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Spanish and French programs at Paly!

Original post made by Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 19, 2019

Why are they such a disaster? Mandarin and Japanese teachers are teaching well but the Spanish and French teachers are not teaching. There is no way to study for tests, there is no textbook! They are told to study the Quizlets for the tests but those don't prepare them for the tests. It's basically STRAIGHT IMMERSION. They don't teach grammar. Our pre-teens and teens do not have the brains of 5-year olds who can just pick up the language.

Are they going to revert back to the traditional method? It's doing a disservice to students because they aren't becoming fluent as they did with the traditional method. My student didn't even study for the final exam because there was no way to study!

Comments (25)

12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2019 at 8:42 pm


>> It's basically STRAIGHT IMMERSION. They don't teach grammar.

I can't help wondering if they teach formal grammar in English, ever, either. My guess is that they don't.


13 people like this
Posted by Former Paly
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 20, 2019 at 8:21 am

I second about English grammar. My kids had very poor English grammar in Paly. Grammar mistakes not corrected, essays rarely edited or proof read by teacher and returned in a prompt manner. No emphasis on grammar, in fact not sure what was emphasized in any kind of writing assignment.

Bring back latin to teach grammar rules.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2019 at 11:46 am

Anon - The majority of PAUSD students grew up speaking English as their first language. Learning a new language, how can one know how to put sentences together if they cannot even speak it in the first place?


7 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2019 at 11:56 am

I took French at Paly 1986-87 and will never forget how effective Madame Inan's teaching methods were. Total immersion, including R-rated French movies. I ended up majoring in French Literature, got my first job working for Netscape in Paris, married a French woman and have been living in Provence the past two years.


12 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Chris - This is a new program which was adopted by Paly last year, it's not the same as 1986 teaching. I'm guessing Madame Inan's at least taught some grammar so you learned how to create sentences. AND you likely had a textbook for reference, which the students no longer have. Walking into a test without knowing what they will face and having not studied because there is no way to study is extremely stressful for students! Especially in this modern atmosphere where a 3.3 GPA will only gain admission into a CalState college. CalStates are fine, but many students are shooting higher and they should be able to effectively study for tests but the program doesn't allow it.

Hello, School Board? No homework is MORE STRESS because tests are worth 70%+!


7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2019 at 12:02 am

Anonymous1 is a registered user.

Quizlets are good for memorization but should never replace an actual teacher checking for understanding or using feedback to actually teach students. AP chem would not grade papers and only gave a pass or fail grade for progress reports. Then for the test, he applied the AP grading system but then gave them grades based on percentage only. He said, yes.. you can get a d in my class and a 4 on the AP test. He lost a dozen students and just continued in this manner. Classes that have 8 drops need to be exposed. The language teachers should correct their process if they are not working because each class needs to lead to the next. What ate AP grades or subject area test scores and how much does she tutoring receive for supporting these classes.

I would love to see the breakdown of actual money totals for each subject at aj tutoring.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2019 at 9:41 am

>> I would love to see the breakdown of actual money totals for each subject at aj tutoring.

It is hilarious to consider PAUSD patting itself on the back for the success of students who learned everything they know via AJ Tutoring.

On the subject of grammar-- certainly Latin would be a big step up for those students who go on to study Romance Languages. Most English students these days get no formal grammar. Funny thing is, you don't really need formal grammar to learn your own native language. But, knowing grammar is a big efficiency help when you go to learn a second or third language. For Indo-European languages in general, I guess we would all save time by studying Lithuanian ;-) It is sometimes considered to be closest to PIE, and retains a full PIE inflection system. Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Advice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2019 at 9:53 am

From an experienced Paly parent whose children had excellent outcomes. Been there, done that. See if for what it is; it's not going to change at least in your student's tenure. If it's a bad situation, and you don't want to do the languages you say are being taught well, then take a foreign language outside of Paly instead. You have the legal right to take a different foreign language outside of Paly if your language is not offered by the school district. They're not going to advertise that however, and you will have to either find one that is a-g compliant or decide you don't care about that if you are aiming for privates our out-of-state publics. The key to surviving Paly is going around obstacles; the structures are such that it's very hard to plough through them. Good luck!


