Report from the Field – Ben Slavic

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



30 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Ben Slavic”

  1. The AP exam measures high-level thinking skills (find the main idea, author’s intent, etc.) AND it measures proficiency. You need to be much more than fluent in the language to do well. Just like the SAT. Look at how many high schoolers don’t ace the English SAT.

    We ought to just get some ACTFL-hired OPI testers. . . the OPI is the best thing I’ve seen to measure interpersonal communication. I am critical of it though. It is much heavier on the output side than the input side. The interviewer does most of the questioning and the interviewee is supposed to do the majority of the talking. So long as the topics have been practiced, which many have, and especially since the one being interviewed can drive the conversation to a degree in the direction of rehearsed themes, it can overestimate true proficiency, IMO.

  2. I would question the interview format itself. It assumes that one person is better, more accomplished than the other one. This is not a good format for communication. The person being interview presents as needing something. In our work, we try to destroy that idea of the teacher being somehow superior than the pathetic little children trying to gain our approval. That is 19th century stuff. Now, we have learned to work with our students, shoulder to shoulder, to produce things that are interesting to talk about. This is social justice at work in the real way in our classrooms. We lead the discussion because we happen to have more experience with the language. No one student dominates the classroom process because we have shown them that they all can learn a language in our classrooms. Why, then, should we present as needy to someone superior to ourselves? Not every person wants a professional label. The person teaching with love and compassion may speak the language at a far lower level than someone else, and yet be able to impart so much more, not because they know more, but because they are showing up with their students as fully human. They impart information to their students that is far superior to mere knowledge; they impart to all of their students that they can do it, that they are just fine the way they are, that they are worthy of receiving love and approval from others not because they are smart but because they exist, that the world as it appears to them in the microcosm of the classroom exists for them as well as the superstars. This gives children hope that they are worth something and can succeed in life. Is that not what education is supposed to be? A teacher of AP Physics may not be able to impart that to children; it is a limitation of the subject matter they teach. But, because of the way the brain works with languages, since it is wired to learn it if it just hears it enough, we can impart the language to ALL children – their wiring allows it!

    1. Here’s the ACTFL definition of “proficiency” from the Performance Descriptor document:

      “Proficiency is the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non- rehearsed context and in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the language. Proficiency demonstrates what a language user is able to do regardless of where, when or how the language was acquired. The demonstration is independent of how the language was learned; the context may or may not be familiar; the evaluation of proficiency is not limited to the content of a particular curriculum that has been taught and learned.”

      How many FL programs teach for proficiency? How many assess proficiency?

      I want to write ACTFL. Can anyone tell me where to go to do that? I’ve seen the ACTFL community discussion. . .

      In the ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map (p.4) it says this about Today: “Use of thematic units and authentic resources.”

      I want to ask:

      1) Why does ACTFL think instruction should be theme-based? What is their rationale? Where’s the research that teaching in themes is more effective than a syllabus organized by structures, functions, situations, tasks, or (in our case) stories?

      Themes mean:
      -usually vertical instruction -> Interference theory
      -Lots of low-frequency

      2) Why does ACTFL think authentic materials should be used in instruction and assessment? Where’s the research that this is best practice?

      Authentic means:
      -less than 98% language coverage, which means that for students to comprehend, they’re relying on clues from the pictures, etc. In other words, it’s not purely language ability we’re assessing.

      I have a feeling that the answer to both of the above is the assumption that themes and authentic texts are supposed to be “motivational.” ACTFL thinks this is the best way to motivate learners. It’s not based on what is best for language development. They ought to see a TPRS class. They have to acknowledge the success of TPRS to develop language and admit that there is another way, besides themes and authentic resources. And then not make such narrow recommendations!

      By making these statements about theme-based instruction and authentic resources they are making it unnecessarily difficult on TPRS instructors who work within departments that are trying to (non-reflectively) align everything with ACTFL.

      1. I was at a one-day conference where Helena Curtain directly stated that thematic units create interest for students. She was showing a thematic unit for Spanish based around the discovery of Central and South Americans by Europeans, including a lot of cultural details of native peoples, travel, numbers, foods, etc. It was like a semester-long theme. There was no personalization. She also said that being story-based meant that each lesson has a beginning, a middle, and an end. (Not a real story, just having a class planning format!)

        1. Thank you for this Diane. In fact, Helena Curtain has her own category on this page. She works for the textbook companies. She has limited understanding of Ray/Krashen, as her embracing thematic units and just about everything she says reveals. She has attacked Carol Gaab, who is only the best presenter in the world on anything having to do with coimprehensible input or reading. If anyone still thinks that Curtain and Miriam Met are still relevant, click on the Helena Curtain link and read a few of the articles. Read about the woman behind the curtain, the corporate employee, the shill.

