Whack

We know that the main reason kids don’t get involved is because they don’t understand, which is because we are going too fast. We know that.

But perhaps another reason that TPRS stymies teachers is that the method requires that we listen to our intuition, which is not exactly a major sport in schools. For stories to work, we have to unlock the whole child, the real kid, in order to get their input, which we require in the form of cute answers in storytelling.

We have not been trained to listen to our intuition as educators. We have not been trained to listen to the tonal mind of the group, and react to it, and integrate it into the CI. But we must. We must sense where the story wants to go, instead of where we think it should go.

That kind of self focus on the part of the teacher leads to the image of the teacher as a kind of egomaniacal master of ceremonies thing, where the kids are just little unimportant heads in the room.

The movement must be away from the mind and more into the body and feelings, and more into seeing our students as real human beings, if we are to grow as storytelling teachers.

I can describe it, but I can’t say I can do it very often. Yup, still caught up in the mind. I wish I could just tap into the invisible joy in the room, the kind that music seems to unlock. I want my language teaching to unlock joy in the way that music does. I’ll bet that my kids want that too.

The music image is not far off the mark when discussing storytelling. There is a rythm in the sound, there is chanting and movement. When we make hand signals to cue our classes, we are imitating the work of the great choral conductor Kodaly, who developed a system of hand signals to lead choirs.

I know I know. A bit whacky. Over the top. Out there. The next thing I might be talking about is an ethereal realm in the classroom, a Pure Land, that is a function of much more than the mind, but is somehow connected to paced sound, to a kind of vision of L2 as music.

Getting out of the way. Making room for what might be hiding in our students’ minds, just so close, yet so far if we can’t tap into it. Drawing our students out in a non-mental way by being fully present and listening fully with the intent to understand what our students might come up with.

I know I know again. Being fully present for the students. Listening for cues. Getting out of the way. Listening to the language of the heart that lies under the language actually being taught, the language of languages. Listening for  a hidden dimension of communication in the classroom that is beyond the constraints of the mind. Doing something I have rarely and perhaps never done as a teacher. All very whack.

But, after all these years, my mind is a faded map, and, to tell the truth, it no longer serves me. I would rather wander through stories coming from my heart, which makes me incredibly vulnerable, instead of creating some kind of super story. This kind of sharing is not a show, but rather a sacred thing.

Real human communication is a sacred thing, isn’t it? When it can be? It is a thing that involves high levels of vulnerability. But then, when have teachers not been vulnerable, especially in storytelling?

We must all, at some point, come to our own understandings of what Blaine really means when he says that asking stories is really about listening for cute answers from our students. I, for one, see the cute answers as a way into the person.

I just want to find freedom in my classroom. A William Wallace (Braveheart) kind of freedom. I won’t find that by teaching in the old way. The only way out for me is forward, away from the mind.  I told you – whack.

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41 thoughts on “Whack”

  1. I don’t know if this is my problem or something else, but I just had my students fill out a self-reflection form today (from Martina Bex: http://martinabex.com/2011/10/23/self-reflection/). Sadly all that I got out of it was that every single one of them finds “telling stories” boring! Some were nicer than others, but basically they all say it is too slow, too repetitive, and too easy. The weird thing is we come up with great stories, and there is lots of laughing. It seems like they do not feel as challenged as they need to. We are not doing easy structures though – we did one with the subjunctive last week, for example. I don’t know if I need to step it up another level, or this is simply a case of teenagers not knowing what is best for them. The worst part is I left a technological activity for a sub they had last week, and THAT was their favourite thing ever! I had them make stories on Storybird.com. They also mentioned that they would like to do more speaking, but I don’t know how to do this without forcing it too soon. The students in the class are in grade 11 and 12 (split class) and there are many different levels. Most have had French for at least 4 or 5 years, and some of them have lived abroad (France and Belgium) for 3 months or took French immersion. If anyone can tell me if/where you think I could be going wrong here, it would be greatly appreciated!!

    1. In these three statements right here, Kristin, lie huge gold nuggets of knowledge for us as the teachers in this deal:

      …this is simply a case of teenagers not knowing what is best for them….

      …I left a technological activity for a sub they had last week, and THAT was their favourite thing ever!…

      …they would like to do more speaking….

      First, they really don’t know what is best for them. Otherwise they would be the teachers.