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Posted by 80's Paly
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Bring back Senior Hill!


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Posted by tres bien, mais...
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 24, 2019 at 12:12 pm

I see potential value in this approach if classes meet regularly but Paly classes actually meet only 2 or 3 times a week. Wonder if that's an issue.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 27, 2019 at 1:57 am

I think the block schedules are an issue. Kids skip work instead of visiting class practice every day. The block schedule gives an advantage to kids who have tutors at home. This is especially true for language and math classes. The secret in this district is that families who have money for tutors and PiE keep their advantages. The parents with kids who similarly matched do not really care that they can buy advantages.


6 people like this
Posted by 2 centavos
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2019 at 3:13 pm

2 centavos is a registered user.

"Are they going to revert back to the traditional method? It's doing a disservice to students because they aren't becoming fluent as they did with the traditional method. My student didn't even study for the final exam because there was no way to study!"

Wondering:

What was the "traditional method"?

Are the Paly Spanish or French subjects, elective or required to graduate?

"IMMERSION" can mean a lot of things but it should not be used to confuse between the Mandarin and Spanish Immersion programs at some of the Elementary Schools.

A language class where the teacher chooses to not translate anything is not a method or "immersion." It's just a teacher's choice and the district should at least have a handout explaining that to students and parents.

My 2 cents is that PAUSD should not require world language classes for graduation if they are not fit to teach a world language in Elementary school. High School is not the place to start a new language.

It's a disservice to students to deprive them of world languages *before* 5th grade when the students are open and happy to learn a new language whereas by Middle School and HS it can be torturous.

Otherwise, after HS and beyond sure, learn new things, but languages is not something easy to do in HS. If you still are doing it as a choice, then be patient and press the teacher for help.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2019 at 8:18 pm

2 centavos - PAUSD schools have always been "immersion", meaning the language is spoken in the classroom, no English allowed. However, in the traditional method of teaching, they taught how to put sentences together, how to conjugate, he/she, verb tenses, etc. This is straight immersion, meaning they expect that the students attending class 2-3 times per week for 90 minutes (the Paly block schedule) will miraculously become fluent. It doesn't work that way! Immersion only works if they are around the language at least daily for many hours. This new program is an excuse for the language teachers to avoid grading homework and to avoid actually teaching the language.

And yes, two years of world language are required for graduation. Although three years of language are "recommended" (ie: required) for admission to UCs and other universities.

Moreover, since our Paly students are not being taught well, they will suffer when they have to fulfill more world language in college, they won't be prepared.

I have one child who graduated years ago learning the traditional method of teaching and a current child at Paly. The older child is fluent in Spanish but the second child (who is actually smarter) is behind due to this terrible new program! It seems that the world language and English teachers are doing their best to avoid any after hours work; rarely papers to correct and no homework.

And YES, my child HAS ASKED THE TEACHER FOR HELP. There is no way to study for this class, it's unbelievable! As mentioned, Quizlets do not prepare them for tests. The only way they can "study" is to hire a tutor to teach so they become as fluent as possible. Inequality for sure! At least in math and science, there is a textbook so the student can figure it out without a tutor, but there is NO TEXTBOOK for Spanish and French. The Spanish and French teachers are not teaching our students, they are simply rambling in their respective languages and earning 6 figures.


2 people like this
Posted by 2 centavos
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2019 at 3:24 pm

2 centavos is a registered user.

Parent,

"And yes, two years of world language are required for graduation. Although three years of language are "recommended" (ie: required) for admission to UCs and other universities."

Any attorneys out there?

UC's should not be allowed to discriminate and require 2-three years of language if an applicant's public school did not teach it in Elementary School.

And what about that tests should follow instructional materials and class notes or something *objective* like that. Conjugating verbs and even memorization falls under objective, not "immersion" - a very very bad term for non-objective measures.