        1. I wanted to share. Since I asked “Why?” about use of thematic units & authentic resources and asked for the research, I’ve received numerous (8?) emails in order to thank me, to agree with me, to ask permission to repost to other listservs, and to tell me it’s the “best question I have ever seen posted on ACTFL.” But these people in support are only responding to my personal email, rather than to the online community.

          Only 1 teacher has written my personal email to give me a weak, “I think” argument, with no research at all to cite, and arguing it’s motivational to students to know all the words in a set. This teacher apparently hasn’t ever been exposed to TPRS. My point is that even if there is just 1 other way at least as effective, then ACTFL should not be making narrow recommendations.

          I don’t follow FLTeach, but a teacher wrote me encouraging me to post there. I do want to see “the hand” the opposition is holding. . .

          Now, on the ACTFL thread, 2 teachers have responded. The first makes sure we know how great of a teacher he is as he says “my good students were very successful.” What is a “good student?” The 4 percenters? Then, he says a highly trained and effective teacher is more important than method. This guy (with PhD in FL Ed from Stanford) had nothing of substance to say.

          The 2nd responder supports the “many types of materials and methods is necessary.” Yuck. What does that mean in terms of second language acquisition? Is that to suggest there are many ways to acquire a language? She also mentions our dear friend, Helena Curtain. Anyways, the 2nd responder gives the response I was expecting from a teacher supporting themes and authentic resources. I’m contemplating a response and how to keep it as little confrontational as possible.

          1. The second responder embraces thematic units and to some degree authentic materials. She does not seem to embrace authentic discourse, in which two people engage in a meaningful way about a topic of interest. How many authentic discussions include every room in the house (maybe one about whether or not we should buy a house). How many authentic weather reports list all of the weather possibilities? We could come up with a few exceptions, but my question is how authentic is it to talk in thematic units? It is often an artificial construct which limits the direction of the discussion.

          2. Thank you, Nathaniel. I’ve now responded to the ACTFL online community. And I used your idea of authentic discourse! I also came up with more reasons to reject thematic units and authentic resources.

          3. You are welcome. Nice…clarification of what you are asking for and firm statement that it has not been set forth, but must be, including the rebuttal of the works you cite.

          4. By the way, I see from Curtain’s PPT that the research she cites in support of thematic planning is from general education research (Beane, 1997; Kovalik, 1994). It’s not research done in the area of foreign language instruction. Either way, she’s arguing it’s usefulness lies in the context and the intrinsic engagement of a theme – 2 elements of TPRS.

  3. I agree with everything said about AP (not my problem anyway). I’m helping a young man prepare to retake the TOEIC exam, which is used overseas for business careers. My student has done all the courses and the thesis he needed for a masters in business, but to get his master’s he must score over 700/1000 on the TOEIC. It mearsures comprehension, there is no output required. You listen to taped conversations and answer multiple choice questions, and then you read documents and answer multiple choice questions.

    In the past his teachers prepared him and his classmates by … giving them practice tests and teaching them tricks to help them guess. So basically, he was guessing almost all the time. And scoring between 300 and 500. He came to me last spring and we worked pretty hard, listening to a flim he liked, talking about it, and reading texts on subjects he liked and talking about them. We didn’t do much on specialized “business” vocabulary because he needed to get some pretty basic general comprehension first. I felt like he had progressed considerably, and when he took the test in July he was very happy. He said he had understood most of it and had given answers that he felt were correct rather than guessing at them.

    But when he got his score, he had only 550. He gets to take it one last time in November. We are now working with material that is more business specific, but I’m still trying to increase his comprehension with lots of comprehensible input, both spoken and written. And I’m trying to train him to be more careful about his assumptions. I think that having used the guessing techniques for so long, he doesn’t see the trick questions which are designed by the test makers for people who are guessing without fully understanding.

    My question is how do teachers imagine that they can prepare students for such a test by giving them dozens of sample tests? Weighing the pig doesn’t make it any fatter. My student has had three years of such “preparation” and it has got him nowhere.

    But I have another question for this group. Are we right in saying high school students will have, at the very best, only 400 hours of exposure to the language? In my lonnnnnnnnnng career as a teacher I have met students who were fluent, who were able to carry on a conversation in English with me. I always asked them how they had learned to use the language and of course, it was not in the classroom. They all had a passion that had led them to devote many more hours to listening to English, on TV, in music, in films. Which is why I work with films a lot, getting my students to listen to certain scenes over and over again, and asking them to listen at home. I actually think this should be our main goal, getting them to spend time outside of class listening to things that are interesting to them, giving them the tools they need (the basic high frequency words) so that they are able to follow and understand. When we achieve this, we double or triple the hours that they spend getting compelling comprehensible input.

