Assessment and Evaluation

Don’t Do This

One C.I.-using American colleague recently shared this section from a Spanish test which their defartment head gave their Spanish class, viz

idiot task

How dumb is this?  Let us count the ways:

  1. Unclear instructions.  Are we supposed to rearrange the words in the sentences, or the sentences themselves, or both?
  2. Some of these have more than one possible answer (way to rearrange words).  Eg c. could be vivir juntos no es fácil or no vivir juntos es fácil.
  3. What does this have to do with actual Spanish that people actually speak or write?  Nothing.
  4. I have never seen a language curriculum that says students will be able to take scrambled words and turn them into sentences.
  5. I’m not sure what they are assessing here.  It’s not comprehension of actual Spanish, since nobody speaks or writes like that.  It’s not output, since students aren’t generating language.

 

This reminds me of those high-school math problems that felt like this:  Suzie is twice as old as Baninder.  When Baninder is twice as old as John, John will be three times as old as Suzie.  How old will Suzie’s dog be on Thursday when Baninder is four? 😉

This is basically a gotcha! question for the grammar geeks.  Yes, you could figure it out, but why bother?

 

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Why I (Almost) Never Assess Speaking

So this was asked on a forum recently and, as usual, it got me thinking.


This is a question about “El Internado,” but, really, it applies to anything we do in a language class.  We read/ask a story/do a Movietalk or Picturetalk, etc, and then we want to assess speaking, comprehension, etc.

My response to this question is don’t bother assessing speaking.

But first, a qualifier:  if our Board/school/dept. etc says we absolutely MUST assess speaking, well, then, go for it.  We do what we have to do to keep our job.  But if we don’t have to assess speaking, don’t.  Here is why.

  1. The info we gain from this cannot generally guide instruction, which is the point of any assessment (other than at the very end of the course).  The reason for this is very simple: what will we do if what we learn from assessment varies wildly (which it almost certainly will)? If Samba has problems with the pretérito verb tense, Max doesn’t understand questions with pronouns, and Sky can fluidly ask and answer anything, how are we going to design future instruction around that info?  How are we going to “customise”  reading/stories, etc to give 30 different kids the input they need?  Answer:  we can’t.
  2. This takes forever.  If we have 30 kids in our class, and we can assess them in three minutes each (which is tough) we are spending 90 min alone on speech assessment.  That’s a period and a half!  During this time, we have to design something else for them to do…and good luck having 29 kids– whose teacher is “distracted” by sitting in the corner assessing speech– staying on task for 60 minutes.
  3. We already know how well they speak.  If we are doing regular PQA– personalised questions and answers (basically, asking the class members the same questions we are asking the actors)– we know exactly how well each kid can talk.  So why waste time with a formal assessment?  In my Spanish 1 right now, Ronnie can only do y/n answers to questions, while Emma Watson (aka Kauthr) speaks fluid sentences, and so does Riya, while Sadhna mixes up present and past tense in her output (but understands tense differences in questions) etc.
    Indeed, this is where feedback to the teacher is useful. If—in the PQA moment—I see that Sadhna mixes up past and present in answers, I can guide PQA around that right then and there.
  4. In terms of bang-for-buck, we are going to get way more results from more input than from assessing speech.  We acquire language not by practising talking etc, but by processing input, as Bill VanPatten endlessly reminds us.  I used to do regular “speaking tests” and they did nothing and the info was useless.  Now, I never test speaking until the end of the course, and the kids speak better, mostly because the wasted time now goes into input.
  5. A question that comes up here, regarding assessing speech post-Internado, is, what are we testing the kids on?  Are they expected to remember content— names, events, “facts” etc– from the show?  Or are we assessing speech generally?  In my opinion, “content” should be off-limits: we are building language ability, not recall.In terms of language ability, one of the problems with assessing right after specific content (eg some of El Internado) is that, since this input is generally not very targeted, we don’t have much of a guarantee that the kids are getting enough exposure (in a period or two) to “master” or acquire anything new.  This is to say, while an episode may be 90- or even 100% comprehensible, thanks to the teacher’s guidance etc, it almost does not focus on a specific vocab set.  In a classic T.P.R.S. story, the teacher makes sure to restrict (shelter) vocab used in order to maximise the number of times each word/phrase/etc is used.

    This is whether s/he has a plan, or, as in totally “untargeted” story creation à la Ben Slavic, the kids are totally driving the bus.  As a result, the odds of the kids picking up specific “stuff” from the story—in the short term, which is the focus of the question– are greater (and greater still if the asked story is followed by reading, Movietalk and Picturetalk) than if the input is familiar but untargeted.

  6. What about the kid who missed some of (in this case) El Internado? If the speaking assessment focuses on Internado-specific vocab, it would (in my opinion) be unfair to ask Johnny who was there for all three periods and Maninder, who missed two of three periods, to do the same thing with the “language content” of the episodes.
  7.  Kids hate speaking and tests.  Anything I can do to avoid tests, or putting people on the spot– which a one-on-one test does– I do.  This is what Johnny looks like when you tell him, speaking test tomorrow:Image result for kid being interviewed by teacher
    (image:  Youtube)
  8. “Authentic content” eg El Internado has lots of low-frequency vocabulary. Sure, the teacher can keep things comprehensible, but there is inevitably kids’ mental bandwidth going into processing low-freq vocab…which is exactly what kids don’t need in a speaking assessment, where you want high-freq vocabulary that is easy to recall and applicable to lots of topics.

Anyway…this is why I save speaking assessment until the end of the course: I know how well my kids can speak, I can adjust aural input where it matters– right now–, I don’t want assessment to detract from input, and speaking assessment doesn’t really help me or my kids.

 

 

 

Should I Mark Behavior? The Great JGR Debate, and a Silver Lining for Behaviour Rubrics.

Some years ago, a teacher built a rubric for her C.I. classes, which Ben Slavic named JGR and which was discussed on his blog and then elsewhere.  Here is a version I have played around with: INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION rubric.  I initially opposed the use of JGR, then used it, then ditched it, and now I use it (but not for marks). Note: this is a modified version of the original JGR; and I don’t know for how long she used her rubric, or if she still does, or what the original looked like.

