles down into the middle school, especially since we have Spanish classes for high school credit here. I would like to reach out to administration before its too late.

      1. The trickle down of grammar based assessment from high school teachers can get really ugly. And bad for the kids. When in middle school, I sent talented (proven by test scores) level 1’s to level 2 at Dakota Ridge High or to the IB program at Lakewood High School. Within months, even as early as the semester, those same talented kids, so funny and creative with language, would drop, begin hating it, and the AP program at Dakota never did take form. Hopefully this doesn’t happen there with you. Many middle school teachers have experienced this smashing of 8th graders’ spirits when they get to high school. And it has likewise occurred for a lot of TPRS trained kids when they got to college from TPRS based high school programs. Who is going to out those teachers if not us? It’s ugly.

  5. Kate as I said in an email, the person we need is Diana Noonan. I have seen her exchange verbal punches with many people over the years. She gives as good as she gets. I’ve not seen a better fighter, and the fact that she is in charge of 100 teachers in a major metro district makes it all the more impressive. SHE is the one to in some way get us the information we need in general for own local actions and for what you need now. How did it go today, by the way? We have Krashen coming in next week, but Diana does check in here from time to time. She might read all this over the weekend. But her voice in some kind of standardized, generalized form here can probably furnish us with what we need to continue educating people like Kate’s supervisor. There are lots of blog entries back to 2007 on this topic, as well, but they are hard to find. There is that text on this site under “Storytelling” called “Thoughts about Pacing Guides” which you might draw from. We’ll get ‘er done!

  6. Kate,

    How approachable is your administrator? My initial reaction would be to offer an explanation of why my kids respond the way they do and why it’s appropriate given how language is acquired. I might send an e-mail that starts like this:

    Dr./Mr./Mrs. Administrator,

    I am writing in response to your observations on [date]. I would like the opportunity to share with you what I have recently (even if you’ve been doing this forever, it gives him/her an excuse for not already knowing the research) discovered regarding second language acquisition. I would really like to hear your thoughts and input (this is just lip service). Thank you for your time and consideration in the matter (they like to feel important).

    Very Respectfully, (again, they like to feel important)
    Mrs./Ms./Miss Marquez

    Good luck!

  7. The big thing is to copy it over to their bosses and to folks who already get it. Then the spotlight suddenly turns back onto them. Educating administrators about Krashen could be a full time job. This is an excellent idea, Andrea!

  8. This is a great post, some beautiful points made here.

    “I want to undo all the pain caused in these kids when they quickly draw the conclusion that they are bad at languages, when they are only bad at grammar.”

    That is why we are all here, doing TPRS, learning more about real language acquisition, bettering ourselves.

    The Exploratory Spanish program at our middle school is a new program, only in it’s second year. The 3 Spanish teachers at our school (myself and two other brand new, now 2nd year teachers) all jumped in this together and kind of developed this program as we went along as there was no curriculum or anything. We were thrown into this new program last year as 1st year teachers and we kind of freaked out, not knowing what to do without a curriculum or pacing guide, but after a while we realized how beautiful it was having the freedom to do whatever the hell we want. Now, this year, doing whatever the hell I want means doing a CI, story-based, input-based approach. My principal loves it. I even showed him some of the DPS Appendix stuff and I stressed to him that Colorado is on the cutting edge of this foreign language teaching stuff. I have an ally in him.

    I’ve been thinking about, since the Exploratory program here is new, the community doesn’t know much about it, and I feel I’m doing a great job with the program this year with TPRS. Oh, anyways, because of all of that I’ve been thinking about inviting a writer from the city’s newspaper to come observe and do a story. Show parents and community members what’s going on in this program and get some PR. Sound like a good idea? Maybe even do a little interview with the reporter and get some good quotes (sound bites) thrown in the newspaper about how languages are learned and how my class mimicks the experience of learning our first language.

    So if anybody wants to share some quotes to throw in, please send them my way so I am equipped to show the community that MY way is THE way to teach languages, not the way of the book/grammar-based teachers. I will of course not say that though, I don’t want a battle on my hands.

    1. Just as a baby hears the first language for tens of thousands of hours before speaking, second-language learners need to receive a flood of input before they can produce a trickle of output. [based on a quote Jason Fritze has]

      “One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.”
      ~ Hart Crane [American poet]

      Mothers do it right. They don’t tell their children about the language, they use the language to tell their children about the world. [I just made that up]

    2. Looking at the week after next for an observation from the newspaper. She’s excited about coming in, she hasn’t taken Spanish in 8 years.

