Report from the Field – Carol Hill

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31 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Carol Hill”

  1. …would like to discuss ways that aspects of the TPRS process might be integrated into the curricula of all our WL courses….

    Carol this is not your responsibility. It simply isn’t. It’s like someone calling LeBron James into an office to discuss “ways that aspects of his power game might be integrated into the other Miami Heat team members”. That’s not LeBron’s job. It is the coach’s or ownership’s job. You always make yourself available, and your colleagues have chosen to keep both feet firmly planted in the last century, but none of that has anything to do with you and things you can do. You are already full out on what you can do, and have been for many many years. This principal should respect that and find some stipend money for conferences for your colleagues and make them go.

    …I would like to see our students participating in the National French Examination….

    This is the worst. We have discussed this a lot here over the years. Those national examinations do not align with best practices. They still ask grammar questions as they did thirty years ago on the NFE, as I understand, although I have given the exam only once in the past ten years in a moment of weakness because I had a superstar whom I knew could score nationally in the top five. He did, but I compromised myself and what was best for all my students that year, and, guess what, I didn’t hear a word of congratulations from one person in our school. One year I had those five eighth graders rank the state in the Level 1 exam and not a word from anyone, so the idea of making yourself look good, and we all like to look good, is not going to happen because nobody cares. Nobody cares. So we have to ask what is this principal’s motivation that you participate, really. Why? I say this with passion, do not concern yourself with what this person wants. He is clearly wanting some recognition for the school and for himself to reflect on his job performance. If you were to compete in that exam, it would be a disaster on many levels. I remember how I would sometimes get physically sick after the exam each March after whipping the kids in shape to win it, and then, when that happened, no one seemed to notice and I felt so used, used and used, but it was my fault because I bought into something that is inherently false and useless. I would break out exams from years before and three kids or less would understand any of it, the rest of the class hated those exam prep classes. If you were to do the exam, you would find yourself in about November starting to speak more English and prepare the kids directly for the exam. I used to stop class so often, for so many years, and say this: “This might be on the exam…” and then launch into an explanation about si clauses, etc. to be nicely memorized by my superstars so that they would get those questions right. Such a lose-lose situation. Not only that, it would be granting power to an organization that has outlived its usefulness, the AATF, the stronghold of the 1950’s style teaching establishment. But it’s not about that even – it’s about how testing kids is just a screwed up thing to do.


  2. Robert Harrell

    I have never administered the AATG exam and plan never to administer it. As Ben says, it adds unneeded stress for everyone. However, you might “engage in dialogue” with your principal:
    Why does he want you to administer this particular exam?
    What does he believe that yet another test will accomplish for students?
    How does this test address the communicative needs of students and help them become more fluent?
    What aspect of your current teaching does he want you to abandon so you can prepare students for this test?
    How does this test fit into the paradigm shift in foreign language education?
    Why does he want to test students with an assessment instrument that does not reflect best practices in foreign language acquisition?
    N.B.: He’s the one asking to add this test; he needs to justify it. You obviously are doing well (increased enrollment, brain connections, engaged students, paradigm shift, keep up the good work), so you need a solid reason to abandon some aspect of that for the sake of preparing students to take a particular test.

    As for the discussion, put the ball back into his court. Tell him that you would love to sit down with him and discuss ways he can encourage other teachers to integrate TPRS into their instruction. Unless you are the Department Chair, it would violate the chain of command and the responsibilities of the Chair for you to take this on. As the head of the school, however, it is entirely within his area of responsibility for your principal to initiate this change. When would he like to sit down with you and the Department Chair so he can explain his proposal? You will be glad to sit in as a resource to help explain what TCI/TPRS is and how it functions, but he needs to give the direction for the department.
    N.B.: No matter how he does it, you will probably be the bad guy in all of this, but make him take the lead because that’s his job, not yours.

  3. I don’t know if the National French Exam is similar to the National German Exam, but if it is, I say “don’t sweat it”. I HAVE to administer this exam every year. I NEVER prepare the kids for it – we just go into the computer lab on the designated day and they take it. And guess what? Ever since I started with CI/TPRS, they always score really, really high. As a matter of fact, this year they completely knocked it out of the park. My administration likes this exam because it “makes us look good” and it certainly is good for our enrollment. And since I don’t have to spend any extra time prepping for it, I don’t really mind it. So, this might actually not be as sickening as it sounds 🙂

  4. “Would like to discuss ways that aspects of the TPRS process might be integrated into the curricula of all our WL courses.”

