WL Core Practices

We in this online community should be so very appreciative of our Alisa for her unlimited and always expanding awareness of what is going on in our profession. In what looks like some serious backsliding in mainstream WL education, there is a new term out there called “WL Core Practices” that didn’t get by Alisa’s net. I’ll let her explain in this important post:
Hi Ben,
Sometimes I think it’s my professional responsibility to speak up and ‘correct’ misguided thinking or interpretation regarding what it is that we do in our CI classrooms.  With teacher mental health in mind, though, I often exercise the self control required to let the egregious misrepresentations float on by, especially on the Nandu or ACTFL Community listservs.  Today, I was feelin’ kinda rant-y though, when I skimmed a post on ACTFL Language Educators, and I proceeded to blow through my entire lunch period crafting a response.  It seemed a worthy project at the time, but I know that it’s really not.  
However, I thought I’d share it with you and perhaps the PLC, because it brings up a body of work in our field that I was heretofore unfamiliar with:  The WL Core Practices.  Unable to reign in my curiosity, and with a dull lunch in the teachers’ room fridge, I set out to set this lady straight.
Here’s what I wrote – not to the LE community forum but to her personal inbox, because I considered the possible cat fight that could ensue, (I referred her to the ‘Authentic Resources’ online catfight from a few years ago!) and with what’s going on nationally, I’m really not in the mood…
Here’s her query:
and my response:
Hi Susan,
I wasn’t sure what you meant when you referred to the WL Core Practices, so I found Lynn Johnston’s
and read about them.
If these are the same practices you are referring to in the Language Educators’ Digest in the ACTFL communities discussion, then I do believe there is a fair bit of discrepancy between the Core Practices and Teaching with Comprehensible Input (which has been around in TPRS form since the 1990s.)
Just a few discrepancies to start:
Core Practice #1: Use the Target Language as the Vehicle and Content of Instruction – 
Core Practice #2: Design and Carry Out Interpersonal Communication Tasks for Pair, Small Groups, and Whole-Class Instruction 
No, not really.  We see the teacher as the primary provider of hi-quality input, and seek to optimize that input.  Novice to Intermediate/Low language students do not possess the ability, yet, to provide high quality input to their peers, so we, the teachers,  invest our time in providing the oral/aural and written input, often gleaned from class-created images, collaborative stories and texts.  Demanding output from our students in the form of ‘pair & small group… Interpersonal Communication Tasks’ is not a part of our CI framework.
Core Practice #3:   Design lessons and tasks that have functional goals and objectives, to include specifying clearly the language and activities needed to support and meet the communication objective.
No, not always.  We often implement emergent classroom banter using high frequency language in use around topics of high interest, tailored to the group.  Many CI teachers DO NOT work from a chapter vocab list, thematic or semantic set of vocabulary.  We do not specify the functional goal (letter writing; ordering a meal, engaging in a sales transaction), rather, we spin stories and scenes, read legends and articles, retell and review, respond to visual anchors, describe, invent and create…
Many of us run classrooms very different from the curricular approach described in CP #3.  We may backwards-plan the language in use in order to be able to comprehend a text, (for example, to read a leveled novel) but these are written with a hi-frequency list in mind, so their contents emerge in any ancillary conversation, eliminating the need for tight conversational ‘planning.’  Our goal is to flood and soak our students in high quality, compelling, comprehensible input, not to ‘train’ them for specific communicative interactions, like those in the IPA.
Core Practice #4: Teach Grammar As Concept and Within Meaningful Use in Context
Actually, guided by the work of Dr. Bill VanPatten, Dr. Stephen Krashen, and others, we do not teach explicit grammar in Novice through Intermediate/Low.  While certain features may pop up in context, or if a students asks (rarely) we may give an extremely brief explanation in layman’s terms.  We do not ‘test’ on grammar or expect/request grammatical accuracy in output.  Research tells us that grammatical focus on form is not even developmentally appropriate (in L1) before about age 14.  
Core Practice #5: Design and carry out interactive reading and listening comprehension tasks using authentic cultural texts of various kinds with appropriate scaffolding and follow-up tasks that promote interpretation.
Depending on the definition of the phrase, ‘authentic cultural texts of various kinds,’  we roundly reject the notion that using materials created by and for native speakers is appropriate in the Novice to Intermediate L2 classroom.  Instead, we modify &  adapt existing texts, and create original texts to meet the needs of our learners’ developing mental representation system (VanPatten).  Rarely if ever are we able to open a book – even a children’s picture book written in the TL for a native-speaking child – and use it ‘as is.’  Generally, we use the pictures as a story board and re-create or re-script the text to meet our learners’ needs.  For a fuller discussion from the ACTFL community site debating the use of authentic texts, please refer to:
Core practice #6: Provide appropriate feedback in speech and writing on various learning tasks.  The ACTFL Core Practices webinar with Dr. Eileen Glisan focuses on providing corrective feedback in oral interactions.  Corrective feedback, or responses to student utterances containing an error, is a tool to scaffold learning for students. 
CI teachers do not purposefully correct student output – oral or written.  Simply put, feedback should be meaning and content based (certainly at the Novice to I/L level).  We do not encourage students to correct each other, as suggested in Lynn Johnson’s blog.  Our focus is on input, and the students’ demonstrated comprehension of that input.  We know that this is what drives acquisition; not correcting output.
Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg
Elementary Spanish Teacher
Winnetka Public Schools



