let’s have fun

How Not To Start The Year

It’s August, which means I’m going climbing and my poor American colleagues are thinking about The First Day of School, the poor things, and writing about How To Start The Year.

Well here at tprsquestionsandanswers, we take a different tack. We here provide a list of what not to do, and why.

1. Don’t discuss proficiency levels. Nobody benefits. Nobody cares. Nobody will remember. And omfg is this ever boring. The time to do this is roughly mid-year, when people have enough language in their heads that rubrics and descriptors and giant farting sounds make sense.

2. Do not assign target-language names. Do you even know your kids’ actual names yet? Do you think it might be, uh, stereotypical to provide a list of French (or whatever) names? Do your kids want Spanish names? What actually is a “Spanish name,” anyway? I know Spaniards named Desirée, Pedro, Mandeep and Ahmed.

3. Do not show a video/play a soundclip in the target language that your kids don’t understand. Teachers who do this say this shows students how it is going to feel during the beginning of class and while traveling to the country where ____ is spoken. Well, DUH, Johnny signed up for Intro Blablabian because he doesn’t know any Blablabian, and believe me, he knows what he doesn’t know. I cannot see the point of this. And if it’s a C.I. class, they are supposed to understand when you teach, because you make it comprehensible.

4. Do not do icebreakers, or “get to know,” or “find someone who ____”- type activities. Dunno if you know this, but most people of all ages haaaate icebreakers. If you are doing a “find someone who ___” activity in the target language, a lot of L1 is going to be used, most adolescents don’t really want to talk to strangers, and people find these activities silly (especially people who have spent years in school together, and who know each other).

5. Do not do “goal setting.” This is one of those stupid ideas that comes from the mix of psychobabble and corporate wankguage that is common to North American workplaces. There can only be one goal in a language class: learn the language (and hopefully a bit about the peoples who speak it). What are you going to do if a kid has a silly goal? What if a kid has been put into your class and hates it already? And, above all, does goal setting have anything to do with acquiring the language?

If you must do goal setting, the proper time for this is about 1/4 of the way through the course, when people have some language in their heads, some ideas about how acquisition works, and hopefully an interest in the language and its attendant cultures.

6. Do not play a game on Day 1. Especially with pure beginners, they have basically zero language in their heads, and games typically involve things like name-guessing/remembering, or one-word answers. This is impoverished input. Also, we want people to see what class is actually like, and if you don’t play a lot of games…

7. Do not “go over the syllabus” on Day 1. It’s boring. Nobody cares. Nobody will remember. You probably won’t even look at it again 😂😂. The way to “go over the syllabus” is when you need to address a specific point, eg marking, management bla bla. As teacher Wendy-Ann Alisa says, “just dive in and show them what a true lesson in the class looks like. Then, you can go back and do the necessary things to get everything set up in the days/weeks to come.”

I mean, Day 1 is First Impressions Day, and you better show kids what is going to happen and how much they can easily learn.

8. Do not administer a “placement test.” Placement/“level” tests might show you that a kid is placed way above/below their level…and so? If you can’t move the kid into a more appropriate section, what are you gonna do with the info?

Placement tests (for 80% of students) feel like a judgement, serve no purpose (unless the kid can get moved), and waste time. If you have a split/multilevel class, don’t stress, we gotcha.

9. Do not make people learn and orally repeat the alphabet, numbers, or anything else. Chanting & repetition can be done without knowing what one is saying, and therefore isn’t teaching anyone anything (it’s not communicative). And it’s silly. Yes, students will eventually have to learn boring crap…here is how to make that process less painful.

10. Do not avoid using the target language on Day 1. We need to get kids processing easy input ASAP, because we only have 100 or so hours. Card talk works. So does a TPRS story. Whatever you do, get them processing a limited number of words (in sentence form) which deal with an interesting idea and which can be repeated over and over.

11. Do not discuss metacognition. It’s boring, nobody cares, nobody will remember, and you cannot really reflect on the implicit linguistic system. After a few weeks, sure, ask your class what is going on in our class to make Blablabian easy to learn? and discuss from there.

So, what should we do on Day 1? Here’s my routine:

  • collect phones into the Hoteléfono when kids come in
  • make a seating chart, hand out the syllabus, & take attendance
  • tell them I’m Sr Stolz. To acquire Spanish, pay attention, ask questions, and don’t interfere with me or other kids.
  • Grab a kid and start asking a TPRS-style story.
  • Do a simple exit quiz

Happy teaching! I’m headed to the Valhallas.

The Rule of Three: Simpler Evaluation

Teachers are uhhhh obsessive, especially about marking. We write and rewrite assessment instruments, when we could be hitting a bachata class, ripping up the Grand Wall after work, or kicking back with our five-year-old.

