Response to Seth-Beth, Bess-Bob, Laurie-Terry exchange

This is going to offend people so don’t bother to read it if that is too upsetting to you.
Terry has responded to several posts regarding both ways of introducing CI into the classroom and grading. The questions raised have to do with how acquisition occurs and how we can tell if it is occurring and, if it is, how the acquisition fits into grading rubrics. As stated in an earlier post of mine on this thread, this was taken up some time ago on the list under the general term “drift”, the idea being that various forces push and pull tprs practices off the central method, viz.
Terry writes:
‘ve done story lessons (not with full glosses) with kids before. I stopped doing them, because the engagement wasn’t there compared to story-asking. They were great stories, the best stories. They were comprehensible to the students’ level. Seriously — really cool stuff. But the kids didn’t really care. It wasn’t “theirs”. I used to demo this during the long Hawaii STARTALK, so teachers could see the difference between the reaction of the kids when I’m story-asking and when I’m storytelling — even with colored illustrations, strictly in-bounds and lots of repetition. There was no student ownership of the text, and it was pretty teacher-centric.
This sums up well for me the essence of tprs, not the techniques but the underlying principle which we call CI. I see that, as is common among large groups of people, some grasp this and others don’t. As with drift, various forces enter in that account for discrepancies in understanding.

At this point, before going on to make lots of rash statements, let me make some things clear – and I think this response to the thread, Assessing Engagement….. and New Kind of Spanish Story……, will mark a major element in the building blocks of my position on fl teaching. I want to reiterate, I have never taught via tprs and do not consider myself a tprs teacher; I only predict that tprs will become the dominant paradigm in fl teaching in the near future. To show my own attempts at CI, I will at some point post to my blog a 3 poster reminder list I used to use to keep me in a communicative mode when lesson planning. I eventually saw the difference between communicative and CI teaching, but that was at the end of my career – another point: I am retired three years now; I taught Spanish, Russian and Latin, the latter for 25 years, the first two for 20 years.
I have posted before on the research basis of our field. I am reading Susan Pinker’s (sister of The Language Instinct author Steven) book The Village Effect and it makes you appreciate the neural diversity that is out there. Who the hell knows what happened to our students? We just know what we have in front of us now and it is exceedingly unwise to prejudge any student on any basis whatsoever.

Terry writes about teachers:

who are neurotypical themselves, are not thinking about neurodiversity — because it is not within their experience. That’s natural and understandable, just as a right-handed person doesn’t think about what it’s like to be left-handed until they meet someone who is.

Maybe I should set up a profile for myself, but in my case I am mixed dominance, e.g. I can write only with my left hand and throw only with my right hand. I had three speech impediments until my mother turned me over to a nun who taught me to overcome those impediments at age 9. Ironically, I went on to become a fl teacher. I had terrible food allergies and later acquired severe hay fever and asthma thanks to the salubrious climate here in AZ (kept me out of Viet Nam though). By my mid-30s, all of my allergies were gone. What the hell! My point is that, as Pinker makes clear, we just are not in a position to talk assuredly about brain research, etc. While I kneel at the feet of Krashen, (and if you think I don’t, read my takedowns of some of his critics like Butzkamm, Larsen-Freeman, and Vivian Cook, all major figures in SLA – on my blog under the category fl teaching and learning or teaching fl) even Krashen comes in for fair criticism. NOTHING IS SETTLED.

More from Terry:
What we disagree on is what a student “has to look like” to prove that he’s listening. Or even Hearing.

Even students who hear by accident, but who match meaning with sound, do acquire. And many students who you would not say are Listening, are. For students for whom it is uncomfortable to make eye contact, how much listening do you think is going on when that behavior is forced

Most teachers I talk to don’t get this — unless they have grandchildren who happen to be neurodivergent – or worked in a psychiatric clinic for years. I’m both.

How many of you have autistic or other neurodiverse colleagues who are teachers, not janitors? – Ouch! Very pointed. Exactly, we funnel certain “types”, neuro- and other, into certain professions, There is, after all, a teacher profile.
I’ve told this anecdote before but it’s worth telling to remind us of who’s taking in what. Elizabeth Marceletti wrote: “ I have a student with autism who likes to keep his head down and struggles with processing the oral language.” A boy in my second year Latin class had spent most of first and second year with his head down. I made a decision early on to not push too hard, just enough to let him know I did expect him to pay attention. Throughout the year and a half plus he made progress though not spectacularly. Toward the end of the second year, the school forced me to give the National Latin Exam. My class scored equal to the grammar queen and this kid was one of the highest scorers in my room. The kids made sure to yell out how there was no cheating b/c it was the grammar queen who proctored the exam. What was so interesting to me beyond the obvious efficacy of using CI and letting this kid do it his way was the reaction of his classmates to his success – it was as if a blow had been struck against the forces of oppression. Is that how our students see us?

