Everyone's Terrified – Read This

Sharing and presenting this method is very weird and it is very difficult to reach people, honestly. There seems to be an energy against it, if you know what I mean, and the work of reaching people is much more difficult than I would have ever thought.
The reasons for the privacy of the blog are even more apparent to me now due to the fact that, maybe because it is an authentic shift of paradigm, confusion reigns when we try to share it with others. That’s because it’s not a method, but kind of a style, a process, that must be unique to each person who tries to tame it.
Last year in my former school, the team there didn’t want it. The principal didn’t get it. It was pure hell because I clearly was a target. Moreover, I just got an email from a colleague in another state who, explainging what the process has been in her district, said:
…it took two solid years of hard work to build consensus to go ahead with it. And now that it’s been approved, everyone’s terrified of the change ahead and afraid of starting….
Another example of how confusion is tearing things up: I just got an email from a colleague in another state, a member of this group, was was fired over the summer, and, from what I can figure out, I sense it was because his talent is so sky high with this stuff that he rocked the boat way too hard just by rocking on in his classroom.
In fact, this kind of thing – this firing or re-assigning, or riffing of teachers – has happened before in the TPRS community. The list goes on and on – we all have our stories, as it were. When we decide to embrace this method we are doing so at great professional risk, and new teachers, especially, need to know that.
My mentor, Susan Gross, made a mean dig here last night, calling what we are doing in this group “secret blather”. It was in the form of a comment to something Bryce had written. She wanted us to all go be members of the other list, the new one Scott started. I deleted the comment and deleted her account to the blog. Why? Because we can’t afford any little bit of criticism here in this work that is already such a slippery slope to get up. All we can afford here is positive unconditional regard.
Why am I saying all this? It is for the most important of reasons. We have to keep in 100% open contact about every detail of our work together or the work will fail. It will fall like a house of cards.
For example, and this is the real point of this blog entry, the four videos I have put up in the past two days, hastily and in the spirit of just throwing up work so that we all can get to into the feeling of just letting down our defenses and throwing up what video we can get, and therefore do some real work – those videos have not had the desired training effect in introducing storyasking. I sense that.
Nobody came out and said it, and I wish they had. Nobody – in the spirit of honesty that we need to cultivate here so much – came out and said, “Ben, these videos are not clear.” But nobody did.
So I will say it – the videos are not clear. But, the good part is, I know why. Those kids in that particular class, it turns out, are ALL fluent in Spanish. Moreover, and this is very important, we PQA’d the three targets which are about all you see in those videos well over 200 times for three days last week. The result is a beginning class in it’s fourth week that is not really a beginning class at all. The combination of fluency in Spanish and  all that PQA sped the class way up.
So, today I am going to teach three brand new structures, all of which these kids don’t know. I am going to teach them because the kids don’t know them and they are needed to go further into the story. Here are the structures I will target and video today:
1. va/est allé – goes/went
2. frappe/a frappé – hits/hit
3. ouvre le paquet!/a ouvert le paquet – open the package!/opened the package
Now, this gives us insight into the method. All we do in using comprehensible input is – the bottom of all bottom lines – is that we choose a structure or a few structures that we want to teach (I need to teach these because they are in Matava’s story script and the kids don’t know them andwe want to finish the story so that we can do a reading) and we repeat them in a comprehensible way over and over and over and over until the students comprehend the input that we are delivering.
That is all there is to it, the entire enchilada. You pick something you want to teach, you tell you students what it means,  you gesture it, you use it a bit (PQA) – maybe not 200 times because then if you make a video for your friends they will think you are going too fast and they won’t understand what is going on – and then you put it into some kind of comprehensible input, like a story but it doesn’t have to be a story, and you’re done.
Hopefully today, since the kids don’t know, have never heard, these expressions, the people who have been following this thread can get a much clearer idea of how we work with stories. If not, I will try again with more video. My commitment is to you, many of whom can’t get to workshops because some are up in Canada and two in Russia and on and on and we have to do this in spite of all the lovely confusion and negativity and pushback that we get.
I just wish I had the newly edited DPS footage of my French 1 and not French 2 classes from last year. That would help a lot. But we work with what we have. We work with what we have in a spirit of non-judgement and unconditional positive regard, and one day at a time.
That made me think of an idea. I have access to some of the best new DPS teachers doing level 1 classes from last spring, when we went on this big video initiative in the district. It’s good stuff. I will ask permission to use that here. We are going to do this, and we are going to keep the group small and private. We have to have that to do the real work.