^ wanna be overloaded like her? ^ 😞😞

We spend too much time thinking about grading. Luckily for us, I’m gonna make the rest of your teaching career waaaaaay simpler by showing you how to make marking simple.

Various assessment gurus will tell you something fairly similar regarding attaching Numberz to Performancez: there are only three, (or maybe four), real levels of skill that one can accurately describe.  These are basically,
1. not yet proficient
2. functionally proficient
3. fully proficient

Breaking things down further is complicated, and therefore makes marking slower (and rubrics more complex and therefore harder for students to understand). The more you refine descriptors and levels, the harder it is to distinguish between them. 

Yes, sometimes more complex rubrics are called for, but not in a language class. And why not? Because the only teacher action which makes a difference for language learners is the amount and quality of input

So…imagine if you got marked on partying. They give you a Number for how well you party.
Q: what would the rubric look like?
A: like this…

1 You are on your way to the party.
2 You are standing in the doorway, chatting with the host, eyeing a nice martini.
3 You are shaking it on the dancefloor with thirty others, with your second drink, and the sexiest person at the party is checking you out.

Works? Sure! It’s simple, quick and accurate. Your Party Mark will be 34%, 66% or 100%. Now, say we also wanted to grade outfits. So we add this:

1 Sweats and slides are kinda basic…but hey, you got out of bed!
2 Business casual? You look good and respectable but no eyeballs/mentions for you.
3 Oh yeah! What’s yr Insta, gorgeous? 😁

If we mark our partiers on both behaviour and dress, we could get from 1/6 to 6/6, or 16%, 33%, 50%, 66%, 83%, 100%. This is pretty good.  We could add another criterion– say, flirting skills– and then our marks would range from 3/9 to 9/09, or 33%, 44%, 55%, 66%, 77%, 88% and 100%.

So here is our Rule of Three for Evaluation:

1. We focus on three levels of skill (not yet, just got it, fully proficient).
2. There is a clear difference between each level.
3. We do not mark more than three criteria.

Now, I’ma show y’all how this works for a language class. Here’s our oral interaction rubric (end of year, zero prep, totally 100% spontaneous & unplanned Q&A with a student, Level 2 and up in any language).

Here is the rubric. We are evaluating comprehension, functional accuracy and quantity of speech. 

3. I understand everything said. My errors have minimal impact on how understandable I am. I ask and answer questions, and keep conversation going, appropriately.

2. I understand much of what is said with some obvious gaps. My errors occasionally make me impossible to understand. I try to keep conversation going but sometimes have problems adding to/elaborating on what has been said.

1. I don’t understand much of what is said. My errors often make me hard to understand. I have consistent problems keeping the convo going.

This rubric is a 3×3 and generates marks between 3 and 9 out of 9 (ie 33%-100% in 11% intervals). It’s a nice mix of detail, fast, and simple. You basically never want a rubric more complex than 3×3 cos it gets too texty for kids to read.

There you go. Use it if you want it.

Anyway, a few notes to go with this (and with marking writing, or anything else):

A. You can mark via selective sample. Eg, for writing, say your kids pump out 300-word stories (mid Level 1). I’ll bet you dinner and a movie that marking any three sentences will show you their proficiency as accurately as reading the entire thing. Same goes for answering questions about a reading, or listening. Pick a small sample and go.

B. You will generally see marks “clustering.” The kid who understands all the questions/comments in an oral interview will probably also be able to speak well. This is cos most “skills” develop in concert. With our partying rubric, it is likely that Mr Dressed To Kill is also quite sociable, a good and enthusiastic dancer, etc. Yes, there will be the odd kid who understands everything but can’t say much, but this is uncommon.

Now would somebody please make rubrics for spontaneous written output and reading comp also? Create & share.

Let’s be DONE with marking questions and focus on what matters: finding cool input for kids, and making our grading quick & simple, so that we can relax after work & show up energised. Remember, one of C.I.’s greatest innovators at one point said that their method was developed to boost their golf score. The logic? Well-rested, happy teacher = good teacher 😁😁.



Texts from Celebrities

So I’m doing “let’s trade hair” (cambio de pelo), one of Adriana Ramirez’ stories, where two guys with ugly hair trade hair.  A parallel character– other than El Chapo the Mexican gangster– will be one of the girls, oh, and me.  Here’s the texts we’ll use during the story, generated by the iPhone Text Generator.  The first is from you-ladies-and-gay-guys-know-who to one of the girls in the class:

cambio de pelo text 2

The second, for comic relief, is Kate Upton texting me.  But, see, I’m not into blondes…

cambio de pelo text 1