Tuesday, August 7, 2018

More Work to be Done

Today, I saw a syllabus of a Spanish class in a school district within an hour drive of my school. On the syllabus it said,

What are the students going to do with that "verb tense knowledge"? When I saw that sentence, my first thought was 'Level IV students will be able to fill in verb conjugation charts'.

Another document for level 1 listed the grammar structures and vocabulary themes for each chapter. 

The syllabus makes it clear that the language classes will consist of vocabulary and grammar, grammar, grammar. 
This is what the traditional textbook publishers have convinced language teachers to believe - languages should be taught with a focus on vocabulary and grammar in the order the publishers have outlined in the textbooks. 

Often, when a teacher begins a teaching job at a school district, he is handed a textbook to use to teach the language. He follows the book that explains how to fill in conjugation charts made to look like boots and he distributes publisher worksheets to students so they can "practice" the verb tenses. When he wants to give his students a fun activity, he designs a Battleship Conjugation game, plays Swat with vocabulary words, or plays Number Bingo with the students on Fridays. The result is a huge exodus of language students after the required minimal levels leaving very few to continue to level 3 and beyond.

This troubles me... a lot. One of the reasons is I started my teaching career teaching in that manner. I thought I was doing my job well because that's what my experience in language classes had been, both as a student and as a student teacher. 

But two people, in particular, helped guide me away from grammar-based teaching to teaching for acquisition. The first person was Mara Anderson, the World Language department chair at the high school (I was in the middle school), who came to my classroom and demonstrated TPR. A few years later, after moving to another district, I attended a one-day workshop by Carol Gaab, in which I experienced, first-hand, the power of acquiring a language versus studying a language. The combination of those experiences started my CI journey and my interest in second language acquisition. 

But, what if Mara had not demonstrated TPR in my classroom? 
What if I had not attended the workshop with Carol Gaab? 
Would I still be teaching from the textbook and focusing on grammar rules? 
How would I know there is a more effective way to teach? 
Would I still be blaming the students for not studying?
Would I still hear comments such as "give me the quiz before I forget everything" before distributing a quiz?

This, dear friends, is where you are desperately needed. No more excuses. It is time for action. If you have abandoned grammar-based teaching and have witnessed your students' increased proficiency and language skills as a result of teaching with CI, then your task (not someone else's task) is to share your experiences and the teaching strategies you employ that make those successes possible. 

We have only scratched the surface of introducing and training teachers to teach with CI in order to enable their students to acquire the language. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are 129,189 schools in the U.S. If each school averages one teacher per building (middle schools and high schools average more than one WL teacher per building, but many school districts do not have WL teachers in the elementary buildings), that adds up to over 129,000 WL teachers in the US. How many of those teachers are blindly following a publisher's textbook and how many are teaching for acquisition?  

Below is a chart listing ways to introduce teachers to teaching with Comprehensible Input (CI) and help them on their language teaching journey.  Whether you are new to teaching with CI or whether you are starting your 20th year of teaching with CI, there are actions you can take to increase awareness of second language acquisition and how to teach for acquisition and share your teaching methods and strategies with others. 

A noteworthy reminder: ALL teachers, that are committed to continued professional development and growth, regardless of their experience and/or teaching methods, can learn from their colleagues, including those that do not teach exactly as they do.
     Be nice.
     Be open-minded. 
     Be gentle. 
     Be encouraging. 
     Be ready to learn from others.   

If you have more ideas to add to the chart, please share them in the blog comments below, on Twitter (@sonrisadelcampo), or in person. 

Comments related to chart above:
1. Submitting a proposal and presenting at a conference: If you have never done this before you may say you can't do it because you will be nervous. Welcome to the club! I have presented at national, state, and regional conferences, as well as at CI PLN groups and the only time I was NOT nervous was this July at iFLT18. Look at it as a way to grow.  :-)

2. Start a PLN in your area: I have wanted to do this for years. Maybe this will be the year I follow through.

3. Start a blog with the mindset of using it to reflect on your teaching and your lessons. People will eventually find you and share in your journey and then learn from you.

4. Offer free resources on your TPT store: Many of my teacher friends have TPT stores and it warms my heart that besides selling materials on their store, they are very generous in sharing great resources that they have made at no cost to others and in their time sharing their knowledge and expertise on live Facebook videos, on social media, and endless patience in answering questions about their classroom practices. 

5. Accept a student teacher and model how to teach using Comprehensible Input: Remember that the person may have come from training that did not acknowledge teaching with Comprehensible Input. Have patience and enjoy watching them grow in their teaching skills.

6. Create a substitute lesson bank: EVERYONE will love you if you freely share sub plans. This is your opportunity to share your BEST plans based on using comprehensible input. Others will be more open to leaving grammar-based teaching when they experience success with your substitute lesson plan. They may even use it on a day they are present!

