Targetless Instruction – 21

So we were talking about how lesson plans lead to less interesting classes in TPRS.

Canned TPRS lesson plans are based on insecurity about what is going to happen in the class. In that way, it kind of resembles life when it is too planned out – a bit stifling and devoid of any real interest.

We need serendipity and surprise in our TPRS classes. But many of us want those qualities without being willing to take the risk. The result is in effect to squeeze the life out of a story before it happens. It is not good for TPRSers to keep singing the same tired old TPRS song that new people need “rails” for their new CI train to travel down so that they don’t get lost. Thinking in that way has become a religion.

Since it is one that is based in fear and insecurity, I disagree with the planned approach. Far more often than we want, we must let our freak flags fly and in this work, even if other people don’t get us, or if we think that they might not want us to.

eSerendipity and surprise won’t ever happen in the teacher’s classroom, we will never get to the inner layers of the TPRS onion, until we curtail the targeting of structures in our TPRS classrooms.

Not only that, we will save a lot of time spent planning and have more time for ourselves, for our lives outside the classroom.

(to be continued)




16 thoughts on “Targetless Instruction – 21”

  1. As I grow into the profession and into the CI wonderland, I am targeting structures A LOT less. Using the ten minute rule today, I was able to get my students engaged in communication (albeit a little canned because of planning).

    My question is this: I use to have students always write the targeted structures for the lesson. Now I am just using what they know (staying in bounds) and using about 3 new structures that just POP up as we engage in conversation. Is that what we should be doing?

    Should I have them write it at the end as part of their vocabulary?

    My concerns are always to CYA during my probationary period. Unfortunately some fear creeps in. My wife offers me the best advice: BE HAPPY NOW, otherwise you will never be.

    It’s true. I truly want to UP my game by having my students engaged in communication.

    Last question: Are there any drawbacks (in terms of organization) to having different “new” spontaneous structures that pop up during stories and conversations for different periods. For example, today I had “He rides a bike” in one level 1 class but not in another LV1. I feel that if I had tried to fit it in another that the CI would seem too scripted/planned and “school-like” for the students.

    I need feedback on this.

    1. 1) …I use to have students always write the targeted structures for the lesson. Now I am just using what they know (staying in bounds) and using about 3 new structures that just POP up as we engage in conversation…

      Here’s a different perspective on the 3 structures. When you next teach, glance at your board mid-class. If you’ve established meaning of 3 new structures, it’s time to stop and park, or go to the word wall, or start reading something. You didn’t have to target those 3 things, but they’re also an indication that you’re about to go out of bounds. Perhaps it’s better to think of this as “once you GET to 3 structures, keep everything else in bounds.” Of course, some days it will be 2, and other days it will be 4, but there’s a good reason why people started getting “3 structures” in their head.

      2) …Should I have them write it at the end as part of their vocabulary?…

      I don’t think this does much good, but it’s definitely a CYA move, and might even make a few kids feel more comfortable (provided that they aren’t thumbing through a notebook during class just to respond to your yes/no question). I remember giving them a minute or two to write anything down IF they felt like it, but ultimately I never required it.

      3) …Are there any drawbacks (in terms of organization) to having different “new” spontaneous structures that pop up during stories and conversations for different periods?…

      Yes, that’s an organizational nightmare, but what Ben is pressing here is that we don’t have to be organized. You could talk about random stuff in every class, but over time all classes will have been using the same most frequent words because that happens naturally. It would only start to become an issue once you’ve moved beyond the most frequent words, which probably doesn’t occur in high school.

      In your example, there’s a chance that one class knows how to say “rides a bike,” and no one else ever uses that. When you get down to it, who cares how to say that anyway? If you’ve been talking naturally, all students will have been able to say “goes on ___” which should express the same point just fine. Now, if one class knows “has” and the rest don’t, you’re in trouble.

      1. Lance your advice in stopping when you get to three new wrote-em-on-the-board structures is right on in my book. That’s a great piece of advice.
        Also I think it is key to develop the ability to translate kids’ ideas into high frequency words that the class is alr wry “getting”. By getting I mean they get them when you say them. That you feel that feeling of they got this.

    2. My wife offers me the best advice: BE HAPPY NOW, otherwise you will never be

      You should stay married to her for, like, a long time.

      Last question: Are there any drawbacks (in terms of organization) to having different “new” spontaneous structures that pop up during stories and conversations for different periods. For example, today I had “He rides a bike” in one level 1 class but not in another LV1. I feel that if I had tried to fit it in another that the CI would seem too scripted/planned and “school-like” for the students.

