T.P.R.S.

How Badly Did I Fail Teaching Languages? (1)

I have been reflecting on my teaching and I thought I would share my many screw-ups, and offer some better alternatives (which might be useful for teachers who use textbook programs and are getting frustrated).  So here we go– today’s question–

Q: How– and how badly– did I screw up teaching languages?

A: Pretty badly– and here is how 

 1. I used grammar worksheets and explicit grammar practice to “teach grammar.” The programs I used– first ¡Díme! and then Juntos— had a lot of these.  Fill in the blanks with the correct verbform, pronoun, or word, etc. The research about this is clear: a grammar item is acquired when the learner has heard loads of comprehensible input containing the item/rule in question, AND when their brain is “ready” to pick it up.   If a learner hasn’t acquired it, they aren’t ready for it.  If they have, there’s little point in practicing. Truscott writes that “no meaningful support has been provided for the […] position that grammar should be taught” (and practiced) and VanPatten says that “tenses are not acquired as “units” and the brain doesn’t store grammar as a textbook-stated rule.”

“Conscious awareness” of grammar rules (as Krashen points out) only helps us if ALL of the following conditions are met:

1.  we know the rule

2. we know how to apply the rule

3.  we have time to consciously reflect on and apply the rule

So, if students have worksheets or whatever where they are “practising the passé composé” or whatever, they’ll do well.  They’ll beaver away, slowly, filling in the blanks.  Of course, in real life, they won’t have time to go “hmm, is that a DR AND MRS VANDERTRAMP verb?  Oh, it is, so, let’s see, how do we conjugate that?” Or, as Yogi Berra said, “you can’t think and hit at the same time.” Worksheets cannot help those who havn’t acquired a grammar rule; they are unnecessary for those who have. And they’re boring.

Doing it betterI would have kids read a ton of stuff which has the grammar item, etc, they are learning.  If I had worksheets, a better way to use them would be to give the kids the worksheets with the blanks filled in and have them translate:  this is quality (if boring) input.

 

2.  I used to do projects in the target language.   One typical one:  the ____ report.  Research ___, write up what you learned about ____ on a poster and add some pictures and lines connecting different elements.  Oh, and do it in Spanish.  Then read it aloud to the class.  Variations: use the Interwebz and add things that talk, move, have colours, etc.  The only problems were…

  • the kids had to look up a ton of vocab (read: Google translate)
  • almost none of this vocab got repeated for the rest of the year (read: little acquisition)
  • most of the writing had to be “edited” (read: totally re-written) by me before the final product was assembled.
  • most of the audience focused on pictures and missed most of the target language during the presentation because the presenters are the only ones who know the vocab, and the audience wanted to understand, and pictures were easier to understand.
  • if done in poster form, nobody except me, the teacher, ever read the Spanish, and a week after it was done, not even the kids who wrote the poster typically what it meant because all they did was copy it down
  • most of the Spanish on these was low-frequency vocab.  How often is somebody going to need to say “principal exports of ___ are petroleum and fried dog” or “The Cathedral of was built in ____”?

Now, kids did pick up a bit of vocab– and culture knowledge– but at the cost of good input.

Doing it better: I now do culture, etc, projects in English.  I can  get higher-order thinking, more learning-via-sharing, and less energy wasted on poor target language use.  Plus, the kids can easily understand each others’ work.

 

3.  I “used games” to “make grammar and learning fun.  From class soccer leagues to Hangman to cross-4, games got the kids focused and they found them fun.  Too bad, however, that

  • most of their output was flawed and/or English, and that therefore
  • they got little accurate input, and
  • the language they were exposed to was fragmented (ie generally not sentences which were part of bigger meaningful “whole” passages or conversations
  • they got low-frequency vocab.  E.g. the class soccer/hockey/baseball game.  Lots of fun, shouting, etc…but words like “scores” and “goal” and “foul” are not much-used.

 

4.  I didn’t know what I was doing with assessment.

a) I screwed up listening assessment.  In every languages program I have ever seen, the listening test at the end of each unit has something like, it  plays a native speaker saying something, or a conversation.  Then, there are multiple-guess questions  Why was this a problem for my kids?

  • the kids had to “hold” quite a lot of vocab in their heads while listening to (say) 60 seconds of language.  This is very hard to do.
  • The pattern was clear:  if the speaker(s) said it, the kids picked that as the answer.  If the statement was more complex– eg John was not tired– and the question was How did John feel? a) tired b) awake c) energetic, the kids would pick a, because thinking about “not” and the meaning of the word tired is cognitive overload for a lot of them.

Doing it better:  Give them WAY more time, restrict vocab to only what they know, and provide aural input much more slowly.  I would also now suggest using aural input as listen, copy and translate.

b) I screwed up writing assessment.  Yes, I had a marking rubric (thanks, Julia Macrae), which worked fine for paragraphs.  However, what do you do with single-sentence questions?  For example, a question would be ¿Te gustan los perros? (Do you like dogs?).  If a kid wrote me gusta los perros, or yo gusto las gatos (both of which demonstrate understanding of meaning, but which have basic grammar errors), how do you mark it?  Half a mark off for the mistake?  1/4?  How do you do holistic assessment for a sentence?  Impossible.

Doing it better: Now, I make them write only paragraphs and stories and assess holistically.  I check for understanding when I am asking stories, or while we are reading.

 

5.  I used to expect oral output from Day 1.  I used to do a lot of “communicative pair” or “information gap” activities.  The problems here were many:

  • the kids would always make output mistakes– e.g. they would have a list of things or activities, and they would have to ask their partner about them.  So, dogs.  A kid would say  ¿Te gusta el perros?  and get the answer No yo gusto perros— which was meaningful, but very low-quality input for their partners.  If this is where their language modeling came from, I realised eventually that there would be huge problems.  They would not acquire articles, verb endings etc properly.
  • I felt like a cop, cruising around the class to ensure Spanish compliance.  As one person I talked to said, “speaking ____ with other people who are also learning it feels fake.”  Kids simply felt funny using the language.
  • the logical thing to do is to get the info as easily and quickly as possible, i.e. L1, whose use was a constant problem.
  • the activities in books were dull:  ask your partner if s/he a) went to the beach b) played soccer, c) had a BBQ last summer.  I dunno about you but I and the kids don’t find that compelling.

