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Note: Below is a selection of the most recent PLC articles from our membership-only professional learning community on best practices in the use of comprehensible input in our classrooms. Comments from group members are too numerous to include here. The articles go back over the past two weeks. If you want to read the hundreds of comments to these articles, join the PLC!
We Can Do It If We Really Try
by Ben Slavic
Why should we transmit mere information to our students when we can transmit so much more: interest, meaning, fun? Maybe we could even transmit to them a reason to believe in life. Why teach merely to their minds?
Why not teach to their bodies and hearts as well? Maybe, if more of our kids’ teachers did that, we wouldn’t have so many shootings.
The problem is that most classes, except for art and music and classes and like that, don’t even do that. They don’t even try. They can’t transmit anything fun. So many classes are robotic and formulaic experiences for the kids. In some schools, kids hate art.
But in our classes, because of the nature of language, we can do more than merely transmit information - we can transmit so much more! We – little old us - can transmit levels of joy! I learned this from teaching my students and got a refresher course in it this summer from Kate Taluga.
What is joy? Anything that is interesting to the kids! Anything that they can feel in their bodies and laugh about. Anything compelling. Anything not so stuck in their minds. We can do it. We can do it if we really try. We can make the kids believe in themselves as learners. How about that?
Let’s try to keep this in heart:
We Focus on the Water
by Ben Slavic
Our purpose in this game of teaching comprehensible input is to teach the structures. We focus more on them than on the content of the story or the PQA. Content is merely secondary to the CI process – the structures are everything.
When content is secondary to the structures as we roll along in L2, the structures are genuinely acquired because they are repeated from 75 to 100 times each class period in a meaningful contextual framework. This holds the conscious interest of the students while the unconscious mind works unnoticed, doing the actual acquisition of the language, at the rate of 2 or 3 structures per day, but with exponential growth over time.
After class, when the students sleep each night, the structures are woven into the fabric of the deeper mind in a magnificent process. The teacher has very little to do with it, merely delivering the CI each day. We drive delivery trucks. The deeper mind builds the house.
And, because it is out of conscious control, it is assured. Instruction via properly done CI is guaranteed. It won’t be forgotton. Keeping it out of conscious control and away from prying hands is something nature does if the thing to be accomplished is really important, like the propagation of the species or the growing of a forest.
And like acquiring a language. We have just screwed it all up by thinking that we are so important that we could teach a language via conscious means. We are not that capable and we are certainly not that important – we just drive the trucks. Let’s just turn it all over to our students’ deeper minds and be glad that all we have to do is drive the trucks.
Over time, in this overarchingly beautiful process that is so freely given, we just present and get repetitions on those few structures, a few more each day, and our students move rapidly towards fluency as the unconscious process works unknown to anybody.
Again, the story line serves merely as a vehicle for the vast amounts of repetitions of the structures. Authentic acquisition of the language is thus a completely unconscious process, as per:
The PQA discussion and the story, that time spent in class in that back and forth lighthearted spinning of fantastic images, represent the banks of the river, as it were. They are not the target. The water, the three structures, rivers of it, are the target. So we focus on the water, and not on the banks of the river.
Let it rain: http://www.benslavic.com/blog/2010/07/19/learning-a-language-is-an-unconscious-process-3/
Checking For Understanding – We Verify By Asking More Y/N And One Word Answer Questions Than We Ever Thought We Could In A Million Years
by Ben Slavic
As we teach for full comprehension and therefore eventual fluency by our students, we sometimes move on to a new statement, a new idea involving new targets and therefore new and unfamiliar sounds, when all of the students are still searching with their eyes for the last thing we said.
This is a big mistake – the student needs to:
- make that visual connection with the word or structure that is written in L1 on the board for acquisition to take place.
- have time to do so.
We can’t leave the student searching for the L1 translation on the board and go on to new things. We cannot have them searching around a messy board, one that is too messy for them to find it and in cavalier fashion move on to the next thing. No wonder our students get confused and we feel as if we can’t do comprehensible input and the whole thing becomes so emotional for us.
We must learn to wait until all our students have time to find the word on the board with its handy dandy English translation right next to it and then we must give the student the time to process what they see there on the board into their minds before moving on. It is as simple as that. That is really what SLOW means.
SLOW doesn’t mean just going slowly. It means going at the pace and doing the things necessary (finger pointing, waiting for the “kathunk” moment, watching their eyes, being patient) for every single student in the room to fully understand what was just said, and we do that by questioning.
To repeat – we don’t go on to the next thing until we have verified that all the students in the classroom understand the thing we just said. We do this by asking more yes/no and one word answer questions than we every thought we could in a million years. We check for comprehension in a way that we have never done before – that is the subject of this article.
Finger comprehension checks don’t work. We only need to use them when an administrator is in the room. Those unfortunate people (unfortunate because they don’t understand current research in foreign language acquisition and act as if they do – which is really a sad thing) are looking for things like that. Building managers are happy when they see such creative formative assessment with all those sets of ten fingers in the air but it is all bullshit.
Finger comprehension checks don’t really tell us anything because the students lie to us. Only use finger comprehension checks when the sad people – the administrators - are in the room so that they can check the “uses formative assessment during class” box. Isn’t it crazy that we have to teach to our observation goals and teach our students at the same time just to be seen as competent teachers? It is all so strange!
We are looking for real, not bogus, indicators of comprehension. What is a real indicator of comprehension? There is only one that really works. We verify by questioning. Here is how we do it:
1. We say something.
2. We go to the board where it is written (or write it if it is not already there) and we point to it and its translation into L1, then we put our hand on it, or we laser point to it.
3. We wait about four seconds. At this point some kids have gotten it but others haven’t. That’s not enough kids. So we move on to step four here.
4. We ask a number of questions about what we just said. What does that mean? It’s what I said above – we verify by asking more yes/no questions or questions that require one word answers than we ever thought we could ever ask in a million years. We do not ask a few of these y/n and one word answer questions – we verify by asking a very large amount of them, so many that we don’t go on to the next thing until we see that every single student in the room has fully understood the question we just asked.
5. Only when everyone in the room has fully understood do we move on. We look for comprehension in each student’s eyes and we also feel the strong choral response in response to each question we ask from the group.
Here is an example, taken from the middle of a PQA session I did at NTPRS on Thursday using the structures works, lazy and the boss yells to set up the Anne Matava story Lazy:
I started the circling in the usual way:
Class, Malcolm works at Wal-Mart. (ohhh!)
Class, does Malcolm work at Wal-Mart? (yes)
Class, does Malcom or Mickey work at Wal-Mart? (Malcolm)
Note carefully: what happens in the process above, how most of us circle, is that we continue to circle half heartedly but never feeling really feel convinced that the kids fully know, as a class, what they are hearing. That has been the big problem for us up until now – those half-sincere Ohhhs! and yesses and nos and generally weak answers that we have largely accepted in a game of understanding that has been basically a sham. A few kids get it, lead the responses from the class, and we take that to mean that the class understands and we go on like the Tarot fool about to walk off the cliff with his faithful dog following right behind him.
Those weak responses are no greater indications of understanding than the bogus finger comprehension checks and the bogus intimidating random pointing to a kid and “What did I just say?” We have to go deeper with our checking for understanding – that is the point of this article. We have to verify that all of the students have understood by asking more yes/no and one word answer questions than we every thought we could in a million years, or at least in a hell of a long time.
That means that, after we circle, we don’t just go to on to the next thing. We stay on the first thing keeping in mind the idea that we are going to circle Malcolm works at Wal-Mart until we get a strong choral responses and full clear eyed understanding and head shaking up and down from every student in the class, even if we have to do that one thing for the rest of the class period. We wait them out.
And note most importantly that we are not just waiting them out until each student in the classroom has indicated that they understand. We are also establishing strong classroom discipline in those moments.
We are: making sure that each kid is actively involved with us, which is the best and most powerful form of classroom discipline ever devised
encouraging the class to turn on the few kids who think – wrongly – that they can wait out the teacher with their non-responses. Yes, I am saying that if we go so slowly that 80% of the kids in the room have to wait while we wait for the other 20% decide to climb onto the comprehensible input train, then we have a situation where the 80% will get so frustrated with waiting that they will turn on their classmates and provide for you an instant classroom police force.