      Second, technology/robots don’t converse (Krashen). Humans do. Tech can’t teach language or Rosetta Stone would not be the Mitt Rob Me of the language instruction world.

      Third, speaking is output – it takes five years for a human being exposed to language all those thousands of hours to even begin to speak properly. Your kids cannot possibly output language on the few hundred, or less if they are beginners, hours of hearing the language spoken properly (which is grammar) that they have so far.

      Now, look – there is a common thread in those three things that your kids want and like. Each one gives the illusion of learning because they pull the focus of the unconsious mind – when it is rigorously and unconsciously focused on the meaning and not the words during stories – to the conscious mind.

      Those lame activities take out the super important role of the unconsious mind in language acquisition, which is just about the biggest mistake ever in our field. It benefits the textbook companies is about all it does and they simply don’t care whether the kids learn or not.

      And here’s my point and it is something I am truly passionate about: when the conscious mind is processing things consciously, it only feels like it is learning! It (the conscious mind) may in fact be learning in a chemistry class or an algebra class. But that idea that the conscious mind can learn a language by thinking about it is most emphatically not true.

      It is like giving the job of providing moisture to planet Earth to a water tank truck – it can’t do it. It takes clouds and the brilliance of that process that we call rain to water the earth. Don’t try it with a truck full of water.

      As soon as the conscious mind is in the act of analyzing (technology, worksheets, books, skits, projects) it is sucked into the illusion, but not the fact, of acquisition. Learning a language is an unconscious process and end of discussion on that.

      Have you ever stopped the CI to explain some grammar in the middle of class, even against your better judgement but the grammar is just so cool? Did you notice how the room changes? There is suddenly a kind of analytical grasping of knowledge and the kids faces change and they seem to be thinking, “OK now this is real learning!.”

      But it is not! All that has happened in those moments of talking about the language is that their minds have moved from the deeper mind (where real acquisition occurs) to the shallower mind (where the illusion of learning occurs). This is most unfortunate but it describes what is happening today just about everywhere except for weird us.

      You could cave and let them think they are learning. Tens of thousands of teachers do that every day. It’s too bad, though, because their students are not acquiring, time is being wasted, our country isn’t getting any stronger and a lot of kids who are perfectly capable of learning the language leave class each day feeling that much more stupid bc they couldn’t or cared not to memorize the verb charts or the rule about agreement of past participles.

      Related:

      https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/10/10/let-the-brain-organize-it/
      https://benslavic.com/blog/2010/07/18/we-learn-languages-unconsciously-1/
      https://benslavic.com/blog/2010/06/21/the-unconscious-mind-is-wonderfully-set-up/

      1. Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking – feels good to have someone echo these thoughts. The kids really do think of these kinds of activities as “real learning”. I just don’t know how (or if I even need to) convince them that this is the right way. I suppose I can just play the teacher card and say this is the way the class is, so suck it up. One of the hardest parts is that I can SEE that they are learning but they cannot for some reason. Because it feels too easy for them, they think they are not learning. And yet, I have seen how they wrote their stories at the start of the year. Now they write twice as much in a free write, and they are writing things like “il lui dit” and “il voulait qu’elle soit”, structures that they would have a hard time wrapping their minds around grammatically and would most likely mess up if taught in the traditional way. They still make plenty of mistakes, but to me that just means I didn’t get ENOUGH repetition. And they think they are getting too much… how wrong they are. Even some structures like “va” and other high-frequency irregular verbs are still hard for them, so I don’t know why they think they are above what we do in class when half of them can’t even do things like that.

        1. …because it feels too easy for them, they think they are not learning…..

          Exactly. Can you remember how much sweat and tears went into your learning your first language? Exactly.

          Now, I wouldn’t try the entire class pep talk thing about how we learn languages. I probably wouldn’t go up to my Aussie Shepherd and start talking about Gaston Bachelard and the Psychologie de la Maison/du Feu either. They can’t undertand our explanations any more than my dog can understand depth psychology.

          So, what to do? Play the bad cop card. Talk to a few kids – those who have social power – but in the hallways (that’s how coaches recruit best for their teams) and ask for their help but individually. And use the big bad boy jGR.

          This is awesome Kristin. You are doing more work than you think, and accomplishing more than you are aware of. I can tell. Read your comment again. When they start writing to communicate in the subjuntive mood, you are doing something right! Congratulations!

