Rethinking PQA – 1

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50 thoughts on “Rethinking PQA – 1”

    1. I agree with you Michael but new people are always told that there are Three Steps in TPRS and if they want to learn them they have to become adept at all three of them. So they start with the first step and it’s so weird and unwieldy at first and so they just quit the whole thing.
      So perhaps we need to make it clear that PQA is optional and the only way to do it is to stop calling them Three Steps and start focusing on the story and the reading.
      We have alienated a lot of people through lack of clarity about what TPRS is. We have codified it but the code has been too specific when working with comprehensible input is ever expansive. It’s why Eric keeps grabbing us by the shoulders and asking us to turn around and look at the real goal of comprehensible input – Communication.
      We need to rise above formulaic teaching in TPRS and focus on communication. If that means fun PQA then that is good. If that means a story and we are communicating in a story then that is what we want. And all of that communication should set up reading, the goal, in the end.
      Editorial comment: In the light of the importance of Communication and the Three Modes of Communication as the core of our work, what Rabelais calls the “substantifique moelle” (the marrow and not the bone), we see what a pathetic cop out the governing body of ATFL, filled with people like Paul Sandrock – whom Eric and Robert laid to waste last year – have put on teachers by allowing them to teach not just one CI but five C’s, including Culture which allows them to make their class into a social studies class, or to be so vague as to allow teachers to feel that they are meeting the standards by teaching writing and mechanical manipulation of the language on a piece of paper.
      But yeah Michael do you see my point? I agree with you but what about the new people? They need to be presented with something that they can actually do. Maybe we need to divorce the term PQA from the Three Steps and just have it be a floater out there. Like we can do a One Word Image and just play and have fun with that and then as we build our image we can compare and contrast what we are building with the lives of our students.
      Maybe PQA should be a separate thing, very valuable in itself as a means of communication with our kids, but separate from the Three Steps.

      1. I have never seen it presented as one of the three steps. Which step would it even be????!!!
        PQA is a skill that can be used at any of the three steps….like circling.
        It’s true that some presenters, and many participants, think “formulaic”ly. It seems easier to them to present/request a “formula” for it all rather than to teach/develop new skills. It CAN be an activity, an entire chunk of class time devoted to questions and answers but I would have thought of it as a requirement or as one of the three steps.
        with love,

      2. Social studies .
        Krashen would say that that is fine, provided the students are sufficiently interested and abundant CI is generated. It is all about interesting and understandable T2. And that is the problem.

      3. Our Oregon state organization COFLT had Sandrock out here to keynote at our last conference in October 2015. He was a charming guy. Must say very personable and kind. Sadly due to admin responsibilities I was unable to hear him speak. However we got tons of positive feedback on his talk. I’m trying as current VP and future president to help guide our organization and its members towards CI by inviting a ton of CI presenters to our 2016 spring and fall conferences. But I’m trying to “Trojan horse” it in the words of a fellow board member. Can you guys give me insights into Paul’s position so I can better understand his message that was so well-received? I’m trying to understand where people are at so I can tailor the message to their listening preferences. Thanks!!!

        1. Others here can address Sandrock’s position. I don’t know enough about it. But my feeling on it is that his position is slick. Eric revealed a strong layer of Teflon a year ago. Or I could say it like it is – Eric took him apart on his own ACTFL playing field a year ago. Hopefully you get a good description of his position so that you can know what to expect if you will be working at the state level in Oregon.

  1. When I review the individually scripted Class Notebook with all of the class input, I find that the only useful info is the unique, student-provided details from the story. Those details and the story plot line seem to be all that remain of a week of hard work.
    This year, I’m just doing stories mainly with little to no PQA — I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    1. It’s weird. I’m geared up to do stories but we have little time left for them after we get done doing FVR at the start of the period, take attendance (I got the idea here in the PLC I think to ask “billy how are you” as I take attendance and sometimes their answers lead to more comprehensible talk so I’m a sucker for that), and put up the date and weather. I mean dang we can spend a whole period on those three things. I love it. It appeals to my unfocused nature and I love connecting with kids. So it kinda feels like PQA all period. I was just in a Von Ray training and he did t even mention PQA as Step 1. He just said tell the class the meaning and start a story. So maybe the tide is shifting.

