Report from the Field – Don Read

(2nd year TPRS – 1st year was minimal TPRS. 7th and 8th grade French; four classes; 108 students)

•End of four weeks – all going well!
•PQA, extended PQA, one story (Matava – An Important Test).
•Have established jobs: quiz writer; script writer; artist; structure counters; question word responders; “Mais” bleater; one class has a clapper for too much English.
•I have given about 8-9 ten question quizzes.
•We have done readings on our extended PQA (along with artist drawings).
•I have gotten actors up in front of the class in 8th grade classes.
•I have been using Simon Says (Simon Dit) to teach wall word verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.
•I have used a few videos (Petit Cochon, Aux Champs Elysées, Fou La Fa Fa (Nonsense French video by comedy group Flight of the Conchords). I have used circled on some of the words in the videos (I would like to find more videos! Suggestions welcome!).
•I have given timed writings to the 8th graders (6 minutes); the most recent one I left the structures and the story from Matava’s An Important Test on the board to see if they would use these structures in their writings; have not looked at them yet, will report back later.
•The 8th graders are reading “Pauvre Anne” for 5 minutes at the start of each class, and then we choral read one page each day. They and I are both amazed at how much vocabulary they are picking up and how many times they are putting their hand over their head to show me they do not understand.
•I have ordered “Brandon Brown Wants a Dog” to use with my 7th graders. I think they already know enough for us to start reading it together.
•I have been using Sabrina’s recommendation to use the “eat, see, go, did” PQA on Mondays.

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My son Landen, now in high school, had a middle school French teacher a few years ago who taught the old way. He quit the class at the semester that year, telling me he just didn’t enjoy the class and he didn’t feel as if he was learning anything. I didn’t object. Just yesterday out of the blue Landen told me the following story that his teacher had once shared with the class. I wouldn’t have shared this with a class, but apparently she did. It’s kind of a sad story:

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Another Question

Here is another question for the group, also from a first year CI teacher:

My administration are waiting for assessment of my hybrid (CI class + old). As I was getting ready to write the test, I realized that I have no idea how to write a test based on CI and NOT discrete point nonsense. Where do I begin to change this bad habit? What does a CI assessment look like?

Question for the Group

Here is a question for the group:

Hello Ben,

This is my first year teaching Middle School Spanish. It is considered an elective here. I teach 11 classes total on an A/B schedule. I teach 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. I feel like I am losing my mind!

I have been doing OWI and trying to build a word wall for verbs and nouns to set us up for the Word Chunk Activity. I have been circling and some days are good and some days are bad. Lately, it has been bad. I have been policing the no English inconstantly and have let way too many kids use the bathroom when I said I would only allow 2. I got sick of the complaining. Ahhhhhhhhhh. I see 8th grade first and I fight their insecurity and bad attitude (oh did I mention, I am replacing a teacher who left half way through the year and then they had 3 subs after that!?) so I am fighting them testing me. Then I see the 6th graders who are SO NEEDY (I taught HS before this) and then I see the 7th graders who are in between and by the time I see them I am worn out.

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The Training Piece

Little instructional change in second language classrooms has actually occurred in the United States. We who participate in this PLC are so few. Those who are using effective comprehensible input in their classrooms represent certainly less than 1% of language teachers nationwide.

Things should have changed by now but they haven’t. The textbook continues to be used against the best interests and against the general consensus of all concerned about what best practices are.

Blaine invented TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) in the early 1990’s. Its Three Steps represent such a powerful second language acquisition tool. Then why has it been so largely misunderstood and misapplied in our nation’s foreign language classrooms over the past 20 years?

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Report from the Field – Eric Herman

I did some kick-ass PQA this week with grades 7 and 8! I couldn’t believe the engagement I got! So many laughs. And it felt much more like real communication, more so than steps 2 and 3. I wish I had had a camera running. It was magical. And this has never happened with my PQA sessions in the past, which is one reason I was turned off to PQA.

In order to keep it fresh for myself, I do different structures for each grade. I prefaced it for the kids by saying we were going to just hang out, relax, and have a conversation that worked in the phrases on the board. And for the first time I did PQA with the kids (and me) all in comfy chairs in a semi-circle. I could totally do this outside while it’s still warm if I use a small portable whiteboard for any words that may have to be brought in bounds. The less it looks and feels like school, the better!

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Data – 4

Here is what Mark says about it:

I like what Eric wrote about lifelong learners. We do need to be able to see which programs are producing life-long learners, and this should be the very first thing we try to measure, however we go about it.

