Being a Participant

I had mentioned that Julie gave another DPS Learning Lab yesterday. It was even better than the first and quite different. She still used the Power Point slides which Ruth labeled Visual PQA and for now at least it looks like that term will stick.
In this kind of Visual PQA Julie spends lots of time just discussing slides with her kids. She seems to have made a conscious decision to react with interest to what she learns from her students. Her class isn’t about some teacher asking for the right answer, perched above the students. Rather, Julie participates in the conversations, smiling and reacting as one would in a normal conversation among friends.
This aspect of what Julie does goes beyond mere teaching to actually being a participant in a wonderful conversation! Of course, I would guess that one result of behaving in this way with her kids would in fact be the huge amounts of early unforced output she gets from her kids. They speak so much because they feel as if she is asking them questions in order to find out what they think, not because she is a teacher in some strange game called School.



14 thoughts on “Being a Participant”

  1. At another point in her class Julie was talking about the movie Sandlot, about a bunch of twelve year old boys playing baseball together all summer. As the class went along in Spanish, I was so involved in the discussion, in looking at the slides and listening to the conversation about them, since I am a Spanish learner, that I forgot I was in a classroom. We were just talking about a short clip from Sandlot. It is this complete focusing on the message and not the language that is the key to comprehensible input. It was a shock when I realized I was in a classroom after about five minutes of discussing the movie. I feel, however, that if Julie had jumped out of L2 into some moderate use of L1, I wouldn’t have gotten so deeply into the discussion and the slides. In fact, Julie used English only three times in that class, and not once during the MovieTalk discussion. She said:
    1. …do you remember?…
    2. …oh, did you already use it?…
    3. …oh, you just got excited and forgot….
    Each of those L1 utterances, since Julie speaks fast anyway, took less than one second to say. Three seconds of English in a 50 minute class. It certainly didn’t throw off my focus. If Julie had used English 50 times for 50 seconds of L1 during her class, I think it would have affected my focus as a Spanish learner in her class in a negative way.

      1. Yes Angie. BUT both are very limited in how many times they get used. This is the fascinating part to me. The less English used by the teacher, I have noticed in DPS, the more L2 output by the kids there is.
        I have been looking very closely at this, and I now stand fully by my newly found position that the difference between 99% and 95%-97% L2 use is a huge chasm. When kids know that they have no wiggle room to toss out stuff in L1, they find ways to say it in the TL, because they want to be heard.
        It is this desire to be heard and the resultant forcing of L2, if they indeed want to be heard, that is most fascinating right now. The desire to be heard is a natural human need, and it will find a way.
        That is why this image-assisted new form of strict L2 use with Power Point images, done almost routinely now in DPS in lieu of stories, which most new teachers shun and no blame there, is so interesting to me. The Power Point captioned images just create more output than stories, and that’s all there is to it.
        I think it’s time after all these years to move to embracing this idea that our students have a desire, a need, a want to express themselves and if they can’t do it in the L1 they will do it in the L2. Do you see the possibility here? If this assumption is right, then extreme limits on L1 use will catapult the amount of output we hear in our kids.
        To restate and clarify. In my current view we will get much more verbal L2 output from our kids than we ever thought possible if we do three things:
        1. Put really extreme limits on how much L1 they can use.
        2. Use Power Point images with captions (stories can’t do this) so that they can have something to hang their output on to make it easier to produce.
        3. Show genuine/human and not fake/teacher-robot interest in what the kids are thinking and saying.
        Again and I got this from Suzy Livingston:
        People have a deeply rooted need to express themselves in a language and try with the language to output it, and this need is something that we in the TPRS community can no longer ignore, tossing it off under the heading, “If they want to speak we don’t stop them.” That is not enough. By doing the two things listed above, we open up an entirely new vista in this work, in my view. Output is a personal need and not an option in learning a language.
        Sabrina has shown this dramatically recently with the Star of the Week technique. When she talks about it, she shakes her head and looks at the ground and says in a kind of amazement, here paraphrased: “Ben, I can’t believe what these kids can do when I ask them these questions in this way! I have never seen anything like it and, in spite of the power and wonder we have with stories, I think I could build an entire year long curriculum on Star of the Week and be perfectly happy doing so and not miss stories much!”
        This can happen in impoverished schools as well as any other as long as we tap into the needs of the children to express themselves using words in the L2 really are. We didn’t have a way to do this in the old model of PQA because the input was not supported by images and captions.
        And while I am on a roll here I will say that it is Julie’s work in making her Power Point prseentations clear and scaffolded, thus creating a taxonomy that really helped the kids express themselves in the TL (you need to actually see it), her way of arranging the slides was just more clear for the kids than any of the other classes I observed.
        In the other classes, the Power Point presentations, the series, the order of slides was flat. It didn’t build. It is this building from simple one word slide to complex captions on slides that Julie does, what I have labeled the Chest of Drawers Visual PQA technique (top drawer/first slide has one word and one image, the fifth drawer/slide down has a more complex image and like ten words on the caption, and that is why I think Julie’s slides are better.
        Here’s the kicker. I have been refused using slides from other DPS teachers but not from Julie and Sabrina, the two teachers who, and this is no surprise in my mind, keep their kids in the TL almost exclusively and who also seem the most genuinely interested in what their kids say from a human standpoint. Hmmm.

