Targetless Instruction – 20

Two of the biggest things that make a story interesting to the kids in a TPRS class are the elements of suspense and surprise. But if the one directing the story, asking the questions, making those split second decisions about where to take things during the creation of the story already knows what is coming, has prepared all that in advance, then those those elements are gone, and with them, any hope of really engaging the kids.

On the other hand, if the teacher does not know where things are going, then the students are free to enjoy the feeling of suspense as surprise people and events continue to make their way into the story as it is being created. When that happens, the difference in the quality of the story is enormous.

Yesterday a story about a character made up by the kids whose name is Mr. Positive contained elements that never could never have happened had I known where the story was going, had anything been planned in advance, had I been following some kind of lesson plan, and had I even known that I would be working with Mr. Positive that day!

Had I known those things, the story would not have been interesting to me, and if it’s not interesting to me, it can’t be interesting to the kids. My questioning would have lacked that intangible quality that marks really fun stories.

It makes me think of this quote:

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life

This is just a corollary to the above. We need to ASK THEM what they want to talk about before we start talking. This is as per Star of the Week. Why not ask THEM what questions they want to be asked. It’s not that hard to do and the results are fantastic. Just given them time to tell us what they want to be asked. Duh.

(to be continued)

 

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15 thoughts on “Targetless Instruction – 20”

  1. The unscripted Invisibles are a superior form of creativity. Creativity helps make more lasting connections between what we know and new language we hear. I’m so happy something as weirdly creative as the Invisibles exists.

    My high school kids (French only-sadly, I can’t do this with ESL for the moment) like the Invisibles, but they love Twitter for the same reasons Ben mentioned above: they direct the stories and shape the conversation. They tweet about the “cutest” things in their world or moments in their day they want to talk about. I plan lessons (kind of) just based on their posts: I plan a (tentative) script; I plan what props and or texts I might need or what words are essential and related to the tweet, but students always end up taking over with the story. I’ve only been at this for a month or so, and we have some uninspired days where we use my script, but for the most part, it’s working: they are leading the creative direction of the stories.

    However we do it, we have to get away from fill-in-the-blank scripts and let kids create. Ben’s suggested changes regarding targets and circling have made it easier to leave behind rigid scripts where all students contribute is a celebrity name or a place. It’s not cerebral; there’s less higher-order thinking and less of a feeling of ownership, which affects student buy-in. It’s not really authentic to who my kids are and the ideas they create, and they know it.

    I loved the poem Ben shared, particularly the part where Hugo finds his daughter’s doodles- they become cherished memories. I’m committed to asking my children for something that is uniquely theirs, even if it’s not perfect.

      1. It won’t work for every group. But these kids have really gotten into it. Today, a girl was bragging about how she had a really cute idea for a tweet and she was being coy and said “It’s something cute, but you’ll never guess.” So I pretended to be intrigued, sat her down in a chair in the middle of the circle and didn’t let her up until we figured it out. Each question asked, answered, written real time and projected, read and re-read here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByQFj4OuxTXlOEthdWViaktSTUE/view?usp=sharing

        We asked yes/no questions and we did go out of bounds, but having the text on the board made the cognates easier to recognize: C’est une personnne? C’est un objet? C’est de plastique? C’est de la technologie?” These words would have been incomprehensible if they had not been written and spoken simultaneously. Kids had to reference the list to guess at what the person or thing was, using the preceding clues. Some days, I lose some kids on the re-writes, but today I saw all eyes glued to the screen as we wrote. We didn’t get to Twitter, but kids did get to share one special thing or person they loved, (and feel rather clever sometimes) and used higher order thinking to evaluate text, apply knowledge, and draw conclusions. They didn’t feel like they got hit with a Bloom’s Taxonomy Mac Truck, though. They loved it. Stories, Twitter, whatever works to get kids leading the discussion.

        1. Claire,

          Way to maintain/establish good relationships with your students. I’m curious about you going out of bounds. My experience is that EVEN when an out-of-bounds word is a cognate, students still need the reps and they would still count in the “3 new words” limit. I can do better with this as well.

