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C.I.-taught Students Evaluated by A.C.T.F.L. Writing Standards

How well do C.I.-taught students do in terms of ACTFL writing standards? Well…pretty darned well, I’d say.

Inspired by a Facebook post, I thought I would measure some of my Spanish 1 students’ writing on the ACTFL scale.

Here is their criteria for Novice High

Writers at the Novice High sublevel are able to meet limited basic practical writing needs using lists, short messages, postcards, and simple notes. They are able to express themselves within the context in which the language was learned, relying mainly on practiced material. Their writing is focused on common elements of daily life. Novice High writers are able to recombine learned vocabulary and structures to create simple sentences on very familiar topics, but are not able to sustain sentence-level writing all the time. Due to inadequate vocabulary and/or grammar, writing at this level may only partially communicate the intentions of the writer. Novice High writing is often comprehensible to natives used to the writing of non-natives, but gaps in comprehension may occur.

Here are some writing samples.  This is Bani’s work, after about 60 hours of C.I. (I do mostly TPRS, along with Movietalk, Picturetalk and some Slavic-style Invisible “untargeted” stories.)

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Let’s see…Bani uses a load of sentences (actually, she uses only sentences). She fully communicates her intentions. There are no gaps in comprehension, The writing is far beyond the “lists, short messages, postcards, and simple notes” that ACTFL says Novice High writers can produce.  So, where is Bani?

Considering her use of various verb tenses, clarity etc, I would say somewhere between Intermediate Mid and Intermediate Advanced. What do you think?

Next, we have Marcus. This kid has an IEP, and has missed about two weeks (~13 hrs) of class.  He has some behaviour challenges, some of which involve staying focused in class.  Here is his most recent story:

 

 

 This is obviously not even close in quantity or quality to Bani’s. He uses English, has some problems with basic verbs, is occasionally incomprehensible, and the story does not really flow.

So, where does this fit on the ACTFL scale? Well, here is their Novice Mid descriptor set:

Writers at the Novice Mid sublevel can reproduce from memory a modest number of words and phrases in context. They can supply limited information on simple forms and documents, and other basic biographical information, such as names, numbers, and nationality. Novice Mid writers exhibit a high degree of accuracy when writing on well-practiced, familiar topics using limited formulaic language. With less familiar topics, there is a marked decrease in accuracy. Errors in spelling or in the representation of symbols may be frequent. There is little evidence of functional writing skills. At this level, the writing may be difficult to understand even by those accustomed to non-native writers.

Marcus fits most of this.  However, he does use sentences, sometimes properly. So– at about 50 hrs of C.I., plus behaviour and learning challenges– he’s at Novice Mid.

The lessons?

  1. C.I. works very well indeed, even for students who are not especially motivated or focused, or who have attendance issues. One of many key C.I. plusses: the vocabulary is constantly recycled in comprehensible but new ways.
  2. C.I. does get the “grammar teaching” done, despite traditionalist “those TPRS kids don’t know grammar” complaints. As we have all experienced, the stereotypically successful  language-class kids– wealthier, whiter  and fairly L1-literate females– will pick up and memorise whatever grammar rules etc we throw at them. The rest, not so much. Bani can’t tell you what a verb is, or conjugate one in a chart, or explain the difference between preterite and imperfect verb tenses…but she can use them correctly and meaningfully. Grammar: my kids havn’t been taught it…but they got it.
  3. C.I. is going to reach kids who would be dead in the water with a textbook. I have had loads of kids like Marcus over the years.  Most of them failed with the text.  Worse, most were disengaged.  Now, I’m not much of a teacher…so if *I* can get Markus this far, anyone can do well!
  4. Anyone who has issues with department members who complain that eg “when I get your TPRS kids in Spanish 2, they can’t write out all the numbers from 555 to 579,” or “they can’t conjugate the verb traer in the pluperfect ablative subjunctive causal declension” can just point at ACTFL guidelines to show where their students are. Verb charts, memorised grammar rules, etc, are not part of ACTFL’s proficiency scales: the ability to write in contextually clear and meaningful ways is.
  5. ACTFL broadly suggests that in a regular (ie non-Immersion) classroom, students will need about two years to get to Novice High, another two for Intermediate High, and two more to Advanced. These writing samples suggest that we can go waaaaay faster than ACTFL thinks.