          1. Actually, I have thought about having a short (2 min. max) talk with my 6th graders about the process of language learning to head off the beginnings of rumbles about wanting to do more presentation-style output projects. I was waiting to talk with them until I saw the slowest-acquirer starting to “click” with Chinese over the past week or two. There’s a good connection with this class; I think it’d benefit them. (And now I’m hyper-sensitive to students who want goofy output activities because of the rebellion being qualmed in my 7th grade class. I do not want to lose the positive feeling in the younger classes.) What I would say is:
            – I’m changing how I teach to align with research about how people learn languages. (This group had me as a semi-CI teacher last school year but I was like what ACTFL says is best practice, “whole language” output activities, etc. My weak students, struggling to output before their time, were the push I needed to go CI/TPRS. I knew they could learn another language.)
            – It takes lots of input in listening & reading, and then over time people begin to speak and write accurately and naturally, without really noticing how it happened. So you may not “feel” the learning that I can see is happening.
            – I can compare what you are able to understand automatically with my previous 6th grade classes. You understand & respond automatically to MUCH MUCH more Chinese! And some of you are starting to speak in whole sentences very comfortably. It is awesome. So the changes are working. You may or may not notice, but it’s working. Over time, more of you will feel comfortable speaking in whole sentences and then multiple sentences and so on. Each person has his own timeline. So keep encouraging one another as this happens. (I feel ok saying that b/c they all notice the 3 really stunning students’ abilities. I am so glad those 3 are polite & humble kids.)

            Something like this.

  2. I am still learning how to ask a story and would love to see a video of a pro asking a story. my deal is that in the story I need certain vocabulary to be used so that we are incorporating what we are learning. I allow the kids to come up with the details but I usually pick the verbs and any nouns that need to go into the story for acquisition purposes.

    1. There are no pros. There are only scared teachers who have been pushed by their own better judgement onto a field that is weird and frightening but they can’t turn back, again because of their better judgement. Another reason they can’t turn back is because, once they have seen a student asleep in a space ship suddenly awakened by a Magic Yeti whistling through the window in the space ship the theme song to Sponge Bob Square Pants, they see something about teaching.

      1. I just noticed the relationship between scared and sacred. I think that there is a certain sacred kind of power in the invisible world in this work that is so fearful for any of us who are honest about it.

        We make ourselves completely vulnerable each day – we have to if we are too successfully retool how we teach – and in so doing we learn to teach in the middle of the fear and not let it destroy us or our lesson, and we just go forward.

        We teach bravely and gallantly and it feels so clutsy, but we get through yet another class – bailin’ if we have to – and we keep doing CI in spite of being scared but it is our sacred trust in ourselves and in the very core of the supernova that is comprehension based instruction.

        As the weeks and months go by we slowly improve and we get better at it, remembering that nothing good happens fast. We really are brave people.

        1. Well I can say there are people that are definitely in another league than am; they may not be pros but they are my mentors whether they know this or not.

          1. It’s important to avoid a cult of personality type of thinking. Go to any foreign language conference and you’ll find that there are some sessions that are flooded with attendees because the speaker is seen as being some kind of deity in the profession. Throughout the TPRS community, Ben is seen as a TPRS “expert” or “guru”, and I admit that I see him as such as well, but as he reads this sentence he’s probably cursing under his breath or something because refuses to see himself as such. There are people who do accept that label and when that happens they develop an ego, they begin thinking they’re above those of us trying to figure this stuff out, although deep down they still are trying to figure this stuff out as well. Some of the best presenters I’ve seen here in Ohio have prefaced their workshops and sessions with something like “I’m not an expert, I’ve just been doing this for a while and I like sharing what I’ve discovered”. And despite the fact that they’ve been doing TPRS since 1998, or 2004, or whatever, they gladly take ideas and advice from people who’ve only been doing TPRS for maybe a year or so.

            I’m done ranting.

