Spring Is In The Air – 4

Continuing with my general spring plan (not that it’s all I’ll do, of course) for the next five months of this academic year, here is what I plan to do after the SSR (Part A) part has been completed, about 30 minutes or so into class. None of it is new, really:

Second section of class/Part B:

After the period of reading, discussing and quizzing on the SSR session, I will ENGAGE MY KIDS IN SOME FORM OF CI. This will often be in the form of a story, but of course it doesn’t have to be. We have so many options.

Here is one option to stories that requires no planning, which I haven’t really described on this site yet. I mention it here because it fits in with the general plan of totally effortless CI that is my goal here, and because I haven’t presented it here as yet. I think it’s pretty cool and a lot of us probably already do some form of it already.

The option is that if I don’t use a story, I’ll just do some in-your-face impromptu CI based on something that happened with a student that day or earlier that week. I no longer want to even THINK about planning a class any more. If I have some sort of routine like the one I am describing here, a routine that requires no planning so that I can watch and rewatch all the episodes of Breaking Bad in the evenings instead of thinking about what I am going to do in class the next day, I know I am going be able to fulfill my goal of learning to put my own relaxation and mental health first and my interest in CI second.

So the idea is to start the second part of class out with some random sentence that is connected to something impromptu happening in the class at that moment or that has happened earlier that day or week, something about the life of a student, something we can embellish. It could be that Maria saw a spider in the lunch room, that Jenny slapped Patrick, etc.

If I do that, I can just keep using questioning to make goofy things out of the stuff that the kids bring into class that day. All I need to do is carefully read those little signs that the kids send out as they come into class. It can be as simple as “James was running” just before class. I take that and then ask where (somewhere silly) and with whom (someone silly) and then create a problem and solve it and that’s that.

“James was running” becomes “James was running really fast next to the shark pool [sharks are students in the class] that is next to the school parking lot with Daffy Duck when Daffy started insulting him and so he kicked Daffy into the pool before saving him with the help of [some student in the class].” Actors [James, Daffy, the sharks] up and working. SLOW repeated personalized questioning fully at work here. Don’t make the story too long. You don’t need targets or to do PQA.

That’s all story telling is – finding out silly details about simple ideas via questioning using where and with whom, then introducing a problem, then going to two locations to solve it but failing, and finally solving the problem in the third location. So new people, have hope – that’s all there is to it, really. We improvise, we loosen up, we just talk to the kids to repeat Susan Gross’ perfect description of TPRS. May God bless our hearts, we learn to look upon this work of teaching in a completely different way, one that honors serendipity and the unexpected, and laughter, into our classrooms.

I may have found something out in the hallway earlier in the day, when Sully told his friend outside of my classroom that he ate ten donuts in one sitting on Saturday morning. Such an innocuous sounding thing holds CI treasure untold, as we all know. All I have to do is figure out the sentence before class, and then employ the where/with whom/problem/solve the problem pattern described above.

Once I have my sentence, I use the pattern to twist it into silliness, even if it doesn’t start out silly. Silly personalized CI is the high road to fun classes. I’ll find something new every day in each class. Kids are always conveying things to others in those subtle teenage ways they have as they come into class. Nothing is more important to a teenager (or anyone!) than to be noticed when they walk into a room, to be acknowledged in some way, and when a teacher is behind and encourages the discussion, that’s even better (as long as it doesn’t cross any personal boundaries with the student, as we have known for some time, of course).

So all I have to do is notice where the energy is that day, with which student or group of students, then create a “starter” sentence that has power in it, one that will have energy that day but not on other days, and power up. Once the energy fades during the discussion, even if it just lasts a minute or two, I know that I have the rock star plan of ROA to expand on whatever we create out of (the story or) that the starter sentence that we used to start the CI. ROA has so many steps to follow effortlessly for days after I have a story! Remember, effortless teaching is the goal here!

(For new people: in this work with CI all we have to do is create something in the TL, something that can consist of one or one hundred sentences, then write it down, and the kids read it, and that’s it. This work is SO simple.)

OK, rant over. In this second part of my mental health initiative all I have to do is talk to the kids in the TL using stories or this “starter sentence” idea as described above, or use a one word image, or Circling with Balls or one of the more than 20 other such strategies that we have at our disposal.

