Report from the Field – Jennifer Sparano – 3

This is an update from our Jen Sparano in NJ. Some may recall that discussion in early spring. Here is a recent link:

https://benslavic.com/blog/report-from-the-field-jennifer-sparano-2/

Hey Ben –

You may recall that the year before last, I came to you requesting help from the PLC members because I was going to be meeting with my new principal (2014-15 brought my high school 3 new administrators: principal and 2 vice). The meeting was about me using TPRS and although I presented him with all of the documents the PLC gang suggested, I was still told to follow the brand new text book they decided to purchase. Do you recall?

And that was the end of that for me. I tried to play it their way, and of course, but was miserable. You know I even applied to DHS recently but for personal reasons I had to decline some offers. I am staying in NJ. I am staying in at my current HS.

Well, as luck would have it, my department’s former supervisor (who also teaches English) stepped down from her position and we became great friends and better colleagues due to working together last summer and this one in a day-camp for young kids. She and I were chatting today about the whole textbook nonsense. I mentioned that I just checked my schedule for this year and see that I’m teaching Spanish 2 Honors and Spanish 3 CP. My former superintendent told me that it is because the principal actually changed his mind about my teaching methods and felt I would be able to “get ‘er done” for the upper levels, which explains why this academic year I was also asked to teach Spanish 3 for the first time ever.

So, my friend was in the know about it because of her former position. She thinks our principal never told me he felt differently about my teaching long after we had the meeting because it would have required his humility; apparently, he is lacking.

I’m a bit shocked. I still think I have to play the game and at least make it appear that the text book is an important part of my lessons but now I feel like I can go total-CI this year. My colleague told me that the principal feels that I can get kids from A-Z and have them know what they need. He trusts that I can do it.

With this in mind, I am writing to you…because it has been awhile since I went total-CI and I don’t want to forget important things. I bought The Big CI Book and read through the whole thing. But I still have questions. I went on the PLC and looked up the Beginning the Year checklist but I’d love it if you could let me know if you still believe those things listed are still needed. I know your view on Word Walls has changed to lean toward Verb Walls. I think I understand that those verbs should be the top 100-200 high frequency, right?

Do you only use CWB/questionnaires, the DHS high freq. list and Matava/Tripp scripts? Is that all I need? That and doing the first 7 strategies from The Big book? Is there a way for you to share with me/the PLC what the DHS scope & sequence looks like? Is it just a list of the high frequency words?

So many questions, I know. I just think that this might be my year to go full CI, close my classroom door and “play the game” only when I’m observed…

Thanks in advance for any kind of reply since it’s summer.

Jen Sparano

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17 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Jennifer Sparano – 3”

  1. So here listed below are Jen’s questions and I would love it if others would address these questions as well so Jen can get a variety of opinions:

    1. I went on the PLC and looked up the Beginning the Year checklist but I’d love it if you could let me know if you still believe those things listed are still needed.

    2. I know your view on Word Walls has changed to lean toward Verb Walls. I think I understand that those verbs should be the top 100-200 high frequency, right?

    3. Do you only use CWB/questionnaires, the DHS high freq. list and Matava/Tripp scripts? Is that all I need? That and doing the first 7 strategies from The Big book?

    4. Is there a way for you to share with me/the PLC what the DPS scope & sequence looks like? Is it just a list of the high frequency words?

  2. Jen sorry about the late reply. This addresses #4:

    As I understand it now, and I certainly could be wrong, they (DPS) don’t necessarily have a curriculum but they do have a Scope and Sequence based on the top 100-200 vocabulary structures. Going forward sans a formal curriculum and with a S and S makes sense to them. Base a S and S on high frequency and put the rest of the curriculum discussion down.

    What is essential to understand is that DPS doesn’t just pull obscure non-high-frequency structures out of a hat. They want their students to acquire the language that is the most useful to them when understanding and communicating. And that there exists a “list of high-frequency” structures necessary for basic communication so why not use it?

    Where DPS is today on pulling story targets from novels I don’t know since I have been out of the district for two years now. I will ask Diana about this when I see her later this month.

    The underlying principle in DPS is that using all forms of the verb structures – i.e. ‘natural language’ is the key here. Here is what it says in the DPS S&S on all pages: Vocabulary and Structures — Use present, past, future, and conditional tenses with a variety of subjects.

    I want to be clear that this is what I think DPS is doing right now but I don’t know for sure. I am most certainly personally moving in a different direction from this but this is what I understand my former district to be doing right now.

  3. Here is the article Jen is referring to:

    Everything listed here is just a suggestion:

    To start the year, we can ask ourselves if we have addressed these (optional) things:

    1. Wall Posters (see Resources/Posters on this site for a complete list) including:

    Word Wall
    blank big post-its or butcher block paper up, empty, to eventually become a Verb Wall of “acquired” verbs
    Question Words
    Classroom Rules
    jGR poster – for those using it
    Spelling Poster – for those using it
    Place Posters – for those using them
    Student Refection Checklist – for those using it
    Teacher Reflection Checklist – for those using it
    Metacognition Poster – for those using it
    Rigor Poster – for those using it
    2. Have read any posts we want to under the Beginning the Year category – there are a lot – to remind us of all the stuff we discussed this past year and thought about implementing this year.