          2. Chris I’m not cursing because I refuse to see myself as an expert, but bc I KNOW that I’m not an expert. I don’t think that what we are about is any of that kind of top down stuff. We are a group working together, that’s all. The one thing that I am happy about is that I’m about done now. Twelve years of TPRS/CI and 36 + 1 (next year is definitely my last) and I will be able to honestly look anyone in this group in the eye and say, “That was my best shot. Good bye and thank you, Susan Gross.” And I know you and John and Robert and Jody and Tamula and the Mainers and all will carry the torch. You are already leading many people through example in this work in Ohio along with Terry and Tamula. Hopefully you don’t lead to0 loudly right now until you have tenure so you can do it for longer than another year. Whatever happens to us individually, it will go on. This shit is WAY bigger than any one person. It will be so slow, but light will filter into the darkened classrooms of today. It will filter in not bc any one of us is an expert leading the flock – this work is not like that but much more about individual daily effort in our own classrooms to find what part of the method works best for us as individuals. Where can this Light be found and why is our work important? It can be found in a kid’s smile when she gets it and doesn’t feel stupid like she does in many of her classes. It is important bc the old way doesn’t even try to find that kids’ smile, which to me is a really big deal. A really big deal! It is the light of play that we need again. The light of play! Classe, applaudissez the light of play! That’s why the ever sad university dudes are finding out about this stuff last. Poor fuckers all stuck up there in their heads. Man they must be so sad and empty inside. Yeah, Chris, we might just be bringing back the light of laughter into education! I guess some more research is needed, right? Hell no, no more research is needed. Skeptics need only come into our classrooms. That’s all that is needed. Look at us. We are Dorothy and Toto and the Lion. We are just starting this work, and we are doing it just about as clutzily as can be and on some days so clutzy that it is a total joke – like we just SUCK AT IT – but we really do have some role in this change, in this getting out of the way so that Light and other happy things can come sweetly rolling back into schools again. We can just be stewards of this light that has been missing from what are called classrooms but have really been tombs now for so long, for so long, for so long. We can talk about techniques and levels and movies and assessment and PQA and fear and reading and our petrified colleagues from now until the cows come home. But our work is only partially about that, and only superficially so. Our real work – the deeper work that we rarely even mention – is about being conduits for the Light of God to enlighten our dark classrooms and the tears we weep. Saint Francis said it best right here:

            Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
            Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
            where there is injury,pardon;
            where there is doubt, faith;
            where there is despair, hope;
            where there is darkness, light;
            and where there is sadness, joy.

            O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
            to be consoled as to console;
            to be understood as to understand;
            to be loved as to love.
            For it is in giving that we receive;
            it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
            and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

  3. Kristen said “Most have had French for at least 4 or 5 years, and some of them have lived abroad (France and Belgium) for 3 months or took French immersion.”

    What about reading some more authentic texts (and/or any readers that you think would speak to the teenage heart) and having discussions on them. If they have had that much French it sounds like they are ready. Another idea that is very similar would be to hold a seminar type class discussing topics on current events in French. All students could read the same article and then a group discussion could ensue. This could be fun with current events and pop culture stuff that kids are into. These are the only ideas I have right now on giving them space to talk. I am interested in what others come up with.
    BTW I love the idea of storybird and would use it if I were teaching upper levels.

  4. Kristin, one of the key differences between true beginners and “upper level” students is that the more experienced students tend to process faster. They still need a lot of repetitions to acquire the structures, but you have to get the repetitions in other ways, such as adding more details or stopping the story to ask actors and others what they think, how they feel, what they would do, what their friends or parents or a famous person would do, etc. Otherwise, mistaking recognition for acquisition as they do, they “get bored” too quickly for real acquisition to occur.

    Karen is correct that they are ready to discuss and provide other output. A possible assignment would be for you to choose a news story and have students research it. They have to report on the who, what, when, where and why of the story. They can report more if they want, but they have to answer those questions. All students report on the same story (for lots of repetitions). You can give them “sentence frames” to support and guide their reporting (to get repetitions of the structures you want). Students can report the bare minimum or report more fully, depending on confidence, acquisition, etc. You can also schedule the presentation so that weaker/less confident students hear several presentations before having to do one of their own. The first couple of times you do it, walk students through the format of a news article so that they see that most of the questions are answered in the first paragraph.

    What if they – gasp! – look up the story in a target-language resource and basically quote? 1. They are getting comprehensible input; 2. as long as they credit their source, so what? Seriously, I would grade a student down for trying to tell me this was his own work but not for citing a source. (And they learn how to cite: e.g, “According to the Herald Tribune, . . . .”) Memorizing those lines from the article will help create neural pathways that they can use later. N.B.: This is not for students with only a year or two of language, but your students sound as if they are more than ready to step it up a bit.