In the second part of my spring plan all I have to do is talk to the kids, and it doesn’t have to be a big complicated affair – it can be just a few sentences long, requiring only ten minutes of CI. Of course, I will always employ my story writer as usual so that I can then present what we created as a reading, and give them the quick quiz on the reading.

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28 thoughts on “Spring Is In The Air – 4”

  1. Similar to the starter sentence idea, I’ve been trying to include 1 personal question per class. We’ll spend as little as 5 minutes on it, but more if there is energy. The words in the question do not have to be my “targets” that day. We just translate any new words and proceed.

    1. This from Eric is important:

      …I’ve been trying to include 1 personal question per class. We’ll spend as little as 5 minutes on it, but more if there is energy….

      I have long felt that sometimes we get something cute going on in class and milk it too much. We turn stories into tomes. We go on for days. In observing Linda Li whenever I can this year, I have noticed that her stories happen and are always finished in the same class, with minimal fanfare. Some last no more than 15 or even 10 minutes.

      This is amazing to me, the winner of the 1998 Motor City Mouth Prize for being able to ramble on about anything for days. We become too enamored with what we are creating and lose our grip on reality. The kids get taken way wide on vocabulary as the thing gets bigger and bigger, which is not fair to them.

      We have never even talked about the need to limit the length of CI discussion in the interest of neatness and ease and balance. That’s one of the functions of the three locations, I have always felt, to keep things crisp and in bounds and understandable.

      The old rule was to take what is interesting and run with it until it lost energy. Just thinking out loud here. In this spring plan, I won’t be able to do that. My classes need to have some recognizable form, or it confuses me and the kids. My own internal dialogue to start class has been for too long something resembling, in spite of the good efforts of the story writer:

      “Where is this class?”
      “What are they doing?”
      “Who were the actors?”
      “What do I need to do with them today? – I know it had something to do with a frog.”
      “Oh hell, why can’t I be more organized?”

      I’m just saying that maybe we need to maybe discuss limiting the length of stories in a general way, keeping out so many details. I think some of us (Linda for one, of course) already do that. Smart people!

  2. I just started doing the “Star of the Week” in my French 2 classes this last week, and introduced it to my French 1 classes. It’s a super easy way to eat up at least 10 minutes of the class, if not more. (Particularly when we do a quick quiz and/or dictation afterwards) The students really like it, and I love that it’s just one more thing that once it’s set up there is very little planning to it.

    I’m going to ask my French 3/4 class to write down suggestions for questions for them this next week, so we can do that after our first semester finals. Even though I’ve just started it I’m pretty excited about continuing it the rest of the year.

    1. As I mentioned, Star of the Week will figure into my own plan, along with the above, for the next few months, Bryan.

      I’ll never forget the look Sabrina gave me before she demo’d Star of the Week (when it was little known and she and Nina were adapting it from Jody’s original Special Chair idea). She really meant it, she was conveying to me – this was at a DPS Learning Lab at Thomas Jefferson HS right about this time of year three years ago, I think – that here was an activity that could entirely replace stories and everything else ever created in TPRS.

      I remember how serious she was, how much unbridled respect she had for this strategy, and then she went and demo’d it and proved it’s power and fun to keep kids more engaged than even stories. I remember, bc Mary Beth was down from Maine that week, observing DPS classes.

      1. I really like how easy it makes it to purposefully personalize our practice and make sure that we’re making the students the center of the classroom- not to mention that we’re really showing them how to communicate and form positive relationships with each other. Love it!

  3. As we don’t do formal interest surveys with the little kids, this “just talk with the kids” idea could look something like this: We could start class with, “Who’s your favorite book character?” or, “When you’re not in our Spanish class, what’s your favorite place in the world?” “What did you eat for dinner last night?” “What’s your dream/ideal birthday present?” “If you could be anyone in the world, who would it be?” Basically we’re taking a single interest survey question and making it into an oral class starter, then running with the entertaining diversion. Love it!!
    In elementary, we could turn some of the responses into bar graphs if the responses come in clumps. Manipulating student names onto graphs (either projected from computer or drawn on the board old school style – or with a laminated template) is great as a visual for extending PQA…We did the graphical version as a class starter after break: Where did you go for Winter Break? several floridas, californias, mexicos, etc.