          I have a bone to pick with Bloom’s as well as Webb’s depth of knowledge. Ben had previously posted and I agree that because language acquisition is abstract and complex it simply cannot be evaluated through the same cognitive lens that math and English teachers use. Bloom’s uses a hierarchy and places understanding at the bottom. Yet simple understanding is a complex cognitive process in L2. Using Bloom’s for evil, a teacher can force output and reach the “Creating” level or a teacher can spend time with “creating” a poster with some isolated vocabulary words can not focus on providing CI. I had made my own evaluation of the system when it was used during my credential program.

          Though most profs in my program encouraged using Webb’s DOK — That’s a whole other comment thread but again it does not respect the complex cognitive processes that the brain goes through while acquiring language. I would LOVE a design that is friendly for our work. Maybe Krashen could design one.

          My only interest with Blooms is the affective domain. It could be of use to us to “gauge” or reflect on student progress and more importantly our own lessons/instruction with TPRS/CI.

          You also wrote:

          “whatever works to get kids leading the discussion..” Whoa, is this AP or French 5? I ask because I guide discussions and ask interesting questions for my middle school French 1 class. When doing a targetless story, they merely use single word answers sometimes in English but I am the one guiding the story.

          1. “Creating” from Bloom’s, I believe, is happening all the time in TPRS classes. Students are contributing their real ideas to a whole narrative. They are not passive, but are using their understanding and adding to the class “product” (the story).

            It doesn’t matter how much they can speak yet; if they added an idea, they are being creative.

  2. I’ve always felt this too. And my journey now has brought me to a place where I’m suddenly afraid. I feel like I am on a different planet. I am accustomed to gravity and now that force does not exist.

    1) The kids are unaccustomed to this type of creative freedom, and I realize by being completely untethered I am not meeting them where they are.

    example: last week I was absent (taking the Core Skills Praxis! Yay! I passed!)…I had them draw (no words) a story on the story board sheets, story could be about something familiar (characters in a movie, tv, etc) OR made up characters. One kids drew this super cute lil guy named Jeff. So we did sort of a combo OWI / Star of the day by me interviewing the kid playing the character “Jeff”…and in that interview it got ugly very quickly and I froze: “What do you like to do?” “Heroin.” And the kid started to roll up his sleeve and pretend to shoot up with a mechanical pencil. Everyone else was laughing. I froze and stopped the action right there. Had no idea what to do. I don’t remember what I said, but likely “EWWWW” “Not funny.” and stuff like that because I physically get the heeby-jeebys with any reference to that. Anyway, I tried redirecting, and the kid would not let go of the heroin theme, so I stopped the story.

    So??? I guess I have had my rose colored glasses on too long. I like my rose colored glasses. There is a level of fear and guardedness that I am not used to. I get it (not really, because I have no experience in these kids’ shoes and every day I find out something horrifying). So instead of start of the day / personal info that they are too afraid to reveal for fear of being ridiculed, I try to have them role play. But I’m struggling with this. Advice???

    1. “…my journey now has brought me to a place where I’m suddenly afraid”

      Aren’t kids scary? It’s scary as a parent too. Trying to protect them from that darkness and get it out of your classroom and kids’ lives.

      This kid was clearly crying out for help. Walk them down to guidance Monday morning.

      Reason number 1 to create an environment where kids express themselves: they have an adult they can trust to listen to them.

  3. The heroin dude was the tail wagging the dog in there. He got you. Dark stuff. I would have sternly within one second locked eyes with him and told him “That’s inappropriate!” and walked away to get other information. Had he not let it go in that moment he would have been gone out of the room. Then after class, I would follow up with everybody – counseling and parents. Emails flying everywhere. Then the next day I would have had a talk with the class about what I mean by cute suggestions that they should be lighthearted and uplifting. It’s not you jen. Keep the rose colored glasses on. I don’t know where people think that that image is indicative of weakness. Seeing life that way is STRONG. Keeping it all lighthearted, keep it pink. We have to, or this stuff can’t work.

    1. Great advice, Ben. Thanks. It is difficult to distinguish at times the anti-SLA stuff we get from the inappropriateness of student behavior. It is easy to fear that agenda-laden so and so’s will try to draw a connection and blame the method for the student behavior.