  5. I agree with Robert and Karen that it sounds like your students are ready to go beyond stories. Also, by asking them for feedback, you’ve opened Pandora’s box, because now it’s important that they see you taking their opinion into account. It’s fine to say that they don’t know what’s good for them, but there is no question that they know what interests them. Since I’m on an Alfie Kohn binge right now, I’d say that it’s vital that you find a way to make the class about their interests. Use the language as a key to open fascinating doors. Upper level classes need more variety than stories. In your place I would choose a film made in your target language, a film that can be enjoyed on more than one level, and work on it with subtitles in the target language. You’ll find all the structures that they need to work on, and you can stop every two minutes if necessary to talk about what is happening, who is doing what to who and why they are doing it. A good film is a guaranteed homerun story and it lasts over an hour. I used to spend three months on “The Fellowship of the Ring” and no one complained. If you choose your film wisely, I think you can have them eating out of your hand, getting the repetitions they need, developing an ear for the language and its structures, and enjoying every minute of your class.

    1. I used to give “teacher report cards” all the time that were anonymous and students could rate/grade me and the class. I had a lot of different questions on there. Overall, the vast majority of students were positive and had great things to say. But there were negatives as well. There were a lot of comments of class being boring and that I “pick favorites”. It’s been a long, long while since I’ve given one of those and I don’t plan on ever giving any out again. It’s easy to take those comments personal.

  6. …upper level classes need more variety than stories….

    Judy were you in Denver last night? I was talking with Diana Noonan and we talked about this very topic. This is so true that they need variety. But the big question is variety of what kind?

    Keep reminding us all about the use of film in what we do. It is huge and most of us are still too involved with struggling with lower levels to think about it. Just keep reminding us about film bc we will all need the Upper Levels category some day if not now in our own teaching.

    I would add that a key point that Diana made to me last night was how people everywhere nationally are starting to blow the Common Core trumpet to focus everything on reading non-fiction (this is in all school disciplines). It may work in science and other things but not in langauge classes (ELA, WL) because second language learners cannot possible grasp texts like global warming and authentic literature. Where is the time to do the backwards planning for that egoistic crap?

    Diana shared with me that one new teacher to our district who doesn’t get CI at all is saying that she wants her kids to read authentic French literature and will teach to that effect while complaining in the same breath that her kids can’t read Mira’s book Pirates.

    Krashen knows this and is fighting for it. He has been at Arne Duncan’s throat for a long time now in the press. Krashen says stay the course with fiction for second language learners.

    That is my only concern about film, judy. Can you stay in bounds when you teach film to upper levels? (Look at me, being concerned about staying in bounds, right?) But do you find that some films (most?) take you out of bounds on those authentic film texts like LOTR?

    Beniko Mason told Diana in San Diego last week – that someone needs to put Krashen in charge of all language acquisition discussion in Obama’s education plan bc the aforementioned focus on the Common Core/non-fiction obsession for all fields including second languages is basically going to be a big Fail.

    By the way, Krashen is in for that July conference, firm, as Carol and Jason and Diana start to roll this new conference out (announcements soon, in a few weeks).

    Anyway, I’m happy that this upper level discussion keeps going, surfacing here every now and again. We DO need a course description/syllabus whatever for upper levels. We need all we can get on upper level CI instruction.

    Maybe skip you can send a Word file of your stuff to me for publication here. Our continued good stewardship of our Upper Levels category here can one day help us all as we slowly grow our young first and second year plants into strong and capable third and fourth year second language commandos through the wars of the next few years.

    People should just send WHATEVER if it has to do with Upper Levels. We’ll post it as an article, and get it into that Upper Levels category and then we can clean it up later. Think of it as a category for the future that we will all be able to use one day.

    1. Ben wrote, people everywhere nationally are starting to blow the Common Core trumpet to focus everything on reading non-fiction (this is in all school disciplines)

      My district is starting to introduce the Common Core Standards to the faculty and staff so that we have lead time to be ready for the roll-out in 2014/2015. A week ago last Thursday I went to an all-day training session at the district office. I learned a number of interesting things about not only Common Core but also NCLB. First, to address Ben’s comment:

      According to the presenter, a student should be reading 70% nonfiction and 30% fiction overall during the school day. That means that students already get a hefty dose of nonfiction in their math, science and history classes. English classes [and World Languages classes – my addition] therefore should concentrate on fiction reading; in other words, this should not suddenly change the ELA curriculum, just the way that parts of it are approached. The 70/30 ratio is not for each individual class but for the overall curriculum. Otherwise, math, science and history teachers would have to start introducing a lot of fiction. That’s the take that Bill Saunders from http://www.talkingteaching.org has on the Common Core requirement.