6 thoughts on “WL Core Practices”

  1. Thank you Alisa! Your response is pure gold. I don’t know what research or ???? is the basis for what these “core practices” are. I’m having a hard time staying current with everything that spins around…I did not even know there were “core practices.” It is all I can do to be present for my students, deliver some CI as best I can each day. To stay current on research I listen to BVP and read Eric Herman’s forum posts when I can. I admit I do not use the ACTFL website or any of their forums.
    I deeply appreciate the time you took to craft this response!

  2. The person first wrote this, w the important part bolded by me below:
    …as dedicated WL teachers we are always looking for that magic method that will produce advanced language learners. The “buzz method” now is CI (although I know CI has been around for a very long time). For those who have asked me about the relationship between CI and the Core Practices, I have replied that the Core Practices support Ci….and most other teaching methods as well. Is there a better way to state this?…
    BVP responded, weakly, w the important (weak) part of his response in bold as well:
    …I thought I’d remind everyone that CI is not a method or an approach. CI–as comprehensible input–is a construct in L2 acquisition theory and research. There are methods that acknowledge CI (e.g., TPRS, The Natural Approach, immersion) and provide plenty of CI as part of what happens in and out of classrooms, but again, CI is not a method. The confusion about what CI is understandable, however, because of how it is used by some educators (e.g., “Do you do CI?” “Welcome to CI!”)….
    Whether or not the “core practices” support acquisition-rich classrooms is, I think, open for discussion.
    So BVP obfuscates an answer around the vague words ‘method’ and ‘approach’ which just clouds the issue. The fact: Core Practices do not support CI. It’s not open for discussion. Alisa makes that clear. This is why in our last go-round with that group of 18,000 members who haven’t had a good catfight since then (2014? or maybe earlier when we had Eric “Mad Dog” Herman here). Why would BVP not be as truthful as Alisa? Now Alisa if you read this I feel that you wasted your lunch hour sending this to Sarah’s inbox. More people should read it. Can we arrange that Alisa, even anonymously. Yours is such a good response….

  3. Alisa I thought of a plan. I just now went to the ACTFL Language Educators site and posted this:
    …the core practices do not support CI, in my view….
    Now if I get a bite I will just cut and paste your comments above. But if you really don’t want to get embroiled I just won’t do that. But then I will have to fabricate a response. Hint….
    The fact is, their group of 18,000 people has very few people who ever actually speak to each other on a daily basis. Back in 2013 we only were able to drag in Paul Sandrock, ACTFL’s leader, after a few weeks of chippy exchanges, in what turned out to be from him nothing but an embarrassingly insipid and fully political response (link below from this site) that most Lang Ed members probably took as his blessing to continue teaching from the textbook, which is what Sandrock’s real job is, perhaps, to keep ACTFL aligned with the textbook companies since, as Krashen told me once, is a 1.3 billion dollar industry.
    I remember how he came in trying to put out the fire that Robert Harrell and Eric “Mad Dog” Herman and jen and the rest of us started, as per this post from those days here on the PLC:
    Sandrock’s response back then in the above repost (original conflagration was as I said around 2013) is political and worded so as not to offend. Robert and Eric and the rest of us, intent on offending anyone we could if any PLC reading this remember those days and how this group used to be – more chippy – we all just up and walked away, since it was clear that what Sandrock wanted was calm seas and no real open and honest inquiry. We wanted a good fight on behalf of what we thought CI to be and all we got was sand and rock and, from BVP above, some wind….
    When Sandrock and BVP, who are the leaders, try to merely placate, I can completely understand where Krashen decided to just throw his hands up in the air years ago.