    1. I think there can be a pretty strong practice effect on standardized tests. I’m basing that on my own experiences. I took an $800 Kaplan course in high school to prepare for the SAT. All I remember doing were practice tests. We were taught plenty of tricks, got plenty used to the format and question type, and we broke down the harder problems everyone was missing. My SAT score increased 110 points.

      Then, to study for the GRE, I literally memorized 500 of the most frequent GRE-words. It took me 3 days, time spent almost entirely on memorization, and using something similar to the keyword technique. And many of those words were actually on the test! I rocked the Verbal section and some of my success did come from knowledge of word meanings. Of course, that memorized knowledge was incredibly fragile and I probably forgot every word meaning 24 hours after.

      I remember Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook saying that the best test prep is to read to kids as early in their lives as possible and when ready, get them doing independent reading.

      1. I read an article (unfortunately I don’t have it or the URL handy) about a study that showed that over 70% of the score on standardized tests is the result of knowing how to take the test, not the result of content knowledge. That puts all standardized tests into question as a tool for testing student content knowledge. Pearson believed that the author of the study had made an error in his calculation of the percentage and began a huge campaign to discredit him. However, in their own materials Pearson admitted that the number is at least 50% knowledge of test taking. So, to protect their financial interests, Pearson worked hard (and fairly successfully) to discredit an entire study over a perceived difference in percentage even when by their own admission the test is fully 50% unreliable as an indicator of student content knowledge.

  4. …getting them to spend time outside of class listening to things that are interesting to them….

    I agree that this should be our main goal. Most kids I see, however, have either a job or football practice or iphone time or homework or something else to do after school and in the evenings.

    Doing something connected to school that is not required is a novel concept for kids. It seems that all the required homework in all their classes over all the years has killed their interest in learning things because it is fun.

    So this takes us back to homework in our CI classes – by not giving it, and then by playing a song in class and giving them the url only if they ask for it, by framing their language options in another way than in a forced way, we point to the open door which, however, they must push open themselves.

    When we give forced homework, requiring that the class go listen to a song or something that evening, we kill the very root of the interest in most kids. It’s like that Merton quote I publish here from time to time, and I apologize for not publishing it every day so that we may more deeply internalize its message*.

    For the reasons you underlined, Judy, I am even more inclined to advocate zero homework in any way for my CI trained kids, so that the root of curiosity to go do outside work remains untainted.

    No forced output, no forced homework, nothing forced. Ever. Just the communication of how much joy exists in languages during class, which is all up to me and in my ability to remain cheerful in class so that my love of my language spreads to them. My own love of French is the source of their desire to learn more. That’s my opinion.

    What if that guy with only one chance left to achieve his goal had worked all along with teachers whose main goal in class had been to teach in this happier and more loving way, this way of inviting instead of forcing?

    Instead of seeing language as so serious and dry and painful, had his teachers conveyed their own love of the beauty of the English they taught him, I think that he would have wanted to hear all the English he could and easily made the cut off score. This guy was all along working from fear, not love, and so he failed.

    *“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone with everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

    Thomas Merton

    1. In the spirit of giving kids potentially more outside of class listening options, I took some stuff off of Eric’s school website, and some resources I’ve always encouraged them to listen to, and made a new page on my website called “Quick links for Students”. I am curious if it will make a difference. They have so much homework, practice, etc, that for them to find the time to do this will mean me also doing a lot of what Ben says, showing them my own love of the language I am teaching (and learning… can’t forget to let them know we are still always learning, and I think we do this best by reading with them during SSR, or perhaps even reading in another language [I’m reading the French Pirates during SSR in my Spanish 2 class]. Also, when we encounter a new word during class, we should let them know we don’t/didn’t know it yet, makes us more human to them).

      Also, expressing emotion as Angie did this morning surely makes us more human to them too. (Jonathan Kozol in On Being a Teacher says we should do this if we want to raise a generation of real democratic citizens.) Today, during our discussion of the Zoe song “Labios Rotos”, we were talking about love and if it appears to us more when we are thinking about it less, as the singer argues. I incidentally told them in CI spanish about my own experience meeting my partner and that it supports the singer’s view, and they sure were interested, no, compelled, to listen. I love teaching Spanish and being able to discuss real songs/stories/poems/events with students in Spanish! (sheltered more in level 1, but in level 2, it’s happening during some impressive and fairly spontaneous bouts of PQA.)