JGR was developed because– like all of us, especially me– the creator had some challenges managing her C.I. classes in her initial year with T.P.R.S., which can in (especially my) rookie hands turn into a “woo-hoo no more textbook!” clown show.  JGR basically “marks” classroom behaviour.  JGR specifies that students make eye contact, add story details, ask for help, not blurt, not use cell-phones etc.  Jen used it (and if memory serves Ben also recommended its use) by making part of her class mark a function of behaviour as marked by JGR.  So the kids might get, say, 20% of their mark each for reading, writing, listening, speaking and 20% for their in-class behaviour.  Part of the thinking here was that some behaviours lead to acquisition, while others do not and also wreck the classroom environment, and so “acquisition-rewarding” behaviour should be rewarded.

JGR– for many people, including me– “works.”  Which is why– especially when linked with allegedly “acquisition-promoting” behaviours– lots of people are interested in it.

JGR is a kind of “carrot-and-stick” marking tool:  if the kids engaged in the behaviours JGR specified, their marks went up, partly because (a) they got marks for those behaviours, and partly because (b) the behaviours should– in theory– help them acquire more language.

This can of worms was shaken around a bit on Ben’s blog, and recently, thanks to the always-remarkable Terry Waltz, there have been FB and Yahoo discussions about it.  So, today’s question:

Should we assess in-class behaviour for final marks purposes?

My answer: no, never.  Why?

1. Behaviours typically asked for in JGR– or other such rubrics– are not part of any     curricula of which I am aware.  Every language curriculum says something like, students of the Blablabian language will read, write, speak and understand spoken Blablabian, and maybe say something about Blablabian culture.  Nowhere does any  curriculum say “students should suggest details for stories” or “students will lookthe teacher in the eye.”

If it’s going to get a mark, it has to be part of course outcomes.  Any assessment guru (Wormelli, Harlen, etc) will tell you the same thing: we do not mark attitude, behaviour, homework, etc, as these are not part of final outcomes.

To put it another way, how do we judge the New England Patriots football team?  By how well, often and/or enthusiastically they practice and look Bill Belichick in the eye, or by how many games they win?  How should Tom Brady be paid: by how often he shows up for practice, and how nice he is to Belichick, or by how many yards he successfully throws?  That’s right.

We could– and I often do– end up in situations where a “bad” kid does well, or a “good” kid does poorly.  I have had bright-eyed, bushy-tailed teacher’s pet-type kids who were not especially good at Spanish, and I have had giant pains-in-the-butt who were quite good.

My best-ever student in TPRS, Hamid Hamid, never added story details, never looked up, and always faced away from the board.  Yet he CRUSHED on assessments and got 100% in Spanish 2.  Two years later, his younger brother, Fahim (also a great student) told me that Hamid Hamid was both shy and deaf in his left ear, so always “pointed” his right ear at the board (and so appeared to be looking away).  This kid’s mark would have been lowered by assessing his “in-class behaviour,” which– given his epic Spanish skills– would have been absurd.

2. As Terry Waltz points out, neurodivergent kids can– and do– acquire language without engaging in many behaviours typically required by participation and behaviour rubrics. She also points out that forcing neurodivergent kids into the “normal” mold is at best less than productive. If you are autistic, anxious, suffering from PTSD (as my stepdaughter does) or facing any other neuro challenges, “engagement” rubrics can make your life miserable while not appreciably meaningfully measuring what you can do with the language.

3. The only thing required for language acquisition is reception of comprehensible input.  While the focus of behaviour rubrics is designed to get kids to tune in, it does not follow that many behaviours which do make for a good class– e.g. people adding good details to stories, looking at each other– are necessary to acquire language.

All of us have been there: you have a plan, you did your story warmup or whatever, but the kids aren’t into it.  You bust out a Movietalk but they aren’t into that either.  Dead class. Now, in a C.I. class, we don’t have recourse to worksheets or whatever, and we still have to teach the language. I have a bail-out move here: direct translation, and I always have a novel on the go, so I can read aloud, and Q&A the novel.  If I’m being particularly non-compelling, I’ll throw an exit quiz at them.

The point: if the kids are getting C.I., they are acquiring.  If they are miserable/tired/bored with stories, fine.  They are gonna get C.I. one way or another.

4. Any kind of behaviour rubric plays the awful “rewards” game.  Ask yourself this question:  why do I teach? The answer– other than because I have to make a living— is probably something like, because it’s interesting, I have some measure of control over my work, and I love kids and my subject.  Some will add that teaching, properly done, opens doors for kids.  Teachers do not teach because they want to be evaluated, or because they want to use the latest gizmo, or because they want public praise, etc.  They are, in other words, intrinsically motivated.  They want to work because the work is good and worthy in itself.

When we institute rewards for behaviours, as Alfie Kohn has spent a career arguing, we destroy intrinsic motivation.  We turn something interesting into payment for marks.  The point stops being paying attention to the story– or adding to it cos you actually care about it– and becomes something rote.

5. Using behaviour rubrics can dampen professional self-examination. If my practice is such that I have to use marks as a stick to keep kids in line (the policing metaphor is not an accident), there are two possibilities: tough kids, and/or I am doing a bad job.  The question why are they not tuned in? might be answerable with any of the following:

— I am not being sufficiently comprehensible

— I am ignoring the top or the bottom end of the class– too fast/slow or simple/complex

— my activities are not interesting, varied or meaningful enough

— the kids see no purpose

— accountability: they don’t see tuning in as something that results in real gains

— I lack basic skills (smart circling, control of vocab, etc etc)

— my story sucks 😉

I had better be able to look in the mirror, consider and then deal with these possibilities, rather than merely acting like a cop and demanding obedience.

Now, behaviour does matter.  You cannot run a T.P.R.S. class without rules etc.  My basic rules:

  • no phones or other distractions (including side-talk, blurting etc)
  • no insults of anyone other than oneself or of rich entitled people
  • listen, watch and read with the intent to understand; ask when you don’t
  • do not create or engage in distractions

The tools that we have for dealing with distracting behaviour include

  • warning the offender, standing by their desk, calling Mom and Dad, etc
  • pointing, with a smile, to classroom rules every time there is a problem
  • sending them to admin if necessary
  • taking their phone until 3:15 (most kids would rather die)
  • detention, where we discuss behaviour
  • assigning read & translate (quiet seatwork)
  • taking the kids outside for a walk, or doing some other kind of physical brain-break
  • changing activities
  • doing a quiz
  • talking to kids one on one and asking what do I need to do to get you focused?

 

The upshot?  We should not, and need not, mark “behaviour” or “participation.”

 

Addendum:  is there ever a use for classroom behaviour rubrics?

Yes.  I get my kids to self-evaluate using JGR every 2-3 weeks.  My version generates a mark out of 20.