  2. PQA is so powerful though! What is it (sorry if I missed some posts) about PQA that drives teachers nuts? I have come full circle. I used to very little PQA. Then at NTPRS in St. Louis I attended Michael Miller’s session on PQA and the light came on for me. I watched him PQA the verb “makes” (i think) in German. He talked about everything that his students “make.” I remember in particular the student that “made the best chocolate chip cookies. Michael actually said that “the better he (teachers) get at PQA the less time they will spend on stories.
    I have long thought that when Susie always said “don’t worry about anything, just talk to your students” she was referring to PQA?

    1. Talking with your kids about the kids is an element of TPRS’s step of PQA. That part stays. That’s the “Students” of “Students & Stories.” Personalized CI. Yes.
      The targeting and trying to make communication fit your targets is what I challenge. Having to do this as a “step” and as “step 1” should be optional. There are no steps to communication. Just compelling comprehensible messages.
      Targeted PQA only “worked” anyways because you found something compelling to talk about. It does not have to be tied down to your targeted vocabulary.

      1. I’ve read Eric’s insights on this subject before, but each time it comes up, I get more from the discussion.
        I’ve had a similar conversations with ESL colleagues: Sometimes content-based language curriculum over-emphasizes the content-area and forgets comprehending and using Academic language -which should be the focus.
        In the same way, sometimes the context-based language (content-reduced.. as in most FL classes) over-emphasizes building a context over the conversational language (ie. the conversation itself). In my class, this looks like over-doing it with targets or overly-scripted stories that don’t feel “authentic” or allow for personal expression.
        To combat both (related) pitfalls, my weapon of choice is also my biggest take-away from this site is personalization: it keeps the conversation or contextual expression going… and focuses on the kids not meeting “targets.”

    2. I think what I do would be like a look and discuss with a caption under it that uses the target in context. Is this PQA? I think it’s the closest I come to it. My students can’t discuss anything without a good image.

  3. So it’s the “targeted” piece that is problematic? Does focusing PQA around 3 structures make it “targeted?” (Oh, I think I just saw the answer – targeting vocab is what is problematic….?)

    1. Oh I just saw that too. I guess my attendance and calendar discussion is somewhat targeted cause there’s a topic. Feelings. The date. The weather. But it’s also freely going other places. Lots of other places. That’s why it ends up taking so long. So maybe that’s non targeted PQA?

  4. I agree with Michael that I PQA when it especially lends itself. I PQA during three ring circus, I PQA in the middle of reading a passage from one the the novels or when we’re reading over a class story. I sometimes spend an entire class PQA with one of the structures and don’t make it to the story. I like PQA more than stories I think because I stink at circling during stories but I seem to be able to do it during PQA. I say to each is own with PQA…some people dig it, others hate it.

  5. Step 2 is talking with students. I was wrong when I said PQA is necessary. PQA is one of the ways you can talk with kids. I personally like it a lot, and feel as Annemarie does. I can spend a lot of time asking kids questions. I don’t know how many kids have told me now in these nine years of TPRS/CI that I’m the only one who cares about them at school. Often those have been kids I didn’t feel I knew, but because I asked them questions, whether about themselves or others in the class, and looked them in the eye, they felt a connection.
    PQA is just one of many ways we talk with kids. Read and Discuss, Listen and Discuss, MovieTalk, are all structured ways to get to talk with kids. Step 1, when we put a phrase or two on the board to point at during class, might be important mostly as a way to remind us to slow down! But these steps give us a system that we can share. Let’s not drown the baby with the bathwater.

  6. ..these steps give us a system that we can share….
    Agreed. My concern is that an overly structured system causes doubt and confusion in new people, which is why I am suggesting separating the concept of PQA from the Three Steps. Used separately in a variety of activities it is at its best. Used to set up stories it CAN change the class dynamic away from communication to structures.

      1. Depends what is meant by “structure.” Grammatical aspect? Phrase?
        Targeting would be purposely getting reps on that “structure” and associated usually with trying to teach something. Incidentally, this makes input more comprehensible, but the more you target, the more you “impoverish” the input (less variety).
        Sheltering would also involve using a limited vocabulary, but in order to communicate (communication requires comprehension). Reps would happen, but incidental to the purpose of communication. Sheltering would mean using all the words in the input that have been at some time been brought in bounds and not limiting grammar (except in the rare case that grammar impedes communication). And as you expand vocabulary, that gets integrated into the rest. It doesn’t get special targeted attention.
        Targeting is like every different page of a book focusing on a set of words, like a different unit every page. By the end of a 5-page chapter you’ll have targeted 5 different sets of word strings.
        Targeting is kind of like a “patterned” book – every page has “The old lady who swallowed the fly . . .”
        Sheltering would write that chapter within ‘x’ (limited) number of different words, with no special attention given to any one word on a page.

