Three Posts

I just sent what is below to my administration as well as my vertical alignment team. I wanted to share it with the group. Whenever one clicks on the “send” button with stuff like this one always has a kind of nervous feeling, but I sent it anyway. I’ve got to fly my freak flag:
Hello Jessica,
I am sending you some more reading material. I know you only wanted a few articles but I feel these warrant your attention. They are (three) articles from my online PLC. They directly relate to our work together.
First article:
Report from the Field – John Piazza
By Ben Slavic November 28, 2015 Leave a Comment (Edit)
Hi Ben – exciting news. I just had my follow-up meeting from my first observation with my new administration. I am on cloud nine. She is a long time ESL teacher, and she knows the politics of my school, and she is committed to equity. In short, she gets it, and today’s meeting confirmed this. My evaluation basically said that I was not doing enough work in the target language, at higher levels on Blooms taxonomy. I said I was more than happy to oblige, but what about the traditional expectations as well as the AP exam and my traditional college who teaches it? She told me that those are no longer our priorities, because they are not best practices in language teaching, and they exclude most students. As for the privileged parents and my colleague, she told me not to worry about them. In other words I’ve been given marching orders, and I have been given protection, without qualification. There will certainly be bumps on this road, especially while I am graduating out the legacy students. But this is very exciting, and represents the next step forward for me. The chaos and strife that have occurred on my campus, have also resulted in a renewed commitment by the administration to equitable practices in all classes at all levels. No school administrator anywhere in this country can any longer afford to ignore the direct connection between exclusive pedagogy and the perpetuation of racist institutional practices. I would recommend that any CI teacher who is facing resistance call out their school’s commitment to equity.
Sorry if this email has turned into a rant, but it’s a joyful rant. I have just been launched into a holiday week with a massive tailwind. So I’m shifting into a 53×12 of gratitude and getting as much out of this as I can. I know you’ll understand.
With love,
John
Second article:
Report from the Field – Ben Slavic
By Ben Slavic November 24, 2015 16 Comments (Edit)
I was very pleased to welcome a beginning French student who studies with PLC member Don Read to New Delhi from San Francisco yesterday. With dual citizenship, Sahaana and her family were here for Divali.
I chose an Anne Matava script called “Seated in the Corner’ from her new book because it came highly rated by Anne. As advertised, the story was fun, held the interest of the class, and, if not a home run, was definitely a triple. Sahaana jumped right in acting as the main character. She understood everything and seemed to be quite enjoying herself seated over in the corner, the focus of the story, at one point going to the principal’s office while driving a car with a four foot wide steering wheel that was about six feet off the ground.
In a time when students who change teachers in mid year are met with old and hackneyed refrains like “That teacher didn’t teach you anything!”, Don, a recent Teacher of the Year in his CA district , and I have reason for a big hug because Sahanna fit into a class half way around the world seamlessly.
All in all, we had a great time, and I got an awesome reading out of it, a full page of details and vocabulary that I will send through its paces using Reading Option A for at least two block classes after the Thanksgiving break. Thanks to my great story writer in that class, I can now work my CI instruction narrow and deep in this upcoming most important part of TPRS – the reading piece, staying very much inbounds with all the ROA activities.
Don, if you read this, THANK YOU for sending Sahaana over. Her mom was smiling from ear to ear during the story and even her little brother Zubin got into it. Mom asked Sahaana after class if she understood everything and Sahaana said yes and mom said that she only got about four words, although she totally enjoyed the mood in the room. We must be doing something right!
Comment by Robert Harrell on second article. Key text in red:
Robert Harrell says:
November 24, 2015 at 6:39 PM (Edit)
This is big beyond the ebullience of having a student fit into a class halfway around the world.
Think about it for a moment. Do Ben and Don follow the same curriculum? Are they tied to identical Scope and Sequence frameworks? Are they using the same textbook? Is there a pacing guide to keep them “on track”?
NO – overwhelmingly NO, and yet …
and yet …
a student can move seamlessly from one class to the other and understand everything.
My district is nearly paranoid about what happens when a student transfers from one school to another, expressing great concern that students not “miss out” on some standard while duplicating another. This anecdote provides a great example that theirs is a false concern in world language classes done right. I can’t and won’t speak for other disciplines, but in World Languages, if we simply follow Krashen’s precepts and focus on the words most necessary for communication while ensuring that our students comprehend, then everything else takes care of itself.
Third article:
Vertical Alignment
By Ben Slavic November 27, 2015 Leave a Comment (Edit)
The gorilla in the room in all school foreign language departments is TPRS. It may be accurate to say that John Bracey most dramatically lives what we all live with the colleagues in our buildings, but we are all to some degree in his situation. Little nuances of tension and conflict in our buildings are daily swept under the rug. Our teaching lives suffer which carries over into our personal lives, and nothing changes.
Those nuanced levels of communication don’t seem dangerous, but they are. If not addressed, a small crack in a building can only become bigger. Curriculum directors, if they are doing their jobs, feel the tension but usually don’t know how to deal with it (nor should they – we are the language professionals who should help them guide us), but if the cracks are not repaired they can bring the building down, so they are necessary to find and repair, as in any building.
The core of TPRS is that people learn languages in a completely different way than they learn other subjects, by going from the specific to the general. This is called staying in bounds and sheltering vocabulary but not grammar. But all curriculum maps and scope and sequence documents, by first identifying long lists of words or grammar concepts to be “learned”, go from the general to the specific.
Once the holy grail of the Scope and Sequence list is created (some from the tables of contents of books and not from actual research about how people learn languages!), teachers then begin figuring out ways to “teach” it. But not really, since they have the textbook to do that for them. But languages cannot be taught from books. Because language acquisition is not a conscious process. So the kids don’t learn anything. And the beat goes on. Worksheet after worksheet. Memorized dialogues in hallways after memorized dialogues.
Now that we know that language acquisition is about going from the specific to the general (we take a few words and expand on them to create a sea of input which feeds the unconscious language machine of the brain to result in real acquisition), and then bring that fact to the vertical alignment table, immediately that tension with our colleagues is there and the cracks in the building cause great stress on everyone in the building and then everyone goes back into their classrooms and shuts their doors and waits to endure the next awkward vertical alignment meeting three months later, never daring to speak honestly with each other.
This stasis prevents the vertical alignment teams within our buildings from communicating. People who don’t known how to talk to each other about important ideas in education are not educated themselves and cannot grow together.
In our work we have to agree on the “how” before we agree on the “what” – the reverse of other subject areas. I personally can no longer fake trying to design my own personal instruction from lists of words.
Sports teams that can’t work together by embracing a common “system” (offense or defense) always lose. The teams with “chemistry”, in which the moving parts of the group actually fit together, win.
We have dozens of articles on this topic. Robert Harrell has written on Scope and Sequence in a few of the primers above.

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