Go Willingly

We are all just panning for gold. We are searching for nuggets lying amidst the skills of TPRS and the daily practice of teaching. We seek flashes of gold, something, the right idea, the right technique, the right way to personalize, that will make us better teachers.
In my opinion, however, focusing in this way only on skills is merely a portion of the game. Such nuggets are no doubt important to find and utilize, but success does not hinge on finding only them. The teacher must also focus as much as possible on being her real authentic self in the classroom.
The method allows, encourages this tranformation away from being someone whom one is not in the classroom. A really personalized classroom requires real personalities to interact in authentic ways as information is exchanged, even if the information is bizarre and make believe. That is called play, and it is not something that occurs between robots.
What kind of things are needed for the teacher to have a chance to become more real in her classroom?
1. The classroom itself must function without clutter. Superfluous objects like books, backpacks, too many posters, and things like that affect the quality of communication in the classroom more than one may realize. Attempting to teach a TPRS class in clutter is like driving a Mercedes through a junk yard.
2. The students must function with clear eyes, squared shoulders, and no slouching. This goes for every student without exception. When students perceive that the teacher is willing to not be listened to, they will not listen. What, then, is the point of learning any of the TPRS skills, if this is not done?
3. The teacher must not try to function as a clown or as a cheerleader. The teacher who clowns around a lot thinking that the method can work in that setting, or the one who loves traditional grammar instruction and tries to bend and push that into their work with comprehensible input, etc. end up bending the method so out of shape that it can’t work. Why paint a Mercedes in circus colors or drag a load of bricks around behind it, as in:
The method does not function well under skewed conditions. Better to not claim to do TPRS at all rather than slant and skew it into a distorted form like those seen in funhouse mirrors. Your classroom is not a funhouse, but a place of learning.
Go willingly through the necessary internal and emotional changes to become yourself in your classroom.



19 thoughts on “Go Willingly”

  1. Hi ben,
    I think you are right. The confusing thing, though, is that the great masters of TPRS that I am most familiar with (Ben, Anne M, Linda, Jason, etc etc) engage us in GREAT fun. The CI that centered around the cardboard box, the CI around “long rides” lange Fahrt, the CI around “seeing coffee” etc – those were ALL very fun (AND VERY COMPELLING) Sessions. I have a hard time as a teacher not to envy that and to not make that a goal. I am sure that this is not what you are referring to… but sometimes it is tough to distinguish just what the masters are doing exactly to create what they create.

  2. Dear Skip,
    Let me share something with you. In our presentation, Michele had the daunting task of demonstrating an embedded reading in a language that the participants DIDN’T KNOW AT ALL!!!! In order to do that, she had to pare the stories waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down. She was worried that the stories would not be interesting enough to keep the participants engaged. You see, in her own classroom, with her own students, stories can get pretty crazy and funny. It was truly a concern.
    So not only did she have to go slowly, she had the most minimal language to work with. Humor was not a priority…..but it was a desire..just as you said.
    Here are my observations…and perhaps as a participant you have a different view…so please share!!
    1. The slower Michele went (in rate of speech and rate of everything else!!), the more participants were interested in what she was saying.
    2. PQA had even MORE power. In the workshops where several participants had been to Alaska, and Michele talked about having been to Alaska and having liked Alaska with several others….students were even more involved in the PQA.
    Simple things that slowed down the PQA added even more. (ie making sure that the class could see the face of the student Michele was talking to rather that the back of the student’s head)
    Simply asking about different people in the room kept the group interested. AND not only was a participant more interested when Michele talked to or asked the class about him/her….but anyone sitting nearby that person lit up too!!
    3. The students added the humor. Michele didn’t even need to worry about it. They added facial expression, vocal expression, sound effects and more. What Michele did was recognize them, and honor them.
    4. Having a ‘punch line” in a story (acted or written) satisfied us as presenters more than it did the participants. In fact, sometimes the group was so interested in the fact that they understood the story that they missed that the punch line was funny ( !! ) and while eventually there was a laugh, it was delayed.
    Now..these observations come from working with BEGINNING students. More and more I see that the less language a student has, the more slow and simple the instruction must be.
    I know that I am a broken record on this….but it is about creating a clear clear clear picture in the individual minds of the student AND in the collective mind of the class. When we go slowly we can keep those pictures clear.
    With more experienced students, the slow must remain with new structures and when we are adding a detail that is critical to the picture.
    Funny teachers are compelling to be sure. But that is a whole lot of pressure to carry when many many many other things can make the input compelling. Trying to be funny all the time is just too exhausting.
    Also, with absolutely no disrespect intended to funny teachers…. in a class with a funny teacher, the focus during class is most often on…the teacher. My personal preference is for the focus to be on something or someone else.
    I would like to send the message to my students that they are loved and accepted simple for being….not for being funny or pretty or athletic or artistic. If, as a teacher, I teach primarily using my strengths, I miss out on that opportunity….and they miss out on getting to know me as an entire person.
    ok..this has gotten long and is actually now going to be a jumping off point for a blog post lol
    I love you all,