        1. From the source, the Green Bible’s Expanded 7th Edition Glossary:
          TPRS word, vocabulary, structure and grammatical feature
          A target grammatical element or phrase or a target vocabulary word or phrase, i.e., one that is being repeatedly used orally to provide sufficient comprehensible input of it so that it will be acquired by students

  7. What if the 3 steps, circling, and targeting are like a TPRS curriculum? i.e. training wheels until you can fly your TCI flag on your own. They help teachers stay comprehensible. But we can progress beyond it. In some ways, it can even delay our development as teachers, because then we overemphasize the details, steps, and targets and lose our sense of purpose – communicate comprehensibly.
    There are going to be teachers who want to continue targeting and trying to teach a structure. PQA in TPRS is traditionally heavily targeted. Just saying, there’s another way to talk with your students about your students, and I’m suggesting it’s more natural and provides richer CI.

  8. The artful part of the process in my view is kind of intuitively knowing where your boundaries are before you go out of bounds. You want to stay in bounds and use every single word you know they know. This allows you to push the boundaries of discussion, which allows more room for wit and humor. Ironically, first year classes are the freshest and funniest, in my experience. Sixth graders rock the house.

  9. I’ve been thinking of the 3 Steps like this:
    – Establish meaning
    – Massive auditory input
    – Massive reading input (Ben, I think those are your terms)
    Maybe the words “with personalized elements” should be included in what I call at least steps 2 & 3. I mean getting student ideas, whether those are about the personal details of the students or things that they make up and contribute.
    PQA could be used in step one or step two, or to as a personalizing element during step three, but there are a great variety of other things that allow massive auditory input besides that.
    Since I teach Chinese, I don’t play around with the order of listening to reading in steps 2 & 3 very much (except to include a little reading of known words while we talk), but as discussed in the PLC before, that may be possible for those with a phonetic scripted language to some degree. Ex, vPQA.

    1. And Carol will call it “Show, Tell, Read.”
      And Laurie (if I recall) has called it establish meaning, talk with students (story and/or PQA), read.
      We’ve gone through this before, evaluating PQA as a required step or not. But in the light of my new thinking about communication and the distinction between targeting and sheltering, I think targeted PQA as a first step is not for me, nor do I think it is best for acquisition, and hence not best teaching practice.
      This distinction can be subtle. It means choosing what to talk with students about FIRST, rather than choosing strings of words you want to target. Organize class content (syllabi) by story problems to resolve or by personal information. We can still “personalize” as a step or “personalize” throughout every step.
      So, let’s say you want to find out about students’ pets. You could either establish meaning of words you think necessary to the communication prior or as they come up. You’ll still limit the number of new words, but instead of giving a targeted session on those words (which restricts your recycling and communication), just integrate those into all the rest of the words the class already knows. Then, start a story if you want with some type of pet problem (e.g. a pet wanting a new owner).
      I’ve just finished this “pets” theme with my 7th graders and the above describes part of my personalization step and the problem in our story. I’ve also simplified how I use stories, not needing a script. All I need to know prior is the problem in the story. Then, we use all the in-bounds language from the beginning of the year to create the story, along with any new words necessary to solving this particular problem.

      1. Yep…I usually explain that Step 2 is “interact with students via a storyline.” That could be a conversation, Look and Discuss, Movie Talk, co-creating a story…many, many things!!! Step 3 is read, but only in that Steps 2 and 3 are often done in a very connected way.
        with love,

    2. …since I teach Chinese, I don’t play around with the order of listening to reading….
      Most people don’t, right? What in Chinese makes you say that? I agree, though, reading is a wonderful end goal to have. There is all this chatter and then all of a sudden they can read in another language. I asked a student about it the other day when he came in. The ROA text was up and he looked at it and started reading easily and he is in first year. I said, “How can you do that?” and he said, “We heard it!”

      1. It’s to keep separate two brain functions: listening and connecting sound with meaning, later on connecting that now-meaningful sound chunk with its visual form.
        Throw all three out at once, and I’ll lose a lot of students. Did it for 6 years, poor things! Actually I think they just mostly blocked out the characters when I introduced them too soon. Later they’d be lost with pinyin. Only a few manage to grab sound, meaning, and character appearance all at once. I believe those are the 4%ers. (Well, this year’s level 4 class excepted. They are doing well with characters right away, but all of them have had a lot of time with Chinese, more than just high school classes.)