      I think that is OK, because different classes have different personalities and interests. I think you are on the right track thinking about how off-putting it is to kids to have the class be too “school-like”.

      OK, how do I do this? My classes are very unscripted. What I do is really try to keep all conversation in bounds. If we need to go out of bounds, I think first, is there a way to stay in bounds and get this kid’s idea across? If there is no way to do so, then I severely limit the amount of new words that they get exposed to. So if we have already written two or three things on the board, I will just kind of ignore their idea or translate it into “high-frequency-ese”.

      Example: Kid says that the hamburger was really nasty, bloody, and rare. I say “La hamburguesa era feo y no era una hamburguesa deliciouso” thereby giving the SPIRIT of their idea and still using vocab that they have already acquired.

      I feel that the MOST IMPORTANT thing is for us to use as many of the top 100 or top 200 (in more advanced classes) words as possible and therefore give our kids the ability to acquire the backbone of the language. It takes a commitment to limit the amount of vocab and do some thinking in the moment of “Is this high-frequency?”

      If there are a few words that are unique to each class, they can still be embedded in a supportive mesh of HF words and everyone will just keep humming along acquiring HF words. I have really focused on this in my classes and we can still talk about a lot of cool stuff. I tell the kids a LOT “No soy un diccionario” when they ask me “cómo se dice” whatever cool vocab they want.

      If you look at HF word lists you will see that even words like cat, dog, pet, house, family…they are not in the top 100. I would study, study those HF word lists. I have been very surprised this year to see how much can be done with these words. I am a firm believer in giving my kids “athletic” words, especially verbs, with unsheltered grammar (i.e. whatever tense is needed) so they can start putting these together to express their own meaning.

      Mayne this helps, maybe not… if not let me know and I will try to give you more advice. I am glad to read that you are finding your way to more un-schooly and more authentic communication with the kids. How exciting to read that in a first-year teacher!!! I can’t imagine where you will be this time next year!

      I started my whole career with TPRS and never taught a day out of the book under my own volition (my current eighth graders are a special case, I guess) so to me, finding untargeted CI seems to be like the “conversion story” many of my formerly-traditional colleagues have about letting go of the books and starting with TPRS. I do not have a shiny conversion story because I came out of grad school committed to TPRS…but I do have a conversion story about when I decided to let go of the controls, about October of this here school year. It is kind of like when Luke closes his eyes when flying his X-Wing fighter and blows up the Death Star. Could he have blown it up with his eyes open, on the targets? Maybe not.

      I have found such joy and connection in teaching this way, and kids are loving it. They literally know that I am their conduit, that I will take their cool ideas and make them comprehensible in L2 for their peers, and let them shine and be witty and feel like they are running the slow. You can just ground yourself in the top 100 or 200 words and then go play with your cool new blocks. There are so many things you can build with this backbone and just judiciously add special words into the batter.

        1. I have those same faults in French AND Spanish — go figure. Anyway, thanks for explaining the HF process that you use in your classes.

  2. What dictates the answer to your question, Steven, is whether or not you are OBLIGATED to keep all your classes on the same page at the same time. I teach 8 classes a day across 4 levels, and we seldom do exactly the same structures. But we do follow a very loose quick and dirty structure list that’s kind of cherry picked from the novels we do in 3rd and 4th grade. Basically we looked at those words in the glossary and said, ‘oh, I didn’t get to that last year, so I’ll write it on the list to try to make sure I work it in before the spring when we read.’
    The only accountability I have to this list is the 2x yearly Cornerstone assessments, which I’m told were introduced to help us have something for the upcoming [misguided] PERA law, linking student progress with teacher evaluations. My colleagues and I get together and write the cornerstones based on this structure list. We may say, “I haven’t gotten to ‘se despierta’ yet. I’ll do that before February for the Cornerstone.”
    If you don’t have anyone to prove yourself to at that fine level of detail (which structures with which class/grade/section) then LET IT GO! Let the stories run the ship! If you are accountable, let the stories run the ship anyway, making sure everyone gets whatever you’ve committed to…and the extras are what customizes each class!

