Same Old….

This morning Sean shares a question from a relatively ignorant administrator that echoes questions from the past ten years. None of us is exempt from this. The administrator comes in, observes, then tries tries to show off what little language they have (see below) while at the same time having – just having – to find a way to get a dig in on what we know is in fact good teaching that aligns with the research. If the administrator only knew that, Sean wouldn’t have to come to the group with the question below. We need some real responses for Sean here – something he can use. So please write what you are thinking. Sean can decide how he wants to use our collective responses. 

Good morning Ben,
I’m sharing a question my principal wrote me after she visited my room. We were in the middle of some of your 21 reading options. Students, as usual, were engaged and in good spirits. I have a great rapport with the students and my more direct supervisors think I’m doing a great job. So, I am in no danger of losing my job (knock on wood). That said, I would love some feedback on how to respond to this general question she comes to at the end, “What opportunities do you use to correct these students’ understanding?”

I confess, my first reaction is “Leave me alone, please.” I have a 2 week old infant at home, a sick 2 year old… And there’s been times in the past where she seemed open to a genuine conversation about second language acquisition, and I’d write a good amount in an email, to not get a response. So, it’s a little frustrating.

Anyways, I do feel like I can talk to her openly even if she doesn’t swallow everything I say about this CI teaching. So, what could I say to respond to her here?

Hi Sean,

This morning it was great to see how the students in your class are mostly all engaged watching you move through the text and physically demonstrate vocabulary.  When you asked for a response or confirmation of a term, they were correct each time!  And when you asked students to begin underlining verbs, they started working right away.  I do wonder about the place for providing feedback to students, such as the students who weren’t able to circle verbs, or later to ensure students went left not right on izquierda and demonstrated understanding of those two directional words.  What opportunities do you use to correct these students’ understanding?

Thanks!

 

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41 thoughts on “Same Old….”

  1. Well, for students not able to circle a verb:
    If this is being done on paper it can be collected and visually scanned to look for students unable to circle verbs.

    For going left not right; Unless the majority of the students are moving in the wrong direction, the student who has moved in the wrong direction receives immediate feed back. So I would tell administrator that that would be sufficient. That the goal is to lower the affective filter, not to make sure that students know their left from their right and on that point some of us would get that messed up in our mother tongue.

    In general, I would point back to our proficiency standards and point out that knowing hot to circle verbs and knowing which way to go are not integral to the standards, but are just 2 of a variety of ways we expose the student to the language so that they can master the standards. I would also keep one of those ACTFL charts on each student (actually have them keep it), and in most cases, students will be further along than the NL exit standard after 1 year of study, etc. Use the standards and where your students are to fortify your work.

    1. I think the point about the immediate feedback that happens in a TPR type of activity is big, which is what we were doing when students were dancing with me to a Directions Rhyme:

      Izquiera, derecha
      delante, detrás
      cerca, y lejos
      y ya, los demás

      Arriba, abajo
      allí y allá
      al lado y adentro
      ¿Dónde está?

      That was just a little break from the significant work of our whole group reading.

      The whole “underline the verbs” was just another break for students after some time in the whole group reading activity. I just tell students to spend 2 minutes circling verbs. It’s a break for me from talking and a break for them to do something independently. Yes, I do try to walk around and help students identify verbs. Many students have that difficulty. But that is certainly not my main objective.

    2. Oh, and yes! I think I really need to highlight that I’m trying to lower the affective filter with students. I’m not interested in responding to students to correct them as I am interested in responding to them so as to lower the affective filter so that they are more willing to play with the language and communicate.

      Thanks for that point, Amanda!

  2. I need a little more context for this.
    Is there a connection between students underlining verbs and students who were not able to circle verbs? Do the kids need help with drawing circles? with identifying verbs? Were they not able to understand the difference between circles and underlines? Were students going right with izquierda? Are these real occurrences that the observer witnessed or are you being asked to reflect on what you would do in response to these hypothetical possibilities if, in fact, they were to occur?

    The students were correct each time. Is the observer wondering how you gave them feedback on their route to “correct each time”?

    Were there a student who was still getting mixed up izquierda/derecha, we might first determine whether right/left is a language issue or a mixing-up-of -right/left. There are many people who mix up right/left in there native language. So they are told to hold up their hands, palms out. The hand whose index finger and thumb form the letter ell is the left hand. For Spanish, turn the hands so that the karate chop side is out. Touch thumb to middle finger (forming a circle) and point the index finger straight up. The left hand will form the letter bee. The right hand will form the letter dee–dee for derecha. Of course, that would be demonstrated that to everybody.

    If there were a student in your class who had gone right for izquierda for having not yet connected left and izquierda, we might be safe to conclude that she had not received sufficient clarification or sufficient input. The above strategy might help with clarification. And there are other tricks, like weird things to say, (“Derecha-right? Right you are.” Pronounced [Righ(t)chu are]), and writing the English-Spanish o the board.

