COLFLT Insights

Russ Albright in Oregon has some deep insights from COFLT (this past weekend) that might reveal why traditional teachers eye the CI camp with such mistrust. He doesn’t mince his words, which I really admire because this is no time for innuendo in this work we are doing together. It is something that fits well here because our group is private. I have his permission to share this here:

Hey Ben,

I just went to COFLT and saw some really great sessions on instruction, assessment, theory, and methods. Thanks to people like Tina, Claire, and Dr. Beniko Mason it was a great experience.

Having said that, I took some time to talk to other educators here in Oregon and we have a lot of grammar/textbook teachers. I take those opportunities as a way to engage with them (at least the ones who are willing) in conversations about teaching.

One teacher said something that stuck out. She was a definite textbook teacher and it was kind of amazing she went to any CI sessions and Dr. Mason’s workshop so I talked to her and she said that the way CI teachers spoke to her really turns her off from the entire idea.  People use words like pain, hurting students, and bullying. And although I have watched as I have done those things to my students before finding the way, I do think that when we talk that way, we alienate those that we want to help.

This teacher said to me that if I’m not supposed to bully my students then shouldn’t others not bully me and I think she is right. I think we need to be more tactful because when we talk to traditional teachers in a rude and direct way then are we not causing them to have a backfire effect, with them holding even tighter too their beliefs. I think that this is important because my belief is that their students are in pain but by insulting those teachers to their faces it doesn’t help their students.

I am emailing this to you because there was a presenter in particular who was guilty of this as she was teaching her session and I could see the looks in many teachers faces change – it looked like the faces I had seen many times as I was talking to new teachers about CI: the look of someone who turned off to everything I was saying. This teacher literally caused an affective response in the teachers present.

I don’t know if this is important to you or anything but it was just something I noticed so I felt like sharing it with you. Also if you have a different opinion or any advice that’s great too.

Just letting you know, and thanks for everything you do!

Russ

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14 thoughts on “COLFLT Insights”

  1. This is something I have been thinking about and noticing, as well. I have invited some teachers to come to some CI groups that I participate with on a monthly basis. A few have said that they didn’t want to attend because they felt criticized for their methods of teaching and as if they were being “talked down to.” I think this is a fine line to walk. Teachers are already overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. I think many are just doing what they know and have no time for more education, more research and more meetings. I know I was in the same boat up until a few years ago. I thought I knew what I needed to know and it wasn’t until I was forced to do some “BS research” as part of my re-certification in a new state, that I learned any different. I just had become entrenched in what I had always done. I worked for years to develop a system that I thought worked for myself and my students. Throwing all of that work away, leaving it all behind to try something completely new and foreign to me was really scary. It took a big leap of faith and being at the end of my rope emotionally to even give it a try. The a-ha moment for me was Tina talking about how she was the world’s laziest teacher and that she never brought work home :). That was so appealing to me! Even though she must work like a madwoman for everything else she is working on. Anyway, I think that they key to this is being compassionate and offering ideas, and to really hit home that this is LESS work, LESS effort, better for students and better for teachers. This Invisibles star concept, that we have a class or individually created image, story, whatever kind of input, followed by some reading options and some writing options, and recycling that over and over again, substituting different “activities” for novelty is really crucial for less work and ease of planning and getting new teachers to buy in or at least try it.

  2. I’m new here and this is my first comment! Negativity and attacking other teachers won’t influence them to change. Seeing our joy in teaching and our students’ enthusiasm for learning will have a greater long term impact. Since I teach privately and don’t have any other teachers in my department to be at odds with, I can only refer to past experiences. Many traditional, grammar based teachers also care about students, want to make a difference, and love the language they teach. Respecting their work, their motivations, and finding common ground is just part of treating others as human beings. Maybe with some foundational relationship established, these teachers may even ask about our methods and be open-minded enough to listen.