  3. There is planning that is based in fear and insecurity, and then there is planning that is like a comfy house where you can find the things you need and it’s easy to rest or work there. I think that for those of us who like to plan or who are still new enough that we need to plan, or whose departments require a degree of planning, can find ways to to it that allow for just as much spontaneity and sometimes can provide jumping-off points for it. Some planning holds a frame that can be comforting, like holding a story script in your hand, for both teacher and student mental health. Lately I’ve been enjoying writing stuff for students to read. I write about what’s going on in school, or write out stories that they have told me, or just make stuff up. Lately I’m into coming up with cliffhangers for them to make up endings. Then we can read and spin off from that and it’s much easier for me sometimes then making stories up with them in class. Personally I’m not sure if it’s so much about planning versus no planning, as much as it is about communicative versus canned or pre-programmed language use.

    1. I totally agree with the “comfy” planning. I was spooked by my dept. chair who was nitpicking in my class and commenting on the importance of writing objectives, following the book and testing the kids. My principal backed me up and said that not all teachers should be the same. He also said that he wants me to stay (I suspect he knows that I was also offered a full time Spanish job at my other site).

      So there is really no accountability except that the students are happy taking my class and that there are no parent calls about me. My evaluations are more like dialogues on a Google Doc, so I can comment about pedagogical decisions. I got an awesome job.

  4. Hey Ben…was there some video that you posted recently that came after the Pringles Man? I think I missed it…can you re-post? Also, were you going to make a heading category for us to share curriculum, starting with something that Alisa shared? Is that up? If so, where?

  5. Angie love your points above about planning. So well clarified.

    Yeah the video is getting to be a big mess in my computer. Since every class is now flowing and easy, I am videotaping almost every story I do and sending it to a 2TB drive in case I can share at least some of it here after my return from India. But there is so much videotape that I am getting confused. But yes I actually put up some stuff on Naruto today. Not great stuff, just kind of what I do now, how it’s all evolved for me in terms of putting my mental health in front of the CI instruction. I hope that answers your second question.

    Thanks for the reminder on the curriculum hard link. I had asked Trevor to create that since he is the only one with the keys to that room but he may have forgotten. I’ll get back to him. Maybe Alisa can resend those golden docs from Winnetka since I’m not sure I can find them again in my computer, which currently resembles a garbage bin on the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie.

    Maybe Alisa would be kind enough to re-share them and then we can make a push for similar docs up on that new hard link, and we can grab stuff and make our lives a ton easier. It’s crazy not to do that because we have people re-inventing the wheel here all the time due to those silly requests we get from sillier people in our building who have nothing better to do.

  6. I’ll definitely resend the Wiggins-McTighe (Learning by Design; Backwards Design gurus) district World Language KUDs – (Knows, Understands, Does) from work this week. It’s similar to a Scope & Sequence ‘cept it really doesn’t reflect any sequence, and since our ‘curriculum is ’emergent’ it’s not our true scope:} Nevertheless, it get the adminz’ box checked, though, and may allow you and your colleagues to dedicate your WL dept meetings to comparing notes on a common doc. For us it helped guide the writing of obligatory common assessments that our hearts are definitely NOT in, but allowed us to get it done without tarrying too much.

  7. Regarding planning – I totally get Ben’s point about over-planning/safely sticking to your plan as sucking the improvisational excitement & air outta the room.
    That said, newer/less experienced teachers experimenting with and transitioning to The New Way might just have the gumption to persevere knowing they have such a crutch. The crutch allows us to practice the foundational skills (circumlocution to stay in-bounds; circling/getting reps on key hi-frequency chunks; point & pause; slow; comp checks; barometer kid, etc.) until we’ve incorporated them into our bodies and brains. This cannot be overstated. Now, it’s easy for me to look at ANY material – a book, a picture, a song, a poem, a student’s idea or trinket, and spin language, as though from a genie’s lamp. It requires circumlocution to stay in bounds. It requires facial expression, gesturing, PQA, incorporating props, student ‘Ups’ (TPR) – so many layers and ways to get reps that don’t feel repetitive (Carol Gaab).
    I was so thankful for having Cuéntame (Carol Gaab’s elementary/novice Spanish curriculum) at the beginning of my journey. It was there for me like an old friend. I learned so much about how to layer on the input in novel ways by exploring those materials. I only really used them with regularity for a few months, though there are some stories in there that I LOVE and will definitely return to. I am inspired to go totally unscripted and follow the energy as though my class is a giant improv game or class. But sometimes I want & need to flip open a book to page 37 and land on a great story that someone else already mapped out, and gather some props and ask some questions.
    And sometimes when I’m going rogue and the kids are totally driving the story, it’s just too much vomiting and fart sounds, even for me.

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