Doing it better:   I don’t do any forced oral activities and end-of-course assessment with beginners.  I do one totally random three-minute oral interview with 2nd and up level kids at the end of level 2.  The kids do have to chorally answer story questions, and I will ask superstars personalised questions in the PQA (personalised questions and answers) process (basically, asking the superstars the questions I ask the actors).  This has allowed me to deliver much more– and better– input, partly because I am not spending 6-8 blocks/year assessing output, and because the output they do– acting in stories, and superstar PQA– is super high quality (and so is good input) for other learners.

Now, when I have kids who are reluctant to talk, I ask them yes/no or one-word PQA questions.  If we are doing a story and I say a la chica, le gustaban los gatos, I’ll first circle that, and then I’ll ask the actress ¿te gustan los gatos?  and a few other questions involving gustan and los gatos, los perros, los dinosaurios, etc.  Then, I ask my superstar or a native speaker ¿te gustan los gatos?  and they can answer with a complete sentence.  Then, I go to the slower processors (or shyer kids) and ask the same question.  They can say sí/no and that’s fine, or they can say a complete sentence.  The point now is to deliver input, not to force output, and to use output to signal understanding.

I also no longer do communicative pair activities.  Kids now pick up Q&A (first and second person) forms (and everything else) through PQA and stories.

 

6.  I used to do kid-created target-language movie projects.   Typically, I said “make a short film of ___,” ___ being either some thematic vocab (e.g. the food or shopping unit) or this plus some specific grammar requirements (e.g. use the imparfait).  Now, these are fun.  My daughters also did them, and when they did, I’ve never at my house seen five teenagers spend so much intense time rehearsing, giggling, planning, etc.  However…

  • the target language output was bad.  They’re learners.
  • most of the time spent making a film was in English.
  • most of the energy, mental and otherwise, spent in making the film was fixed on visuals, acting, bloopers, editing, etc
  • when they watched each others’ films in class, mostly they could not hear or understand the Spanish…because most of the Spanish had been special-occasion looked-up just for the film, and because the sound was bad
  • because the kids KNEW that the story must be primarily visually told, and they would film/edit for visual comprehension, viewers didn’t really need to pay attention to target language.
  • even the understood good target language was often not repeated much throughout the year (low frequency).

In retrospect, movie projects did get the kids talking, and they were fun.  But they didn’t deliver the sine qua non of good languages teaching: delivering compelling comprehensible input.

Doing it better:  Thanks to Adriana Ramírez, I now do this.  Provide the kids a script of 100% comprehensible vocab– including dialogue, with errors edited out– and have them film it.  They will have a blast filming (picking costumes, editing, hanging out with their buddies, adding music etc).  When you show it in class, they will be intrigued to see their friends acting, and they will not even notice that they are hearing and understanding the target language.

7. I used to give grammar tests.  Read the sentence and fill in the blanks with the right ____.  Conjugate the verb.  Show me where the pronoun goes. The research is clear:  grammar instruction works wonders if you want your students to become manipulators of grammar.  However, the part of the brain that stores “metalinguistic awareness” stuff like grammar rules is at best tangentially connected to the subconscious part that actually processes language.  The researchers all say the same thing: the brain does not acquire grammar by practicing grammar, and what we teachers call “grammar rules” is not how the brain “does” grammar.  So, making kids study for tests that ask them to consciously manipulate words and apply grammar rules took away from real, deep processing that happens when they hear or read stories or other meaningful language.

 

Doing it better: assess whole-language use (read, listening to and writing real meaningful stuff) and just, well, don’t give grammar tests.  If you really want to ensure that the kids learn to conjugate, use pronouns, etc, make them do a lot of reading.

8. I used to do the portfolio.  Kids take evidence of what they do– writing, reports, videos or oral presentations, tests and quizzzes, etc, and stick them in a folder called a “portfolio.”  Modern versions include online collections (e.g. you video your restaurant unit dialogue and put it on Youtube).  The rationale for portfolios is a) kids can “reflect on their learning, document  areas of growth and areas that need work” or some such edubabble, and b) kids can go and revise stuff and c) they can see what they did and learn from their mistakes.

First, (b) I agree with– you learned more, go fix it, good.  But, second, we run into a problem with A and C, because, basically, most adolescents simply cannot reflect on something as (1) complex and (2) innate as grammar etc.  Most of them can’t do it in English with essays/paragraphs etc, so how can we expect them to do it in a second language?  As an English teacher who teaches lit and composition to English speakers in English, I know that kids cannot meaningfully self-edit.  They also mostly cannot peer edit.  Yes, you can give them checklists…and they will look for– and sometimes even find– things on the checklists…and miss everything else.  And this is in English, their first language.  I used to provide Spanish grammatical feedback, the kids would dutifully re-copy their paragraphs and “improve them” and then they would make exactly the same mistakes on tests.

You can talk about ____ till you are blue in the face, but most kids just can’t do it.  They also don’t care– I mean, what student in their right mind would care how many of the 19 irregular passé composé verbs they don’t know or whatever?  That’s boring.  Also, I would give kids their writing back, correct the hell out of it, and they would look for how much red ink was on it, and what Number they got on it.  This is because they quite correctly understood that Numberz are what Matterz to Teacherz and Parentz.

Portfolios however look cool– especially if the student is a girl; girls in my experience are more into neatness and colouring and nice pictures than boys– and Thingz That Look Cool (extra Pointz if its online!  E-learningz!  Cross-platform sharingz!) get attention, Adminz and Headz love them, etc etc.  The only problem is, they don’t provide the acquisitional effects we expect.  The only thing a portfolio can do is show growth.  Kids will have 4-sentence paragraphs at start and 20 at end of a class.  Great, a teacher’s markbook should reflect that, throw the quiz in the kid’s binder, why waste time on packages and prettiness and empty self-analyses?

 

So…how has eliminating the screw-ups helped my kids?

My epiphany came thanks to Michelle Metcalfe’s demo workshop, and my results now blow the old results out of the water.  I have abandoned grammar practice and testing, communicative gap activities, oral output and most oral assessment, games, movie and culture projects in Spanish, and portfolios.