Nineteen out of twenty kids will very honestly self-evaluate their behaviour, provided they understand exactly what is expected.  One kid in twenty will heap false praise on him/herself.  For the false praisers (“I never blurt in class!”), I sit them down and explain what I think, then we agree on a more realistic mark.

I save these JGR “marks” and once in a blue moon, when a helicopter parent or an Admin wants to know, how is Baninder doing in Spanish, I can point to both the spreadsheet with Numberz and JGR.  This frames the inevitable discussion about marks in terms any parent can understand.  Any parent, from any culture, understands that if Johnny screws around and/or does not pay attention in class, his mark will drop.

JGR– in my experience– accurately “predicts” the marks of about 80% of kids.  When I can show a kid (or a parent or admin), look, here are Johnny’s marks AND Johnny’s own description of how he behaves in class, we can have an honest discussion about marks, Spanish, etc.  Win-win.

How Do I Assess and Evaluate Speaking?

A teacher asked on the Facebook group “How do you assess speaking?”  Responses were basically, “try using one of various apps” (i.e. Google Classrooms, KaBlaBla, etc).  Lots of people want to use tech to do it.

Contrarian here:  save yourself time, and don’t bother…you can accurately, quickly and easily assess speaking with zero tech.

But let’s revisit the basics before we go on:

  • speaking does not improve language acquisition.  The act of talking is not like practicing music or baseball.  The real driver of speech is aural (and written) input.
  • Teachers need a life.  I for one refuse to spend an hour per class listening to students’ prepared recordings of prepared questions.  The kids have better things to do, and so do we.
  • The only speech we should assess if we want to see what the kids have acquired is spontaneous and in-the-moment.  If you want people to learn a language, then by all means let them plan, rehearse, etc…but don’t confuse this with acquisition, where we see what is “wired in” and gut-level, below– and beyond– the conscious mind.  Most of the ed apps I’ve seen are similar:  teacher records their voice asking question or saying prompts; kid listens, decodes and responds and records their answer for teacher to mark.  This kind of “planned” or “reflected-on” communication doesn’t really assess what they have acquired.
  • Feedback doesn’t work.  You can explain, correct, suggest, etc till the cows come home and it won’t make a difference in how well the kids speak.  Only input can really change that.

So how do I assess speaking?

First, every time a kid opens their mouth and uses the target language in class– to answer a question, to add to a story, etc– you are getting perfect feedback about how well they speak.

So with my 2s…Aashir can say– and understand– a word at a time max.  Simrowdy can answer any question and talk at length about anything.  Sadjad extemporaneously comes up with good entire sentences when adding to a story.  Janelle is like Simrowdy.  Daniel will– and does– say anything but has some verb etc issues.  Kevin never talks, but when he does, it’s perfect.  I could go on.

Second, the point– to me– of assessing speaking (as with anything else) in class is to see what the kids do not understand and where they need more input.  This is why we track barometer kids and choral responses.

Third, I don’t play “gotcha.”  I test what I teach.  I use vocab they know, and when using objects, pictures or people, I make sure the kids have the vocab to describe them.

Fourth, I don’t assess speaking for Level One students.  It makes them anxious, and it is time taken away from input.  I assess– i.e. attach a number to– kids once, at the end of Level Two.  I do only what you would do speaking in real life:

  • ask them questions and have them answer
  • have them ask me questions (and I answer).
  • describe something– a photo, an object, another kid in the class

No presentations, storytelling, memorisation, etc.

Here’s my rubric:

For a mark of 3:

  • I can in detail discuss myself, my social and family circle and my activities and interests, and i can describe things.
  • I make minor mistakes that do not affect meaning, and I can speak fluidly.
  • I understand all questions and I come up with my own.
  • I can fix conversational problems or I don’t have any conversational problems.

For a mark of 2

  • I can discuss myself, my social and family circle and my activities and interests, and I can describe things.  There are some gaps in what I can say, and sometimes I provide little detail.
  • I make enough mistakes that meaning occasionallyu breaks down, and I can speak but not quickly nd fluently
  • I understand most questions and I come up with some of my own.
  • I sometimes fix conversational problems.

For a mark of 1:

  • I can  discuss myself, my social and family circle and my activities and interests, and i can describe things, but I can’t do so with much or any relevant detail.
  • My mistakes affect meaning, and I generally don’t use sentences.
  • I don’t understand all questions and I have trouble coming up with my own.
  • I either don’t know when there are conversational problems, or I don’t bother fixing them.

“Conversational problems” means not understanding, and “fixing them” means asking for a repeat, etc (i.e. not just bobble-heading along).

This rubric will generate numbers from four to twelve out of twelve.    I’ll generally show them a pic on the iPad at some point, and have them describe that, or have them describe a kid in class.  it takes about 4 minutes per kid to do this.

If the kid bombs, they can come back in after school and re-do it.

Anyway, there’s my thoughts.

How Do I Do Dictation?

Dictation is old as the language-teaching hills.  I remember doing this in my various français classes and also in Cherman viss Frau Satcher, ja.

Now, dictée is like running, weightlifting or learning music: if you do it wrong, the results are frustrating, painful or non-existent.  Like everything else in language teaching that we still do from 60 years ago, dictado has been tweaked.

Dictation:

  1. teacher reads 5-10 inter-related and meaningful sentences aloud
  2. these sentences should use the most-recently-taught vocab
  3. students write down what they hear.
  4. teacher can repeat each 2-3 x
  5. Ben Slavic suggests then projecting the sentences on the overhead and having kids correct their spelling.
  6. I always finish with translate into L1.

 

What Diktation should not be:

  • a way of introducing new vocabulary and/or grammar
  • a way for students to “practise” spelling
  • isolated meaningless sentences (e.g. sentence #1 is “the boy is tall” and #2 is “it is raining”)
  • to any degree incomprehensible
  • graded for spelling to any significant extent

I use dictation as assessment, not as a vocab-acquiring activity, and I follow the 80/80 rule: 80% of class needs to get 80% or more for me to move on. Scores are usually quite high, as I do dictation after asking a story and doing readings of the story, or other stories using the same vocab.  The kids don’t complain, it is a zero-prep activity, and it is 90% C.I. as the kids know the vocab.  This is mostly how I get listening marks.  Although it looks like output, mostly it’s input– listening– and the output is in L1.  As James Hosler says, dictation while being assessment is another way to deliver C.I.

Here is what I am going to do for dictation on Monday in Spanish 2.

  1. There was a grandmother who wanted to give her grandson money.
  2. She told him “you must win a a dance contest”
  3. He said “I don’t like to dance, because I am lazy.”
  4. The grandmother wanted to give her money to Donald Trump.
  5. Donald Trump did not want her money.