7. Volunteer to mentor a teacher: Why do we not have a mentoring program in place?

8. Offer a free or low-cost training: When you train other teachers, there are usually costs involved for you, and I fully support that you should also be compensated for your time. If you have the opportunity to present that does not require travel or lodging on your part, consider offering that training at a bargain price to eliminate the financial strain that prevents some teachers from attending their first CI/TPRS training. 

9. Submit an article to ACTFL's publication The Language Educator: And/or submit an article to your state organization's newsletter or publication.

I have great colleagues (throughout the U.S.) that are doing amazing things. Their energy and expertise seem endless. I am grateful that they have done much in the past and continue to help their fellow teachers.  :-)


  1. I have found as I hope to work with more teachers that not as many teachers know and use CI as I originally thought. Through Twitter and Facebook groups, we connect with a lot of teachers, so it is easy to think that many of them use CI. Plus the iFLT/TPRS Facebook group is HUGE. But there are still so many teachers at a beginning stage. I appreciate your post!

  2. This is wonderful! I saw Carrie Toth's tweet about this awesome board of ideas and ran right over! This is my 20th year teaching in a low income district in MI. When I first stated teaching, we had books that were ~18 years old (now they would be ~40 yrs old!!!). With changes in leadership, funding, schools closing, etc., our world language program across the district was put on the back burner. What felt like frustration and desperation at the time (a new teacher with no set/written curriculum, books, resources, and a large decrease in the overall language program and staff), was really a blessing in disguise because it gave me the freedom to teach without restrictions. Being the only teacher left in our high school (and still the same today), I was basically forced to create my own material to survive. However, without proper training (or funding to attend conferences, workshops, etc), I'm sure my materials were not helping anyone advance their long-term skills. Over the years, I've dedicated my time to learning from the best...you guys...I'm thankful for social media in that aspect! Because I'm the only language teacher in our building and the only real training I have is through Twitter and your blogs, it's been a slow changing process, BUT my baby steps are still headed uphill in the same direction! Yay! I am so thankful for the time, hard work, and inspiration you all provide to teachers in my position! Odd as it is, 2 nights ago, I received an email with an attached syllabus and curriculum pacing guide for Spanish 1 & 2 that our Spanish teachers across the district are now required to follow. Huhhhh? Had I received this 15-20 years ago, I'd be jumping for joy, but now? I assume someone from our central office teamed up with our curriculum director (who used to teach Social Studies and has now been put in charge as curriculum director of 3 subject areas for all grade levels...way too much for 1 person!), but I really have no clue where this came from, who wrote it, and why they made this decision without actual language teachers. The funny-not funny thing about it is that the "new curriculum" and expectations follow specific chapters of a book that my school does not have, but apparently some schools in our district do have...another very frustrating issue. This is so very stressful, and I feel like it is a huge step backwards (I'm sure they don't see it that way because they don't know any better, especially since they don't teach a language class). I emailed them with a way-too-long response filled with my thoughts, my own ideas for what the Spanish 1 & 2 curriculum should be based on (which I never could have done with the "training" from all of you!!), and questions regarding next steps. My feelings of frustration and desperation from before are nothing compared to feeling it now after 20 years of learning on my own and teaching by myself. :-( Waking up and reading this post has given me hope again. Thank you for the reminder that I'm not alone in my struggle. It is so diffcult being the only teacher, physically, in a high school of 800 kids without the ability to EVER collaborate (or even speak to) another language teacher face-to-face (we do not even have district department PD, planning or training time, so I barely know the other language teachers in my district). For these reasons and more, I really appreciate everything you do to help make my life in the classroom go smoothly, despite the bumpy road! Thank you...Thank You...THANK YOU, so much! :-)

  3. Hello! My name is Daniel Garcia and I am currently seeking my Master's in Teaching at the University of Michigan's School of Education. Your post really sparked my thinking, because our program has really been stressing the importance of teaching grammar through content. At the heart of teaching grammar through content is the ability to leverage comprehensible input. In this way, your primary point is clear: that we steer away from only teaching grammar, and those that already do this must seek to educate those that do not. However, as a native Spanish speaker, I have found it incredibly challenging to utilize comprehensible input consistently. Unfortunately, because Spanish is my first language, I did not have to rely on cognates and speed in order to understand, obviously I was a child and everyone could speak to me however they desired. Although my situation is a bit unique—though not unheard of—I wonder what kind of suggestions or advice you might be able to give me? I fund that people assume I am an expert because I know the language well, but this ignores the fact that I am by no means an expert Spanish teacher. I still have everything to learn as it relates to teaching. I am wholly committed to teaching in this manner, and I am simply seeking professional advice from this expert community. Thank you for this wonderful post, and for your time in advance!

  4. Just bouncing around your blog, again! And thought I should tell you that it was your blog post about the unicycle and linear teaching that really pushed me to start changing the way I teach. Thank you for putting yourself and so much content out there!