    3. Start our year with the activities suggested in various places (here, books, etc.) to start the first few months before doing stories. Remember – the goal now is to get the rules set up and to personalize the classroom, and that is what these activities do, although some of us are going to be bringing in stories a lot sooner than in the past in this 2015-2016 year. Descriptions of some of these activities are also located on the TPRS Resources page of this site, then click on TPRS Workshop Handouts and then on Ben Slavic Storytelling Handouts for descriptions of:

    Word Association
    Circling with Balls
    One Word Images
    Word Chunk Team Game
    Questionnaires
    4. Consider how early you want to introduce reading in connection with the above activities. Some of us are already writing up readings taken from these early activities. Others will wait until starting stories do do reading. Everything suggested here is only that – a suggestion.

    5. Have your bail out moves ready. Dictée, of course, is the big one, but there are others at:

    https://benslavic.com/blog/2011/10/30/water-wings/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/2008/03/01/plan-b/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/06/18/recalcitrance/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/01/13/bailin-2/
    (Whenever I need to bail out early in the year, I often go to OWI. It is easy to get going and ensures 100% CI. OWI often turns into great extended images and even stories. When a teacher new to comprehension based instruction uses OWI, and when they work their way up to asking where the image is, the teacher gets a feel for the potential in this approach particularly with that where question. It’s a safe calm activity for those first days when things can get a bit shaky. Find the prompt list for OWI on the posters page under “Useful Information” – https://benslavic.com/Posters/one-word-image-prompt-list.pdf)

    6. Don’t forget this great idea from Nathan for upper level classes who have already done the Circling with Balls activity:

    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/08/21/starting-the-year-out-with-postcards/

    7. Our readiness to contact parents of kids who cannot a) behave b) make the switch over to our right brain/whole brain learning envrironment.

    Am I missing anything?

  4. This is my response to #1-3:

    Jen you are so right to question whether I still believe all that stuff is needed. It isn’t, of course. Too many posters. Here is my current thinking on posters to start the year:

    1. NOT a verb wall as my thinking on verbs has changed. More hammering them with VSA, TPR, WCTG, etc. I imagine – have never done this and it might not work – a Word Wall that is actually the entire list of vocabulary required in the book, grouped by thematic units, minus bullshit words that are not high frequency. So all year I can find on the wall grouped as a semantic set any word, like “father” is up there in the group of family words. I walk over to those sets of words and put my hands on them when making up sentences, always speaking slowly. Pacing has two meanings for me – walking to the word and going at a slow pace. When people ask if I am teaching the curriculum I point to the wall. Yes, it would be a big ass wall, I get that and again I have never done this but I really like the idea of having the curriculum that is in the textbook (if I need to fight that fight because I am in a building with old style teachers) on my wall.

    2. Only these posters now:

    Question Words
    Classroom Rules
    jGR/ISR poster

    3. I start the year to set up stories (from Matava scripts or following the new Invisibles protocol) using these things as described in the Big CI Book:

    Circling with Balls
    One Word Images (big time)
    TPR
    Three Ring Circus
    Verb Slam Activity
    Word Chunk Team Game
    Super Mini Stories

    1. I’m always wondering how to take care of words like body parts and things like that I think having them up all the time under headings would be helpful then I don’t have to hand out a worksheet and make a “learning activity” out of it. I just walk over to that group of words and begin to interact with students about that certain topic.

      1. TPR is great for body parts. Also I love Ben’s idea of putting the textbook or district words up there and using them throughout the year. I found some research earlier int he summer on massed (all at once) versus distributed (a little here, a little there) practice in languages, and distributed is best. So the word walls can help us sprinkle the thematic required district or textbook words into the input all year, instead of all at once. In Agen, Beniko Mason told me that she agrees that we should not try to target thematic units all at once. The brain has a hard time differentiating between words that come from such a narrow lexical (vocab) field, when they are presented all at once. She said it is better to sprinkle clothing or weather or feelings or family throughout the year, for more distributed practice.

  5. Hey Jen! Good to hear your good work is getting acknowledged and you’re being given some professional freedom after some sacrifice.

    I too will be jumping into CI again after a year of only teaching Spanish heritage learners, which I found requires a different approach. So, I have some dust to brush off my shoulders as well.

    From what I’ve gathered in the conversations here this year, Ben and others have evolved even further to see non-targeted story-asking, usually without scripts, as the most compelling for students. Check out those conversations (see the “Untargeted” category and also type in the search box “Invisibles”). They are very interesting.