    3. …the words “with personalized elements” should be included….
      Sometimes I wonder how it is that we rarely seem to get into discussions here about what it is that we are concretely doing in class. Our discussions are all very general mostly. Why don’t we all try to do the same lessons as a blog community? Two answers:
      1. the individual strategies we choose in this work are not what counts. They are not what bring the gains, which come from the personalization. We are always creating classes that are personally relevant and therefore personally interesting to the people in our room. Each group gets it’s own “thing” going. That personalization is what make the boat float so high in the water, not the activity.
      2. WE are all different in what strategies we like to do and in our own personal temperaments.
      That’s why the word “scaffolding” is so important not to define too tightly. In my view we are ALWAYS scaffolding. Anything we do is pretty much there to set up a reading, to scaffold the frame of the building (the reading) so that one day it can stand alone.

        1. Yes! I would love to hear what goes on in people’s classes daily. Just like a way to hear about great classes, classes that bombed, weird cool new ideas people have, and neat things that come up…like what I would do with you guys if we all rode the same train home after work. 🙂 In my dream world!
          Clase, había un tren. El tren era un tren especial. Iba de una escuela a otra y todos los maestros subían en el tren. Y charlaban de sus días en el tren. Y, ¡clase! había cervezas en el tren. ¡Gratis! !Y había masajes en el tren también!

  10. This is what I love about this blog. Just to entertain the idea that I might not have to do PQA in the form in which I’ve been doing it, frees me up to think more creatively about the work. Letting go of the “shoulds” and “musts” is so wonderful. Remember letting go of verb conjugation and vocab tests? Why should this be any different? Really my only non-negotiable is comprehensible input. I love it. Thank you.

    1. Yeah and thanks Anne. You know I wasn’t suggesting getting rid of PQA. Just saying it to get us thinking more about it was the entire goal in this thread. Your statement about the only non-negotiable being CI reminds me of that time three years ago when Diana and I were trailing Dr. Krashen and a host of DPS district people across the Abraham Lincoln High School parking lot to go in where I was to teach two classes with Dr. K there and I whispered to Diana, “That’s Krashen up there! What the hell am I going to do?” And she said, “Comprehensible Input! That’s all he wants to see!” I immediately relaxed. I can do that! I just can’t do all the little things I write about here and talk about in workshops that I want to remember to incorporate into my lesson AND do CI at the same time. The STUDENTS drive what happens in my class.

  11. For young children, PQA has been the greatest boon to my language teaching…EVER! For them, reading is a work in progress, so at least for 1st and 2nd graders, it’s not my end-game. Exposure to the written word is incorporated along the way, but not as integral as for your older (literate) kids. So PQA rules the day and allows for the extended attention to listen & understand and get reps, and gets us into story-telling mode in a smooth and satisfying way. Everyone wants, no NEEDS to report their favorite Halloween candy and their dog’s name. PQA, I’d assert, isn’t optional with the youngest learners.

  12. I love PQA.
    If kids don’t interact, I just do Ben’s PSA. (Public Service Announcement) I just announce that Suzie “returns.” And build with the class from there.
    What I love is that there is no script. We can do anything as long as I keep saying Suzie “returns” (or whatever the verb is.) I have been using my story writer to get me some details and then turn it into an embedded reading, for the next day.
    What’s interesting, is sometimes after we do the little mini story with Suzie, students will then interact with me. (They feel more comfortable after hearing it a bunch of times?)
    For whatever reason, I feel like my scripted stories run out of energy after 10 minutes, and when the kids lose they’re energy, I lose mine faster.

    1. That is the issue that one of my colleagues said she has with the story scripts she bought online. The “run out of fuel” or lose the energy pretty fast. I am wondering how to help her get into more interesting waters. Like how to feel safe while also having a looser story planned so she can start to be more spontaneous. I am totally comfortable with that myself and I love Eric’s suggestion of just going in with a problem in mind and then putting that problem into the language that they already know. I think that maybe this person would appreciate some kind of intermediate step…like taking off the training wheels and working on getting more confident while also building her skills. Any suggestions for me to pass on to her, on how to play it a little faster and looser with the planning?