  3. Right on Lori and welcome to the group. By and large, we stay focused on positive instructional and curriculum and assessment ideas. The way you state it above is exactly what we all have pretty much agreed to be our group’s position on this thorny issue here, in discussion over many years and learning the hard way. Often, too often, our passion for the new ideas has been misinterpreted as bashing traditional teachers. I think that is what happened here, actually. In that sense, what Russ gave us a needed reminder about how easy it is to offend people, even CI colleagues as you may find out or already know. Russ has told me privately that at COFLT it was not a big problem, more isolated to one presenter, but it just goes to show how one negative and attacking voice can affect a whole lot of teachers.

    1. Yes exactly Ben because those teachers were turned off from later sessions and workshops because of the comments they heard. That was the message that I was trying to convey. Not just that we should not bully teachers but that we have to be the ambassadors of input oriented instruction and therefore our words matter when talking to others, especially potential converts as it were.

  4. At first we felt so outnumbered bc we were. But over the years, and some of us like me never even noticed, there are a lot of people who, unlike before, fit into this description from Lori:

    …maybe with some foundational relationship established, these teachers may even ask about our methods….

    That is happening now. And it is quite a shift from the old days on this PLC, when we were the rebels. Now we’re not the rebels anymore. Many of those teachers have softened in their attitudes towards us and now more than ever is the time to drop our weapons and embrace them. That is why your point above is so important Russ.

  5. I just wanted to share that my supervisor just approved paying for a Saturday CI workshop day for my whole department. I have been asking for 4 years. I am the only one in my department who has ever attended a CI conference or training before and I know that I have not been the best at explaining why I believe in it without putting down my colleagues. But it was so hard for me to explain when we didn’t share the same training. I am so so so grateful that my colleagues are willing to give up a Saturday to learn with me. I feel proud of the work I have already done, but I too have so much to learn so I know we will take this on together and that feels so good!

  6. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    In my last convo w/Helena Curtain, where she chastised me for adopting these strategies, she said that we (the CI movement) were proselytizing and that it was a huge turn-off.

    The medium IS the message.

  7. This is from an email I wrote to Helena in 2015. She didn’t respond. The TONE of those interactions back then was civil but we got nowhere in terms of establishing a dialogue. Is my tone below rude? I don’t think so. Helena could have at least acknowledged my message to her. I think the majority of CI teachers do not wish to insult anyone, just find a bridge:

    We believe that a student learns a language because she wants to, that it has nothing to do with thinking, and virtually nothing to do with translation or with immersion as the term is currently used, which is really submersion of the student’s understanding, a teaching process that is insulting to the students who learn more slowly than the faster-processing and faster-thinking teacher’s pets.

    We don’t like it that people get away with actually teaching only a small percentage of their students in upper level classes because they have left behind the others and made them think, quite wrongly, that they can’t learn languages. Blaine Ray has never been heard by those people. But now they are starting to lose their jobs over it, so they are starting to listen. They have for too long built their scope and sequences from the Table of Contents of their textbooks, which makes it that the textbook companies (corporations) determine what American students learn in American schools. Do you know anything about that?

    We who use comprehensible input (it’s best form is stories) place our trust in the unconscious mind because we know that it and not the conscious mind is where actual acquisition takes place. We also believe that enjoyment of class is a huge factor not just for teenage students but for everyone, so we personalize and invent bizarre scenes to keep our students’ interest. Bizarre does not mean silly or pointless. It means that the information will stick and that class will be much more enjoyable. Thus as teachers we enjoy our own classes a lot more. This aligns with Dr. Krashen’s statement:

    “The path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.”

    Some of us have tested the above concepts for almost twenty-five years, and we are happy with the results.

    Without stories and without other forms of lighthearted discussions, success in teaching a foreign language is virtually impossible. When our classes are conducted largely in the target language (can you say that?), we actually (we do not lie about it) align with the ACTFL 90% Position Statement and the Three Modes of Communication.