This is what we haven’t done in the past, most of us. We haven’t waited it out to get full understanding via much more fuller questioning around each statement and it has screwed us. We should, from the moment we have finished the first round of circling about Malcolm, stay on the originial statement much more than feels natural by asking:
Class, does Malcom work at Wal-Mart with me? (hand or laser on the word) (NO! – strong choral response)
Class, does Malcom work at K-Mart with me? (hand or laser on the word) (NO! – strong choral response)
Class, does Malcom work at Wal-Mart? (hand or laser on the word) (YES! – strong choral response)
Class, does Jerry Lewis work at Wal-Mart? (hand or laser on the word) (NO! – strong choral response)
Class, does Malcom work with Jerry Lewis? (hand or laser on the word) (NO! – strong choral response)
Class, does Malcom work at Wal-Mart? (hand or laser on the word) (YES! – strong choral response)
Class, does Malcom work at Wal-Mart with Mickey? (hand or laser on the word) (NO! – strong choral response)*
If you ask 5 to 10 questions per minute in this way about the same sentence before moving on to the next sentence, you will see what happens in a positive way for your teaching using comprehensible input.
Let’s do the math. Let’s say you can average ten of these kinds of intense yes/no and one word answer questions, these barrage questions, in every minute in each class. It is possible! Therefore, in one 45 minute class, minus fifteen minutes for the bullshit, doing the math on 30 available minutes of instruction time, you could get 300 questions per class. In five days that is 1,500 questions or 6,000 per month over 9 months = 54,000 questions per year. That is a lot of questions and, if the child understands each one of them through the process described above, they will have had a great year of comprehensible input – a great year, and the gains will be visible.
The only valid way to know if your students know is by asking them questions.** Do it, and you will have found what I consider to be the most effective tool yet made in teaching comprehensible input, a tool which, if you properly incorporate it into your teaching, might possibly even prove to be the missing piece in your instruction and may change your effectiveness and your entire relationship with the method in ways you may have never thought possible.
*if you find yourself having trouble coming up with such an unnatural barrage of yes/no one word answer questions – slow to you but not to the students! - try turning to the actor(s) and act them such questions, then turning back to the class and asking them, and back and forth like that.*** It will make it easier to ask all those one word answer questions.
**[credit: Blaine Ray]
***[credit: Blaine Ray]
Making It Work
by Ben Slavic
It is the main purpose of this site to help teachers find ways to make comprehensible input work for us in our classrooms. Of course, what works for one doesn’t always work for another, and there is no set formula for success in this work.
Our work with comprehensible input must mesh with our personality. This, of course, is a rejection of all standardization, and the work thus becomes a thrilling internal journey of discovery for each of us. The ideas presented in these pages are merely guidelines, the banks of the river, as it were, for the rivers of our own careers to flow within.
PQA is one such set of river banks. Stories provide another. Reading givers us a third set of guidelines for us to flow within as we bobble along down the river in this work with our students bobbling along next to us. Comprehensible input is the powerful current that drives the river forward, and Blaine Ray is to be acknowledged for his singular contribution to the creation of the Three Steps. It is he who unlocked the process – specifically how to take a few target structures in PQA and turn them into stories – that makes this all work.
But to try to do CI in the way that Blaine does it is inconsistent with the truth that this powerful river is really designed for each of us to experience as an extension of our own personalities and interests. There is nothing that can prevent us from gaining mastery over this work more than the fixed idea that there is only one way to do it.
So, we must let go of the banks of the river – PQA and stories and reading as the Three Steps of TPRS – and learn to float along the more rapidly moving waters at the center of the river. There will be rocks, rapids, big turns in the river, debris in the river (naysayers) and they will all teach us things that are personal, as each day of teaching reveals things about ourselves that are unique to our own experience as teachers, in hard internal work that not everyone can do.
There are many articles on this site that have to do with water. Water is a good image to describe the flow of what we do, and the reader is encouraged to search the word FLOW on this site to get a feel for the real release point of this work, that concept that challenges us to let go of the banks of the river and all formulae and develop our own unique version of CI for ourselves, to keep it unique to us and therefore profoundly more interesting to us with each passing year.
Each of us can make comprehensible input a reflection of our own personalities this year. We can hug the banks of the river as long as we want before doing that, of course - there is no one way to do it and no formulated time for us to begin swimming in the deeper currents of the method – but at some point we have to let go. It is all an individual process.
Some may cling to TPRS materials, formulaic products, that tell them what to do for years, but eventually they will let go and swim on their own. Only then will they realize what they’ve been missing.
by Ben Slavic
A guy at our Wed. nite coaching session in Las Vegas asked me during a crucial point in the session, “Where are you going with this?” The underlying tone of the question was, “I don’t know what you are doing there – it looks stupid to me.”
I smiled and answered, “Mind meld!” Can you imagine how this person reacted to that term? And yet mind meld is the key to the entire thing of comprehensible input.
Mind meld is the myofascial tissue that connects word to word, word chunk to word chunk, sentence to sentence, and idea to idea in comprehension based instruction.
Mind meld means real commonality of purpose. When you look at the class and finally consent to agree with them that the guitar is blue and not red, and they relax, happy in the knowledge that their idea has been accepted, then you have mind meld.
Why is mind meld important? Because groups need a common purpose. They need to have a goal to work towards together. They need to agree on things. A class is not a collection of individuals.
A class is a group. That’s why they call it a group and not a collection of individuals. If your class is a collection of individuals, you may as well give up trying to teach them anything this year – it will be like herding cats. You need mind meld.
Mind meld drives commonality of purpose, and commonality of purpose drives language acquisition. We are not in there learning different languages. We are trying as best as we can as a group to get to the art of conversing using a common code.
When we use mind meld, we attempt to share that river of language that alone brings real acquisition, with a low affective filter and plenty of fun and negotiation of meaning, which is one definition of language. Mind meld brings group harmony.
Go out and get some mind meld today. Spray it around in your classes. Get to that invisible sharing with your students. Decide on things together. Make your class into a harmonious group that seeks to work with common purpose.
What is the result of using mind meld in your classes? For one thing, really high test scores. But, more importantly, everybody has fun and the time goes by quickly in the enjoyment of others.
[credit: John Piazza, for pointing the exchange with that guy out to me]
Face 1 vs. Face 2
by Ben Slavic
I don’t even know Bernard’s last name but, being French, he was hanging out with Sabrina, who is also French, in Las Vegas and he did some big time work at our Wednesday nite coaching session, which had a lot of our own group members there in a very relaxed setting for coaching.
I learned something while coaching Bernard that I would like to share bc it seems like kind of a secret. I learned in watching Bernard be coached, more by the group than just me, that what is on your face counts when you teach.
Some of us blow this – we become so concerned about delivering the instruction that our faces kind of get distorted and the kids see that and lose interest because the last thing we ever want to do in a classroom is let on that we are teaching anything, but rather convey one thing above all - that those kids in front of us are the most important thing to us in the world. (It’s not true, but we have to act that way if we are to succeed with CI.)
It’s just that way in a classroom. When we try too hard and stay focused on the lesson, the kids see it and turn off their minds and close their hearts, kind of packing up their interest and shoving that interest into their book bags so we can’t get to it.
When our students do that, they are sending us a huge message, they are teaching us something that we need to do in order to reach them; they are trying to tell us, through their boredom, that we are not doing what we need to reach them.
We are telling them that language learning is a big complicated deal but that we can teach it to them if they but listen. Ah, but there’s the rub – they don’t WANT it to be a big complicated deal; they don’t want it to be hard. After all, most of them already speak one language and some speak two or even more.
By their refusal to participate, they are really yelling at us to chill out and relax a bit, so that we can in fact teach them something real. (Languages are real things that cannot be taught in false ways.)