I’m seeing some frightening drops in enrollments at the university level. Why is that happening? Arne Duncan himself is aware that 82% of all Americans are monolingual. I asked a colleague today whose wife is from West Africa, where educational resources are dwarfed by Northern industrialized societies, what the percentage of monolinguals was there. 20% was his estimate. Why do we think that pouring more resources into testing will solve our problem? Is that what they do in West Africa? Do we believe that more testing in our universities will up the enrollments there?

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Data – 3

This is Eric Herman’s view on the data thread. Definitely read it:

As far as how many teachers are using TCI. I don’t know. Way too few of us are active here and on moreTPRS. And there are degrees to which TCI is applied.

We are the radicals – light years ahead. Krashen is still a radical 30+ years later.

I’ve included links to the evidence in applied research in a Primer linked on this site.

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Data – 2

Since that last article (renamed Data – 1) was so long to read, I wrote a kind of summary of the points here, with a few more added in. In my own view, these things are true about gathering data:

1. It wastes time. In my district, two full weeks of instructional time are lost during each year to gather data at the district level, not to mention all the time spent on testing within the normal curriculum. Studies have shown some startling numbers on this. In one study I think I read that up to fully one third of a school year was given over to testing.
2. It is expensive. School districts are metaphorically building entire wings onto their buildings that are being filled with data gatherers while teachers are desperately needed in school buildings.
3. It shames kids. Students who work hard all year in good faith to memorize verbs, etc. are often shocked about how little they know when the results come back. This causes them to question their ability to learn a language, when it is proven that they really can since they are already fluent in their first language, and many drop out after the first or second year. This affects classroom retention rates and, besides causing them to think that they are stupid when learning languages (since it can’t be the teacher’s fault in their minds), it also causes the teachers to lose potential students to boost their own enrollment numbers, which diminishes their job security and makes them teach in a kind of nervous fog.
4. It shames teachers. This seems to not concern anyone, but it concerns me. At the end of the year in some districts, teachers are given bar graphs to show where they rank, in spite of the flawed nature of the testing. Thinking that the results mean something, some teachers lick their wounds over the summer and suffer thinking about the coming year. This is inhuman. We should not hate our jobs. Many potentially great teachers are driven from the profession by the flawed data because they think they aren’t any good at it when they are. Angie Dodd and Greg Stout are perfect examples of this who did not let the system destroy them and instead rose far above it in just a few short years of extreme stress. There is no way a set of tests can reflect what a teacher really does in a classroom with their children, and yet we act as if such tests can in fact do that. They can’t. Teaching is about so much more than testing. People say it, but they don’t mean it, apparently.
5. The assessment instruments used are currently seriously flawed and resemble instruments created decades ago. Things have changed in the classroom regarding standards, there is a visible push to more and more communicative competence in the classroom even with teachers who don’t understand comprehension based instruction, yet the testing hasn’t really changed from twenty or thirty years ago. This is inexcusable.
6. No one can agree on what a good test is, since we are now in the middle of the biggest shift in foreign language instructional techniques in the history of education. How much each section should weigh is another topic. In my view, and I disagree with Diana on this, writing and speaking should count as zero in the aggregate score. Writing is impossible to grade accurately – we have proven that in Denver Public Schools – and speaking is non-emergent in the first three or four years to any meaningful degree, and yet teachers continue to evaluate writing and speaking as if this were not true. The only thing, if anything, that should be measured is listening and reading. But there are too many factors that skew those two things as well. In listening we must ask who gives the test? How fast do they speak? What is the nature of the spoken text? Who writes the questions? In reading, which may be the only justifiable area to try to gather data in, which text do we choose? What is the base vocabulary? Since language is a rich flow of words, how can we target certain words that we would expect a student to even know? Do we all have the same discussions in class? Given the nature of the art of conversation (see ), that is impossible.
7. Teachers who lean towards teaching to the conscious mind and memorization, where language acquisition simply does not happen that way, still have the upper hand in test design. They do not understand that such results can therefore mean nothing. Yet, since those old memorization type of teachers are still largely in power (this is changing fast), they produce a kind of schism between what they are testing for and the national standards, which, when fully grasped by district organizers, will come to a crashing halt in favor of comprehensible input instruction, which in fact does align with all state and national standards.
8. It is done on large populations of students who are not motivated. Failure to recognize this glaring fact has always puzzled me. Would we gather data on the ability of a fighter jet to move through the air if it were put together with duct tape? Many of our students have duct tape attitudes, and just want the credit. How can the results of tests taken by them mean anything? An added factor here is the attendance factor in data gathering.
9. As stated, it does not take into consideration the fact that input is needed for thousands of hours before any meaningful or authentic output can occur. This calls into question results gathered before those thousands of hours have been completed, which they never are in secondary schools because we run out of time. (If you are new to this group and this issue of time required to gain competence in a language is new to you, you may want to read some of the Primers in the hard link bar above to get a handle on this very important point). It is like trying to measure the growth of the seed below the ground before the flower appears, or measuring the growth of a fetus before it is born. This is excessive, invasive and unnatural.
10. In the case of the AP exam, results come back so late, in July, that the seniors who took them could care less about their scores. They just took the course because they wanted the AP class on their transcript for college. When a large percentage of the scores indicate failure, those results are shoved aside for the new year and the dismal cycle of smoke and mirrors presented to the public and to the largely complicit school district repeats itself again the next year.
11. There will always be an unfair and undemocratic discrepancy in scores gathered in urban and suburban schools. They don’t indicate in any way that there is more intelligence in the suburbs, but this is the received idea. It is a big fake. Suburbs were designed to separate races and require people to have a car (see Life, Inc., How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back by Douglas Rushkoff). And now that process is reversing itself in the form of gentrification. The resultant relief to suburban communities to invest in taking care of the poor meant large amounts of saved tax dollars to invest in whites-only education. Of course the scores are going to be higher in the suburbs and those privileged kids get into the privileged colleges and it perpetuates separation of the classes and the destruction of our democratic values. When data is used to condemn urban education as of poor quality, it supports the elitist views of the rich. This separation of the country into haves and have-nots is being done consciously.

