Whoa!

This morning Eric Spindler wrote in a comment:

…Ben, you have noted before what a complete shift of how you think about teaching this is. It is a huge shift and people won’t make a huge shift if pushed from outside, we have to make them feel a need for it, by drawing their attention to the retention issues (in privacy) and by playing on their desire to be successful with more students, especially those they usually aren’t successful with. Eventually they may have a class that rejects the traditional and forces them to reevaluate (that is what happened to me). We need to always be there with the solution and pushing for CI friendly exams when we have to all do an exam together….

I support this position. We have stated our truths recently on the ACTFL list and now we must just go forward because further truth-statement-making is going to really piss off a lot of people. We are in such a difficult position. We want to say what we think but we don’t want that to be perceived as an attack on someone, because it’s not.

The one thing I want from this group right now is that we soften up. The attack mode sword waving thing is simply not going to work and will backfire. That is the predominant position among group members here right now.

I am going to say this again – its’ time to soften our position. I cannot control what people write on the ACTFL list but I can request that our discussion here return to discussing things that will help us get better at comprehensible input.

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31 thoughts on “Whoa!”

  1. I think what we’ve said on the ACTFL list and on Ben’s blog are very different. Here on the blog we’ve been able to state our truths and attack. I don’t think we’ve done much of that on ACTFL. We discussed research to question current accepted “best practices,” and we tried to dig deeper into what CI means. We did some bickering, but it always came from having to restate what another teacher tried to twist or just flat out misinterpreted. The 2 bullies, Arnold and Bill, were handled respectfully and rationally.

    This wasn’t ever an argument to show TCI as better. It also wasn’t about arguing how language is acquired. I wanted inclusion. That meant asking ACTFL to defend exclusive statements. Then, we wanted to discuss the implications of the 90%+ position statement. What we do aligns very well with ACTFL. (Maybe not all the 5C’s). Just look at ACTFL’s recent decisions: Carrie Toth. Robert Patrick. Many of our own also present at the ACTFL conventions.

    To me, this is about getting the system to support and include us. That will open doors to all those teachers who work in departments that reject TCI/TPRS. Sandrock’s recent comment does that. I think. Now, I’d like to see ACTFL condemn the college exams. I would think ACTFL be as upset with those exams as us. Especially the sections of discrete grammar and vocabulary. Sandrock didn’t say anything directly about authentic resources, except to say that we should focus on high-frequency vocabulary and not lists and not random low-frequency words. In a way, that is cautionary about the use of authentic resources.

    I think Ben’s response to Sandrock, (while it shouldn’t be posted), makes an excellent point. It’s what led us to consider separating from ACTFL. We align with much of their position, but do they stand up for us? Maybe that was never ACTFL’s job to do. I think if more teachers were trained in ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines, then we’d see more change. I think the problem is that the FL field is still infested with (textbook) teachers and ACTFL is on our side in saying they are “in the past.”

    2 things that will “change the field” – Communicative tests and teacher education (including SLA/applied linguistics and intro to TCI methods & strategies).

    1. You are right Eric.

      The methods course that ACTFL endorses does nothing to train teachers in TCI.
      It briefly discusses Krashen’s ideas with no practical examples on how to best apply them in class.
      I took the course in 2008 so maybe they’ve since revised some of the non-sense.

      I vote for “fill in the blank” to teach that course.
      That could be any of you.
      Sign me up right now.

  2. We also have to consider what ACTFL’s role in teacher disputes should be. ACTFL ” is dedicated to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at all levels of instruction.”

    Their Mission Statement reads:
    “Providing vision, leadership and support for quality teaching and learning of languages.”

    http://www.actfl.org/about-the-american-council-the-teaching-foreign-languages

    As a national organization, they generally would not get involved in individual disputes, especially if the people involved are not members of the organization. And how many teachers do you know who are members? I may be the only member in my district. My colleagues join organizations only when they must. For example, in order to take students to the annual language immersion camp, they must join FLAOC, and a couple have, but no one joins CLTA, which is the state language teachers organization. If they won’t do that at $45, they won’t join a national organization at $80.

    Teachers who are being bullied by other teachers or administrators really ought to get help from their union if there is one. If there is not one, this bullying is one of the reasons why unions are still necessary. Personally, I don’t see this as a role ACTFL ought to be fulfilling.

    ACTFL should, however, be speaking to best methods, not just individual “Best Practices” or broad generalities. If they really are interested in “quality teaching and learning of languages”, they should do more to define what that looks like and keep abreast of the research. (Actually, I believe they are abreast of the research but don’t want to draw all of the conclusions because it would alienate so many of their constituents. As others have noted, ACTFL representatives are very much like politicians in their public statements – don’t alienate anyone.) I think that’s what the recent threads have been about. If the organization is going to be inclusive, then it needs to include a significant new method and approach that has research to back it up.

