Reality Check

In using One Word Images, Elena Overvold in Portland has found that imagination and reality – harsh, real reality – intersect. It only reinforces my belief that is growing ever-stronger that in using images that are generated by the imaginations of the people in the room, we open our classes up to more reality. Think about it: In inviting imagination and fantasy into our classes, we actually open the space for more reality. In Elena’s class the other day, she was working with a OWI of a small, cracked, empty, black teacup who was sad. Why was the teacup sad? A Black student in class said, “He does not want to be black.” Oh my! A Novice class dipping into racial identity and feelings about color!

Similar depth of the human experience has been reported from Kathrin in Germany. Her classes created an image of a bunny who looks cute but is actually very dangerous. In Tina’s class, a student suggested that the class do an image of a machete who is actually quite a nice person inside but just looks scary and dangerous. These, too, are real questions of appearance and identity and how we appear to the world.

I am very hopeful that basing our classes upon students’ ideas and imaginations and the images that spring out of them will bring more reality and depth to our work.

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33 thoughts on “Reality Check”

      1. I know Sean. It started out much darker because they wanted a “horror” story. However, I told them we have to build it from scratch and not copy things from movies and such. Well they did. So I put a twist by making the mirror part of a party in an abandoned house.

  1. I am just now beginning to tell stories with my class. I was initially worried about whether or not I would be able to figure out the problem or how that would work. Instead, I am finding that the kids are overflowing with ideas–silly and deep alike. I have only done one story with each of my four first year classes but I am noticing that the problem seems to inherently reside in the creation of the image.

    In general, I am finding that with OWI and stories I don’t have to worry about coming up with the problem. The image and the story are unfolding with students eager to do the work. It is so amazing to not have to control every detail but allow things to emerge and unfold. What a rare and beautiful process in education!

    1. “don’t have to control every detail” That is a great relief, Elena. It is not the teacher’s story. It is the students’ story. We keep a firm hand on a small child and follow her along to see where her curiosity will take us.

      Another way this is so wonderful is in our interaction with observers. Maybe it takes a trained eye to notice what we sense. We can tell, alas, only in retrospect, when we have been trying to determine the direction too much. We can tell when it has unfolded as we listened and played our conversation role as the more fluent partner. Observers may not see this. They see teacher centered. But we feel the difference and can reflect on it and explain the difference:

      “You know, maybe it was teacher-centered that time, but yesterday it was student-centered. Today I tried to lead the parade. Yesterday I felt like I was watching to see where the parade was going. Today I tried to do their work. Yesterday I was hoping no one noticed that I did not feel like I was working.”

      1. Or we could work from three structures that the kids don’t care about. Ironically, this idea of working from an image, which we can see from above comments brings real things connected to real life literally into play – the whole thing about the Invisibles – has prompted an ugly reaction from some on FB. Some have even said that with the Invisibles and emergent targets I am trying to start some kind of cult in TPRS. How odd!

        1. In regards to the fb problems I say when 99 out of 100 teachers are TCI teachers then we should have these debates. Till then Same team! Any way we get more teachers giving quality CI to students is a win. Yet I see you and Eric getting blasted. Especially when you guys merely suggest that untargeted CI *could* be an option. We are a minority and often scrutinized by legacy methods teachers and admin, to then be vilified by our own people makes no sense to me.

          1. Yes Russ. That is what happens a lot in most circles and groups wanting change. There are those that want a “light” mainstreamed and admin friendly TPRS and those who are merely suggesting a different way.

            I am with you Russ. Same team! I would add that we are all in solidarity to improve education as a whole. We should respect our differences. My department is really eclectic but we respect each others differences. It may feel lonely but at least we are not in any ones hair.

            Being vilified by our own people is simply a reflection of admin, district and other over arching organizations trying to bully CI/TPRS teachers as a whole. If we stick together, we are stronger of course. Let’s put our egos aside and take the big win!

