Vertical Alignment

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. I just can’t fake discussions with colleagues in vertical alignment meetings anymore. It’s the Krishnamurthy quote I mentioned here yesterday:
“It is not a measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
Sorry if this offends. It’s my truth as a language professional.



3 thoughts on “Vertical Alignment”

  1. Sometimes just for thrills I try to put myself in the shoes of the Curriculum Czar. She’s the keeper of the documents- so she’s the only one who seems to care that we organize our stuff in some kind or coherent sequence. She really thinks they are helpful charts and lists….
    Because we really don’t use any of the docs that we had to produce, my elementary (grades 1-4) colleagues & I came up with a short list of need-to-know structures by grade. For example in 3rd and 4th we added the less hi-frequency structures from Brandon wants a Dog and Isabela’s Adventures respectively, so that we could be fairly sure the kids would understand the books in the spring without any big surprises. (For example, for Brandon, we will make sure to include/pre-load ‘picks up’ and ‘returns’ – recoge and regresa). By backwards planning from stories, novels, favorite MT clips, etc., we can easily populate the
    mandatory charts and documents.
    Aside from the few dozen ‘must knows’, we are free to teach whatever and however we like, and we each use different materials to prompt our stories.
    We also are required to give cornerstone assessments, so we compare notes on what our kids have acquired so far before we sit down and write them together. Sometimes we scramble to teach a particular structure before the Cornerstone assessment, but otherwise there is no sequence.
    When we pass the 4th graders upstream, the receiving Spanish teachers don’t really attend to our documentation. They look at /listen to and work with the kids before them. The work they do involves more reading and writing, and a whole lot broader input. When our Ss leave after 8th grade, they move on to a more traditional HS, though there are cracks in the wall and when our first graduating
    class – who’ve had the full 1st through 8th cycle of CI arrive in 9th grade (a few more years) we are hoping they’ll make some noise.

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