By shutting down, our students are doing the only thing that they can to try to show us that interacting with other humans in a different language doesn’t have to be fake and it doesn’t have to be painful, and in fact it mustn’t be those things, as the Latinists on this site are constantly reminding us. We blame them on that shutting down thing, but in reality it’s us.
So what was on Bernard’s face in that coaching session spoke eloquently. Actually there were two faces, as there always must be when one is teaching. There was Face 1 – Bernard’s teacher face (the face the kids must not see) and Face 2 – the person face (the face the kids must see).
If you look at your face in a video of you teaching, and you can see the teacher face, you need to address that. You need to switch over to the face of the person that you really are because of what was said above, that you can only reach kids with the face of the person you are. It’s called being human.
Or you could try the deliver-of-instructional services thing and use a book/and or a computer program and walk the walk with that while you talk the talk of CI. Good luck with that – the kids will see right through it and shut down.
Bernard’s Face 1, his teaching face, as he was being coached, was really struggling. I could see that. But his Face 2, his real person face, is the face he showed us as he was working. Face 1 was busy trying to remember the mechanical things he was working on in the coaching session, but Face 2, the real Bernard, was front and center in the human way to the class of adults he was teaching.
That is the glory of it, perhaps bc Bernard is French and they really are a glorious people in many ways, if for no other reason than what they do with food and that Molière was French – Bernard never took off his Face 2, his real person face, even though his Face 1 was underneath there struggling to learn the new method. His Face 2 was smiling and having a great time bringing the CI to us.
Bernard’s Face 1 was saying, “I can’t do this! This sucks!” Bernard’s Face 2 was saying, “I’m doing this! I’m laughing with my students! I’m teaching them real French!”
So Bernard taught us all a lesson in that coaching session – use Face 2. Brilliant!
by Ben Slavic
Did you see the Olympic women’s gymnastics team win gold? Who didn’t? I applaud them and their coaches for their great work and their victory. Awesome effort, awesome results, awesome cuteness factor, something the government, I mean the corporations, will be able to take to the bank. An all around good day for America.
Hey, didn’t those girls look like they study hard and get A grades in their foreign language classes? I’ll bet they do! They remind me of how the little four percent white girls I used to teach before I turned the tables on them looked like as they year after year took their places in the front of my classes, memorizing stuff, following directions, being special, going for the gold in French class too.
I know it’s a gross generalization, and I may piss some people off here, but it’s my blog and I simply don’t care, but what about the fat kids? What about the uncoordinated kids? What about the losers? What about those kids with chains on their jackets and piercings and tattoos all over the place?
Lest any of us forget, and we do, those losers AND those winners are our students. No Child Left Behind, right?
Most kids deal with the constant unending drudgery of school, even the four percenters, by getting into extracurricular activities in or out of school. Gymnastics, football, choir, yearbook for the cute and shiny ones; potsmoking, skating, hanging out on Colfax for the not so cute and not so shiny ones.
And classes? Classes for the cute kids are… well, classes are just vehicles to college. The cute kid gets the A, or whatever GPA is necessary to get into college. Classes for the noncute kids? Thanks for asking, they are a special form of hell.
Actual learning? Not that big a deal, truthfully, for the special kids as well as the non-special kids. No real actual learing for either group. Lots of memorization, but not a lot of actual learning going on.
For the cuties, a good smile goes as far as a lot of studying and doing homework to make the A happen. The A is what counts. For the not cute, a bad smile with teeth that reflect a diet based in poverty won’t get the A, but hey, they’ll take a D, right?
Both the cute and the uncute kids tolerate school so that they can see their friends and be in clubs, whether they are good clubs or clubs of rebellion. Right?
But what if the losers who are usually disenfranchised by the wonderful girls in the front row, those girls who so much resemble our American gymnastics team, found a place where they were creative beyond measure in a random messy looking group of freaks who happen to be able to rock a French class?
One of my career goals as a teacher has been to help kids out who hate life and hate school learn to embrace life and get a real education. Maybe I was like that in my military school in northern Indiana. Maybe a lot of us hated school! Now, I can do reach those kids, and in it reach and re-teach myself, because I now teach in a way that allows ALL my kids to enjoy the process of learning a language.
Rose, my best student last year, before she was expelled for grades (all F’s with no “effort” in any classes and could never say no to a good hallway fight) was a supertalented auditory learner. She was a talented artist. When she left in February, with a perfect A in French class, it wrecked the class and we never recovered.
We had come to depend on Rose as a boat depends on its rudder. Her mom actually came to me with Rose and challenged me on my evaluation of her talents in French. I told her the truth, that she was my best student of all my students at Abraham Lincoln High School, and that her being pulled out of school was very upsetting to me.
I told mom that Rose’s leaving ruined one of my classes for the rest of the year. I told her that I didn’t think Rose got a fair shake. I told mom that I was deeply sorry that she didn’t believer in her daughter and had to come to interview me personally when her daughter told her that she was getting an A in French. I don’t think mom believed me. I am still pissed about that.
Where is this mini-rant going? It is going in the direction of pointing out one of the great advantages of using CI in our classrooms – that, as long as we use CI, our classes are never going to be filled with white female blond hair memorizers. Cheerleaders are of course welcome, but they can’t run the class. I’d say that is a great reason to do CI, maybe the best reason of all. With CI, we can give kids who have no hope some hope. How does that sound? I like it.
I am not disparaging the Olympic girls. I am just reminding myself here that America is, or was, an equal opportunity country, giving chances in life to everyone. If I can finally do that in my classroom, it makes me more of a patriot, a conscious patriot.
Using CI in the classroom makes me a patriot who KNOWS that his work is patriotic and that it embraces what we as Americans are really all about. I like that. I like proving to kids in class that a lot of what they have been told about themselves is simply not true. I like democracy when it is actually democracy.
Very cool, Ben, very cool. Keep on doing it.
Take It Easy On Yourself
by Ben Slavic
It’s time again for the reminder that we don’t have to be entertainers. A lot of us believe that still. We think that our success is tied to how much our kids laugh and have a good time in class. This is hogwash. Our success is tied to how much our kids can/want to understand what we are saying.
What if an administrator walks in and senses a “flat” class going on? So what? What do they know? They know nothing. You could bail to a dictée or other bail out move (searchable here) or you could stay with the flat CI. If it going into their head, even if it isn’t a hilarious story, it’s good teaching. We sabotage ourselves when we think that the administrator wants a rocking fun classroom. Don’t do that to yourself.
Stop setting yourself up for failure with all of this. It’s not rocket science and it’s not Las Vegas level entertainment, if that’s what you call entertainment. It’s constant CI in which the kids are focused more on the message than on the words. That’s all you have to do this year and every year. Take it easy on yourself.
by Ben Slavic
It’s not just a town in Rhode Island. When we fear that we won’t be able to generate enough CI in our classes, which is a basic and genuine fear that comes with the territory of working with comprehensible input, we can always do what Huck Finn says he does (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn p. 219 Bantam) when words are not readily available:
…I went along, not fixing up any particular plan; but just trusting to Providence to put the right words in my mouth when the time come; for I’d noticed that Providence always did put the right words in my mouth if I left it alone…
I try to say something like this in my book TPRS in a Year! on p. 54:
Skill #22: Staying in the Moment
This is my favorite skill. It requires heart. Staying in the moment means that you do not leave the moment that has been created in the story. You do not digress. You do this to keep the comprehensible input alive. The way to make sure you do this is to:
- teach the student and not the language.
- stay on the sentence until it parallels the original story – see the conclusion of this book for details on how to do this.
- milk in extra details via circling, making sure that the details are connected to the lives of your students.
Staying in the moment may be the most challenging skill of all the TPRS skills because it involves going against so much of what we have all been taught as teachers, which is be in charge, drive the story, say the right thing at the right time, be funny, etc. The fact is that if the teacher is the one driving everything forward, there is no “space” for the kids to join in the game.
Most importantly, if the details of the story are not provided by the students, they will not be interested in the story. The instructor must create spaces via artful questioning that allow for those spaces to be filled by students’ answers that are interesting to them.