One last thing:  these kids do well not because Mr Stolz is a brilliant teacher, but because C.I. methods allow us to stay in the target language much more than the textbook does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to teach “to have” and “to be.”

Kids’ souls, err I mean cell phones, fit perfectly into the Intro Routine and are an awesome way to teach “to have” and “to be located in” (tener and estar).

  1. If you cruelly collect cell phones, you walk around with the phone basket as class starts and you have these simple conversations. You’re going to have to model them the first time or two. I hold my phone out and use it to clariify if kids have trouble answering.

Do you have your phone? — Yes, I have my phone/no, I don’t have my phone.

How much battery do you have? — I have lots of/little battery. In Spanish, ¿cuánta pila tienes? –Tengo mucha/poca pila.

Do you have a Galaxy 96/iPhone 24? –No, I have a Galaxy 6/iPhone 7.

Where is your phone? — my phone is at home/in my locker/in my pack — I don’t have my phone

(in Spanish, ¿dónde está tu teléfono? — está en… or no tengo mi teléfono)

I also like to react with mock horror: What?!? You don’t have your phone?!? (in Spanish, get your pronouns on: ¿qué? ¿No lo tienes?

The “cell phone hotel”:

2. If your kids put phones in a “cell phone parking lot” (especially good if spots are numbered/named) you stand beside the “lot,” point and pause, and ask the questions above, plus ones such as these:

Where is John’s phone– in 4 or 17? Whose phone is in 6? Does Mandeep have her phone, or is it in the phone hotel?

In my class, any kid who gets 100% can have their phone. Major jealousy from slackers! So to model plurals, I’ll point at a kid who has their phone and ask/say things such as

Do Bani and I have our phones? Do Bani and Jagveer have their phones? Where are out phones?

Anyway. Simple, easy and of some interest to kids. Note: don’t overkill: kids will hear this every day, so no need to beat it to death. Just make sure they understand.

Spring 2017 Spanish 1 Results

Here are two story writes. Students had 25 minutes to write a story. No notes, no dictionary, no questions: write what you can en español.

These kids have had about 35 hours of input, zero writing/talking practice, very few grammar pop-ups, no workbook etc exercises.  As close to pure comprehensible input as you can get before moving into story listening.

First, Kaye. She is originally from the Philippines, and Spanish is her fourth language. I’m including her story because

A. it’s good
B. Kaye likes Duolingo…you can see her playing around with words I havn’t used.

Next, Bani. She is from the Punjab, and Spanish is her 4th language. What can I say? She rocks!

 

Note: not all students did this well. For the kids who are there for 19/20 classes and who pay attention, the average wordcount was about 175 and grammar mark 2.5/3. The skippers and burnouts do much, much worse.

How To Teach Clothing (etc) Vocabulary

Must you teach clothing, colours and verbs like “it looks good on” and “wears”? If so, read on.  If not, don’t bother: according to Wiktionary, there are very few clothing and colour words in the top 1000 most-used words in most languages.

The easiest way to teach clothing etc vocabulary is the very old-fashioned Who Is It? game, which is very easy.

  1. Find and project an image/get the class artist to draw a guy and a girl wearing the relevant clothing. Label these and let the kids look at these. As always, we must make sure input is comprehensible. No point in guessing!
  2. I would have a colour poster somewhere in the room. Here is a picture of mine:

3. Divide the class into 2-5 groups. Get a scorekeeper.

4. Tell them I am going to describe someone in the room. When you figure out who it is, hand up (no blurting) and if you can say “You are describing _____” and you egt it right, your team gets a point. 

5. Describe anybody at random: Class, this guy is wearing pink track pants, a pair of blue glasses, and a purse.  Who am I describing?

6. First kid to put their hand up and say you are describing ____ correctly, their team gets a point.

7. You can include any clothing words you have taught, physical description words e.g. this girl is medium height and has blond hair and possessions (especially class in-jokes e.g. this girl owns three Ferraris and is wearing a green dress).