My Level 1 kids now write 600-1,00 word stories, in good Spanish, in multiple verb tenses, in an hour at the end of the course.  They understand everything they hear.  They feel great when they head somewhere Spanish-speaking.  I have no management issues. I have every kid who attends and pays attention passing.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary.  Mainly I am happy that I can experience more success with second languages and I hope I can inspire others to get there also (though not necessarily by doing what I do).  And I mean honestly people, I am neither smart nor talented so if I can do OK with T.P.R.S., anyone can do well.

Blaine Ray, Carol Gaab and Bill VanPatten respond to criticism of and questions about T.P.R.S.

We T.P.R.S. teachers often get slammed by the misinformed.  T.P.R.S.– and comprehensible input generally– often looks so weird to a traditional teacher that mental fuses blow and an irresistible urge to break out the grammar worksheets and communicative pair tasks takes over.  They aren’t talking?  They don’t practise grammar?  You don’t have a communicative objective?  Quel horreur!

So, today’s question:  how do Blaine Ray, Carol Gaab and Bill VanPatten respond to questions about and criticisms of T.P.R.S.?

First, blogger Sara Cottrell writes about what she doesn’t like about T.P.R.S. here, to which Carol Gaab responds here, and neatly dispenses with most of Cottrell’s criticism.

Next, we have Blaine Ray– the nicest guy in the world and the man who invented T.P.R.S.– who is at age 65 or so still teaching a class weekly (and refining his methods– Clarq and Whaley’s embedded readings, and his own teacher-as-parallel character are two newer fave tweaks), training teachers through his excellent N.T.P.R.S. convention and workshops, and often posts in Yahoo’s MORETPRS listserv.  I just found one such post on my hard drive.   Here is Blaine answering some questions about T.P.R.S. (edits for clarity)

Q:  Does TPRS reach all types of learners in the classroom, in particular special education students?

A:  Everyone can learn a language who has learned his/her first language. So in a sense TPRS might work with all learners. It does not work with unmotivated learners. We aren’t there to save everyone.

Q:  Does TPRS really engage all students in the class?

A:  Do grammar lessons engage all students? That really isn’t the right question. Does TPRS engage students better than other types of language teaching?  I would say yes. There is something about live theater that is very engaging. I have seen students that seem to be disengaged tell me what is going on in the story over and over. It is been my experience that virtually all students follow the story line.

Q:  Can´t weaker students just copy what other students say when answering questions?

A: At the end of a story we have students rewrite the story. I don’t observe copying. It is the writing of the story that tells me whether students have been engaged or not. I walk around the class and pick up all of their writings. There is definitely a difference between top and bottom students. I had one of the “self proclaimed” weakest students be the horse in my story this week. She had a much better ability to answer my questions than students I have seen in classes that have had no TPRS experience.

Timed writings show what weaker students can do. The difference is that when I have had students from grammar classes write a timed writing they can’t produce very much. What they do produce are memorized sentences. There is very little difference between the top and the bottom because they are all bad (meaning they can produce very little.) TPRS students can generally write well over 70 words on a topic in 5 minutes in my experience.

CommentStudents don´t really get any practice on their own in communicating with the language.

Response: You must understand the input hypothesis to understand TPRS. Students get constant practice in the only way possible to learn a language and that is through listening.

Comment: It is so teacher centered, where the teacher is talking most of the time, so students are learning so much less of the language.

Response: I believe the best thing a department can do to show who is learning the language and who is not is to share timed writings. If departments required teachers to bring all timed writings from their classes, then it would show who is teaching well and who is not. Teachers wouldn’t be able to pronounce that their students are learning. They would show what their students have learned by bringing in writing samples of all of their students.

Q:  Can you do TPRS one day a week and still see the benefits?

A:  Compared to what? I actually teach a class once a week and they don’t do TPRS the rest of the time. (I volunteer to teach the class.) I can see tremendous benefits in what I am doing. I talked to a girl yesterday about her Spanish and she told me how confident she was in her speaking. Students can’t fake speaking. They either know it or they don’t. I certainly think they would do better with more input though.

Q:  How do you keep up the energy and enthusiasm for all of your classes everyday?

A:  A better question would be “How do you keep up the energy and enthusiasm teaching out of a text book?”  I taught exclusively out of a text for 5 years. I went home most nights looking in the newspaper for another job. Teaching with stories is energizing. I don’t see teachers using TPRS complain about maintaining enthusiasm.

Q:  When you´ve got a classroom full of students that have a hard time staying in their seats, how do you reach them and manage the classroom so that they are not bored?

 A:  I can’t see any way of teaching that would work with students who won’t stay in their seats. In fact, TPRS does not work if a teacher allows social talking. Classroom management is easy. Most of my classes were over 40 and some were over 48. Boredom was not a problem. Students did not get tired of playing the TPRS game even after years.

Q:  Are you giving students a toolkit of methods and grammatical structures to use?

A:  Students are not aware of the structures. They are focused on the story.  The teacher needs to be aware of the structures. But more importantly the teacher needs to see where the students break down in their speech and practice where the students need it most.

(Note: the idea of T.P.R.S. is to make language acquisition a byproduct of listening to (and reading) the target language.  We don’t teach French, or Chinese– we teach stories but we teach them in French or in Chinese.)

Comment:  The stories are monotonous and all have a specific makeup.

Response:  This is probably a statement by a teacher who doesn’t understand TPRS. TPRS is all about surprises. Yesterday my story had a horse who was going to celebrate his 10th birthday at Chuck E Cheese. He was a good horse who goes to school and studies Math, Spanish and Horse. He got an A in Math, A minus in Spanish and a B plus in Horse. I had a girl who played the horse. Katie (the owner) had to go to the restaurant to arrange the party, went to someone to get the money and then got the money.

This was all dramatized. All along the way I kept asking the girl what she was doing. These details came from the students. Every story is a new adventure. If they are monotonous, it just means you haven’t taught your students how to play the game.

Comment:  The stories all involve animals in some way, or getting an animal.

Response: That is not necessary. A story can be about anything.

 

Finally, a few choice quotes from linguist Bill VanPatten, given at the IFLT 2017 conference. Thanks to Michelle Kindt and Karen Rowan for putting these online.

On how languages should be taught: “Language is too abstract to teach explicitly. Stop treating language teaching like other subject matter.”

Comment: T.P.R.S. is passive– the teacher does everything.

BVP: “Nothing could be more active in a classroom than co-constructing stories with your students.”