    But if a student had not gotten it right, and if it were because of insufficient input, the obvious solution would be more meaningful input. Purposing to include the notions of left/right in everything we do in class will allow for increased meaning input in a variety of contexts. In addition to “going right”…
    Calendar: Is Sunday on the right or the left? What is on the right side?
    Card talk: Batter. Do you stand on the right side of the plate or the left? Do you like to hit to right field or left?
    Weekend: Ate ice cream at a party…with left hand or right hand?
    Invisibles: What color is the left eye? The right eye?
    And so forth.

    I think that the point is that you demonstrate to the observer that you have thought through and are willing to think through a situation, that you care about your students and do not want anyone to fall through the cracks, that you are not going to rush on to cover the next concept and forget, in text book fashion, all that happened before.

    Lance Piantaggini has said something like this, It does not matter what the outcome of the assessment, there is only one thing to do as a result, and that is provide more comprehensible input.

    1. Those are some neat tricks to do with right vs left. I’m going to remember the “d” (for derecha) your right hand creates when you touch your thumb to your middle finger and point your index finger up. You’re also making me think about using left & right more in stories.

      I think you’re right, Nathaniel, that my principal is more likely asking something like, “What opportunities do you use to further help [instead of “correct”] students understanding?” So I could reply this way describing the various ways I will continue to help my students better understand and acquire such vocab like izquierda vs derecha by giving more input, and explain the different ways I plan on giving input.

      I love that quote from Lance, thanks!

    2. Sometimes when we take a brain break, I have students do crossover activity. I have read and heard that it is important to cross over the midline of the body as part of balancing and re-setting yourself. So, I have students touch their left knee with their right elbow, their right foot with their left hand, etc. At the end, I usually have them touch their right shoulder with their left hand and their left shoulder with their right hand – essentially giving themselves a hug. I’m sure I could do more with it, but this helps with a brain break, body parts, and left/right.

      Here’s a fun poem by Ernst Jandl that plays with the confusion of left and right:

      lichtung

      manche meinen
      lechts und rinks
      kann man nicht velwechsern
      werch ein illtum

      (Ernst Jandl)

  3. Something that has helped me in conversations with my admin is to point to the research that influences the way I teach. It also helps that my admin truly wants to understand how language is acquired. Here are some points you may wish to use:

    According to SLA researcher Bill VanPatten from Michigan State University, there are no errors in SLA. He has explained this in one of his MSU supported podcasts: Tea with BVP, Episode 7, There is No Such Thing as “Errors”, http://www.teawithbvp.com/.

    When we, CI teachers, notice where students are having difficulty in communication, we usually just need to slow down while keeping the communication comprehensible. The Language Acquisition Device, as described by Noam Chomsky, will take over and the students will begin to auto-correct (http://study.com/academy/lesson/chomskys-language-acquisition-device-definition-lesson-quiz.html).

    1. These are great points, Cameron. Thanks for simplifying them so nicely.

      Any chance I could ask you to summarize BVP’s point about there are no errors in SLA. I gander it’s about how in every instance that a student attempts to communicate in L2 we have to look at that as an accomplishment to celebrate. If we correct that attempt to communicate it’s to say the word or phrase or whatever correctly and do so in a way that shows we are genuinely interested in the messages that are being communicated in the conversation.

      1. VanPatten also mentions this in his new book While we’re on the Topic.

        The basic idea is that attempts to communicate are errors only from an outside perspective when comparing them to what we consider “correct language”. From an acquisition point of view, these are merely outward expressions of the learners current mental representation of the language, and this is evolving as the learner receives more input. Since the brain creates a mental representation only from the data contained in comprehensible language used for a purpose within a given context (i.e. communication), acquisition is highly resistant to “error correction”.

        In my classroom I try never to do explicit error correction or even conscious modeling as an activity in itself. Sometimes I have to repeat statements that students make using correct grammar in order to verify that I understand what they want to say. That is, however, negotiation of meaning as part of communication (defined by VanPatten as “the expression, interpretation, and occasionally negotiation of meaning for a purpose in a given context”; classrooms probably have a higher percentage of negotiation of meaning than many other contexts). Restatement of the sentence seeks confirmation that I have understood the utterance – and sometimes I have not; sometimes what I think I heard is not what the student intended to say.

        At least that is my understanding BVP’s point.

        1. “Since the brain creates a mental representation only from the data contained in comprehensible language used for a purpose within a given context (i.e. communication), acquisition is highly resistant to “error correction”.”

          I think I get what you’re saying here, Robert. It’s like learning how to hit baseball in a baseball game, perhaps. You learn how to hit well after lots of practice. If you learning how to hit, and strike out, you won’t go hit a home run the next time you’re at bat just by having your coach correct your positioning and timing. You need the practice.

