I wrote that Language of the Trees post after observing and coaching our WL Department Chair Zach Al Moreno last week with a group of sixth grade beginners in Spanish.
As he taught, Zach gave me insight into the true nature of what we want from the TPRS skills. As he worked with his students, I could see that all the TPRS skills like Circling and Teaching to the Eyes and SLOW are just camouflaged attempts at finding ways to build connection in our classroom. What does that mean?
Watching Zach work, I could see that he is already a master of TPRS with both the personality and the skill set for great story telling, but maybe could explore the idea of building – via the TPRS skill set that we talk about at the conferences – what one could call a “web of connectedness” (like the one described in the grove of trees image), a web that exists between the teacher and the students, between the “big tree” that we are and the younger trees, but really between everybody in the TPRS classroom including observers. Wouldn’t that be nice?
It is that awareness of each other, the silent awareness, connected by what the French call “un tissu langagier” – a tissue of language – that is what we really want with the skills. We think we want the skills and strategies, so we go to the workshops and the conferences to get them, but what we really want is the connectedness with our students and likewise between students described in the grove of tree image. That’s what we really want.
Since we are the “big tree”, we must make sure that we do what we do in real groves of trees in the woods is first and foremost to guarantee the safety of the younger trees. We have to guarantee that they get enough water and sunlight, that they have enough room to grow, and when ready to glow (to share) on a moonlit summer night, we need to make sure that we are emotionally ready to hear them, and not just to pay attention to our boring (to them) teacher selves trying so hard, so hard, to be funny, to find funny.
Funny doesn’t exist unless they get to play.
So the big tree has to make sure that they have a safe enough place for them to one day start speaking, start sharing, to find their voice in the group, to express themselves in the group knowing that they have heard enough language to be able to do that and knowing that their teacher has made the classroom into an emotionally safe enough place – a grove of trees on a summer evening – to do that.
This is very good news indeed for our group. For such a long time we have been looking for water (CI) and sunlight (CI) and space (CI) in our classrooms, and we have mistaken the TPRS skills as taught at workshops and conferences for those things. We want something greater than those skills. We want a group of learners that works – that’s what John Piazza wants when he brings up Socratic circles here from time to time because his mind is always way outside the box on this stuff.
We cannot get what we want in this work without first building real human communication into our group and not just being a teacher. There is no teacher in a really good conversation between friends.
So my new definition of human communication is awareness of each other in the classroom and that is what I will working towards in my future work with CI.
There are many ways to deliver CI, to build authentic communication in a classroom, but we need to become aware, as I am suggesting to Zach – and to myself as well because I have a million miles to go on this, we all do – that the real CI is not just delivering to our class a story that our students can understand, but something far more than that – awareness of each other, like in the grove of trees on a summer night.