Report from the Field – Laura Cenci

Sometimes I am truly amazed at the speed at which some teachers move deeply into this way of teaching. This report from Laura Cenci is an example:

Hello TPRS community! I hope you will forgive my presumptuousness in doing a really LONG therapeutic download here, but this thread [ed. note: the one on MovieTalk] has helped me pull together where I am in this, my second year of teaching. I summarize it below, and it has been cathartic to put it down in writing. As a new teacher I am encouraged by this thread that I am on the right track. Thanks so much to Eric for sharing examples of his teaching. As a second year TPRSer (alone at my school) it is invaluable to see examples of others!!

Last year I had the MOST success and was the MOST inbounds with MT. The visual boundaries are right there on the screen. I limited videos to 4 minutes. I would look at the clips from the tprs listserve and pull out the new words to teach, making sure we already knew plenty of words to describe the action. Sometimes I would search the word I wanted to teach and find an accompanying video.

As is common, with level one students I spend the first weeks doing TPR gesturing of lots of physical verbs. The kids have fun because they are up and moving and it is different from their other classes. On top of it, the words with gestures, as Eric demonstrated, REALLY make the words stick. Kids will get stuck wanting to say a word and if I do the gesture, the word pops right out of their mouths. Beginning of the year verbs will stick all year. Gesturing is the most powerful tool I have.

Next, it is easy for us all to refer to colors and basic adjectives (that are lots of cognates in Spanish) displayed on my walls and do some one word images when we do PQA. This makes it simple to build little stories (such as Susan Gross’ first week of school mouse family and cat story). This builds their confidence.

Then when the TPR novelty begins to wear off, MT is a super next step – flashy, novel, but they are still hearing tons of L2 and now they can chime in. The L2 production is natural and gives more confidence. Show, say, Mr. Bean falling down the stairs and the kids yell “falls!” “it hurts him” “yells” “cries” because those are the words they’ve been gesturing. It’s almost like a step between TPR into the air and talking to another person in a conversation. With the movie you can use as much or as little detail as the class can handle. You just scaffold.

With MT you can stop the video a million times to discuss the size, color, number, boy girl – whatever depending on the class level. It is a cinch to type up a few scaffolded readings, do a dictation, act it out, read it some more, then get them to write it up for their Friday writing, or if you are good at doing CLOZE worksheets (or just verbally) have them fill in the blanks. Or write up a quiz using question words and give them choices or, by the end of the unit, they should be able to write a short answer.

I recently combined Blaine’s weekly schedule with Ben’s two week schedule and Reading Option A activities so that I could practice going deeper with the story on hand. That has been the biggest gain I have made this year, I think, is using the arsenal of activities shared here so I can keep using the same material and keep the kids interested. Today was a really low interest day of circling a story from last week that didn’t have lots of acting opportunities and no art visuals. I need to incorporate a class artist each story. But tomorrow I will have them illustrate the story and change some details then share with the class, and Friday do a 5 minute write up.

I always start with the video first – its a big hook, though if your students have a good attention span you could read it first and circle it and they would be ready to narrate when they see it. For me, however, my students pay MUCH better attention with repetition and circling (into the ground) with a visual (watching the supporting visuals of MT) than without them on a class built story. I know we can illustrate and act a class story, but here is where I use my technology – everyone loves to stare at a screen.

I struggle getting my actors to illustrate instead of distract, and Story Asking is my biggest weakness – staying in bounds and making the story engaging, even with scripts. But on occasion we come up with a good one, but it is such a Zen activity – everyone has to be in the right place, with the right structures and enough personal input to make it engaging. But I want to conquer it.

So far this year I have done Story Asking (3 steps with reading, sometimes using Mad Libs format), read Tumba (adding with PQA and acting and the inherent culture in the story) and Movie Talk (Help! and will start another one after Thanksgiving). I feel that if I can rotate through these three tools this year I will have the opportunity to improve my 1. story asking skills – which I know will improve with more time and practice – while giving the students some 2. inbounds variety and interest with MT, and 3. inbounds and (lesser) interest with novels. And for a new teacher, this is giving me enough confidence and success to keep my morale up.

Thanks for letting me vent – and thanks to all of you for writing here and at moreTPRS – whenever I need help I have been able to tap in and get the boost I needed!



8 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Laura Cenci”

  1. Hey, thank you so much for the encouragement! As I know you all know, doing this on your own requires a lot of gumption to get back in the saddle every day (or a big glass of wine each night, in my case). Support like this from my virtual TPRS gurus is invaluable. Really, this means the world. Thanks a million.