          Perhaps this mental representation that our brain creates as we acquire language is like the muscle memory our body goes through as we learn to play a sport through lots of practice. Practice in sports being analogous to negotiating meaning in L2 conversations.

          Well, I do see some kinks in this analogy 🙂

          1. I like the analogy, esp. when applied to formation of speech bc that really is muscle memory and simply cannot come under the control of the conscious mind. As a profession in general, just on this point, we have really blown it on the speech output piece, even the TPRSers.

  4. I’ve experienced a similar issue where we have to complete ‘feedback loops’ where we are expected to probe students to deeper understanding, especially when their first attempt is incorrect. I spent time (along with my WL colleagues) about how this sort of feedback looks different in my classroom than it would in a classroom where you could just use English to explain and question again. I basically told my admin. that by providing more correct input and repetition, along with choral response, those who don’t get it the first will get it eventually and that often the feedback they need is simply more and varied input. We also discussed how point and pause could also be considered feedback when at first students don’t get it…which also helps us go slow. Hope this helps!

  5. I would say that you do frequent checks for comprehension in English . Also Blaine Ray always says “When a student actor says something wrong like Yo Tiene instead of Yo tengo, just tell them what they said in English.” Tell her that you frequently do that, it just didn’t come up in the lesson she observed.

  6. The sad thing is that admin is probably only asking you a question about that because THEY are checking off a box for themselves.

    They couldn’t find anything wrong with your lesson but in order to be a good admin that they have to give you SOMETHING to work on, so they just picked that.

    1. Yes Sean that is what happened. In Administrator School they are told to find one “area of improvement” in each evaluation they do. I bet this one is given to science teachers and everyone else in the building. It is a way to claim power – that’s all it is. Like Tina said I would IGNORE it and watch it go away. Concentrate on what counts, and it is not the power games of an administrator who is not even going to be there in a few years. Man those admins are slimy!

      1. I hear you, Ben. And for the most part, my principal does leave me alone. She’s helped me out in some ways since I started, like with some backlash from students in my heritage classes when I came in mid-year last year as a non-native speaker. She has been quite helpful.

        Last week I also did a CI demo for our entire staff, K-12, during our Wed PD session. We have lots of ELL students here in Rogers Park, Chicago, and lots of challenges in helping them with English acquisition. I taught the chemistry concept, isotope, using our CI techniques. The response from staff was good.

        All this said, I feel like it’s worth it to reply to my principal so as to be proactive whenever and if ever they want to ding me on an evaluation. I’ll have some talking points I can revisit. (It will be a glorious day when I can fully let go of any association to these Danielson Framework evaluations.)

  7. Maybe Fridays can be grammar days 1/2 class and other 1/2 class Word Chunk Team game. Then we could do some CYA with the verb charts, edu-babble, feedback, essential questions, understandings by design etc. I mean for those who feel the need for some CYA.

    1. Greg, I can joyfully proclaim down through the fields and on the mountain tops that I don’t have to worry about any of CYA stuff. In fact, on Friday I was talking with my instructional coach who, believe it or not, was a kindergarten teacher for 8 years, about telling stories and assessing through eye contact. I even suggested she sit in front of the class and observe students as I tell a story instead of observing me (like Ben suggested having admin do last summer). She giggled and said she’d feel a little uncomfortable in front of the room like that. But she totally gets it!

      It’s noteworthy that I do not teach at a high profile school. Our students are not busting their asses trying to complete every little homework assignment, prepare for debate club, and run cross country. It’s more like our students are busting their asses trying to find their way in the margins of society. I say this because it’s my impression that we see the need to do these kinds of CYA things that you mention, Greg, in more high-profile schools.

      Then again, Greg, your current principal comes from one of the highest profile schools around, Stevenson HS. And she loves your CI teaching. So maybe it’s not the high profile school as much as the high-octane staff the high profile schools attract… I’m starting to ramble 🙂

        1. Isaiah (2 yr old) and I are doing much better. I decided to take the day off today. Much needed.

          Candice (wife) and little baby Hannah are doing great! Hannah is growing more vocal these days, which is kind of a relief because she was eerily quite the first couple of weeks.

  8. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I love the idea of the developing interlanguage. Daddy goed to work. I eated it all up.
    BVP says there are no short cuts.
    The recipe is not finished and when you taste it too early, it will be uncooked, and the spices and seasonings wont’ have contributed the full effect yet…

  9. Sorry Sean for not looking at the answers above. SO, I apologize for any redundancy. Note how little “corrective feedback” is useful when learning a language. BVP might have it as well as Krashen. There maybe a whole short article and paper on it. Have that printed and ready. Drop it at the admins’ box AND email to confirm your admin received it.

    You should also note that you collect data to inform the FLOW of your instruction so you can provide additional modeling like TPR, gestures and additional input. Always providing correct models.