You could also

  • project a picture and describe it
  • describe a character from your novel or story
  • project bits of a clip from a video, narrate a sentence, and have them write that

Level Two Spanish Results: First Picture Description

Spanish 2 has been running for three weeks.  We have read a couple of easy novels, and have done one story cycle: el restaurante, which included reading, storyasking, Movietalk (Mr Bean videos RULE!) and Picturetalk.

Today’s first writing assessment: describe this photo.

  
Here are four writing samples.  The kids had 5 minutes, no notes or dictionaries.

First, Janelle, the top student. Amazing how she mixes past and present appropriately.

 

Next, we can compare two Level Two students who are not top performers. Hassan went to another school last year, where he had traditional grammar-and-textbook-based teaching.  This is garbled and nonsensical.  Hasan has some learning challenges and struggles in other classes.

Next, Abbas, who like Hassan has some challenges and struggles with school.  This is not awesome…but we understand, and he has built in a bit of a backstory.  Abbas had only TPRS in Level One.

Based on results, C.I. clearly helps the challenged kids more than does a traditional text.

   
Finally, Amneet.  This is not very good writing.  What is interesting here is that Amneet is probably the best speaker in the class.  I have found this kind of thing typical:  while most of the kids can undertsand everything (the scores for reading and listening quizzes are all between 80-100%), production skills vary dramatically from kid to kid and medium to medium.  Writers are not necessarily speakers, and vice-versa.

Amneet arrived late in Spanish 2, has missed a bunch of classes, but did well last year (over 80%) so I am expecting her written output will pick up.

 

Baby Steps: B.C.’s Proposed French Curriculum

The B.C. Ministry of Education is busily rewriting curricula, including French. Brief summary: the curriculum has added a few things which research and classroom experience have shown us are part of best practices, retains recommendations which are simply not supported by research, and raises a bunch of good questions. I looked at the French 8-12 curriculum.  Here are my notes in five sections:

  • the good
  • the “oughta-have-been-chucked-but-wasn’t”
  • the bad
  • challenges
  • the inexplicably missing
  • recommendations

If you have not yet familiarised yourself with current research about second language

1.  The Good Stuff with Practical and Empirical Support

  • The curriculum finally recognises that storytelling is probably the single-easiest way to soak up a bunch of vocab and grammar, and so asks that students master basic storytelling.  They are expecting a fifth-year (e.g. French 12 student) to be able to tell/retell a complex story.  (Note: any teacher who uses T.P.R.S. or A.I.M. will see their students master this in their first year of language class.)
  • Students should now acquire fewer verbs, but more verb tenses (and other language features), at the same time, which aligns with research (again, T.P.R.S. and A.I.M. practitioners are miles ahead here).  This is called “using unsheltered grammar.” Ideally, the “non-Englishy” parts of French– e.g. the imparfait and passé-composé, the subjunctive, pronoun orders– should be introduced immediately so that people have a lot of exposure to them and can pick them up when their brains are ready. As VanPatten & Wong (2003) note, “acquisition of the tense and aspectual systems (e.g. the use of the preterit/passé composé and the imperfect) is piecemeal and unaffected by instructional intervention.”
  • The curriculum also suggests modifying authentic documents for learner needs.  This is the opposite of the standard bad advice (which is “modify the task, not the text”).  It also suggests increasing repetition (and saliency) of vocab to be acquired.  Great work, Ministry– these are proven strategies.
  • Emphasis is placed on meaningful communication, and not drills etc.

 

2.  Problematic Legacy Method Recommendations

a.  The curriculum supports “[T]he use of authentic documents and tasks to support the development of communication skills.”  Bad idea.  Why? Well, authentic documents– things by and for native speakers– tend to have the following characteristics:

  • they use low-frequency vocabulary and often slang
  • they often use complex language (e.g. metaphors, irony, etc)

If we really want to build proficiency, the last thing we should be using are “authentic documents.”  You want to use high-frequency (i.e. oft-used) vocab, you want it comprehensible, and you want it recycled zillions of times.  Teaching decoding strategies– the classic “answer” to the straw-man question of “how do we get learners deal with authentic documents?”– serves only to establish meaning and does little for acquisition.  But– fair enough– we’re told to modify where necessary.  And we should be modifying authentic French (or any other) texts most of the time.

“Authentic tasks” is another minefield.  This usually means doing “real world” stuff like learning to give/follow directions, order food etc.  The problem with this, as Bill VanPatten and I have noted, is that you cannot “train” people for future language scenarios the way you can train a doctor to, say, give stitches.  One new word or phrase, and that carefully-practiced restaurant dialogue is useless. Better: teach a ton of comprehension so that people understand.  VanPatten has described language pedagogy as the development of “coping skills”: we want learners to be able to manage in the target language and culture, because we cannot train them for every eventuality.

b.  The “notion that acquiring French includes learning about Francophone culture.”  Really? I must learn about baguettes and Proust and poutine to learn French?  Sure, learning about French culture is a great idea, and it’s important.  And maybe two birds, one stone, etc.  But we  are best off doing French in French, and French– or whatever– culture mostly in L1, so that you can avoid making French culture banal and simplistic.  Of course, this is going to be up to teachers to decide how to do.  Can the Ministry provide any evidence that it is necessary to learn about Francophone culture to acquire French?

 

3.  The “still needs work” side

First, the curriculum says Grade 8s should knowvocabulary to describe elements of cultural communities, their practices, and their traditions.”  Why this is important is problematic.

Most “cultural” vocabulary is low-frequency (and therefore not very useful), and much of it is specifically tied to regions (e.g. nobody in France cares what a bonhomme is) and so not especially portable.  If we want  people to talk about their own culture etc, great…but that’s not super-French.

You have options when it comes to culture, and they are simple: you can develop acquisition, or understanding of culture, but not both meaningfully.  Why?  Because “cultural” vocab is low-frequency (so learning it will take time away from the useful– i.e. high-frequency vocab people actually need to communicate), and because the kind of cultural stuff you can talk about (esp in the first 3-4 years of a language) in the target language is simplistic and banal.

