Thursday, December 8, 2016

Chris Cashman's response #2 (posted with permission)

The other day, I responded to Chris Cashman's question posited to me on the Spanish Teachers in the U.S Facebook Group.  

A little bit of background, Chris and I have communicated over the years through Youtube about my video lessons, which are relatively grammar heavy.

After some reflection, Chris graciously responded but said it wouldn't fit in a comment on my blog due to length constraints. 

So with his permission I have posted it here for you to see. I will respond once I have organized my thoughts.
Señor Jordan – Amazing blog entry that you posted the other day. I really appreciate the time you took to flesh out what you do. I specifically appreciated how you respond to the criticisms of TPRS head-on.
So first of all, I guess I am surprised to hear that you are a fairly religious TPRS/CI practitioner. And it is mainly because of your grammar videos. The fact that you produce videos of explicit grammar instruction (albeit you do the explicit instruction better than anyone else) lead me to believe that you believe there is merit in explicit grammar instruction. But then I read your blog response to my post, and I’m a bit surprised to discover otherwise. In fact, even as I was rereading your blog post, a “Senor Jordan has uploaded a video” email came through, and it was about how to form adverbs.

First of all, I’ll share some common points between how I teach and some of the methodology you brought up. But then, I’ll launch into a big gap that remains for me – a gap from what you shared, and the lack of response about it when I post about these things on other blogs, discussions with colleagues, and ACTFL Discussion Boards. Still coming up dry.

The thinking behind your grammar videos actually overlaps a bit with the pattern that I myself use to present grammatical structures – and vocab too, actually (I give vocabulary lists for four out of eight units in Spanish 3).

First, you have students (1) observe the structure in a communicative, or meaningful, context. I do that. I never start an explanation of a grammar point with “We’re going to learn how to speak in the past tense today. So take your verb, chop off…” Ehck! Try to have students discover it for themselves. Sí, simón.

(2) Define it. Ok, what are those endings? What is the whole tense paradigm? Let’s nail it. Guided notes. Students have probably figured out a lot of it anyway if I’ve presented a good sampling set in stage 1.

(3) Input – This is a stage that the traditional folks don’t do. Before requiring students to produce anything with what they have now successfully observed and defined, I use the grammar – and vocab, by the way, and yes I do lists – in the context of goofy stories, PQA’s, and T/F questions (about the class, about pop culture, about stuff).

(4) Output – By the end of a unit, I do expect and require students to produce a story, write a little paragraph about a camping trip, or compete to be the meanest “Mean Girl” with present perfect, write a letter advocating for environmental change using subjunctive, lo que sea.

I am thinking that (4) is where you and I differ – the output / production piece. You view it as much more longitudinal; I expect pieces along the way. Perhaps we differ on (2) as well, but based on your awesome video industry, I’m thinking we don’t – but I don’t know how it intersects with your current teaching model. So let’s focus on (4) for now.

My biggest issue is how assessment and accountability to learn happen within a TPRS-type teaching set up. How do you assess learning, and all the while keep it academically rigorous? Do you ever assess output? The only things you’ve said in that regard in your post is that students must “communicate their ideas” and that “their understanding of grammar… doesn’t show up in their production”. Do you at any point in a four year sequence assess them on putting an “---o” at the end of present tense ‘yo’ verbs, or “Tú tienes” instead of “Tú tengo”? If not, how do you assess them? How do you hold them accountable to acquire the language?

You say that you do pop-up grammar. Do you ever plan to cover any grammatical concepts by level? Or is it all student-driven, based on what students may bring up? What if they don’t bring “it” up? And then we go back to the question about assessing those things – that may pop-up, that may not pop-up, huh? Do you only assess what students bring up? This is one of my biggest questions I have of the TPRS folks, and I have never received a satisfactory answer.

I say all of this after having had somewhat of a come-to-Jesus experience with TPRS back in 2009, and then I started my first teaching job in 2010 at a religiously TPRS school. I was pumped up and ready to go. A year into it, though, I didn’t feel it was effective. It’s really hard to make it clear to students what they should be learning and then holding them accountable to learn *it*. I suppose I could keep talking about that, but suffice it to say that I have left TPRS fundamentalism and have become more moderate in my approach (Southern Baptist to Evangelical Free, if you will), and I have found a way to do both. I am with you in not being 100% satisfied with how much students are producing, but I feel like what I want students to learn is clear, the way they learn it is contextualized and fun, it sets up a good way to learn culture as well, and my assessments are balanced between general proficiency building and specific grammar/vocab learning. All of that could be unpacked in another big post, I know. So maybe I need to do that.

Off-topic: Have you ever had Puerto Rican food? If so, that could be a meal when you’re in Chicago. I live in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, Humboldt Park.

OK, that was a mouthful! Very anxious to get a reply.

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