      Soooooooo……………..if anybody here would be so kind I could use a kickass, simple script for this observation. I really need to “sell” this program. By the time this observation happens, we’re looking at about 3 weeks of being in my class. So simple, but effective and impressive!

        1. Ahhh, that’s right, that’s the week of Valentine’s Day. hmmmm….

          I’ll have to check if I have that. Is it pretty simple but phenomenal enough for the newspaper?

          1. Grant Boulanger

            the reporter won’t care what language you’re teaching. they’ll notice engaged, smiling, comprehending, participating, happy kids.

            When the reporter asks you to tell her/him about your method, what will be your one sentence answer?

          2. ummmmmm……..uh………hmmmmmmmmm……..I’m still fishing for that answer. I know that there will be some questions and the article will need to write some background information into the story, not just her observations, so I need some good stuff. I must admit that I need to get better at articulating what this method is about, what it entails, why it’s the best method, etc. I know all of this in my heart but I’m not very good at putting it into words.

          3. A couple talking points for you Chris:

            “I aim to communicate with students IN [insert language here], not ABOUT [insert language here].”

            “I want my students to hear and see the language as much as possible, so I’m going to speak to them and expose them to literature in [insert language here]”

            “We learn languages by using them, not by analyzing them”

          4. Jim Tripp wrote, “We learn languages by using them, not by analyzing them”

            “This is how acquiring a language makes a foreign language course different from other courses. To teach math, I talk about math in English; to teach science, I talk about science in English; to teach art, I talk about art in English; to teach history, I talk about history in English; but to teach [insert language here] so that students acquire it, I have to talk about math, science, art, history and everything else in [insert language here]. Unfortunately, for many years – including when you and I were in school – the language-teaching community didn’t have the research that shows us this is the way it works.”

          5. Good point about the difference between learning and learning about. I would add that learning about art and actually doing art are also two different things; music could be the same way: theory plus technique plus practice.

          6. And just as there are many people who speak a language without knowing grammar, there are also many people who sing and play an instrument without knowing a pentatonic from a subdominant or a breve from a hemidemisemiquaver.

            And if we want to push the analogy a little further, there are many people who sing and play very well without reading a note of music just as there are many people who speak a language without being able to read a word.

            So just how explicit does that theory/grammar have to be in the early stages of teaching?

  9. Ben- my eval got cancelled due to a behavior issue that my principal had to deal with asap. It’s been postponed but not rescheduled yet– I will definitely keep you posted and in the meantime look up the “Thoughts About Pacing Guides”. And I would love to know what advice Diana Noonan might have. Get ‘er done? Oh, indeed. I am on fire!

    Chris- It sounds like you and I are in a similar situation! A school/district dedicated to FL learning with supportive principals but a history of grammar-focused instruction. It’s a great place to start, right? We just have scrape out the old, crusty notions of how things “should” be and show admin and the community how much our students sparkle with CI/TPRS. I love your PR idea, especially since your principal sounds so supportive.

    Andrea- thanks so much for the email idea! I already suggested to my supervisor that a meeting focused on refining our program objectives re: output would be a good idea but I will send another and (respectfully) offer to share what I “recently” learned about L2 acquisition.

    1. Kate I was hoping that eval would get put off to give you time to reload. I invite all who own guns to contribute to giving Kate some ammo here in the comment fields of this thread below.

      No big bullets – we can’t overload the people (whose job it is to know this stuff) with too much information. Kate keep pestering us until you get what you need for that meeting. There are entire blog posts on this but I can’t find them.

      Chris you seem more predisposed to curb your tongue than I have historically been. With my scars still healing from the Jeffco blowup over a year ago now, I am more careful but am resigned to never being able to drop the bitchy edge against those whom I consider to be doing actual harm to our children.

      But you can do it, you young ones who don’t have the same kind of bitterness we old ones have, a bitterness caused by a kind of unintentional oppression by the 4%er grammar/book based teachers who have ruled schools for so long and only now, because of people like Diana, are starting to be perceived as wearing no clothes.

      Of course the best avertissement (I use the French term on purpose because it carries the meaning of a “warning” with it) is the classroom that is full of happy and laughing faces. That’s kind of hard to argue with. Another convincing argument is the absence of any discipline problems, as the constant CI and the strong rules (I am very proud of those rules – they took me a decade to create).

      Yet another good argument that we don’t yet have numbers on is that of student retention. Historically, in traditional programs we see this kind of massive attrition from levels 1 to 4:

      level 1 to level 2 – 74% sign up for level 2, generally because they have to in terms of what is required for college or by the school district for graduation.
      level 2 to level 3 – now 36% of the level 1 kide remain.
      level 3 to level 4 – only 4% of the kids from level 1 remain. (I think that is why we call them 4%ers).