Comment: “TPRS is too teacher-centered.”

BVP: ” The TPRS classroom is NOT teacher-centered. It is teacher-led.”

Comment: “TPRS is too much about fun, and not enough about real communication.”

BVP: “Entertainment is a valid form of communication.”

Comment: “TPRS is too much about stories and characters, and not enough about exchanging information.”

BVP: “TPRS is communicative, since it has an expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning.”

Comment: “Teachers who use TPRS [and other comprehensible input strategies] do not teach enough explicit grammar.”

BVP: “What’s on page 32 in the textbook will not be the language that winds up in a student’s head.”

Comment: in a C.I. class, there is very little interaction with input, because students are listening to stories and questions, not engaging in conversations. 

BVP: “Interaction with input simply means indicating comprehension. Students can do this in many ways.” 

 

 

Marc F.’s questions about “after story” activities.

T.P.R.S. newbie Marc F. has switched over from the grammar grind and has some good questions about what to do after we ask ask a story. I’ll give my answers and maybe others can say their thing too in comments.

Marc writes:

I have been impressed with the re-writes that my students have been doing in the 10 minutes that I give them after we ask the story. I always write down any “out of bounds” words (although I try to keep them to a minimum) on the whiteboard and define them in L1 to establish meaning. Obviously, I also write the three (occasionally four) target structures as well. Do you leave the board as-is when the students do their re-write? I have been leaving everything up, as I believe that them seeing it as they write is just more repetitions and helps them establish meaning even more. Is this a good practice in your opinion?

Hells yea! There are a LOT of reasons why leaving vocab on the board is a great idea

A) the kids are still acquiring— both the retellers and the listeners– and reps = good.

B) you want brainpower going into processing (understanding) the language, not remembering how to say/write it (which is very difficult for beginners).   Output is hard and ideally we want to delay it as long as possible, and support it as much as possible.

C) they are self-conscious, so support will make it easier = happier, less stressed kids.


Second, I know that a part of the story cycle is to re-write the story that the class told, but sometimes with variations and more detail. Is this what is considered the embedded reading?

Sort of. An embedded reading has two basic defining properties:

(a) It is a basic story, and two (or more) progressively more complex versions of the same story  These stories recycle the vocab you used in  the asked version of the story.

(b) Each version contains all of the target structures, and you can add a few new words.

There is an English sample (from my workshops) here: embedded reading 1 page summary. This should more or less clarify it.  The aim is basically “scaffolding:” you want to make people comfy with a simple, short version, then get reps (etc) from 2-3 longer versions.


Also, I have been combining elements from different classes’ stories to create one story that all four of my Spanish 2 sections will read. I’ve done the same with my two sections of Spanish 1. I’ve been doing this so that I am not re-writing four stories per night, and also so that students can be exposed to a slightly different angle to the story (they are all based on the same script however). Is this on point?

I think this is an AMAZING idea. Especially if the kids in the classes know each other, the idea of mixing details (especially ones they come up with) is great. This is personalisation. How cool is it to create cross-class connections and to put kids into stories? It is also a solid mental health strategy: you need to have time for your family, hobbies, sports, etc.  You are also creating novelty, which the brain craves to stay focused.

I personally don’t do this– we invent and ask one story in class, and I give them a reading that contains those structures– but my colleague Leanda does and it rocks. I think this is great. As long as you are repeating restricted amounts of high-frequency vocab in interesting (and, ideally, personal) ways, the kids are learning.

I think you’re doing everything right. You are supporting comprehensibility, making kids feel at ease, personalising vocab, putting a new spin on old vocab, and saving yourself from burnout by not spending 8 hours each night madly pecking away at your keyboard while the wife sulks and the kids act like it’s a country song, wondering who Daddy is.

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.

Adriana recommends…

My colleague Adriana Ramírez has done some cool c.i.-themed stuff. As well as writing a “textbook” for Spanish TPRS called Learning Spanish With Comprehensible Input Through Storytelling (you can buy it through Amazon), she has a few other things.

A) teachers pay teachers. Adriana has a set of Movietalk lessons. These include questions, readings, etc. You can find these here.

B) Youtube channel– watch Adriana doing bits of lessons. The link is here.

I have not seen the videos or used the movietalk stuff so if ppl buy/watch them and like them, please comment. Her book is good.

What should teachers tell kids about language learning methods?

Mark Koopman, an E.S.L. teacher and school organiser in Japan, asked about what we T.P.R.S. teachers tell our students when they come into our classroom.  Today’s question:

What should languages teachers tell their students about language learning?

My overall answer to this is, you tell them how people learn languages, and you lay out class expectations.

a)  My course outline (for Spanish) has this in it.  I read it to the kids and briefly talk about it

“People can only learn languages by getting comprehensible input—that means, they hear language they can understand (with translation, gestures, etc). They need to hear that language over and over, with variations, so they can pick it up and not be bored by it. They also need to read the language in comprehensible form.

 There will be no grammar worksheets, grammar notes, vocab quizzes or games built around grammar devices in this class. Contribute, pay attention, and learn!”

I don’t blather on at any length about this.  I want the kids to know they can easily learn, and don’t have to worry.  I also quote Blaine Ray: “I teach stories, and my stories always have a surprise.”  This year we started our first story 30 min after I first met the kids.

When I hear from Americans, a lot of teachers say their kids looooove worksheets and other legacy methods, and that it is a challenge getting “buy-in” from kids. I have not had this problem, partly because Canada is less insane than the U.S. (less poverty and classism affecting kids’ schooling, way less standardised testing, and much greater teacher autonomy), but mostly because if you run your class rigorously– what Ben Slavic calls “norming their behaviour”– they will succeed, and people who succeed are generally happy.

When I do get asked questions about methods, I refer people to the research. I also ask the kids “are you understanding everything?” They always say “yes,” and then I say “the more you hear and read it, the more you’ll remember, and eventually you’ll just automatically be able to say and write things.”

I also ask them “if you took another language before you started Spanish, how was it?” and I get a few responses, detailed here, and I then tell them “if you listen and read, and ask when you don’t understand, you will pick this up.”  Again I don’t spend a ton of time on this, as it’s mostly for my own interest.

b) Any teacher has to lay out some ground rules.  Mine are the classic T.P.R.S. rules, which I learned from the amazing Michelle Metcalfe:

— English only for places and names

— no blurting: only one person talks

— humour!

