Unsheltered Grammar

Soap Operas (3): a simple verb trick

I’ve been playing with soap operas (details here and here).  Our telenovela is La Muerte y las Rosas (death and roses) and every day we add a few sentences to it.  I write these sentences on the board, circle them a bit, and when I have enough for a full page, I type it into my telenovela Word doc and hand the kids another page of it.

I am storyasking (and doing Movietalk and Picturetalk) in the present tense, but we are also doing our ¿qué hiciste anoche? class opener routine in the past and the telenovela in whatever tense(s) we need.

Written on the board (from yesterday) what happened in the present tense: Will Smith está en el hospital, porque se le cayó una coco en la cabeza.  (Will Smith is in the hospital, because a coconut fell on his head).  Yesterday, when this had come up (student Kajal’s dad is Will Smith, and her Mom is Rihanna, ssshhh don’t tell Mrs Smith), I had written it down, and circled it.  So today, a simple trick:

I just changed the verb endings into the past tense and added a tense marker word: Ayer, Will Smith estaba en el hospital, porque se le había caido una coco en la cabeza (Yesterday, W.S. was in hospital, because a coconut had fallen on his head).  I circled this for a bit.

This might be a not-bad idea because we have 95% of meaning established when we generate the sentence, write it down, and circle it.  When we switch to the past tense, we only really have to circle the verb a few times so the kids can hear the difference.  I’m going to make this a regular routine: generate ideas in present, then rehearse in past.  Blaine Ray has done something like this– storyasking in present, and reading in past.

Anyway, simple trick: translate from one tense to another, keeping rest of vocab the same.

 

 

Soap Opera Part Two

Here’s Soap Opera Entry #1 and #3

soap-opera-pic

 

March 2017:  I have Spanish 1 and we are about 20 classes in.  I am doing two parallel sets of activities: “classical T.P.R.S.” story asking à la Blaine Ray (with Movietalk and Picturetalk to re-use the vocab), and playing around with my telenovela (soap opera) idea which came from our daily routine of asking “what did you do yesterday?”

Anyway, what I am now doing is writing everything down every couple of days.  When I have one page worth of material, I copy it (onto that free brown crappy paper whose clicks don’t count against my total) and hand them out to the class.

Because this has been student-developed, and because I have generally previously written many of the sentences on the board, it is both interesting and comprehensible.  So when I hand it out, the kids can easily read it.  Note:  while storyasking (and the readings from stories) are in present tense, the telenovela is totally unsheltered grammar.

So, here is what we came up with so far.  I encourage the kids to lie/invent stuff/exaggerate, and they have final say in whathappens/does not happen to “them” (ie the fictitious versions fo themselves).  So Ronnie has been murdered in a fit of jealous rage…but he is happy about this, because he gets to be reincarnated.  So here it is, our  Spanish 1 telenovela:

 

Lunes, el veinte de febrero, fue un día muy interesante.

Primero, Ronnie estaba en una de sus cinco casas.  Ronnie tiene una casa en Sydney, y tiene otras casas en Whalley, Washington, Corea del Norte y Paris.  En Paris, la casa de Ronnie es el torre Eiffel.  El torre Eiffel es muy bonito.  Ronnie estaba con sus veinte novias.  Una chica que se llama Avlin fue a la casa de Ronnie:

Ronnie le dijo a Avlin:        Hola. ¿Qué necesitas?
Avlin le contestó:                 Necesito un novio.  ¿Ya tienes una novia?
Ronnie:                                  Tengo 19 novias.  Pero, quiero otra novia.  ¿Quieres ser mi novia?Avlin:                                     Sí, quiero ser tu novia.

Mientras (while) Avlin hablaba con Ronnie…

Una chica que se llama VogueIsha fue a Marte para (in order to) beber café en CafeMarte.  A VogueIsha, le gusta much el café.  Pero no fue a Marte sólo (only) para beber café…fue a Marte porque en CafeMarte hay dos baristas guapos e cómicos.  Se llaman Pootin y Dave Franco.  A Vogueisha, le gustan mucho Pootin y Dave.

