Transitioning aka switching horses in mid-stream

I’ve tried to address these issues, as I told Eric, on my blog, but it’s not
organized well. In particular, your mid-stream point of entry is different
from my evolving approach over years. As I thought about this, I realized my
more discursive approach is better suited to my blog, so I will put an
expanded version of this there. And here it is. [expansion in brackets]
I began reading linguistics when I was 15. I started teaching at 45. I had
spent a lot of time with distressed people, the ones who tend not to do well
in school. These two experiences, reading linguistics and dealing with
marginalized people, gave me a leg up when I began to tip-toe away from the
strictly grammar approach I started out with. [My first love is grammar. My goal was seldom to use the language but more to understand how it worked. Thus my interest in linguistics. It fit the dominant paradigm of grammar instruction]
Chiefly, in terms of work environment, I had a free hand. At times, I’d turn
in my attendance at the end of the week; by the time I retired, if I hadn’t
entered it into a computer within 5 minutes of the beginning of class, I got
a phone call. [Watching my son and son-in-law enter the teaching field, I am just appalled. Even as I was being asked to conform to some businessman’s idea of quality control and bean counting, I was being praised for building class size, creating enthusiasm – I even got a free 5 week trip to Russia – and working with hard to reach kids. They knew what they wanted but didn’t know how to get it.] Just as teaching glommed onto Behaviorism to understand
student behavior and learning, an inadequate platform, so it has also had
applied to it failed business and industrial models. It’s as if Robert
McNamara were brought in to bomb us all into submission like he did Hanoi
(I’ve been watching Ken Burns). [The analogy is not far from the truth; just as McNamara represented to new management – all stats, though now it’s called data-based – Common Core and other approaches have many good elements but the overall and underlying theory of human learning and behavior is wrong. The tighter you control people, the more you will get an artificial product. The strategists in Viet Nam came up with the idea of body count; if you aren’t making progress in a visible way – like controlling the countryside at night – then you find another measure: body count. So then the emphasis comes to be on bodies; just which ones, who they are, matters less than the numbers. In education, testing plays that role. Always ask: what do you want and does the test test for that?]
Giving up your textbook indicates to me you not only have some personal
willingness to dive in but work in a more open environment, open to
experimentation, innovation, etc. So let me offer very tentatively two
possible routes:
Despite my misgivings about her frame of reference, I found Ruby Payne’s
book Framework for Understanding Poverty boldly written. I don’t know if
your students come from poverty, but even if they don’t, her way of bringing
the teacher to viewing matters from the student’s pov is good. I like Mel
Levine’s The Myth of Laziness. Those books deal with children in trouble. [i.e. pathological conditions located in the child]
A troubled system is dealt with brilliantly in almost any book by Frank Smith.
His Joining the Literacy Club should be required reading. The buy-in is what
you are looking for and what I see is so many teachers believing that
students are somehow obligated to get with the program. They aren’t. A few
families set up conditions where kids feel that way, but most don’t. The
classroom is your environment and you can set it up how you like. If you set
it up so kids have to conform, you will have to pray for conformists every
year. [This is deadening to both teacher and students. Fear rules: the kids fear retribution and the teacher fears loss of control. I counsel teachers not to set up anything that is ego dystonic (like that?), i.e. that is not consonant with the teachers own personality: some of us are rigid, some of us are open, some of us are defended if not defensive, some of us are depressed, some of us are joyous, and on and on. Don’t try to be something you are not. Again, trps and its listserv are good antidotes to the mistaken belief that there is only one way to be when teaching with tprs. I use the word “approach” advisedly; your approach is based on your theory of learning, which you have whether you admit it or not. Your method grows out of your approach. I can only encourage everyone to think deeply about your approach. Eric Herman’s videos are great to get you to thinking, but at some point you HAVE TO read. Frank Smith says many teachers teach two things: learning is hard and boring.]
The other route will possibly bring some protest on this listserv, but I
would go to Subscribe just so you can ask for some
of the many testimonials I’ve read there over the years of teachers who were
successful legacy teachers, doing wonderful things under the direct
teaching/grammar banner, but who stumbled onto tprs and say they’ll never go
back. You will also find there several techniques not tprs, like movietalk,
etc. I suggest that b/c tprs seems to me to be the best vehicle for doing
Comprehensible Input teaching. As I’ve promoted, it is obvious to me that
that is actually the only way anyone learns another language – CI. I come to
that after many years of examining fl learning. There are SLA scholars who
disagree, but I’ve also written critiques of them on my blog; they do not
have the evidence they claim to for the efficacy of explicit grammar
instruction. But that’s just me. [I mentioned tprs before I brought it up here at the end. I hope I’m not confusing anyone. This is only my pov.]
Pat Barrett

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