Essential Sentences

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8 thoughts on “Essential Sentences”

  1. Today I did an Embedded Reading and then a dictation with my level 1 classes. As we worked through the accretions to the basic story, I pointed out that they were also learning something about what is non-essential detail and what is basic to a story. I’m hoping that later they will have an easier time discerning “the essentials” in a text, both in terms of core structure in a sentence and in terms of “core story” in a longer text.

    I need to work more on Embedded Reading, but it’s like everything else: you have to add your ingredients slowly so that they mix smoothly with everything else and don’t leave “clumps”. (Don’t know why that came out as a baking analogy, but it did.)

  2. Thanks Robert (and Ben for posting)! I strangely enough will have a sub on Monday and this is the perfect thing for my Spanish 3 class (the really small one) to do.

    I tweaked a few things, minor details. I think I remember you recently asked for feedback on something you’d shared. Well, in case you’d like to see what I tweaked, I’ll paste it here quick.
    Read chapters 1-2 of Los Baker Van a Perú
    –You may not get all the way through Chapter 2. That’s ok. As long as you’re involved with the reading the entire time.
    Choose 10-12 Essential Sentences that tell the story so far
    *An Essential Sentence contains basic, necessary information
    *An Essential Sentence is often the main sentence of a paragraph
    Copy the Essential Sentences
    –With the piece of cardstock, make 6 squares on each side of the paper (12 total).
    –Write the essential sentence at the bottom of each square, but leave plenty of room for an illustration
    Illustrate the sentences
    -The drawing must show that you understand the essential sentence
    -The drawing needs to be clear
    -The drawing does not need to be great
    -Stick figures are wonderful
    I’m looking for the following things:
    –Can I read what you’ve written
    –Relevance and pertinence of sentences
    –Do these sentences tell us something essential?
    –Do these sentences reveal something indispensable about the characters?
    –Do these sentences move the story forward?
    –Do these sentences speak to the theme of the story?
    –Are the sentences written correctly on your paper?
    –Depth of understanding as shown by drawings
    –Do the drawings show that you understand the sentences?
    –Do the drawings show that you are making connections?
    *The drawings do not have to be great artwork – that isn’t the point. They do have to convey your understanding of the reading.

  3. Wow, thanks guys, that sounds like an awesome exercise to promote reading for understanding.
    I just estimated how much more my students have read in the past two months of school in comparison with the other three classes that use the textbook and extensions. It must be at least four times that much! Even if only a little of the reading stuck, I’m sure they’re learning much faster with TPRS now.

  4. Reading, not listening, is the key to TPRS/CI, in my opinion. However, listening is required for reading to happen, so they must be made to work together in a kind of artful balancing act by the teacher.

    Now, what is more valuable, readings based on stories or readings based on novels? In my opinion it is readings based on stories, because the vocabulary in those (step 3 of TPRS) readings have been exhaustively heard first in steps 1 and 2, whereas the vobulary that the kids encounter in novels is more diffuse and amorphous.

    That is why I think that stories should precede novels and that novels should be read beginning only in level 2. I have found that it gives the kids much more confidence to read a “beginning” novel (caution on that word is advised) in level 2 than in level 1. Reading too many novels too early is a mistake, for the reason given above.

    Pauvre Anne is a good beginning novel – it only has 300 words in it. The kids at level 1 can read that in the spring easily. That is what we want, for it to be really easy, almost effortless, for them.

    Again, even we educators – who have studied Krashen and his ideas about how unconscious and effortless language acquisition should be – still buy into the archaic idea that learning should be all toil and sweat and hard work.

    It shouldn’t be! Kids wait years to read when learning their first language and it’s still hard for them. It’s not about sweat – it should be sweet and fun and natural. It should be play!

    1. This is an important reply, Ben. If we find ourselves spending most of our time backward planning and prepping our students to read a novel, something is terribly wrong. They’re not ready. The end.

      My only quibble would be “calling” a level at which they’ll be ready (I know you’re just eyeballing it for our benefit.) Level 2, 2.5, 3–are just numbers. Looks different at different ages and developmental levels, too. I believe teachers need to lay the groundwork, as you have described it so eloquently, and “notice” when a novel would be easy and almost effortless for their students. Then, and only then, should they be doing this kind of extended reading. I can’t torture kids with reading. Doesn’t work.

  5. And THAT is an important reply. This idea that we are discussing here today – the idea of when to start novels – is brand new, to my knowledge, in the TPRS/CI community. It is a new discussion.

    About four years ago we realized the importance of reading in Denver Public Schools and I think that Diana may have gone overboard with it. We probably have more of Blaine’s readers (Carol’s new and better books weren’t available at the time) than anyone. We had young TPRS teachers in DPS getting crazy with four novels a year at level 1.

    The correct idea that reading novels is key to acquiring a language did not take into account that the reading should be easy – effortless to use Krashen’s term – and we don’t do that right now in the general TPRS/CI community. We still think it’s about effort.

    So what to do. Well, we can do stuff that has emerged here recently from Robert and Andrew (David’s idea of textivating texts pertains mainly only to stories, the way I understand it), so doing Essential Sentences and aWB (Andrew’s Writing Beast) is a start.

    But why don’t we just hold off on the novels until the kids are ready to roll with them, sans effort? Now this takes it all back to the assessment monsters that we all have to wrestle with. We can’t do that because of the way district testing is currently set up. How can the kids take assessments on reading and writing and speaking at the end of level 1 if all they have done is listen to stories? Then we look bad and, if I know this group, we don’t like to look bad.

    It’s the poisoning of Krashen’s ideas by schools and the way they are set up. Krashen has been busting his hump for thirty years now to show the world how people REALLY acquire languages, by listening and reading for thousands of hours before doing the two output skills, and then even we, the fricking teachers who align with Krashen, try to change his findings to align with packing the instruction of all four skills into 125 hours and give assessments that reflect back heavily on our teaching and job performance after level 1.

    My level 1 kids last year, who don’t know English, wrote like shit last year, and everybody said “Oh, it’s those Latino kids – they can’t even write in English!” I don’t think that that’s it. I think that we in the TPRS/CI world are focusing on the interpretive (reading) and presentational (writing and speaking) skills WAY too early.

    If that is true and we are making a mockery of what Krashen is really saying about how learning a language should be effortless, while quoting him all the time, then we suck.

  6. I just tried Robert’s “Essential Questions” for the very first time this week, using chapter 4 of El nuevo Houdini. My students don’t actually mind doing free-writes (well, most of them anyway) and some complained at the beginning that this would not be “fun.” However, I have never seen such concentration and focus!
    The kids who don’t like to write were happy b/c they could just choose pre-written sentences. The artistic kids were happy b/c they got to be creative in that way. And I was really happy b/c that was the most peaceful class I ever had to teach–I wasn’t even teaching, really.
    We’d covered the chapter first so that everyone understood the meaning and then they were on their own. I looked over the results and it looks like they got it. I’m planning to do the same thing now with chapter 8 from the same book.

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