  3. You all are so smarticle…the things that you all are able to articulate with respect to this very vital conversation about how we help students just blow me away. What *I* get out of this whole thing is, largely, a strong, visceral response….

    When I read just a small part of the ACTFL thread on ‘What is Comprehensible Input Really?’ and then went to see what ACTFL’s ‘Can do ‘ Statements support, I felt….

    …sick to my stomach. Those “Can Do ” Statements are horrid and burdensome and confusing. Who could possible *like* them? Some of these poor WL teachers may be truly sado-masochistic. What else could explain a love for a document full of gibberish such as the ‘Can Do’ Statements?

    I just can’t think of any other explanation….I feel so bad for those poor, deluded, ACTFL-addled teachers and their students….

    Going to drink some Pepto now…and to thank God for my academic freedom to teach as I see fit…

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

    –Leigh Anne

  4. Having been a part of a very active state organization for 30 years, I truly believe that the best change, the real change, can only come from within. If ACTFL does not represent us, it is partially because we are not an active part of ACTFL. Perhaps we haven’t wanted to be. However, ACTFL as an organization will only ever be as “good” as the people in it. Corporations may not be people, but organizations are. And yes, those people have attitudes and agendas.

    We’ve made some noise. They know that we are here. If we want them to consider us as viable members of the community, then we need to join and attend as we are able.

    If we choose not to, that is also fine. However, it does us no good to complain that an organization that we could be part of, and are not, doesn’t recognize nor represent us well.

    Just my two cents on a cold, sunny morning,
    Laurie

    1. I’m joining, mainly to get access to those Foreign Language Annals.

      That’s a great point, Laurie. The standards/positions of ACTFL represent the views of those involved in the organization. I’m unaware of the extent to which TCI teachers are involved members of ACTFL.
      (1) Fewer TCI members of ACTFL -> (2) no TCI representation -> (3) less TCI-friendly positions -> (4) we don’t want to join. And the cycle repeats. I was trying to change step 3 without steps 1 & 2.

      Whether we join or not, ACTFL will go on writing OUR standards and what is considered best practice.

  5. I was a member – membership ran out in September. I am waiting for district to pick up the tab. I’m losing patience though and plan on rejoining soon. I definitely want to go to National in San Diego next year —
    Anyone else?

  6. Ok. I’ll consider joining ACTFL for 80$ a year. But I wonder how much more can I really advocate for CI as a member than as a non-member. I mean, I was able to post on the ACTFL discussion threads as a non-member. What else could I do as an ACTFL member to advocate for ACTFL to promote CI? As a member I would get to read more ACTFL publications. But do I really want to?

    If we were to make a list of pro CI actions we want ACTFL to make, here are a few:

    Get a CI article published, like the Hermanator’s article on MovieTalk, in ACTFL’s Language Educator?

    Scrap, or at least refashion the 5 Cs (Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, & Communities)

    Get ACTFL to influence the College Board to create better AP exams.

    As Eric said, get higher education to wake up. (This one is a serious sore spot for me… when I hear of how many students drop out of foreign language classes in college or avoid those classes all together. It blows my mind how academia in foreign languages is stuck in a mud pit when it comes to SLA.)

    1. There’s some TPRS teachers in the most recent Language Educator – the focus is on CI and CO.

      Sandy Cutshall, Language Educator Editor, asks on the ACTFL online community for contributions to the “So You Say” question. Idk if you have to be a member for you to get your comments published.

      I think ACTFL already has influenced College Board, at least on the Spanish exam. It’s proficiency + critical thinking (literacy skills). The latter, I feel, is a way to simultaneously measure “college readiness.” But that’s why we have the SAT! It would be nice to have a test purely of communicative ability and not the ability to identify the main idea and draw inferences from an authentic text.

      All of us who feel capable of presenting should try to do so at state conferences. Don’t have to be an ACTFL member to do that.

      1. Any chance you could post a link to that “So You Say” question on the ACTFL board? I can’t seem to find it. Thanks, Eric.

    2. You can present at ACTFL conferences. I am planning to submit a proposal for San Diego. COACH, the group I work with, will also be there and have a booth.

      I submitted a report for the “So You Say” section of the Language Educator. Last year Sandy interviewed me when they were featuring “Communication” in the magazine, and she quoted me in her article.

      Yes, present at other conferences as well. I present regularly at CLTA, the local “Jamboree” and anywhere I can. I think we are making a difference because the COACH sessions are generally packed, and some of the other ones have very few people who come. What I have to do, though, is make certain that I do something for all languages because the clientele for German only is extremely small.