This involves staying in the moment, resting there, waiting for the right cute answer, avoiding the desire to push forward. Here is a sample of how that can be done in a story I wrote for my class:
a dévisagé – stared at
est monté – went up
se sont disputés – argued
Marcel and his girlfriend Sheila are in a car on (local street). They stop at a red light.
Sheila looks up at a building. She sees Larry in the building looking out a window at her. Sheila stares at Larry. Larry stares at Sheila.
Marcel is angry. He gets out of the car and goes up the elevator in Larry’s building. He argues with Larry. Sheila cries.
I made a “car” (two chairs) in the middle of the room. I got two kids up to be Marcel and Sheila, thus instantly personalizing the story. They shuffled up to the “car” and looked at me with that expectant look they do. They shuffled too slowly, so I just yelled at them to get into the car:
“Montez dans la voiture! (“Get in the car!”)
I put Larry on the third floor of a “building” (actually a countertop that runs along the side of the classroom). I told Larry to look down at the kids in the car.
With meaning of the structures clearly established, and written and translated and clearly visible and ready to be pointed at throughout the story, with three actors and a good script, all was ready for a great class! “What a great start!” I thought. Then there was that little pause, like, “O.K. what do I do next?”
The kids weren’t laughing and the story wasn’t funny. Instead, they were giving me “the look,” as if to say, “What’s next, oh purveyor of alternative teaching methods?”
I answered their look with my own look, “Hey, you think it is easy to just get a funny story going? I ain’t no Susan Gross! Some of us TPRS teachers actually have to WORK for a story!”
Still the look. But I resisted the urge to yell, “I can’t do this stuff! It’s too hard! Someone help me!” I just stayed in that moment:
Just hang in there, Ben, and explore this moment. Don’t try to drive the story forward too fast! Ask questions and listen to their responses and pick the right ones and just let this thing go forward in its own way! Circle and listen for cute answers! Trust the method and play the game and listen to them! C’mon, man, you can do it!
Stay in the moment! Ask the questions. Circle or die!
Class, where is the car? (Paris!) No, class, the car is not in Paris! How absurd! The car is in Denver! (Ohh!) Class, where in Denver? Someone yells out “Colfax Avenue!”
Colfax Avenue is a well-known street in Denver for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its seediness. I think:
That really is the right street. Yes! Colfax! Perfect! How could it be any other street?
Immediately, the look was gone! The mood in the classroom had completely changed. Nobody was nervous any more. The look had been replaced by smiles and laughter. The boy who suggested Colfax was pleased with himself beyond words.
There are so many stories around Colfax Avenue in Denver that I could tell that each kid was making their own association – all of a sudden what used to be a struggling story was actually alive with energy because of the mention of a street! Colfax Avenue and its reputation in Denver had united us. The idea that their friends were in a car driving around downtown, where so much crazy stuff happens, and no longer in a classroom in southwest Jefferson County, had captured their interest.
By staying in the moment of the story until a cute answer was suggested, the story was saved. The kids were given their voice in the story. It took off from there. Had I reacted to the look by taking everything over, jumping out of the moment into something I could control, the resultant disenfranchisement of the kids would have dragged the story to a halt.
Later in the story, I had another opportunity to stay in the moment – this time it was to wait for the right physical detail to be suggested:
When Marcel was being jealous because Sheila was looking up out of the car into the window at Larry, I waited until I got the right answer from the class:
Class, why is Sheila staring at Larry?
No answer. The look. Another one of those moments where I could either rescue the story or stay in the moment and wait for the right response. What should I do? I waited. I resisted the impulse to tell the kids that Sheila was looking at Larry because she thought he was cute, which would have been my idea and not theirs.
Then, from the left side of the classroom, just when the discomfort in the classroom was growing, a superstar blurted out in English these words in a fit of laughter while putting her hand to her nose:
Because Larry has a big zit on his nose!!!
Bingo! Hanging out in the moment had again paid a big dividend, well worth the discomfort that was in the room just a few seconds before. The class erupted in laughter, and my superstar had one of those big “wall to wall” smiles on her face.
I immediately told her that this was exactly why Sheila was looking at Larry. It was obvious! She was correct! I expressed true amazement that she knew that. I sent the message that I myself could never have come up with such a cute answer. I told her how proud I was of her perfect suggestion at the perfect time in the story and I heaped the praise on. Nothing motivates like success, and my superstar had been successful because I had stayed in the moment and not rescued the story.
Of course, sometimes we wait and nothing cute is suggested. Does that mean the students aren’t learning and that we are failures at TPRS? No. Cute answers, though wonderful and in my opinion necessary, are not the point of TPRS.
Are the kids hearing the language? Are we speaking the target language to them in the class, and are the kids reporting in on comprehension checks at 80% or above? If so, then we are doing our jobs. Then, echoing Gilbert Gottfried, we can say with confidence, “I am intelligent, I am a good person, and gosh darn it, my students are learning!”
So staying in the moment may produce wonderful suggestions that give sparkle to a story, but if it does not, that is just fine. We need to expect less from TPRS than all glitter and gold. Personalized comprehensible input is just fine.
Comment on the Use of Technology
by Ben Slavic
Bob Patrick recently reported that his first trip to the computer lab with his classes made him aware of how computers affect his language instruction:
Going to the lab changed everything. Even though I had something interesting for them to read, I was not directly interacting with all of them as we have been all week because I had to call each student up to my computer and log them into various accounts. Necessary stuff, but it changed everything. I became a moderator instead of someone with whom they were interacting in order to commune. Yes. Commune. When we are in CI work, in the core of it, getting lost in the story, the questions, the event, the laughter, we are communing with each other. Today, there was no communion. There was “next”. And there were students who needed to be “monitored”, and mostly I hated it.
John Piazza commented: “Going to the lab changed everything”
This is the dirty little secret about technology-based “activities.” They don’t help us connect with our students. Not even Mr. Spock could mind meld with a computer, and if Ben and Bob are right, that we are not merely trying to deliver content, but to achieve the mind meld/communion of genuine and therefore empathic human interaction, then having students interact with a machine instead of a person will necessarily detract from that human experience.
Technology (here defined as computer based language activities–obviously many of us use our classroom computers and projectors to help deliver CI) will not help us connect with the minds, hearts and souls in our classrooms. I know from experience that the content that Bob was having his students read is pretty compelling, but it was not created by that particular class, and therefore it is a lot less compelling (95% less compelling) than we’d like to think. For years I’ve been hung up on the idea of creating Tarheel readers or a novel in easy Latin that my students could comprehend at their level. But I’m only now realizing that these things are not a substitute for, or nearly as effective as, creating stories with our students (or just talking about them in the TL).
I’m sure I will have “tech” days like Bob described, when I need to do administrative stuff, or have a sub, or simply need a break. And there is nothing wrong with giving ourselves a break, or just making time to get things done. But I’m going to be a lot more honest with myself about the effectiveness of these activities.
by Ben Slavic
Two group members cancelled their memberships in the past week, each with short identical statements to me in private emails stating flatly that ”I won’t be teaching any more.” This has stuck with me. Both were enthusiastic students of comprehensible input when they joined a year ago. What happened?
Of course, I can’t ask them. They would have told me why they quit when they cancelled if they had wanted to share that information. But it upset me. I was up there in my F16 looking over at Jody’s shot up plane to my left and Robert’s shiny plane to my right and chill’s plane cruising over New Jersey and Bryce’s plane with a big cowboy hat on the tail flying next to me* and I wish I could describe everybody’s plane but that would make the worst run-on sentence in history.
But then these two F16 pilots both took hits and went down in flames and we don’t even know what happened to them. Maybe they were flying their planes in still-entrenched departments and lost the battle of methods, lost the energy to do CI, got themselves beat up in a mental war and just quit because they didn’t want to be around a bunch of robot teachers who give them no support.
Been there done that. If that was true for me this year, I kid you not, I would just land the plane and walk away from it. I have flown too many missions to be in a hostile teaching environment, now after all these years. God knew that and put me with Annick Chen and Barbara Vallejos at Abraham Lincoln High School this year. Thank you, God.
