Video Report from the Field with Questions – Lance Piantaggini

Lance has sent over TWENTY videos for us to watch. As with Alisa’s video and any and all video we can get to talking about here (there are many on the hard link above) this is a learning opportunity. It could be the equivalent experience of terms of learning gains about CI to an entire summer conference, if not more. Lance puts himself out there. He doesn’t edit and shows both the good and the bad and the in-between. He will add shorter 2 min. vids as we go through into the spring.

This thread could prove to be the equivalent of a graduate course for the people on the blog who dive into these videos like I plan on doing. (And don’t forget you can get Portland State University graduate credits by reading this blog as per:

Those who have articles jammed in the queue, I again apologize but I want us to focus on these videos for awhile. Maybe we can figure out a way to discuss one video a day. I guess we should all limit discussion to Video #01 first, and then go one by one. They are fairly short. The more comments we make the more we learn.

Lance explains:

Hey Ben –

I am in a good position to record a little bit of each class I teach, and would like to chronicle my entire experience this year. Why? I originally wanted to model some routines and MGMT strategies for people new to CI, but after that first day it looks like I might be capturing all the things that can go WRONG when teaching! Upon reflecting, these videos might illustrate real-world “troubleshooting” that seems to be an overlooked area of CI training, which means they’ll still be super helpful for beginners. I’ll keep making them each week.

I apologize for the subtitle speed on this first video. I teach 7th grade Exploratory (8 weeks of Spanish, then Latin, then French). For the record, I haven’t even BEGUN to come close to my Spanish proficiency limit due to the need for constant Crowd Control.

My situation is pretty grim in terms of MGMT, let alone preparing to teach French (of which I know very little) in May. The kids have been running the show all year, and I’m their 3rd teacher. I’ll take unsolicited advice anytime, but I am aware of the following things I’m in control of, and am asking for a few things specifically from the PLC below these two:

– I wasn’t been able to redirect kids quickly because I actually didn’t know all 140 names after the first week in December. That was on me.
– Circling with Balls might not work 1/3 way through the year. Has anyone stepped into a class and had success like that? At the start of the year it rocks, but once the kids are comfortable with each other and have created their own classroom dynamic, the strategy seems to flop. Those kids we target in September already have power, and the rest of the kids sense it.

Advice from PLC:
1) Because at least 5 kids each class won’t shut the Eff up, I am finding that I can’t speak slowly enough in between disruptions, which Effs with comprehension and flow. This also means that class isn’t really compelling because we’re not using much language. Yes, there was ZERO management and accountability from September to December, but I fear that the effort needed to reel in those 5 or so kids from each class in will lose the “buy-in” of others. Is there even a solution here? Get through this year and start fresh?
2) I pose the question: “Can students with behavior issues succeed in a CI class?” I feel the need to remove students (using Bryce’s Think Sheets) so I can teach everyone else who “agrees” to learn Spanish (i.e. I’ve renamed Bob Patrick’s Daily Engagement Assessments to Daily Engagement Agreements…students are agreeing to do the things that allow them AND OTHERS to learn a language). When I remove them, however, they miss out on the language experience. I suppose if the behavior is that severe, they don’t care about learning anything and it might be waaaaay out of my control. The problem is that they aren’t in a position to be compelled by what we’re talking about when I spend so much time dealing with discipline issues. One of my students, for example, has a track record of 5 suspensions this year…so far. One student’s district accommodation plan states that teachers should “ignore inappropriate behavior.” My reaction to that is whaaaaaaaat thaaaaaaa….!? Aside from that odd wrench in the admin/guidance department, clearly, that can’t happen in a CI environment at the expense of everyone else. You’ll see what I mean when you watch that video.
3) Is there anything people would like to see on these clips? Any other suggestions on how to make the chronicle serve its best purpose?
4) Anything else?

This is a tough gig, but I remain hopeful. As always, Ben, thanks for maintaining the PLC.



24 thoughts on “Video Report from the Field with Questions – Lance Piantaggini”

  1. Given the history here and the class size, you are doing great work. But we need to focus on what YOU can do since apparently you can’t change those two big negatives. Your TPRS potential, presenting style, vocal quality, all that is a 10 out of 10.

