Untargeted – 1

This past year, in working with the untargeted storytelling approach with the Invisibles, in giving up the idea that I needed to start my stories with the classic TPRS list of three target structures, I found more happiness and ease in storytelling than I had ever experienced.  And now I can’t not share.  It is as if lightning struck in New Delhi and set my teaching on fire, and now I want to fan that flame until it lights up other classrooms, so that we can burn down the boxes we have put our stories in for so long – the boxes of targeted language.  

I found, feeling it out as I went, with a growing realization that we were on to something, I found that with the characters that the class had created and with the seven levels of stories and the new student jobs, my interactions in the classroom began to get more and more authentic, more and more responsive, and the content of the stories got more and more interesting to the students.  At this point I am convinced that working without targets is best for our collective mental health – students and teachers.  

If we can find the courage to move towards untargeted stories or untargeted interactions with students, even if we just try it out, we can truly start putting students and their ideas at the heart of our work.  Our vision and energy will be more focused on the humans in front of us, and their ideas, and their creativity.  You might find that whatever amount of courage it takes for you to try this approach in August or September – and for some of us more plan-oriented souls that is going to be a lot of courage indeed! – might just well be repaid tenfold or a hundredfold in smiles, connection, and the real authentic human interaction that a language class should really rest upon.

In response to the usual response I get to this pushing of untargeted storytelling, that I have been teaching using stories for 16 years and it’s not so easy for beginners, I can only say that with the right training and the right mindset anything is possible. The fact is, the great potential of storytelling has always been limited and scary to do with only targets. The two forms of storytelling that I see as being the most powerful are the only two I have ever used with any power and will continue to use are Matava/Tripp scripts (they are exceptional and totally rock the house) and this new untargeted idea that I describe above.

If you search the many articles on “Flow” here, it will enrich this idea of untargeted storytelling. Flow is necessary in stories and it can’t really happen when we are trying to teach a certain target connected to some list thematic unit (when are we going to drop that perfidy once and for all?) or some novel we want to teach later (don’t tell Diana Noonan or Joe Dzeitzic I said that).




2 thoughts on “Untargeted – 1”

  1. Okay! I am going to try this finally tomorrow. Ben your posts on Facebook are finally cutting through my stubborness in avoiding figuring out what the heck you are talking about with all this invisible stuff. I finally sat down and went through the blog and I am kind of getting emotional just thinking about its potential for my kids. I have a lot of freedom to do whatever the hell I want so why not! I just want to thank you all for the work you´ve done on this! Wish me luck.

  2. Brian thank Tina as well. If she had not immediately jumped in on this last year with no hesitation with her students, I would not have realized how ridiculously different and powerful the idea was. My sixth graders launched it over there in New Delhi, and then Tina’s middle school kids validated it. That was huge because I thought I was crazy to think that I didn’t have to do that same shitty nervous way of doing stories that I always had done up to that point last February there at the American Embassy School. I had done shitty/nervous stories for fifteen years up to that point! Learning about the Invisibles alone was worth the trip over there. (Of course, getting to teach across the hallway from Linda Li and Zach Al Moreno was also a big plus.)

    Somebody on FB criticized the Invisibles. I had to respond that it is by far my best book. I have concluded that those criticizing the Invisibles haven’t really read the book, or, if they have, they only skimmed it and didn’t dive deep. Maybe it doesn’t resonate with some people. I get that. But Brian keep us informed. Tina and I would LOVE reports from the field from those doing it. We and some folks from the summer workshops are all over this stuff. It has freed us from shitty stories.

    Did you see what Elena de Hoyos Turner wrote about the Invisibles on FB the other day? It made me almost cry because I have put more creative energy into this book than anything I have done in my life. In fact, this book signals the end of my contribution to the CI world. It’s the best I got. It signals me that my book writing days are over. All I have to do today is head out on a half century later today on this 78 degree day in the Colorado Mountains. I can’t believe I survived that shit, those 38 years in a classroom. That right there is ample proof that God and His angels exist:

    Elena’s comment:

    …I agree with everything said here. I enjoy stories so much more using the invisibles. At the end of the day I often catch myself thinking about the stories we made in the classroom and about how good they are. Today I told the students how sad the story we made was and a student (who did not buy into TPRS at the beginning of the year) said: it is sad but so amazingly good!…

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