— ask for help

— eyes on teacher, sit up straight, no distractions

Buenas palabras — good words– “would you say it to Mom?”

c) I have had a few parents ask me about T.P.R.S., as their kids’ experiences with languages are so totally different in a comprehensible-input classroom than in others. I always ask them “does Johnny find it easy, and feel like he is learning?” I have never had a “no” answer. I also say “while this seems weird sometimes, it seems to keep the kids engaged,” and I also tell the parents to look at their kids’ writing assessments. This last always lets the kids impress their Mom and Dad.

As Robert Harrell (I think) said on Ben’s, “if you feel like you have to criticise me, look at my results, and if you wonder about my results, look at my methods.” I have never had to do this: kids getting T.P.R.S. find it easy, develop massive and very visible skills, and feel safe and capable in class.

There have obviously been some public arguments (e.g. recently on the A.C.T.F.L. forum) about what constitutes best practices. One thing is clear: people who teach with c.i. need to make sure they explain their methods– and the brain research behind them– to students, parents, colleagues and others.

But the bottom line, as always, is the kids. In a T.P.R.S. class, they can learn, and they generally like learning, another language.

What should assessment and evaluation look like in the second-language classroom?

Numberz. Kids, parents, Adminz and teachers all want ’em. “What’s my mark?” asks Baninder. “How can Suzy bring her mark up?” asks Mrs Smith. “How do we get marked?” ask the keeners on Day 1.

Well, here we go, here are some ideas about formative assessment (seeing how people are doing during the learning process in order to guide instruction), and summative assessment, (a.k.a. evaluation), where we assign a Number to a kid’s performance. Here’s a picture:

IMG_3353-3

There are a few general principles:

A) we should never use norm-referenced (a.k.a. “curved”) grading, for reasons discussed here.

B) We should be doing criterion-referenced grading– i.e. there should be a rubric, or what have you, which clearly defines what needs to be done to get what mark. There are a bazillion rubrics for evaluating second-languages writing, speaking etc out there, from ACTFL guidelines to various State standards to things in texts– I won’t get into details, except to say that any evaluative tool should be making an attempt to assess language use holistically, and should not include things like “students will use _____ verbs and _____ grammar structures.”

C) we should not mix up evaluation (a.k.a. summative assessment = numbers) and formative assessment (feedback). We need to see where learners are, and tailor teaching to what they can/can not do. This is assessment and we do not “mark” it, as per Rick Wormelli’s (and others’) ideas about “assessment for learning” (start here if you havn’t heard of this, then google away).

D) All evaluation and assessment practices should be explained to students. My kids have criteria in their course outlines, and we “mark” a couple of sample stories a month or so into the course. We do not do this in order to show kids “how to improve their work”– that can’t work for 95% of kids because it’s conscious learning– but rather so they can feel how assessment and eval works, and feel included.

ASSESSMENT (formative evaluation)

Assessment: seeing how people are doing along the learning road in order to steer the class car.

In a comprehensible input classroom, assessment should primarily answer one question: “do the students understand what they are hearing/reading?”

During story asking, a teacher checks choral responses to do this. We can also ask individual kids flat out– “Johnny, what did I just say/ask?”– or we can do P.Q.A. (personalised questions and answers) where we ask students in class the same question we ask the actor. If our story has “the boy owned a horse,” we ask the actor “do you own a horse?” and he has to say “yes, I own a horse.” We might ask a few more questions– “Do you own a dinosaur?” and get an answer like “no, I do not own a dinosaur”– and then we ask our keener kids in class “do YOU, Mandeep, own a crocodile?”

If, as Blaine Ray says, we get strong responses from class, actors or individuals, they are understanding. If we get slow, wrong, weak, or no answers, we have to go back and clarify, because either

1.  they aren’t listening = no input = no acquisition, OR

2. they don’t understand = no comprehensible input = no acquisition

Ben Slavic has advocated using what he calls Jen’s Great Rubric (jGR) which basically evaluates how “tuned in” kids are. The rationale here can feel ambigious. On one hand, it’s the old “if it’s not for marks, kids won’t do the work” thing: instituted by teacher cos the work is so boring/hard that no sane kid would want to/ be able to do it, so marks = carrot and stick.  (But then maybe kids need that if The System prizes Numberz and Markzzz above all else).  On the other hand, if Johnny is failing because he is on his phone, zoned out, or otherwise disengaged, use of jGR is a great tool for the teacher to say to Johnny’s Mom “look– here is how he acts in class, i.e. he is not focused, and that is what his writing, speaking etc are weak.” Jury is out on this one but lotsa folks like it.

In terms of writing assessment, as Leanda Monro, Adriana Ramírez and a zillion others have pointed out, explicit feedback (in terms of grammar) does very little. Leanda told me last year that the best thing she could do with her French kids’ writing was to ask for more detail. I have found the same: I can blather/write at length about verb tenses, adjective agreement, etc, but the kids simply don’t learn from this (Krashen and many others have repeatedly shown that we cannot transfer conscious knowledge into acquisition).  What does work is writing something like ¿Cuántos hermanos tenía la chica?

I have also found that kids make consistent writing errors– e.g. this year it took them awhile to acquire quiero tener (“I want to have”)– and so after each story the top five errors get circled more next story.

For speaking: good input = good output. However, Leanda and a few other French (and Chinese) teachers I’ve met have said that a bit of pronunciation work is necessary. This is because– for English speakers– the sound patterns of these languages are easy enough to screw up that with their output– even if it’s rock-solid– seemingly minor pronunciation errors can totally throw it. Chinese, with its subtle tones, and French, with its various “ay” sounds– é, è, ê etc– are easier than, say Spanish for English speakers to botch.

Another thing we should not be doing is, administering assessment without changes in instruction.  The old pattern– present, practice, produce, quiz on Tues, test on Friday– is useless.  Following a text or test series or a set of DVDs, and dutifully collecting quiz samples, and expecting the kids to look their quizzes over and say “oh my, I clearly need to bone up on pronoun placement and the vocabulary for discusing French art” is a great strategy…for the kids whoa re getting 95% already.