But another, even more alarming possibility comes to mind. These two teachers just gave up with the method without any opposition. They just felt as if they couldn’t do it. Doing comprehensible input just overwhelmed them after their initial year last year. Sophomore jinx. CI Burnout. Splat.
Or it could have been something completely different like they moved and couldn’t find a job. Who knows?
I dare not ask them, but these two teachers’ stories can serve to remind us of things that are crucial for each of us to remember as we start the year:
1. We are still in hostile environmments. The people we met at conferences this summer are few and far between. They are rare. Just because 2% of teachers may be exploring CI now instead of 1% doesn’t change the overall environment in which we teach.
2. The national change in focus on standards that Robert described so accurately in his comment here a few days ago, and in countless other articles over the past year, and the changes in awareness of research, will only cause entrenched teachers who do not want to change to dig in their heels deeper and get nastier about any hippies flying F16s through their department meetings.
3. This is serious business. Jobs are being lost and gained over this issue of methodology. Some enlightened principals who get it are making it very difficult for some of the entrenched people, but the opposite is true as per my experience a year and a half ago – an experience that I can’t seem to fully recover from (I feel like the bullets are still in me) - as per:
The teachers who want us gone are not always kind. In fact, they can be nasty, as per:
I bring all this up to make a simple point. We have to be careful when we go into our schools this year. Diana Noonan’s leadership has made many schools in Denver Public Schools safe places where jobs won’t be lost and new CI teachers are being hired as we speak. But the opposite is true in some districts. Watch what you say and to whom you speak.
That’s all I’m saying. The teachers who seem interested, as soon as you start talking about some of Krashen’s ideas, get real defensive. Their claws come out. Friendships become strained, and lost. Many of us have learned to close our doors and do our thing and it works. But in some schools a closed door is an invitation to enmity and quiet fuming or even overt hostility from our colleagues.
Avoid being too optimistic. Protect yourself. Don’t be a Candide unless it is safe.
Again, I don’t know why these planes went down. It could have been mechanical failure. But it sure didn’t feel like it. It felt connected to battle.
*not to mention those new F16s flying over the Atlanta area and over LA and San Francisco with those neat Latin inscriptions on them and names written on their noses like Marcus Aurelius and Virgil – those new F16s with special settings that allow them to fly 2000 years into the past and wave a hello and whisper encouragement to warriors who have been long gone for over two millenniums.
Atlanta Report – 3
by Ben Slavic
Bob’s report on a Thursday:
Today brought some administrative reality into my work. I had to take my Latin 2 students to a computer lab to get them signed up for a couple of online services that I use. I also had some really good, fun, online reading of a story about a character named “Gilbo” for them to read and enjoy. This story series, btw, is a product of what CI and TPRS is doing in the Latin teaching community: teachers are venturing to write stories that they think their students will really enjoy. This is the third year in a row that I’ve used my colleague’s, Anthony Gibbon’s, story series with my Latin 2 students at the very beginning of the year. The story series is easy, fun, and compelling. It convinces them, along with all that I do, that they still have their Latin from last year and that this year will work, too.
So, two observations from today:
1. Going to the lab changed everything. Even though I had something interesting for them to read, I was not directly interacting with all of them as we have been all week because I had to call each student up to my computer and log them into various accounts. Necessary stuff, but it changed everything. I became a moderator instead of someone with whom they were interacting in order to commune. Yes. Commune. When we are in CI work, in the core of it, getting lost in the story, the questions, the event, the laughter, we are communing with each other. Today, there was no communion. There was “next”. And there were students who needed to be “monitored”, and mostly I hated it. Some of them did, too. I am looking at it as a necessary evil until I figure out another way to take care of the flotsum and jetsum of tending the flock.
2. But, I also teach two sections of Latin 1 this year. Here’s what my day looks like with them this week: Word Wall, review the words from yesterday; cards on their desk so that I can circle with balls for 3-4 students; new TPR words to work with all focused on items and action in the classroom. (I’ve done TPR focused on classroom items and actions for the last 10 years for the first two weeks in Latin 1, and I am convinced that it’s a wonderful way to start). In both classes today, students began using their power! I’ve taught them “safety net words” (and they are large on the wall), words they can use to remain in the conversation regardless of what is going on. They include the Latin for:
a. yes and no
b. I understand; I don’t understand
c. what does _____ mean?
d. how do you say _____?
e. may I go to the bathroom (office, clinic, locker)?
Today, I was barraged with questions of “how do you say _____”. It was incredible fun, much laughter, and they are so totally into the behaviors required for TPRS that it’s not even funny. In one class, I had a student (who became quite a character the very first day) who spontaneously sneezed out a word when I was going over words from yesterday. I immediately assigned him the task of “stridor” the “screecher” who would screech out the English for any word that anyone seemed confused over. It was MARVELOUS.
In the second class, there was just this unexpected moment, this incredible gift that I could not have afforded if I had wanted to pay for it. The class was done. It had been just such fun for me and, I suspected, for them. I had given them the last 30 seconds to get their things together, and I sat down at my computer to make sure I had recorded attendance correctly. They were chatting, and I heard one boy say to another: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could just stay in here all day? Then, the bell rang.
Just frikkin made my day!
M.Div, PhD NBCT-Latin
Everything has its music. Everything has the genes of God inside.
Spanish Position – Northern CA
by Ben Slavic
Clarice sent this:
Oakmont High School in Roseville, CA has an opening for a part time (.66) Spanish teacher. The position is for grades 9-12. We are a TPRS/CI department. Due to the growth in our high school, as well as our program, the district has created this opportunity.
There is a good possibility this will become a full time position the following school year.
To apply go to Ed Join: http://www.edjoin.org/searchResults.aspx?countyID=31&districtID=543
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
R. Clarice Swaney
World Languages Chair
Oakmont High School
Roseville Joint Union High School District
Anyone Else Notice This?
by Ben Slavic
Nina Barber sent me some short clips from one of my sessions in Las Vegas. I noticed that the clarity of my teaching, which is totally dependent on pacing, SLOW, wait time, pointing to the targets in real time with laser or hand, seemed a lot more distorted in the video, whereas I know that it was completely clear when I was doing it, because my audience was completely with me.
One of these two things is true. Either:
- I was wrong about how clear my teaching was (i.e. I was getting a false read from my audience) or
- the medium of the video was distorting the clarity of my teaching.
Obviously, this is quite important as we try to figure out if video clips of ourselves teaching can be of use in our work together in this PLC.
I am asking for opinions of other teachers who have recorded themselves teaching. Honestly, I can’t figure it out – what feels like real clear teaching with really clear responses from my audience doesn’t look that way on tape.
Any ideas or comments on this are welcome.
Atlanta Report – 2
by Ben Slavic
I’m just needing to share. It’s Wednesday of my first week back. 195 students. (I know, I already told you that). I am exhausted at the end of the school day. I treat that by a trip to the gym and then red wine when I get home (one of them has to work).
I am having such a blast. For the first time, I have my walls covered with Word Wall, my DEA (Daily Engagement Assessment) “rules” (but I call them tips), and Safety Net Words, as well as question words. I am assigning two jobs right now–Dinumerator (counters–at least 3 per class) and Scriptor (writer). Any given period, I gaze around and find those who are on the verge of losing their upstraight, square shouldered bright eyed posture, and make them the Dinumeratores. I then look for a four percenter who is looking even slightly bored and make him/her the scriptor. Wow! The focus these jobs bring to them is unfuckingbelievable. (sorry, I don’t often use the f-word). Today, more than a few times, we all got just wonderfully lost in a story. We were laughing and the creativity was flowing and we all just loved the moment. And then the damn bell rang. How wonderful!
Today, 7th period, we were lost in the story, and I had not gotten to the good part and the bell rang and there was a collective groan. How good is that? It’s the end of the school day. They get to go home. And they groan because the story is not done.
That’s it. Just needed to say it. Ben, the PLC is a huge treasury. Thank you. You’ve come into your own, creating this wonderful place for us. I recommended it to our new French teacher today. She is frustrated, and I can tell from two conversations that she will love your space.