Setting up students for failure in languages is kind of double trouble and I'd take it up to the School Board.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 28, 2019 at 4:33 pm

I was very involved in the discussions when Mandarin Immersion debate took place. We were told this would be a pilot but of course it was never discussed and became the norm. We now have immersion programs at two elementary schools and completely nothing at the others. We were told that this would be looked at again but of course nothing has ever been discussed again.

My own kids are now out of Palo Alto schools. The simple truth is that the pressure put on by the MI parents was tremendous and they cared nothing other than what they wanted. It is well known that the younger a child is when starting learning a language the better they become fluent and the better their accent is. Once a child reaches the age of about 12, the have to learn a new language completely differently than they would if they were younger. At age 12 they are processing their thoughts, their grammar, their sentence structure and the more technical aspects of thought processing (e.g. math analysis) through their mother language. Trying to learn a second language at this stage becomes more like learning a code as they are not automatically learning the grammar from hearing or reading, but trying to make sense of the new language through the medium of their mother language grammar rules.

When a baby is learning to talk, the ones who are in a bilingual atmosphere learn to talk at a slower rate that those who are learning to talk one language. It is not that they are not understanding but that they are working out which language to reply. For them the rudiments of language require breaking down a code to know which is the correct reply in each language. This type of ability is strongest under the age of 5, and somewhere between 5 and 12 the natural ability to listen and repeat in each language becomes more difficult as the sophistication of communicating becomes more necessary.

At the time of the MI debate, I looked into these types of processes for language learning. It was something that many of us stated in school board meetings and in emails. We asked for FLES (foreign language in elementary schools) and it was supposed to be investigated. It never was investigated and we didn't see any type of staff proposal of how this could be implemented.

It seems that the whole language issue is once again being treated as not important enough to warrant any research. It is a graduation requirement and it is a requirement for UCs. Those who are lucky enough to win the immersion lottery do have a huge advantage over those who are unlucky enough to have nothing in elementary school.

Unfortunately, this is what we feared would be the case. It seems that we parents, who spent so much time researching the subject and going along to many board meetings, speaking at board meetings and writing emails, have all been proven right.

Such a sad state of affairs that could easily have been so very different.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Posted by 2 centavos, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Any attorneys out there?

>> UC's should not be allowed to discriminate and require 2-three years of language if an applicant's public school did not teach it in Elementary School.

LOL. Don't worry, UC will have no trouble finding qualified students from other countries. Students who learned enough "Algebra II" and English grammar by the age 16.


2 people like this
Posted by Frances Griffin
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 30, 2019 at 9:05 am

Not being in the classrooms referred to or being familiar with the details of the approach described, it is hard to say, but as a former teacher and one who speaks five languages(at varying levels of proficiency) I would share the following:

1.Regardless of the teaching methods, in Palo Alto some students will always have an distinct edge over others because they have extra family resources: tutors, travel, prior knowledge of the target language or of a non-English language, parent help, etc.

2. The French Department at Stanford when I taught there used an effective, carefully structured approach without the use of English. Preparing the step by step lessons was very time intensive. The students did have A. Classes five days a week, B. A textbook and C. a language lab.

3. The Goethe Institute has excellent classes for international adult students in Germany that are conducted entirely in German, but they do have a textbook. Plus of course you are in Germany which helps a lot if you are brave enough to get out and practice and not spend all your time outside of class speaking a non-German language with your fellow students.

4. In my experience, most high school teachers put in long hours in preparation of lessons, meetings, grading and further study, working nights, weekends and during vacations.

5.As for English composition, when I taught English I finally hired university students to help grade essays. Of course I reviewed the work as well, but it was the only way I could keep up with the volume.

Frances Griffin


1 person likes this
Posted by 2 centavos
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2019 at 11:16 am

2 centavos is a registered user.

Frances Griffin,

Your insights are interesting but they only speak to the problem at Paly and the school board should intervene

1) PAUSD is a public school system and equity matters. You can't just chalk this problem off to that a "distinct edge over others" will always be there. PAUSD should be preparing students in world languages from Elementary school, and/or making extra accommodations if they are not doing their job for the UC requirement.