    At :50 – about the cues. I say don’t use English, just cue them and if they miss the cue go on with the lesson, which is far more important than the cues. I don’t cue much anymore, only when it’s fun. It seems kind of weird, and most kids aren’t really registering understanding anyway when they are cued, just doing what everyone else is doing.

    At 2:22 – so far it’s been all about the rules. They won’t get it. With that girl you said the camera is on and she said she didn’t care about the camera and you said she didn’t care about the class and you kicked her out. We have all done this, but the confrontation was your fault. You almost forced her to say in front of peers that she didn’t want to be in the class. That’s what teens do. This was raw and as I said we’ve been there, all of us. You over-explained the rules. Just get them roped in with some cool Spanish!

    At 5:00 – it’s still all about the rules in English. Honestly, your own use of English is ME for most of the time when learning TPRS. I just spoke too much English. WAY too much. I’m STILL working on that. When you translated off the scree that it is ok or not ok to speak Spanish, I say don’t do that. No translation. Stay in Spanish, get them focused on the meaning of something so an IMAGE gets formed in their minds, and using English so much is a disaster in that regard. And then for the last minute it all went down the tubes with that girl who wanted Ms. Kailey back. Been there done that. Never want to be there again.

    Over past years, ever since I created the Classroom Rules, knowing their strength, I stopped to correct behavior every few seconds. I see you doing that as well. But don’t. Point to the rule when you need but smile, avoid talking. Again, this may not be possible with this group.

    When they start following the story they won’t act out. Again, I can’t say for sure because of the size of this class, which feels ridiculous even though I can’t see it. Plus you said they have a history of no management. Great!

    And don’t MAKE them respond as a group. Just INVITE them to. That’s what I think anyway. Teach without wanting so much from them. Pull them in with a cool sentence about one of them and then a few sentences and then a story. Enjoy yourself more. Don’t work so hard.

    I don’t think the Circling w Balls can work in mid-year. Different people will say different things on that. I would create a Super Mini Story and get some actors up with you. Have a story writer taking notes of what happens in English. (You may do this later – I have only seen the first video in its entirety.

    Slap a quiz on them after the reading. There will be a few classes where many of them fail those first quizzes. As soon as the class stabilizes, if it does given the negatives mentioned above, take the first quiz that most of them succeed on and ceremoniously throw those first few quizzes, the bad ones, into the waste basket in front of them so they see you do it. Instantly they will know that they have a B or A in the class, because you are dropping the first quizzes and taking their first success (probably the third or fourth quiz in). Nothing motivates like success….

    When you do a reading of the very simple story you create with them and then quiz them on it and praise them to the skies when they get all the questions right, you will break new ground with them. There will be less of that grinding invisible world conflict. I say all this with the reservation that there may be too many kids in that room for ANYONE to pull the things I am suggesting off.

    It may be unavoidable but maybe you can focus less on the rules. The focus on the rules is hard and unpleasant for the kids, and is getting in the way of your communicating anything to them in the TL.

    How many kids are in there, anyway?

    They are acting out bc they are not able to follow the story bc of all the interruptions. It’s a catch 22. Try not to interrupt yourself so you can build a real movie in their brains, one they can get involved with without getting interrupted by you. Watch what happens when you do that. Can’t wait to work through all 22 of these videos!

  2. Wow. I watched yesterday the Story Card Magic lesson (#21), but I didn’t know all the history on the class. Just saw video #1. Wow.

    Lance, you are a HERO for sharing these. I’d expect this from Lance! He’s a wise TPRSer who keeps it real. And I agree with Ben and have already told you that you got skillz.

    I hope we can collectively put our minds together and maybe make some progress on what is probably the greatest impediment to TCI/TPRS in the classroom: discipline.

    Communication. Not teaching. That’s why Ben’s recommendation of not expecting as much from the kids could work. Kids respond differently to the difference between being communicated with and being taught something. Hard to pull this off with beginners with such a limited vocabulary.

    Have you tried timing the periods in L2? Or what about just having a dictation, text with questions, etc. ready and tell the kids that they either follow the class rules (maybe have a 3 strike policy and ENFORCE it) for a story or a dictation. Make it seem like it’s the same to you, not that the dictation is a punishment. They gotta deserve your teacher effort!

    Besides clear rules and seat assignments. . . You may need a management system, like PAT or Págame, even if it goes against the Alfie Kohn in you! I use a Págame-like system only for my most difficult 4th grade class. But I phase it out. This can solve the Catch 22 – management getting in the way of CI. And I have one child who I occasionally have to remove, because his behavior so hinders my teaching.