Mientras VogueIsha estaba en Marte…

A una chica que se llama Noor, le gusta mucho Park Chan Yeol.  Noor y Chan Yeol tenian una cita.  Fueron a la playa en Corea del Sur.  Park es alto, guapo y muy cómico.

Viernes, el 24 de febrero, fue otro día muy interesante.  Avlin y VogueIsha fueron a un centro comercial en Paris.  Las dos chicas estaban en el centro comercial, ¡cuando vieron a Ronnie con otra chica!

VogueIsha:               ¿Es Ronnie?  ¿Está con otra chica?
Avlin:                         Sí, es Ronnie.  ¡Él está con otra chica! ¡Yo estoy furiosa!
VogueIsha:               ¡También estoy furiosa!

Las dos chicas estaban MUY furiosas.  Estaban celosas. Entonces, tiraron a Ronnie desde encima (from the top of) el torre Eiffel.  Ronnie murió.  ¡Las chicas son muy violentas!

Martes, el 28 de febrero, Noor vio a Chan Yeol frente del cine Strawberry Hill con otra chica guapa.  ¡Noor estaba muy celosa! 

Noor le dijo a su amiga:    ¿Está con otra chica Chan Yeol?
Su amiga le contestó:        Sí.  Él está con otra chica.

Noor no hizo nada (didn’t do anything) porque le gusta mucho Chan Yeol.

Mientras Noor estaba en el cine Strawberry Hill, VogueIsha estaba en Marte con Dave Franco.

Emma Watson le dijo a VogueIsha:      ¿Besaste a Dave Franco?
VogueIsha le contestó:                             Sí. Yo lo besé.  ¡Fue un beso increíble!

VogueIsha estaba felix, porque le gusta mucho Dave Franco.  Ahora, Dave Franco es su novio…pero hay un problema: ¡Dave ya tiene novia!  Él está con Alison Brie.  Y Alison Brie no sabe que Dave tiene otra novia.

Soap Operas? Hells Yea!

Check this:


So after weather and date, for our daily opener, I ask the kids ¿qué hiciste ayer? (what did you do yesterday?), and sometimes they talk about dates and romance. I encourage them to lie heh heh, and sometimes they do, and sometimes we actually hear about their real lives.  Because it was impossible for me to remember who was with who, I started writing down their “dates” on the homework board and they started bringing them up on subsequent days.

So now we do telenovelas every day and the stories are great:

  • Shyla was at the mall with a male friend when her new boyfriend SAW THEM OMG so now he is not texting her.
  • Manpal– the total music-geek hipster– is dating his ukelele.
  • Nihaal was with a girl who is 18″ tall
  • Sharky’s GF is short, ugly and smelly, but since physical appearance doesn’t matter to him he is happy.
  • Hafsa’s ex is now dating her twin sister Hajjar…but Hafsa’s new guy (although not as good-looking as the old one) is nicer, smarter and funnier.

Every day, we add a sentence or two to each of the various dramas. Amazing how much the kids remember and it’s a riot playing around with this endless deployment of mini-stories.

You get to mix a whole lot of grammar together, and you get a lot of buy-in, cos the kids are basically inventing everything. The quieter ones just have to show comprehension.

The trick– as always in C.I.– is to get a load of interesting miles out of very little vocab. One noun and one verb (or other word) per day is loads. So lately we have been focusing on dejó a ___ (s/he dumped ___) and engaño a ___ (s/he cheated on ___). Great soap opera material. The only problem is getting 1st and 2nd person reps but that’s what imaginary text convos are for. Here, Abby dumps Abdul:

Here, Nihaal’s new girlfriend, la rapera Soulja Fraud, has a blood feud with rapero Quavo. So Nihaal threatens to not road trip (to UtAH) with S.F.

Anyway this is major fun.

Update: here is Soap Opera Entry #2

What Is Rule Overgeneralization, and What Can We Do About it?

So you are teaching with your text and in year one the kids “learn” first how to say “I like” in Spanish– me gusta– and then how to conjugate regular present-tense verbs.  And suddenly they are saying *yo gusto no trabajo. Then in Level 2 you “teach” them the past tense, like “she ran” is corrió.  And suddenly they are saying *los lunes corrió a la escuela.  These are a lot like how kids pick up L1:  they acquire Daddy went to the store and then later say Daddy goed yesterday.

