Chris on PQA/BSITL

In this article Chris comments on PQA and on a term made by James – BSITL – Bullshit in the Target Language:

When I first heard of “PQA” I took it literally and I asked repetitious, boring “personalized” questions to and about students.  If it wasn’t for being mentored by Ben, that’s what I’d still be doing and it would be awful and it would probably be more fun to go back to the textbook.  Since I took the leap to looking at it as BSITL, my class is much more lively……….actually, too lively because everybody wants to one-up each other on the creative answers.  And since I”ve begun looking at it as BSITL, I actually dislike doing stories now.  I’d rather BS the entire period, letting the CI just flow instead of doing a story which is always hit-or-miss.  I’m really starting to understand now why so many people are calling this method TCI rather than TPRS.  TPRS is just something that fits under the wide TCI umbrella.  Teri Wiechart, here in Ohio, always tells people at workshops that they don’t have to do stories………and it’s completely true.  I’m at the point where I just don’t like stories right now.  Maybe after another workshop or two I’ll change my tune and I”ll be gung ho over stories again but as of right now I’d rather just let the CI flow and see where it goes.   I actually really like Ben’s idea of a novel and PQA/BSITL based classroom.  In my level one, we’ve been doing a boat load of reading lately.  I could do reading everyday for the rest of the year but I know that’s not the best idea as there are some things I have to make sure they can do before they go to level 2.  I probably won’t go back to stories in my level 1 class this year though because they can’t handle it.  I only have one or two who are kind of behavior “problems” but it’s really just that my level one class is a high school credit class in middle school and it’s basically seen as an “honors class” here so it’s a bunch of serious 4%ers who are too serious for stories.

To get kids to BS, I just tell them that lying is encouraged in Spanish class.  That may or may not work in others’ classes depending on the relationships you have with students.  Saying that “lying is encouraged” may not be the best word choice for some, but it works for me.

Here is a related article from 2009 on this topic: https://benslavic.com/blog/2009/04/19/zipless-tprs-5/

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25 thoughts on “Chris on PQA/BSITL”

    1. Chris,

      Today as I was doing PQA for a story I came out totally thinking about what you said in this post. And I totally agree with what you said:

      “And since I”ve begun looking at it as BSITL, I actually dislike doing stories now. I’d rather BS the entire period, letting the CI just flow instead of doing a story which is always hit-or-miss. I’m really starting to understand now why so many people are calling this method TCI rather than TPRS.”

      I went in a little nervous not knowing how I was going to PQA:
      Il faut qu’elle aille ( she has to go in the subjunctive form)
      and
      viens ici tout de suite ( come here immediately)

      The fear I was feeling turned very soon into so much fun. Why? Because I remembered what Ben always says that we have to trust the method and be in the moment and let the kids who have so much genious guide me , blindfolded into the land of the imaginary.

      So Marek had to go to the casino after school b/c he had to make some money to bail out Pauvre Romin in jail.
      Anne who is normally such a serious student had to go to detention on Saturday at Hogwarts for hitting me ( her French teacher)
      and on and on… It will probably sound boring to you reading it but being here and living it was exhilarating… I wish I had it on film.

      What looked like such a hard structure to circle became an easy and so much fun structure to play with .

      Ben YOU ARE SO RIGHT, we have to trust the moment. We can’t prepare for this. Let the kids row the boat, they are sooo much better than we’ll ever be.

      As for the 2nd structure:
      I started asking them to come here while singing/ clapping / dansing . Then it turned into come here right away while imitating such and such . They imitated me and their classmates with such creativity and we had so much laughter…
      How could I ever teach any other way??

      So now I m nervous that the story we’ll do tomorrow won’t live up to the creativity and fun we had in the the PQA , but who cares b/c I know they got those structures down to path and can hear them and recognize them with their eyes closed b/c they were so engaged and their LAD was doing its unconscious work…..

      So Chris and Ben you are so right, there is untapped power in PQA. Stories may be overrated and the power lies in PQA.

      Enough of me rambling, I wish you all to have fun with your kids today!

      1. Sabrina, what an awesome day you had. I’m wondering, since your PQA provided so much variety – why not turn those ideas into a story? It sounds to me like there is much food for thought here.