So what should assessment look like?  It should

  • be comprehension-focused
  • be ongoing: during storyasking and reading, we check for comprehension
  • actually cause us to change what we are doing.  If kids don’t understand something, or make repeated errors, they need more input around that thing

EVALUATION (summative assessment)

One problem– err, I mean, opportunity— we have is, students are never at a fixed point in their acquisition. If they are getting a ton of good comprehensible input, they are acquiring (albeit not all at the same rate, or in the same way.  Max may be picking up a few nouns from the most recent story, while Arabella’s brain is soaking up pronouns, or whatever). Students also “acquire” something, forget it, re-learn it, etc, in an ongoing, up-and-down process…so a “snapshot” of their skills is really not very useful or accurate.

For this reason, in my humble opinion, a student’s mark should always be based on their most recent output or skills. . We should not be setting up “units” and assigning a mark per “unit.”

Why? Well, maybe Rorie finishes a “unit” on shopping for clothes, and she gets 60%, so goes back and re-reads dialogues or a story, or studies the grammar. And gets better as a result. Maybe also the teacher uses the shopping vocab for the rest of the year. But how does the teacher now assess Rorie? Say the teacher assesses via units (10% of the year per unit, over 6 units = 60% of year, plus final projects or exam(s) worth 40% of year, marks for everything evenly divided between speaking, listening, reading and writing), and by end of year Rorie rocks at shopping for clothes, do they discard her crappy shopping unit mark and give her only the final exam mark? If so, cool, but why then bother with unit marks in the first place?

If the answer to this is “accountability,” you have a problem: marks are being used as carrot/stick (read: work is boring and/or not worth doing).  I have argued that topical (sometimes called “thematic”) units are a bad idea– they tie grammar sets to vocab rules, they are boring, they are artificial, they overuse low-frequency vocabulary, they can present grammar that students are not ready to acquire– and they present assessment problems too.

Of course, parents, kids, Adminz, Headz will want to get a rough picture of how kids are doing, so it might not be all bad to have some kind of “rough progress” report.  At my school, we are piloting a program where the kids get an interim report that offers feedback– neither numbers, nor just “good, OK, bad”– which teachers can customise.  Mine gets the kids to evaluate themselves (to what extent do you listen for comprehension, ask for help, co-crerate stories, etc) and if I agree with their evaluations then that’s what goes home.

My evaluation system this year was super-simple. After a story was asked, and its extended version read, and we did Movietalk around its structures, the kids had to do two things:

A) a speedwrite (5 mins) where they had to describe either themselves or a picture. Their course goal was 100 good words in 5 min. Their “mark” was 1/2 grammar (on a rubric out of 3) and 1/2 wordcount (out of 100). For the first 6 speedwrites, they got a bonus (40, then 35, then 30 etc), and after that no bonus.

(Note: the grammar rubric is out of 3 but is weighted the same as wordcount. A kid that gets 100 words and a 2/3 for grammar gets 83% (100% + 66% / 2).)

For their first speedwrite, they typically wrote 25 words + 40-word bonus, so average mark was 65% for words and grammar (for the first) was 1/3 but very rapidly climbed to about 2.2-2.5/3.

B) Relaxed write. For this, they had to re-tell (in writing) the most recent story, but they had to change details and include dialogue, etc. I marked these using grammar (/3) and wordcount (starting at 200 and going up by 50 each time) with no bonus. Their wordcount marks also went steadily up and their grammar got better after first 2 stories.

So, they had an “ongoing” mark which they could always improve on. I told them that “this is a rough guide to how well you are doing. You can improve, or you can stop paying attention (or miss a bunch of class), and your mark can drop.”

I entered marks into the spreadsheet every time we did a post-story writing assessment, and I’d post a printout, and I made them keep their relaxed writes and freewrites. They all got better with time and it was cool for them to “see” progress:  grammar marks were low for first 2 stories, then went up, and wordcounts steadily climbed.

For finals– with beginners– it was simple. They had two 5-min speedwrites (/100, and with an /3 grammar mark), one 45-min story (/800, with /3 grammar mark). These were combined. They had one listening assessment– dictation, where they listened, wrote and translated– and their reading assessment was, go back to stories we’d done and answer questions. Final mark: 100% based on final exam = 1/3 writing, 1/3 reading and 1/3 listening. Also, any kid who wants to re-do their exam can do that no problem.

This system was almost as good as it could be. The kids knew what they had to do, the work was easy, there were no surprises, and even the weakest ones were able to do well (writing functional 300-400 word stories in 3 verb tenses including dialogue), while at the top end Shayla, Manpreet, Khubaib and Jaskarn pumped out amazingly good 600-800 word stories. (Interestingly, I had equal numbers of strong (and weak) students of both genders).

(The only things I am going to change next year are

  • I am going to use a more complex rubric for marking final writing. This is mainly because the one I used this year does not adequately distinguish complexity from simplicity. Some kids write a sentence like Juan quería las chicas guapas (“John liked pretty girls),” while others write Juan quería las chicas guapas que tenían perros azules (John liked pretty girls who had blue dogs).  In both cases, good Spanish, but the second kid is clearly a notch up.)
  • I am going to give them one text they have not yet seen (for reading) and get them to answer comprehension questions on that

With my 2nd years, I’ll do a speaking assessment (3-min interview) and I’ll also do a couple of culture projects, plus Adriana’s movie idea.

So…what should evaluation look like? It should be

— holistic
— based on doing what the kids have done and reading what they have read during the course (no “gotcha” surprises).
— focused on interaction with meaningful whole language (no grammar testing)
— a picture of the kids at their best: at the end of the course, when they have had a TON of good comprehensible input

Adriana’s great movie project idea

My colleague Adriana had a great idea for a movie project.

As I noted here, movie projects are generally a terrible idea in the languages class. As Teri W. has famously said, “peer to peer communication is the McDonalds of language teaching.” So, how do we make good movies? Adriana cracked this one:

A) Adriana gets the kids into groups of 3 and they make films of the stories. They have written versions of the stories (which include some dialogue) and they write out more dialogue (which she edits).

B) The kids film the stories. This can be done nowadays with any smartphone. Hell, you can even edit on a smartphone.

C) the fun here is the costumes, the non-verbal stuff (gestures, faces, sets etc), the music and the editing. The language is dead simple– the kids don’t have to do much in terms of “thinking” about output.

D) they use one kid as the narrator, and between one and three kids as characters in the film. They can also “subtitle” the film with dialogue.