8. Include yourself occasionally to throw them off heh heh 😉

9. You can also use negative statements e.g. this girl is not wearing a dress.  She does not have long hair etc.

Another great option: describe two kids at the same time. This will get kids thinking and comparing, and your input kicks into plurals:  Class, these guys are wearing sneakers and red shorts.  Class, these girls are wearing tights and white T-shirts.  Best of all, describe both a guy and a girl: class, these two/three/ they are wearing jeans and black T-shirts.

10. If you’re in a school where ppl wear uniforms, project 2-4 pictures on the board of kids the same age as your students. You can describe either a student or a young person in the picture. Students have to think, is Profe/a talking about one of us, or the picture(s)?

11. Another option if you are in a uniform school is to simply project 2-4 (interesting!) pictures of people wearing the clothes you want to describe, and then Picturetalk them.

12. The best idea of all in uniform schools: get some students to take photos of themselves wearing whatever you want to talk about.  They send you those, you project them, and you picturetalk them. They will be very interested in talking about and seeing themselves and their friends. You can also include a baby or high-school photo of yourself (giggles)…and poof! past-tense practice: I used to wear…when it rained, I would wear…I looked good in…., but I didn’t look good in…

Here is someone you know, aged 9. dressed in Hallowe’en finery:

If I were going to describe this person, I would say things such as is this a boy or a girl? Is she wearing pants or a skirt?  That’s right, she is wearing a skirt. Class, is she wearing sneakers or heels? That’s right: she is not wearing heels. [to a girl in class] Mandeep, I don’t wear heels. Do you wear heels? [to class] Class, is the girl beautiful or hideous? That’s right, class: she is very beautiful.  Class, is she wearing a blouse? etc.

Anyway, there you go: now you have a zero-prep, fun and easy way to teach clothing (and to review anything else).

End of Spanish 1: some results

Here are a few 5-min writes from Spanish 1. All are pure beginners. Their task: describe themselves. No notes, dictionary etc.

First, Angela. She is Filipina and English is her 3rd language. This is stunning writing.

Q: How did she do it?

A: Duolingo. She estimates 10-15 min/day “but then it gets boring.”

Ang didn’t learn most of the words in here she from me.

Next, we have Ronnie. This kid is learning disabled and has an IEP. They pulled him from French in Gr 8 and 9 so he could get learning support. Ronnie has some spelling issues and he doesn’t have a staggering variety of vocab. But this is clear and easy to follow. We have never done any “writing practice” in class, yet he can do this.

How Should I Teach School Vocabulary?

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Stuck where some genius has decided that low-frequency vocabulary such as “pen” and “taking notes” is important? Have you been ordered to ensure that students have “proficiency” in listing things they Absolutely Need For School?

Stress no more: the easy story script for this is here.  This was developed with the help of Nicole Kunkel and Donna Yakubowski, and taken for a spin with French 2s in 2015.  Yes, we used prsent, passe compose and imparfait when we asked it.  Feel free to steal this.  I’ll type it in English.  If we have Spanish, French etc teachers, maybe you guys could write it up in those languages and post it in the comments. Students must be familiar with the Super 7 verbs.

This is an outline: the fun is in the details and what you end up with hopefully won’t look exactly like this.

MATERIALS

— a backpack with some random weird non-school stuff in it
— a student actor to be a student
— another actor to be the teacher

WORDS WE ARE TEACHING

— got annoyed/was annoyed
— had forgotten (yes, this is the pluperfect tense)
— “Have you forgotten/did you forget _____?” — “Yes, I have forgotten/forgot ___.”
— arrived late
— some words for school materials and/or classes

 

SCRIPT (blanks, and words in italics are variables– let the class develop these)

There was a boy named Mandeep.  He was _____,had _____, was from ____, wanted _____ (develop character).

One day, Mandeep arrived at school late. He went to his _____ class.  When he arrived, the teacher Mr Smith was/got annoyed.

T: Mandeep!  You are late to ____ class. I am annoyed!
S: Sorry for being late.
T: Mandeep!  Why are you late?
S: Sorry sir, I was ______. (develop)

T: Mandeep! Do you have your (school item)?
[actor looks in his backpack and pulls out a (ridiculous non-school item)]
S: Sorry, I don’t have my ______.

Mandeep had forgotten his _____!
T: Did you forget/have you forgotten your _____?
S: Sorry sir, I forgot/have forgotten my _____. (you could develop this)

[We repeat this a few times.  We can also add other teachers, classes and rooms.  We can also use ourselves as the/one teacher, but it is super-fun to have a student imitate us.]