This is “rule overgeneralisation:” a new “rule” shows up and suddenly it gets applied everywhere, inappropriately.

Kids pull out of this very quickly, mostly because of the masses of input they get from L1 parents and other adults.  But what can we do about this in the language classroom?

So some random notes:

1. Avoiding conscious learning is the first key.  If you have to consciously learn AND remember AND apply “rules” in real time– ie during oral production– you will naturally default to the most recently-learned rule.  So all that hard work on the present tense seems to go out the window when the passé composé gets introduced.  This is not cos kids are dumb, lazy etc, but it is a brain-structure and bandwidth problem: you have a limited amount of conscious brainpower, and forcing it to “learn” and then remember and apply “grammar rules” (and the brain, as Bill VanPatten reminds us, doesn’t even actually use what we teachers call “grammar rules” in the first place) is too much.  Too many mental balls to juggle. TPRS or AIM-style stories, Movietalk, Picturetalk, novels etc– i.e. interesting comprehensible input– will take care of a bunch of this.

2.  Unsequenced or “unsheltered” grammar is second. Blaine Ray and Susan Gross pioneered using “unsheltered” grammar– using all verb tenses, pronouns, verb #s etc — from Day 1.  If the input is “modeling” L2 in all its diversity, the brain won’t default to conscious or recently-“learned” rules.  Yes, beginners can cope with sentences like El chico quería un mono que bailara (the boy wanted a monkey who might dance) easily.  There you have inperfect, subordinate clause and past subjunctive all in one sentence.

This way, the brain has “everything” coming in at once, and it is getting the “mental spaces” for the different “rules” built, ground up, from Day 1.  The kids won’t substitute trabajaba for trabajó because they have been hearing and reading them– mixed together, naturally– from the beginning.

(There is, btw, another argument for the use of unsheltered grammar: frequency.  A glance at any word frequency list shows us that the 250 most-used words (i.e. what Level 1 of any language class should teach) includes verbs in five tenses and the subjunctive mood.  And it’s not like Mexican moms or French dads delay speaking the subjunctive (or whatever) till their kids are ten years old!)

3. Avoiding “grammar practice” is the third key. The problems any output activity where we “practice” grammar are numerous:

  •  How do we expect people to do what they are trying to learn to do?  Are we not putting the cart before the horse here?
  • If we acquire languages via input, what good does output do?  “Little or nothing” is Steve Krashen and Bill VanPatten’s answer.
  • This will inevitably be accompanied by tons of English or other L1 discussion.  Even the eager beavers will be saying “is it the thingy, the subtunction?  Is that like you put an -a on it?  No wait that’s an -e. OMG this Snapchat. Shut up I don’t like her, OK it’s *ella trabajió.
  • It’s boring. Generating sentences such as “the girl wants her cousin to cook” or “I want my friend to run” is not fun.  I’ve tried everything–everything– and believe me, I can get kids to listen to a fun story that has [whatever grammar] in it, but I cannot get 90% of kids to “practice grammar” or “practice speaking” in any meaningful way.

4. Remember that “errors” do not exist, from the learner’s point of view.  If somebody “screws up” in writing or speech, they quite simply have not acquired what they need to produce the language properly.  They are being asked to do something they quite literally cannot do. There’s an entire Tea With BVP devoted to this question. So, rule overgeneralisation– like any error– has more to do with what teachers want than how “good” students are.

5. We have to remember that acquisition is non-linear.  We can minimise problems such as rule overgeneralisation, but we can’t get rid of them.  Check out this mama bear and her cub going rock climbing.

They test pawholds.  They back down.  They try the sequence differently.  They don’t get there in one fast line.

Teachers are mama bear and students the cubs, if you will. They’ll do the moves…when they are ready.

Finally, we need to up the input.  Students only acquire via input.  Yes, it may seem like they are learning from doing worksheets, or using the subjunctive chart above, or practicing dialogues.  But such “learning” is incidental, and as we see from research, much less effective than lots of good input.  If you keep hearing “j’allais à l’école hier” or “yo gusto hamburguesas,” the students need to hear (and read) more je suis allé and me gustan las hamburguesas.  In the long run, that’s the only thing that is going to work.

