Q. I wonder how you circle the name they wish to have, how you fish for more information behind it. Could you explain a bit or perhaps give a short script to make clear what exactly might go on starting from those names on the questionnaire?
A. I don’t fish for more information about the name. To try to find out why a name is what it is is very high level thinking indeed. So I just go from the fact of the new, amusing name to one of the other facts on the sheet. Like where they say what they are afraid of, I would make a dramatic statement to the class like:
Class, McLovin is afraid of clowns!
Now, I must circle that. (I would circle any one of the three main parts of that sentence, not just the object, as per Susan Gross’ admonition to avoid circling only the object.) In circling, things that are interesting will naturally come up, and so I have to be careful not to leave the circling of the above statement too early – the students don’t understand the language and so are not ready for any new thing that may interest me.
I would stay with circling that utterance until I felt, in the invisible space between us, that at least 80% of my students understand 80% of what I am saying – more like 90%. If I don’t stay with the circling long enough, then I will lose them. I will also lose them if I stay with the circling too long. It is a feeling thing.
I have to remember, during this process, to point and pause at anything new as well. When I deliver CI, I must always remember:
Point and Pause
Otherwise it will not work. Those three TPRS skills, plus the personalized statements about McLovin, plus the insistance on my rules being followed, will keep the class involved and focused just fine.
You don’t have to get all silly when doing this, by the way. Some people think of the TPRS teacher as some kind of clown. I am far from a clown, but I know that, just as in normal discussion, if something funny comes up, I will laugh. Since I am a teacher and therefore not a comedian, I usually count on my students, who are all, each in their own way, comedians, to provide the funny stuff – in the form of two word answers in English to my circled questions.
At a certain point, and this is where the trust comes in, I would either leave the kid if the energy was flat, or go deeper into the questioning around what I have so far with McLovin, as per:
Class, WHERE is McLovin afraid of clowns? (where is always a reliable question word to move stalling CI forward)
Now I have to go through the entire circling process described above again, pointing and pausing to ANY NEW WORD. Kids suggest places where McLovin is afraid of clowns, I usually reject the first ones to get more reps, and finally accept this:
Class, McLovin is afraid of clowns in the basement of East High School! (always remember to try to personalize locations as well as people)
It’s kind of like blowing up balloons. You keep asking questions about each utterance until you blow enough air into each one that it floats off by itself, and then you blow another utterance up via circled questions, point and pause, and SLOW, and then that one floats off, and soon the room is filled with balloons.
You don’t let a balloon/utterance go until it is blown up. But you don’t blow it up so much that it pops. You just blow it up to where it is saturated (a very key word in trying to understand circling in TPRS), that is to say, filled with the right amount of details/air, not too much and not too little.
When balloons/utterances aren’t blown up enough, or when they are blown up to where they pop, they are not interesting to the kids. How, then, do we know exactly when to leave one utterance and go on to the next?
We know when the balloon/utterance that we are working on is blown up enough when we feel that we have arrived at – here is that word again – a point of saturation. Kind of like we know to stop eating when we feel not too full. We stop eating because it feels right for our bodies and so it is with these utterances.
Blaine told me last summer that it is precisely at that point, when the circling of new details has reached a point of saturation, that we simply add in a new detail in the form of a new event or a new character. This really helped me understand circling. It is the point where TPRS breaks down for a lot of us – we are uncomfortable with the circling and we think longingly about just grabbing a book and bailing on the whole thing, and so we cut off what might have blossomed into a beautiful roomful of balloons.
Letting yourself trust that the natural process of asking questions will lead you and your kids to far more interesting and beautiful comprehensible input than you could ever plan for or get from a book. When the kids feel, due to your artistry, that it is they who are driving the discussion forward, when it is really your artful questioning that is doing that, you know you are doing the skills well. These three skills:
Point and Pause
hold the key to drive the CI forward. Forget the others until you have mastered these.
I might add, on an unrelated point, that it is precisely this process of “blowing up balloons” that lowers the affective filter. I probably will never agree with Duke that, in a school environment, technology will be able to lower the affective filter in the way that blowing up balloons can, because of the discipline problems that will occur the moment the kids are turned loose on the machines. The kids’ filters may go down, but the teachers’ will skyrocket.
Duke’s idea about kids’ owning their language learning when they have technology to do so is a brilliant one, but I personally don’t think it can work in schools because of the lack of one pointedness in such learning environments. Machines will be great for kids outside of class, but not in classes – they won’t be able to get as much CI from the machines if they are in a classroom – too many distractions for them. If they are alone at home with a machine and a computer pal in Quebec, that is another story. (Skyping or ustreaming or flashmeeting entire classes together excepted on that point).
In my opinion, the big news about computers isn’t so much what they can do, but what they can’t do. They can’t, are not programmed for, the subtle synaptic connections that only humans can create, which is the stuff of language in the real sense.
The key word here in the discussion about computers is one pointedness of class focus, which, in my own experience, is only possible with TPRS. And, as Blaine says, if the gains we get in TPRS were greater or more easily reached through other methods, I would drop TPRS in a nanosecond and embrace the new way.