        1. This is great news to me as I still struggle with some stories. I do better when I go in with only 1 or 2 structures and use question words to create the story (5 minute power verb activity that Eric created except it turns into bigger stories). I find however having images that inspire, keep my classes centered and they use the language more. This week I did my first movie talk without screen shots and it wasn’t as easy as before. Is there any way that we could see an example of what they are doing?

          1. Melissa I spoke with Diana Noonan after Julie’s class about that very topic. We are still trying to process iFLT 2014 video, and we have none from these Learning Labs at present. But Diana agreed that we have to try to get some of this kind of footage from Julie and Maria and Sabrina and the others who are doing it. It’s almost like all the young ones in the district got together – they meet a lot because Diana puts most of her budget into CI teacher training – and started doing this kind of Power Point/Visual PQA because they all felt a little shaky with stories. Ironically, the experience they are getting doing this will give them great experience for stories. To be clear, they are doing lots of stories now anyway, sometimes to set up a VPQA session, or afterwards. It’s neat to see stories being worked into so many other strategies in this way. It’s like a table full of food. Each teacher takes what they want, from appetizers to dessert, and they go in and feed their little goslings full of this tasty and delicious food.

        2. I want to be clear: you are advocating 99% L2 use with regard to any designated L2 period, but not 99% L2 use from bell-to-bell ??
          I also want to be clear: you like all the student L2 output, because you see it as a result of greater acquisition, not a cause. Right?
          I also wonder, with few L1 comprehension checks and amidst all the student L2 output, whether you saw ALL/MOST students giving quality and quantity of output? Were there students consistently signaling when they didn’t understand?
          We are seeing the power of images here to help focus attention and help create that visual in the minds of students and the power of text to support input & output (some reading as part of step 1).

          1. You crack me up Eric. All right, and this is just my opinion based on zero testing, to address #1:
            …you are advocating 99% L2 use with regard to any designated L2 period, but not 99% L2 use from bell-to-bell ?….
            In my dreams I am advocating bell to bell at 99%. This is what I have seen in Sabrina’s and Julie’s and a few others classes, and it presents the way a Boeing 737 would present compared to a Piper Cub, and as I said it brings output. That said, I am not so naïve that periods in L1 doing trust building are not necessary, like the Learning Styles Inventory in English, etc. But the less of those periods of L1 trust building in L1 the better. This is, I feel, the challenge for us all. Yes there has to be English but for me A LOT LESS than I used to do. (I can also build trust in L2 and I don’t need large periods of time building trust and community in L1 – one look at the beginning of the year can do it. No reason to get my ego involved in my teaching. My job is to deliver CI, and that’s it.)
            Question 2:
            …you like all the student L2 output, because you see it as a result of greater acquisition, not a cause. Right?….
            I don’t really know if it is a result of greater acquisition. It isn’t a cause, for sure. What I think happens is that the material being discussed is interesting and more easily grasped because it is graded from easier to more challenging slides (Julie’s taxonomy that I haven’t seen anywhere else – the “Chest of Drawers” thing), and words the kids need to speak are up there on the screen, and the teacher is into what they are saying, and so they are freed up from that muzzling thing that happens when they are barely hanging onto a story.

