Monday, August 24, 2015

Pre-school year jitters

The last year or so, I've done very little writing for learning.  I've done quite a bit of writing in other genres, but I haven't had much to say on my teaching or my growth as a teacher or the state of education in general.  There are a few good reasons for this, and a few bad ones.

For a while, I found the state of education policy to be pretty depressing.  People are pulling out of Common Core for all the wrong reasons, nobody knows what the state of Michigan is doing, and I have no hope of the federal Congress doing anything with the status quo in NCLB.  (The fact that they both have produced a bill means that they've already gotten further than I expected, so maybe I'll be surprised.)  I had no insight to offer, only snark and unproductive bitterness, so I stopped writing about it.

My writings about my personal growth have slowed because, now that I'm a member of a team and a pretty high-functioning PLC, my own reflections aren't my only, or even my primary, vehicle for reflection.  So that's not all bad. 

I'm back to where I was some years ago, though, trying to string together competing demands on my limited classroom time and trying to make the best of it.  Writing through this was useful and re-reading the things I wrote was reflective.

So to begin.  I still think that comprehensible input is the mechanism by which people learn languages, and I think that TPRS is basically the most efficient way to give that to students most of the time.  To put it another way, I follow the "comprehensible input" hypothesis as presented (and defended) by Krashen, referenced to extensively elsewhere on the blog.  I also have a curriculum to follow, and I do this as best I can.

The difficulty is that the CI hypothesis runs counter to the way we run schools.  We want to measure progress in a predictable controlled way.  We have benchmarks and final exams and differentiated instruction and rigidly defined curriculum.  But in a CI classroom, language acquisition happens in its own time, and the teacher's job is to provide the conditions for allowing this to happen.

My current struggle: the assessments for TPRS and (for lack of a better word) traditional* classrooms appear to ask completely different questions, almost as if they value different things.  And they do.  My premise is that if I do my job as a CI teacher, they should be able to pass the vocab assessments without difficulty.  Last year this proved not to be the case, but it wasn't my most stellar year.  (This year, more, better, and above all shorter chunks of comprehensible input.  Like, 1-paragraph stories we finish once a week.)

We'll see how that goes. 

*I'm coming to loathe the word "traditional."  It's essentially a straw man for whatever the well-compensated** presenter wants to argue against. In this case I mean anyone who teaches on the premise that the brain creates meaning primarily based on semantic and syntactic relationships--y'know, thematically-related vocabulary lists.

**I know they're not that well-compensated in the world of professional consultants, but you know.