    The old way of foreign language instruction reaches only a few bright kids and therefore creates a stink of elitism in our classrooms, separating classes into haves and have nots. That is not what we want and that separation of classes has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with intransigent teacher pride. The old ways of teaching languages align with nothing and are based on no research that the ACTFL Foreign Language educators group or any group has been able to locate and share when challenged online by our little group here. Could you help us with that? Could you show us the research that defends the textbooks that you represent?

    When teachers pick stories, they align with 21st century standards and with research that actually exists. Do we really wish to convey to most of our students that they can’t learn a language? Let’s not do that anymore.

  8. At the risk of hurting my thumb, which they now say is fractured, after thinking about this idea that we must be nice to traditional teachers so as to not alienate them, and I totally get that that is 100% true, I still have a great sense of sadness mixed w anger about the close-minded and therefore unreasonable pride and ignorance of the research that some of those teachers exhibit. I defend the right of teachers to teach as they want, but not at the expense of making large amounts of children feel stupid, like they can’t do it. Now they are crossing the line.

  9. I have attended quite a few in-service trainings (Waldorf and non-Waldorf) and haven’t heard about the research there. It was always about methods but not about the underlying theory as if language aquisition research and theory were not important at all.
    I am angry at those people who are responsible for the education of teachers bc they are not doing their job of presenting the research results and the, in my eyes, truely convincing hypotheses.

  10. I also am angry. And I keep wondering why Krashen has strayed from his own research in endorsing a method that only in a limited way aligns with it. It may be that I am wrong on that. Actually I’m not.

    1. HI Ben,

      I recently attended an SL workshop and Dr. Krashen spoke there. He said that as long as we adhere to the major tenets of SLA then, we are good. 1) Understanding messages 2)subconscious acquisition vs learning 3) compelling input with flow etc… etc… He gave the analogy of Chuck Norris and his master in a fight with bad guys. The master ripped the phone off the wall and whacked a bad guy. Chuck’s character said “I didn’t know we could do that” The master replied by saying that in a fight you must use what you got. So the principles matter most. I have been complaining that there needs to be multiple systems of CI. So far we only have a handful but many teachers now teaching. I have been thinking that my kind of CI (many teachers probably as well) as applying PARALLEL Systems to deliver CI even though some systems need to be exclusive. Say that I’m doing it wrong. I have had many more smiles and laughter this year than ever and I am Planning for more! To recap: There are no rules but guidelines and principles to follow when teaching with CI.

      1. So Steven I find Krashen’s response to the SL, as you describe it at the workshop, to be evasive. Did he address SL really? I had an insight – a deep one – in CT these past few days: SL ain’t that great. I won’t expand on it bc my thumb won’t let me.

  11. Did you ever have to switch from doing more CI to more grammar/vocab? I did. I start to realize the mindset that started to come back over me. It is easy to start blaming students for their lack of success. They need to study more. It was not that I decided to feel mean to kids. It came about as a result of assuming a non-CI approach. Let’s just forget the kids for a moment (but just a moment for the sake of the argument). We are destroying ourselves and trying to save ourselves in the process.

    But it is easy to talk about how you feel you have progressed and make someone feel bad, like you are getting onto them. On the other hand, I would remind them that it was at no small cost that I started down the CI path. I had the humiliation of being on an improvement plan after 26 years of teaching. But it was a growing time for me. Perhaps that is what had to be to see what I see now. Five of ten department members are CI. My coordinator is the most open she has ever been–may even go to NTPRS next year in Boston, and currently experimenting with stories. If what you are doing is better than that, be thankful. Some people are just dipping their toes in the water.

    In the meantime, I have been able to do OWI’s in all classes (2-3 per class), including Fr 1, Sp 2 and Sp 4. Ben and Tina’s workshops were what I needed this summer, both for the content and the French CI to kick start my plunge back into French after a 5 year hiatus. (CI doesn’t just lead to acquisition; it brings back rusty and unused language.) Thanks, guys.

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