    1. Alisa said:

      …basically we’re taking a single interest survey question and making it into an oral class starter, then running with the entertaining diversion….

      Exactly. But I have been wanting to say for some time, and this is my only reservation with Star of the Week, that it can cause us to go too wide, since there are so many questions. We want to keep a varied discussion going, with lots of interesting questions, but limit the addition of too many new words into the discussion. It’s a tight rope walk, for sure.

      When we go too wide, we can lose half the class and not notice it bc the other class is driving the discussion.

      1. This is why I haven’t tried it. I’ve done short interviews with upper levels, but I think there’d be way too much incomprehensible language to use the approach in Chinese with early levels. That or the questions would have to be less compelling (because so much simpler).

  4. Alisa:

    …we did the graphical version as a class starter after break….

    So brilliant, because so highly personalized, with THEIR names up there for all to say, where THEY went, etc. Of course besides that boost in personalization it gives us a boost in reps, and reduces the random nature of the discussion, because the discussion becomes immediately visual.

    Alisa’s graphing of Star of the Week idea is huge! I’ll add it to my book.

    1. I forgot about the names. We did “What time did you wake up.” I wrote the time on the whiteboard as a student answered the question and put an “X” to represent each student response.
      5:00 X X
      5:30 X X X
      6:00 X X X X X X
      The name would make it more personal, but even this create a focal point for student eyes.

  5. I love the idea of listening to what students are talking about and running with it. Last Friday we were discussing what plans we had for the weekend and a boy in Spanish said he was going to a restaurant with a friend that was in class. So I then followed it up in the TL with, “Is it a date?” and he said “yes” not really understanding what I asked. However, most of the class understood as we have had the word “date” before. I milked that (not in a mean way as I could not care less if it was a date, but I knew it wasn’t) and the kids were eating it up. Of course it also taught the boy the valuable lesson of paying attention more in class 🙂 To top it off we then got to continue the “date” conversation today as we started off our Monday on what everyone did over the weekend. Lots of fun, lots of review and it was real conversation…not forced and unnatural.

    I tend to have better luck with more natural conversation with my level 2 kids. They know more and so we can fly by the seat of our pants a little better. I don’t mind if I bore my level 1 kids with lots of repetition and more basic stuff as that is what they need. That is not to say we don’t have our share of laughs, but those tend to come more often in the upper levels. Ya gotta build that foundation and put in the hard, hard work early on to get to the good stuff. Just like anything in life, right?

  6. That’s a big ten-four on running with stuff esp. with level 2 kids. That is in my own experience the most challenging level to teach. Maybe it explains why we have the word sophomoric to describe not-so-mature human beings. Engaging level 2 kids, that tough 10th grade, with real conversation as you describe Polly is kind of a necessity. We get the jump on them by rolling them up in highly personalized CI before they get a chance to roll their eyes at us. Best level for CI in my opinion is middle school and the best grade for CI, by far in my own experience, is 6th grade.

    1. Strong words about 6th grade, Ben. They were sweet, but so scattered in my classes during grade 6. They need to move so much, and they have such strong tendencies to blurt. There was a big range of ability. Then again, friends who taught at my school visited other schools to observe classes — and the behavior seriously was different. So maybe it was my school culture, in part…?

      1. No I think you are right Diane on 6th graders’ squirminess and also their blurting. I am blessed to have small enough classes and I take my rules so seriously that the blurting doesn’t happen any more. It was like taming a wild animal in the first few weeks but the rules proved their mettle – the kids know that when we are in French we stay there. They just get that. Re: all the movement, I kind of take it as part of the deal. They are of course full of good intentions and I find that as long as I don’t react to it and keep the lesson moving and interesting, they can pay attention even without brain breaks for 85 minutes. Today they all wanted to be the puppy in Brandon Wants a Dog. So I let them crawl around on the floor for a few minutes and then we got back to work with a nice brain break there.

