translation

How do we do “ping pong” (a.k.a. “volleyball”) reading?

We know from Krashen and many others that reading is crucial to acquisition of first and other languages.  Reading gives us repetitions on vocab, “fuses” the visual with the auditory, and, crucially, allows us to slow down, pause, and go back, which we can’t do as much when getting oral input.

Also, crucially, reading shows us the zillions of subtle ‘rules’ that make up language use, rules which we could teach but which would be tedious.  For example, which sounds better: “I am a hard-working, employed professional” or “I am an employed, hard-working professional”?  The first.  Why?  I dunno.  I could work it out, probably, but who cares– I’d rather read a good story and soak it up that way than have to hack through a set of rules.  In Spanish, this is another tricky thing: you can say “es un gran hombre” and “es un hombre grande.”  The first means “he is a great man” and the second means “he is a [physically] large man.”  You could teach people the rules about literal vs figurative adjective placement, bla bla, or you could let them read.  For what it’s worth, as an English teacher, I can tell you with 100% certainty, the best writers are– always— readers.  There are no good writers who don’t read a ton. (I often joke with friends that the exception here are the Irish, and in the case of the Irish what we have are a culture that seems above all to value verbal dexterity and storytelling.)

(By the way, in my view, one of the biggest problems in the so-called “communicative” classrooms I see is that they don’t read.  No matter how good your teaching is, if you don’t make the kids read, you are shooting yourself in the foot).

So, reading matters a lot. First, principles:

a) reading should be 95%+ comprehensible.  If it isn’t, the kids stop or majorly slow acquisition, screw around, get annoyed, etc.

b) reading should be easy, and not intimidating/embarrassing, etc.

c) reading should be interesting— and what is interesting usually involves people, suspense, and a bit of humour (and surrealism sure doesn’t hurt either).

The best non-teacher-centered reading strategy I have yet seen I learned from Von Ray, and it’s called “ping-pong” reading, also known as “volleyball” reading:  the kids take a text, sentence at a time, and “volley” the target language and the English back and forth at each other.

So how do we do ping-pong reading?

a) Get kids into pairs.  I do pairs of rows (5 kids per row, two rows beside each other, three “pairs” of rows = 30 kids).  They can “be with their friends” because they will be moving soon.  You can also do Socratic circles.  Any system where kids can easily move to a new partner works.

b) Make sure each kid has a copy of whatever you are reading (versions of asked stories best– novels tend to have WAY too much new vocab).

c) Set a timer with alarm for 3 min.

d) One kid per pair reads the first sentence aloud in the target language.

e) The other kid translates that into English, then reads the second sentence in the TL.

f) The first kid translates that into English and reads the third sentence aloud, etc.

g) When your timer goes, they switch partners.  In my room, the left-hand kid moves one back; kid at back moves to front.

h)  They figure out where each was, and start from the least-far-along kid’s last spot.  E.g. if Max and his partner read to the 19th sentence in the story, while Samba and her partner read to the 15th, when Max and Samba sit together, they will start reading where Samba got to: the 15th sentence.  That way Samba doesn’t get lost, and Max gets reps.

i) Reset phone and start timer again.  Repeat until they are done the story.  Then of course review the crap out of it!  You can ask t/f questions, or get your superstars to give one-sentence answers (and have the slower processors translate) etc.

NOTES:

  • I don’t do this a lot– typically once per story, and it will last about 15 min– but I have not yet seen a better way to keep kids reading and focused.  I also tell them “if you disagree about what something means, check your vocab sheet or ask me.”
  • Another REALLY good idea thanks to Laurie Clarq is to use embedded readings for this (Blaine Ray is also big on embedded readings).  For this, the teacher reads the first version– the simplest one which contains the target structures– aloud and the kids chorally translate.  For the second, more complex version, the teacher reads aloud, the kids translate, and you can throw in a few questions.  You must make sure they understand everything, because if they don’t, they will screw up/misunderstand when they are reading on their own.  For the third and longest version, the kids go into full ping-pong on their own and the teacher just sets timer and keeps them on track.
  • the kids seem to see this as almost a game, which is cool.  Also the get-up-and-move thing is really helpful and they like that they can sit even for a few minutes with their friends.
  • I have found that my kids really do stay on task for this, provided it doesn’t go on too long and provided that the reading is comprehensible.
  • One of the reasons the kids like this– other than the “I get to sit with my friend” thing– is that, like choral output, this is non-intimidating.  You know the words so you probably won’t screw up either the reading or the translation, and if you do screw up, only one person gets to hear.

What are the pros and the cons of A.I.M.?