Seth writes: If not, then the null hypothesis would be that the best approach is whatever keeps students most interested, comprehending, and processing new language, regardless of whether interest is maintained by more unpredictable contexts or richer narratives. …………… I developed story-lessons partly to help teachers like my colleagues experiment with TCI, who might not otherwise do so. A teacher with no experience generating CI can use these exercises with no prep at all to immediately draw a class into an activity that is completely comprehensible, enjoyable and interesting.
In response to Seth, I certainly was thrilled to use the Cambridge Latin Course, which is a set of four volumes following a Pompeian family’s son throughout the Empire over a number of years. So story-lessons sound even better b/c they may be more engaging than a preset story line, etc. However, this appears to do an end-run around Terry’s insistence that acquisition occurs only when the learner owns the story and that is accomplished via story-asking. At least, that is how I understand it. Yet however again, to Seth’s point that skeptical, reluctant teachers may be drawn in via such stories. Good point. But OTOH, if it does lead to drift whereby tprs is redefined away from the principles of CI as articulated in tprs training, we may have a problem. I see a tendency for teachers to be attracted to all sorts of shiny objects as opposed to going in and doing the tough work of standard tprs practice. This back and forth, OTOH stuff, reminds me of President Truman’s request for a one-armed economist so he wouldn’t have to hear, “… but on the other hand….”

Believe me, as a person who tried everything along the way, I would never discourage any teacher from trying new ideas out. There are many teachers who do just a little tprs; if that doesn’t have magical results, we should gently remind them that tprs is a method complete unto itself and for the full effect needs to keep its integrity. Nevertheless, if the teacher feels something else is warranted, fine. BUT, has has been stated, do not let people get away with saying they are using tprs when they are mixing it. It appears to me that straight tprs must be used before we can say we used tprs.
In my own case, I saw students getting anemic instruction or even distorted instruction and a fl was a great place to teach “across the curriculum”. As I’ve often written, the point is not to know the capital of country X but WHY it is the capital. That’s teaching. Where do the typical foods come from and why are they typical, e.g corn in Mexico, and contrarily, why aren’t pork dishes found in Arabian cuisine? A discussion of the basic indigenous fare in Mexico of corn, beans, and squash reveals it to be a very healthy diet – why is that, leading to getting information from health class. So doing straight anything was going to be hard for me. I can appreciate that.

Terry writes: “And there are plenty of “mainstream” people there who are grabbing this “new” thing called comprehensible input and twisting it nearly out of recognizability in terms of being a driving force of acquisition, smushing it together with output, and ending up with something that WILL spread like wildfire, because it comes from the mainstream and has all the characteristics they are looking for, like Tasks and Projects and Collaboration and Pairwork and…. There’s a reason Cocoa Puffs isn’t the Breakfast of Champions. – They aren’t? I mean, they isn’t?
I presented tprs to my state board of fl teachers and they all said they already did all that – what’s the big deal. Oh well. One teacher years ago said she does communicative teaching, she says hola to her students – seriously. Communicative = oral, that was the level of understanding. Forget CI.

And Terry further writes: Anyway that is my take on it. Everyone is autonomous in his or her own classroom
And I would add to what Terry wrote: Just don’t tell everyone you are doing tprs when you are smushing.

Beth wrote: blatantly disrespectful to the community
My AZLA debacle deserves some attention here: in the early 2000s I delivered myself of a presentation at AZLA. I had seen the shift from “mulitcultural training” to “diversity training” and knew exactly what it was about: calling it diversity allowed us to deal with all sorts of differences and get away from a focus on the elephant in the room such as 80% of kids in detention rooms being Black in a school where Blacks made up 10% of the student body. Too touchy. I had seen many presenters on multiculturalism focus on issues like discimination, prejudice, the history of racist practices in the U.S., etc. but not much on culture. There was a reason for that. Among Blacks and among many immigrant groups, there was an awareness that cultural differences had been used to rationalize discriminatory practices such as training Black kids for baking, hispanic kids for automotive and White kids for college. So they did not want to touch it. That set up some dynamics I did not like: first, teachers who were bothered by the behavior of some kids belonging to a culture different from the teacher’s were not getting an understanding of what was going on, and, second, the emphasis on the cruelties of segregation made a lot of people, not just Whites, uncomfortable. I had found at my school that my explanations to teachers (we actually started a group on this which was disbanded at the principle’s demand b/c it made other teachers feel threatened) leavened their sense of feeling like a bigot – no, you just are experiencing a clash of cultural practices and if you get an understanding of what is going on with your students, you will realize it’s neither you nor them but the misfit in expectations.
So I presented at ACTFL and ran smack dab into the set of prescribed formulas expected of teachers. It’s not that there wasn’t any curiosity about culture, it’s just that that barrier was there and had to be overcome in a forty minute presentation. Is this important? The major reason teachers are walking out on their contracts in West Phoenix is the culture clash between the Hispanic students and the Midwestern teachers. They just walk out. Incredible. One teacher at my old school retired recently and in his swan song said, “I signed on to teach American kids.” If we don’t take these issues seriously and insist on mouthing platitudes, we are doomed.