A classic example– which I’ve seen in every language program I’ve seen in North America– is, say, food. My district’s French text, Communi-quête, Level 3 (French 10), has a food unit.  Shopping for and ordering food, etc.  Necessary vocab:  commander (to order), and prendre (roughly, “to have something to eat/drink”).  According to Wikipedia, commander is not in the top 1000 most-used French words (the 1173rd most-used word is commandes) and neither is prendre. So, here French teachers are being asked by this textbook to teach “culture” vocab which is banal, and low-frequency. In other words, boring and useless.  This is the classic “culture problem” of language teaching: if you want to do the “culture” of L2, the only way to make it not trite and stupid is to do it in L1, and if you do it in L2, it will be silly and low-frequency.

Second, students should “[l]ocate and explore a variety of online media in French.” This is generally a waste of time.  Again, most French media will present

  • too much vocabulary
  • too much low frequency vocabulary
  • not nearly enough repeated vocabulary
  • French which is spoken too quickly to understand, etc, for kids to learn much from.  We know that in a second language (as audiologist Ray Hull notes) adolescents process at about 125-130 words per minute.  Adult native-speaker speech is around 170-180 wpm, de fact rendering most aural online media incomprehensible.

We know from research that the most “bang for the buck” in terms of acquiring useful language is lots of repetitions (160-200 times each) of high-frequency vocab (the 1200-1500 most-used words).  Recommending a variety of online media which is not specifically made for students is a bad idea.

Third, we have some edubabble that appears to want kids to use French way above their heads, and to “reflect on their learning,” neither of which are useful.  For example, in Core Competencies, we have this: Students “[c]ollaborate to plan, carry out, and review constructions and activities.  Students work together to accomplish goals, either face to face, or through digital media. Examples include planning a construction, inquiry or performance, solving a problem, conducting an inquiry, and working together on community projects.”

This should happen in French?  Really?  Good luck with that.  If not, great, makes sense.  I can see this maybe happening in an upper-level Immersion classroom.  Outside that?  Let me know how that works.  Let’s see how much French gets spoken by kids planning something in a group.

If my experience is a guide, zero is pretty close. Yesterday during my planning block, for example, a colleague did a French scavenger hunt.  The kids had to make a set of French directions (turn left, go straight, open…, etc) that took you through the school, and at the end of these directions there was some kind of object to be retrieved.  Groups of kids make one “hunt” and then “do” the hunt of another group.  BTW, I used to do exactly the same thing in my Spanish 2 class.  This is to “practice” giving and following directions and command forms of verbs. So, what actually happened? I dunno but when I used to do this with Spanish, this is what happened:

  • the kids spoke entirely in English
  • the Spanish was poor
  • the amount of (bad Spanish) input in a 30 min. activity was probably maybe 6 sentences of Spanish
  • the focus was on sprinting around the halls, checking phones, and hanging out with buddies, not Spanish

Now, this was a good “communicative” activity in the sense that kids were engaged and actually wanted to do it.  But the amount of good input was minimal, and both directions and school places (hall, stairs etc) are low-frequency vocab.  (But the French teachers  are more experienced than me, so they probably figured out a way to do this  activity better than I could.) I’ll bet that this is typical of peer-and-peer activities.  So why is the Ministry recommending these?

It also says students should “[e]xplain/recount and reflect on experiences and accomplishments, tell about their experiences—especially their learning experiences—and reflect, and share what they learned. Examples include presentations of learning, self-assessment, and receiving/offering feedback.” What useful self-assessment of language use a learner can make is beyond me.  I would love to see two things from the Ministry:  evidence that self-assessment makes any kind of difference in the language classroom, and some examples of meaningful self-assessment becoming acquisition (i.e. a “how to” and some data supporting this). The “I” statements here include

  • I give, receive, and act on feedback.
  • I can recount simple experiences and activities and tell something I learned.
  • I can represent my learning, and tell how it connects to my experiences and efforts

Well, the first is a total dud.  We know from research (and experience) that feedback about language does not transfer into the implicit system where language is processed and stored.  You can give feedback– do X, do not do Y, try Z– till the cows come home and the kids will still say “j’ai allée à l’ecole” or whatever (did I make that mistake correctly?).  Feedback other than “tell me more” or “please pay attention and ask for help” is useless, period.  If I’m misreading this, please Ministry clarify what you mean by “feedback.”

One also wonders what kind of feedback a learner of French is supposed to give another learner of French.  A really egg-headed kid might say “tell me more” or “explain; I don’t get it.”  Beyond that?  Curious to see.

“Recount activities and experiences”?  AWESOME!  STORIES! PERSONALISATION! DO IT!

“Representing learning”?  If they mean “describe all the language you learned this year”, total waste of time.  Also boring.  If they mean, do something cool– like tell and illustrate a story or personal anecdote, or use the language you learned to get something useful described or experienced or done– awesome.

Fourth, there are a lot of recommendations for “communicative” activities like this one which look really frikkin’ cool…until you try to wrap your head around

a) the amount of French needed to actually do this which would overwhelm anybody except senior Immersion kids.

b) the problem is that the activity is so cool that anybody would want to rush into it, and how can learners possibly know– and want to stay in— French to get the task done?  I used to do this kind of thing in Spanish…and if the activity was interesting enough, English inevitably got used.

c) the low-frequency vocab.  For example, a totally necessary phrase for this activity would be gilet de sauvetage (lifejacket).  According to Wiktionary’s frequency lists, this phrase is not in the top 10,000 most-used French words.  So…why teach it?

The biggest problem with any kind of “communicative” activity is that– even if kids wanted to use all the necessary vocab— they inevitably produce junky output which in turn becomes junky input for  other learners.  As researcher Terry Waltz has noted, “peer to peer communication is the McDonalds of language teaching,” a sentiment echoed by Stephen Krashen.

Bill VanPatten has noted that since U.G. develops mental representation of language only from input, and if anything in the input is “off,” mental representation suffers.  VanPatten has also stated that it is the teacher’s– and not the students’– responsibility to provide input in the language classroom. Ministry, can you please explain why you are recommending peer-to-peer communication when all the research suggests it provides very poor input?

Fifth, students should be able to “Identify examples of regional idiomatic expressions in texts.”  Why?  Idioms are by definition local-use and low-frequency.  So they have limited use.  Why bother?  Also, more generally, who cares if an expression is Quebecois or French or Malian?  How will this help students communicate?  Who in the world– other than a scholar– would care whether or not an expression was from France, Mali or Quebec?

Sixth, there are a lot of sample activities emphasising output and editing.  Output, as Krashen and VanPatten note, does not develop either mental representation of language or fluency (until we are at very advanced levels, and even there its role is dwarfed by input).  There should be much more emphasis on input-focused activities.  Editing is basically impossible for most younger people, especially second language learners.