17 thoughts on “Everyone's Terrified – Read This”

  1. I’ll admit to having to look up the word “blather,” but I don’t really see it as such or understand how it could be perceived as blather. I think part of the problem is that we do not know how to critique each other. What are we looking for in watching these videos? Is it interaction with students, is it nailing target structures, is it comprehension checks, is it classroom management?
    I think all of this will unfold as the experiment progresses.

    1. Drew I had the same thought today. What are we looking for? I am thinking I need to voiceover all of the tape from the week and publish two versions, one with and one without commentary. I can tell you what I am doing and identify targets and you can maybe see it more clearly. Honestly, if I didn’t know French I am not sure this would make much sense. I know it makes sense to the kids because I am constantly monitoring their eyes, but so much is lost with the video. I will look into that this weekend. Maybe it’ll work.

  2. Secret blather?
    Video not clear?
    Perhaps I’m not on the same blog channel as some others – I’ve found here, for the first time, a serious group of professionals working together through the challenging nitty gritty of teaching another language. Regarding your video, I felt it showed clearly (that is, as clear as a post-PQA story intro in a language I do not know) the process we are all trying to learn.

    1. Right on Brian. You instill confidence in me with your bright and positive energy and your clear perception of what I am trying to do against some big odds (what we are doing has never been done in TPRS or any other from of language instruction). I appreciate you.

  3. I think I understand where Susie is coming from, though I also disagree. This group represents the most serious and beneficial professional development I’ve had in 13 years of teaching. That’s saying something.
    To keep it public for the benefit of all is great, but given the circumstances that Ben outlines above, I understand his desire to keep it behind a wall. Perhaps as part of this experiment we could assign a group of admins who might develop some baseline understandings for sharing out information from this site. For instance, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to want to copy/paste Bryce’s transcribed conversation with the girl who’s scared of spiders and send it to a colleague who teaches upper levels but thinks CI-based teaching doesn’t apply.
    By the same token, it would be an abuse of confidence to give out the private video links.
    Regarding the critiquing of video – I think we’re at a stage where we are learning about what this forum provides us. Many of us just yearn for the opportunity to see others do this thing called CI on their home turf –
    As we progress, as Drew stated, we’ll be better able to zero in on some things – September – everyone send in 10 video of you circling wth balls and viewers critique 1 of 3 categories. October, send in video of a one word image and critique this or that… Perhaps we’re heading that way, or perhaps not.

  4. I observed a colleague teach twice this week and I have attended training in our district, so that I can be a peer observer, but I don’t really know what kind of feedback to give people for TPRS. The first day, I watched and told her what I would have done differently. The second day, I just watched and told her what she did. In the training, it said to ask self-reflective questions, so the observed teacher thinks about what happened. Some of my colleagues attended TPRS training this summer and want me to observe them and give them feedback and want to come and observe me, but what is the most helpful way to go about it?

  5. Susie has a documented posted that she calls an administrator’s checklist for observing a TPRS classroom. But, the format is different than it was before. I like the older format/content better.

  6. I think Drew hit the nail on the head. I think we need a common lens, and an “observation check list” would provide that. I think it is very important that we start using a common set of criteria as we attempt to give helpful, encouraging feedback to our colleagues.
    I have one from Susie’s site but am not sure if it is the “right” one…

  7. One idea for feedback is for whomever submits the video to specify what s/he would like us to focus on. Of course we could also add other things we might notice, but this way people could ask us to zero in on something they are consciously working on. Everyone is different and at different stages in this process. I am eager to send in a video, but need to wait until our school media clearance waivers are in place. I think my rooms are too small to be able to film only the back of the kids or to block them out entirely.
    I just finished day 5 of classes, and am still transitioning into school mode while also doing crazy things like driving to Boston 2x in the last week to see long lost friends. But I CAN do these crazy things only because I am free from the shackles of paperwork and complicated so-called lesson plans and the inauthenticity that poisoned my teaching life before. Oh and did I mention that I just love going in each day?!?! Who’d a thunk it?!?!
    My big take-away from the videos so far is seeing others’ students (much like mine) not quite in the game as far as suggesting answers that are “outside the box.” My kids are still in the “reality mode” in this respect too. So far they are only suggesting “the right answer.” I guess it will take some time until they willingly and purposely suspend their disbelief.
    I am definitely still norming the class and trying to get into a flow. Definitely still in a honeymoon phase because the kids are still dazzled by the fact that they “don’t have to bring anything to class. It’s so relaxing.” Yes. A kid actually said that.