        1. Brigitte,

          The PQA was for a story I wrote. Can’t wait to try it out with my kids tomorrow. If it s a good one , I’ll give it to Ben to post on the blog so other teachers can try it out if they want!
          Wish me luck.

          1. You rocked it. This is wonderful. Now I’m just repeating what Brigitte said. We talk about extending PQA into a story. Sometimes there is enough power there in the PQA for that to happen, as with this class. So do what Brigitte says. Take the facts from the PQA today and mash them into the story. See what happens. Thanks for that point Brigitte. It’s doesn’t happen much. Sabrina you will need to do some longer PQA tomorrow before starting the story to refresh their minds. That is why blocks are idea for this kind of work.

          2. Sabrina, you don’t need our luck – you always rock! And yes, I’m sure we’d all love to read your story.

          3. Brigitte, you are so sweet. Thank you .
            And thank you for the advice on incorporating the PQA info into the story, it became clear after reading Ben ‘s comment. I’ve not done that before so I ‘ll try it today if I don’t chicken out.

            Brigitte I remember you saying you also use a person to do all the signing gestures. Do you still do that?
            After Ben watched my video he commented to the effect that kids can’t attend to too many things at once, and focusing on the language is hard enough as it is. I kind of agree so I am thinking of dropping that job all together. What do you do in regards to that?

            Hope you have a great teaching day, yeah its March already!

          4. Actually, yes, I have dropped that job from the list. It was getting way too confusing and I always had to stay on top of the kid to do the gestures because they themselves were absorbed in comprehending (or trying to) what was going on during PQA. That was another one of those things where a trial was found to be an error :-).
            Yeah, can’t believe it’s March already – time is going by way too fast!

          5. Thank you Brigitte.
            You are right it is all about trial and error. I will drop that job as well as of today!

  1. My two cents again. Unless a teacher is really skilled at keeping the b.s. “in bounds”, this can go to the bad place fast. I think of this as an advanced skill, not a beginning one. The need for comprehension checks with the lower third of your class becomes paramount. The fast processors and the fluent speaker (teacher) love this stuff.

    Maybe, I’m just reacting to the name you’ve given it. Most new/non CI teachers will understand the term B.S. to mean what it means in the regular world–sitting around talking about random stuff–not a “cool” way to mean PQA which is not random. Am I missing something?

  2. No, Jody you are not missing a thing. BS realy is a mastery skill, not a beginning skill. The reason I think that this is true is that when you have no target structures, which were, years ago, very accurately also called guide words, you will indeed go fast to the bad place, where the CI train runs off the tracks at high speed onto the desert sands and tumples over.

    Been there done that. Why did it happen? I was out of bounds on the kids. Out of bounds – bad, very bad. In bounds – good.

    It is only Chris’ real talent that allows him to do this. And so I agree emphatically that he should not use the term with new, less capable, teachers. Training new teachers is something that I suck at and I am starting to see why. It is so complex and new teachers need clearly spelled out instructions, much more so than we have any idea.

    Hanging around with the black belts on this site has made him lose vision of what is really out there – a national FL teaching corps made up of freaked teachers who are just now beginning, bc of things like the 90% Use Statement, to see that they will now have to grasp and use CI instruction in their classrooms or eventually lose their jobs, all in the next five to ten years in my opinion.

    We had this conversation last nite in fact at a downtown bar – Diana, Paul, Joe and me. We got heavy into it. Training new people, esp. if they are skeptical and don’t want to release their clutch on the textbook, is so hard and using a term like BSITL would only make them want to run out of the room.

    I might add that there were other DPS teachers there last nite and one from Cherry Creek, which is a traditional district using a 1950’s model right now, who told us that nobody in the district, nobody, does anything, anything, with CI. So that is what is happening now and Chris doesn’t want to walk into that buzzsaw. Only one person can do that and emerge unscathed – Susan Gross.

    On another note, Jody you occupy a unique position, due to your vast experience and intellectual curiosity, of being a kind of gadfly on this site when we say stupid things here. Just say it, make the correction and don’t apologize. You have been right on every sensitive point every raised here. Just keep doing it. You have saved me from walking over the cliff while I stared at the sky many times, Tarot Fool that I am.