      One of the reasons I chose to join local and national organizations (I also belong to AATG) as well as serve on consults, be department chair, etc., is because, as Jason Fritze said to me, if I don’t advocate for my position, no one else will, and then the people who make the decisions will make different decisions – and not necessarily good ones.

      Finally, when the Bill Hellers of the organization get snarky about being members, you can give it right back to them.

      Here’s the URL for “So You Say”. If it doesn’t work, then it’s a members only page. I logged in then went to the drop-down menu for “Publications”. Under “Language Educator” is “So You Say”. Click on that, and it will take you to the page with the question. Click on the question to go to the submission form.
      http://www.actfl.org/publications/all/the-language-educator/so-you-say

      1. I took your example on this, Robert, and plan to present any time I attend a conference, if there’s opportunity. I did a short presentation at the Colorado Chinese Language Teachers’ Association at the first time I attended, and will present at ACTFL. I benefitted from others’ presentations and that’s how I began looking for more on TCI.

        1. Not that long ago there rarely were TPRS presentations at the major east coast conferences. Conte Seely would be standing alone by a booth happy to chat about anything. He was the sole rep for TCI, signing his autograph in the green bible.

  7. I was seriously thinking about presenting at the New Jersey FL conference once I found out that Dr. Krashen would be the key note speaker. I thought of showing how to apply Krashen’s ideas in early elementary with practical advice. Bill Van Patten spoke a few years ago at FLENJ foreign language educators of New Jersey, yet I haven’t noticed any clear changes in FL pedadogy in my county. Rather a misinterpretation and adaptation of VP ideas to suit the traditional teachers. That’s if anyone was really listening…

    In Feb 2015 Laurie Clarcq, Liam O’Neill and some other TCI experts will present at FLENJ in New Brunswick. They are wonderful speakers and we are lucky they haven’t left us for beautiful Colorado.

  8. Catharina, you should DEFINITELY present!

    By the way, I wonder who’s idea it was to have Krashen as the key note speaker. I wonder why he was chosen. I’m surprised and proud of FLENJ.

  9. Greg,

    Liam O’Neill – Chinese teacher at Pascack Valley High School -(also a member of this PLC) –
    may have had something to do with Dr. Krashen coming to FLENJ. He won the Best of New Jersey Award (?) and has presented about CI with great success at various conferences. I don’t know Liam personally but have heard wonderful things about him.

    Laurie’s post convinced me. I will re-join FLENJ and be a little less critical of non-TCI practitioners. That will take a lot. I’ll do it for Laurie.

      1. Laurie, Are you guys really burried under 7 feet of snow to start the winter off ? The pictures online are impressive.

        I missed all conferences this past year so many thanks to the kind teachers who’ve shared notes, videos and hand-outs. I recently read Michel Baker’s notes interviewing Jason Fritze in 2010! How great is the internet!

        Stay warm and safe Laurie!

  10. Yes! Catharina, do it! You will be great. It’s perfect timing, and your session idea is awesome. You have the energy for it, so just follow that. You will attract people with your enthusiasm. Even though you may not notice “clear changes,” you will definitely affect those who attend your session. If you don’t present this topic, who will? Um….nobody. 🙂

  11. Nope Greg and Jen. I am not nearly ready for that. I have so much respect for TCI. It takes a certain personality (besides knowledge and skill) to stand in front of an audience and deliver.
    To get out of my confort zone I’ve just started teaching French to a group of adults, 4 friends.
    In exchange for acquiring a little French they give me feedback.
    Another great suggestion Jason Fritze made some years back.

  12. Catharina, can you give us the date for the conference? If it happens to be during our February break, I definitely want to go!!!!

  13. Brigitte,

    Feb 27+28 at the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick.

    http://conference.flenj.org/2015

    Seeing Krashen’s face on the front page of the website makes my day!
    Teachers may or may not quite grasp what Krashen is saying but the
    fact alone that he’s been invited to speak warms my heart.

  14. Ok, I am not a very outspoken person by nature, which in itself is strange since I am a teacher, but I digress. I do not voice my opinions on the blog very often, I am much more of a lurker/reader, but I feel I must say something here, for what it’s worth. Can’t we all just get along (yes I know that’s cliché) with the ACTFL minded/textbook driven/common core defenders? Enough bickering about who is right and who is wrong. I like to personally follow the idea of “You believe what you want and I’ll believe the truth and we’ll both be happy.” This statement works particularly well with students and their excuses for whatever they need an excuse for (and for ex-spouses). I’m sorry, maybe I have said too much, I’ll go back to my quiet corner and continue reading other posts and comments now. Good night.

    1. Hello Pat! Thanks for sharing with us that you are a reader (“lurker” has kind-0f a bad connotation, no?) Power to the readers! Do you by chance know Grant Boulanger (sp? sorry Grant), a Spanish teacher and TCI district revolutionary in the Twin Cities? Let us know if you don’t so we can connect you.