      2. I just had the thought that writing the story with the class, or writing up the description of the image as we have been doing lately (cause they are not quite ready for stories yet, too much excitement over an image. Gotta get them playing our game as Kathrin says!) is totally student-centered and “doing their work”. I lead them through a series of questions that basically elicit the details from the previous day’s input, and transcribe what they tell me, adding phrases from time to time. Yesterday I added “Desafortunadamente” in a Spanish story, “Tandis que” in a French story, and “à cause de” in a French 2 story. Among other things…these just sprang to mind. I just say in English what I am writing in L2, the first time they see it. Thusly I can embed new language right there in the moment. I am feeling that, like emergent language spoken to the class in the moment it is needed, embedded written language that is new and emerges like that is probably also “stickier” to the brain. I am CONVINCED it is “stickier” but I am not a numbers person so that is just my teacher sense speaking. Is there any research on this? I would like to see if research would support my feeling. So I guess what I am saying here is if we write and discuss with the class:
        – Admin would like to see us doing it cause it is student-driven.
        – The emergent language that we embed sur-le-champ as we are writing MAY “stick” better just like the emergent language that comes up at teh moment it is needed in the aural part of the input (the creation of the image/story)
        – Kids like seeing the story unfold in written form, and being asked to contribute details and seeing them written on the screen.

        1. Tina this is an important comment:

          …emergent language spoken to the class in the moment it is needed, embedded written language that is new and emerges like that is probably also “stickier” to the brain….

          This marks a new direction in the life of this blog community, in my view. We have focused much of our discussion, really all of it in terms of CI pedagogy, on targets, and now we are moving on. We are taking our instruction beyond targets.

          Why are we doing this? Well, I found three reasons in two of Tina’s emails to me sent just this morning, in which she mentioned the following things, which reveal much:

          Tina explains:

          1. My friend Elena at Madison High School (Portland) is having great success using OWI and emergent targets with urban kids who are dealing with a high level of poverty and gang activity.

          2. With this new kind of teaching using emergent targets there is a completely different feeling in my classsroom this year. At Parent’s Night recently I did a short OWI (5 minutes) with the parents, even had a parent act as the artist. They were blown away. An image of a machete that is actually a nice person. Or the three shoes, some stinky and some not. Or the pig who does not speak Pig, but only English. These are just OWIs. We have only touched stories in French 2 and already SUCH FUN and LEVITY is being had.

          3.I know that I have been teaching for a long time, that I am “experienced”, but that only makes me realize how easy this new work is, how I fought it for years, and how simple it COULD HAVE BEEN. How much less pressure I could have put on myself and everybody.

          Wednesday at Parents Night I simply told the parents that we were basing the whole grade on communication and for their kids that mostly means listening and reading and demonstrating understanding, cause they are Novices. Parents were nodding and seemed to take that news as common sense. These are some of Oregon’s most privileged, powerful, and professional parents. If they can get it, that is a huge testament to this work. They sense that their kids are getting the Cadillac of instruction.

          People have a LOT TO LOSE if suddenly the work gets less complicated. Who’s going to come to complex training workshops if word gets around that it’s actually simple and intuitive? That you can JUST TALK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY ABOUT SOMETHING COMPELLING (or at LEAST, interesting)…

          Ed. note: I think that emergent targets IS a Cadillac of CI instruction and that targeted work is of the Chevy/Ford variety. It has taken us a long time to cozy up to the bar of “compelling input”. And it has taken us a long time to also own the idea that compelling is far more powerful than merely interesting. I contend that targeted storytelling brings mildly interesting CI but that emergent targets (untargeted/nontargeted input) bring compelling input. Tina calls it “stickier” and it is a great way to say it. It’s time for us in this PLC community to own this new information and either reject it or accept it and move forward beyond the increasingly concretized TPRS methods of the past. We are in a watershed moment here on this PLC. I don’t care what other groups are saying and doing.

          I might add here that Krashen in a recent email said this:

          “The non-targeting hypothesis occurred to me driving on the Pomona Freeway near Los Angeles in 1976, exactly 40 years ago. The comprehension (input) hypothesis was about one year old. it was so exciting that I had to get off the freeway and write it down right away.”

          I think that is a fantastic anecdote from the master.

          1. Ben, Have you heard Blaine say that he has done classes of an hour or more using one or maybe two targets? I remember something like that about 11 years ago. Do you think that he really was using targets or were those just launching pads, like the “you can start with anything and go anywhere [in a story]” of Chesterton? Maybe I am wrong, but I have doubts about how targeted Blaine was if his point was how long he went on a target (or two).

