Skip Crosby has quietly been stoking the fires of the revolution up in Maine. The revolution is one in which real language proficiency and fluency reach the masses and not just the high achieving students that typically grace the attendance lists of upper level classes. If you’re a language teacher who believes, like I do, that all humans can acquire language, then Skip’s message is sure to resonate with you.
Over the last 8 years, Skip has been integral in putting on a two day workshop in October that focuses strictly on Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI). It’s called TCI Maine. Some of the biggest names have been out there. In my view, besides Denver Public Schools, Maine is the second hottest place for TCI. This year, the 9th annual, Señor Wooly will be giving the keynote. But more importantly, Skip will stand at the podium with a new title: 2015 Maine Foreign Language Teacher of the Year.
In Skip’s address to the Foreign Language Association of Maine (FLAME) he echoes the sentiment I hear from others who have dedicated their classes to the principles undergirding the TCI monicker. Equity and Achievement. I posted a while back about my thoughts on the coming changes in language education, but Skip articulates his thoughts more succinctly and effectively through his own personal story.
Here, I’m going to share a few quotes from his acceptance speech. If you’re a language teacher, take note! The Interwebs are flooded with blackline masters, conjugation games, flashcard apps, integrated performance assessments and measurement tools of all types, colors and sizes. None of it matters. When you read Skips acceptance speech and when you observe teachers using TCI, you’ll notice what matters. You’ll see, hear and feel proficiency being achieved through real, genuine communication with students. This communication isn’t about following a syllabus or preparing them for the chapter test. It’s not about apps or checklists.
It’s about them. Pure and simple. It’s communication that centers on the students in front of you in language that is authentic and completely understandable.
We know that languages are acquired through significant levels of communication. For the communication to be effective, it must be 100 percent comprehensible, repetitive, personalized and compelling.
What happens when the language used in the classroom focuses on the students who are in that classroom? Their interest is heightened, their curiosity piqued, their feelings of belonging activated. They acquire language more effectively and with less effort and they WANT to be there.
I am convinced that teaching with comprehensible input and the personalization that it allows is responsible for failure rates at Poland Regional High School falling from 40 to 50 a year to fewer than four or five. Enrollment in upper levels has gone from four to five, to 30 to 40.
This kind of change doesn’t happen because you give kids a colorful checklist or scour the Interwebs for #authres. It doesn’t happen as a result of information gap activities or increased “rigor”. It begins to happen when students see themselves in the curriculum. They view themselves as members of a special group that they want to continue to be a part of. They are naturally born language learners and in Skip’s high school they know it!
I love how Skip addresses the room of language teachers by asking them to envision the ideal language learner:
I would like each of you to close your eyes. Now, think about the ideal foreign language student. Perhaps an actual student will come to mind. What characteristics are you seeing? Perhaps this student is highly motivated. Perhaps you see self confidence or a willingness to take risks.
These are certainly characteristics that I would envision. And then, he drops the other shoe:
Now I would like you to think of the other [95%].
If we spend our time hoping for and teaching to these ideal students, we are simultaneously creating the next generation of moms and dads who say at their child’s teacher conference, “I took 3 years but it was too hard and I can’t say anything.” Those of us who embrace TCI believe it’s our job to find ways to reach the other 95%.
We must consider methods and language acquisition strategies that enable the masses and not just the top “4 percenters” (which most in this room are) to find success.
Skip’s story is fantastic, but it’s not unique. It’s a story that is repeating itself over and over in areas where language teachers are focusing on including all of their students on the journey by improving their own instructional practices. These practices include teaching 90%+ in the target language, using students’ life experiences as topics of discussion, ensuring that the language we’re speaking is completely comprehensible, letting go of the notion that we should only focus on one grammar feature at a time, assessing first and mainly for comprehension, honoring the notion that comprehension of language precedes production of language and more.
Read the rest of Skip’s acceptance speech here.
If you have a TCI success story, send it my way. I’d love to share it with the world.