THE CHALLENGES FACING B.C.LANGUAGE TEACHERS

First, if teachers should teach unsheltered grammar (e.g. all verb tenses at once) and storytelling, what are we going to use for textbooks and reading material?  There is not one published French textbook that foregrounds narratives and/or focuses on stories as both the content and method of teaching language.  Every French textbook program I’ve ever seen is poorly designed from the point of view of research about how people acquire languages.  All textbook programs

  • emphasise peer-to-peer communication, which is at best marginally effective
  • don’t use stories, which is boring
  • foreground grammar (even when pretending to be “communicative”), which is ineffective
  • are full of sequenced grammar instruction, which is contrary to research & useless
  • use too much vocabulary and not nearly enough reading (ditto)
  • come with expensive boring grammar cahiers, which are useless

In Spanish we have Cuéntame but in French?  Rien.  For reading, the Blaine Ray and Carol Gaab novels (most of which are available in French) are great.  What we don’t have: Canadian, French and other Francophonie-representative novels, comics, etc.  I’m a culture skeptic, but if there is one place where you can meaningfully “do” culture, it’s in novels. Ministry, can you please explain how you expect teachers to use stories when all textbooks we currently have totally ignore storytelling?  Are you going to provide some funding for books?

Second, we are going to need a massive overhaul of second-languages methods instruction at the University and District level.  Our new teacher graduates are going to need to learn story-based methods like T.P.R.S. and narrative paraphrase (Movietalk), or maybe A.I.M. for little kids.  Baby steps have been taken in this direction (e.g. I have been seeing S.F.U. student teachers and introducing them to T.P.R.S. for three years now; U.B.C.’s Wendy Carr has backed V.S.B. efforts to teach C.I. to teachers, etc) but we have a ways to go.  (How far?  Well, one S.F.U. languages methods prof is still recommending discredited legacy methods such as sequential grammar instruction, grammar practice, forced output for beginners, error correction, etc!  And we’re in the twenty-first century!)  At the District level, more helping teachers need to be trained in both research basics and research-based comprehensible input methods.  As Bill VanPatten notes, less than 1% of University language education teachers have any knowledge whatsoever of linguistics and second language acquisition research.  I have had lots of conversations with University people who do not know the basics of S.L.A. research. This to be fair is not the Ministry’s job, though– but it is a challenge.

Third, we are going to need to have a substantial conversation about assessment.  If we are going to upgrade methods, we need to ditch most of what our textbook programs want.  Asking kids to talk to one another in the target language, discrete grammar/vocab item testing, and testing by asking kids to listen to native-speaker-speed output are all not really representative of what kids can do.

 

THE INEXPLICABLY MISSING

At a Ministry inservice, the Ministry presenter on the new French curriculum said that they had consulted with languages teachers when writing the new curriculum.  Cool. Then they said four things I found astonishing:

  1. They said they were not, and had never been, a language teacher.
  2. They had not consulted with a single linguist– a second-languages acquisition researcher– for advice in redesigning the curriculum.
  3. They had not asked any students what they wanted, liked, disliked etc.
  4. They had not asked parents what they thought of French education.

The first, whatever, but that is pretty bad P.R. by the Ministry.

The second….really?  Frank Smith is at UVic, and Steve Krashen, Bill VanPatten, Wynne Wong and many others consult.  Why has the Ministry not consulted with any S.L.A. researchers about the new curriculum?

The third, not asking students…well, as Canadian Parents for French noted about Core French, “[t]he lack of satisfaction on the part of the core French students is reflected in high program dropout rates, low enrolments in the optional years, and a general feeling among anglophones that they “can’t learn French” (Netten and Germaine, 2012, P.87).   This is not because teachers don’t work hard or speak decent French, but because we use outdated methods.

You would think the minimum the Ministry would do would be to actually ask kids what they think of a program.  I’m a classroom teacher at a school where the admin and the language department head have decided to not allow students to take Spanish before Grade 10 (and where they must take French in Grade 8).  I get a lot of students who had been taking French (and other languages) either where I work or elsewhere.  I get some of the French “refugees,” and the Punjabi teachers get a bunch in Grade 11. Every year, I ask my beginners, why did you opt into Spanish? and I always get these three responses:

  1. ______ was confusing because they kept adding grammar rules
  2. ______ was boring because it was all memorising, grammar tests, etc.
  3. In _____ class, they made us talk though we couldn’t really talk, and that was stressful/hard.

We also know that while Canadian parents want their kids in French Immersion, there is never enough room.  There are well-documented social-class and prejudice issues at play here, and teacher supply (here’s an easy start to the discussion).  But the elephant in the room is, why do so many kids leave/not enter Core French?  The Ministry might have asked students (or parents) what they thought of Core French, and what they wanted to see…but they didn’t.  Hmm…

 

ECOMMENDATIONS

a)  Ditch the legacy-methods recommendations to use things like peer-to-peer communication and target-language group projects. For example, peer-to-peer communication is unnecessary, at best marginally effective, fake-feeling and often stressful for students; group work in most languages classrooms will mostly happen in L1.

b)  Get rid of the idea that “culture” should be taught only or primarily in the target language.  This idea is old, wrong and counterproductive.

c) Include brief, research-based pointers about what works and doesn’t to guide teachers.  No need to language-geek out here, just brief pointers with links to research.

d) Advocate for MUCH more free voluntary pleasure reading in the target language.  The evidence is overwhelming: free voluntary reading (in L1 or L2+) does more for language acquisition than anything else.

e) Ask students and parents what they want from a language program.  This could be done electronically, and it would be relatively simple.

 

Anyway, there’s my thoughts.  The Ministry would like your feedback, which you can provide here, or in the comments.

Direct translation: lame, not as boring as you’d think…and effective

This is a bail-out move when stories fall flat, or it’s the day before a test and you don’t have another video to Movietalk, and you are out of readings.  I think the idea originally came from Ben Slavic’s dictation suggestion.  I just thought, why not have them read and write instead of listening and writing?

I have a basic “script” version of each story.  It is the skeleton of what I ask.  Last year, I found that I was unable to keep the stories 100% comprehensible during asking, unless I circled everything sooooo muuuuch that the stories got boring.  (This year, I am better:  using multiple characters = waaaaay more reps).  So, one day when the kids and I were equally grumpy, I went to the photocopy room, made 30 copies of the basic script of the story, and got the kids to translate.  Surprisingly, the kids were quite happy to sit and work quietly.  My guess is that this is because a C.I. class has a lot of listening and talking, and reading & writing is a break from this.