I was recently chatting with a couple of Vancouver teachers who used to use the Accelerated Integrative Method (A.I.M.) of language teaching.  A.I.M., developed by Wendy Maxwell, is both a method and a program.  It begins  with “total immersion”: the teacher speaks only the target language in class, and uses gestures to support meaning.  Students are expected to speak from Day 1, and to also use the gestures.  There is reading, some grammar instruction (not a ton), and the whole thing is built around a set of stories, which are read, listened to, acted, watched, acted with puppets, etc, as well as responded to.  Oral output is rehearsing a play, which is performed at the end of the year/semester.  They have some reading materials.  The curriculum is super-structured:  you need to “do” all the stories in order to perform the play and they have very detailed lesson plans (and procedures) starting day 1.

Now, I have not used A.I.M.– I found out about it at the same time as T.P.R.S. and the latter intuitively appealed to me more– but I get asked a lot about what I think.  So since I can’t speak for A.I.M., I’ll let Catherine and Natasha explain what they did and didn’t like about it:

Natasha:

  • used AIM for about 2 years for French
  • liked the intense “immersion” it offered– lots of French spoken in class and the T.P.R. (total physical response– words accompanied with gesture) aspect
  • initially appreciated the rigorous structure: it was “easy to start” and there was no need to copy/borrow/adapt “materials” and “resources” from others.

Natasha abandoned A.I.M. and here is why:

  • the TPR was only superficially and initially useful and eventually became a pain in the butt.  Students also generally refused to do it.
  • TPR created problems with ambiguity, and fossilised.  For example, if a gesture accompanied “walks,” Natasha found that they would keep using “walks”in the wrong place with the gesture (e.g. “we walks”).
  • the oral assessment– can the kids recite their lines in the play?– in her view was silly as it wasn’t even close to real language use.  She also noted that the performers didn’t always know what they were saying.
  • she found it very difficult to keep the kids focused on the stories, because they are the same in all their iterations.  E.g. they would listen to it, read it, watch it, act it out, act it out with puppets, etc.  There was, according to Natasha, no variation.  No parallel characters, student-centered improv a la t.p.r.s., etc.

Catherine also used A.I.M. for two years and repeated most of Natasha’s comments (both positive and negative), with a few of her own.  On the upside:

  • if the whole languages department in a school is using A.I.M., the transitions between grades– i.e. “what should they know when they start grade ___?”– is very easy, as the curriculum is majorly locked in.
  • the theatre pieces in which each year or semester culminates are pretty cool to look at (and, if your school has the resources for costumes etc, can be a lot of fun to put on)

On the downside:

  • because the curriculum is so rigid, it inevitably leaves some students out.  If students have not acquired ___, the curriculum marches ahead anyway.
  • there is very little room for improvisation in stories
  • teachers with a creative bent will be severely limited, because the whole A.I.M. package is “unified” and one has to “do” or “cover” everything for the final goal– theatre pieces– to work.  This means that teachers’ ideas will have very limited room for exploration.
  • much of the introductory stuff is boring.  E.g. the class sits in a circle and the teacher says “this is a pen,” and “this is a desk,” etc.

(One of the interesting things for me was oral assessment:  A.I.M. uses “real” language– i.e. student-generated output– right from the get-go, but assesses something other than “real language” in the theatre piece, while T.P.R.S. uses “fake” language– acted-out stories with simple dialogue– but assesses “real” language– teacher interviewing the kids one-on-one.)

T.P.R.S. answers a few of these criticisms:

  1. T.P.R. is only (and optionally) used for awhile, and generally with true beginners
  2. The method is infinitely flexible.  We have Blaine’s “holy trinity” of story asking, PQA and reading…and we now also have Ben Slavic’s PictureTalk, Ashley Hastings’ MovieTalk, dictation…and even when we are using a “text” such as Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk, or Adriana Ramírez’ Teaching Spanish Through Comprehensible Input Storytelling, we– and the KIDS– can change story details, locations, etc etc.
  3. The comprehension checks in T.P.R.S.– if regularly done– will provide super-clear feedback about whether or not students have acquired (on understanding level) whatever they are being taught.  If a teacher gets a weak choral response, or slow/poor responses from the actor(s), we go back, add a character, etc.
  4. There is no “end goal” in T.P.R.S.  If we are in the target language, and the kids understand, and we don’t overload them with vocab, they are acquiring.  Blaine Ray has famously remarked that he spent four months doing ONE story with his grade 9s.  We are not working toward an exam, a play, a portfolio.  All we want to do is tell the kids interesting fun stories with vocab we can repeat zillions of times.
  5. If a story is boring, we add a parallel character, or bail out and start another one, or throw something random in.  While we do want to stick to our structures, we can basically do whatever we want with them.
  6. If there’s ambiguity we just translate.

