In doing PQA in the first few months of the academic year, it is just pure P. Such PQA builds confidence in the students while creating the feeling of trust and fun in the classroom, creating with that some very bizarre individuals instead of mere students.
Such PQA can be extended into little scenes – what I call extended PQA – but rarely goes further than that, because then it would become a story. In this early kind of PQA we want 100% transparency of language (Krashen’s term).
That level of transparency is hard to attain if we start the year off with stories, so we just talk to the kids about themselves (Circling with Balls cards and reverse side Questionnaires, etc.) in those first months. This allows us to go ultra slowly. Our goal then, as we begin the year, is to just get to know the kids while giving them some ultra simple language.
When we find ourselves at the end of the class period and we have only talked about one CWBalls card and three or four questions on the back of the card, we may fret because we did “so little”, but we cannot afford to think that way in those first months – establishing that Tommy is a guitariste and wants to be called Tommy the Guitar Hero and is afraid of cats personalizes while keeping the language transparent – 100% accessible – to the kids. In those first months, we are not ready for stories.
And, since the kids have such limited language, there is no choice – we have to go that slowly so that they understand. I would bet that most of us haven’t even gotten through even half of our cards yet, here in January. That’s not such a bad thing, because it means that that the kids are now defined in terms of what they do and their silly names and all of that, and we have indeed created a classroom of Bizarro characters that will only get larger over the year.
The bigger the class, up to around 35 or 40 in my opinion, the better in TPRS, because we have more to choose from to make each day’s discussion that much more zany.
Early year PQA, then, is building P for the sake of P. Le P for pour le P, as it were, as we give our students simple language gains and thus build their confidence and trust that we won’t shame them with stuff they can’t do, which is a constant threat in their other classes. It’s all about them and everything we do is focused entirely on them and how wonderful and funny and creative they are. We thus set up our year.
Now, when their language is strong enough, and they can understand big chunks of words fast, around November for me this year, there is always a point where the personalities and the funny names are sufficiently developed and the feeling of trust within the classroom is there, that we feel ready to move on from that first kind of PQA (getting to know the kids) and move into an entirely different, next, kind of PQA, that of getting a story going, which we all know as Step One of TPRS.
In this second kind of PQA, it is not about getting to know the kids. We can’t focus on building P in the second kind of PQA because it doesn’t work – there is a story to get going and the story must get all of our attention.
I found that out the hard way – years ago I was doing a little workshop with 15 Spanish teachers in my own classroom after school, with some kids who were willing to stay for that. It was entitled “How to Personalize Stories” and I honestly thought that if I held the questionnaire in my hand I would be able to personalize the (Amy Catania) story.
I was going to drive the information from the questionnaires into the script. It didn’t work. It just didn’t work. I was sweating then, because the story kept developing and not one item of information from a single script got in – I just couldn’t make it happen. I felt like a biscuit.
It happened because stories have a life of their own, and can’t really be personalized like we can do in the first early in the year kind of PQA, except for the fact that our students are the actors. I hope that point is clear. In stories, P connected to earlier PQA may happen, but stories themselves, their nature, change what P is and so it is of a different quality.
I think that is one reason why some of us prefer just plain old PQA over stories. We can circle Tommy the Guitar Hero for awhile, and then, using Blaine’s genius formula of circling to saturation and then bringing in a new event or character, create, as Anne did once, create an actual rock band made up of students in the classroom.
But in stories all the student can do is stand there and act, representing the character that the class has created in the first few moments of the story, and not Tommy from class.
So, when we start the story, doing Step One, we simply teach the three structures, gesture them briefly, and then start to PQA the structures that lend themselves to personalized discussion for awhile, but not with the goal of adding more P to the classroom environment – rather, to practice the structures so that the story flows along easily – there is a difference.