          2. Question 3a:
            …you saw ALL/MOST students giving quality and quantity of output?….
            Yes, most. Especially in Julie’s 7th grade, second year classes where they had been with her the year before as well. She knew them, there was a high degree of trust, she really cared about what they said, she made each slide clear with increasing levels of vocabulary, each picture was interesting and fresh, they knew she cared what they said, and in that class of about 30 kids there were maybe 5 who didn’t output, and they may not have been with her the year before. So MOST is the answer. I will say one thing, I have never been able to say that I have ever seen any class doing PQA where most (25/30) who spoke in the TL naturally with an extremely low filter. I’ve never seen anything close to that before.
            Were there students consistently signaling when they didn’t understand?….
            …No. I can’t tell you if it was because they understood at a high level or if they were lying, like kids usually do. It was more like the message from the class was “Who’s got time to do stop this to see if anyone doesn’t understand? It’s fine, we get it, just keep going. This is fun!” If you could see the class, the way Julie works them, moving around constantly, lots of eye contact, I would guess that they understood much more than they didn’t, if that makes sense.

          3. Eric said:
            …we are seeing the power of images here to help focus attention and help create that visual in the minds of students and the power of text to support input & output (some reading as part of step 1)…..
            That is not something I have ever even thought of, being into the Zen/FLOW/rt. brained/hippy aspects of this work. But when I saw it, and I realized it’s impact with younger kids, and probably older kids too, it really did knock me out. I can’t wait to hear if and how Visual PQA and Star of the Week jack up our over CI portfolios in this PLC, as people start experimenting with them.

          4. VISUALIZATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
            “Language, as used in communication, is designed to put a picture in the mind, and or the heart, of another person.”
            Our students have a poorly developed ability to visualize. Their world constantly includes visual stimuli and, unlike those of us who listened to the radio, had poor tv reception (or none!) and didn’t have a screen in every room of the house and our back pockets were much more skilled at it.
            It is completely logical that students now respond so positively to visuals. The brain is WIRED to acquire language that is sound connected to meaning through another sense!!!!!!!!! That is what the brain does.
            The better the connection in the brain between the senses, the better the comprehension.
            The scaffolding of images and text from simple to complex works exactly the way that Embedded Reading does: adding details and language one level at a time….making sure that each level is comprehensible before moving to the next level. Interest + Success = Engagement.
            I hope that we all get to see it in action somewhere/somehow/sometime this summer. Good stuff!
            with love

  2. I had a similar experience during my teacher eval observations last year. My principal had once lived in Texas and always regretted that though often exposed to Spanish, she had never learned to speak it. “I am bad at languages,” she said.
    When she started coming in for informal then formal observations, she got completely lost in the drama of the stories, scenes and visual PQA (that I created for one of the formals). She started raising her hand and chorally responding with the group. She abandoned her rubric. She cracked up at the silliness. She was having a blast!
    She was so delighted with her own comprehension that she stayed for some other classes!!
    Needless to say, the eval was positive, and I’m convinced that it was partly due to her own low filter and high engagement!!

  3. Sorry to interrupt this thread but I wanted folks to know of a job opening at my school. It’s a full time French position, all levels including a college-credit dual enrollment course. The dept is CI friendly but there are also thematic units you have to work with. There’s only one French teacher so he/she has a lot of freedom. The school is Brattleboro Union High School in Brattleboro, VT. Check out SchoolSpring and/or email me if you’re interested. Applications close March 6.

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