          2. Blaine doesn’t use targets. Not really. I asked him. Four months ago. He replied, and I apologize but I erased the email, in effect: “I never thought about it but come to think of if I don’t really target words. However, a lot of people who use our materials would be shocked if they saw no targets, so we put them in our materials.” (You can verify that with Blaine if you want – I am sure he will agree with what I’m saying here.)

            So Nathaniel what you say jives perfectly with my understanding of Blaine’s magic. Your observation is excellent.

            Then the next question might be, “Why do people defend them (targets) so much, if even the originator of the approach doesn’t use them?”

            This whole discussion is one big zit about to be popped. Targets are about to take it on the chin, where that zit is. I’m a patriot and I support Blaine. I’ll be very honest – every cell in my body has been screaming for sixteen years to not use targets, but I kept using them because Anne Matava’s scripts were just so frickin’ good. I became addicted to them and will never stop shouting their praises. But Anne’s targets are pretty much completely random, really, and she has said that herself. That’s why they work so well! She doesn’t tie them to a semantic set/thematic unit/curriculum in a textbook or list of words pulled from a novel (DPS). Anne just writes the script as a guide and invites anyone to go anywhere that they/the class wants.

            So there you have two superlative teachers in Blaine and Anne who eschew targets. It is the tying of target structures to curriculum, textbooks, lists of words to be learned, and all the other trappings of the old grammar-translation-memorization world that, if allowed to continue, will tear the heart out of this work.

            And if that isn’t enough, then we have the recent statements put out on the internet by Eric Herman. I know Eric’s work well enough to say that if he says it, then it’s true. His scholarship, as I see it, is never flawed, and he is not supporting targets. That right there is enough for me, not to mention others (Claire Ensor and Justin Slocum Bailey along with Krashen and Beniko Mason, and that whole Oregon crowd).

            Spot on, Nathaniel. Perfect point to make at this point in our discussion.

          3. “Anne just writes the script as a guide and invites anyone to go anywhere that they/the class wants.”

            I will try again but this type I will pick out the most compelling language and use that as a launching pad.

            It’s just that going targetless is SO good. I mean it’s so effective and it integrates so many strategies like:

            Establishing meaning with gestures and TPR

            Using Actors

            Using art work and student jobs

            Spinning off compelling input from other students.

            How can it not be good? Let’s own it.

          4. …let’s own it….

            Right on. The thing is that we have a concretized thought form in the targets, a result of people trying for years and years to align this work with some kind of textbook or curriculum, or in the case of Denver Public Schools, with the novels. So they have been trying to keep us from owning it and now are squealing loudly about our initiative to own emergent teaching.

            Look: the novels are too boring to try to pull vocabulary from them and do stories to set up their reading. The kids can’t benefit from mildly interesting to put-me-to-sleep texts about white kids. Screw that. It’s time to move forward, not backward. This work is evolving, and we need to evolve with it.

            On the boring novels front, things are evolving/changing/moving forward as well. Better stop here on that point or I would blabber for another four paragraphs, because what is going to happen with the novels is badass. Badass, I say.

          5. Please do tell what’s happening to the novels…. I’d love to hear.

            Also, one of my students made a little picture book for class, because she was so excited to hear that a lot of the stories they can choose to read for FVR where written by students. The book is adorable and I am making copies for the class library. She was so inspired that she is determined to make more. I am loving this. She is coming from a traditional class, is incredibly shy and sensible, but here she found her way to shine. She is in 5th grade and leaves every class with a huge smile and with so much excitement of how class is going and how much she is appreciated. (I don’t assign any homework, so this is done without receiving any credit for it. Any credit that is, but to be published in class and being appreciated for her creativity and all together sweet self.)

          6. “I don’t assign any homework, so this is done without receiving any credit for it. Any credit that is, but to be published in class and being appreciated for her creativity and all together sweet self.”
            Kathrin this is a testament to the power of this work to engage students. Giving them a voice and a chance to shine in class pays off big time in love for the class. I am so inspired in my classroom this fall by the intersection of visual art, acting, writing, and imagination that has happened from day one, simply by basing the lessons on visual images. Who woulda thunk it?