      Now for the thing I learned about NCLB. My district is in program improvement, but my high school is not. The high school exceeded its AYP goals by quite a bit, except for one subgroup. So why aren’t we in program improvement? Because we are not a Title I school. According to Bill Saunders, only schools that receive Title I funds face the prospect of being placed in program improvement for missing AYP goals. (Remember, a school goes into program improvement even if a single subgroup misses its goals but everyone else far exceeds the goal, and the school exceeds the overall goal.) So what does this mean? It means that only the poor are held accountable to NCLB. Rich schools and middle-income schools don’t face program improvement, even if they do no better than Title I (i.e. poor) schools. And if you look at the way the NCLB requirements are written, eventually every single school will fail, because by 2014, 100% of students are supposed to be proficient or above. What better way to suggest that schools have “failed” than to give them an impossible goal? What better way to say that it can be done than by exempting certain groups of schools? I try to be cynical, but it’s tough to keep up. (Thank you Lily Tomlinson)

      Another problem with NCLB is that each state was allowed to determine 1. the rigor of their standards, 2. whether Basic or Proficient on the exams determined “proficiency” for NCLB and 3. what the cut-off score for that rating was. California set the bar very high, so we have higher numbers of schools that miss their AYP. The golden lining seems to be, though, that under Common Core not much will change for us; some of the other states will see their ratings plummet because the 46 Common Core states have agreed to a consistent means of assessing achievement. Tellingly, to me, is that Texas has not signed on to Common Core. Neither have Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Wisconsin. According to Bill Saunders, some of them can’t afford the re-tooling; I doubt that is the issue with either Texas or Virginia.

      For the rest of us, we should become familiar with Common Core so that we can use the legislation to support what we do. There is a big emphasis on higher-level thinking skills, and I think that is good. Of course, we call on higher-level skills all the time in CI/TPRS. Also, Common Core applies (and will continue to apply) only to English/Language Arts and Math. Each state will continue to set its own standards in all other areas. For World Language, at least in California, the State Standards will continue as the Common Core Standards, but there are parallels between the Common Core and the new AP exam that I intend to exploit in justifying what I do.

        1. Sabrina, thank you for the link. I was not trying to say that Common Core is good. (I should have noted that we never discussed at our training the underlying assumptions and the motivations behind Common Core. All too many people simply assume that it is a good thing.) I am saying that it is here, and we need to know as much about it as we can so that we can use it to protect our students. As a friend of mine says, “Tell me your rules, and I’ll beat you using your own rules.” I certainly appreciated James Arnold’s article. It goes along with what I noted about NCLB and “program improvement” for poor schools only. The rich kids get a pass.

          1. Robert,

            I really hope I get to meet you one day! You are just so smart and I always read your comments with great appreciation for your wisdom and knowledge. You are soooo right.
            Furthermore, smart people always study their opponents’ viewpoints in a great depth so they are able to counterattack with facts and not mere gut feelings. So we’d better be able to know about the Common Core inside out before we can trash them, starting with me, but you gave me the motivation to do so when you said “we need to know as much about it as we can so that we can use it to protect our students”
            I am sure Krashen did his homework!

      1. …a student should be reading 70% nonfiction and 30% fiction overall during the school day. That means that students already get a hefty dose of nonfiction in their math, science and history classes. English classes [and World Languages classes – my addition] therefore should concentrate on fiction reading….

        Agreed Robert but my concern is what happens when WL teachers who don’t grasp how we learn languages (compelling input, limited unfamiliar new structures) misinterpret that. They think that Common Core means to heap up platefuls of 70% non fiction on advanced kids in WL classes.

        Of course, only the 4%ers can do that and so Common Core brings us back to the old elitist ways in upper level classes. Fiction and (if we can work it right) film has the potential to align with Krashen’s idea of interesting/compelling input and therefore pull all kids through the upper levels and not just the 4%ers.

        It is this misinterpretation of Common Core by AP language teachers across the nation that will keep business as usual. They will just point to the 70% fiction rule, missing the point entirely, to keep the old status quo of elitist thinking in our schools at upper level WL instruction.