The next day, when we did extended embedded readings, the kids seemed a lot more focused and I realised that the extra repetition– read and translate– had upped comprehension.  So this has become a regular move.

It’s very simple, it gives the teacher a break, it lets the kids slow down with reading, and it’s easy to mark.

a)  Hand out a printed version of the story.  You want 100% comprehensibility.

b) Get the kids to copy the story out in the target language.  They should leave TWO blank lines under each line of the story.

c) Under the T.L. writing– in different-coloured pen– have them translate into L1.

d) Under the L1 translation, leave a blank line.  This is to keep things looking neat.

e)  Keep going, and remember to indent paragraphs and dialogue, etc.

For marking, I’m a big believer in random sampling.    Pick three sentences at random, and see how accurate the translation is.  The kids get a mark out of three.  I am fairly strict with meaning on these, because they have vocab sheets and we have been through asked story and retells, and I am in the room where they can ask for help, etc.  I can mark a class set of these in under five minutes.

I usually give them 40 min with a story.  75% of kids can get it done in class; for the rest, it’s homework.  While this sounds boring, the kids are fine with it, I know I am getting them to really read, and it’s low-tech.  My inner rebel also likes it:  zero tech, no prep, non-“communicative,” super-high levels of comprehensible input, older than old-school, etc.  Above all, it works.

My Marking System for a Language Class Summarised.

“How do we mark kids in T.P.R.S. classes?” asks a C.I. newbie on the Yahoo listserv.  Assessment and evaluation are always hot topics.

First, definitions.  Assessment is observing how people are doing, and based on that observation

1. changing what you the teacher do and

2. giving students feedback in order to

3. improve student performance.

Assessment in a comprehensible input classroom means checking whether individual students (or the class) understand both statements and questions, and– if they don’t– clarifying. Weak choral responses?  No response?  Wrong answer?  Go back and clarify. The same goes for individual kids.  If Johnny can’t answer the question “What does ___ mean?”, go back and re-explain.  BOOM! that’s assessment.

Evaluation is assigning a number to student work based on a student’s performance in relation to standards (criteria).  This we do at the end of instruction.

Second, principles.  If you havn’t been in-serviced about “assessment for learning,” google it, I can’t explain it all here, but let’s make three things SUPER CLEAR.

A.   We only evaluate “final products,” not practice, homework, behaviour, attitude, etc.   The long and the short of this surprisingly controversial statement is that we expect our kids to do X, Y and Z, and the mark we ultimately assign them at the end of Year ____ of Blablabian Language Class should reflect how well they do X, Y and Z.  Whether Johnny is nice (or a total jerk) in class, and whether or not Suzy does her homework are irrelevant: what matters is how well they do in relation to criteria.

B.  We only evaluate what has been taught.  No random new vocab, no activities on tests the kids havn’t done, etc.  You test what you teach, period.

C. We always let ppl re-do work so they can improve their mark. In my class, this means that their mark is always their most recent writing, reading and speaking mark.

Assessment should be fast, simple and minimal, because people learn from interesting comprehensible input and not from testing, and because teachers need to see their families & have a life 👍.  

Now, here is what I do.

OVERALL YEAR MARKS:

  • 10% all work done during year
  • 10% two culture projects (5% each)
  • 80% final listening, reading & writing exam (speaking for Level 2 & up)

First, this is how I mark writing.

Second, for reading and listening marks, the easiest thing is the exit quiz.  One a week for reading and one for listening.  Speak– or write on the board– five sentences.  For listening, the kids write in the target language and translate into English.  For reading, they translate into English.  You can have them trade papers and mark.  You can do an exit quiz in ten minutes, the marks recording is quick, and you’ll know immediately if they understand or not.

Another great idea– thanks, Ben Slavic and also ironically legacy methods– is dictation.  For dictation, read a very short (e.g. 10-sentence) story aloud.  The kids write down what they hear.  Then, they translate.  Finally, you project the story, and they fix their errors.  I have no idea how to mark dictation.  Suggestions?

I also mark my kids’ comics for a reading mark.  This is Adriana’s idea from her special-ed course and it’s simple & excellent:

  • read the extended version of the most recent story (if using embedded readings, read the most complex one)
  • make a 10-16 panel comic (Internet clip art etc fine) of the story
  • each panel MUST have at least one “narrating sentence,” (e.g. “John was hungry and went to the store”)
  • each panel MUST have EITHER dialogue or thought-bubbles (characters either describing themselves, e.g. “I like girls” or thinking, e.g. a girl thinking “I am hungry”)
  • the pictures MUST accurately support the meaning

This is what Adriana calls “deep reading.”  It makes the kids read, extract the main points, and illustrate them.  It’s also fairly easy, and the results– which I say should look decent, be in pen, have a bit of colour and not use lined paper– go on the wall, where the kids read each others’.  If you have Adminz or Headz who get excited about Technologiez, the kids can make them using Computerz!

The comic marks are cumulative: if they don’t do them, they get zero until they are done.  A comic typically takes a kid about 30-40 minutes to do, and is the only homework I assign (other than occasional reading).

Third, I do not assess “speaking skills” in Level 1.  Shocker, I know, but there’s a few reasons.  I know exactly how well each student can talk.  And–unless your modus operandi is hand out worksheets and put your feet up– so do you. Level 1 is where we lay foundations, where we plant seeds, and if the kids are getting a load of input, these seeds, as Ben Slavic puts it, will bloom in Level 2.  And practising speaking does not develop speaking skills.  My kids can talk– a lot— but I don’t pressure them with “prepare for your oral test” nonsense (how do you “prepare” for an oral test anyway?!?).

I assess speaking skills in one three-minute interview at the end of Level Two (and up).  These interviews are 100% random questions.  For Level Two, I am basically looking for their ability to understand and respond (they should be able to answer a question like “What do you like to do?” or “What did you do last weekend?” with 1-3 sentences).  I also get them to tell me a story.  For Level 3 and up, they should be able to provide longer answers and ask me questions as well.

Now, how does it all hang together?

Well, what I have is a “rolling” gradebook.  That is, their mark always reflects their latest performance (the exception:  the comics, which are all added together under the reading mark).  Their mark is always the most recent thing they have done (for writing, listening and reading).  We do assessment during the story-asking process for listening and reading skills, and at the end of a “story cycle” for writing.

This allows me to say “right now, you are getting ___%” and also “if you blow off coming to class, reading etc, your mark can drop.”  With T.P.R.S., most kids do quite well, so I have very few parent or kid complaints.  In the last three years, one parent has complained…and when I told her that her son missed an average of 60% of classes, she said “oh, I see” and that was that.  Also, the kids know that if they have a crappy day on writing assessment day, they can boost their mark next time around.  Generally, the marks are quite consistent.