The next day, Mandeep arrived on time in class.  But there was a problem: Mr Smith was not in class.  He was late! [actor sits behind teacher’s desk]  Mr Smith arrived late.

S: Mr Smith, you are late!
T: Yes I am late. Sorry.
S: Where were you?
T: I was in ______ (develop)

S: Mr Smith, do you have a (school item)?
T: No, I have forgotten/forgot ____

Mandeep was/got annoyed, because Mr Smith had forgotten his ______.

WRITTEN VERSION

For this, we have a student write up what happened in class, and we can add a twist ending, eg student sends teacher to office to see principal, principal forgets things, etc.

 

Major Cox

My good friend and climbing partner is Major Ian Cox, M.D. of the Canadian Armed Forces (yes, Canada has an army, and we are so badassed that we once invaded America and burned down their presidential residence, which they rebuilt and painted White).  Major Cox and I were recently swilling bee– err, climbing in Las Vegas and the Major told me how he acquired French.  Some useful lessons here.

Corporal Cox enrolled in the Army at age 16 because it was free Uni.  He had had some textbookish French teaching in highschool, which he described as “useless.” He became a zipperhead (tank driver) and then did a chem degree at U of Ottawa.

Wanting extra $$ and knowing from a 20 mm wrench, the Corporal got a job in an Ottawa bike store.  Since about two-thirds of the customers were French speakers, he heard a lot of French.  More specifically, he would hear things like can you adjust my brakes and chain? and when are these going on sale? and how much is this? over and over. He had to ask his boss initially what things meant, and once meaning had been clarified, he was able to pick things up easily.  He did a lot more listening than talking, most of the staff also being native French speakers.

Then there were the French girls.  Ten years’ worth of French girlfriends also provided an entirely different incentive to acquire French. The Sergeant was introduced to a lot of French families, where a standard set of questions and a standard set of rituals (with accompanying language) provided a lot of repeated French.

He returned to Uni, doing an M.Sc. in chemical hygiene. The Captain tested into the Army’s French ranking and did well enough that they started sending him on U.N. missions and to work with French-speaking soldiers.  Army work in French was the same deal: limited vocab used over and over.  Whether you are doing tank maneuvers, testing for mines, running first-aid drills or doing contamination surveys, you are using limited vocab, it is being repeated a lot, and it is anchored in movement, objects, ritual etc so it is very comprehensible.

When the Captain went to med school and came out a Major, he also went to U. of O., where again he heard loads of French.  Now, when we drink bee– err, climb, and we meet Quebeckers, I am in the listener’s seat, and am amazed at the Major’s fluency and pure lain Quebecois accent.

So, what enabled him to acquire French?

  1. restricted vocab.
  2. massive meaningful recycling of that vocab.
  3. comprehensible input: what was said matched what was happening and visible.
  4. lot of input, and relatively limited demands for output.

 

 

How Should I Teach Por and Para?

Today’s question, from Facebook: any fun ways of teaching por vs para? This is a classic question, much like how do I teach ser vs estar?

For those not teaching Spanish, these words can be translated as “for.”

So how should we teach por and para?

First, we do not make a list of their similarities and differences, and we do not  make a list of usage rules for kids to memorise.  Why? Because even if kids do something totally boring and dumb, like memorising grammar rules, not even the best of them– in real time speech or writing– will be able to remember and apply the rule.  There isn’t enough time in real time.

Imagine having to memorise and then remember this!  😦

Image result for por vs para

Second, we do not make a “unit” around por and para. The textbook “unit” around a grammar concept, verb tense, topical vocab set etc is a bad idea: it will artificially narrow and limit language: John buys a blouse for Suzie.  He buys it in order for her to like him.  He pays $20 for it. He passes by Nordstrom on his way home from buying the blouse for Suzie.  He wonders, “did I pay too much for that blouse?” You can see how limiting this is.