    You’re not missing anything. Keep keeping us in line.

  3. I just re-read the two comments above and want to reiterate Jody’s point here, bc it is so crucial:

    …unless a teacher is really skilled at keeping the b.s. “in bounds”, this can go to the bad place fast….

    It’s so true. The CI train runs on tracks. Stay in bounds. Bullshit all you want, but stay in bounds, go slowly, etc. Those key skills are:

    Stay in bounds (keeps it comprehensible).

    Demand choral group answers (is the only way I know if they know – the finger comprehension checks don’t work bc the kids lie).

    Stay Slow (makes it comprehensible).

    Never ask a PQA question or make a statement without at least one of the target structures for that day in it.

    Try to keep things in the vortex. When the circling gets to the bottom of the vortex, I leave it or bring in a new character or event from the sides. (A vortex is where you circle your way around down into the tornado like structure until it gets too tight to keep circling and so you have to leave it or bring in a new character or event from the sides).

    Don’t leave a structure until you feel that the class has brought it into “auditory focus”.

    1. The concept of “auditory focus” fascinates me. I have been lucky to experience my students “getting it” in this way a few times now. Totally and radically and almost scandalously different than what it felt like teaching with grammar-based methods. It’s one of those things I could read a whole book about, even though I know it all comes down to a “gut feeling” and getting those structures to go “ka-thunk.”

  4. You can see it in their eyes. It’s almost as if you say a word chunk, it goes whisping into their ears, and, instead of going on, you wait until the sound goes all the way into their brains and then shows up visible in their eyes. Once you see that recognition, you know you can go on. It’s a lot slower process than when we teach without being aware of auditory recognition.

  5. I love that term: a class bringing a structure into auditory focus. I see it as the “entry level” of getting it–if getting it means acquisition. It is a beautiful collective, “yeah-h-h, we starting to get it” kind of thing. I really like that you have coined this phrase. I believe it’s something we should be looking for with the “whole class”, not just our fast processors. The concept is one of those “fine line” things. I don’t want to take the process into hyper-conscious learning, but I want the kids to have an awareness that they know what something means. Fine line.

    I don’t know whose post I was just reading, but I was aware once again how easy it is for me, the teacher, to hear a fast processor say something in the TL and believe the majority of the class has “got it” because the fast processors are with me. Wish I could say I don’t fall into that trap because I’m so experienced, but that would be a big, fat lie. Checking those barometer kids’ comprehension (not their output) will tell me if the beautiful auditory focus thing has begun to happen.

    You slowed me down once again, Mr. Slavic.

    1. Jody,

      you write;

      “but I was aware once again how easy it is for me, the teacher, to hear a fast processor say something in the TL and believe the majority of the class has “got it” because the fast processors are with me”.

      I think its easy for a teacher to fall into that trap no matter how much experience they have. It s so rewarding for a teacher to see in the kids eyes they are getting it, or better yet that they can output naturally.

      We can aim to teach to the entire class though, but can we deliver on that promise? really ? I would be dishonest to claim or even think I bring 100% of my student on the CI train. There are kids I can’t convince to get on board, no matter what I do.
      They are just :
      not willing
      not ready
      not motivated
      or worse hungry and depressed.

      1. In my view it’s not what they’re not, but what they are, in the sense that they are bewildered by life. And then we want them to jump on our train each day bright and happy and ready to interact with us. So it’s about the quality of the CI we deliver.

        Comprehension based instruction has not worked in over 90% of the classrooms it has been tried in. The learning curve, because it involves the heart, has been too steep for many. They can’t imagine creating a heart/mind based atmosphere in the classroom bc they never experienced one themselves and they only became language teachers bc they were good at manipulation of grammar rules, etc.

        So those kids who are in so-called CI classrooms, but ones that allow noise, blurting, etc. are not going to get the training in becoming real, and doing real human interaction with the teacher bc the teacher can’t do it with them. So the onus of responsibility for the head down, lifeless response to our lessons is fully on the teacher.

        I would not respond to treatment given by an idiot doctor, and our kids only look not willing, not ready or not motivated because our lessons don’t have the qualities of engagement that real CI instruction brings. And why is that? Not bc we lack the talent to make our lessons engage those kids who are not willing, but bc we haven’t learned how to do it yet.