        This mistake on their part will bring big heat to lower level TPRSCI teachers. It will allow them to focus on building 4%ers and they will send that message down to the middle schools and a lot of inroads by Krashen based teachers at the middle school levels over the past five years or so will be lost to the misinterpration of CC by those AP teachers, whose jobs depend on keeping language learning an academic/intellectual/analytical/conscious activity centered in the conscious mind, where 4%ers live.

        Isn’t the AP exam, when giving topics like global warming for the kids to write on, doing that anyway?

        Beniko Mason told Diana last week that Krashen should be appointed by Obama to replace Duncan. Now, that’s just one person’s view, but we must realize that Dr. Mason is not a lightweight. She gets it.

        If Krashen’s ideas work so well when applied to our students, all of them, then why not make them work at the upper levels? Why not horse collar these AP teachers who are assigning all that laborious reading for the few upper level kids who can read it and just tell them to stop, to offer instead a 95% non-fiction plateful of fun stuff at the upper levels?

        This upper level discussion is a good one here. We’re banging into walls right now, but at least we have put our fingers on a huge misconception nationally, and we can at least be aware of it when discussing curriculum development at levels three and above, so that we don’t all shove a bunch of non fiction at our kids and suddenly see a bunch of our own TPRSCI kids bite the dust in the rarified intellectual air of AP analysis of topics like the economy and global warming.

        What happened to play? Don’t they get to play at the upper levels? Are they too old when they are seventeen? Rimbaud doesn’t think so, in Roman, the first line of which is “On n’est pas sérieux, quand on a dix-sept ans..”

    2. The wikipedia article on non-fiction defines it as “any narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are understood to be factual”. When our readings are based on the stories we act out in class, technically aren’t those readings non-fiction, regardless of how ridiculous it is? I mean, in class, Deljuan did go to the Most Handsome Man in the World Competition, it did happen right there in class. So by reading it, we’re reading something that actually happened in front of our eyes. It’s non-fiction!

      Pobre Ana is loosely based on Blaine’s daughter. It’s kind of non-fiction, right?

      1. My two readers are historical fiction. That means that students are getting hefty doses of historical fact (i.e. nonfiction) while reading. We talk about what is true in the book and what is true in history. I think distinguishing between fact and fiction is at least as important a skill as analyzing a nonfiction text to the nth degree. (Actors often discuss how people fail to distinguish between them an a character with which they have become identified or how people think that TV and movie characters are real. What!? You mean Captain Jack Sparrow didn’t really exist?! But Luke Skywalker is real, right?)

        1. Robert I have been corresponding with Mark Knowles at the University of Colorado who is a member of our group. He says this:

          …whenever educators say that we will move forward together as a class and simultaneously we will attend to the needs of the fast processors, they are making a huge political statement. Our “scientific” pedagogical history since the 20’s has been one that selects against the slower-paced language learners. This has done a lot more harm than good for language learning in this country. When children have problems with math or science or reading, we as a nation have generally put our money and efforts into figuring out how to change that. Far too many language teachers have been content with hoisting their subject areas into the elitist ranks right along with cello and sailing, essentially infiltrating as many public schools with stealth TAG programs. We have become house lackeys of the 1%….

  7. So this is for upper levels? And how do we stay in bounds? (Same question I asked judy). This could revolutionize what we do. As if we need any new information right now.

    1. It’s for upper levels in the sense that none of our kids are really higher than low-intermediate fluency. The teacher narrates snippets of the film which keeps the language i + 1 for the students. This looks really quite powerful to me–although, once again, for the teacher there is a rather intense learning curve to figure out how to do it effectively–hello, just like CI instruction–intuitive and easy once reasonably mastered, but hard to hold all of the details at first. It can be used for beginners through low-intermediates with great success. It seems ripe for reading extension.