 

 

 

Should I Go to I.F.L.T.?

I.F.L.T. is the brainchild of a bunch of people: Stephen Krashen, Jason Fritze, Karen Rowan, Carol Gaab (and many others directly and indirectly), and is one of the best pro-D opportunities for languages teachers in the world.

Today’s question: should I go to I.F.L.T.?

To answer, I’ll describe my experiences in 2014.

I.F.L.T. has three “threads”: language labs, where real TPRSers teach real kids real lessons, workshops presented by master teachers such as Laurie Clarq and Martina Bex, and language classes where you can learn some Spanish, French, Mandarin or whatever.  2014 also had Ben Slavic’s “war room,” which was peer-to-peer coaching in C.I. techniques. And of course there was chance to talk to a very diverse crew of awesome teachers from all over.  Oh and random stuff like the Turkish Army Smoking Delegation. 

The workshops were uniformly excellent.  I saw Martina Bex, Carol Gaab, Laurie Clarq and a few others whose names I can’t remember.  The many workshops last 75 minutes and are quite technique-specific (e.g. you will Movietalk only in the Movietalk workshop).  An experienced C.I. teacher can get a “tune up” with a technique, and newbies can get specific strategies to try.

One of the best things about the workshops was their applicability to non-C.I. teachers.  The jump into T.P.RS. is a huuuge one and seems forbidding to people who are smarter and saner than I am ;-), and functional baby steps before going whole-hog C.I. are a good way to help people improve their practice.  I met a fair number of teachers who said “I love T.P.R.S., but it scares me,” and for them, the technique-specific workshops were a godsend.

The language labs were even better than the workshops and in my view the conference highlights.  I saw two people: a Mandarin teacher and Joe Dziedzic doing Level 2 Spanish.  I managed to understand what was going on in the Mandarin class, and Dziedzic was impressive not only for his hilarious (unsheltered grammar) story but for his epic tatoos and surealistically  giant water bottle.  While watching the language labs, observers can’t say anything, and when the lesson is over and the kids gone, observers question the teachers.

My favorite Q&A of all time happened after one of these language labs:

Observer:   “This is really impressive.  The kids are really good at ____.  What do you assign for homework?”

Teacher: “I am an extremely lazy teacher, and I have found that both my students and I are much better off with as little homework as possible.  Mainly I try to have them do a bit of reading a few times a week.”

This one line nailed it for me: this teacher got amazing results without making their kids overloaded with work…leaving them to actually enjoy acquiring the language, rather than seeing it as just a college-entrance burden. This echoes an old story about how an early TPRS adopter said they developed the method to improve not just student outcomes but the teacher’s golf game. 

The language classes put teachers in the students’ seats with T.P.R.S.-based lessons.  I attended a Mandarin demo and was pleased to see how quickly I was able to understand a basic story (and read five or six Chinese characters).  This was also a pretty good reminder that teachers really need to s.l.o.w. down to keep things comprehensible.

Ben Slavic’s “war room” was great, and I managed to chat with people from all over, including Diana Noonan (D.P.S. languages co-ordinator, who has managed to get a whole District onto C.I.!), a zillion interesting random teachers, and the Turkish Delegation, a crew of Turkish soldiers who are learning how to use T.P.R.S. for officer language training (English is what they have to learn). I also also got a glimpse of the legendary Krashen, an animal known for both its prodigious coffee consumption and its encyclopaedic grasp of S.L.A. research.😉

I also hit five Irish sessions in Denver, and this year in Chattanooga TN, should be awesome for bluegrass (and Irish).  Bring yer sticks, kids!  Also they have a killer beer scene there plus HISTORY!

Anyway, I.F.L.T. was fun and productive.  If you can’t make it to Tennessee, N.T.P.R.S. (Blaine Ray’s conference) is the week prior in Reno NV, and though I havn’t been, it also looks very good and has many of the same presenters. 

Happy Pro-D!

(and no, I do not get any reimbursement for recommending IFLT or NTPRS)

 

Trump in the Closet

So today we started Level 2 with the usual:  weather, date, what did you do last night? etc.  During a bit of PQA I asked one kid if he had a girlfriend.  When he said no, and I asked why, his friend said “because he has lice” and they both giggled.  And…we were off and running.  What follows is a totally improvised, on the spot, story.  THIS is why I love love love T.P.R.S..  As Mike Coxon said, “when I get off-track, I get the most done.”