        Will this work with comprehension based instruction work to reach those kids? It’s fully up to us. Can we get through the learning curve? I don’t know. All we can do is keep at it.

        That’s what I’ve done and I still learn huge new discoveries every day, and make huge errors every day. For twelve years. Anyone think it’s too hard? Are we that stuck in our minds? Is this work simply too hard? Or is it too hard to make work in schools bc we don’t have motivated adults (easy) but kids in schools (very hard)?

        1. and ultimately…we have no control over other people. We have no control over the future. What we have is now. The students that we now have. We alone make the choice about how to teach them every day. What we do each moment matters in their lives, matters to them. It is not ours to know how it turns out. I know that I have sent this to Jody, but in case the rest of you have never seen it…http://crs-blog.org/oscar-romero-and-the-long-view/

          It doesn’t matter that we are not as good as we will be some day…or even as good as we might be today under different circumstances. Those worries are not based in reality.

          Here. Now. What we can do. Forgive ourselves. Honor others.

          Do it again Monday-Friday. Really, that is all that there is.
          Teaching is a prayer.
          with love,
          Laurie

          1. Related to this idea is this passage from The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis:

            One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes I our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather in oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real – though of course an unconscious – difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

            Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants – “sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own”. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

            Or this from The Weight of Glory
            “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

          2. …it occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek….

            Odd that what Lewis calls learning Greek is not something I call learning Greek. He talks about the need to buckle down and work. Lewis is a four percenter. The new breed of teachers of Greek and Latin have finally shown up. What is the banner they carry? Trust and lightheartedness. Accessibility of the Classics to all who would want it, via comprehension based instruction, via the Net. Or people can just learn Latin or Greek because it’s fun. I think that what Lewis is saying in that passage is that we have to be on our guard, and I get that, but my take on the entire thing, from the point of view of the work we are doing now, is that we just need to relax now. I’ve thought about what traditional teachers (if I may interpolate your intent in sharing the above quotes, Robert) have done to kids as they continue to patrol the streets of Four Percent City is something I personally need to quit giving energy. For me it has more to do with relaxing and trusting and leaving them alone. I’m doing my best as a teacher. That’s enough. Is that response even connected to your intent above?

          3. Yes, it is. There were a couple of points to be made. One is in the second quote – we deal daily in our classes with people (students) whose final end is beyond our imagining, either in terms of glory or horror, and all day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. We are not dealing with lumps. The first quote was sort of an introduction to that – we see from a certain perspective, the “outer man”, but don’t see the full reality laid out in time and eternity. So our everyday view is incomplete. (Just as Screwtape’s “patient” saw his neighbours, not the Church spread out through time and space and eternity.)

            The other point was for us teachers – we get excited about TCI/TPRS when we first encounter it at a workshop or conference, but how many are able to sustain it through the “dryness” of honing our skills until we reach the stage of truly being able to “read Homer” and enjoy our students for who they are. Specific example: Greg is going through the initial phase of enchantment; we need to help him again later to get through the period of “dryness” when the teachers around him, the students in his class (some of them) and the administration make what he is doing a matter of “slogging through” and keeping on because he knows it’s right, not because it’s easy.

            And yes, it also has to do with what grammar-driven instruction has done to our curriculum and our students.

          4. Wonderful clarification. I like this especially:

            …and enjoy our students for who they are….

            We have one of the few jobs out there where it is possible to really love what we do and be happy.

            Our jobs as language teachers, with the heart communication in place that is fully part of what language has the potential to develop, can indeed be glorious.

            I was initially put off by the term “horror” but upon reflection I see that it does describe education as we have known it for so long. All stuck in the head, thinking, thinking each day instead of laughing, which softens our hearts. The Patrollers of Four Percent City really have been prison guards. They see us as enemies. It is a horrible situation. When our hearts get involved, which is what comprehension based instruction brings, the horror recoil and hide.

          5. Beautiful Robert…thank you. It’s almost a guide for life written for language teachers. (and everyone else)

            with love,
            Laurie

    2. Dude I don’t have time now but sometime this weekend will share Clapper 2 with you. It responds to the point you make about slow and about full group response and full group focus.

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