Let's Get Moving Again

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  • EACH MOMENT THAT WE HAVE is a unique opportunity to seize and do something with in every dimension of our personal and professional lives. Each t ime tha t I've writ ten a speech, I've thought, and often said, t ha t t he 'moment' for what 1 had to say in tha t speech was especially propi- tious. I think tha t this & a special occasion and tha t 1976 is a vital year for ACTFL, because I think tha t this moment is filled with a potential waiting to be realized in t h e world of foreign languages.

    I sense a readiness among us to change and a cry for t h e leadership to ef fec t tha t change, and 1 believe tha t ACTFL is ready, more ready with each passing month, to respond. During t h e last several months, I have noticed tha t people a r e increasingly looking to ACTFL, and especially to ACTFL, to do things for t he foreign language pro- fession and for foreign language education. This is a healthy sign, for when expectations a r e high, it becomes easier to gain support for t he efforts tha t need to be made. ACTFL is not in a position to be the miracle worker, but I am convinced because of t h e a t t i tudes tha t have formed, t h e decisions tha t have been made, and t h e plans tha t a r e being developed tha t this organization is going to play a 'more vital role in foreign language affairs, beginning now and continuing into the foreseeable future.

    Let's Get Moving Again*

    Helen P . Warriner

    *Residential address delivered at ACTFL's Tenth Annual Meeting on 26 November 1976 in New Orleans, La.

    Helen P. Warriner (Ph.D., The Ohio State University) is Super- visa of Foreign Languages in the State Department of Educa- tion, Richmard, Va.

    I shall be directing most of my remarks to t h e foreign language leaders in this country. I define as leaders those who make the speeches, write t h e art icles and the books, conduct t h e workshops, a r e responsible for foreign language programs, and who, by various other means, influence people and help to establish direction in our field of educa- tion. 1 shall analyze the leadership issue from three points of view: curriculum and instruction, t he political s t ruc ture of t he foreign language profession in t h e United States, and ACTFLIs role in tha t leadership.

    My topic is "Let's Ge t Moving Again," and tha t is what I want us to do. Fifteen years ago, we were

    I sense a readiness among us to change and a cry for t h e

    leadership to effect t h a t change.

    at the beginning of a revolution tha t had the potential for greater impact upon foreign language learning in the United States than anything tha t had ever happened within our profession. Few of us have thoroughly evaluated tha t revolution, I believe. On the one hand, i t was a revolution from teaching reading and writing to teaching four skills-reading, writing, listening, and speaking-- and treating culture differently. On the other, i t was a revolution in methodology tha t had to accompany t h e revolution in philosophy to make t h e achievement of the increased objectives possible.

    In the philosophical realm, i t was resoundingly successful, I would say. Almost no one today disagrees with the four-skill philosophy. W e in- troduce every curriculum guide with it. W e plan our workshops and t i t l e our books with some aspect

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    of it. I f , however, t h e revolution succeeded philo- sophically, methodologically t h e resul ts were very different . W e changed t h e textbooks so radically, and somet imes so naively, t h a t w e could hardly recognize them as language books any more. NDEA ins t i tu tes helped us learn t o o r c h e s t r a t e pa t te rn drills and cope with minimal pairs. Adminis t ra tors bought us language labs, and we went abroad to learn t h e language t h a t w e didn't 'know' but had been teaching.

    But, to every act ion, t h e r e is a react ion. To every l e f t s t r o k e of t h e pendulum, t h e r e is a r ight s t roke. To every revolution t h e r e is a counter- revolution. It was hard to t e a c h using those 'funny,' new textbooks. I t wasn't easy to sell books t h a t teachers didn't know what to do with. And, i t t a k e s years to change t h e col lege curr iculum, so w e never real ly revamped teacher preparation. How was one to follow a Nelson Brooks, a William Riley Parker , o r a Wilga Rivers at t h e podium and a t t r a c t a t ten t ion without taking issue with what they had said? So, we learned to argue. W e disparaged our leaders for ge t t ing too f a r ahead of us, when perhaps w e w e r e not t ry ing hard enough to c a t c h up wi th them.

    As leaders w e have not

    provided t h e d i rec t ion t h a t

    t h e profession needs and

    deserves.