    I have only seen videos #1 and #21, so maybe I’m commenting on stuff you already tried. But I would probably also spend some quality time in ENGLISH shooting the breeze with them. Maybe even do some ice breaker/community building type games in ENGLISH. The student-teacher and student-student relationship has to be there before the TCI/TPRS can get off the ground. Then again, much of the TCI/TPRS could accomplish this for you.

    People need to see these in order to know what teachers go through. It’s appalling how disrespectful kids can be. I’ve been in really big classes in Honduras where there are plenty (majority?) of kids with economic, family, etc. problems, but they are respectful!

    This is my 4th year at my school and it’s the first year I genuinely LOVE every class section grades 5-8. First year I’ve gotten buy-in from everyone and constant good will from all my middle school classes. My first year, transitioning kids to TPRS, resetting expectations, building relationships, was way more rough.

    1. What Eric says about building relationships is huge. However, to be really effective it can’t be attempted in a poisoned setting like this one. No teacher should ever have to hear about the Ms. Kaileys of the past in their own buildings. It’s too much. It’s just too much. That Lance put that clip as the FIRST clip of this series says something about him. He’s interested in professional growth more than anything else. We are truly lucky to have this gentleman in our group.

  3. OH! Lance! This reminds me so much of my own experience Sept-Nov.

    Impeccable timing for you to post this and THANK YOU does not even come close to the enormous gratitude I feel. About to start semester 2, I am hunkering down today to create routines and such, so I can NOT repeat semester 1! Literally writing ideas in a notebook when I saw this post!!!

    Just starting to watch. The first vid hit really close to home…had some flashbacks with all of that stunning disrespect. You handle it pretty calmly all in all. It’s so difficult when we are not prepared for these levels of rudeness. It literally knocked me off center starting day one. Even though you say things that you wish you hadn’t, it’s impressive that your demeanor never changed. You were calm and in control (at least on the outside) and it was good to hear the kids starting to back you up. AGH! This is SO HARD!

    In 2nd vid…up to 1:23 when you are starting the story, the way you say “our stories” and “our own stories” is so captivating. The group energy has shifted dramatically from the first vid. Your energy and calm firm presence is reassuring. I love when the kid says “Cool!” And the silence! Wowie! I am looking forward to watching this.

    Pa’lante amigo! 🙂

  4. Class sizes are 27, 28, 28, 28, 30.

    I’m taking in all the advice, but probably won’t be able to respond to everything, especially since you can already see my reflective thoughts as captions in the videos. Direct questions about unclear things heard/seen that I didn’t address in the captions are easier for me to respond to outside of any discussions that arise.

    So, I’m here, but don’t let me get in the way of any thoughts.

  5. Video #2 I don’t speak Spanish, and as a student, I really enjoyed the pace at which you introduced the structures. I could literally feel the language sinking in, even without reps. The slow pace, with pointing and pausing, establishing meaning, and seeing the words written on the board allowed me to process each target structure without feeling rushed. Very cool! Such a difficult skill -going slow-. Something I must work at.

  6. Now we’re doing real work. My original prayer for this blog was this kind of work. The real stuff. And we have 21 more vids to work with, not to mention that Lance is putting shorter 2 min. clips for us to share down the road. It’s going to be a good couple of months. Set your learning dials to high. Look closely in the rear view mirror. See the ivory towers back there? The ones in the dust? Not one of them can equal one minute of the work we are going to be doing here for awhile now. Let’s spend the rest of Monday on #01 and make Tuesday our focus of #02, for uniformity of discussion. Remember to respect Lance’s request here:

    …direct questions about unclear things heard/seen…are easier for me to respond to outside of any discussions that arise….

  7. Lance you are setting the bar for us all getting honest and facing the reality of what it can mean to get started in TPRS/CI in a new school. This stuff you are dealing with is exactly what I have been dealing with and it is inspiring to see you facing it with honest hard work, humility and commitment and no self blame. And sharing your experience for us all to learn and collaborate with you. You are my new hero and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your professionalism is inspiring. Let’s do this!!!

    1. OK so I guess we should make Video #2 the topic of discussion for Tuesday and Wednesday? Good idea? Other ideas on how we can make sure we are all watching the same vids on the same days for uniformity of discussion?