  • piojos lice (although we could have started with any living thing)
  • quería besar a wanted to kiss
  • estaba solitario was lonely
  • tenía tantos ____ como ___ had as many ___ as ___
  • estaba tan ___ como ___ was/felt as ____ as ___

Señor Stolz and Animalak had lice.  So did Dhaniyal.  Dhaniyal’s lice were few and blue.  Animalak’s lice were red and small. Dhaniyal had as many lice as Animalak. Señor Stolz’s lice were huge and yellow.

Animalak’s lice were lonely.  They wanted to kiss someone.  There was no-one to kiss!  They were very sad.

Sr Stolz:  Louse, are you happy?

Louse: No, I am not happy.

Sr Stolz:  What do you want?

Louse:  I want to kiss a pretty girl!

Sr Stolz: Are there girls in Animalak’s hair?

Louse: No, there are no girls in Animalak’s hair.

Sr Stolz also had lice.  Sr Stolz lived in the closet with Donald Trump.  Sr Stolz did not like Donald Trump, because Donald Trump was racist and an idiot.  Donald Trump had magnificent hair.  Sr Stolz was as lonely as his lice.

Donald Trump:  I’m an idiot.  Do you want to kiss someone?

Sr Stolz:  Yes, I want to kiss Sofia Vergara.

Donald Trump (to louse): I’m an idiot.  Who do you want to kiss?

Louse: I want to kiss a pretty girl.

There were no pretty girls in Sr Stolz’s closet.  Sofia Vergara also was not in Sr Stolz’s closet.  There were only ugly zombie women in Sr Stolz’s closet.

Sr Stolz and his lice left the closet and went to North Korea.  In North Korea there were as many pretty girls as lice.  The lice were very happy.  Sofia Vergara was in North Korea also.  But she did not want to kiss Sr Stolz.  She wanted to kiss Kim Jong Un.  K.J.U. was happy but Sr Stolz was very sad.  Sr Stolz went back to his closet.  Donald Trump was happy!

 

T.P.R.S. or…whatever? More Evidence for the Effectiveness of Comprehensible Input

I have documented TPRS kids’ success in the past (see this) but today we are in for a different kind of treat: we are going to look first at what top students can do with traditional methods (forced output, grammar practice, word lists, memorisation, etc) and then with comprehensible input.

Today, totally by accident, I found my old Spanish 2 binder from when I was a traditional methods teacher using the ¡Juntos Dos! program.  One of my old Level 2 final projects was to create a children’s book.  The kids generally used themselves as characters.   This story was written by Nuvjit S.

Nuvjit was a keen language learner in high school, and has since then acquired Japanese. She was the top student in Spanish in her year.   For this project, the kids got editing help from me, they could use dictionaries, etc. Here is Nuvjit’s children’s book. This was the best project of its kind that I got that year.  So take a look at what I was able to get done with traditional methods.  This is second year Spanish.


  
  
  

Now, let’s take a look at what a kid taught with only comprehensible input methods can do.

This is Neha D.’s story. She is one of the top five or six students from this year.  This was done today, in 50 minutes, with no notes or dictionary.  First draft.  No editing.  Neha is Nuvjit, ten years later, with  Spanish teaching based on what we know the brain needs to acquire language: tons of compelling comprehensible input, in aural and written form.

Neha has never seen a grammar worksheet, a verb conjugation table or an explanation of how the pretérito  differs from the imperfecto.  She has never had her work corrected, and she has never “reflected on her learning,” or fiddled with a portfolio.  She probably can’t even tell you what a verb is and she has never heard the word “conjugate.”

This is first year Spanish.


  
  
  
  
  

So…it’s pretty obvious which method works better…for me, and for these students.  Your mileage may vary.

Now let me also be clear here:  I was a pretty bad communicative teacher.  I didn’t get good results (well, I couldn’t get my kids to have awesome results).  There were– and are– loads of people better than me in that tradition.  So I am pretty sure that any number of people could have gotten better results.  I’m also at best a slowly-improving T.P.R.S. practitioner, and there are loads of people who get better results than me.