    Textbook publishers began to of fer us books t h a t incorporated t h e 'best of t h e audiolingual and t radi t ional approaches ' and t h a t mixed phi- losophies and methodology about as successfully as oil and w a t e r blend, and w e gladly bought them. Then c a m e t h e e r a of ec lec t ic i sm, supposedly embrac ing any methods t h a t led to t h e achieve- ment of t h e goals, but which, if we really want to be honest about i t , resul ted in an excuse t o slip back in to t h e comfor tab le rout ine of teachers talking, s tudents listening, and t e x t s occupying t h e cons tan t a t ten t ion of both.

    What w e r e t h e speakers and t h e writers-- t h e leaders of t h e profession--to headl ine their a r t ic les and the i r speeches with now? Who would l is ten if t h e y a l l agreed? It's hard to te l l funny s tor ies or get people exc i ted about eclect ic ism. Special izat ion had to b e t h e answer! This is t h e age of special izat ion. Why not foreign languages, too? So, w e got individualization, humanization, interdisciplinary instruct ion, career educat ion, communica t ive competence , e t c . Fur thermore , not everyone could individualize, do career educa- tion, o r b e interdisciplinary, at leas t not as they read and heard t h a t t h e y should, and many of us developed professional guilt complexes o r b e c a m e

    lonesomely d isaf fec ted because no one was ta lking t o us. W e had so many torches at t h e f ront of t h e t roops t h a t we hardly knew which to follow--and t h e torches didn't a lways move in t h e s a m e direc- tion.

    I do not mean to be making fun of anyone, and I include myself among those whom I am indicating because 1 became associated with interdisciplinary learning. W e al l had good intentions. As leaders , however, w e have not provided t h e direct ion t h a t t h e foreign language profession needs and de- serves . W e have inadvertent ly encouraged t h e t rad ing off of instruct ion d i rec ted toward our basic, four-skill philosophy for special ized aspec ts of foreign language teaching. Those aspec ts or approaches or techniques cer ta in ly have a n impor- t a n t role to play, but t h e y a r e not ends themselves . , W e allowed them, even encouraged them, to become just that .

    There is another instruct ional problem, perhaps re la ted t o t h e diversity--to t h e f ragmenta t ion of programs--that I have just been describing, t h a t I would l ike us to consider. In t h e course of my job, I a m in hundreds of classrooms. Other supervisors with similar experience s h a r e m y concern t h a t t h e textbook i s omni-present and ever open. I use t h e t e r m 'textbook' in a compre- hensive context--it might b e a learning ac t iv i ty packet or a newspaper--but, whatever t h e instruc- tional mater ia ls , they dominate teachers and s tu- dents. They have again become a c r u t c h for both, just t h e y w e r e in t h e pre-audiolingual days. Take them away, and communicat ive competence in any skill becomes nearly impossible. German is a subject between t h e covers of t h e book. Humanizat ion? Teachers and s tudents aren ' t even looking at e a c h o ther , for the i r eyes a r e glued to tex ts .

    W e know what good foreign language teaching is; t eachers today a r e more competent and most a r e more c o m m i t t e d than ever before; w e have m o r e opt ions and opportuni t ies at our disposal than previous generat ions did. W e a r e capable of exce l lence in foreign language teaching. I think t h a t w e have simply lost our sense of direction. I th ink t h a t teachers a r e weary of being asked e a c h t i m e they pick up a professional journal or go to a meet ing to revamp their curriculum or their methodology to accommodate t h e la tes t new thing. I think t h a t in our fervor to innovate, w e have encouraged, perhaps inadvertent ly , t h e t rading off of four-skill ins t ruct ion for aspec ts of language teaching, special ized interests , o r spec i f ic techniques. Means have become ends, and I think th i s is pr imari ly t h e f a u l t of t h e leadership in t h e profession.

    I cal l upon us to address ourselves to put t ing perspect ive back in to foreign language programs. By no means a m I saying t h a t w e must discard t h e options and innovations, but I a m urging us to insist, f i r s t and foremost , on classrooms in which t h e s tudents a r e a c t i v e participants--Latin stu- dents , too--speaking t h e t a r g e t language much of t h e t ime. Speaking isn't t h e only object ive, but, in my experience, if s tudents can control th i s skill,

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    they can also perform well in t he other three. If t he options and innovations assist in achieving this, well and good, but let's make sure we use them so tha t they do indeed contribute.