Another colleague, Katy-Ann, has this to say about A.I.M.:

“I loved using the AIM program!!  It was a lot of work at the beginning to learn all the gestures, but I found that it worked so well. I could speak French for the entire time with my 8’s, and the majority of the kids loved the way the program worked. At the end of the year the students were capable of telling a story (based on the play that we read) in their own words, with a partner. The activity was completely unrehearsed, and as the students alternated back and forth telling the story, they had to listen for details and continue on where their partner left off. Most groups talked bath and forth in this way for a good 10 minutes. They were also capable of writing a massive story. I loved hearing them create more complex sentences and I could help them with the words they were stuck on without actually telling them the word. I could gesture and it would jog their memory. I found that this gave the students confidence. They were actually recalling things and not just repeating words back to me. At the end of the year the feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive and the parents were very supportive of the method as well.

I’m a fairly animated teacher, so I felt comfortable making a bit of a fool of myself with the gestures, songs and games. My colleague and I collaborated a lot during the process and reworked the songs into raps to make them a little cooler. This style really suited my personality and I loved that I could actually stick to my French only rule in the classroom.  I haven’t used TPRS in the classroom and unfortunately I’m not teaching French this year, so I can’t really compare the methods. If I was teaching French (and I had some pull at my new school) I would totally beg to do the AIM program again with the jr French classes. I’m not sure how the older kids would react to it.

Anyways, I hope that this helps. I think that the program is AMAZING. The kit that my school purchased is called Salut, mon ami. I only got through one kit in the year, because we added in a couple things, but I would recommend two per grade – or if you are just starting, then one.  Of course there are some holes in the program, but the main thing that I noticed is that the kids were speaking in full sentences every day, they were successful and engaged. I could really go on and on about it because I’m a believer. I would totally take the seminar if you can. I did the three day course and by the end I knew it was for me.”

Anyway there you have it, some A.I.M. ideas.  Anyone with experience with A.I.M. please leave some comments.

How should I grade translations?

This question is from Sarah-Beth who teaches French to grade 7s and 8s.

Q: How do I grade translations?

First, principles.  Whatever you want students to read and decode should be

1) at LEAST 90% vocabulary they have either acquired, or frequently read.  Research shows that people can read independently only when they recognise 90% of what they read.  The other 10% is “noise” and/or vocab that will slowly be acquired.  Remember– our passive (recognition) vocab is always way larger than our active (production) vocab– so, if you have been doing lots of reading, your students shoul be able to understand a fair bit of things they can’t (yet) say.

2) in some kind of meaningful form– e.g. a story, a clear and obvious character describing him/herself, etc– not isolated sentences.

3) Latin teacher James Hosler has said that “for me, assessment is just another excuse for providing comprehensible input.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

I would suggest you give them a 150-200 word story.  This story should include vocab from the entire course, not just your most recent story.  Have them copy it (this is free reps!).  They write the translation underneath in a different-coloured pen.  Underneath that, they leave a blank line (this is to keep it legible).  Or, you could hand out a triple-spaced copy of the story, and they write the translation underneath.

Count the words in the original.  For every meaning-based mistake students make, they lose one point.  For every verb-tense (relatively trivial) mistake, take off 1 mark. 

So if the original is 200 words, and Johnny makes 3 meaning-based errors, and 4 verb-tense errors, his mark is 193/200 = 96.5%

Another idea (from Ben Slavic) is dictee-translation.  For this, dictate a short, ten-sentence story, or put a picture on your O/H and describe it.  The kids listen (NO ENGLISH!) and write.  When done, project the story/description onto O/H.  Have the kids fix their mistakes (this is good CI!).  Then, have them translate (in different-cloured pen) under what they have written in TL.  You assess (a) their corrections and (b) their translation. 

Most teachers find that translation results are amazing– kids really do “get” what we repeat in stories, PQA, etc, because we teach for mastery (acquisition) and don’t go on until the kids get what we are describing– and the translation marks should be pretty high.  If colleagues object– “what?  they’re all getting As on comprehension?  they CAN’T be THAT good?” you’ll be OK…because in TPRS, we teach for mastery, not “presentation” and we EXPECT our kids who attend and focus to understand everything.    

I also think that multiple choice questions to determine how much students understand are fine…but it will be a lot of work to make them, as the “three plausible distractors” rule is tough, and it’s surprsingly hard to come up with questions.  You could use something from a standardised program (e.g. Avancemos)…but then you have the problem of super content-specific questions and grammar which probably won’t line up with what you’ve done in stories and readings.