This however is also my post’s silver lining:  if I was a bad “communicative” teacher and I’m a marginal (but improving) T.P.R.S. practitioner, my kids are getting more out of the class with T.P.R.S.

At bottom, I don’t attribute Neha’s success to me being smart or a good teacher, or to how funny I am– err, try to be– etc.  Neha and her classmates’ success ultimately stems from T.P.R.S., Movietalk, etc, allowing us to remain comprehensibly in the target language for huuuuuge amounts of time.

What’s it like teaching a split class?

I have a Spanish 1 and 2 split right now.  Six true beginners, nineteen level 2s, and three native speakers.  I also have three level 2s who have not had Spanish for 18 months (they had Level 1 in grade 10 and now in gr 12 they have level 2). Ten years ago, with communicative and grammar teaching (the ¡Juntos! Program) this would have kicked my ass.  If there is one thing that totally freaks language teachers out, it is getting a range of grades or abilities in one class.

But you know what? My split is all right.  As a matter of fact, it’s a gas!  So, what is it like having a split class using comprehensible input and how did I do it?

First, when I started, I put each beginner beside a Level 2.  The 2s I labeled dictionaries and I told the beginners “ask your dictionaries if you don’t understand it/me.”

Second, we use fully unsheltered grammar.  We do not save “advanced” grammar for later, because there is no such thing.  There is, however, vocabulary which is more (or less) frequently used, and we build our stories around more-used vocab. For example, in our fourth story, we have an “advanced” past subjunctive expression: pensaba que si tuviera otro novio, le fuera mejor (“she thought that if she had another boyfriend, things would be/go better for her”).  PQA is in present tense (except for a brief ¿qué hiciste anoche? routine I do start of each class). This is because in a comprehensible-input classroom, the difference between beginners and others is not in complexity of grammar, but in how much vocab they can fluently use.

Third, initially I used the 2s as actors and my superstars for PQA.  All I did with the 1s was check to make sure they understood the questions and answers.

Fourth, when I began doing PQA with the 1s, all I wanted was first sí/no and then one-word answers.  (I also did a LOT of comp checks to make sure they weren’t just bobble-heading along.)  That was sufficient output.  They didn’t need to do any talking to learn the vocab. (I can see the traditionalists raising their hands quelle horreur! Il faut parler pour pouvoir aprender!). Eventually, the 1s just stated saying more and more on their own. I told them “say what you can say without thinking about it.”

Fifth, I have differentiated writing assessment. 2s are expected to write a minimum of 100 words in 5 mins (describing themselves or a picture with content related to a recent story), and 800 words in 45 minutes (telling a story). The assessment is always most-recent-effort-is-mark so while most of the 2s have dropped off in output since last year (we are semestered so often the kids have 7 months between language classes) output goes up each story and so do the marks– their end of year goal is 100 in 5 and 800 in 40.  For beginners I do this.

For listening assessment, it is the same for all of them.  I read 5 sentences with vocab from the story aloud, they write the Spanish, then translate.  Initially I just made the beginners translate but after 2 weeks or so they wrote Spanish too.  Some of the beginners tried to write Spanish and made hilarious spelling errors (“ahsay buen teeempo”) but these have vanished as the beginners started reading.

Reading assessment: everyone reads extended, detailed (and embedded if I have the energy) version(s) of the asked story, and turns it into a simple comic.

Oral assessment: none for 1s. For the 2s, they get an unstructured oral interview at the very end of the course. This is because, as VanPatten notes, practicing speaking does not develop speaking ability– only input can do that– and I would therefore waste time (i.e. not deliver comprehensible input) if I had oral assessment during the year.  We also know from Krashen that conscious feedback (“do ____” or “avoid ____”) does not turn into acquisition.

For me, I take my cue from the amazing James Hosler: listening and reading assessment is just an excuse to deliver more comprehensible input.

