It’s never too early to plan our end of the year activities, and this post is simply to remind those who in the past have found success in late spring using the Children’s Story Project (found in A Natural Approach to the Year) to reserve the month of May and possibly even a few weeks earlier than that to do those projects. Carly asked some questions a few years ago about the process and this is a repost of that conversation for those interested who are thinking of doing spring projects again or even for the first time this spring.
A new member of our group has explored the two (brand new) Invisibles books and her first reaction is positive. That is important to me because she has a background in TPRS, and I am claiming that my newest books are better than TPRS as a vehicle for introducing comprehensible input instruction into the foreign language classroom. For those who are now moving from TPRS to the Invisibles, I am happy to share my responses to her questions about the mechanics of the Invisibles. I’ve actually been waiting for a long time to do this here. The Invisibles are getting some traction now beyond just ANATS and ANATTY, and my position with the new books is that ANATS and ANATTY don’t dive deeply enough into the Invisibles to make them actually happen for teachers who want to use them in the fall. Indeed, I wrote the two new books for that reason, to get deeper into them. Why? Because they are so wonderful, of course! Look, I don’t brag much here but in this case I make an exception to my reserve because the new Invisibles books are the best books I’ve ever written on TPRS/CI.
Our book on classroom management continues to be written here on a day-to-day way in this, our seventh installment:
What Are Our Goals?
What are our classroom management goals? What might we imagine a well- functioning CI classroom to look and feel like, from our own point of view and that of our students?
If we start out our summer reflection here on how to best manage our classrooms next year by envisioning the results we want, we will then have a framework from which to move forward that we can trust. Imagining or visualizing what we would want our CI classroom to look and feel like is a feeling-toned goal, and is more important than teaching with some test in mind, which is not feeling-toned at all, but rather based in the robotic (thus mechanical, thus boring) life of the mind.
Starting stories with a general idea about a problem and no targets is a great way of getting a robust and healthy plot line going. The reason I say that is that I have carefully studied how Joe Neilson (the unrecognized co-founder of TPRS along with Blaine Ray) used to start his stories. I’ve interviewed him on it.
Joe told me he thinks of a general problem that some character has, and that just doing that is enough to get a good story going.
So, what you do is think of an interesting character, like we do when we create characters in the Create phase of the star, but then you do one more thing – you think of some desire or fear that reflects the personality or physical form of the character.
The Big CI Book electronic copy goes up in early July from $49.95 to $89.95
A Natural Approach to the Year (ANATTY/Year One) electronic copy goes up rom $77 to $99.95.
I have no control over these increases – I have to do what Teacher’s Discovery does by contract.
However, there is a narrow window where you can still get them at the lower prices here at benslavic.com, but only until about the end of this week.
Just a heads up to act now for those who have been thinking of getting one or both of those books, which are best sellers at Teacher’s Discovery and why they raised the prices to unreasonable levels.
I got a response from Jack and would like to share it here:
I have to say I feel honoured to be talking to you again. Before I started my short but meaningful journey at AES, I considered myself quite shy and would never have been seen as somebody that stands out! You really brought out my creativity and ability to shine and for that I thank you.
As you mentioned, school isn’t really the place for ‘people like me’ and I completely agree with you. Since I left New Delhi and came back to England I’ve had the thirst to perform in front of people, and again, I don’t think I’d feel that way if it weren’t for how brilliantly you got us going in front of that class!
This is my response to Jack:
Well Jack you inspired me as well. During my whole career I noticed how (mostly) boys with a sense of humor, super bright kids like you who had spirit, suffered in schools. For example, that science teacher who shamed you that day in early spring by sending you to the office. How did that help? When I think of you down there waiting to go into that AP’s office, it still pisses me off.
So imagine how proud I was of you when you were the force behind one of the great stories I remember, which as I remember happened after the science class incident. Your leadership in that class of sixth graders played a part in finally providing me with the breakthrough I had been looking for for almost four decades to understand the craft of language teaching in the best way possible.
Today I got an email from one of my students in that sixth grade class in New Delhi whose energy helped lead to the Invisibles concept discussed here so frequently over recent years:
Hello Mr. Slavic!
It’s in my best hopes that you do remember me and this isn’t too much of a surprise, and if my email doesn’t show who I am…it’s Jack from 6th grade at the American Embassy School in New Delhi from 2015!