    1. Right-on, Laura. I’m currently trying to garner the gumption to win my school dean over on my CI teaching method. I have a few students that are disruptive, get sent to the dean, and, devastatingly, the dean explores with them ways Mr. Lawler can teach to best reach them. I’ll use a strong word to describe how I feel: vilified. All said, she’s not against me. She just doesn’t know better. I’m confident she will come around. But it takes work.

      1. We’d be crazy to not take care of our mental health first in exchange for constant input. Yes, we must take breaks from the long dusty trails of day-to-day teaching and I so agree, James.

        Sometimes I would just talk to my kids about my younger days hitchhiking around Europe. Paul used to bring medical supplies from Holland to Africa. What kids don’t want to hear those stories?

        Doing this builds community and gives us a good rest. The web of human connection in a classroom is more important than the best teaching in the world, which falls on deaf ears unless the trust and respect and interest in the human being is there. That’s why I put personalization first in this work and always have.

        Our job is to interest the kids in learning more language one day and maybe help the kids to dream about being in another place one day using the language, so those classes out of the saddle talking about culture, etc. are really important. And so we shouldn’t feel as if we are not doing our job properly when we take an entire class off to have fun and hang out.

        Once at Lincoln High School I spent a class period listening to an amazing stand up comic kid from Mexico who I think maybe was planning a professional career in comedy.

        Fernando told jokes the entire period, getting more energy as he went along. Who knew that he spent much of his time working on comedy? Just me and one other kid in the room didn’t understand the (blazing fast!) Spanish but it was worth it listening and wondering when the class was going to fall out next on the floor laughing.

        Kids need to laugh and feel that our classrooms are places they want to be in and we can’t accomplish that by speaking in the TL to them all the time. And we get paid to hang out with such wonderful human beings? God is good and kind.

        Yeah, James, out of the saddle is good sometimes. Mental health first!


  2. Let’s be clear, Sean. The assumption/suggestion that you find other ways to reach those disruptive kids is an embarrassment to the person who suggested it. I am offended that this administrator would decide to come after you and not the kids who plainly need to be brought around to a different way of interacting with you in class.

    Get over this bump in the road right away. I’m sorry it’s just your first year there as well. We have enough going on in trying to educate our students; now we have to educate those who judge our work.

    I agree that she just doesn’t know but this kind of walloping stupidity just never fricking seems to end. Little does she know that she is dealing with, in my view, a true gentleman and great teacher, a pillar of all that is right in education. What to do? I guess you have to calmly educate this person.

    If it’s any consolation, I have been in your shoes more than once. We try so hard to reach such kids, the admin doesn’t know that, then when we “fail” it’s our fault. That is why I now recommend doing all we can to rid ourselves of such students in the first three or four weeks of the year while we can.

    I’m glad I’m over my “I can reach any kid with this stuff!” phase.

  3. “The web of human connection in a classroom is more important than the best teaching in the world, which falls on deaf ears unless the trust and respect and interest in the human being is there. ”


    This. What it’s all about. And so hard to keep this present without overzealous preaching and externalizing. and trying to convince others. Not possible to convince anyone. We can only invite and encourage! Eek. This is my battle.


    “I’m glad I’m over my “I can reach any kid with this stuff!” phase.”

    I am not over this phase. Starting to get there though. It’s very difficult. AND we do have to put our mental health first, if for no other reason than to model self-advocacy. Because to not do this models the lack of boundaries that makes us vulnerable to abuse. It ain’t easy any way you slice it.

  4. I agree, jen. Lacking the personal boundaries to keep the toxic system in our buildings at bay results in blows to our mental health. People who have authority in name only but who do not really get what we do can get to us if we allow that. We can’t allow it. We can’t let ourselves lose our mental health over the misdirected people around us, even if it is a direct superior AP in our building. If we don’t set boundaries, then we pay the price. Of course, this is most especially true for students. But we have a system in place that keeps our boundaries very clear with them – the triple whammy of the Classroom Rules, jGR and as many as two or even three quick quizzes in one class period, not to mention the Ten Minute Deal.

    This profession has one very beautiful shade of silver lining that is always there in our oftentimes cloudy day to day life with judgmental admins, colleagues and students. It absolutely requires that we learn to set boundaries with them. If nothing else, this one thing will happen in our careers or we will end up quitting in despair.

    When I started teaching in 1977 I wanted everyone to like me so much that it amounted to a mild form of insanity. Now, I see it all as one big ass lesson that took almost four decades to learn about setting boundaries, about knowing where my boundaries are with everyone and not just professionally. It was a hard lesson to learn but worth it. Now that I know from all those years where my boundaries are and how to enforce them, I can love myself and accept myself more if I’m not the perfect teacher. That’s a good feeling!

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