When I get the dreaded question “how can Maninder improve her mark?” from a parent , I say all you can do is listen in class, read, and try to find easy listening or reading in Spanish outside of class.  This also happens to be the only thing that really helps.  There is no edubabble like “look in your portfolio and revise your ____” or “master your ____ verbs” or whatever (feedback is useless: if it adresses the conscious mind, it will be either forgotten or unavailable in real-time interactions).

Teachers say “well, a kid could do nothing all year and then try to ace the final.”  Yes, they could.  But…for one, as Bill VanPatten reminds us, the “work” in a language class is processing input.  No processing input = no (or very little) acquisition. And sure enough, the kids who blow off listening and reading (and/or skip classes) see their marks drop.  If they keep re-writing the same story, and don’t learn new vocab, the end-of-year writing criteria takes that into account.  They are also expected (in Level 1) to write about 75 more words in each 40-min story-write and 10 more words per 5-min speedwrite (describing themselves or a picture) than they did the previous time.  Kids who skip etc see their marks drop, because their output has less varied (and less well-used) vocab, and lower wordcount.

In 2015 Spring semester, I had two kids who missed about 50% of classes.  Sure enough, at the end of the year exam, their wordcounts for stories were in the 300 range (the rest of the class could do 600, and the top kids almost 900), their 5-min speedwrites were about 60 words (every other kid was over 100), and their reading and listening comprehension was significantly lower.  Most interesting:  these kids did not badly…but would have failed under the grammar grind/communicative system.

So, they have “ongoing” evaluation where their marks are always the last thing they’ve done.

For final evaluation, I do a 45-min story write and a 5-min describe-a-picture write.  I use this Timed Writing Rubric (from Kristin Duncan) at the end of the year.  In Level 1, the story word target is 800 words in 45 min; for Level 2 it is 1,000.  For the picture,t he target is 100 words in 5 min.

For listening, I do dictation:  they listen to a 20-sentence Spanish story, write it in Spanish, then translate into English. For reading, I give them 20 questions relating to the embedded (long) reading versions of the asked stories, and they have to hunt through the stories (re-reading! reps!) for answers.  The answers are 1. copy from the text and 2. translate.  The evaluation here again is of comprehension, not output.

Generally, I use 80% final evaluation (read, write, listen; oral for 2s and up), 10% culture projects and I make the entire year’s work worth 10% for their final Spanish mark.  Interestingly– I kept stats this year– there was very little difference between kids’ final exam marks and their during-the-year marks.

This has never happened, but I tell kids, if you blow it on the final writing or reading exam, you can re-do it.  As Vancouver T.P.R.S. teacher Steve Bruno remarks, one of the great things about T.P.R.S. is low test anxiety.  The kids know what they have to do, they can do it, and there is zero difference between a final exam and a regular test.

So anyway…to sum it up:

  • students are always marked on their most recent work
  • no oral evaluation for beginners
  • this is real “assessment for learning” where only final products are evaluated with reference to criteria
  • there is no marking of attitude, homework, participation, etc.  If kids screw around, or don’t work, I deal with it– but not by using marks as carrot or stick

What does good language teaching look like? The Ten Principles for ALL language teachers

Today’s question is “What does good language teaching– regardless of method– look like?”

Here are criteria.  Comments welcome!

1) The class delivers a LOT of aural and written comprehensible input, supported where necessary with translation, images, acting, gestures and whatever makes the input comprehensible.  Input is:

  • always comprehensible
  • quality, and not generated by (error-making) learners
  • compelling (this will vary with class, age, culture etc)
  • delivered via progress along frequency lists (more-frequently used vocab is taught before less frequently used)
  • not impoverished: it does not overfocus on one grammatical/vocabulary rule or grouping, and it does not leave out any elements of the language’s grammar
  • repeated frequently without being boring

2) Both input and class are personalised.  The teacher will make an ongoing effort to get students to understand and respond to vocabulary in ways which reflect students’ interests, identities (real and/or imagined) and views.

3)  Grammar— the rules and conventions of language as traditionally understood by teachers and texts–

  • is briefly mentioned only to clarify meaning
  • does not form the goal, organisational system or focus of instruction
  • is not practiced through drills, worksheets, songs, etc, because research shows these ineffective

4)  Instruction primarily focuses on immersing learners in comprehending compelling meaning in the target language.  This means that portfolio-work-revision, correction, grammar concept explanations and mind-mapping, feedback, focus on teacher-or-text-driven ideas about “cultural relevance,” etc are avoided.

5)  Output has the following characteristics:

  • it is always unrehearsed and unforced
  • it has no goal other than immediately authentic conversation (no role plays, etc; scripted activities such as A.I.M. or T.P.R.S.-style stories provide input for other learners)
  • the learner, and not the teacher, chooses the level of output they are comfortable with, from yes/no answers to essays

6) The classroom is safe and welcoming.  The classroom should not make anyone feel uncomfortable or self-conscious.  The minimum behaviour standards are that students

  • listen and read with the intent to understand, and avoid focus on distractions
  • do not distract anyone in class
  • signal comprehension or a lack thereof

7)  Instruction recognises the unchangeability of (and tremendous variation between students’ progress along) internal linguistic syllabi.  Instruction therefore delivers an always-rich, non-impoverished diet of comprehensible language, so that

  • neural architecture constantly builds
  • learners consistently have exposure to whatever they need
  • learners can acquire new items or rules when they are ready, because “everything is present in the mix” (Susan Gross).

8)  Instruction and assessment avoid

  • explicit goals
  • “I can” or any other kind of language-narrowing statements
  • textbook-style, discrete-item sequencing, presentation and assessment of grammar and vocabulary

9) Evaluation only involves meaningful, multi-dimensional language tasks (reading, writing, listening and speaking) which are in-context authentic and holistic.  Evaluation therefore avoids legacy practices such as grammar-item tests, vocabulary quizzes, “show me you can do this real-world dialogue”-style talking activities, etc.

10) Level-to-level attrition rates, marks variability and failure rates are all low, and special-needs students succeeed int he class.  In other words, people who start taking the language keep on taking it, the difference between higher and lower marks is minimal, and scores are high.

(11)  The teacher  modifies practice if something better comes along, or current practice does not work for students.

OK.  Ça va?  ¿Sirve?  Geht’s?  If these statements describe us, our classes and our students, we are doing everything right.