I’ve been meaning to contact you for a while just to see how things are going, and today I was asked who my favorite teacher of all time was, and I couldn’t help but think of the insane stories of Vampspooder we used to come up with as a class.
This article completes the series on the student artists:
Besides putting art on the back wall in the form of class galleries, another effective way to coax classes into performing at a higher level is to post lists of the names of all the characters that each class has produced up to that point in the year. This list can be put up anywhere but should be put near the gallery.
Some students, upon entering the classroom, walk right up to the Invisibles character lists from each class to see if any new characters have been created by other classes since they last looked. At times, an irresistible sense of competition with other classes happens.
The growing displays of artwork by individual classes take the form of “galleries.” Each class gets a section of the back wall in the classroom. Any other classes not yet doing stories of their own beg to get their own creative process going, and it is when the first gallery is posted that the interclass rivalries begin.
In the gallery images, some teachers choose to add the names of the characters directly onto the One Word Image drawings created by the artists.
When space is no longer available for drawings as the year goes on, I don’t take the drawings down but tape them on top of each other to the extent possible. Students enjoy taking a few minutes in between classes to reminisce about characters from stories done earlier in the year.
When drawing a One Word Image, the artists should fill the entire large page of chart paper or butcher paper with the image. As discussed earlier, beginning classes draw two panels above and below a black line dividing the chart paper in half. Second year classes draw four panels, third year classes six panels, and fourth year classes draw eight panel stories.
The artwork is functions as a storyboard in the Reveal.
Classrooms which in the past may have been filled with a low-level discomfort or outright hostility between the people in the room immediately change with the student jobs. People all over the classroom form a team, working together towards a common goal. That is real reform in education.
There is nothing quite like seeing a professional friendship develop between two artists who may then be seen everywhere on campus together because they share the status of class artists. Their pride when they walk into class and take up their station behind the easel is visible each day between classes. I have noticed that many class artists arrive to class early in order to make sure that their workspace is neat and ready and set up for them.
The “look” of the characters and all of the details created by the artist’s vision end up becoming a sort of “brand” for that class. It is their “look.”
The class brand is usually the result of a certain teenage way of drawing a character that is different from anything else, a mixture of many elements and artistic ideas taken from the Internet and pop culture. Classes end up being very aware of and even defending their brand to others in the hallways and around campus.
Before working with the Invisibles, I would have continued to think that teaching using comprehensible input was just about me getting better at using CI, but now I see that it is about my working with students in terms of the jobs that they have in my classroom as well, and not just the job I have in it.
I will never forget Brianna’s drawings, their well-chosen captions and all the sorts of clever ways she had to visually transmit information to the class via her medium. She had found her niche in my classroom. The class had found the creator of its “brand” within the building. I had found a gem whom I never would have found without this process.
Every one of Brianna’s drawings all year was a work of art, and, when they were displayed on the back wall of the room, people were immediately drawn to them. Brianna turned my classroom into an art gallery!
In one class it became clear to me early on that one girl was truly gifted at drawing. But Brianna had to wait to see if she landed the position since other kids—who are at an age where the word “fairness” is next to sacred—had not all had a chance to draw and show off their talents.
After her own audition, Brianna was withdrawn, hard to read, a very still-waters-run-deep kind of student who actually sulked during class when other students were at the easel auditioning for the job, because she knew it was her job.
How are the artists chosen? At the beginning of the year, we “audition” students for the role of artist. We want a gifted two-artist team that can work together quickly, quietly, and harmoniously, and turn out big, bold, clear drawings, and we use the beginning of the year to find that two-artist team by giving each candidate a chance at the easel or table for one class period. After a month or so, we know who are artists will be.
Rightly chosen, the class artists can have a huge positive impact on the overall classroom process. In fact, in terms of the overall “feel” of the class, no job is more important.
When thinking about next year, it is safe to say that getting it right with the artists is perhaps the most important thing of all, if you are going to use the Invisibles and the student jobs. So this post starts a series of nine articles over the next week on just them:
These one word image drawings are from Anne’s gallery in Maine. She accompanied them with a wonderful celebratory note to me, one deeply appreciated:
…I don’t know if I have ever thanked you properly for the OWIs and Invisibles. As I look at the back wall of my classroom it strikes me that this has revolutionized my teaching like nothing else ever has. So much love, fun, and esprit de corps shining through those ridiculous beautiful pictures. THANK YOU!…
Q. Today is Individually Created Images Day and they are having a blast! I know the next step is to get them into gradually increasing in size groups to vote on the best ones. What do I do once we have a winner? Or whatever one I choose?