          7. Kathrin, I think that you’re close to what Ben has in.mind. Novels are going to transform into complilations of classroom stories. I have done many owis that I started listing them in one.class and kids get excited as to how.many choices we have when I ask “who”. Then there are the two.kids who want a logical story but offer no suggestions. I guess I cant force them to drink from our CI well.

            I started to upload my readings for my class as optional homework in google classroom. Our school has accounts for us. They have to read to themselves then a friend or parent. Total honor system. It also helps out if a student is absent. I’m going to start printing for FVR as my classroom has no WIFI! Love it as there as no tech distractions.

          8. Tina:

            …the intersection of visual art, acting, writing, and imagination that has happened from day one, simply by basing the lessons on visual images….

            This is the way I see things moving forward in this work, as I have stated before. We base our CI instruction on images and not words, since words are merely representations of images, so why not go to the source?

          9. Steve, I have already been doing that. Almost our entire library comes from student written materials. My honor society kids in PA made kid’s books that I also have in our library. I have my own website that I post all OWI/CWB/stories on (well most, not all CWB), as well as some Free Writes that the kids can read at home and share with friends and family. I also have them on textivate and printed. Unfortunately, after moving from the US I couldn’t bring a lot of what I already had, so I’m building again.

            I thought maybe there was maybe more in the makes…. 🙂

          10. Steven, Ben and I are all over you like white on rice it appears. You write:
            “going targetless is SO good”
            and you want to know the image I got in my head? A cool, shady, dappled, hidden, secret swimming hole on some July day. Clothes back on the sand. It feels like that to me.

          11. What Steven and Tina say above will draw the very close attention of PLC readers who know the history. Tina’s image of a cool swimming hole on a hot July day, the easy CI waves described by Steven, are born of experience doing this kind of teaching in BOTH ways. I would use the term “traditional” to refer to the old targeted way of doing what has become traditional TPRS, i.e. targeted TPRS. Tho good, it is not the best way. I apologize to any readers who are confused – it is unavoidable and I will make it right. For ten years here readers have sought and found strong support for traditional targeted TPRS and now for the past six months Tina and I have started touting doing CI with emergent targets. Oregon is on fire with it. On top of the emergent targets, we have also called for a much more compassionate way of assessing our students, and Claire is our leader on that. It is a big and unavoidable change, at least for Tina and I. We do not covet the old guard’s approval on this change. The way I think of it is that for fifteen years I shredded CI with a kind of Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead energy. Long, seemingly endless CI sessions of great energy, but there was always a nervous edge of insecurity to it, and many stories just got derailed early on. It happened too much, but I had no alternatives. Now I do. Now, we are finding so much success with our new emergent/untargeted philosophy based on the Invisibles that Tina and I is not the listening to the Dead so much anymore. Rather, it’s Mozart on a brisk summer day in the mountains. It’s better music.
            Related:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUv3rRUUWWw&index=17&list=PL_xjLdM_2tvKnPIN37-8whCoOy_n1oZQ7
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn9ZB76KZLI

    2. …the problem seems to inherently reside in the creation of the image….

      Thank you! I have been wrestling with this and what you say there Elena is pretty much full on target. It nicely responds to our concerns voiced this summer. And, as Steve implied and as we conjectured in our workshops, that second character can go a long way in providing a good launch to the problem. So two characters, each with three to five details, in one odd or local or both place, should be able to make Questioning Level 5 come alive. For example, a character whose face is too small next to the other character’s face would need to go find a bigger face. It hasn’t drifted far from Blaine’s original plan, it is old style TPRS, but just seems so much easier, at least in my own experience. Some people think it’s a new method! Hardly. What I would call a new method is TPRS with lesson plans/targets/lead weights/etc.

  2. The best thing to me has been to see the change in my students. Some classes are ready to jump in and are wild and creative and just run with it, but it’s the quiet classes that are more interesting to me. I have one class that is 90% Asian. Many of them just moved from Korea, China, India, etc to Germany and have not lived in another country before. These students are reserved. They are attentive, they are quiet, they only answer when asked and only want to answer when they know they are 100% right. The dream to most teachers. They know the game: the teachers is right, the teacher has all the answers, everything is black and white and I will study really hard to memorize what my teacher tells me to be true.