E) the final product has title, credits, etc, a narrator’s voiceover, dialogue, acting bla bla, and perfect Spanish that the kids find hilarious. Adriana shows them during her last 2 blocks where she has the kids watching the films– they’re mesmerised and getting awesome comprehensible input– and she pulls a kid at a time out of class and does her oral assessment.

F) You can recycle these for next time you use the stories.

Anyway, thanks Adriana (@veganadri on Twitter) for a great idea that I am gonna try to do in June.

Progress report: Ramírez Book at 16 weeks

I’ve been using my colleague Adriana Ramírez’ Learning Spanish With Comprehensible Input Theough Stroytelling. We are now 16 weeks into the semester and finals will be in 2 days. We just finished asking and reading the 8th story– a story which I asked in present tense but whose reading is in full mixed past tenses (totally unsheltered grammar).

Here are the stats from most recent exam:

A) speedwrite: wordcount down slightly to around 75 and grammar down slightly to around 2.2/3.

B) relaxed write– retell most recent story, with variation– wordcount average around 450 and grammar around 2.5

DISCUSSION

First, I was anticipating a total mess with the verbs, as all stories till now have been in present. However, this was not nearly as bad as I had expected. The slower processors had problems oscillating between tenses, but 2/3 of kids did fine. The dialogues in the stories were fine too– most dialogue is in present tense anyway so no big changes.

This year because of the strike, our semester was two weeks shorter. I went reasonably quickly but I think with two more weeks I could have gotten through at least one more story (and more reading) = more exposure to past tenses and other grammar stuff.

Second, wordcount and grammar for the speedwrite (they had 5 mins to describe a picture of a girl waking up to an alarm clock) went down. This is because a picture is somewhat more ambiguous than a story and I felt like for a lot of kids the new vocab (past tense verbs) was freshest in their minds and so they just kind of threw it in there. I am not super-worried about this, as with time– and a lot of pop-ups– things will clarify.

Third, wordcount stopped going up for relaxed writes. This was I think mostly to do with processing with new grammar (past tense). There were a lot of crossed-out verbs etc on the faster processors’ papers– their conscious minds were kicking in– while with the slower ones there were more mistakes.

The book has worked pretty well. The stories are generally good (though I can’t make some of them work e.g. the Hawaian Genie…which ironically Adriana tells me is her kids’ favorite– go figure) and the vocab is nicely organised to recycle. Adriana tells me the next step is to publish a second edition with past tense (and other verb tense) versions but that’s a ways off.

Overall the book is pretty good. Unlike the Blaine Ray books, this one seems better organised (Look, I Can Talk have great ideas but I have not been able to make them work for me). Gaab’s Cuéntame series is also good but to me the exercsises seem overkill (However, this is what a lot of beginning TPRS teachers need– structure).

Honestly the only thing I think Adriana’s book needs is slightly more variety (and dialogue) in readings. To me, the basic story and the extended reading are too similar…but this is also the book’s strength: it recycles vocab. I would have included more dialogue (in written-out form) but Adriana ran into limits like space, and printing costs. These are minor quibbles– it’s a great program and she is working on her Level 2 book. If ppl wanna order it, you can contact Adriana via Twitter, where she is @veganadri, or get it off Amazon.

Next semester I have a Spanish 1 and 2 split and so I am going to do Adriana’s stories but in full mix (totally unsheltered grammar) from Day 1. I am doing this because

A) I want to see what works best: full unsheltered grammar, or sheltered grammar

B) my 2nd years have already had past tense (and subjunctive) exposure

C) If I have a focused curriculum that restricts vocab and I do lots of pop-ups, and we do a lot of reading, and I make a real effort to do a TON of PQA and actor questions, I think my last year’s problem– verb tense muddles– should be lesser.

This is te great pleasure of T.P.R.S.: I can never step twice into the same story.

What does T.P.R.S. Goddess Laurie Clarq say about circling?

Laurie Clarq– the inventor of embedded readings— is one of the nicest, smartest teachers I have ever met.  Not only is she a T.P.R.S. goddess, she also beat cancer, is a brilliant presenter, a solid writer, and just an all-around wonderful person.  She’s been doing comprehensible input for a loooong time now and recently on Ben’s  she submitted some comments re: how to circle.

Circling is where the teacher says a sentence– e.g.  Mike saw the girl— and then asks yes/no, either/or, true/false and more-detail questions about it, all the time repeating the target structure.  This is how we get repetitions of target structures and also how we add detail.  Circling was invented by Susan Gross.

So today, here are some comments shamelessly stolen from Ben’s blog 😉 where Laurie gives some ideas about circling.  You’ll have to join Ben’s ($5/month– a good deal) for the full-meal-deal.

Laurie writes:   “Confusion about circling is often at the heart of why people feel successful [in this work], or don’t. When we first learn to “circle” we learn that we can stay on one question/statement and get over a dozen ways to ask questions on that one question/statement. When we practice, we practice using that statement all of those different ways. It helps us to get familiar with all of the different options for asking questions/making statements and recycling one simple structure.

That is ‘CIRCLING PRACTICE’ and I’m afraid that as trainers, we don’t make that clear. Teachers leave thinking that storyasking in the classroom looks like circling one statement twelve ways and then moving on to the next statement [and circling that in the same] twelve ways and the next and the next and so on.  Then, when they do that in the classroom, students’ eyes glaze over and the teachers feel as if they aren’t doing it right.

So what is the “right” way?  Whatever works with your students [and whatever keeps the story moving and the interest high].  Granted, we can have twelve ways to recycle a statement/question. But as you already figured out, using all of them in a row over and over doesn’t work.

Think of it like sanding wood.  If you only sand in one place, in the same direction, you end up with a groove…exactly the opposite of what you want! Sanding needs to take place repeatedly, but over various places, and sometimes, depending on your goal in circles. Then you step back, look at how it’s going, find a place that needs a little more work and start over there…..sanding and smoothing and blending until you have the effect that you want. You may even change the types of sandpaper that you want to a finer grit as you get closer and closer to your goal.

You can use the “circling training” process when you, and/or your students, are new to the process. It helps them, and/or you, get used to the thought process. Now that you all are used to that, here are some strategies that you can use to make circling seem fresh.