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Data -1

I got an email from someone who received this question from a colleague and sent it on to me:

Are there any stats re just how much the TPRS method is being used in schools in the U.S.? What are universities thinking about it? Are any adopting it? Does Krashen or anyone have a handle on this nationwide? Do you know if any nearby schools that are using this? I know I asked you this several years ago, and there was not much evidence to support it as “the real thing”. I am just wondering if there are new developments in tracking this. I would really appreciate it if you could find out this info for me. When we meet, I can fill you in as to why I would like it.

This pushed a few of my buttons so I responded with a bit of a rant. I apologize for the bitchy edge in it. No, I don’t. I am tired of people thinking that a set of comparison data gathered in the old ways of the last century has much value in this new world of language teaching that is finally here. When are people going to get that data is not the only way to determine if something is effective? Here is my rant:

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Amelia Earhart

There is a poignant scene toward the end of the film Night at the Museum when Amelia Earhart whispers into Ben Stiller’s character’s ear, “Have fun!” before flying off in her red airplane. It reminds me of a topic we return to here all the time – the idea that when we focus on the message/voyage and not the words/airplane we enjoy happy interactions with our students. The interactions are happy because what we experience with them is real human reciprocal back and forth participatory human interaction and not mind numbing focus on words that by themselves out of context carry no interest to anybody, or are about as interesting to read as a dictionary.

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We Are Heart Surgeons

Heart surgeons in the Northeast started working together via the internet some years ago to improve techniques and deaths went down dramatically. In DPS, teachers are doing active collaboration to improve how they teach kids languages.

Young teachers and teachers new to the district are trained by Diana heavily all year. Gains and changes are expected from teachers who receive TCI training over time, and Diana visits classrooms regularly.

Some teachers cry. They say how much they want to do it but just can’t. It must be awful. I’m sure that Diana feels badly about her unwavering honesty with these teachers, but what is she to do? Think of the heart surgeons – if they don’t get up to speed with current best practices, people die.

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Maine Conference 2014

The 9th Annual TCI Maine, New England & Beyond Fall Conference, organized by the one and only Skip Crosby, is planned for October 16 & 17, 2014. If you can get to this excellent and established conference this year, do so. Here is the link for those interested in working with that Maine group of teachers who are just crushing it right now:

Avoid Fossilization – Read Later

I am very happy that Jim reminded us in a comment today that auditory CI is the order of the day these days at the beginning of the year, in my opinion. We can read later. Jim states simply, and yet there is a ton of information in this sentence:

…I want to shelter reading for these kids so that there is little chance of fossilization of poor form due to Englishization of the written Spanish….

Classroom Rules Detail

Nathaniel (Hardt) shares yet another blockbuster idea. Read and learn. You may want to try this excellent strategy:

I have the classroom rules in Spanish on the front wall above the white board and in English on both sidewalls. Certain rules are getting a lot of reps: #2 Una persona habla (one person speaks), #5 Enderécese (Sit up), #8 Nada en los pupitres (Nothing on the desks). As Ben advises we laser point and say the rule to the whole class. I then look for the “stop” sign and call on someone not signing to tell what it means in English. If no one knows, ask someone to read that number from the side. Then we circle the phrase:

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Michael Nagelkerke shared a blockbuster idea, up there with interactive whiteboards, that could change the face of our grading lives. Thank you Michael! Here it is:

Ben mentioned scan-tron as a way to keep grading to a minimum, but I use GradeCam. Does the very same thing, but you can do it with just a webcam and students can see what they got on the test immediately after taking the test. They just drop the quiz under the webcam or document camera, and it tells them their score on the computer screen. Anyone else using GradeCam? The best thing about it is if you only need to do 10 point quick quizzes, you can use it for free. If you want to do anything more than 10 point quizzes, you’ll have to buy the subscription. Check it out.