      That is an attrition rate of 96%. If it were a business, the people running the school and the teachers would be fired. Kate tell your supervisor that. And then tell him/her that over the past ten years, as long as the methodology is one of comprehensible input, we see, but do not have data for (we hope to soon), the much higher retention rates. It’s not even close. Ironically, the lack of date on this topic is not due to any lack of effort on our part, but rather to the fact that most of the time CI and traditional methods are mixed – kids go from teacher to teacher – and the strong numbers we know are there can’t be tracked.

      I have enough of a bitchy edge for all of us, so you guys can do the professional thing of holding back from putting your head down, making a gutteral noise, and start hitting and biting people. Kate I love the way you are handling this, especially when you said “I actually think that this could be the seed from which our program grows stronger.” Had I received an email from someone who was that full of misinformation, I don’t know what I would have done. We had to box in military high school and I just can’t lay down the gloves. What can I say?

      Don’t hurt children is and has been my mantra and is what fuels me, to add a point to my bio of today and Sabrina it is so kind of you to acknowledge it, since it was a little out there and since I am an insecure person. As we build trust here, we will become better teachers. No growth without trust. That Laurie Clarcq is in this group is the most important thing of all to me. When you meet Laurie you will know exactly why I say that. There is only one Laurie Clarcq.

      1. A few years ago I did my own analysis. I accounted for all of the following:
        1. Students who started German 1 as sophomores or juniors (and therefore could not complete a four-year program)
        2. Students who transferred out of the district
        3. Students who transferred schools within the district
        4. Students who went to continuation school
        5. Students still at the school who chose not to continue, including students who, for a variety of reasons, took a one-year break and returned for level 3.

        Over four years – from Level 1 Day 1 to Level 4 Day 180 – I had a retention rate of 70% with students who could have completed a four-year program. I also find it interesting that students would return for a third year after a year off (usually because they had failed other classes and had to make up credits so didn’t have room for German in their schedule).

        1. One more thing . . .

          This school year the German program turned away enough students to fill two more sections of German 1. There was no teacher, so the students were told they could not take German. Many of them chose to wait a year so they can have German for at least three years. In all, we could have had eight sections of German instead of five if we had had another teacher.

  10. Sabrina Janczak

    Thank you Ben for that incredibly touching bio. Le Petit Prince has been one of my favorite stories since I first read it a long time ago. I have the CD version in my car and I secretely listen to it on special occasions, when I am mad or angry and in need of a retreat. I think the pilot has a deep yearning to understand and connect emotionally with this little guy, just as we have a deep yearning to connect with our kids, and perhaps with our colleagues and other grown ups in general. It is hard to connect with grown ups who don’ t speak the same language ( language of patience, language of humility in front of the daunting task of teaching , and language of love for the kids whom we teach to and are so lost in this grown up world which demands so much out of them, and has so little to offer in return). Call me an idealist, or an anarchist or a little of both. We ( CI teachers) are in the minority and it is hard to always be the underdog, but we must keep on fighting for what we believe in, hoping that one day the wind will turn in our direction . Kate, does your administrator speak another language? If the answer is yes, how did he/she acquire it? That would have been a candid question I would have asked my administator, all in due respect for the job he/she is trying to do but to try and engage/stir up some thoughts in that person’s mind? It is hard and I am sorry you had to go through this . I dread my own evaluation, and I wish I could meet Diana Noonan! Hang in there, and thank you Ben for this wonderful outlet where we can share and vent!

  11. Thanks for the bio Ben. Thanks for the blog. Don’t see you as a mercenary, but even if you were, history gives credit to mercenaries for playing a key role in the American Revolution. And what we are doing is certainly revolutionary in the eyes of some of our peers…

    Kate, don’t know your administrators’ learning theory philosophies, but if they side with cognitive over behaviorists, then traditional methods don’t stand a chance over CI and acquisition theory. Grad schools are pushing cognitive/acquisition theory over traditional/behaviorist approaches. Krashen’s theories are specifically lauded as meshing with the cognitive approach. Several texts show side by side comparisons of traditional and acquisitional approaches and explicit grammar, worksheet drills, etc. are no longer best practices.

    According to the charts in current methods and linguistics texts, going traditional would be like using the DON’T column as your lesson plan. Following CI/Krashen theories is the DO column and corresponds to cognitive approaches in the spirit of Chomsky and Vygotsky. Surely your administrators are familiar with those names and would encourage anything that aligns with them, and discourage anything (traditional) that is not.

