Still Circling?

This post appeared a few years ago here:

There used to be, years ago, an expression that was going around the moretprs list: “Circle of Die!” Now I see that it should be “Circle and Die!”

How things have changed! Now some of us are finding that if we circle or favor repetitions over real communication, it happens at the expense of the level of interest in the classroom. This is a significant statement historically in our work together.

Not everyone will agree, of course, and that is for the best because it is only by vigorously testing everything in our classrooms that we grow and help our profession move down the road toward better and better language classes for our students.

In speaking with Udo last weekend, all of this became even more clear. Udo said:

…we were laughing quite a lot during that story [his students put him in the trash can] and I completely forgot about circling. The whole thing just felt good. Afterwards I thought I hadn’t done such a good job because of the missing circling and no new vocabulary. But after reading your comments I will feel free to use a little circling or don’t do it at all….

Many of us are becoming disenchanted – that is to say we are no longer enchanted by – circling and getting lots and lots and even more repetitions in our CI classrooms. We are starting to see that if what we are talking about with our students is interesting, then we don’t need to circle.

If that were to happen, then we could develop ways of teaching that are more individual to our own teaching styles, and give up the idea that there is a “one size fits all” product that we can purchase in the summer workshops and then go and install in our classrooms.

I have been waiting for this time for many years. I have been waiting for something real in this work. I am happy now to be disillusioned and disenchanted, and to be in an unlearning process about what TPRS tells me I need to do.

I like this shift into using my intuition more than my intellect if I am to really reach my students in the real way in class. It is hard to unlearn things like circling and targeting. We can do it. The new era in language education demands it.  What era? It is the one that puts the kids and their interests first, and not the need of the teacher to get more reps.

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3 thoughts on “Still Circling?”

  1. Not sure this goes here, but related to Udo’s comment, and Ben’s follow -up, I just observed some Spanish classes at the local high-performing high school, where my students eventually attend.

    It’s not T/CI aligned (though some years ago they had some training.) The level of language used in these Spanish 2 -level-3 and Spanish 3 for freshman!! was pretty impressive. The teachers spoke the entire time in the TL, for class content and management, alike.
    But here’s the kicker: Every single utterance was tallied. The conversation was completely transactional – the Ss didn’t say anything without getting ‘credit’ for it (in one instance there was an electronic seating chart with names on the screen, and the teacher tallied responses by name for all to see.)

    In both instances, the T had a tight agenda of activities. In the first class, the imperfect tense drove the theme (‘What I used to do as a little kid.’) The sheep, I mean students, were marched around from partner/pair/share to whole group share to bingo. Every Q the teacher asked (speed PQA) was followed up by 2 extension questions by the T, and then a tally. Onto the next kid.
    Coming in with my elementary rose-colored glasses, I felt both awed at the level and rate of language use, and dismayed by the joylessness. All communication served the teacher, and the teacher served the grade book. No one volunteered unless a pointed question with an opportunity for a tally was on the line. I have only read about this – I have never actually seen it. It was an evidence-collecting machine.
    In the Sp 3 for freshman, they were reading an authentic play called The White Apron (El Delantal Blanco), about classism and prejudice. Very timely. They were working through a packet with comprehension and higher order thinking questions. I didn’t see much extemporaneous speaking cuz everyone was reading their answers from their packets. The whole operation was very robotic and passive, though the teacher was lovely. The Ss weren’t invited to think or create in the moment at all. Neither teacher used her whiteboard/marker because nothing unplanned ‘came up.’ Of course the kids know the drill so they were courteous, obedient and relatively attentive. If they only knew how much fun they could be having!

    Since their language level is prolly beyond Intermediate Low in most skills, I didn’t expect to see many of our T/CI foundational skills, but I was really turned off by the whole experience, though the teachers were excellent and hard-working. There just wasn’t any banter for banter’s sake!

    In fact hard work is how I would characterize the feel in there! And I’ll bet that’s the vibe they’re going for….for the kids, evaluators, etc.
    None of it felt real though – it felt like the language was serving not thought and opinion, but rather evidence for grades.
    I could not even picture any of those kids ‘throwing’ their teacher in the trash bin and then all having a great laugh and a fun story to repeat later….

    1. “Since their language level is prolly beyond Intermediate Low in most skills…” I would question this evaluation however. This is because while going through the ACTFL performance descriptors, I notice that formulaic, memorized language can falsely counts towards a better score. Just like parroting can make it seems like students know. It’s sad to see it encouraged. That is exactly it is… participation through tallies, points and grades. Here the teacher is treating learning another language like another subject. There is no building of intrinsic motivation.

  2. Alisa said:

    …[I was] dismayed by the joylessness. All communication served the teacher, and the teacher served the grade book. No one volunteered unless a pointed question with an opportunity for a tally was on the line. I have only read about this – I have never actually seen it. It was an evidence-collecting machine….

    Sounds a bit dystopian to me.

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