    Lastly, get more resources/quotes from the big researchers that note that SLA is PIECEMEAL [BVP]. So it is okay to make mistakes because they will be getting more and more opportunity for growth in the language. There’s also the affective filter which is vital to creating life long learners.

    Of course, I would just print a primer from Robert and be done with it. We have to remember that admins’ job is to find something wrong so that they can get the box checked for their own job. So, I wouldn’t take it personal.

      1. “You should also note that you collect data to inform the FLOW of your instruction so you can provide additional modeling like TPR, gestures and additional input. Always providing correct models.”

        Let me etch this into my brain so I can repeat it every time I sit behind a desk from an admin. This is some juicy admin ease. It strokes their backs while not compromising our approach. Thanks Steven!

        1. You’re welcome Sean. I hope the kids are doing better. I got my little 2 year old with a cold but he’s recovering. Another trick I pull out is “collab time”. You allow students in pairs to “provide peer-to-peer feedback” by summarizing the events of the story or you can have students come up with suggestions. I like doing this for coming up with the problem of the story. I instruct students to “share, like and subcribe” their ideas and tweak them. Then when I ask for the problem, I have plenty of detailed suggestions. Works wonders when admin pops in.

  10. Thanks for all the help here, friends! Like Tina and Ben say, I really didn’t need to reply to my principal’s email, but I did anyways because I generally appreciate all she is doing for the school and her support for my teaching. So, below is what I wrote. Granted, I would say things differently depending on the admin.

    Hi Molly,

    Sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

    Regarding correcting students understanding, I continually collect data on students understanding of the language being used in conversation to inform the flow of my instruction. This data tells me if I need to provide visual supports, movement commands (TPR), gestures, or use of specific language structures in other contexts. If a student is not understanding, I may scaffold down from requesting an open-ended response to requesting a one-word answer response, for example.

    As we know from the research on second language acquisition that students need a flood of input before they can give a trickle of input, I am always challenging students to engage in the rigorous exercise of attending to the input, from auditory story-telling to silent reading. After a receiving a ton of input, students will be able to produce a trickle of output with automaticity. So, the question I’m asking myself as I make adjustments during the class period and as I plan for future lessons is, what opportunities can I use to further help my students understanding? That said, I do ask students for their output regularly through the very helpful exercises of choral responses, partner-retells, dictations, fluency writes, and speed translates. In addition to the interpersonal communication, in-the-moment, input-based assessments that help inform my flow of instruction, these output exercises help me plan.

    A final note regarding how to help and correct students that are providing output to the class, or, in the case of the little left-right dance we were doing; I do my best to try to lower their affective filter. A beloved colleague of mine, Diane Neubauer, a Chinese teacher now pursuing a doctorate in second language acquisition and education, summarized nicely this important concept about lowering the affective filter that is one of Dr. Stephen Krashen’s five main hypotheses on second language acquisition:

    “The Affective Filter hypothesis: Krashen claims that learners with low motivation, low self-esteem, and/or debilitating anxiety can ‘raise’ the affective filter and form a ‘mental block’ to their progress. Teachers will want to plan lessons that reduce these hindrances by providing interesting, even compelling, content (from the learners’ perspective, not the teacher’s) and by not shaming learners for errors or over-using correction techniques that cause anxiety.” (Diane Neubauer)

    Best regards,
    Sean

    1. Not surprising, but still disappointing, my principal replied without listening to what I had to say. Here is her response:

      Hi Sean,

      I think quickly filling in “left” for izquierda in the song a couple times could have helped students self-correct. Perhaps pairing students to look at and correct their papers together might have helped one more confident student point out to the other which words were verbs and help them self-correct in a positive, proactive way. Incorporating ways to provide these corrections in a productive way are needed, as getting accurate practice is important to the learning!

      I see here that my principal wants to provide additional ways I could get my students to help correct each other. If you read my email to her you’d see I was suggesting that I shouldn’t be correcting students but rather giving them more input to help them better understand. This point seemed to bypass her.

      Yes, I’m grateful this is my only source of frustration at my current school. Generally speaking, life is good. But in thinking long term here, I want to think about how to warm up my loving principal to all things SLA.

      1. Important to “learning”. Nuff said.

        I believe in BVP’s terms of language acquisition book he explains how the acquisition vs. learning distinction is universal in the field of SLA.

        Seems to me though that she’s not open. Just do some traditional looking stuff when she’s in the room next time I’d say.

        It’s easier for her to treat language like any other subject so she can fill her check boxes

        1. Right. I gotta just accept to do some traditional looking stuff when she pops in next time. And let it go. Thanks Greg.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Laura. You’re most likely right. When you boil it down, she wants me to know she is superior. That’s too bad. I’ve worked under admin that were not this way. I’d have more respect for her and be more motivated as a team member of the school if she wasn’t this way.

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