  3. Laurie’s comment is like a nice big meal. I’ll need about three doggie bags on that one. But, for now, I have to comment on what Laurie said here:
    …the slower Michele went (in rate of speech and rate of everything else!!), the more participants were interested in what she was saying….
    All I can say on that is BINGO! The smallest things, looking at a coffee, can be hilariously funny. We miss that in this land of comedy clubs and forced humor. We don’t have to be funny and we don’t need their approval as if we were some kind of clown. The humor does not lie within us alone.
    The humor does not lie within us alone.
    Moments of humor lie hiding like seeds in this thing we call language. Those seeds have been there, waiting, for hundreds of years, but we have ignored them in our desire to make language instruction a conscious process. We crush humor in our classes by not letting the language sprout. Humor comes from below, it wells up in us. We don’t laugh because we reflect on something. That is for Spock and Dwight Schroot.
    Now, here in TPRS, we have a way of letting life take care of itself. We slow down and see what happens. We don’t try to command We just need to listen to the CI with (alongside) our students. We are not different from our students. We are as vulnerable as they are.
    We miss it all, we miss it all, we miss it all, because we don’t trust slowly circled personalized sentences to be be enough. Surely TPRS can’t be that simple! But Michele proved what Laurie said. She went slowly and it, as Laurie said, was MORE funny, MORE compelling.
    Yes, we are teachers but no, we are not teachers. If that is what I have been then that is not what I really wanted to have been, to have become, all these 34 years. I hated teaching. I just wanted to be able to hang out with my students and share a French meal with them.
    I never wanted to be a teacher. That is a hard ass job. People die doing it. That is why NTPRS is more like a campout with hundreds of your best friends.
    I never wanted to be a teacher. Teachers always made me feel small. They were phony in that, commanding the room like a bully, laughterless. No, all I ever wanted to do was be happy in my classroom.
    And when, finding myself a teacher and thus needing a job, I became a teacher. And my blood pressure kept going up over the decades. And then one day that sparkled I finally surrendered to the reality that I can’t manufacture happiness (humor’s twin) by being a really good TPRS teacher.
    Then the happiness was there, popping up in little scenes like staring at coffee and watching you sleep outside of a tent in Maine last fall. I didn’t come up there to be with your kick ass Maine colleagues (can anyone say Anne Matava?) in order to be phony. YOU and the others in our session made you sleep outside of that tent that night. I had nothing to do with it. Seeds sprouted because I went slowly enough – that’s all.
    We miss it all, we miss it all, we miss it all, because we don’t trust slowly circled personalized sentences to be funny. But Michele proved what Laurie said. She went slowly and it, as Laurie said, was MORE funny.
    Skip, my brother, you are not responsible for making it all happen. That is why I love languages so much. They contain happiness just like flowers do (Thích Nhat Hanh) and just like anything does. We need merely do what Laurie said in point #2 above –
    …simple things… slowed down the PQA added even more….
    OK now I’m on a roll and apologize but Janet sat there in one of my sessions holding her little package and I asked about five times what color it was and the class rejected the first four – and then when I said purple they all nodded their heads and Janet did too and she was immediately happy. We had found the right color! The color that made the class and Janet happy.
    Of course, I was doing the slowest circling of my life in those moments – thank you Linda! Laurie saw the whole thing because she was my teacher mind during that session, explaining things to the teachers attending my session and sparing me that job. Get it? By going slowly, the special little package that was purple (I’m talking mini mini excessively mini package.), came to life and then, had it been a real class, Janet would be Janet with the mini mini mini purple package and been recognized as important and thus personalized until another name for her emerged organically during the year. Hope that is clear. I’m glad Janet wasn’t a guy.
    Conclusion – just go slowly and trust that good things will happen. See the root of the word happy in happen? That’s how it is. OK rant over. Maybe we can all finish our careers, our lives perhaps, with what we learn from our careers, that we don’t have to go so fast; we don’t have to worry so much….