    2. I agree with Ben here, jen. Heroin use is becoming an epidemic in this country, if it hasn’t already. Do we all not have a family member abusing heroin? If you have a big enough family, you probably do. This is sad. It needs addressing and needs to be a conversation outside of language instruction.

      Keep those rose colored glasses on! You may be the only in their lives that does so.

  4. Yesterday I did a mini-story with my Spanish 1, Level 2 (= true beginners in Spanish w/minimal academic success).

    I wrote the relevant term from Avancemos 1 on the board in Spanish .

    _____ tiene hambre
    _____ tiene ganas de comer _____
    _____ come _____
    Ahora está _____*

    I then started working backwards. I wrote “____ se llama Jansolo” above the first line, circled it quickly to draw them in with language they know. I then wrote “Hay _______” (which some sort of know and some don’t) above “se llama.” I circled, starting with “Is there a boy or a dog?” (perro=dog was still on the board, although it is really new for them).

    I then worked with them up to the “tiene ganas de comer = feels like eating” phrase. I wrote the English “tiene hambre = is hungry” and “feels like eating as we got to them.

    With “feels like eating,”I ask them to raise their hand to guess what might student (Jansolo) feels like eating. They had to guess with a food word in Spanish (we have learned some dozen food words and I need them to stay with words that will be on the upcoming book test [“The teacher is frustrated. He is very frustrated.”] As each possibility was put forward I asked the student if he feels like eating cereal (no), grapes (no), a cheeseburger (yes). We circled a bit with “The boy/Jansolo feels like eating” and then proceeded to whether or not he “eats” a cheeseburger and how he feels as a result (sad, angry, happy).

    To bring closure to this, I did something I started doing some time back in other classes: typing up the story (in an interactive way with the help of the kids) and projecting it on the screen while they copy it down. Writing stuff down has a calming effect on these rambunctious kids.

    I found out that I was not through with it. They kids wanted to play a game with it. So we played the game for the rest of the class (this was during lunch block which is a 60 minute class).

    What I did was no big deal. It is pretty basic and straight-forward TPRS. But a few things were new to me.

    1. We started with the story structure written out on the board (low-level students need structure, maybe more than I do.)

    2. There was a randomness in the introduction of the vocab terms and details, but because of the structure the students could follow along on the board where we were. They did not have to rely memory of the parts and their order.

    3. We followed up with a written form which they copied into their binders. (Following Irene Konyndyk I seen how much students with learning difficulties need to write things down to stay engaged, the irony being that they are often the least literate of the school.)

    4. We played a game in which the order of the story became a vehicle for winning rings (think Super Bowl rings) for each round they won.

    *These expressions mean “is hungry,” “feels like eating,” “eats,” “Now s/he is (a certain emotion),” “is called Jansolo,” “Hay = there is,”

    1. This is definitely toward the other end of the randomness approach, but with type of kids I have, the constraints of the common (all too common) exam, and my own mental health, it met my goals, at least, this time. But like Ben in this post, I did not know initially what there was or who was hungry or what he felt like eating, and whether or not he would eat it. The outcome and description above looks like it is totally prescripted, but the process was not. Even the exact kid to be used (Jansolo) was decided as I started to write a name on the board. But possibly to an observer it looks it was carefully planned and cleverly executed.

      An “It’s all about the kids” note: A few minutes after I had written Jansolo’s name on the board, it dawned on him, and he said, “Hey, I am in this story.”

      1. I picked it up last summer and then got only half-way through it. There is one reference to Krashen and one to Chomsky (same page), and two references to TPRS. The context of the Krashen/Chomsky references was to the affective filter not allowing language get to the Language Acquisition Device even when it is understood. She mentioned TPRS in a matter of fact way, recognizing TPRS as a way to teach, but neither promoting nor defaming it.

        Her focus is on teaching language to students with learning disabilities, and is heavily researched from the point of view of LD studies. I would say that she is pretty traditional but tries to use whatever means to help students “learn” language. One thing which I noticed recommended several times was the need to focus on four French throughout the course (be, go, do, have). She believes anyone can learn a language, but takes a traditional approach which is sensitive to the non-4%s.

        I could take it to TCI Maine if you want to peruse it. But I would not recommend you buying it if cash is tight in anyway. Blaine would be much more worth it.

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