The Pitfalls of the “Grab Bag” Approach

The Pitfalls of the “Grab Bag” Approach

Excerpted from Foundations:  A Natural Approach to the (Transition) Year
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Scope & Sequence

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Let Stepping Stones Be Your Guide

It is my firm belief that the teachers who will benefit most from Stepping Stones are those who can find it in their hearts to entrust their year to its guidance.  If you can commit to taking a sabbatical year from the endless pursuit of shiny new activities, and commit to following the steps outlined in the curricular framework, you will most likely gain the most from your work with it.  

My goal in writing “Foundations” was to help you relax into the Stepping Stones approach to proficiency-based instruction, to work alongside you all year, as your coach right there on your desk, or in your bag at soccer practice or propped on the steering wheel while you wait in the daycare pick-up line.  For many teachers, this represents a real leap of faith.  But please know that this work, when pared down to its essence, requires clear thinking, a mind uncluttered by “what ifs”, and a heart ready to connect with your students day after day.  That is why I ask you, in utter humility and friendship, to give me a year of your time and why I strongly urge you to give up mixing in new stuff from elsewhere.  

Of course, you can always choose to use this book as just another storehouse of strategies.  You can continue to use the “grab bag” approach to CI.  You can certainly keep on reading all the blogs and looking everywhere for something new.  It is your choice and, understandably, many teachers might not want to jump ship into the Stepping Stones boat and set sail to unknown vistas.  

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Posted by Stepping Stones for World Language on Wednesday, August 11, 2021

There are indeed a lot of good strategies in this book that could be used alone.  But my mission is not just to add some strategies to your “to-try” list.  My intention and deep desire is to help you transform your relationship with language teaching.  That is a very tall order and what I have seen from teachers who have used the first edition of this book is that it will only be accomplished if you rid yourself of the “cafeteria-style” or “grab bag” approach to teaching: a little of this, a bit of that, and a smidge of the other.  That statement is the heart and soul of “Foundations,” Curriculum Club, and our related materials.  

Allow them to lead you through a time-tested sequence of instruction and assessment that will, if followed faithfully, give you all you need for the year’s planning.  Give yourself the gift of a sabbatical from the hamster wheel, from all the hunting and searching and cobbling together. 

Retooling your language program from a traditional grammar-oriented approach to a proficiency-oriented, communicative approach is a big step.  On the other hand, taming a communicative language program that you have built over the years from ideas and strategies you found in the Great Grab Bag of the Internet is also a huge undertaking.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that it will be an instantaneous process, or that there will not be some cognitive dissonance or discomfort along the way, as you rethink, rearrange, reorganize, and, above all, prune and cut those strategies and materials and tools that are not serving the goal of language acquisition, or are not derived from/aligned to the standards and Can-Do Statements.  It’s work.  But, it is work that leads somewhere.  

No matter what approach you use, or what collection of strategies you develop, there’s going to be some work involved with bringing your language programs in line with the standards and the recommendations derived from research on Second Language Acquisition and how our brains acquire language.  But what I want for you is for the work to become as easy as possible as fast as possible.  I want you to feel as confident as possible, as soon as possible.  I want you to work as little as possible, and soon.  That’s why I feel so committed that you need to invest your time in following the recommendations in this book.  

Through doing, going through the instructional and assessment strategies in this book, you will develop a “bones-deep” sense of what Stepping Stones is all about.  Here, you will read a brief overview of the Stepping Stones framework, but it is truly by working through the instructional sessions that you will come to know, in a deep and “forever” kind of way, what makes this approach “work” and why it is proving to be such a game-changer for individual teachers and departments.

See the graphs below for a visual representation of the general amount of effort required over the long term when learning a curricular framework like Stepping Stones versus learning a bunch of disconnected, yet fun, strategies with no overarching way to make it all make sense.

The Learning Curve with the “Grab Bag” Approach

The Learning Curve with a Curricular Framework

Please take note of how both the “grab bag” approach as well as the “framework” approach have a steep curve at the beginning.  But please pay special attention to how the effort invested in the “framework” approach goes down and STAYS down, while the teacher who invested the same amount of initial energy and enthusiasm in the “grab bag” approach is still working hard, much later, when the “framework” teacher is feeling much more solid and working much less.  

Also, please note that when the “framework” teacher is ready to train others or introduce their colleagues to this approach, their task is much easier, because they themselves are operating from a system that they can simply teach to others, instead of being in the all-too-common situation of being just as confused as ever about the overall structure of everything, and trying to somehow impart that to their colleagues.  Especially in the case when working to share with colleagues who really do want it all laid out for them (like the textbook does), we often find that the “grab bag” approach makes them want to literally grab their bag…and head for the hills, clutching their trusty textbook and workbook, because they can’t imagine jumping ship into the “grab bag” of “whatever idea I happen to want to try next.”

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