M.Div, PhD NBCT-Latin
Everything has its music. Everything has the genes of God inside.
Question About Benchmarks
by Ben Slavic
Our new group member Guy is faced with the impossible task described below. We have discussed it here before. Pls. contribute what you want – he can get little pieces of answers from everybody. If you know where we can find some of the good answers from before, pls. send us the links. Guy I would start with the Assessment categories and start pulling stuff. And once we have pieced together some material, then you have to decide how badly you want to put on the gloves and go a few rounds with your colleagues on that common assessment option. You may want to access this page as well:
I hope we can make this a group response.
It’s Guy, I met you at NTPRS in Vegas. I joined the PLC the other day. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for doing what you do. I have been teaching Spanish using TPRS for two years. I got my start with project COACH in So Ca (where I purchased your PQA and TPRS books.) These last 2 years have been the best so far of my 24 yr teaching career. I feel like I am finally starting to get it right. I have set aside the textbooks, worksheets, and the funky, phony DVD’s that came with them. My students and I don’t miss them. I even threw out my homemade board games that I once considered integral to the teaching of Spanish to young people. Some of the kids miss those, I think.
Anyways, now I am getting flak for not using the book, you know the story…
My problem is this; I need to give benchmark assessments (at least 2 per year) for each levels (1, 2 and 3) in my Spanish classes. They must have 40 (minimum) multiple choice items keyed to CA World Language Content Standards. The district has purchased software that does item analysis so that we can figure out what the students have not mastered. (I am biting my tongue here.) The benchmark assessments that we currently have are closely tied to the text. When I used to teach the book, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
The book-based test items, which mostly test grammar points and non-essential vocabulary, are not aligned to standards and do not adequately assess the language my students acquire now that I have improved my pedagogy. The good news is that these benchmark exams can be rewritten. The other news is that all of us have to use the same test. So, we must rewrite them together. We must somehow agree on what kinds of items to put on these benchmark tests.
Obviously, we need to align the tests to current California World Language Content Standards. The department members say that the multiple choice items should include assessment of listening, reading, and culture. Writing and speaking assessments by their nature would have to be assessed separately… or perhaps not at all (only m/c items can be crunched, lol).
My question is this; how do we (Traditional and TPRS teachers) go about creating relevant, fair m/c question items that will demonstrate student learning in different areas at each level for these benchmark tests? Are there other teachers/departments who have done something like this already who can shed some light on this path? Any examples? I don’t feel highly qualified at writing m/c benchmark assessments!
Using Reading Early On
by Ben Slavic
As we begin the year, many of us by using PQA and by just talking to the kids in order to set the rules and personalize our classrooms, let’s not forget the power of early reading to give a little extra clarity to our instruction. How can reading do this? How can reading be a productive and valuable part of our first few weeks of the year?
Our story writers can help us so much. No matter how simple the information we get from the Circling with Balls cards or other beginning-of-the-year activities that we choose for the purpose of starting our fluency based program, we can present all those random facts to our students in the form of reading at the right time, because our story writers are informing us about what is happening every day.
If Jimmy plays football (Jimmy joue au football américain) and Sarah reads (Sarah lit), and other facts emerge in the first weeks of classes, some of them very amusing, we can also write out the information that we get and then, in class on the next day, use those ultra simple readings as a basis for more verbal repetitions of what has been found out in class about the kids.
We can thus learn to use reading as a basis for more and more class discussion, which makes the entire process of starting the year out much easier for us, because when the kids can see what they have been hearing, the river of comprehension speeds up because the banks of the river now in the form of reading become narrower.
Reading this ultra simple material in a classroom setting early on, taking the trouble to write it out for each class (it only requires a few minutes at the end of the day) and comparing Jimmy to Sarah in what seems to us like an endless verification of student understanding via their yes or no answers, can go a long way in giving ALL the kids in the room confidence in what is happening.
Doing so will alleviate a lot of dicipline issues before they happen, because kids rarely act out in classes in which they are happy and experiencing success.
Atlanta Day 1 Report
by Ben Slavic
Captain Bob Patrick’s unit went into ground action today, earlier than most of us. He was kind enough to report back after the day, which sounded great after his first day on duty, with no major skirmishes:
Home after my first day at work, glass of wine, dinner finished, feet up. Wow. Oh wow. What a day. I have 195 students this year, in six sections. They are wonderful, beautiful kids. I am teaching Latin 1 and 2 this year. It’s my turn to start at the beginning and follow the babies through. I love teaching this level. Hell, I love teaching all the levels, but these are the levels I love teaching this year.
Besides the sheer experience of processing in my body contact with that many other beings in the room, I have a couple of things to share.
1. My babies, Latin 1, have come into the room expecting this to be a good experience. I cannot say enough about what a wonderful spin that puts on the atmosphere in the room even when there are 35 bodies. They told me that they largely decided to take Latin because a brother, sister or friend told them–”take Latin, you’ll love it. The teachers are wonderful. They are the best.” Of course, that’s wonderful to hear, but it means that what Caroline and I are doing has an effect beyond any one single group of kids. They talk to each other, and they are recommending us. Caroline and I both hold deep compassion for our students, and we use CI in our approach. In my opinion, those two things together create an open heart energy field that draws people to it. I’m pumped.
2. In my Latin 2 classes today, after all the start up stuff, most of which was sharing my Don’t Mess with DEA material, I had a little time for some Latin interaction with them. I called on a random student (not necessarily the best one in the room) and gave TPR commands around various items in the room. Every single one was able to respond correctly, and it clearly felt very good to the room. That was the point. You can still do this. You have not forgotten. It’s in you, and I knew it would be. What we do together is just that good. Then, I tried a little dialogue. It went something like this (translated out to the side):
Salve, John. Quid agis? (Hi John. How are you?)
Ago bene. Et tu, quid agis? (I am doing well. And you, how are you doing?)
Ah, gratias, ago bene quoque. (Ah, thanks, I am doing well also).
John, roga Saram quid agat. (John, ask Sarah how she is doing.) (This requires a subjunctive structure that these kids have never seen. no one blinked or hesitated over it)
Quid agis, Sara? (How are you, Sarah?)
Ago bene, Quid agis? (I am doing well, How are you?)
Ago bene, gratias. ( am doing well, thanks)
John, quid agit Sara? (John, how is Sarah doing?)
Sara agit bene. (Sarah is doing well)
This required students to navigate between me and another student. It required them to change persons, and they all did it without error or hesitation. They did this on the first day back from summer break. I’ve never had this kind of smooth reconnection as I did today, but then, I’ve never done so much CI work as I did last year when they were first year Latin students.
3. Rather unrelated to CI work but totally related to one of my favorite themes: trust. At the end of one of my Latin 2 classes, a male student remained after to talk with me. He said he had to talk to me about the summer reading he had to do. He is a junior, and juniors were asked to read Into the Wild, the story (made movie) of a young man who, out of a commitment to living a better life, went into the Alaskan wild and lived alone, rather successfully, until a tragic series of events took his life after 13 days of agonizingly slow death. The student told me he found the book so depressing and awful. I began to just ask him open ended questions that allowed him to talk about and debrief what he was feeling (he had finished the book the night before). After a bit, he seemed to feel better. It was time for him to head to his next class. He came toward me, shook my hand, then hugged me and said: “You are just the best teacher.” I thanked him. I was deeply moved. I had just been there for a few minutes. This is what we do, whether we realize it or not. Most of the time, we don’t realize it. Today, I got the gift of realizing it one more time. It was a hard first day. I am exhausted, but what a gift.
by Ben Slavic
We Welcome Jacque (pronounced Jackie) to the PLC:
It was really great to meet you at NTPRS. I am Jacque Myers, and I teach Latin at Mirman School in Los Angeles. I have about 70 students (roughly half of our middle school) in 6th through 9th grades. Most of them go on to take Latin at their various high schools.