Third, we start using them, from Day 1, appropriately, in context.  A perfectly good sentence for a beginning story comes from Blaine Ray: el gato quería un iPhone para comunicarse con otros gatos (“the cat wanted an iPhone in order to communicate with other cats”). In any quest story, we can have a character try to buy something:

¿por cuánto salen?      (“how much do they go for?”)                                                                      — salen tres por veinte (“three go for twenty”)

Fourth, when we do translate, we avoid using the word “for” (which will be confusing). Instead, we translate each “use type” of por and para with context (and usage-) specific words.  So we write

le da veinte por tres he gives her twenty [pesos] for three [of those]
es para su madre it is meant for his mother
fue por la calle she went through the street
aprendió por escuchar he learned by listening
por ahí close by
se perdió por haber dormido she got lost because of having slept
te amo para siempre I’ll love you forever

(This is much like ser and estar.  We don’t translate them as “to be (+ a bunch of rules)”.  Rather, we translate them as “to be” for ser, and “to feel” or “to be located in” for estar.)

Finally, we don’t obsess about it. The gringo who ends up in a Mexican market saying le doy veinticinco para dos sounds foreign to a Mexican, but also perfectly comprehensible.  This is the equivalent of a Mexican saying why you don’t have no oranges? to a Canadian Safeway employee.  The Mexican’s not having acquired any yet has zero impact on how comprehensible she is to a Canadian.

 

 

 

How Can I Teach Family Vocabulary?

One of the first questions I was asked in any conversation in India was kya aapake bache hain? (“do you have children?”) and, pre-stepfatherhood, I quickly learned to say mujhe koee bache nahin hai. This happens anywhere.

Now, although family vocabulary is relatively low-frequency, it is still a reauired part of most curricula, and it’s useful for travelers. So, today’s question: how do I teach family vocabulary?

As with any vocabulary “topic,” family words are best taught contextually— in stories— a word at a time. In C.I., we will simply give each character a relative, and then ask them questions about that relative (and add a different relative per story). However, if you must teach this vocabulary in a “unit” by Nov 27th because your Headz and Adminz think Languagez can be learned on strict Timelinez, this is how you do it.

What we’re going to do is build a famly tree on the board/OH/document camera. We will include some kids from class, plus the famous people they choose, and we are going to make it as wacky as possible.

So we ask for a volunteer— say, Jameel— and we ask him who’s your brother? Jameel can use his actual brother, or another kid in class, or someone famous, eg Kobe Bryant. Then, we ask about, say his Dad. Jameel or another student can answer the question who is Jameel’s father?

We will keep going, and then we might get this:

Now, note the labeling. The arrows’ directionality indicates the relationship. In Spanish, we can’t say “Jameel’s brother.” We have to say “the brother of Jameel,” so the arrow points and is labeled the way it is.

Once we have eight or ten people in our family tree, we are going to Q&A the crap out of it. For beginners, the questions will be things like

• who is _______’s sister?

• how old is _____’s aunt?

• is ____ Jameel’s brother or boyfriend?

• how many wives does Señor Stolz have?

For more advanced students (those acquiring lower-frequency grammar), questions (thanks Carol Gaab) will include things like

• who would you like your brother to be?

• if Barack had another kid, how many aunts would Michelle have?

The idea is to generate something student focused, and to provide input (via questions) about people’s relationships, ages, pets, possessions and really anything else you can fit into your picture.

If we want to talk about age, we will have something like this:

This is also a great bail-out activity for dead stories or a time-filler. Kids always remember these: “Sr Stolz, Manmeet was Trey Songz’s girlfriend not his sister!” etc.

Basically, we are inventing and and then Picturetalking a family tree. REMEMBER THIS ABOVE ALL ELSE: this is not an “output activity.” Kids supply details, but 95% of talk is the teacher asking y/n or e/o questions and making statements. We do this to deliver comprehensible input.

VARIATIONS

1. If we/class don’t like wacky, we can do this á la Bryce Hedstrom’s persona especial and just ask a kid straight-up factual questions about their family. This often works because there’s always someone interesting in any family, and because, well, we are always curious about others. Doing this– if your kids are cool with it, and nice about it– will also build classroom community.

2. The “famous family” is a great hook. For this, we just draw a family tree of the Simpsons, Griffins, Star Wars characters etc. Kids will find this quite compelling and will argue details.

3. If we are doing a novel– especially a simple one like my own Berto y sus Buenos Amigos or the more advanced El Nuevo Houdini— we just make a family tree based on the novel.