    Well, being in a CI class must be a huge adjustment for them. Almost every class I remind them: Your answers are not wrong, we might not use them, but making suggestions is all I want from you. When I am not clear, I need to know because it’s my fault for going to fast, using words you don’t know or not making sure you are following. Please help me make sure I am not running off without you. I will not give you the answers. You are the creators, you are the decision makers, you determine what we talk about. I am facilitating your creativity.

    The class has started to turn and there is a lot more laughter. Shy students are beginning to give suggestions and they are starting to play another game. Our game. It’s amazing to see the shift in class and feel the class grow together in their pursuit of creativity, originality and ability to relax in class.

  3. Yesterday I was out sick and as a sub lesson I had the kids draw characters. When I came back, I scanned the best ones in and today we did the first set up for the stories. It was late in the class and really all I wanted to do was compare two pictures as one of my students drew almost the exact same character as we did for our OWI last week. We drew Peter the glass cabinet, who was really intelligent, but could not speak. This boy drew Alvin-Adam (the names of my two Swedish students, who speak very little English and no German) the glass cabinet, who was intelligent, but could only speak Swedish…. OK, well THAT certainly sounded familiar. I was really intrigued and started to set up a story, even though I knew we’d run out of time, but really I wanted to know where he would go with this. So we got to the point that Alvin-Adam was at McDonalds and wanted a hamburger with fries but spoke only Swedish.

    I can’t wait to see how this will be fixed. Those two boys have had such a rough start. They were completely lost and overwhelmed with these two languages and it’s amazing to see Alvin put these struggles in his drawing.

  4. Some thoughts on OWI with 3rd graders (and younger). I found it necessary to first do it as a whole class. I held a portable whiteboard on my lap. I (yup) decided on the object (used a cognate), and worked from there, asking questions, recycling words the kids knew or kind of, drawing and erasing as the character came to life. The kids decided, offered ideas. I drew. This was our first time creating a OWI and I wanted to show the kids how we play the game. Eventually I will let the kids draw their own OWI, have class artists, etc It’s a long year and I want to ease into the -great- Invisibles.

    1. I think I might do something like this, Catharina. Like have students draw their own OWI of a commonly known noun that has significant meaning to them (i.e., shoe, shirt, pants, house, park, school, chair, pencil, paper, book, dog, cat, elephant, telephone, tv, computer, car, bus, train, hamburger, pizza, chicken, banana, apple, basketball, baseball, football). This will be my 3rd week with my students and I kinda wish I had done this instead of CWB because it’s more imaginative, more fun. But, I got the CWB images and want to continue working with those. We’ll see how I may be able to use both CWB and student drawn OWIs in the next few weeks.

      I agree… it’s a long year and I too want to ease into the Invisibles and stories.

    2. Catharina, that is exactly what I did with my 2nd graders. I let them decide on the object though. We just talked about this on the last Google hangout with Tina. I did tell them afterwards that one of them will eventually have that job and asked them questions in English to clarify the job, for example: “Why did I wait to draw?”

      I might also have one OWI where I have everyone draw it afterwards so we have a whole collection for me to pick the artist from.

      I totally agree that the little ones need the guidance first. I also needed to make sure I explained that it can be silly, otherwise my kids were very literal. 4th grade and up were ready to go without the extra steps.

  5. Kathrin or Tina, when is the next tprshangout? I found this website https://tprshangout.com but it does not mention any dates past Aug.9? In the mean time I’ll catch up with ones archived on YouTube. You girls are amazing!

    I’ve taken the habit as a Little Kids’ teacher to always do a few ‘dry runs’ as a whole class to avoid any confusions. I am thinking that next time I’ll pick -one- kid to quickly draw an object. Not everyone. Then eventually go full steam.

    Silly comes easy to my students. And outdoing each other. Maybe ‘cute’ ‘nice’ ‘original’ answers to begin with?

    1. Let’s do an elementary hangout I’ll ask Pilar in Spain too. She did a presentation on using Invisibles in her elementary classes at the Agen conference. She was very enthusiastic about them. Maybe Saturday?

  6. Just another detail that seems to help with OWI and Little kids are erasable markers (whiteboard type). Anything can be erased. Or added as the image unfolds. I would not use coloring pencils, or magic markers at first.

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