  4. Oh – thanks Laurie for reminding that I forgot to mention Michele as one of the masters – (I should have realized that it was dangerous to mention names – you and she were in the etc. etc. 🙂
    One of the suggestions I will make in my NTPRS comments is that perhaps some of the morning sessions could have been longer….. I felt that way with the embedded reading presentation. Your session had double the “work” to present the “story” and then to demonstrate embedded readings….
    I think that if Michelle had had more time to develop humor (but I am not even sure if it is humor – it is more like total engagement and buy in) would have developed more as well. Michelle has mastered SLOW and comprehension checks – it was very comprehensible. The other thing that you both have mastered is lowering the affective filter – you both were so caring and genuine and so clearly care about your students (in this case US:) I knew, at some level how Justin felt.
    I agree with your statement that sometimes funny can be more teacher centered. The laughs that Linda and Michelle and Anne and Ben got came more as a result of the personalization – I really don’t think any of them were trying to be funny….
    I was wondering if such things comes more as a result of PQA than asking a story??
    I am looking forward to this coming year to start to employ some of the wonderful skills/ideas that were presented in the morning sessions. That was superb training. I am so glad that I was able to attend. My students will be the big winners.
    It was so nice to be able to meet all of my “mentors” on this blog. You all have meant so much to me and my progress and now that is even stronger because I was able to meet so many of you at the conference.
    I am very grateful for all of the time you spend encouraging and teaching the folks on here. It is clearly a labor of love for so many. It takes so much to put yourself out there (especially in person – I cannot even imagine how nerve wracking it must be making oneself so vulnerable).
    So, thanks again…

  5. Skip I posted that too soon and added a lot of ideas just now while you were writing your comment. I did a a better job of talking directly to you in the freshly edited comment above. Pls reread.

  6. And Skip I felt so vulnerable, you are right. Linda told me she even gets nervous! But it is normal. We are all afraid. People keep wondering, talking about why TPRS isn’t taking off faster. I think it is because it is so hard to trust.
    Also, Skip, I agree with you. It is much easier to find humor in PQA. It is harder to personalize a story.

  7. WOW! Ben, if I had read your post before writing mine I never would have written mine. As always, you have said what I was trying to say so much better than I did.
    It is ALL about the trust thing. How does one get to a point where they can TRUST the method, TRUST the process? Any advice? I do think this is key. Linda and Michelle and Anne etc etc (here I go again) clearly have that trust. I feel fear and feel vulnerable…. afraid that it will all flop and I won’t know what to do next…
    “Moments of humor lie hiding like seeds in the thing we call language. Those seeds have been there, waiting, for hundreds of years, but we have ignored them in our desire to make language instruction a conscious process. We crush humor in our classes by not letting the language sprout. Humor comes from below, it wells up in us. We don’t laugh because we reflect on something. That is for Spock and Dwight Schroot.
    Now here in TPRS we have a way of letting life take care of ourselves. We just need to listen to the CI with (alongside) our students. We are not different from our students. We are as vulnerable as they are. ”
    Those words are SO powerful. I will print them out and put them above my desk – Thank You!

  8. Your are welcome, Skip. Stendhal defined happiness, by the way, in this way:
    Un bavardage sans détour, et la présence de ceux qu’on aime….
    An endless conversation, and the presence of those one loves….
    Is this not what teaching is really all about and will be once again when the spell has lifted?

  9. I also think that is what TPRS is all about – it was SO obvious at NTPRS. I was so humbled by the way everyone gave so generously and so fully of themselves…. Thank you falls SO short… but
    Thank you

  10. I think that there were many reasons why this year’s NTPRS was so powerful…our Sauk friends and company being one of them. But the other was the new format which allowed TPRS to feel more accessible!! Our whole goal was for you to believe “I can do this!!”
    and Skip…no worries…I did not feel “left out” of your post. :o) I just accessed ours because it was soooooo powerful for me to watch Michele teach Russian eight sessions in a row!!!
    As for the vulnerability…that was one of the things that, I believe, resonated with participants. Susie had us do a great deal of reflecting and adjusting every single day…so we were teachers…not “gurus”. Presenting for teachers can be scarier than teaching kids that’s for sure!! Especially if one of them was Stephen Krashen!!!! (talk about raising the affective filter lol)
    It was wonderful to see people that we had never met in person. Drew…we missed you too! But that’s one of the things that keep us looking forward to the next one!!
    with love,
    PS This is a great thread Ben and the rewrite is fantastic!