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Story Boards

Sometimes in the hullabaloo of trying to remember everything we learn about CI (impossible) we forget to use some of the basic ideas from the 1990’s like this one, described perfectly by James.

…story board drawings to me are the kids draw 6 or so pictures and give each picture a caption in L2 taken from the story. You end up with lots of cartoon versions of the story and to complete them the kids have to re-read everything (the whole point). See here:….

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Thank You!

I am back and reading after a great break and thank you for keeping such a lively discussion going on without me. Who needs the old retired guy? The summer itself didn’t seem much like retirement with the workshops and all, but this fall time does. I am enjoying an unprecedented amount of mental health and am beginning to see it wasn’t me that was so crazy all those years when I was teaching, just the buildings I was in. I just needed to get baking and cooking and spending more time in my garden in this beautiful state of Colorado, which is now at its best time of year and also in (more beautiful?) Oregon on a long delayed visit with my daughter. I hope everything is going well with everyone. My main concern is with the new people, that they continue to find the support they need here at this most important time of the year. From the experienced people, I have noted the following among recent comments:

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Stop Class!

Sharon once pointed out something to me in an email about classroom discipline that bears repeating in this updated articles from three years ago:

in your video [she was referring to Brrr! 3], I really appreciated your leaving in the side conversation problem, asking those students to leave with the seriousness yet the coolness it required.  I especially like your comment, “I can’t do this…”  And do you mean your choir director never took you aside?

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This Time Of Year Is Critical

This updated article from 2013 ties in to Laurie’s general comments about dealing with fear. It also reflects what is going on with many of us right now:

In the first weeks of the school year we use CWB and OWI, etc. to set up stories and make contact with our kids. James and others have suggested moving quickly from CWB/OWI/Word Associations, etc. to really short stories as another stepping stone into full Matava/Trip type stories. Whether we are doing this or not, we must absolutely and resolutely begin our school years in ways that work, personalizing and establishing rules, and I hope we are all doing that.

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Double Quizzes

This is a repost from last winter:

I have added a few other things to my classroom management arsenal described in a comment earlier as SLOW, vCU and Checking for Understanding.

The first thing, and this is just me, is to get really in close contact with my timer and fight to stay 99% in the L2 for exactly ten minutes. I tell the class each time before we start another ten minute period of pure L2 that they can make any crack in English that they want to, but they have to wait for that period after the ten minutes to do so. I started doing that ten minute deal a few months ago and so far it has been working, more by keeping me out of English than the kids.

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I find it very helpful to ask myself before each class, “What do you want to teach?” or “What are you teaching?” It seems like an obvious question, but do we know?

To me thinking in this way really helps. I target these structures, for example:

  • assis(e) en face de – seated across from
  • ressemble à – looks like, resembles
  • il ne faut pas – you must not, one must not

That’s what I want to teach. I don’t want to teach a thematically organized list of words, a computer program with the latest bells and whistles, a bunch of units in a book, or any other combination of language no matter how it is packaged. I want to teach a few structures over 50 minutes, so that I don’t waste my time and their time.

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This is a repost from last spring:

Exploring the reasons behind the way things act (etiology) is a deep and magnificent process when applied to language acquisition. Have language teachers ever done this before? Have they ever explored the reasons why humans can speak, or would want to, in a language other than their first one?

Have they ever paddled around in the richness of it all before? Because we, yes, us, little old insane us in our insane buildings in these insane times (can anyone say Realidades?), are paddling around in the richness of the mud that spoken language in our classes is. Have language teachers ever, before now, thought of what they do as anything more than mental gymnastics for the intellectually privileged?

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[ed. note: You may want to add your information to our new map. If all the pins look jumbled together, just zoom in and you can see where people are much more clearly.]

Thank you deeply to Sean Lawler who has built this map for us using ZeeMaps so we can know where each other is in the world. Follow the steps below to register. By registering, potential regional networking can begin to happen*.

So register. Here are the steps:

5-Step Tutorial to Access Ben Slavic’s Members Locations Map:

1) Access the map at

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What Do You Want To Teach?

It is most important that the teacher who wishes to use comprehensible input effectively put aside the general notion of using the target language in class in a general way. What does this mean?

It means that we teach specific structures. Krashen’s idea of non-targeted input may make sense in the theoretical world, but there is the question of available time. Most of us only have three or four hours a week with our students. How can we immerse our students in a sea of non-targeted input in that amount of time?

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