Sunday, June 5, 2016

Life Outside the Bubble

I believe in language proficiency--real life use of the language.  My professional community believes in language proficiency.

I'm realizing we're still a minority in the WL teaching corps.

This post is a way for me to try to work through the feelings I have about sending my awesome Spanish speakers into traditional grammar-driven high school programs in our city.  I recently administered the STAMP assessment for the first time, to my 8th graders.  It's the best money I've ever spent on my program--the data I'm getting holds a mirror up to my program and is making me look hard at what I do, and celebrate the successes: I have Intermediates and Novice High!  Most of my students are graduating 8th grade on the fence of NH-IL--quite a few falling solidly into Intermediate.  I've been walking on clouds the last few days. So have my students.   The assessment has confirmed our stated goal of NH/IL as the range of proficiency for our graduates.

But, as the students are taking their high school Spanish placement tests, I'm getting a dose of cold water to the face. So are the kids.

Almost all of them are being asked to take written discrete grammar tests--many disappointingly landing into Spanish I.  In trying to advocate for one of my IL/IM students, I sent the STAMP results to the new school, only to get the response that my student "is not proficient in preterite."   My alumni kids who go into such programs always come back wishing they hadn't wasted the year in Spanish I--getting bored and resentful.  The ones who attend more proficiency driven programs thrive--and often enter into Level 2 or 3.

Here's where I feel guilty--I feel like I've failed them and I am pulled to go ahead and do some grammar focused teaching to help them transition into life outside the bubble, where they will likely be in the position to fill in the blank to show what they know about preterite, name it. At the same time, I know that what I'm doing in my program is working to develop real language proficiency, and I don't want to give up doing that to satisfy the needs of programs that don't.

It's a lot to consider, and I'm leaning toward just helping the kids bridge the gap, and talking to them explicitly about what they may encounter(will encounter) as they transition to high school: Split the difference and focus on proficiency while sneaking in some help on how to play the school game.  As much as I hate that idea.

This isn't about judging individual teachers for what they do--I've written before about using textbooks-- but there is a huge disconnect between using language for real life and memorizing certain grammar points because the textbook dictates it. In the end, the students are not well served by this gap. 

A much trusted colleague recently suggested that I educate and empower parents to advocate for proficiency based programs at their new high schools.  I'm thinking to use my parent blog to do just that--and that will be time well spent, but I live in a city of 3 million with a huge, slow to change public school system. Our students fan out all over to different schools, of which our little school is not a part.  I know it will be a Quixotic task.

This is the hardest part about having made the switch.  Not the work. Not shifting mindset. Not convincing my school.  It's helping my students with life outside the bubble. It's helping them to feel accomplished about what they can do, even though they will be judged for what they can't as they move out of our school.   I'm not sure there's much I can do to help this year's graduates, but I've got  decisions to make about next year.

Is this a challenge where you teach?  How are you bridging the gap?