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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 ca