GO SLOWLY, especially at first, but once they have the circling idea, these will work beautifully.

Here’s a sentence to work with: Ethan saw the wallet.

Strategy #1: Remind students that they are to ‘see the story in their head/visualize.’ Number one important skill for students!!!!! This allows you to ask students to occasionally close their eyes and visualize as you ask the questions.

Strategy # 2: Ask these questions as if they ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ON EARTH. Your tone of voice can completely change circling!! [anyone who has ever seen West Vancouver’s own T.P.R.S. goddess Michelle Metcalfe in action will get this].  How?

a. Add pauses. Class………………..did Ethan………….or Jay-Z see the wallet? Right…….Jay-Z did not ……see the wallet. Ethan……saw the wallet.

b.  Adopt a “thinking pose”. Before, during or after a question stop and pose….as if the question deserves your entire body’s attention to figure out. You can be natural or overly dramatic..either works!

c. Pause and point. Or, have a student point. Or have a student hold up the phrase on a card as you use it.

d. React facially to the students’ response. Raise your eyebrows, shake your head, look confused or relieved, nod knowingly. When students answer a question, they need to know that you are LISTENING, not just waiting for a sound.

e. Add short, natural phrases that are comprehensible to your circling: It’s obvious, Yes, I had no idea, It’s the truth, Who knew? Do this slowly and put a phrase on the board if necessary, but this is very fun. “No?!! Seriously? Ethan saw the wallet? Who knew?”

Strategy # 3. Ask the individual opinions of several students. “In your opinion Marcos, who saw the wallet first? Really? Interesting, class, Marcos said that Ethan saw the wallet first. Ale, in your opinion, who saw the wallet first? Oh…class Ale also said that Ethan saw the wallet first. Who said that Ethan saw the wallet first? Marcos and Ale both said that Ethan saw the wallet first (give Marcos and Ale a high five). Who said FIRST that Ethan saw the wallet first? Yes! Marcos. Why did Ale and Marcos say that Ethan found the wallet first? Because it’s the truth!! Ethan found the wallet first!!”

Strategy #4Add at least one extra piece of information to the statements other than the Subject+Verb+Complement. This gives you more to circle. Instead of “Ethan saw the wallet. ” Consider: “Ethan the elephant saw the wallet.” Or “Ethan saw the wallet first.” This is of particular use if you have a variety of “processors” in your room. The faster processors love hearing/knowing/remember the extra information. This also makes visualization easier…more details. Be careful not to add too much.

I add this: when adding extra information, the easiest things to add are always place and person, because these do not require any new vocab, and allow a ton of interest and loads more reps.  For example, if we have “Ethan saw the wallet” and we add “in McDonalds,” we need no new vocab, and we have a ton more room for asking questions.  “Did Ethan see the wallet in McDonalds or in Burger King?  Did John or Ethan see the wallet in McDonalds?” etc.

Strategy #5: Get that information from the students. Fish, Fish, Fish. Keep adding details so that they can visualize, so that you can reuse the structure, so that it stays interesting. IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW FAR YOU GET IN THE STORY IF YOU ARE USING A STRUCTURE. Was Ethan a big elephant or a gigantic elephant? (get the opinion of three or four students…then have the class vote.) “According to the popular vote, Ethan, a gigantic elephant saw the wallet first!! Yes!! So, Ethan, a gigantic elephant saw the wallet first…..wait….what kind of wallet did Ethan see? ”[

[Blaine Ray: “My goal is to never finish a story.”]

Strategy #6: Say two statements then circle, rather than circling after every sentence. So say your statement is “Ethan the elephant saw the wallet first.” Add a second statement before “circling” “Ethan the elephant saw the wallet first. The wallet was in the garbage.” This gives you more information to “circle” and will keep them more alert to the questions that you are asking. “Did Ethan the elephant or Morgan the snake see the wallet first? Ah yes, Morgan didn’t see the wallet first, Ethan saw the wallet first. Where did he see the wallet? He saw the wallet in the garbage?? Really?? Did he see the wallet in the toilet? No? He didn’t see it in the toilet ? Ok so he didn’t see it in the toilet, he saw it in the garbage.

Strategy #7: Go back in the story. You’ve established that Ethan the elephant saw the wallet first. You’ve established that he saw the wallet in the garbage. You’ve found out that it was inside of a Mountain Dew cup on top of one half of a sandwich. Ok class….let’s go back a minute and remember how this started. Who saw the wallet first? Did Ethan or Morgan see the wallet first? Ask 2 or 3 questions and get back to where you left off. Don’t beat it to death, but go back for a short time.

Strategy #8: Go back in the story and add a detail. Who saw the wallet first? Where was the wallet? What did Ethan do when he saw the wallet? (did he yell when he saw the wallet? did he pick up the wallet when he saw the wallet? did he eat the 1/2 sandwich when he saw the wallet? Did he pick up the wallet before he ate the sandwich or after he ate the sandwich?)

Strategy #9: Incorporate a gesture. Create (or, better, class-create) a gesture for saw. EVERY time you say “saw” in your narration/circling, the students show you the gesture. Use this judiciously. It can get old. Another option is to put two “gesturers” in the front of the class to gesture for the class every time you use the phrase.

[I note: gestures are good with any verb, noun etc.  After awhile, you can drop them when you know the kids have them.  E.g. when your slowest processor knows “there is” (a crucial yet oddly hard term) you can stop gesturing it]

Strategy #10/11: Interview the actors (if you are using actors….or…ADD actors…Class…oooo…let’s really SEE this scene…then you have to go back and review the story with the actors) Ethan, did you see the sandwich first? Yes. Class, did Ethan say that he saw the sandwich first? Yes class, Ethan says that he saw the sandwich first. Marcos, did you see the sandwich first? Yes. Class, did Marcos say that he found the sandwich first? Yes, Marcos also says that he saw the sandwich first. Hmmm Did Ethan or Marcos really see the sandwich first? What is your opinion?

DO NOT TRY ALL OF THESE STRATEGIES AT ONCE. My guess is that you are already, naturally incorporating some of them. Make note of that first. Improve on what you are already naturally doing!! Then pick one and integrate it until you are comfortable…then add another.

The more advanced your students are, the more of these strategies you will eventually want to incorporate. These are some of the “skills” that bring “practice circling” to the level of “natural circling”!!”