Rigor – 3

This statement by VanPatten was shared with us by Michele Whaley. It is in support of statements made in the last post on rigor. It is incomplete and I will ask Michele to fill in the details so that everything is accurate. It has very strong implications for the pathway ACTFL must now take as they move forward in their leadership role with ALL WL teachers in the U.S. Why? Because those who teach traditionally and those who use CI do in fact disagree on many of the basic points about what defines best practice in our field, especially those addressing thematic units, what CI even is, and the use of authentic texts in the CI classroom. For that reason we consider VanPatten’s statement an important one, and on the level of the statement by Krashen made in 2009 referenced in the last post in this thread:

Michele says:

…in full hearing of my intermediate Russian class, Bill VanPatten said that TPRS is a completely appropriate process instruction method for teaching languages in high school….

And here is Michele, in a comment made here tonight, on the topic, and it connects to that whole thing that happened last week when Sandrock and his friend came out to Alaska and his friend made a very ill-chosen webinar that made some big waves up there starting around the Aleutian Islands:

I just sent a note to Ben but I’m going to crash this thread because there is important, exciting news. TPRS teachers have been validated by non other than Bill VanPatten! I think several of you might have seen his article in the current Language Educator, in which his description of how to run class is suspiciously similar to what we call circling, minus what I think of as engaging.

Because I’m in contact with BVP to get him to present here at AFLA 2014 next September, he asked whether I knew about an upcoming webinar. It was sent out to those belonging to the ACTFL Research Special Interest Group (SIG). (Now I know I need to join that group.)

If you watched the videos that we suggested earlier by Bill VanPatten, you know that what he discusses seems to support our teaching. A lot of the webinar went over that material for a second time, and once again, he did not get to the point of explaining HOW to teach using Process Instruction. Luckily there were questions afterward. I asked for an example in addition to his family lesson that he mentioned in the Language Educator article. He said it was hard to do on the spot, but then he said that if he had the topic of clothing, for example, he would take in a picture of his closet, talking about the numbers of pairs of shoes, the types of clothing, and so on. Then he’d say to his class, “Now see what you remember. How many pairs of shoes do I have? What kinds of suits…” and so on.

A few things came into my head. First, not a word about authentic resources. Second, he said that teachers need to talk to the kids, but go no more than three or four sentences without giving them a reason to respond. Third, I thought I did a much better job of talking about clothing today when a kid in a t-shirt and shorts was cold in my 70-degree classroom, while a kid in a jacket, blouse, and jeans was a bit warm. We pulled them up to the front and talked to them about the current weather and the fact that this is Alaska. Do they know the words for jacket and blouse? Probably not jacket, but bluska is pretty obvious. Jinsi was a no-brainer, as was shorti, and they might have even got futbolka (t-shirt) because I kept plucking on it. I asked them to close their eyes and tell me who had the items on. No issue. Probably should have done a quiz.

Sorry this is so long!! I’m so excited I can’t stop.

The next question was a little more direct. “Is TPRS a method you would consider appropriate?” (Was one of you on the webinar???) “Yes!! In TPRS, teachers are working within a context that the students understand, they are engaging with them, and they are processing meaning.” There was more, but a little cheer went up in my room and I’ve forgotten.

Bill VanPatten IS ACTFL. He’s this year’s chair of the Research SIG.

What I didn’t mention above is that this webinar came on at the beginning of my Intermediate Russian class. I wanted to be able to listen to at least the first few minutes, to be able to decide whether to go back later and listen to it (if only for this, ACTFL membership is worth the dues for this year), so I had reading and writing tasks set up for the kids, having written them notes that they were welcome to listen with me.

Four or five kids were glued to the webinar, though it was pretty darned complex for them, so I kept it going for the entire time.

One of the boys just dropped in to tell me that the webinar explained to him why my methods of teaching language are so much more than the methods other teachers have used. He’s taking Russian with me for a third year, having had eight years before that of both Spanish and Russian with a varied group of teachers, so he has more experience than most kids of this age.

Can you imagine how happy I am?? I can’t wait for our Curriculum Director to hear this webinar!



10 thoughts on “Rigor – 3”

    1. It looks really interesting, but I was unable to access the whole article because I don’t belong to any institution or association with Shibboleth or Muse. Is there any other way to access this?

        1. You can also download the “VanPatten 2015 Where are the Experts?” article directly through Google Scholar. It’s about the fifth entry down, and you have to click the pdf link on the right:


          Also, VanPatten’s articles are all listed on his personal Google Scholar page, though not all of them will have links for download:


          I made a video as well showing how I like to find research articles using Google Scholar, if anyone’s interested:


  1. I read it (VP on Where r the experts?) and nearly blushed at how obvious his point is. College students are taking WL communication courses, trying to learn to understand n speak Spanish from people who specialize in medieval Spanish lit, or post modern Latin American cinema (I made that one up!)
    I’d add that in university education departments, WL teachers-to-be are taught by experts in bilingualism, school reform, poverty, etc. but you’ll be hard pressed to find any pedagogy classes with more than mention of different pedagogical approaches/strategies. The stuff of what to do when in a room full of students is rarely discussed, and certainly not explicitly modeled, practiced, coached or debriefed.
    Great. Now we gotta take over colleges and universities, too! As if K-12 weren’t enough!

    1. These folks assume their approach is a good one. Why not? It works for them. It has lasted some of them a very long time. I do find it strange that they find it normal that so many of their students are not smart enough for their party. Instead, they bring Rick Steves to their own party in ACTFL San Diego and talk about traveling when the American middle class is doing a disappearing act. Apparently, the focus this year is going to be on travel and computers and textbooks. Maybe they could make it for travel agents and people who work for Best Buy, too.

      1. You make a good point, Ben, about Rick Steves, if that’s the point you were trying to make. Talk about exclusion and discrimination based on socio-economic class. Linking foreign language with tourism in order to demonstrate “relevance” only further widens the gulf between haves and have-nots in our classrooms.

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