  8. And Lance please share your own thoughts/responses as we go through this together as a group. Any response you write out for us in a comment field here as you reflect on our comments would be valuable. Almost like a real workshop setting!

  9. Lance,

    Awesome videos. My hat off to anyone that is willing to share their craft for others to judge and evaluate. I like everything you are doing. I am very familiar with what it is like to have over 30 students in a classroom while being a TPRSer. The chattering in your classes is perfectly normal. Yor are giving those kids HIGH quality exposure to wonderful CI. I think we, as TPRS teachers have such a high expectation for classroom behavior because we are so result driven.

    I see how result driven you are based on your comments in the videos, your comments in the PLC, and your efforts in the classroom in the handful of videos I watched. Great stuff!!!

    My suggestion: When I had such large classrooms I struggled with students that were in the corners or back of the room. When I set up the room in a horse shoe and later a deskless horse shoe the chattering tightened up. I used my proximity to talking students as a tool to modify the behavior of the talkers. In the horse shoe seating every kid gets a front row seat feel.

    My guess is that you are in front of the room because you were recording your teaching but the proximity thing has been a game changer for me. I realize that buzzing around the room looks tiring but I enjoyed it. I much rather get exercise while teaching than high blood pressure form frustration 🙂

    Keep up the great work buddy!!!

    1. I can’t do the moving around the room thing. It’s too much all about me and I am too old to change. I just kind of hang around in the middle of the room. Why? Because it IS all about me. The idea of putting kids in groups (this point doesn’t even need to be said here) just cannot work in CI classes. No groups, just us or books immersing them in CI. By extension, the more contact they have with us and the less with each other, the better. I have found greatest success with wide wings of kids stretching from right to left in front of me. As I mentioned, a wing of 14 kids in the room can hold a class of 28 – two wings – with MINIMAL contact between students. Yeah I was curious how the kids were arranged in front of Lance.

      1. Ben,

        I wonder what your take is on this video of one of my classes from a few years ago? Or anyone’s take actually?

        I literally have had teachers tell me they could never teach with so much energy and movement. They want to stand at the board and storytell or do Powerpoints. I don’t get it! The energy part seems easy to me compared to trying to get bored students interested.

        The disguise in this video is that they students get a 1:1 feel to storytelling. I should mention that my actors in this video are all barometers. And that in general this was a “tough” class from a management standpoint. All that being said we GOT it DONE all year!

        1. Mike clearly went through the “School of Blaine.” 🙂

          I have never taught high school, don’t have classes that large, and I teach a different demographic, so not sure how relevant any of my comments would be.

          IMO, this is not over-the-top movement/energy at all. If a teacher complains about having to go over and point, write stuff down on the board, sit in the circle with the kids, then they likely ain’t cut out for this.

          On the more general topic of energy . . . it should be natural and reciprocal. I get excited when students get excited. They ham it up, then I ham it up. You can tell when teachers are projecting lots of energy to compensate for boring content.

  10. I just watched that again for the first time since creating the video. It seems rough, but I just had unrealistic expectations. My first day was a hook, and this 2nd day was supposed to be “the day I was going to establish my routines.”

    That’s the same naivety teachers have when they “cover” material. It takes a lot of spaced-interval repetition to become accustomed…to anything. It’s almost as if I planned that day as THE routine-establishing day.

    Not reality.

  11. Saludos,

    ¡Gracias por compartir estos videos! Es usted un valiente Sr. Piantaggini.

    I just saw the first one. I have a couple of questions:

    Would it make a difference if a teacher starts your first day reading in highly comprehensible Spanish? (not just for Mr Piantaggini’s class but in any class)?

    Starting with reading has made my classroom management easier. I teach 9 through 12 grades (most are sophomores and juniors).

    I ask that because I think reading is still CI and the teacher and the class starts with “real” Spanish: using language to explain the world (through a story about México, Guatemala or Chile), a big goal. I think that would reduce the number of rules needed to be explained.

    I would jump into Storytelling later.

    I also coach soccer and taught P.E.: I say “hello” and we start moving. You don’t need to play all soccer rules to play, maybe you can play without the rules if the kids consider organic, authentic, …

    1. If a class reads on Day 1, how do we establish meaning without breaking the flow of reading? Kids often have trouble recognizing cognates, so I’m not sure how that would even work. Also, one thing lacking from starting out with reading is Compelling. That’s the missing C.