  4. Alisa there is even another lovely paragraph written by you to Sandrock that is linked to in the above link. You haven’t lost your touch! I agree with you that we need not talk to those people – who has the time? But at least we did have one good spat with them.

  5. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Wait, I dunno which paragraph to Sandrock you are referencing – please tell me!
    Yeah, I don’t get why BVP chooses to obsess on that one ‘CI is a lens and not a method’ trope, though I suppose he’s trying to insure that our CI rhetoric is crystal clear, professional and in alignment with SLA. These are important considerations, but his comment came at the expense of tackling all the other legacy nonsense, ignorance and insult (‘magic…buzz method’).
    Clearly I saw that as an invitation at the time… displaced anger at the broader ‘state of affairs,’ I’m sure.
    Sarah – the person whose post I was answering, never responded to me. I would be willing to post my truth on the LE forum if y’all think it’s worthwhile. But if I do, and it opens a can of whoop ass, I’ll need some backup from over here. Before I post, anyone interested please comb thru my original response at the top and email me any edits/revisions before I go rogue: alisashapiro@winnetka36.org

  6. I was completely wrong Alisa there was no other paragraph from you. I had one of those middle-of-the-night-can’t-sleep things going on and just got confused. The Sandrock replies to us in 2013 clearly left a wound, because we were so summarily ignored. If you remember we were winning that fight by millions of points and just walked away because they couldn’t offer us a good fight back.
    Thus I am still working through on many levels how the gap between what Krashen really says and how people interpret it (including the very strange and chameleon-like mesmerizer BVP) seems to keep getting wider. (What I mean by that is that I see us drifting from the pure research and coming more under the sway of controlling “do it my way” personalities each year.)
    So many new powerful “experts” are popping up all over the place and telling people to do it their way and that is not how I see CI, which is such a personal thing and so cannot be thought of as being done in one “right” way. Those who defend CI in an altruistic way and purely on the research, like you in your writing above, are very rare. Usually someone is trying to twist CI to their own financial advantage, without taking into consideration how individual this work is meant to be if Krashen’s research is any indicator. I know what works for me, but I don’t tell others that they have to do it that way.
    You may remember that in this space I once compared CI here to a nuclear explosion, which happened with Blaine Oppenheim building and testing and then exploding the first bomb in about 1992 and then how each year the fallout cloud kept expanding and becoming more and more nondescript and ill-defined. And how now, about 25 years later, many of us here agree that the CI cloud has no more shape and so people like Sarah and Sandrock get to spout meaningless generalities, talking the talk about CI without really having walked the walk. It’s not unlike how the right wing senators have ignored the facts in favor of what they want recently on Capitol Hill. It’s that bad.
    That said, I don’t think your public confrontation of Sarah on their site would get much of a reaction from them. They are bullies and bullies continue their behaviors unless stopped and your text is such a bully-stopper that they simply won’t reply. Sarah didn’t and no one will back her up. Look at the thread. A weak and far-too-generalized comment from BVP and that’s it.
    The only times that they feign anger and go to Paul to defend them is when they really get deluged like when we hailstormed them from here in 2013. Then Paul has to come – the ACTFL godfather – and says some drivel/pablum and then they all feel better about not knowing what CI really means and Paul does his job of keeping ACTFL in the textbook companies pockets and the beat goes on.
    Don’t worry. I’m sure Sean and others here will dive in if needed – we still have some of the old free radicals from years ago here, but it won’t be necessary. Just open up the can of Whoopass on Sarah and then it’ll die down and they will continue to remain silent because they REALLY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT CI REALLY IS ALL ABOUT.
    I do hope more than a few people click on your text link above to offer edits. I certainly will and thank you for putting yourself out there. But really you won’t get much of a reaction. Of the 18,000 members of For. Lang. Educators, very few are active. Most just joined to say they joined, just to be in the most amorphous club on the internet.

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