      1. Quote from Ben, “I strongly feel that unless we unite with a common vision against the increasingly meaningless and watered down version(s) of lesson plan-based TPRS versions of TPRS (Bex, Toth), we will lose our original vision, as I wrote on the list last week.”
        Ben you wrote this during the summer and this is exactly what my colleague is using. Can you tell me more about what you think of this kind of curriculum? I have had some thoughts about it but I am not sure how to articulate what I see in it. What’s happening for her is that she is finding them cumbersome, and stilted, I think. Plus they are not helping her develop her skills at getting reps in, making things personal, and keeping kids engaged. I am just coming to the realization that these scripted units can actually harm a brand-new TPRS or CI teacher because they might bomb due to low interest by the kids and then an interested teacher thinks, “Oh well, that TPRS thing was a flop. Back to the workbook!”
        I must say that I did purchase a Martina Bex reading on Día de los muertos for my Spanish Evening Scholars class. It was a good, comprehensible text, and a great jumping-off place. I have never tried to use the full-blown units she sells, but I have peeked into them with my colleague and they are very detailed.
        What did you mean when you said “united in a common vision”?

  13. So there seems to be considerable confusion about whether PQA is a step, if it is the first step, or whether we ask personalized questions in any/all steps.
    I wanted to see if the Green Bible could clear any of this up. . . it didn’t. It’s very blurred.
    1) The 3 steps are Establish Meaning, Story, Reading. The chart at the back of the book lists as step 1: Translate, gesture, and personalize. And 3/4 of step 1 in that chart is devoted to elaboration on personalization. PQA in this chart is not an option.
    2) Then, page 19 lists the 3 Steps of TPRS and guess what?! Step 1 only lists translation and gestures. No personalization mentioned!
    3) Chapter 3 is devoted to the 3 steps and here we see PQA as optional as this is written about step 1: “Before starting the story, you can also ask personal questions, using the words. You are practicing the words you will use in the story and also looking for personalized information you can use in the story.”
    *Note: 2 ways to establish meaning are given – as they come up in the story OR pre-teaching and it says this about the former: “You start right in with the story. We think this is probably more efficient than pre-teaching the phrases through student gestures.”
    4) In Chapter 6 on “Storytelling in the First Year” it says this about PQA, suggesting to me that it is optional: “Before you start a story, you list two or three phrases on the board with translations into English (the students’ first language). You can use these phrases for your personalized questions and answers.”
    5) The 5-day/weekly schedules always list Monday & Tuesday as story days, Wednesday & Thursday as reading days, and Friday as a timed writing and novel day. No mention of PQA.
    Furthermore, I’ve never seen a demo of Blaine doing PQA as a pre-step to a story and as a way to practice targets. Doesn’t he just start a story?

      1. When I did a training with Blaine two summers ago he admitted that he never does PQA and just does stories. Certainly for him his stories are incredibly compelling.

  14. PQA is sooo frikkin’ simple:
    — est. meaning on board
    — you use your superstars for your actors (and if not superstars, somebody who is enthusiastic & not an idiot)
    — you direct-question your actor(s) using whatever it is you’re going after
    — after you have got your 2-3 parallel characters going, and the kids have heard you asking the actors the questions, you ask the FPs the same questions you ask your actors. You can do this during or after storyasking.
    For me, the key discovery (other than, as The Herminator noted, sheltering vocab) about PQA was to ask y/n or one-word answer questions, and to re-state in full sentences.
    So I
    1) narrate: Clase, el chico queria hblar con su novia.
    2) question my actor: Quieres hablar con tu novia? — Si, quiero… Quieres hablar con Donald Trump? NO, no quiero…
    3) ask an FP “quieres hablar con [sexy Hollywood person]?” ands/he can say “si/no.”
    4) Then, I ask “Quieres hablar con [sexy Hollywood person] or con Donald Trump?” — Donald Trump!
    PQA: less is more. It gets boring. Unless you can focus it on live-wire kids, who want to play along with ridiculous questions, hearing about who owns what dog etc gets boring, and for this reason I have found it best to do not tons of PQA but to focus energy on stories.

  15. I think an aspect in PQA that can not be overlooked has to do with classroom management. Some people do not like it or cannot do it because of the behavior of other students in class.
    PQA is easy but the other 30 kids in the room that you are not talking to need some training. This I believe is the part that some teachers struggle with.
    My recommendation is to establish slowly the routine for PQA sessions and ALWAYS address kindly and concisely the behavior that hinders it.

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