  5. Tears filled my eyes as I read that Merton quote again, and just at that moment a student walked in carrying a cake that he made for a birthday party in Advisory today. Oops! A teacher caught being human!

  6. It was really fun having Ben visit our department. We had a little mini-story, of sorts, with the words “lazy” and “works.” My coworker Holly works at Guitar Center with Santana but I & one of my colleagues are lazy. Lots of laughs.

    It is sooooo refreshing to be in a department where we are all aiming at getting better at teaching for fluency, using CI and stories. Highly recommend it. We’re in transition with some of us newer to TPRS and CI than others. Lots of fun conversations at lunchtime about these things!

    1. I had an interesting lunch with some of my PLC members in my school. I am with the English teachers as I am the only Spanish teacher. I shared the idea of jobs and the 50% rule. Several of the teachers were totally receptive to the ideas and said that I should share it with the whole group. I hope to pass on some of what I have learned over my journey with CI and TPRS.

  7. As opposites, “works” and “lazy” work well when we don’t have a lot of time and want to demo some PQA. It is because when you ask who is lazy while pointing to the question word poster “Who?” the group immediately looks around for the lazy one (if the group trusts each other like yours obviously does, Diane). They usually point to one person and yesterday they clearly had fun with that. The level of instant personalization is immediately high with those two verbs when talking about teachers. All I needed to do was a) establish the jobs, and b) ask one question that served as an immediate hook, and off we went. I appreciate your point as well, Diane, that when a department is all on board with the change, this work is SO much easier. Energy in divided departments is real and clouds things. Those who oppose this work, however, will be the ones who in the future will be looking for jobs, not us. Our job security increases with every single story we teach, because there is no substitute for trying over and over in this work, once we know what we want to accomplish, once that is clear in our minds. Then it is just a question of time to get it all into our bodies. That’s how it works. Thank you Diane. I can see great things coming from your school for Douglas County and way beyond.

  8. Watched the Cesar Chavez movie last night and I love this quote:

    “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

    I feel like we share much of that same feeling in our work. . .
    Once you go TCI, I don’t know how you could ever go back. TCI is spreading and it can’t be reversed. You can’t take away the knowledge of Krashen once you’ve read his work. You can’t humiliate us, since we have so much pride in what we do. You can’t keep us within the traditional paradigm since we are not afraid anymore to teach with CI.

  9. I knew us Chicagoans lost Sabrina and Diane, but I didn’t know that we lost Lynette as well! At her school in West Chicago is where I was first introduced to CI when she hosted a Blaine conference. After the three day session I asked her if I could observe her teach a lesson, and she was more than happy to have me in her classroom for a day. That was about 6 years ago! I was thoroughly impressed with the novel study that her class was doing that day. Is she a member of this blog? Please pass along a “hello”!

    1. Yes Ray and good to hear from you. An aside to the group, and I love to tell this story, Ray paid his dues learning to teach using comprehensible input and naturally took some years of major heat from his colleages. That ended last year when one of his CI trained kids got 70 of 70 right to rank Illinois (and the nation) on the National Spanish Exam. It seemed like the child’s ability to read and understand Spanish was the best of the best in Chicago, and now, instead of receiving criticism (that would be tacky at this point, n’est-ce pas?), his admins are asking him how he did it; they want to know more! I call this a turning of the tables on the micro level which will effect others on a macro level, even if Chicagoland has lost three top notch pass rushers to the Broncos. Hey, you got Jay Cutler from us!

      And yes, Ray, it was so neat to see Lynette with her teachers. Clearly, they are a group that is off the chart in terms of engaging personalities, intelligence, love of language, etc. They know what they are doing and yet are open to new things. I am thrilled to begin seeing this phenomenon of entire departments turning and facing together in the same direction, as per:

  10. Diane,

    Thank you! I hope you guys are doing well in your new positions!

    And Ben,

    Sometimes in stories things go awry and we just need to cut our losses and bail. Never a good thing to force it. Jay Cutler can learn from us! When a play isn’t going right, just throw it out and regroup for the next play. No more interceptions please! Haha. You get Manning and we’re stuck with Cutler! Not fair.

  11. I like the image of sailing it out of bounds if it isn’t working, losing the down, and regrouping. Probably happens 80% of the time in PQA anyway. And that is what Peyton does better than Cutler – calling audibles at the line of scrimmage – Ready…Ready…Omaha!

  12. I have to jump on the bandwagon and say what a great teacher and example Lynnette St George is. She was a big help during our first two workshops in Agen and is actually responsible for my getting into TPRS. I first heard of it from Jeff Moore in Macomb, Illinois and he got into it by travelling to Chicago to observe Lynnette. She has a priceless gift for relating with her students.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben