My Truth

I want my classes to be about discovering things together with my students. I want to make things up with them. I want us to learn together how to have fun while we learn French. I believe that my students need people like me to help them get more curious, and less jaded, about school. I see jaded teachers everywhere.

I don’t think that things that are real can be measured. And love certainly cannot be measured because it is boundless. I don’t give a rip how hokey it sounds. If there is no feeling of happiness and if there is no permission given to students to be flawed in my classroom, then I will walk.

We are now moving at warp speed into a new way to educate and evaluate language students. It is now more about communication, process, intuition and cooperation. It is no longer about isolation of the smart from the not so smart. Nor is it about how much knowledge can be poured into a kids’ head and then they get to win, because it is not a competition.

I would even question if what we do can be measured. We have struggled mightily in DPS over the past five years, spending in excess of $200,000 on writing proficiency tests and giving them and grading them, and we have come up with good instruments, but they still feel kind of fake. We are working so hard to quantify learning and I can see how that can be done in math, but not in languages. Not really.

Language acquisition is not about intellectual development or about gains. People process languages in such different ways at such different speeds! Language is far from an intellectual thing, it is much more than that.

Indeed, can the intellect be used to learn a language? Krashen has made a convincing argument that it cannot. He has shown that just the deeper mind can do that magic. So it’s not about what students have attained intellectually, it is about their process. It’s about the how and not the what. The what counted in the last century of language learning, and look what happened. Nobody learned much.

The new education is about give and take, and back and forth human sharing. That is what will appear behind the tsunami of data collection and testing that we are in now, when the data tsunami finally crashes. Some smile, a smile long submerged, will emerge after the tsunami of data collection that we are currently in passes by, because it cannot last.

We cannot possibly continue to test kids when most of them are unmotivated in the first place. What is up with that? The kid doesn’t even want to be in the class, his perception of life , having been molded in a kind of judgmental way in schools, prevents him from being motivated, and yet we test the kid as if he is in fact motivated. I just see that as messed up. In fact, the entire data collection thing relatively sick. It feels sick, probably, because it is sick. It’s the work of robots.

To what conclusions did all the data that Krashen collected – and that is a carload of data – lead him? They led him straight to the idea that language is a reciprocal and participatory process that is an unconscious one. All that work he did for all those years led him to state that the brain orders languages in ways that the analytical mind cannot possibly understand. They led him to write about how we feel when we learn a language.

This movement away from mind and into the heart was written about by Blaise Pascal when he said, «Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point» (“The heart has its reasons that the mind cannot know.”) I like that line. It gives me hope. I don’t want to live in a world where even my students’ proficiency gains determine my success as a teacher. I want to measure my students’ gains in terms of how many smiles I saw in class that day. I want a smile counter in my classes. That’s my idea of real data gathering.

I think that we may have progressed to the point in our Krashen based instruction that we can now avoid wasting time with pointless, almost absurd, data driven games when anyone with half a brain can just walk into a classroom and, by looking at and listening to the kids, see if anything is going on in their noggins.

Let’s take that a little further. I propose that we now base all our research and our evaluation of teachers and what has been learned and all that stuff not on costly data gathering systems, but rather on whether the students and the teacher feel that they are accomplishing good things together, whether they would report that their time in class is well spent, and whether they are happy together or not. It’s not such a far-fetched idea. Instead of counting points, let’s count smiles!

So I support Robert’s original thought here back in May of 2011 when he suggested that we explore, as a group, the idea of assessment as it relates to the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication. Robert got a lot of us thinking about the Three Modes.

Now comes the time for Krashen’s ideas to not be crushed by the robotic minds who don’t like what he says anymore. They’ve whined about him long enough and they are starting to look a bit stupid. The book companies are really going to have a hard time with this change. Are there data gatherers at the university level who are in bed with book companies? Hmmm. Krashen’s work, though housed in theory and data, points far beyond that stuff to a new way of being human, to a new way of looking at how humans interact, which is a primary characteristic  of language.

If we are to reinvent ourselves as a people, and experience the deep human needs of feeling oneness with others, of simple human respect, of sharing happiness with others, of opposing poverty as per Krashen, then we must learn to assess our kids in a way that is more grand, more human, more authentic.

Conclusion 1: The new world view is not going to be about competition. In competition children lose and even those who win lose, because they learn by winning that they can put others down, be better than others, and that leads to exploitation of others as adults, and to what we have now. I want to teach cooperation, not competition.

Conclusion 2: We are no longer in an age where the intellect is in charge. In the future we must learn intuition and trust with others. Google has taken care of the need to fill our brains with information. Now we must learn how to interact with others and work from a basis of common trust. I will assess my students’ ability to cooperate and interact with me and it will be part of their grade. I no longer worship the intellect.



4 thoughts on “My Truth”

  1. For me, the real real test of whether or not the method works came in the first couple of days of class this week when I was doing PQA with the Chinese 2 and Chinese 3/4 students and they could answer every question I threw at them using last year’s structures. Everyone talks about what kids lose over the summer but they hadn’t lost it because it was in their long term memories. This for me was the most powerful assessment I could ever give them and something I have waited a year to see — cleared desks, no notes or vocab lists in front of them, nothing but eyes, brains, and mouths — total affirmation of language acquisition.

  2. Truly inspirational. Every time I tell someone, even other teachers I meet, that I teach middle school Spanish in NYC, they gasp. Like this, I’ve heard more good-luck’s, oh-man’s, and I-could-never-do-that’s than I can count.

    But I love my students. Each of them is a human being full of the potential to learn and grow and to be part of something amazing. Not each of them comes primed and ready for this adventure, but part of my job is to help them get ready – by connecting with them, by fighting for them and by never giving up on them.

    I’ve always loved this quote: “We are all doing the best we can with what we know now.” This counts for us and for our students. Our job as teachers is to teach and be compassionate, not to judge and punish (which is what more than a few teachers do with grades, detentions, bad attitudes, etc.), but in order for us to teach our students we must care about them and they must know that we care about them.

    Thanks Ben for these inspiring words.

  3. HI Bradley….
    Thank YOU for your inspiring words!

    Hey, NYC is NOT that far from Lewiston, Maine…. It would be so nice to have you join our very special New England group at our 9th annual TCI conference. It is October 10, 11 + 12…. email me if that is something you might be interested in…

  4. Hey Bradley. If ever I make it to NYC I’d love to see your classes. Great words btw. Like Kelis sez, “you work with what you got.”

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