According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), there’s a scale of five main proficiency levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished. Most states require Advanced Low speaking proficiency to teach modern languages. However, many teachers attain near-native-like proficiency, anyway. To give you a sense of what that means, beyond Advanced Low, there’s still Advanced Mid, Advanced High, Superior, and then the highest rating on the ACTFL scale, Distinguished, for which the following are features:
“A non-native accent, a lack of a native-like economy of expression,* a limited control of deeply embedded cultural references, and/or an occasional isolated language error may still be present at this level.”*economy of expression
“The use of the most precise and expressive words and phrases, thus eliminating the need for excess description, wordiness, jargon, or circumlocution.”
Of course, most of these teachers spend time abroad, and/or have found themselves exposed to the target language in some other way. Needless to say, modern language teachers tend to be highly proficient speakers, yet at the same time they’re not necessarily scholars who study the language, earning an M.A. in its literature. Granted, it’s not uncommon for modern language teachers to be that kind of scholar while also studying abroad and/or being exposed to input and interaction elsewhere. However, the former certainly isn’t necessary in order to achieve the latter. Then there’s the Latin problem…
This post seems to address quite a bit, but stay with me. As experts, teachers can design a quiz or test that every student would fail, instantly. Aside from designing those individual assessments, teachers can also design and implement grading systems prone to student failures.
That’s a lot of power.
When teachers fail students, especially when they haven’t been careful with their grading system, they deny students experience. Not only are these students unable to continue with their peers—a major aspect of adolescent development—but they’ll miss out on any electives having to retake the failed course for credit.
If you’re within the first years of speaking Latin in the classroom, I urge you to avoid using the term “active Latin.” In a nutshell, referring to “active Latin” is problematic, and just might lead you astray from what you intend to be doing.
A few years ago, some began recognizing the confusion “active Latin” was causing. This confusion is summarized below, with observations of people interpreting “active Latin” to mean that…
- …Latin was to be spoken all the time.
- …English was to be avoided, if not eliminated.
- …students had to speak and write Latin.
- …grammar had to be taught/learned in Latin.
- …teaching in such ways meant that one was providing input (I) that was understandable (C) to the student.
**Before I continue, let it be clear that doing or not doing any of the bullet points is not the focus of this post. Instead, the focus is on this particular combination, how it’s referred to as “active Latin,” and its implications.**
When looking at the bullet list, it doesn’t matter what “active Latin” ever meant originally, has meant over time, or now means. What matters is that this confusion led to more emphasis on output, and a more polarized view of teaching Latin, in general. In particular, the combination of the first bullet points above doesn’t cause the last. Due to this confusion, there’s a problematic association with “active Latin,” and CI, which may or may not be provided under the listed circumstances.
Quite plainly, then, just because you’re speaking Latin, doesn’t mean you’re providing CI…
This is the fourth year I’ve been writing about classroom practices that make languages more comprehensible for all students. Recently, one of my replies got quite a bit of support. I’m a little surprised because I haven’t changed my tune, but something in the following simply clicked for people. Perhaps the message contains enough of everything all in one place. I’m not sure. Regardless, I’m sharing it here in case it gets lost in the ether. For context, I replied to comment about both teaching grammar, and providing input:
“Yes it is possible to do both, but you just have to recognize what’s happening when you do. If you like to teach grammar, teach grammar, just don’t expect it to cause acquisition. Input does.
They are two different data sets. In very specific conditions, we can use the grammar data to help communicate. Most people never do. Some people like that. Some hate that. No one actually needs it.
The “grammar is evil” or related message refers to teaching in a way that excludes students, like grading on that separate data set that isn’t necessary for all (but maybe enjoyable for some). Grammar itself isn’t evil, but many teachers unknowingly exclude students because of it.
So, if you include everyone you can, and teach grammar, and they get it, and they’re acquiring, go ahead, please! The message of avoiding grammar is a good one for most teachers until they get to a point of providing enough input and focusing on meaning.”
It dawned on me the other day that everything typically graded in school comes down to behavior, effort, and/or participation. It doesn’t matter what your grading categories are, what you’ve renamed them to be, or what policy supposedly is in place. This is inescapable…
Stephen Krashen himself has joked in a self-deprecating way that he came up with the vague concept of “i+1” to achieve fame as people argue its meaning indefinitely. Before contacting him, I wasn’t exactly sure how seriously we should take the man! Thankfully, Stephen clarified that for me real quick. Regardless of the joke being aimed at those using academic jibberish, the concept of “i+1” is demystified in the following Krashen-approved commentary…