2) Nice to hear about the methods at Stanford that use English, the Paly method offers no explanations apparently and saying it's "immersion" says nothing. At the very least the Board should explain what method they are using and WHY.

3) Also nice to hear about other methods in Germany - again what is the method behind the Paly method why was that method chosen? what are the instructional materials and who selected them - the Board? What is the method called? how was the curriculum put together, what is the research that shows it is effective to prepare for the requirements?

4) Studens also put in long hours to do well in school and the expectation is that they should not be trapped in a situation where they are so frustrated -the opposite of the experience anyone should have for a first time effort to learn a new language.

High School is not a time to set up students for frustration, failure, and surprises. Students should have a right to get tested on objective standards, on any subject and more so if it's a UC requirement.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 30, 2019 at 11:46 am

I have some experience of language camps in Europe. These camps take place in summer and usually for middle school and older. Generally speaking, they have classroom study in the mornings with lunch and afternoon activities, field trips, swim sessions, etc. with the students taking part in normal activities with the camp leaders and only the target language is used, with "penalties" if caught using English to each other. The "penalties" are mainly humorous rather than anything else. The theory is that making the target language second nature while doing something ordinary as well as fun teaches habitual usage rather than anything else. For example, playing a French version of Monopoly while only using French, is much more likely to stick than repetitive grammar rules.

I think also that Europeans have more language laboratories than we have here. As a parent, I never saw any technological apparatus in my kids' language classrooms. I do remember them watching versions of Harry Potter dubbed into Spanish!


6 people like this
Posted by 2 centavos
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2019 at 3:37 pm

2 centavos is a registered user.

Parent,

"These camps take place in summer and usually for middle school and older."

I don't think it is fully appreciated that this issue is not an elective for fun and discovery of languages. As a UC graduation requirement, students have a right to proper instruction.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2019 at 6:02 pm

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> The theory is that making the target language second nature while doing something ordinary as well as fun teaches habitual usage rather than anything else. For example, playing a French version of Monopoly while only using French, is much more likely to stick than repetitive grammar rules.

It isn't either usage OR grammar. It is usage AND grammar, because knowing the grammar of one or more Indo-European languages makes learning another one faster and more efficient. It is possible that you don't know how little grammar is studied these days. That deprives students of knowledge that will make their study more efficient.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2020 at 2:18 am

Anonymous1 is a registered user.

Latin is coming back but only to private schools. Ca has one of the largest Latin conventions with about 2099 attending.. stanford online has a good program and luminous is a well respected online Latin program that is well taught. Classes in mythology, monsters and other topics for middle school are affiirdable Also classes in research. Maybe not for every kid, but the conventions are pretty amazing for ca and nationals. Palo Alto has no idea of what is going o. Beyond itself. They should look outside at successful programs and consider others are better than theirs Menlo stanford abd harker have large Latin programs.


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Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2020 at 2:20 am

Anonymous1 is a registered user.

Lukion latin


10 people like this
Posted by FYI
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 6, 2020 at 2:18 pm

@ Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School

"I think also that Europeans have more language laboratories than we have here. As a parent, I never saw any technological apparatus in my kids' language classrooms. I do remember them watching versions of Harry Potter dubbed into Spanish!"

They should use language labs, I totally agree with you. I once asked a Paly French teacher about it. Her response: "And what about my job? What will I do if we use the lab" (There is a lab at Paly, I believe, that no one ever uses!). I was dumbfounded that she would say this. I grew up in Europe where I learned English and Spanish and we used labs. It is not an either/or proposition. Labs are very, very useful for language acquisition (pronunciation, comprehension, practice) and can be used as a supplement to the regular class, not as a substitute.

Foreign language education in the US makes me despair...


3 people like this
Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2020 at 11:06 am

Anonymous1 is a registered user.

Any kid taking 3 years of any pausd should be able to pass the sat subject area test in that language at the very least. The classes do not meet this easy standard. Tutors will.


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