A. They go from groups of two to groups of four, each time choosing the best one. You will end up with the final choice of the two remaining at the end of the elimination process, and you choose the one for the story. Have each group assign 4 points for the image and 6 points for the six points on the back story and the characters advance through the process of groups of 2, then 4, then 8 students, etc. Assigning points out of ten to determine the final two “contestants” for the story that day allows you to choose the winner of the final two best ones that advance to the “finals”. This must be done by points and not by whimsy, which of course we know can immediately get kids upset if they don’t think it’s “fair”.
Then give the character chosen for the story that day to the artist (who needs to consult it for her work when she draws the story) and off she goes.
If you give them class time to draw, and this is really important, give them the whole period. Ten minutes is not enough. The images must be part and parcel of each kid’s soul, as it were. Once the best images emerge, you will see the other kids working on their images intensely at home over hours to get them into the story.
Here are the Director’s Cues mentioned as a major tool in the milking processes described earlier in this series of posts. They are also listed in A Natural Approach to Stories (ANATS) and in A Natural Approach to the Year (ANATTY). Properly posted (high above the screen), they can be easily used at any point in class to really milk sentences in a theatrical way. Use them either during the creation of an Invisibles story or during the Reading from the Back of the Room (#6 of the Reading Options) strategy.
The thing is, I don’t know how many of us here actually are even doing NTCI as described in A Natural Approach to Stores (ANATS) and in A Natural Approach to the Year (ANATTY). So it would be nice to collect some information about that and to read some general reactions to this shift in how we define CI instruction in our classrooms.
If you decide to give feedback, the consent is here: https://tamucehd.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9XLw3wJHIBaEKrP
and the survey is here: https://tamucehd.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5iEU1pQIpE1NPcV
We don’t hear a lot of excited conversations in our buildings or online where people are talking about how wonderful it is to teach object pronoun agreement and verb conjugations….teachers who still do that are increasingly reaching the point in the river where the river ends and the waterfall begins and down they go, dinosaurs bobbing in the water and now finally falling into the depths of bad-ideas-in-language teaching that lasted way too long.
Now, 25 years after Blaine Ray set about consciously to design a way of teaching languages that is fully based on the best research out there that is still the best research and that has never been refuted, i.e. the work of Chomsky and Terrell and Krashen and Mason and Wong and the other comprehensible input gurus, we have storytelling.
And what kind of storytelling? For me it’s the cool kind where we don’t target and circle and test and force learning on the students – what in my opinion TPRS has become? In my view the best way to deliver CI to our students – in my opinion – is via non-targeted stories and working from images instead of word lists as discussed in detail here and in ANATS and ANATTY over the past year.
Making life better is one subtle but real reason I can see for teaching. The “uplifting others” factor makes it no longer a job with pay and benefits but a profession, as in we “profess to use our position in society to help others no matter what we have to go through to do it”.
That is called service to others and service has a certain divine quality that makes work REAL.
In order to be able to do this profession, we have to, we absolutely must, get some sort of feeling of emotional reward* back from it into ourselves, because otherwise it would be all giving and that is not healthy, to give without getting something back, if anyone can relate to that idea….).
So we suffer in this profession (name me one teacher who doesn’t suffer in this profession and I will show you a bad teacher) – and there is no hyperbole in the use of that word – but in suffering we do something for the greater good of those around us and our society in general as per the previous article here on teen suicide. Teaching is a very high kind of social service work.
How does teaching work to serve us as well as our students and colleagues? How does that work? Well, in my view, ours is one of the few professions in which we can, if things go right in our training and we plummet deep into the bone marrow of the profession, be really creative.
We can have a job that is creative! We can turn language teaching from a job into a profession and from there into a form of art. How many professions can you say that about?
And it is a social art where, by bringing the simple yet much needed qualities of laughter, group creativity and love – again there is absolutely no hyperbole in the use of that word, love – into our language instruction, we can on certain days leave our buildings having experienced something like a party, but without the alcohol and other stimulants associated with “having fun”.
Teaching can be good clean fun everyday and so that is how we can uplift ourselves, and our students and yes, even some of the sad and needy and anxious and freaked out administrators, if we happen to have any of those in our building.
*not just from the four percenter students, but from all of them