Beth says: demonstrate acquisition at a typical rate
Isn’t this the whole problem with our education system, what many label “a f****** factory”? Is there any research anywhere on the typical rate of acquisition? What kind of instruction? What language? What students? and a thousand other variables. And what we get in research is an N of 4, 3 of whom speak L2 at home. Seriously, I’ve seen this. How do we know what a typical rate of acquisition is when, to Seth’s point again, 75% of fl teachers don’t even know what acquisition is? Which teacher would have predicted I would become a fl teacher as I sat there and said, “I’m thorry, I c-c-c-c-c-can’s ffffffffffffffffff IND! my ewaser.”?

Beth adds: I think it’s a tricky question that merits more discussion!
For sure, but will the list support such a discussion? The one on poverty didn’t go too well.

there is no solid evidence that reading has to be compelling to drive acquisition, as long as it is read – Terry
So interesting you should say that, Terry. I was trying to figure out why so much of my Russian is acquired. I have had almost no on-going conversations with Russians and basically just studied grammar b/c I loved it. Then I recalled my paper for my counseling degree; it was on Soviet occupational education and I read tons of stuff in Soviet education journals. Believe you me, occupational education is not fascinating to read (although I did wind up getting interested in it as a result of my reading all this stuff), but apparently that is where a good deal of my proficiency came from, that plus translating I did of Soviet books on weight training – although that was after I became a Russian teacher.

and Terry further: I still think that if the method had originally been named the “Kinesthetic-Narrative Approach” (or something similar that would make a better acronym) it would top the charts by now. Soooo much more “rigorous” than something that’s “just” stories! 😉
See Diane Musumeci, Breaking Tradition, for what happened to excellent teaching programs in the Middle Ages. Comenius in particular is interesting b/c he was torn between a humane, communicative approach and a more “rigorous” aka grammar approach.
As usual, Laurie has written pithily: “How do we manage our classrooms?
These rubrics grew from a need to have students work with us and not against us. Traditionally, providing rules and consequences have been the way to keep order. Administrators, parents, other teachers and students expect this. Some teachers have a natural ability to “corral” a group and focus them on the communication that is taking place. Others use a strict adherence to rules and follow up with consequences to do so. Others truly struggle with this issue, day in and day out, year after year. Each community, each school, each class has unique expectations and, sometimes, demands regarding this issue.”
For me, the bigger question is, just how flexible is our education system, incl. teacher training? Can we really accomdate this massive number of disparate neural, cultural, behavioral “items” coming into our classrooms? On top of all that, we are asking the items to acquire a language which, no matter which one, violates deeply and unconsciously held rules of phonology, syntax, grammar, semantics, etc. IOW a foreign language. This entry is so long I will write up some examples of this which I hope will give pause to those who still hold on to the notion that the workings of a language can be taught as conscious awareness based on rule getting and rule using (that’s a thing) and that we know the rules of even our native language. The Super Seven themselves are hotbeds of weirdness.

Why I never want to teach in a regular classroom again: Bess wrote: do it electronically through Schoology so the grade will autopopulate in PowerSchool, but my gradebook isn’t live on Schoology
Autopopulate sounds intriguing but not as fun as the old fashioned way.

A kudos to Beth and Seth, Bess and Bob, Elizabeth and Terry and all of us willing to put ourselves out there for ridicule and spittle and diatribes. We will never overcome our difficulties if we cease talking to each other and I am the first one to admit that has become a problem for me – I’m shutting down more and more. Birthday next week – that’s probably why. Bess ends (??) with “But, we are all professionals, and if, after seeing both sides of the argument and reflecting thoughtfully, we still decide that this is best for our class, that’s our decision>” True, and Terry expressed that with: “.Everyone is autonomous in his or her own classroom.”
In the end, I agree with Terry, if anyone cares. Obviously, I care about these issues or I would not have spent the morning writing this up instead of vacuuming.

One Comment

  1. Bess Hayles says:

    Thanks for commenting! Congrats on not having to deal with grades…in a perfect world, I could just have my kids in class and enjoy teaching them French. Dang these grades!!

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