  11. “Go willingly through the necessary internal and emotional changes to become yourself in your classroom.”
    This is the seed of it all. Simple but not easy. We are all engaged in this process. It was evident in every session I attended last week. I am still overwhelmed and exhausted. Filled with the same wonder and awe that you all express about the various teachers we had the honor to connect with in person.
    My big take away is also “the art of SLOW.” Oh my! I found myself yesterday trying to explain it to someone (ha! you know the whole “oh how was the conference?” as if you could answer it in a single sentence and move on to the weather). I couldn’t. I almost wanted to break into Sauk, Russian or Mandarin to demonstrate. Hmmm….and because I attended the sessions with Katya, Linda, Kate, Twiggy and Jacob I actually could have done a very basic demo, because like Skip said, some brain thing happened over the course of a few days and I totally remember many of the structures! Without taking notes, drilling or reviewing!!! Who knew?!?! I mean, I “knew” about this intellectually, but it was not until I experienced it for myself in languages in which I had no prior experience that I FELT it deep down. The phrases seem to percolate up from where they are stored and I randomly find myself having little internal conversations using the new expressions! How cool is that!!! Ehey menwike!!! (super cool, or somwhat equivalent in Sauk)
    My other big (and more suprising) take away was that I realized I am actually pretty confident on this path feeling my way along with my students, even though I am new to TPRS. I did NOT feel confident at all in the coaching sessions, but I wasn’t surprised by this. I am way more comfortable with kids. That is just part of who I am, so I automatically get nervous interacting with peers. Arrested development??? A little too in touch with my inner 13 year old??? You bet! Oh well. I’ll just say that my affective filter was hugely present in all the coaching sessions. Despite that, I know pretty clearly that with my students I am fine, so I made myself go through the process in the sessions just to say I made myself do it. Bottom line: I know that I am on a learning curve. I know that I can create an atmosphere in my classroom that has plenty of space for love, honesty, mistakes, silence, laughter and whatever else emerges. And if I’m intentional about SLOW (and then slow down more) I will actually facilitate more learning (paradoxically faster?) for everyone. Yay!!!
    Thank you all for sharing and helping me find my way on this path! At the risk of sounding cliche, I really could not do this without all of you. It was awesome to meet many of you in person finally! It was also sad that I didn’t get to attend all the sessions I wanted to. I really missed out on the embedded reading session with Michelle and Laurie 🙁 But I guess that one will be at the top of my list next time. Ahh, the curse of the perpetually curious and indecisive :0
    Looking forward to continuing to share! And Skip I will see you in Portland in October 🙂

  12. Vulnerability. It is hard. We are taught not to show our vulnerability lest the lions eat us up. But, that is what allows us to be real (and delicious morsels for lions to eat).
    Our students need to see us real. I tell mine up front my flaws and ask them to help me keep them in check because I AM CONTINUING TO GROW. It never stops with lifelong learners until we are dead.
    By giving them permission to see me fall 7xs and get up 8, they are WILLING to fall themselves for the most part. TOGETHER we MAKE it happen. They never forget that.
    I am not a television screen to be turned off and on at will. I am not there to entertain them until they get to go to football practice.
    I am there to provide a place where WE can learn together–whatever the subject (and sometimes that isn’t the target lesson but how to BE instead).
    I am there to guide their process of learning. They are there to participate in that process. I have often felt that as teachers our job was to open the windows–show them where they can find the information and then let them fly.
    The LEARNER drives the Learning process. I can only give them 50% of the process–they have to do the rest.
    I was coming off a two week language session with my master teacher and some other students. NTPRS slammed into me HARD. I opened to the flow and by the end of the week my heart was right out there vulnerable to all, no filters as I went after a deep coaching session and other personal learning goals. I will forever be grateful for the way the staff, trainers, and learners put themselves out for me to observe and learn from (Ben and the Sauk language program along with Yoney were really allowing me to see their vulnerable sides).
    I may never be able to afford an NTPRS again, but the experience will guide me the rest of my life. And this blog has certainly influenced my thinking.
    Thank you, each of you, for making the effort to build this community online and keeping it safe for babies like me to learn.

    1. Kate I was thinking how just admitting how scary it all is – like we seemed to do all week and it didn’t make us weaker it made us stonger – is part of the shift here. it is a shift into being more human, less robotic in our teaching and in our relationships with others. It’s Skip Crosby, how he describes so much of what he is feeling and how we all could say those words but he is one of the very few to come out and say it. It echoes what I said above in suggesting that we all go willingly through the necessary internal and emotional changes to become ourselves in our classrooms.
      So along with the radical shift in methods here comes an equally radical shift in our self perceptions of ourselves as teachers. Many of our colleages stroll confidently down the hallways, ready to command and intimidate kids. But I know that my relationship with kids has always been based on me not overpowering them. They know the deal and they are not stupid. Do you know what I mean?

  13. Ben,
    This blog is an ongoing graduate level seminar about the implications of comprehensible input-based teaching. What a gift to us all. Thanks for infusing your understanding and contemplative nature into it.

  14. Angela Williams

    Wow, several of the comments above express my thoughts exactly. I attended the beginning NTPRS workshops with Katya and man, I really felt the power of going SLOW. She made it so clear and there were images swimming around in my head, and I could visualize and see and process without having to worry about correct conjugations, making mistakes, etc…It really felt great. She used PQA and that really brought the story to life. At times, I was more interested in the people around me in the class than the story 🙂 NTPRS was a great experience, and I really want to connect with my students through language in ways that I was never able to. Thanks to all of you on the blog that have helped make this possible for me!

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