      That quote, “You believe what you want and I’ll believe the truth and we’ll both be happy,” resonates well with me when we think of students in particular. As much as I’d like to influence their belief system, sometimes they need to just accept me and comply to my way of teaching and doing things in my classroom without believing in it.

      I do, however, think we need to influence the belief system of ACTFL. We need ACTFL to do more in promoting CI in FL teaching. It is a civil rights issue. Just like placing SPED kids in the least restrictive environment as defined in the IDEA law of 1994 is a civil rights issue. We have to take action about this. Heck, let’s call it a tax $ issue. All this money spent on foreign language classes and 96% of the students aren’t learning anything.

      But, hopefully I haven’t just pushed you away. Hopefully, through this blog, you feel encouraged to share what you do with your peers and help build a community of teachers that are willing to look honestly at their practice.

      I look forward to reading more of your posts, Pat! And please do share with us how the Krashen conference in Minneapolis goes on Dec 11. I’d like to hear (and I’m sure I’m not the only one on this PLC) what you learned.

    2. Hi Pat,

      I second Sean’s welcome and hope that you continue to get a lot of benefit from Ben’s blog.

      Perhaps a word of explanation will help. I do not engage my colleagues in the same way that I have been engaging ACTFL. My colleagues have an idea (which may be more or less accurate, depending on whether they have actually visited my class) of what I do, and I share strategies and activities with them when I can without calling them TPRS or TCI as well as thanking them for what they share with me. We get along well but basically leave each other alone. As one of my seminary professors used to say, “You go your way, and I’ll go God’s” – or as you put it, “You do your thing, and I’ll do what’s right.”

      My comments on the ACTFL boards were about influencing the professional organization to which I belong and which therefore supposedly represents me. Its position on thematic units and authentic resources does not represent me; nor, I believe, does it represent what is best for students (i.e. using exclusively thematic units and exclusively authentic resources). Those comments were a lot more insistent than I ever talk to my colleagues.

      So, I hope that neither my participation in the ACTFL discussions nor my comments in this post drive you away. We really do get along.

  15. PS…I can’t wait to attend Krashen’s conference in Minneapolis on Dec. 11. I haven’t been this excited about a conference since the first time I attended NTPRS way back when…

  16. I hear that Pat and we are normally very good about keeping to ourselves and not throwing plates at people. I think what got Eric and Robert going, however, was a real serious thing in the ACTFL world – advocating the use of thematic units and authentic texts without being able to say why. Clearly they couldn’t.

    And then that made some of us in this group feel after many many years, in some cases decades, of extremely challenging internal work in hostile buildings, having to explain ourselves to fools all the time, that our points about input vs. output and it being an unconscious process and all that got no acknowledgement whatsoever even though what we do DOES have a strong based in research, it just got some knee jerk reactions. I think that their glib use of the term comprehensible input as being something they do all the time – riiiight! – just got so some people. It got to me!

    But you are right. Your point that it is best to not engage is true and I think most of us get that. I certainly am not faulting anyone for throwing a plate or two in this deal. But I doubt if it happens again. We learned something we weren’t certain about a month ago but now we know – most of the teachers in ACTFL don’t know what the hell we are doing. That’s a real red flag to not engage with them. They clearly left that discussion saying exactly what you said above – “You believe what you want and I’ll believe the truth and we’ll both be happy.”

    I can tell you that none of what we did was mean spirited. I am personally convinced that it wasn’t, anyway. We were trying to start a discussion about pedagogy in language education that has been long overdue. But our attempt at building a bridge failed. They didn’t want to hear what we had to say and Veronica Herrera actually went so far as to admit that:

    …I stopped following the long comments and went back to our classroom immersion….

    (I don’t think that Veronica gets the comprehensible piece….That has got to be tough on her students. The fact is that every word we said in that dispute, in my view, was aimed at making it so that kids don’t have to go around thinking that they are stupid at languages.)

  17. Is there any video of a Curtain or a Met or a Herrera teaching real high school kids in a real classroom on a real day of school?

    I had the thought this morning that video-taping our classes gives us a lot of credibility.

    Actually I remember going to a workshop a few years ago before I ever heard about TPRS. The presenter was a total Curtain-like do-it-all, project-based, immersioner. After listening to her for a while we were all getting overwhelmed. “How can this really work? Do you have any video?”

    Anybody know of any?

  18. James, the Annenberg videos “Teaching FL Library of classroom practices” were used in our method’s class to demonstrate various aspects/age groups/levels in FL classes. They were filmed in real classes. There was/is also a TPRS demo included. We were to learn from watching the videos of excellent teaching. (You be the judge).
    http://www.learner.org/resources/series185.html

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