    As mentioned above that is not your responsibility. But a few suggestions follow:
    1. Are there any new positions opening up? If so, the principal can advertise and interview with a view to get another CI/TPRS teacher.
    2. Ask the principal what you can do to get more training done locally. Try to get it offered on district training days. Make it optional for language teachers in the district. That way they don’t feel like they are being forced. But at least they have a FL option–after all, it is better than curriculum mapping and essential questions. Open it up to teachers in the area , maybe charging $50-100. Maybe he could come up with money for Blaine or Ben or whomever to do an all-day workshop.
    3. Maybe he is interested in doing a fluency fast course. That way it becomes his own experience with a language rather than you versus your colleagues.

    Remind him that if teachers are not ready for something they will lack the internal drive and will benefit their students less. Teachers are like language learners: when they are ready to open up learning will take place. In the meantime, a lot of patience is in order while supporting good teaching/learning where and how we can.

  5. I love how this community is so protective of its members. :o)

    I saw her admins comments as a positive acknowledgement of Carol and her students…it’s so rare that an admin notices, cares and takes the time to comment in a positive way.

    I don’t think that he really expects Carol to train her dept or her colleagues….that would take work on his part too…and most admins are not willing to go that far. :o)

    I’m sure that Carol has found that our successes sometimes bring out the insecurities of others…and that can result in some ugly behavior. It’s so often the way, particularly in a competitive environment. Still, the successes are so very powerful and life-changing that they are often worth the trade-off.

    As for the testing….I stand with Brigitte on this one. When we are trying to keep up with the Jones’ we must take the same tests that they do…..and our districts, or in Carol’s case, our schools are chasing the Jones’ in order to get their money and their students. I put my money on Carol’s kids doing just fine if they had to take it.

    Congratulations to you and your students my friend… deserve the kudos!

    with love,

  6. So glad you posted this. Every little bit helps.

    I went straight to the Grand Concours website and found out what is to be expected from a FLES -Foreign Language Elementary School- student. Silly.

    But, it made me reflect on my own work.I use too many cognates, and starve my kids from learning new words. Sometimes I underestimate their ability to pick up vocab here and there. Who knows what sticks?

    For a few bucks one can buy past tests ($1), and CD’s for listening comprehension ($4), and I am curious. So I am giving it a try.

    And Carol, I’m with Laurie. You made such a strong impression on the principal, he wished the whole department would learn from you. Gives you a little leverage when that contract comes around, non?

      1. Hi Ben,
        Here’s the skinny on the next Tri-State TPRS/TCI meeting, which I’ll also post on the moretprs list. Any questions, e-mail me at

        We will meet this Friday, June 27
        10:00am-12:00 (or whenever)
        at Westtown Lower School
        960 Shady Grove Way
        West Chester, PA 19382

        in Anny Ewing’s Spanish classroom
        Coffee, Tea, Juice, and bagels provided

        This leaves you plenty of time to get ahead of the traffic for a weekend trip. You are also welcome to stick around and go out to lunch somewhere nearby to continue conversations.

        We would love to share successes from the past year and then turn the conversation to summer planning and ideas for next year.

        For example:
        La and colleagues have developed a wonderful list of structures to be covered in first year Mandarin
        Lori would like to do the same for French 1 and 2 and is thinking ahead to French 3
        Anny wants to explore compatibility of TPRS/TCI with Integrated Performance Assessments

        Is anybody going to conferences or workshops this summer? Let’s share the wealth of knowledge we acquire!

        To get to Westtown:

        For directions to Westtown Lower School, set your GPS to 960 Shady Grove Way, West Chester, PA 19382 or find directions on the school’s website at:

        There is ample parking in the open lot on the right after you enter campus, just across from Lower School.

    1. Anny Ewing was stuck in traffic due to the heavy rain yesterday and had to turn around but she did tell me that a June meeting is possible. We meet on the third Friday of the month and the location varies. I am sure Lori B. or Anny will send along the info. These local meetings are so helpful especially for teachers who are in non CI friendly buildings.

      You can check out

      There is a wonderful video that Terry Waltz did for your viewing pleasure!

      1. To Carol, Anny, Lori B., La, Carly R., Brigitte, Greg S. to name a few of the tri-state TPRS teachers that come to mind:

        Dr. Krashen will be the key note speaker at FLENJ 2015 conference. That is great news isn’t it !!! Has anyone signed up to present? Should we think about it? Could some of us present together ?

        The deadline is end of September.

  7. Sabrina Sebban_Janczak

    Hi Carol,

    I just read your post and would like to comment on one point about the national French Examination.

    Lynnette St Georges (CI teacher whom you know I’m sure) gives it to her students every year and they do very well .

    She just showed me a copy of the exam and I was very pleasantly surprised. The Reading and Listening part is so easy for kids trained with CI. There is a bit of grammar on it but since they add up all the scores, the CI kids fare really well.

