Month: October 2017

Don’t Do This

One C.I.-using American colleague recently shared this section from a Spanish test which their defartment head gave their Spanish class, viz

idiot task

How dumb is this?  Let us count the ways:

  1. Unclear instructions.  Are we supposed to rearrange the words in the sentences, or the sentences themselves, or both?
  2. Some of these have more than one possible answer (way to rearrange words).  Eg c. could be vivir juntos no es fácil or no vivir juntos es fácil.
  3. What does this have to do with actual Spanish that people actually speak or write?  Nothing.
  4. I have never seen a language curriculum that says students will be able to take scrambled words and turn them into sentences.
  5. I’m not sure what they are assessing here.  It’s not comprehension of actual Spanish, since nobody speaks or writes like that.  It’s not output, since students aren’t generating language.


This reminds me of those high-school math problems that felt like this:  Suzie is twice as old as Baninder.  When Baninder is twice as old as John, John will be three times as old as Suzie.  How old will Suzie’s dog be on Thursday when Baninder is four? 😉

This is basically a gotcha! question for the grammar geeks.  Yes, you could figure it out, but why bother?


To plan, or not to plan?

How do we know what a student can really do with an additional language, in, say, writing?  Suppose we wanted to be deadly boring for our students.  Hmmm, how about, we make them write about their daily routine, that should put both students and teacher nicely to sleep.

If we are a traditional teacher, we want to know what they have learned: what they can consciously do with language.  We could give them a writing prompt–describe your daily routine– time to plan/look at vocab/check out Google translate/”reflect on our learning”/plan out our metacognitive strategies/whatever, then give them a bunch of time to write, and then mark it.

If we are C.I. teachers, we want to see what students have acquired— what they can do without any planning, immediately. So we give them the same topic, zero prep time, a bit of time to write, then mark.

A teacher recently shared two writing samples from Spanish 1.  One sample is from a CI-taught kid in his class, the other from a kid taught by his grammarian colleague.

EXAMPLE A.  This is from the textbook/grammar teacher’s top student

  • the teacher spent three weeks doing a “unit” on reflexive verbs
  • the teacher’s students had just finished their “reflexive verb unit”
  • they had time to “prepare” their writing
  • they had 20 min. to write
  • about 120 words
  • quality: excellent, with minor errors

GT refl par.

EXAMPLE B. from one of the C.I. teacher’s middle-of-the-road students

  • the C.I. teacher spent about one week doing a story involving this vocab
  • the story using this vocabulary was asked one month prior to this being written
  • zero planning time
  • 10 min. writing time
  • 104 words
  • Quality: excellent, with very minor errors

CI reflexive write
What I noticed:

  • The CI student’s output is twice the speed of the traditionally-taught kid
  • the CI kid does as well as the grammar kid with no planning time and half the writing time
  • The CI kid has “been away” from the vocab for three weeks and uses it as well as the kid who just finished a “unit” on it
  • The CI kid spent one week with this vocab while the grammar kid spent three weeks

Anyway…faster writing with zero prep time and less instructional time: C.I. is looking a lot better than the text.

Win-Win with Comic Books!

This is an idea that came to me via a District colleague from a special ed. class she took and it’s simply brilliant.  It makes the kids re-read the story and focus in on its meaning, it’s easy, and it’s low-stress.

So, you have asked a story, and you (or your class writer) have written it out (and this has been edited by you).  OR, you are using somebody’s curriculum (eg Blaine Ray) and you have asked a story that uses the vocab in the printed version(s) of their story.

You hand out the written version of the story, and you do your various activities around it– volleyball/pingpong reading, Textivate, choral translation, Q&A, running dictation,  whatever.

Then, you get the kids to make a comic.  All they have to do is read the story, and make a 6-12 panel comic. Each panel must have 1-2 sentences of narration, relevant pictures, and either (a) the character thinking/saying what they are doing (eg “I am a boy, and I’m going to Taiwan”) or dialogue from the story. I give them 45 min. in one class (and one sheet of white paper) and if they aren’t done it’s hwk.  They need only copy sentences and dialogue from the story.  The emphasis is not on “writing” but on processing input.

While they are working on this, you, the teacher, get time to mark, plan whatever.  You can mark one of these in like 20 sec.  I give them a mark out of 3 (which goes into reading assessment): drawings match words, there are thoughts bubbles/dialogue, it’s complete, etc.  Anyone can do this.

These are the instructions they get:

Comics and art for stories:

  • One or two sentences per panel
  • Include all dialogue
  • Must have thought or speech bubbles in every panel
  • Words MUST match images
  • MUST have colour and look decent (but don’t obsess…stick-people are fine!)
  • Clip-art etc OK, or you can draw it
  • Messy, pencil, lined-paper, ugly, etc work will not be marked.

Here is a sample. 

Anyways…awesome!  Also, save them…BOOM! you are building a FVR library.

Q & A from Julie in Ontario

Here are some questions from Julie Quenneville in Ontario, Canada, and my thoughts.
1.  I teach grades 1-3 FSL as well as 4-8.  In Ontario, reading and writing isn’t reported on formally for grades 1-3.  How would the story reading/writing work in this case?  I realize that I could just go as far as making a class big book together with a couple of stories..and students could create their own story orally rather than in writing?
I think it will work better than ever if you don’t have to assign numbers.  What freedom!  I would get the kids to re-write class stories (but get them to change names and so on).  I would read them aloud (share with class while reading as if there were no errors).  For these kids, writing will really be a confidence booster.
2.  I haven’t been able to see that much about the reading/writing aspects of TPRS.  How does it work…do you simply “save” ideas from yesterday’s class, type it out, and then use it as a class reading?  Do the students then do writing activities that contain the new vocab but they add in original (in-bounds) words?
This is what I do.  I write the most important sentences on the board, then write it into a doc and print for the class (I also use novels).  We don’t do “writing activities”– because writing doesn’t teach people to write; reading does– but rather reading in lots of ways.
We create a story together.  I type it up.  When it is handed out, we will do the following:
1. I read aloud and ask some questions (focus on slower processors).
2. The kids do volleyball translation.
3. The kids do a comic of our story.
4. If I am organised, I’ll write up some questions and the kids answer (find answer, copy, translate).
5.  We also do running dictation sometimes– loads of fun.
3.  Wondering how students show engagement during a 40-min class when the majority of time is spent on input.  Would this be maybe once every 3rd class?  Or am I missing something?  With elementary and primary students you do have to mix things up every 10 minutes or you lose them…if you could give me a sketch of how a few classes in a row would look I would greatly appreciate it!!
If you have a 40 min. class, I would do
1. a brief 5 min intro (date, time and weather).
2. ask a story but not for more than 10 min.  If they get fidgety change activity.
3. TPR for a brain break
4. Picturetalk or Movietalk (or you can do show-and-tell with stuff the kids bring in)
5. Modified persona especial is good (keep it short).
I look forward to your reply Chris!  I find this so intriguing based on how I felt at the end of each unit last year — we spent so much time on a unit but in the end, students really didn’t produce much!!  I felt something was missing.
Production is  not important.  Understanding is.  The more they hear and read, the more– eventually– they will be able to produce.
Anyway, I’m not an expert, so please don’t take me too seriously.  There are really good Facebook groups for TPRS and elementary TPRS specifically…go forth!