Sixth, we maintain interest by using comprehensible stories.  Everyone understands everything and contributes details. Both 1s and 2s focus because stories with fun details, characters and situations are interesting for everyone.  I’m not teaching Spanish– I’m teaching stories in Spanish.  The 2s act (though now after 8 weeks I can use some of the 1s as parallel characters) and do most of the extended PQA.  The 1s listen and do y/n or one-word PQA.  Everybody does choral responses.  Every story is different; every version is different; kids are interested because the subject matter is interesting in and of itself in that it involves people, humour and suspense.  Note that I am not assuming that the kids care about Spanish, nor that they want to go to Spain or Honduras and that therefore I am “preparing” them for the real world, and so they should suck up boring instruction for a payoff in five years.  No, I want to make what we are doing right now interesting. 

However, if they do end up in Mexico or Colombia, they will have been exposed to an ocean of high-frequency vocab– and all of the grammar that there is in Spanish– and so they will have a rock-solid foundation for understanding everyday speech and for adding new vocab.

Seventh, the only thing I have not done yet is novel reading, and this is gonna be the toughest nut, because the 2s can comprehend more than the 1s.   Joe Neilson however has something to teach us here: read at a low level, and use the advanced kids to generate comprehensible higher-level conversations around the low-level stuff. I won some Carol Gaab books at IFLT 2014 and I am psyched to try unsheltered reading with the kids (Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro will be our first).

And how is it working, Stolzie?

It’s working fine, thank you very much! 😄👍 The 2s’ Spanish keeps on improving in both quality and quantity. The 1s, same. I have no management hassles.  We are a functional happy community. Everybody understands and can participate.  What else could I want?

Anyway, I no longer worry about split classes.  I am managing and I am not especially good at this, so anyone who uses T.P.R.S. should be able to easily do two levels at once by

  • keeping everything comprehensible
  • using advanced kids to generate quality output which is quality input for the less-advanced
  • not forcing beginners to talk
  • using stories, which are inherently interesting, to build broad “buy in”
  • having appropriately differentiated assessment
  • not sheltering grammar

Got a split and feeling the pinch? Try T.P.R.S.– and if you have a better way of dealing with a split, leave a comment.

How should I teach SER and ESTAR?

Spanish teacher conundrum, recently brought up on the Yahoo moretprs listserv by teacher Marji:

How do I teach the difference between ser and estar? Marji is asking this question because the kids are making errors, and also she only sees them infrequently, so they seem “slow” in picking this up.

Ser = to be, for permament, inherent qualities
Estar = to be, for location and feelings

The essence of the question– like the French teachers’ eternal How do I get them to remember the difference between être and avoir passé composé verbs?— is this: how do I teach a “non-English” grammatical structure to English speakers?. The answer is simple! I’ve written about this before, so here is a Spanish and French-focused refresher.

First, I translate only meaning. So on the board, I write

era = was
estaba = felt, was located in _____

es = is
está = feels, is located in ______

Now, note here.  The kids do not get an explanation of the inherwnt essential aspects and differences of/between these verbs.  All they get is the meaning.

They also have the I/you forms in my simple PQA/direct questions chart:

IMG_0172

I narrate our first story– Adriana Ramírez’ Los Gatos Azules— in past tense but I question actors and do PQA (personalised questions and answers) in present tense.

Second, I keep it all comprehensible. I say el chico estaba en Watts and ask “what did I just say?” to make sure the students understand. I then say something like el chico era alto, going slowly, pointing and pausing, doing comprehension checks.

Now, they have not had the grammatical difference between ser and estar explained, but I will keep on using these appropriately. All they need to do is

A) clearly hear the difference
B) understand the meaning(s)

Because, as Blaine Ray points out, ser and estar are the most-used verbs in Spanish, we want to start using them on Day 1 and keep using them always.

Third, I will use these expressions in both past and present. For past tense, as noted above, I narrate (and ask class questions about the narration) in past tense. For present tense, I will direct-question the actors. ¿Eres un chico? — Sí, soy un chico. ¿Estás en California? — Sí, estoy en California. Then, I will do PQA by asking class members the same question(s) I have just asked the actors. If they can answer, great; if not, they can read off the PQA/direct questions chart.