          1. Diane what I’ve really noticed about 6th graders, since I’ve never taught them before this year, is how quick they are to play. I’ve always thought that 8th graders were ideal for this, but I have sensed over the years a change in 8th graders where they increasingly are being made to mature intellectually at a very fast rate. It’s the standardized testing thing and a general increase in robotic instruction, probably. It’s like 8th graders are being put on academic steroids or something. I see it starting in 7th grade. We see it as strong resistance from kids in high school. But those 6th graders can go in any direction at any time in class. They allow me to do the same. Those are happy moments in those CI classes with 6th graders, in a generally sad world. Those very kids as they mature, if we give them enough stories and laughter to use as a platform to believe in the goodness of life now, will be the ones who eventually slay the testing dragon and demand change. When they grow up they won’t allow their children to be taught in the old way. So go forth and laugh today in your classes! Our kids need it and we need it. And don’t feel guilty if the class takes a turn away from what you were trying to teach. Don’t follow your mind, follow your heart. As long as you stay in the language, why not follow your heart? It’s more fun.

          2. I also like bringing back that sense of fun to kids who have abandoned it, or really, had it partially pushed out of their school experience. But they can still play if they’ll let go of the cool factor, which, thankfully, my students seem inclined to do. I am very happy for that.

            The flip side: I had one senior start out taking Chinese 1 last fall. She dropped the class within a week, and I think it’s because she didn’t want to play anymore. Her mom attended the open house when I explained a bit about how I teach and why, and showed a video of the kids on Day 4 reading a story in characters for the first time. (Scaffolded, personalized content based on a story from class; I read aloud first to, then with, them.) Her mom looked at me during the open house like I was a strange, new animal at the zoo. I think mom decided it was ok for her to drop as a result of that open house time.

          3. Yeah. Those moms are out there. For every parent who gets what we do, there are 100 who don’t. Until they see the results of our teaching and the new attitude that their children have towards learning a language, their confidence. It’s ok. It’s part of the change. You are indeed a strange new animal in the zoo. A wonderful one. You should be treated that way. It’s that family’s loss.

          4. I thought of your freak flag flying song quote throughout the experience. Interestingly, a good friend of hers (also a senior) remained in the class & has loved it.

  7. “So the idea is to start the second part of class out with some random sentence that is connected to something impromptu happening in the class at that moment or that has happened earlier that day or week, something about the life of a student, something we can embellish.”

    This is me this year. My students want more stories. For some reason I am running with compelling diversions (Lance!) more and more and oftentimes not even getting to a formal story. Part of me regrets this, and part of me is thinking “well, this is what it’s all about right… as long as they’re engaged and comprehending and contributing, we’re golden”. I think I’ll have to define this past semester as the most unscripted and freewheeling CI I’ve ever engaged in with classes.

    What I think has allowed me personally to get to this place while feeling comfortable there for an extended amount of time are a couple things: stronger command of asking comprehensible and personalized questions; familiarity with and acquisition of addt’l sources of CI (e.g. podcasts/jokes/readings/film clips) that I can pull up at a moment’s notice to consume with students; automatic inclusion of “bail out moves” or brain breaks within each class (e.g. public individual dictado/ TPR); better understanding of SLA which allows me to relax more; confidence in front of a group so as to portray positive and firm body language.

  8. Jim this is of huge importance to me:

    …for some reason I am running with compelling diversions (Lance!) more and more and oftentimes not even getting to a formal story….

    I will turn my thoughts on what you wrote into an article, since the computer is giving me that 405 security rule and not letting me write it here.

  9. Testing of the Spring is in the Air idea – that of starting class every day with SSR and then moving to some form of CI in the second half of class, with a third option available (not yet posted) is showing very positive results in terms of my overall sense of relaxation and peace during the day. This is as I predicted. I had gotten to scattered with CI – too many new ideas, too much fear of leaving one out. I am quite aware that starting class with SSR and going to some form of spoken input (Four Truths is the one rocking my world right now) is nothing new, but my point in writing this is, since it’s all about me and my relaxation and not how much CI I can teach the kids, simply to point out that the above SSR/CI routine is in my view as good as a routine can get, and routines are necessary in schools. I’m not into the “kids crave novelty” thing so much because that causes me stress, to always come up with something. I can slot any one of 30 killer CI strategies into that second CI part of class now. This is such a simple thing but so hard to express. I think it’s because we as teachers have it fixed in our minds that teaching is all about running around out of control. Been there done that. Just give me a solid routine where the kids are doing lots of Read and Discuss first and then spending the rest of the class negotiating CI with me, and I’m happy. I can feel the stress of having too many CI things to do lifting off my shoulders because of this ultra simple relaxation formula. It’s about time.

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