Report From Michele

Actually this from Michele is a week old, stuck in the queue during that time, but it still fits in the thread, so here it is:
Dear Ben,
I had an observer last Monday. She has been using the “old” TPRS and wanted to see the “new” TPRS.
Because she was an experienced person, I decided to show her one class with a typical story-asking situation, one with skeleton story development and a third with embedded readings. By the end of the day, she said that she could start to understand the reading as well as the new structures. She was impressed by the level of reading that we were doing and also by the fact that we were using three different tenses in the planned structures. I hadn’t even noticed the three tenses. The structures were: participated in, knowing about that, and was arrested. We got some great stories out of that during the second class. Here are the three (taken directly from the slips of paper the kids wrote on–one in English and two in Russian), without our group embellishments, that we got to in a 50-minute class: 1) Mimi participated in a Bingo game. The rules for Bingo are that only 18 and up can participate. Not knowing that, Mimi played and then she was arrested. 2) Two monkeys wanted to participate in curling in the Olympics. They trained, got on the team, and went to Vancouver. At registration, they found out that the rules said that the Olympics were only for humans. Not knowing about this, they got mad. They destroyed the luge run, and they were arrested. 3) There was a boy named Donny. He participated in a soccer championship. He broke the rules, not knowing what they were. He was arrested. (Now if I were Laurie, I could take those and weave them together into an embedded reading…)
Our embedded story (in a different class period) was all about Pushkin. The class I demonstrated in was a mixed 2-5 class. We did the first reading, then the second. For the third one, I made an announcement that it was only for the most advanced kids in the room. Wouldn’t you know it…the lower levels were falling over themselves trying to translate ahead of the 4’s and 5’s.
Here’s the point of this e-mail, at last: my observer said that she had been reading that thread we’ve been having, but that we use so much jargon that she couldn’t understand what we were talking about. I had no idea that it would be hard to understand. So then I realized that you were right. When we talk about something, we need to do it as though we’re all two-year-olds, or at least beginners in TPRS.
Something else clicked for me that day too. The first class of the day totally bombed, because I had a story I wanted to do, and it was a Monday and the kids are used to weekend talk on Mondays. Everything I was trying for tanked, because it’s usually about them. They actually refused to understand what I was talking about, because I was pushing my own agenda. The next two classes were fine, because of the personalization and the reading being what they’re used to. But then…I had the last class of the day, my middle schoolers. We were doing the same story on Pushkin, which started out talking about how Pushkin started writing verse at the age of 12. OMG. All those kids wanted to tell me what they had started doing at what age. It was almost no input, almost all show-off output. They were going for it so hard that I almost couldn’t keep control of the class. I had to learn again that day that TPRS depends on the P, for personalization. It really doesn’t matter what I want to teach them. They want to be the story. If they aren’t the story, then game over.
Another eureka: when I teach culture, I have to do a parallel story, Blaine-style. We can do a parallel story about historical figures by comparing them to a current-day historical figure, or we can make up a story about someone in the class, or we can compare the real life and times of a student to the historical figure. But I can’t just present the historical figure all by him or herself now that I do TPRS (except when it’s very dramatic, and Russian history does lend itself to drama). The kids just don’t see the point unless they are contributing, and until now, I could never see how they could contribute to history! Thank goodness for Blaine.
Honestly, I was annoyed that the MS kids were interrupting the reading to talk so much. Then I had to laugh at myself, because I had forgotten the real goal.
Michele

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