What do you want to measure?

Terry Waltz wrote in one of a series of posts to moreptprs:
“I’m not sure what that all has to do with the idea of measuring “proficiency” in students. But it’s interesting to think whether we should be looking at proficiency (which is performance) or at acquisition (which drives it, given the right extra vocabulary to handle a particular “theme”).”
To me, it is amazing that I can still find statements that make me go Wow! After all the reading I’ve done in SLA and on listservs, you would think that insight would have been thrust upon me before, but I read it as a new insight.
It has to do with trying to get people to step out of their boots and walk on the grass to see what grass feels like. When you have seen a class “get it”, you want to see more. But the exigencies of the profession can limit us so that we focus on end products, like proficiency, which itself is one hell of a step forward. The question then becomes how we get to proficiency. I think Frank Smith described very well the trap in that as he explains in his book how people were led astray trying to get good readers and looked at what good readers do rather than how they got there. So they hooked people up to machines and put collars on them and fed them nonsense syllables and – voila – a new method of teaching reading.
By focusing on the process – always a good idea – we better understand the path we are on. Over and over, in all the great philosophies, we are admonished to pay attention to the path as well as our goal, but in our pragmatic, hurry-hurry, top-down culture of production, we just bull our way to the end result, with the result that we often wind up with something we don’t want.
The other day a bookstore clerk told me she was going to take Russian. She mentioned the teachers and I know them to be grammar fanatics, so I asked her what other language she had “taken” and she replied high school Spanish. I asked her what she studied there and she thought a moment and then replied “grammar”. I said nothing more.
The legacy methods go back to assumptions about human learning. I like studying from old books; they give you grammar rules and a big vocabulary section and leave you to put it all together. That’s fun, but then I don’t need to be proficient in any of these languages.

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