Anyway. Easy and fun– enjoy!

ACTFL: Almost There!

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages provides American teachers with guidance about “core practices” which ACTFL recommends.  Unfortunately, ACTFL hasn’t done much reading of science (or discussion with successful teachers) in forming these guidelines.

Today’s question:  are ACTFL’s core practices best practice?

Answer: Sometimes.

dumb actfl list

First, ACTFL’s suggestion that teachers “facilitate target language comprehensibility” is solid.  No arguments from science or good languages teachers.  Now, the rest…

  1. The use of “authentic resources” is, well, problematic.  As I have discussed, an awful lot of #authres use low frequency vocabulary, and they don’t repeat it very much.  Yes, you can “scaffold” their “use” by frontloading vocab, removing vocab, etc.  Which raises the question of why bother using #authres? Why not just start with something that is actually comprehensible?Want to teach culture?  Picturetalk and Movietalk work well.  Music…great, because if it’s good, people will listen to it over and over (and maybe focus on the lyrics) but expect a load of slang and other low-freq vocab.

    In terms of acquisition bang-per-buck, or gains per unit of time, nothing beats a diet of comprehensible input.

  2. That  teachers should “design oral communication tasks” for students is not the best idea.  Learner-to-learner communication in the target languagea. is a difficult thing on which to keep students (especially adolescents)  focused.  Why use the TL to discuss something in which L1 is quicker and easier? is what kids often think.  In my experience, for every three minutes of class time students get for “talking practice,” you might get thirty seconds of actual “practice,” and then L1, Snapchat etc take over.  In a full C.I. class, you have a lot more time where students are focusing on interpreting the target language.

    b. will feature poor learner L2 use becoming poor L2 input for other students, which is not optimal practice.  As Terry Waltz has noted, “peer to peer communication is the McDonalds of language teaching.”

    c. lowers the “richness” of input: what a teacher (or good book) can provide has richer and more complex input than what learners can do for each other.

  3. Planning with a “backward design model”– i.e. having specific plans for specific goals– is something we might have to do in some Districts, where there are imposed exams with vocab lists and so forth.  Much better practice is to simply  allow student interests– and frequency lists– guide what is taught. Student interests– self-selected reading; story co-creation and activities using vocabulary in student stories– will by definition be compelling, and high-frequency vocabulary  most useful.The only meaningful primary goals in a second-language classroom are  that 1. students be able to easily demonstrate comprehension of a LOT of the target language and 2. that students read and listen to a lot of the target language (in comprehended form). If this is accomplished, everything else– ability to speak and write– inevitably follows. Planning anything else– S.W.B.A.T. discuss ______; SWABT write ______— gives instruction an unproductive interest-narrowing and skill-practicing focus.

    It is also well worth thinking about the ideal “end state” or goal of language teaching.  I agree with Krashen: we are here to get people to the point where they can continue to acquire on their own.  If they automatically recognise a ton of high-frequency vocabulary (which will by definition include most grammar “rules”), they will understand a lot and be able to “slot in” new vocab. And most importantly, when they get to France or Mexico or China or Blablabia, input will ramp up so much that spoken French, Spanish, Chinese and Blablabian will emerge on its own.

  4.  “Teach grammar as concept and use in context”– not bad.  ACTFL here notes that meaning comes first, yaaay.  Should we “teach grammar”? Other than explaining meaning, no: conscious knowledge about language does nothing to develop competence with language. Although if students ask why do we _______ in Blablabian, a ten-second “grammar commercial” won’t hurt.
  5. “Provide oral feedback” is a terrible idea. Why?a. Anything we address to explicit awareness does not enter into implicit memory.  If Johnny says yo gusto chicas, and we say no, it should be me gustan chicas, he might be able to remember this for the eight-second auditory window, and maybe even repeat after us. But if Johnny is merely listening and repeating, he is not processing for meaning, which is how language is acquired.

    b. Oral correction makes Johnny embarassed— it raises his affective filter– and this is both uncomfortable and unproductive for him.

 

Anyway, we are getting there.  ACTFL puts C.I. front and center; as we C.I. practiioners continue to show just how well C.I. works, hopefully ACTFL eventually ditches its old-school recomendations.