    Lynnette’s kids place on top of the list and win gold silver and bronze every single year!

    I’m sure you can get a hold of the test yourself, but if not let me know and I can share it with you. You’d be surprised I think…

    See you this summer Carol.

    1. Which levels do you have Sabrina? Is it something you can scan and send? I know you are both going to Agen. Will I see you both in Denver or Chicago too? Hope so!

      1. Sabrina Sebban_Janczak

        Sorry Carol for the delayed response.
        Yes both Lynnette and I will be in Agen and Iflt.

        So looking forward to seeing you and all of our CI friends again there.

        I have this picture/memory in my mind of Chill in a pink hat helping Ben in his SanDiego session with the kids.
        You just looked beautiful!

        Enjoy your last days of school.


        1. Sabrina Sebban_Janczak

          Sorry I forgot to say that I will bring a copy of the National French exam for you to peruse so you can see what I was talking about.

          And BTW Lynnette does not teach to that exam, she just does her CI stuff all year round and gives the exam when the time comes. They rock at it w/o preparation. I m sure your kids would too…

  8. And I know that the Spanish exam moved to align more with ACTFL a few years before this shift that you describe in the French exam, Sabrina. However, I still strongly object to those exams. Exams are about competition and that changes people. When I know that I have the students to win something I will push them in the direction to win whatever it is, a poetry declamation contest or anything. Teachers have a competitive edge in them very often, and it is a quality in them that they perhaps need to survive in the ultra competitive atmosphere of most school buildings. There are always teachers in each department whose message is “I am the best teacher in this department.” I have suffered from that need to be the best all my life. I think it has to do with a need for approval. It’s a sick thing, wherever it comes from. I can just see Laurie reading this and shaking her head up and down. There are master teachers who get this. Of course that’s me talking and I should make it clear that competition for me is like a drug. I suppose the national exams might be less toxic for others. But something deep inside me really mistrusts the entire concept of those exams and so now at the end of my career, at least, I an say that I come down fully on the side of Susan Gross on this one. Comprehension based instruction is not about fostering an atmosphere of competition in our classrooms, but one of cooperation. The two can’t co-exist, in my opinion.

  9. I’ve had success arguing against AP Chinese. One of the points I make is that it still seems to be topic-oriented, textbook/grammar oriented.

    Play on the principal’s admission that FL instruction is going through a paradigmatic shift. If the motivation is to have an external test validate the kids’ learning, which I can understand, suggest that the school put out a little money for an OPI.

    As I understand it, the Oral Proficiency Interview assesses students on their ability to communicate about topics that they have acquired/are interested in, etc. My kids would rock such an exam, although they might be talking about playing soccer with Kim Jung Un outside of Bed Bath and Beyond.

    1. Sort of about the OPI. I’ve taken it twice, once before and once after 6 weeks in China in a State Dept-sponsored program from non-native Chinese teachers. There are 3 or 4 sections, and the interviewer deliberately pushes you into the point of language breakdown – and within your ability, then notes if you had to circumlocute or if you had the advanced vocab. It’s not a relaxing thing to do. One of the topics is always one the interviewee picks sort of… you are asked what you’ve noted in the news recently, and you’re expected to talk at length about it. I was asked at length about what governments should do to improve pollution problems in China. Not a topic I had ever discussed before.

      I also think that the resulting scores must be somewhat subjective, because those of us in the program talked afterwards about our scores, and they did not reflect peoples’ real, day-to-day Chinese ability.

      1. …the interviewer deliberately pushes you into the point of language breakdown….

        …the resulting scores must be somewhat subjective….

        Again, I make the point that competition – testing is a form of competition – is not healthy for people, and that the OPI and the national language exams and every single kind of test one could give are all linked to approval systems and people’s human need for approval. They are therefore bogus things, because no one actually needs approval, we are just fine the way we are.

        But we still give and take tests all the time and we give meaning and credence to them. Testing only move us away from true learning, which is about play, and not having to incessantly prove oneself.

        For what does one have to prove oneself on the OPI? What if Diana didn’t score the highest? Does it mean that she is not qualified to teach in a university, and can only teach younger kids? What does the OPI score really mean?

        I know one thing. Find me one person who administers the Chinese OPI who is a better Chinese teacher than Diane. There aren’t any. They should be asking Diane questions. But they don’t – they miss the point.

        1. Thank you, Ben! It’s hard to be a non-native Chinese teacher and NOT feel always evaluated by other Chinese teachers. Even when you know that they approve of you, and some do, it reveals that they were testing you. Testing as a means to reveal what you already are is okay with me… testing to try to find fault and inadequacy, yuck. Lifelong lessons here.