(New trick: this year, to get more reps on 3rd person present, I ask the actors about each other in the present tense. So if I narrate había un chico en Brooklyn and circle that, I still want some present-tense reps on hay, so I will ask my main character about another character in the story. E.g. I introduce my parallel character by saying Había una chica en San Francisco. Then, I ask my boy in Brooklyn ¿Hay una chica en San Francisco? and he says Sí, hay una chica en S.F.)

The aim is for them to hear it a zillion times in proper context, in all necessary tenses, and slowly their “language acquisition devices,” as Chomsky calls them, will start developing subconscious pattern awareness and then performative competence.

Fourth, I will not lecture about grammar. As Laurie Clarq and Susan Gross have said (I am paraphrasing), “if they ask for an explanation, they can have a five-second one.”

I taught French last year for a colleague for two periods and we did a story where I used il est arrivé, il a oublié, and il/elle etait faché (this is two different passé composé verbs, and two past tenses).

The kids did not need to know that there are “Dr and Mrs Vandertramp” verbs, or the house-movement mnemonic, or the camera/video metaphors for p-c and imparfait, bla bla. All they needed to know was the meaning. Now, I suck at French, but the teacher was impressed because these Level 2s were getting “fourth year grammar,” and understanding it. The method generally works even when a hack like me uses it 😉.

BTW the story idea, improvised by student teacher Nicole Kunkel and I, was
— Jean est arrivé en retard à la classe
— La prof etait trés fachée avec lui.
— Il a cherché dans son sac pour ses devoirs.

— Dans son sac, il n’y avait pas ses devoirs!  Mais, il y’avait des autres choses…
— C’etait dommage– il a oublié ses devors! Madame Prof etait trés fachée!

(Jean had a backpack which we put random things into, and every time Jean looked in it for his hwk, a pencil, etc, he’d pull out something funny and Madame Prof would get more mad (and we got a zillion reps on both present and past forms of all 3 structures).

We also wrote up embedded (progressively more complex) readings of our story, and then did the usual with that, for even more reps.

It doesn’t matter what first or second language people have. We know that everyone can– and does– learn at least one language without any formal instuction at all. Any baby of any race or either gender can learn any language. We teachers can use this amazing potential. All we have to do is

— restrict vocab (to not confuse and overload people)
— use all grammar (so people can “pick up” what they’re ready for)
— keep it all 100% comprehensible
— provide a ton of listening and reading repetitions

In Hindi, we have “postpositions” as opposed to prepositions. Chinese has tones, and no verb “to be.” German has complex word-order rules invented by a sadistic language demon. Try explaining the difference between “some” and “any” questions to a non-native speaker of English. French and German have two past tense auxiliaries. Russian has cases. But whatever it is, people can pick it up.

The point? They don’t need to know anything other than meaning, and the brain– given enough input– will take over and start figuring the patterns out.

Multiple verb tenses & different versions of stories– how?

I got a couple of questions from Andrew:
I was wondering if you ever have the kids turn around and read the class story in the past tense (or, not in whatever tense you read it during reading option A.)  Also, can you give me an example of what you do when you say they read a couple different versions of the story?
— Andrew
A)  Multiple verb tenses.  This year, I am using Adriana Ramirez’ book as a guide.  It is all present-tense until the 9th story, so, no I havn’t gone into multiple tenses yet.  Mainly this is because Adriana’s book does not have multiple-tense versions of extended readings (before the 9th story).
So far, this is working, but I would rather do it in all tenses simultaneously.  In the long run, this will work better– the kids will acquire whatever they need when they are ready– but in practice it’s a bit harder.  You need readings in all tenses and you have to be careful with stories– more pop-ups– and in my experience you end up with fewer reps on more tenses…so the acquisition is slower on everything, and there is tense confusion for the kids.
B) For “different versions of the story,” we are talking about the same structures and most of the same vocab used in different contexts with different characters.  E.g. In the version I ask, a boy wants to have a girlfriend, wants to impress a girl he meets with money/cars/etc, but she prefers pink dogs, so he gives her pinks dogs.  This is asked, acted, and orally reviewed, etc.
For the reading, the story has a girl who wants to have a boyfriend, who wants to impress a guy she meets with her enormous pickup truck, but he prefers small scooters, and so she gives him a small scooter.  Adriana’s book is organised more or less like that: the written story– the one the kids read– recycles the vocab from the asked (performed) story.