Dori Vittetoe

I have known Dori for at least seven years. She’s in Parker in SE Denver and came to visit me when I was teaching in middle school in Jefferson County. She seemed so appreciative of what I thought were some pretty mediocre classes. That tells me that Dori has a lot of heart. And she was up in Breckenridge last year with her boys Manny and Mateo. There are people that you never feel judged by and that is Dori, a most important member of our group. Here is her bio:
Hi Ben!  Hi everyone!
I’ll be honest: I’ve put off writing this bio because everyone else has written such a good bio; I’ve started this one no less than 5 times.  I feel like our students!  Always wondering if I’ll be compared to my classmates.  Really makes me see what they feel like.
So I won’t start this one again.  I’m just going to tell you about my journey to and in CI teaching, and whatever it is will have to be good enough.
I’ve dabbled in TPRS for probably a decade.  I have no idea how I first heard about it.  I attended a workshop by Blaine Ray and bought his book Fluency through TPRStorytelling (is that what it’s called?)  I observed Susie Gross at Cheyenne Mountain Junior High and Diana Noonan and her colleague Bitty at East.  But it was only when I started taking Fluency Fast classes in Spanish (4 levels!), Arabic, and Chinese that I really got the power and the art of this method.  I’ve since observed Ben twice (he’s so generous to open his classroom so often), and I’ve attended workshops by Von Ray, Karen Rowan, and NTPRS in Vermont.  I used to read the yahoo group, but after Ben started his blog, I’ve pretty much been reading it, with a side visit to Laurie’s and Michele’s.  I really think the blogs are the way to go.  It’s like having the best darn department in the world (even if your real department isn’t on the same wavelength.)
I lost my first job in Colorado because my principal didn’t understand comprehensible input.  She said after I get settled we could talk about my “little philosophy.”  So when I came to my current school, I was very covert.  My department chair said I couldn’t use it because it didn’t work, but the building resource teacher said if it’s a valid method, I could use it.  So I did, but I never talked about it or mentioned it by name.  But as I continued to grow the French program, I was a little less secretive, and then I was outed by a colleague who is no longer here.  My principal totally supports TPRS because she’s seen that while our Spanish numbers have dropped as our school has lost 300 students, my French numbers have not.  She loves seeing the engagement and the massive amounts of target language being used, but she doesn’t really get CI, and that’s okay.  She makes comments about language teaching and learning that are not CI-based, but I say nothing, because all that’s important is that she sees kids engaged, hearing French, reading French, and speaking French to me in the halls (okay, just “bonjour, madame” but still!), and that’s good enough for me.
What’s really working now is that my kids LOVE stories and LOVE how much they can do in the language without doing any homework.  My kids have great accents, no longer speak in infinitives (if you ever taught French with a textbook, you know what I mean), and are starting to use French more.  One 7th grader (true beginner) said 3 perfect sentences today, and then tried with fairly good success to say, “My dad irritates my mom.”  I have a great classroom library built with Scholastic mags, Reading A-Z books, some French children’s books, and lots of picture books written and illustrated by past students.
What’s challenging for me now is that my kids go on to a teacher who teaches the textbook.  She’s very good, very thorough, very traditional.  She gives LOADS of homework (past students say more than any of their other classes) and expects them to know the vocabulary from the book.  So I admit I’ve caved a bit: 2nd semester French 1B (8th grade) I do a verb tournament.  Kids learn to conjugate the 10 verbs covered in high school French 1.  One quiz a week, subsequent quizzes are all cumulative, so by the last quiz, they’re conjugating all 10 verbs.  Get all 3’s and 4’s (with retakes possible) they win some prizes at the end of the year.  Basically, I teach the verb through songs.  Each verb has its own song.  And guess what?  You know it.  When they get to high school, they email me for the song sheet and tell me how helpful it was.  The high school teacher just tells them to memorize it.  So my kids can only achieve if I make sure they know their verbs and the important vocab.
My TPRS challenges are as follows:  questioning in PQA, circling in stories, questioning in reading, finding good novels for level 1, creating my own story scripts.  I am trying to follow Matava’s and Tripp’s story script format in order to do the important structures that I think students need, but that will also help them be successful in high school.  I know we can’t win the language race (and achieve world peace!) if I can’t prepare students to continue taking French.
So in a nutshell, I’m always looking for ideas for better circling, better scripts, tighter weekly schedule, and a great supportive community.  I’ve found that here.



6 thoughts on “Dori Vittetoe”

  1. Thank you for posting your bio! It is always wonderful to read about our colleagues out there in CI land 🙂 It sounds like you are doing a great job. I, too, struggle with trying to keep all of the balls in the air. The other 3 Spanish teachers in my department are coming around to thinking that TPRS is the way to teach. Now it is just a matter of convincing the district to let us “do it our way”. There is hope! (I just uploaded my gravatar so we’ll see if it shows up here)

  2. I love your bio, thank you for sharing! Like Louisa said, it sounds like you are doing great! I’m the only TPRS teacher in a district with about 8 Spanish teachers. I know that there are some districts around where I live where you have to be secretive about TPRS. The high school I graduate from, for example, is one of them. The superintendent used to be a Spanish teacher and she is very traditional, I was told by my former, retired Spanish teacher that TPRS is a “bad word” to use during an interview there.

  3. Sorry to hear that you hit a deer. But so glad that you posted your bio. Today I was just telling someone that my second year students (my fault—I had not been confident enough to use CI with them last year until way late in the year) still use infinitives for everything. But my first year students with CI this year just don’t do that, because of the way verb structures are used in context. I like your verb songs idea. Are your verb songs original? I would like to hear more about them.
    I am with you in feeling like we have our own department here, which is really appreciated and needed given the way things are going at my school.
    Nice “to meet” you. Dori.

  4. I loved your administrator saying “little philosophy.” Your situation sounds so similar to ours. Especially the students going on to a book-teacher next year. Congrats on that thriving French program.

  5. Hi, and nice to meet you! I’m also in the same boat as you – having to send my kids off to a textbook colleague. So, if you could share your ideas on the verb songs, that would be terrific.
    Btw, I am from a little village in the Austrian Alps. So I know everything about hitting dear (with a car, tractor or crashing into them on your skis). Just wondering, do you also call the local “Gasthaus” (= restaurant, the owner of which is also usually the local forest ranger) so they can put it on the menu? Venison with red cabbage is absolutely divine (oops, now I also outed myself as a carnivore). However, I do not advocate hitting deer for that reason 😉

  6. For those of you who asked about the verb songs: I take popular tunes that they know and we sing the verbs. We don’t sing the words, though, we sing the letters. I’d love to sing the words, but they say they can’t remember how to write them as well that way, and my ONLY reason for doing this is to get them to be successful in high school. For regular verb endings, we sing the -er verbs to “In the jungle, the might jungle” from the Lion King. So we sing, e es e e ons ez ent ent. For irregular verbs, we sing the spelling of the entire verb: to the tune of Winnie the Pooh the verb vouloir: veux, veux, veut, voulons, voulez, veulent. For the verb pouvoir the Grinch song: peux, peux, peut, peut, pouvons, pouvez, peuvent. And etre is to the tune of Frere Jacques: suis, es, est, est, est, sommes, etes (and we do the gesture for an accent circonflexe ˆ), sont, sont. Nothing amazing; just helps them remember when they get to high school. I just think it’s ironic that the person who wants them to conjugate hasn’t given them an easy way to remember it so they still contact me! Whatever it takes to keep them learning language.

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