      Personally, I’ve decided to switch around the order of things when we get to Latin in a few weeks. Storyasking will definitely be later, but not MUCH later. I think there’s a fine balance of sprinkling days with TPR while at the same time doing SOMETHING with a story (e.g. class story, movietalk, whatever).

  12. Reading is a step that can start a lesson. In fact, I did this morning with my students using Mira Canion’s Vampirata.

    Typically, I do not start with reading with new learners. I use reading as a way to show in a direct or explicit way what was heard. Even with this TPRS novel I started through PQA and Ask a Story about the characters to “prime” them for the written words.

    We acquire when we listen and when we understand. Reading is the goal for me. I want to foster reading so that students can learn or acquire more without me. I think if they do not learn to read what they understand and hear, that they do not have the opportunity to learn more outside of the classroom.

    Most students find reading to be tedious so I start with “storytelling” then read almost always.

  13. Especially since I teach Chinese, I’ll always say delay reading until after lots and lots of auditory input.

    I realize that’s not Angel’s question, because he’s specified Spanish. However, I think for most languages and beginning levels of that language, delay reading until after auditory input. Otherwise, it’s very possible that students are going to “hear” the new language anglicized as they read. I’d like them to have correct-sounding Chinese in their heads to draw on as they read.

  14. Lance,

    I also just binge-watched all of your videos and I must tell you that I admire you as a professional and as a human. I have ABSOLUTELY been in your shoes, facing that incomprehensible disrespect. You held your composure pretty darn well as you asked that girl to leave and fill out her sheet in the first video.

    You have inspired me to put aside my textbook that I was basically pressured to use and really go full CI this semester. If you can do it with kids that had NO management and weren’t even “your” students from Sept-Dec then, I can do it with my kids who are used to me and who are fortunately not as disrespectful.

    I also think you should just try to avoid going into English, explaining things or referring to rules verbally. Just keep that Spanish fountain flowing. By the way, as a fluent Spanish-speaker (also non-native) I must say you aren’t giving yourself enough credit: your Spanish is great! The minor mistakes you’re making will go completely unnoticed by beginner level Spanish students anyway so please don’t worry about going out on a limb and trying new things. Also, every time they have those side conversations just stop everything and point to the rules. PAT points might be your best friend in this situation. Check out some of the stuff Bryce Hedstrom has on that topic. Make sure you give some kind of quiz or put the JGR grade in the grade book so kids FEEL a consequence.

    I place Advanced Low on the OPI scale and I STILL make mistakes. When I realize it, I fix it for next class. If a student calls me on the change I made, I simply tell them I realized I was making an error, sue me I’m human, we all laugh and they appreciate when an adult can admit they are wrong about something.

    I don’t think I have much advice to give but I just wanted to say that I really appreciated you sharing so many videos.

  15. …I must say you aren’t giving yourself enough credit: your Spanish is great!…

    Thanks, and same to those who’ve said something similar. I don’t think I’m being too negative about my proficiency, although I’m certainly transparent about what I see/hear. My Spanish so far is the direct result of reading:

    Pobre Ana, Patricia va a California, Casi se Muere Amigos Detectivos, Piratas del Caribe (y el mapa secreto), and the first chapter and half of Harry Potter (y el piedra filosofal).

    One reason I wanted to chronicle this experience is that I believe that a high level of proficiency isn’t necessary if you have a high level of pedagogical training. We’ve known that native speakers don’t necessarily make the best teachers, but I think what I’m doing will show we need far less proficiency and far MORE second language training. French will be the real test on that one.

  16. I have every confidence in you in French, Lance, especially after watching some of your videos. Remember, I taught Spanish for 6 week intervals back in the day and made it work. All I used was a word wall and the Word Chunk Team Game, which ate up hours of class time and never put me into the embarrassing situation of having to actually form sentences in Spanish in the form of a story. Only once was I caught, when an AP who had observed the class was standing with me after the class, which went well, and some kid had to choose that moment to come up to me and ask how to say onion. I had no idea. I remember that one of the eyebrows – I can’t remember which – on the (rather uptight) AP rose. But the experience proved that with a word wall and WCTG you can really fake a bunch of people out.

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