    Good luck Kate. Best Practices are on your side and not with the traditional/19th century approach.

    1. Dude. This is so encouraging to read, so to the point. I am going to make it into a time stamped post so every few months we can read it again. I mean, I’m not in touch with what is happening in grad schools, but I assumed it wasn’t much. In fact, we have a really gifted practicum student from Metro State University here in Denver who is in our building. She went to a prestigious private college in Iowa and never heard of Krashen in her methods classes. I have assumed over the years that, in spite of my love, especially, for Vygotsky, that he and Krashen were just weirdos like Carl Jung. This is so cool to read. Expect to read it every few months here. Thank you, Ardythe!

  12. Kate
    Find/download the administrator’s checklist from Bryce’s web site, put it on a clip board and hang it by the front door. When the admin comes back in, give it to him/her, and just keep teaching. The checklist a great educational took for admins who know zippo about language aquisition.
    Go get ’em!

  13. Kate, a couple things come to my mind as I am reading all these great comments.

    First, when you are with your students and you ask a question, let’s say you just said, “The boy flies to the moon” and you ask “Where did the boy fly?”
    By this time of the year, many will say “moon”. But surely you’ll have kids who just naturally respond “to the moon”. So, take a moment every so often to remind them that “Moon” “To the moon” and “He flies to the moon” are all correct answers. Then, slip it in there that longer answers suggests more acquisition has taken place. let the kids know that your expectation is that eventually they be able to produce the whole sentence but without it being a contest or a pressure situation.

    to your administrator, you call it allowing for ‘differentiated responses’. Forcing output doesn’t lead to better output. so, allowing them to answer the way they will and letting them know the path to success gives them the tools they need to get on that path at their own pace.

    to Ben’s comments above:
    “the classroom that is full of happy and laughing faces”
    “the absence of any discipline problems”

    these two things are HUGER than HUGE.

    Those of us who have figured out that discipline is the key are living in classrooms with happy, laughing faces and we have few to no discipline problems. Principals, don’t forget, are also under immense pressure to reduce the number of referrals.

    And one more point. I teach 8th grade. A new program as well. I recently requested and received from the HS registrar’s office the enrollment for the last three 4-year cycles. I think Ben’s comment about the 4%ers is off by a bit. It’s the 4%ers who continue on to actually _learn to speak the language_. But not all of them from the level 4s and 5s do.
    There’s a guy, DeMado ( that shows a graphic, but I can’t tell where he gets the data from. but my school’s data, while it’s not all parsed like Robert’s, CLEARLY shows less than 12% retention over four years. When broken down by gender and ethnicity it’s even more damning. If you can get this data from the HS registrar’s office you can demonstrate that what’s been happening isn’t working. Coupled with you routinely sending off 95% of your kids happy, excited and competent… well, in the long-term it’s in the bag.

    It’s a question of educational equity. No kid in this day and age will be anything without a college degree. All colleges (4 year institutions) require two yrs but many (all privates, pretty much) require 4 years. So, teaching in this way essentially puts the language department in charge of determining who gets to enter high caliber four year programs. And guess who those kids are – Mostly white, mostly female, mostly already high achieving students. And that is not only disgusting, it’s unethical.

    1. I checked with my students this past week (it’s registration time again). With their self-reporting (I assume an ‘error rate’ in this reporting to me), easily 90% of my students are going on to Level III from my three sections of Level II. This is higher than in the past. I am hopeful for the future. I hope that more ‘teachers’ see the light. I am thankful to have Grant in my District!

  14. I am also saddened to see that probably none of my African American male students will make it to my Spanish IV/college course next year. I had a solid number in Spanish II last year. I was hopeful that they would make it to IV.

  15. Ben, wow, thanks you for the heartfelt bio.

    I think that Brian would agree with me that what you write here is pure “Quality” (that’s a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance reference, a book I’ve been greatly enjoying since Brian recommended it a few months ago).

    Re teaching adults vs kids, I wonder if the real dichotomy isn’t rather working with students in a compulsory setting vs a non-compulsory setting. Of course, I doubt any of us really know how the kid who is not forced to be in our class (for some reason or another) would act. I say (tongue in cheek), compulsory language class for all adults, that will control the study a bit.

  16. “They have too many classes in which they can’t laugh and be kids.”

    This has been on my mind a lot lately, especially in our business-model, New Tech school. One day last week, one class told me that “this is the only class where we can be ourselves.” And I must admit, it is about the only place in the school where I can be myself as well.

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