    I plan to jump more quickly into the stories at the beginning of the year. All in all, very excited for this new year!

    1. Sean, my thinking on jumping into stories has really evolved. I used to, when I was targeting structures, jump into them like week two.
      I now see that we get a lot of benefits from doing the beginning the year activities Ben mentioned above. I especially love TPR. Especially if we want to work with the language that emerges in the classes, not work from word lists. I plan on doing that for about three to four weeks, longer if needed, even though I absolutely cannot wait to start doing more stories, because using the Invisibles last year was such fun!

      1. very helpful to know, Tina. I just finished The Easy Way and see how even though his approach to stories is different Ben still highly suggests doing CWC, TPR, OWI, and PQA to begin the year.

        I hope to ride this wave of fun with the Invisibles this year. A moderate degree of fun is fine 🙂

        So, it looks like I’ll need to work on refining my TPR skills at the beginning of the year.

  6. I’ve said this before, but i’m a huge fan of letting “circling with balls” be your first little mini-stories. They are simple, usually just have one verb you are slamming over and over again, and it’s all about the student. Remember to ask “where” and “with whom” and you have an easy, short, usually funny, and student centered story

    1. My new thinking is that you can also start having an artist sketch these – the CWB or OWI – for you, from day one or two. I am very into the idea of using visuals these days. Also having tiny texts that are just based on the CWB or OWI, to get kids used to reading class-created texts. I’m going to experiment this year with no novels in first year, at least till spring. “Reading down” is my new mantra. Reading down or just reading about stuff we created as a class.
      I am toying with the idea of letting them read the Reading A-Z basals I printed out last year, since they are really easy and would give me a much needed rest, for the first 7 min of class. But I am not sure that putting the novels out in the first semester of first year is a good idea.

      1. Tina. I am of the belief of not spending my own money for my materials as well as my PD. ON the positive, it encourages me to create with my students. Novels, to me will be for year 2 but I plan on taking up Ben’s challenge of creating a “Reader” with 150 essential words. I am sure it will not be easy.

        One strategy I would use is to do a class reading of a variant of our PQA or our story. I would replace characters, replace events in the story and introduce new characters and recycle OLD words from the beginning of the year. I would just stare at my poster of familiar words for the class. Whatever would strike as compelling, I would add it in.

        The students would do this too in their freewrites by adding in “kool-aid man”, the hulk and others walk into a starbucks (we’re very brand based here in CA). They would use structures that I previously targeted. Of course this was when I was targetting.

        All this to say that our “warm-up” would be to read DOWN. I would sometimes add 1 new word and gloss it.

        1. ” I am of the belief of not spending my own money for my materials as well as my PD. ”

          This is music to my ears. I love it. Just because one teacher has the money, doesn’t mean the teacher next door will, and there is this unfair and unspoken expectation that teachers will spend their own money. It’s most honorable not to participate in that.

          1. Claire, I thought I would get slammed for saying it but im glad im not alone. I think that there are resources or funds out there we can use to help improve our programs but I was brought up in the punk, diy mentality in southern California.

      2. Steven, your approach to setting up some SSR at the beginning of the class period during the first quarter of the year probably will engage students more than having them read the A-Z readers. That said, with all the visual representations in those A-Z readers, they don’t look so bad.

        Tina, can I cheat and ask you to share some of the titles you downloaded from the A-Z site that looked like good reads for your beginning level kids?

  7. Hi Guys!

    I have been enjoying my only two weeks free of summer vacation (I worked all summer) getting tanned and getting in the zone for the year at the same time. I want to read your comments with a bit more thought before I ask any questions or comment on them but I did what to get your opinion on this:

    I recently watched a TEDtalk about the best way to really “pick up” a language and it was said that SPEAKING the language really encourages learners to shake off their fear of making mistakes. I hope it’s okay that I share the link. Ben, give me a little slap on the hand if not but here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1RRbupCxi0

    Anyway, what do you guys think about spending a portion of class where it feels like a round-robin meeting, where it’s focused on students just practicing their speech; practicing shaking off the discomfort; where it’s less about us asking questions and more of the students using us to have discussions as a group, like in English class. I’m talking about only 5-10 minutes. I know speaking is not how we acquire but I think at Spanish 2 and above, it could be beneficial for the kids to just get used to the words being in their mouths, as long as they are not forced to do so, of course.

    Do any of you put the chairs in a circle and just encourage speech?

  8. Jen. This is interesting. My experience with stories, rather story asking, has been that engagement can get so high that students will automatically respond in French when ready. I was relaxed about English use last year so they may be “slightly delayed” but my current french one wants to use it righr away.

    This is due to myself staying in French most of the time except to explain some procedures. I had a kid yell “avec me” on the fourth day.

    So now my view is that although students are listening they are not passive. As long as it is personalized, it should pique their interest and keep the affective filter low. Shaking off fear comes from being in a safe environment. Some students dont even want to speak in their other classes. Just my two cents.

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