    There is nothing tha t will assist us in getting back on ta rge t better than some of the excellent theory tha t appeared during the early sixties. I hear people scoff at Nelson Brooks, and I cringe, because I believe tha t he and his generation of writers provided theory and methodology for us tha t a r e unsurpassed in their potential impact on foreign language teaching. Go back and review WilgaRiveG' four assumptions in The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher. Dialogues, adaptations, pattern drills, and other good audiolingual activit ies can be combined by skfilful and artful teachers to create exciting foreign lan- guage classrooms. W e allowed the inept, who made their use a dull, boring, mind-numbing process, to propagandize the profession with ignorance and cynicism. W e never changed the preparation of teachers for four-skill teaching. Thus, we abandoned the e f for t before we were even ready to t ry it.

    I t is t ime for t h e leadership of the foreign language profession to give serious thought to t h e overall impact of what we a re saying t o teachers today. Are we really providing direction, or a r e we helping t o dissipate their efforts? Are weoffering incentive and reassurance, or a r e we breaking their spirit when we ask them to individualize, humanize, get involved in career education, teach for communicative competence, t ake the students abroad, and conduct a language festival? I believe tha t we have presented t h e options as mandates. I sense confusion and frustration among our ranks. W e can change this without abandoning the options. W e can do i t by saying at every opportu- nity tha t , whatever t he approach, t he methodolo- gy, t h e option, or t he level, students must be using the language actively and enthusiastically a good portion of their class time. W e can do i t by recog- nizing tha t we know much about what good teaching is and by advocating adherence to those principles, whatever the options. W e can do i t by relaxing a bit in our almost frantic search for innovations which tends to obscure the basic principles--and even causes us to doubt tha t we have any.

    I turn now t o a second manifestation of the need for better leadership and direction for t he foreign language profession: t he multiplicity of professional organizations. W e a r e one of the smaller disciplines in education in numbers of teachers, and we have more organizations than any of the others. W e a r e fractionalized, segmented, and disjointed. W e are parochial, provincial, and chauvinistic. Each language is represented by language-specific groups at t h e national and state or local levels. Each state has a comprehensive association encompassing teachers of all lan- guages; ACTFL and t h e Modern Language Associa- tion exist at the national level. Many teachers subscribe to t h e Modern Language Journal and think they belong to an organization. The Joint National Commit tee for Languages c a m e into

    being to t ry to unify the profession, but a corn- mi t tee tha t meets only twice a year, has no profes- sional s ta f f , and spends very l i t t l e money can hardly accomplish more than good will. It's quite a challenge for t he teacher to know what all these

    My concern is t h a t t h e

    textbook is omni-present and ever open.

    groups are--to know what t he s t ruc ture of t he profession is.

    The consequences of this fractionalization a r e serious. The financial resources of the profession a r e dissipated among the several groups, making our 'professional overhead' extremely high. Human resources and energy a r e not sufficiently concentrated t o cause maximum impact. Identity with the profession as a whole is practically im- possible, for we have an alphabet soup of organiza- tions. Ifind tha t teachers who feel a responsibility to belong to a professional organization often a r e not well enough informed to make intelligent choices. Think what happens to our identity outside of the foreign language profession. Administrators know tha t NCTM represents math; NCSS, t h e social studies; NCTE, English, etc., but they don't know what to ascribe to us. What does this do to our image and say about t he foreign language profession?

    W e have a plethora of organizations with too many budgets, too many bulletins, too many officers, too many journals. I t is a luxury tha t we cannot afford. Many of us a r e concerned; t h e Northeast Conference Re?! of 1971 recognized the problem of professiona issipation. Rudolph

    We have encouraged the trading off of instruction directed

    toward our four-skill philosophy

    for specialized aspects of FL teaching.

    Masciantonio addressed himself to the question in the September 1976 issue of The Classical World. His example from the classical segment of t he profession is analogous to t h e entire profession.

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    I t may s e e m radical to suggest t h a t t...

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