Lighten Up

Are we stuck in our minds with our students’ attention on the form of the language when we teach? Or are our students experiencing the meaning of the language without being focused on its form? In the former, things feel heavy, in the latter they feel light.

I have added “heavy” gesturing to the list of other “heavy” old-style TPRS things that I want to keep out of my teaching: heavy circling and heavy targeting. We all know that old-style TPRS heavy circling and heavy targeting water down our instruction. Why?

They trick the mind into thinking it’s learning something. It draws the attention of the unconscious mind off of meaning and onto the gesture or word being circled or the targets.

We want to avoid this because it shifts the attention of the students’ minds from unconscious wholistic focus on meaning (whole brain involvement) to the worksheet mentality of focusing on pieces of the language only (left brain dominant boredom).

Instead of focusing on the message, which is EVERYTHING in this work, heavy gesturing, circling and targeting create in the mind of the learner the CONCERN that they might be doing it wrong and thus be seen by the others in the classroom as “wrong” in some way. This concern overrides the concern of the learner to focus only on the message.

We must therefore try to teach with a “light” feeling in our instruction. If our minds are light and focused on the fun, body-centered sharing of ideas that bond us all together in the classroom in a kind of happy “club” that is focused on meaning and not on “teaching the language” via too much gesturing, circling and (the worst) targeting, then this will be the case with our students. Their minds will be focused on meaning as well in a happy way, which the research says is not just a nice thing but a requirement if CI acquisition is to happen.

It’s a dance. The degree to which we can keep the kids’ attention focused on meaning is the degree to which we will succeed at CI.

Three awarenesses that might help us do this are:

  1. CI instruction is body centered and requires excellent pacing – we must go slowly but not so slowly that the kids start focusing on individual words to see if they “know” them for the test. They only want to receive the message in class! Ask them! This cannot occur unless we are present in our bodies. We absorb languages into our bodies when we feel good, and if our teacher is not happy, then how can we be happy? When we learn our first language, do we even think about it?
  2. It’s feeling toned. We have to like what we are talking about. We can’t fake the interest. That is why in the creation of a one word image I have to have the right object on the right day according to my feeling about the various objects being suggested by the students. Why start a one word image, have it drawn, make a story from it and then a reading and then follow it up with all sorts of extension activities when we don’t even like the original word, don’t resonate with it, don’t feel it in our bodies that day? It’s like any topic of conversation – it has to be interesting. Erasers aren’t interesting. Pencil sharpeners maybe even less interesting. And nobody needs to say eraser in any language anymore anyway. So stop with the semantic sets of classroom objects. So boring!
  3.  Stop going against the flow of energy in the classroom with your controlling mind. Your students won’t look so bored when they know that you are focused on their understanding of the meaning of the tableau or story. Students get bored when they forced to think about form via worksheets, etc.

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7 thoughts on “Lighten Up”

  1. Beautiful post. Tina is masterful at gesturing in combination with a positive & loving tone and cadence, and her phrasing allows for S-L-O-W without sounding insulting or patronizing.

    I would assert that more concrete and overblown gesturing still is acceptable and necessary at the elementary level, where the filter is already way down and huge gestures are, well, funny.
    I get that once self consciousness sets in in middle school, reigning it in is crucial.

    1. Here is a YouTube channel of the IGNITE conference. I have uploaded some videos but the other presenters have not yet had a chance…prolly cause they had like 48 hours to turn around and come to Cascadia!
      There is a discussion (well, ME talking anyways) on the video of the second day of French, part one, about gesturing and the difference between secondary and elementary. This was prompted by some popcorn-popping-like elementary school kids who visited from Cherokee Summer School. I loved working with those kids! But I realized that day in and day out we would need some HELLA brain breaks.
      Steven am I getting cool with the California lingo yet?
      https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUR_e23Atoakyb0WgonOu5g

    2. Alisa, was thinking about age and the monitor and your post reminds me that the more students are taught forcefully and with a top-down approach, the more students will be 1) apathetic or 2) always concerned about getting it right. The younger students are less self conscious and will more than likely follow meaning rather than form. Though this will vary between populations, parenting/home raising and schooling.

      Its as if there is an unspoken rule, the expectations of older students are different because there is no culture/tradition to address this even at tprs workshops and language labs. Anyway, being a MS teacher at a gifted school is tough in changing the mindset that there is a right way to teach a language and a wrong way. Add to this the desire to explicitly be taught vocab and grammar. Im glad its over.

    3. Yes, Alisa, that’s my experience in elemantary and middle school. My young learners hugely enjoy pointing to sth in the classroom with their backsides but if I did that im my grade seven they would just sit there shaking their heads disbelievingly. They need another kind of humour and fun.

    1. No, Cascadia starts Monday. That is the IGNITE conference from Oklahoma. I just bought a ton of food and such, and am here with Elena and Andrea having some beverages in the backyard, getting ready for a major influx of CI superpower tomorrow. jen is right down the street, sent me some pictures of a beautiful hike she went on arounf Mt. Hood today, and I am literally counting the hours till I see her in person!

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