Circling with Balls Q and A – 3

Q. Are the sports balls necessary? What about those kids who ski, dance, skateboard, etc. where getting props for those sports into a classroom is difficult? Also, what about the students who do activities that don’t involve athletics at all, like reading?

A. The original reason I created Circling with Balls was for those physically rambunctious athletic types who, in eighth grade especially, can’t even stay in their seats. Many teachers have run into immediate problems by ignoring such students. I need to tame them immediately in the first days of class. So I start things off on the first day of school by holding a football in my hands and engaging them in the TL about their interest in football. I use the football as a carrot, dangling it in front of him, pretending to be about to give it to him, then withdrawing it. It is very much like taming an animal. My goal is to control the dialogue with that student before he even thinks about trying to control it with me. During this time I teach the student the rules and everybody learns them by seeing them modeled. The whole thing can take up to an entire class period with that one kid.

So of course we don’t need props when doing this activity. The balls are just there to deal with potential trouble makers. With other kids, we can just say that Jenny reads or that Jeff skates without props. As long as we can convey the image of reading a book with our hands or through physical motions with an imagined skate board, we don’t need the real props. Everything we do when we use comprehensible input is based on conveying meaning in whatever way we can.

That said, I sometimes (depending on the student) actually encourage skaters to bring in their boards. Anything we can do to break the monotony for them, to at least hit the pause button on the vice grip of school as separate from their real lives, we should do. I encourage dancers to dance. I always compare singers and dancers to me. I tell them that I also sing and dance and am very good at it. I tell them that I am the best at those things. I actually model how good I am at those activities. With my bad, almost comical singing and dancing, I break through the ice and that one little thing I do in August can propel us forward in good will and humor all year. It is not easy for me to dance in front of kids but I do it anyway, because I am a risk taker in my classroom. I also tell them that I am very good at cheerleading. I actually have learned two cheers from the University of Rochester that I do in class. That once got two bored looking eighth grade cheerleaders out of their seats because they thought I was serious. But the point is that, even if we use a little bit of English in these moments, we sometimes need to take risks to propel our students out of the role that many of them have assumed in schools as mere cardboard cutouts of human beings in our classes. That’s worth getting laughed at.

Q. I’m not sure that I could do that!

A. Please be clear that I am describing things here that I have done. I repeatedly say, and this is such a wonderful thing to be able to say, that there is no one way to teach using comprehensible input based methods. We share ideas and take the ones we want and try things and some work and some don’t and that is how all this works. It is a kind of ongoing process of growth and experimentation and not some method that you learn and then you’re done.



4 thoughts on “Circling with Balls Q and A – 3”

  1. Risk taking…

    I have never thought of myself as a risk taker, but I have consistently searched for a better me, the teacher. I cannot truly do it in front of a large group or my colleagues (right now), but I have rarely felt at risk in front of my kids. For some reason, and I have no idea how it has been created, I have felt safe in front of my students. I can act silly, sing horribly (even though I actually can sing), dance like a granny, or over exaggerate situations.

    I think more than anything, you play up your strengths. I am not sure I can circle with balls. but I feel confident that I could do a basic PQA. I am hoping to start this way and use the information for stories later. I attended Bryce Hedstrom’s workshop “La Persona Especial” (Special Person) and it made me think. I had already done something like PQA for the past 10 years.

    Small steps. What is it that Ben wrote in his book TPRS in a Year? Brick by brick.

  2. It’s raining here in Denver this morning (rare) and yet in reading the spirit, the intent in the above comment, it brightens my day so much. That there is the way to go about approaching this work. We can do it and we will do it. We have 180 x 5 = 900 chances to practice this year. Or we could just teach grammar. Thank you for writing that. It is the essence of what this group is about – risk taking.

  3. I happened on a new way to do CWB. I think it was Cynthia Hitz’s blog that suggested writing to kids before the semester started, asking for pictures.

    Now that we have access to emails before the year starts, I did just that, asking both students and parents for pictures. I put every picture I get into a big group PPT, and we scroll through the PPT, asking whether this kid or that one is in class, what their names are if someone knows them, and what they like (based on the pictures). Then when we do get to a picture of a kid from class, we zero in and ask a bunch of questions. I’m really liking this. I might be able to do quizzes with the PPT more easily than I do without.

    Weirdly, my beginners are trying to speak in sentences, since they’re so inspired by the pictures. One said that she doesn’t like to kill zombies, but she likes to kill moose. (We have a picture of one kid seemingly killing a zombie.)

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