          I figured out which Tolkien character I think you are, Ben: Tom Bombadil. This mention of play and not needing approval is classic Bombadil stuff, don’t you think? He even played with the One Ring and was unaffected.

          1. Totally agree about testing you on your Chinese, Diane. Totally unnecessary. I went to a job fair a few months ago where many of the suburban school district teacher reps just wanted to hear me talk in Spanish. It was very off-putting.

            If you feel the need, just watch us teach in our target language. That’s all you need to know.

          2. It’s completely illogical (this type of rationale would not be applied to other academic subjects), but it is too commonly assumed that speaking another language qualifies you to teach it. And the better, more native-like your ability, the better the teacher you must be. You hear this logic expressed even by teachers and administrators . . . people who should know very well that knowing a subject doesn’t mean you know how to teach it. Unfortunately, in many monolingual communities, foreign language speakers are rare enough that finding someone who can speak the language may be the best the school can hope for.

          3. Eric Spindler

            While I obviously agree that speaking the language doesn’t mean you can teach it, this is a relic of grammar training. At some universities people could major in a language without being able to speak to any degree. Since they couldn’t speak they would often grammar students to death which can destroy programs. Native speakers have also been known to grammar students to death too.

            Eric is correct that some go beyond ensuring speaking is there to thinking native speakers automatically make the best teachers which we know isn’t true.

            Also Sean is write that non-speakers asking you to speak Spanish or some other language to them because they know it when they hear it is preposterous and can is not as good as watching you teach with it.

            I hope we can get some good candidates who not only speak the language, but use CI to teach it but I am not sure if we will. And because universities don’t fairly and properly teach CI, we will continue to have this problem. I find it absurd that even those who believe in the mixed bag approach so avoid Ray and others that students can graduate without knowing anything about them. Part of the problem is that few schools actually have foreign language teachers involved in their education programs.

          4. Eric Spindler

            I wish this had an edit feature and I shouldn’t do them when I wake up. I might not be qualified to write in English. Obviously Sean is “right.” What an unfortunate error.

            Here is my fixed 3rd paragraph.

            Also Sean is correct that non-speakers asking you to speak Spanish or some other language to them, because they know it when they hear it is preposterous and is not as good as watching you teach with it.

            To elaborate on my point in the last paragraph, I believe teachers who are not language teachers as a whole believe that teaching languages is done the same way as many other subjects, and while many language teachers also believe this, others understand that languages are acquired.

          5. “To grammar (someone or something)”; e.g., “The teacher grammared her students to death with conjugation charts.”

            I like the term! I was helping a former student get ready for her teacher to grammar them on a quiz. Does she understand the grammar? Not well. Could she speak using it? No. Could she understand if she heard it? She’d recognize, “I had to memorize a pattern like that for a quiz once…”

  10. Have fun at your meeting today with “like minded individuals.” I’ve heard about a few CI get-togethers in PA/NJ. Good stuff!

    For my part, I’m dutifully attending a FLENJ meeting today. Not sure how I can affect any change ala CI/TPRS there. Slow going.

    1. It was pouring rain down here yesterday but we had an intrepid group of 6. It is so great to get together and share the successes, trials, and tribulations that we all go through. Watched some video, talked about finishing the year strong. For me, with all of the interruptions we had, especially with the weather, I just want to put this year to bed and begin focusing on next year. I am really looking forward to seeing all of you this summer and recharging my CI batteries. Lori Belinsky shared this website – – you can take photos and add speech bubbles. Who knew? End of the year fun!
      Liam, New Jersey does seem resistant, doesn’t it. We had a young Italian/French teacher join us yesterday. She uses TPRS with Italian 1 and has no support to use it with any of her other classes. Keep up the good fight, Liam!

  11. Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. I stopped giving the National French Exam when I dove into TPRS five years ago. Both pro exam and anti exam positions resonate with me. I should get a copy of the latest version of each level to see if any changes have been made to exam itself. I could administer a practice test in class and see how they do. My overarching concern is the time I have to teach – 120 days max;40 minute classes. The best case scenario is, with little to no preparation, they rock the exam and the method is validated. I am sure the listening would be a breeze and the reading too. I will let you know how this plays out and thanks aain for all of your thoughtful responses.

  12. …with little to no preparation, they rock the exam and the method is validated….

    I can only speak for myself but if I knew that anyone in my class was going to take that exam I would unconsciously skew my teaching toward it, away from the work we do. I don’t see the two things mixing. I know the exam has changed and I know that it is more geared toward testing input. That doesn’t change how I feel. It is the entering the kids into a competition, which is linked to approval seeking, that I object to.

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