About two years ago I read the “green book” of TPRS and was so intrigued that I started trying to implement some of what I had read. Even though my students enjoyed what we were doing, I didn’t really stick with it because I had never seen a TPRS class in action and therefore couldn’t envision how it would work over a four-year program. This year our department got funded to attend NTPRS in Las Vegas. That was a great experience, and I am really excited to dive into the comprehensible input classroom.
My interest in TPRS/CI really comes out of frustration at my own experience as a student of Latin. After finishing a BA in Classical Languages and an MAT in Latin, the best I could do was to slowly decode classical authors, painstakingly turning their Latin writings into English. Forget about writing anything myself. With six years of university study under my belt and a credential to teach Latin, I found that I didn’t even really know the language! (And I had been a pretty good student, so I KNOW I wasn’t alone here…even if most Latin teachers aren’t willing to admit this.)
In the summer of 2000, I joined the ranks of crazy people who attend Latin-speaking workshops. The benefits of HEARING the language were huge and immediate, and I began thinking of how to bring this to my classroom. Slowly I began to read and say things out loud in class, mostly about the readings from our textbook. Over the years I have begun to realize that, every minute I am not speaking to my students in Latin that they can understand, I am wasting their time! Although I have been able to increase the amount of time we spend in Latin during class, my teaching has still been mostly grammar-driven.
With what I learned at this year’s conference and with the various materials I’ve picked up, I am hoping that I will begin to let go of that fear that, without a grammar-driven curriculum, my students will not be able to place into the appropriate level of Latin in their high schools. It’s scary, though, because precisely NONE of the Latin programs that my students will end up in place any real value on language acquisition. It’s all grammar charts and decoding.
So, it’s not going to be easy. But I have my Latin-teacher friends Bob, John, and David, who are all here…and I know there are others out there as well. Thank you for setting up and moderating this forum!
Conversation About Starting the Year
by Ben Slavic
Here is a conversation that we had here a year ago with a PLC member who was completely new to comprehension based instruction. It will help us to review these basics about PQA as we crank up the engines again.
Two weeks into the new year and I’d say on a scale of 1-10 I’m at about a 5 or 6. I think the key is going to be my pressing in through that period when it seems like nothing is happening. I’m doing my lesson plans for this week. I planned to start off (after the bell ringer and the pledge) PQAing about the students’ weekend (10-15 minutes).
My response: I find it real hard to PQA about weekends because it requires so much new vocabulary. Maybe it works with accomplished students at upper levels.
PLC Member: Then after that I will transition into PQA session having to do with greetings.
Me: I vote no. Don’t teach greetings right now. Teach them when they naturally occur in dialogue in PQA and in stories later. Here is the reason:
PLC Member: I’m thinking I have way too much for the kids to learn but am concerned about a sacrifice of a “natural flow” if I artificially decide not to use certain vocab. Am I correct in my thinking?
Me: You will not lose the flow if you keep the amount of vocabulary extremely limited and ask a ton of question words around those few things. The flow will be lost and the kids will not understand if you have too much vocabulary. Good PQA classes are based on about one to three sentences per class period, at the most. You try to get as many repetitions using circling on one sentence like “John plays football” using the question words. You spend 15 minutes being fanciful and bizarre with just that information. You add in details and constantly check with simple questions that they understood. The class should be always checking for comprehension way past any degree you think is enough, as per:
Add in more and more details. Ask where and watch it take off. Also compare that John plays football to yourself but that he is better. And compare/contrast (this is all using the Circling with Balls technique) John with other kids. Just keep the focus of your questions on “plays football” at all costs, only bringing in new vocabulary when you must via Point and Pause, and you only do that to make things clear and you do not test the kids on any Point and Pause vocabulary thus introduced simply to keep the dialogue going. Point and Pause is vastly overused in our classes.
During class, have a superstar write down possible questions for a 10 point quick quiz to be given with ten minutes left in class, every day if possible. Teach them that all they have to do is answer some easy questions that they get right bc all they did was listen in a relaxed way in class with no notes, none of the usual trappings of school, the memorization and all that klunky stuff that alienates them. Make sure the superstar only writes down quiz questions on the base content vocabulary from the cards, not from any Point and Pause vocabulary.
In the very beginning, even if it takes four days of talking about seven kids in class to get the first quiz set up, start out that way. You instruct the superstar quiz writer to only ask yes or no questions that are extremely easy. Yoiu may want to read right away. No problem! Just instruct your superstar story writer to write out what you all come up with in class, writing in English and you go write it up at the end of each day and voilà the next day they can read!
Your goal should be that all the kids do well on the first quizzes. Doing this sets a positive tone for the year that your kids are smart, thus cutting down vastly on discipline issues. A lot of troublemakers make trouble simply as a fashion statement because they know that the teacher and the blond memorizers in the front row are going to make their own class anyway.
If you teach in the first few weeks with lots of new vocabulary, why would you do that? The kids will instantly lose confidence in themselves and you will lose touch with them for the rest of the year because they can’t understand and they won’t like you because you are focusing on words and not them.
These are crucial days to not so much teach the language but to make contact with them and set the rules in place so that they know how to act and know that you care more about them more than you care about the subject matter of the class, which is crucial with teenagers in a language class. So stay to those base sentencees over three or four days before that first quiz and start giving daily quizzes when they get up to speed. Then their confidence and motivation will be high because the language you have presented to them in such a SLOW fashion is so easy for them.
Introducing anything like greetings is crazy right now. If you want to lose a class, quiz them on greetings right now and/or present too many new words. Then you will think that they are stupid and can’t learn which is the last thing that is true, as the fault lies with you for teaching too many new words and going too fast. You have to go slow and keep every sentence 100% intelligible to all of the kids in the class now, or none of this is going to work.
Simplicity in Weekly Design
by Ben Slavic
Skip is mentoring a new teacher and gave her this. I think it is a good thing to put here, to remind us how we can keep things simple this year. We need to address a lot this week, like the posters (I still have to get Bob Patrick’s wall photos up here), but I don’t think we can start the year without some of the meditations on simplicity that helped us so much last year when some of us refused, flat out refused, to get caught up in the insanity (that’s what it is) of our buildings. Anyway, here is one of four articles on simplicity – they are actually categorized as well:
by Ben Slavic
I got this question from a colleague who is not in the PLC and so I offered to run it by the group. It’s a big deal with a major yuck – as in unpleasant – factor. Here is the sequence of private email exchanges we have had over the past few days, with permission to reprint here by Andrew. Your comments and ideas are welcome:
I just finished your book and wanted to thank you. It was a really great companion to Blaine Ray’s book. I definitely feel like I have more of a sense of direction as I get closer to starting the school year. One thing I’d like to ask is if you had some thoughts you could share with me about my individual situation. I teach in a school that is deeply invested in following a set curriculum (Holt’s Expresate series).
Our department of 5 Spanish teachers are required to give the same tests and we have a midterm and final exam to test what they have determined to be the most important skills to have “acquired.” My question is, if I try to focus all of my PQA and stories on specific vocabulary and grammar structures of each chapter, am I going to have an extremely hard road ahead of me? Or, since I am a new 2nd year teacher, will it help to have that foundation of what I need to teach? I have a very strong feeling of nervous excitement about this year but also feel worried about the constraints the district curriculum has set for me. To me, teaching TPRS just makes sense and I want nothing more than to find a way to make our kids love Spanish class because they are learning. I would greatly appreciate anything you would be willing to share with me.
This is huge and I am requesting the input of those in our PLC who have experienced or are experiencing this situation. I have experienced this myself and it is bad. Just have to be honest. Those who are book Worm Tongues will see you using comprehension based methods and their standardized chapter by chapter assessments will take you down to where they will lord it over you. It is not unlike Worm Tongue controlling a king in LOTR.
It is a disaster in that the the Worm Tongue’s kids will have memorized for short term and your kids will actually be making real inroads to actual acquisition, although very limited ones because it requires many thousands of hours as we know but the fools who are your colleagues DO NOT know. This is a major problem. You cannot mix CI instruction with books. We know that now. It is folly. So if you have nobody in your building who is actually up to date on current research and all the changes, then you need to tell your CI horse “Whoa!” maybe. I don’t really know what to say is my point. So do I have your permission to ask the group and with or without your name?