        1. What Jody said…

          In my upper-level class right now, we’re doing a version of Robert’s Virtual Move. The kids love it. Right as I was bewailing the fact that I didn’t have any Moscow writer that would be good to share at this level, one of the kids’ uncles sent him a science fiction short story he had written. (Uncle lives in Moscow.) We started reading it…it’s way over their heads, but we read a sentence or two and then I ask questions that they can understand because of the preceding sentence. “What is a society? Is a family a society? Is a group of friends a society?” and then “Is it true that every society has opposing factions? Are there opposing factions in our classroom? Does the school have opposing factions?” “Can you give me examples of the factions (in school/classes/families)?” “What are the opposing factions in our city/state/country? Is there a parallel in our country to the Alliance and the Empire in the story? Was there a parallel in Soviet Russia? Is there one in Russia today?” We’re moving very slowly, but they beg to read each day. I never would have done this before TPRS. I am not sure that I like throwing them reading that is nowhere near the 90% or even 50% comprehensible goal, but I think that because I keep circling the ideas (since there’s no point in circling all the vocabulary…it’s not HF), they are enjoying thinking and discussing. And because there’s a link to a kid in the class, they are all positive about the story, whereas if it were my choice, there would be some opposing factions in the classroom to begin with. Probably the nephew is the one getting the most out of it…he keeps coming in with emails he wants to send his uncle to have them checked. But all of them like this “real” reading. I am staying about a page ahead of them (we’re on page four of 133!) to make sure that there’s nothing we really have to avoid. They know that we might not get to the whole thing. I might ask my AP (native speaker) kids to go through it and give us synopses of chapters.

  8. Yesterday I was at the last JV football game of the year and stood around for a while talking to some parents. I have one junior in beginning German. He is a great kid, interacts, plays the game but is not highly vocal. His mother told me that he speaks German all the time at home and has learned more language in two months of German than he had learned in two years of Spanish. He has also added Germany as a must-visit stop on the family’s post-graduation trip.

    I have had more than one upper-level student tell me, “Each day in class it seems like we aren’t learning anything, but then a level 1 or 2 student asks me something, and I realize that I’ve learned a lot!”

    I have had three students do a German exchange year within the last four years, and another student is applying for the 2013-2014 school year. The district office has had to learn and adapt to accommodate this; I’m notorious (but in a good way).

    I have also had former students choose to do a German year abroad at university and consistently report back that their communication skills are far ahead of other students’. One of them wrote the following on his blog: “My class at the language school is entirely in German and I’m understanding everything, much to the anger (jealousy) of my fellow Californians.”

    I include this as encouragement to keep on with CI/TPRS because it is the right thing to do – and it works.

    “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
    – Nelson Mandela

    “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
    – John Wayne

    “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”
    – Eddie Rickenbacker

    1. Congratulations! I am always impressed when students choose German as their favourite. You must be doing many things right!

  9. Ben asked: That is my only concern about film, judy. Can you stay in bounds when you teach film to upper levels? (Look at me, being concerned about staying in bounds, right?) But do you find that some films (most?) take you out of bounds on those authentic film texts like LOTR?

    It does require a good choice of films. I let one class choose their favorite and we did Pirates of the Caribbean and I ended up zapping most of the film because of the way out of bounds vocabulary. Most films however have their own universe. As a consequence, the same words come up repeatedly. Vocabulary like sword and wizard may seem low frequency, but in LOTR they come up constantly. I translate them the first couple of times and then the kids know them and it’s no longer necessary. And LOTR is rather special because at first I was amazed at how well some of the boys could translate phrases that had me hesitating. Then I realized that they had seen the French version 27 times and literally knew it by heart. So that was a great film to work with.

    So there are several ways to handle the in bounds/ out of bounds question. For some films I choose to work on just a few scenes, chosen because the vocabulary is mostly in bounds. And films are more action than dialog. So we can quickly translate the subtitles and spend most of the time talking about the film action, keeping the discussion in bounds. And I find that many of my students retained words which I had not thought high frequency enough to spend time on, simply because of their emotional involvement with the story. As we “read” the film, translating the subtitles, I decide which structures are interesting to work on and do PQA and circling with them. If there’s a word that has no instrinsic interest, I translate it and we move on. Bearing in mind that an expression like “sewer grate” may not be high frequency, but in the story of The Mighty it becomes a critical element and the students will need it to talk about the scene.

    Again, I like the image of the Net. We cast our net over the film and some words slip through the holes, but quite a few, maybe more than we’d expect, end up on the beach.

  10. By the way, something that was interesting with a good upper level class was to study just one scene from a film based on a novel, then to read the same scene taken from the novel. Having seen the film, they were better equipped to understand the written version, and we were able to discuss the differences and to try to comprehend why the director had made changes.

  11. Charlotte Kroeker

    I use film in my upper level classes. I do a number of different activities with it, but it allows me to differentiate with my varying levels. I use the subtitles for the hearing impaired in the TL so that they can read it. I use the pause button often. My latest activity was writing out some basic plot points in phrases (present and later past) and having them write some paragraphs to summarize the plot. They understood the points and they could do it. It was also very handy to leave for my substitute teacher.

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