Changes are coming in our local language instruction ecosystems. Administrators who are paying attention to what happens in their buildings have become openly concerned about the lack of equity in language education in the United States.
When administrators understand that method is important (it isn’t important in all subject areas) and shifting method (which we can do if we have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset) can increase results, they begin to understand that the goal of comprehension based language teachers is not a personal vendetta against colleagues who do things differently.
Rather, it’s about college readiness for more students by getting more and more people of all shapes and sizes through second year language classes and into the upper levels. It’s about growing, changing and adapting as professional educators to improve what we do for the benefit of our students.
Darcy Pippin, a teacher-leader in Oklahoma, has some amazing statistics as her department has transitioned to comprehension based instruction (TCI – Teaching with Comprehensible Input) over the last six years – going from approximately 15 kids in 4th year and 15 in AP to 30 in each. Besides that, she went from around 30% passing the AP test (that’s about 5 kids of 15) to around 75% passing (that’s about 23 kids of 30). Those are impressive stats.
If we contrast this with existing district statistics where TCI (Teaching with Comprehensible Input) is not used, it’s all the more powerful. What is your district’s retention rate over four years? Retention rate in a traditional public high school, which will be mirrored across the country, will be less than 10 % over 4 years.
Those students who make it to upper levels of study will be mostly white, mostly female, nearly all high-achieving students. Does that reflect your district’s student demographic? If not, why not? Does it reflect your district’s dedication to closing the achievement gap? If not, should it? If so, what changes do we need to make?
But these are just statistics. And people are naturally skeptical of statistics, as they should be. It’s only one part. The stories that are being told in schools across the country right now are what people are starting to notice and respond to. It is the stories about comprehension based instruction that will create in other teachers the feeling that they can be a part of this change.
Everyone wants to feel successful and feel like they’re good at what they do. Everyone wants their kids to buy in and feel successful too. So, there’s the special education student who shines in your class and, in fact, outshines many higher-achieving kids.
There’s the social outcast who raises her head, laughs and smiles. There’s the obnoxious kid who gets kicked out of all his other classes but not yours. There’s the high-achieving kid who is writing better by March than many level three kids from grammar-centric classes.
There’s the shy kid who doesn’t say a word, yet scores at Intermediate Low on listening and writes beautifully. What’s the common denominator here? How do we tell these stories to colleagues and administrators?
Then there’s teacher X who, just three years ago was a staunch traditional grammar/book based instructor, honing his explanations and packets for years and who had written off TCI (an umbrella term that includes TPRS) because of an underlying fear of change. It probably sounded more like, “I tried that already and it doesn’t work”.
But, after more encouragement and better understanding of the method, he now says things like, “Wow, my kids are so much more engaged. They’re not resisting me anymore. We have so much more fun and I’m so much happier.”
These are the stories that are now being told in various parts of the country and tipping points are being reached inside many WL departments, one teacher at a time, even as the corporate model applied to education is moving students into a more robotic mode.
Teachers are being evaluated now largely in terms of work accomplished, and kids are increasingly becoming mere robotic memorizers plagued with more work that can reosonably be accomplished in one day. There is less pursuit of happiness and more pursuit of work.
When comprehension based instruction/TCI is used in a classroom, however, the opposite happens, as described in the examples above. The human part of language education, which alone guarantees mastery of the language, is preserved in language classrooms that are based on comprehensible input, and great gains in actual fluency (vs. bogus testing) are the result.
In my district, we’re reaching the tipping point. Working from within the existing structures, we have crafted and presented a TCI-friendly goal statement that will be adopted for the district secondary language classes. It’s only a starting point, but this statement is clearly drawn from our district’s own language around equity and the ACTFL 90% statement published in 2011.
It’s a statement of district intent that is very hard to argue with. The harder part will be putting the goal statement into action. But our district is supportive. They’re implementing Balanced Literacy in language arts and it’s a big shift for a lot of teachers.
So, the district people are saying that they will support our department in the same way, with ongoing training and a transitional period so people don’t feel as if they need to change tomorrow. This is critical. They’re recognizing that change is scary, but that transitioning to a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, is the first step.
Grant Boulanger is a teacher of Spanish in St. Paul, MN.