Thanks for the response. I would definitely be ok with you bringing this question to your PLC group. I’d like to know if there is some way that I can be successful with TPRS in a textbook driven department. In yours and Blaine’s book, there are parts that talk briefly about using TPRS with textbooks, but are you now saying you no longer feel that is possible? I taught my first year last year using traditional methods and I really don’t want to go back to that. You can use my first name with your group if you wish.
On one level I feel that it “should” be possible to mix what we do with the text. But it has proven in reality, since Blaine and I wrote those books, to be impossible. When you actually go to do it, to blend the two approaches, it is in fact a mess. It makes sense – the book is miserably flawed in terms of real acquisition. It is a sham, a game of falseness built around memorization, which is most certainly not the way the brain learns languages. Therefore, if you work in the book model at say 50% and then 50% using comprehensible input, that would arguably be like putting the accelerator and the brakes on the car at the same time. It’ll just burn up the engine.
I do know that when I left the old method in the dust I never regretted it. At some point we have to state our truth to the world and come what may. Do we really believe that other teachers who are still caught up in methods used in the last century and who themselves are hanging by a very thin thread onto their own careers can be the bosses of us, our judges? Even if you have a bunch of tight assed traditional page turners looking over your shoulder, you must stand up for your truth. Otherwise, you pander to people who are soon to be removed from the playing field by the tsumani of change we are about to experience. That is my own response. I will ask the group as well, and get back to you.
Any responses from the group? Write them as comments below. I wish Harrell was back from Europe – this is his specialty. He rides his horse crushingly over questions like this and leaves no doubt what the correct response is. Still, this is a tough area and more than a few of us, bless our hearts, are in this situation right now, and we need some hope! I am in a safe district now, but I have not always been. So I hope we can get a discussion going on this not just for Andrew but for those in the group who are in similar situations.
by Ben Slavic
Since students of ESOL And EFL teachers don’t share the same native tongue, that general discussion may be a bit tangential to the general discussion here. And yet, there is agreement that CI can provide good things in this area for those in the group who are not World Language teachers.
So, I am making a new category for that discussion. If there are enough ESOL/EFL teachers in this group, perhaps we can invite some discussions on various topics that concern them from time to time and they can also act as points of reference for newcomers.
It seems so bizarre that ESOL/EFL teachers are not better served with meaningful discussion somewhere. So let’s make their presence more felt here, at least. Just because their student populations lack L1 homogeneity doesn’t mean we can’t fire up the discussion burners here.
I leave it to the group to get this going. We will call Katherine Burke the newly elected CEO of this group as it forms here in this PLC. David Young you are the VP in charge of whatever you want to be in charge of. There, authority in the new ESOL/EFL sandbox has been delegated.
by Ben Slavic
There are now 3,016 articles in this PLC venue with 13,097 comments dating back to 2007. That’s a lot of reading. So even though there is a lot in the queue, a few articles on Latin by John and some thoughts by Chris and also some focused stuff on how to start the year (yes, it’s coming) and some other things, I am going to just freeze the new stuff until NTPRS is over since I won’t even look at a computer this week.
Robert is doing it right. He is hopping around Europe and we haven’t heard from him in awhile. He’s resting. Why can’t we all learn to do that? But trust that when the year starts again Robert will be front and center helping us all become better teachers in the way that only he can, being a genius of sorts, honestly – I don’t know how else to say it.
Just go back and read some of the old stuff. You can search the categories or search using the search bar (probably the most efficient way if you know what you are looking for) or I know one person who is just reading backwards down each page by selecting “previous entries” and reading the ones that appeal to him as he moves back towards 2007, which may take awhile.
Anyway, hopefully we’ll have as much fun as we did in Breckenridge out there in Las Vegas. No barrelling down mountains at 43 miles an hours with Reuben and Bryce but I do hear that they have a nice desert out there. There is hard work to do out there like there was in Breck and we have to do it. My reflections on iFLT have not been submitted and may never be because I am engrossed in Huckleberry Finn right now.
And it doesn’t matter, because we all take from conferences what we are meant to take as individuals in our own efforts to become more ourselves through our vocation.
My learnings last week were ferocious because we learn most when we present to other teachers. Having folks like David Sceggel and others sit ther and knowing that they are part of this group really felt good when I was presenting. But David was watching my sessions not to learn to teach like I do, which can only work for me, but to draw from what he saw me do and make it his own. It’s that way with comprehensible input and I love that aspect of it.
The thing most on my mind right now is how slowly this stuff is actually absorbed by most folks. It is so hard to grasp, so different, so off the wall, really, in terms of what is currently done with grammar and computer technology by most teachers. After all these years we haven’t moved very far down the track. It’s certainly not going to be a sprint. We will need each other more than every this year, I feel.
Anyway, get your bios in! There are many who have not and I don’t know why they haven’t. I have tried to be clear about how we need to know each other a bit so we can trust each other more and get away from all these words and start using video more and getting more done so we can speed this work up.
For those who have sent their bios in, thank you! For those who sent one in but a long time ago, search it in the Group Members category and see if you want to update it and send it to me in an email and I will republish it so that the newer members can know more about you.
I do have some video of last week – I got everything on tape, or most of it – about seven hours, but when can I edit and do a voiceover commentary and then upload both versions so you can take your pick of which to watch? I do plan on taking some serious time off in early August after this second conference. So keep reading because the real discussion won’t start again until the real teaching starts in the fall.
Can’t wait to see many of our group tomorrow! Let what happens in Vegas not stay in Vegas, for the benefit of those who can’t make it – write your thoughts as comments below for those not able to attend.
The S.S. Comprehensible Input – Ramblings About the Fight
by Ben Slavic
Don’t read this article. It’s just ramblings from a tired old teacher whose imagination is running away with him:
Last week I felt the kinship of my colleagues as they all struggle, like me, trying hard on this ship of happy tomfoolery, laughing, falling, slipping, sliding, clutching, fearing, trusting, releasing, bringing in something new to schools, all of us just slaves pulling on long heavy ropes tied to a great, sparkling, majestic flying ship, the S.S. Comprehensible Input, with its cannon blazing, trying to keep the ship from floating away from us forever in spite of the intense winds blowing directly into our faces.
It is a big and powerful flying ship, the S.S. Comprehensible Input. It has over 900 published Krashen scrolls on it. It is looking to be released to real travel, real adventures. We look up at it, pulling hard on the ropes, trying to keep it from flying away, trying to keep it here, trying to give everybody time to get on board before we lose it. We need more ropes and more people hanging on them, pulling that big ship down to earth until the ship is actually ready to fly.
Stephen Krashen and Blaine and Susan and Jason and Diana yell down to us to keep pulling, but we can barely hear them in the storm. I look to my right and there are jen and Robert Harrell pulling down on their ropes next to me. I look in front of me and there are chill and Jim Tripp and Laurie. And, to my left, the Latin team with Bob Patrick and John Piazza yelling out shit in Latin, cursing in Latin with the sweat of centuries on their brow – an odd alliance indeed, given that all those Roman warriors were supposed to be dead, and yet here they are, with new armor on and even sharper swords twenty centuries later!
People are running around cursing in all kinds of different languages. The eyes of conquistadors of another kind squint in concentration – they look like teachers but that is false - they are conquistadors. Judy Dubois yells out curses in French about how being the only person trying to pull the ship down in an entirely petrified country is getting really old. Grant Boulanger yells from the North and we can barely hear him.
Somehow, the ship stays on the ground, more people grab ropes, the ship stays down on the ground for another day, time enough to see if any new people want to scramble on board and get up to find out what is going on from Blaine or Susie and help in some way. Krashen warms his hands around a cup of java, reflecting on how strange it has been that the storm never abated once in over thirty years, and is getting much worse!
Melissa Pierce lays unconscious on the ground, exhausted from being shot with the poisoned arrows of her colleagues at Arapahoe High School over the past five years. Maybe she will get back up in a few years and continue with her work of reaching the kids of the future. For now, she needs to heal.
I think I’ve had too much coffee this morning.