  8. I too think that we should have some specific points to focus on when watching other colleagues videos. It would help me to know what to focus on and what specifically I should be providing feedback on. I’m really enjoying the video piece because I’m one of the only teachers in my district that uses TPRS. It’s so refreshing to connect with you guys and see what is really happening in other classrooms.

  9. Ben, what you’ve created here is truly unique and important: not only the massive amount of posting and comments that are at the leading edge of our profession, but now especially as we turn this exciting corner into video sharing. (I’m still getting permission for video-taping. I’ve had some great classes go recently, and I’m eager to share, including when I mess up.)
    I fully support your decision to make this a private blog, and even to remove people who don’t remain supportive. Of course that doesn’t mean that we’re not rigorous with each other. But I do hope that this blog expands, big time. Not yet, not soon even. We’re taking baby steps, getting organized and figuring out how to help each other.
    I appreciate that Susie wants this to be public, bigger, available to all. It’s not realistic at this point, but eventually perhaps. In the meantime I hope that Susie somehow gets invited back, assuming she wants to participate and be supportive of Ben and everyone, because she could make a huge contribution with her experience and wisdom.

  10. Ben she really is the best trainer of all. But I am – you are, we are, they are, he is she is – we are all going pedal to the metal right now, when it counts because in a few months it will be way too late to make our years great ones. And that comment from Susie, with the way we are all trying to be positive right now, just hit me the wrong way. We are working so hard right now, some of us waking up at nights over it, scared, rewiring deeply held patterns about what teaching is, plowing new fields and ways to help each other using the technology generously provided here by God, that any hint of negativity or of telling us we need to do something differently is not going to fly. Our project, our butterfly, is too delicate, too new, to get any soot on it. I’ve never met a bunch of colleagues who are willing to do the full Monty here emotionally and professionally. We have to protect what we are doing and I intend to keep this group small.

  11. Ben, This is the first forum I know of which has acknowledged the psychological intensity of our daily interactions with students, rather than dismissing it as a sign of a teacher’s lack of activities for kids to keep busy doing. I am so done with piling up things for the kids to do, in order not to feel like a bad teacher. TPRS allows us to clear away the busywork, as Jen said, but the actual work in the classroom (especially in this crucial time) is exhilarating, draining and extremely precarious. So I too am glad that you are choosing to potentially err on the side of caution in your moderation of the blog, though hopefully we can all straighten out misunderstandings once the school year is in full swing for all of us (I am only now finishing my first full week). As you say, in a month it will be too late to make any big changes to the classroom culture we have established during these weeks, and that is scary as hell, way scarier than any grading period deadline. We need all the support we can get.

  12. Two things: First, on Monday I finished a week and two days of circling (about half or 2/3 of class time) and traditional TPR the other half. I copied the idea from here of comparing them to myself and having them all do the activity better than me. (One girl asked me if I could do anything well, she felt sorry for me–I told her I speak French better than they do). I could use a little advice for how to expand this sequence–though successful (I used bleaters for the MAIS, very fun, thank you for that idea, too), it runs out of steam at a certain point, or I feel some kids getting antsy, so I move on to the TPR, which I feel very confident with and I know the kids like it because they can move around. Some ideas for expansion after “Who plays basketball better, Mme. B or Xavier?” Xavier, of course” etc. I haven’t finished all the cards, so I can still use this for a few more kids.
    Second, I know the honeymoon period is now over, because now I’m having to refer to the rules, remind them, explain them for some reluctant ones, etc. So, in the spirit of the preceding posts, I may be asking for the special support needed at this time of year to make sure the whole year goes well. I do have very big classes in the afternoon (31 kids per class). To complicate matters further, we have gone on strike (you might have heard in the national news–Tacoma). The strike started on Tuesday, so I’m sure it may be a little more chaotic once we start back after this hiatus (though when not picketing, I can have the time to read this blog more carefully because I don’t actually have kids the next day to prepare for).

  13. I have not posted anything to the blog since before NTPRS in St. Louis but have been reading most of the posts. I have been thinking a lot about Ben’s comments that more or less say that he will not permit students to be not attentive. I suppose that I will have to lay down the law again and insist on this in a more firm way. On the other hand the high school where I teach at is about 90% reduced lunch. I have many students who don’t eat breakfast. I have several that work 40 hour weeks at Fed Ex (It’s very tough work moving all those boxes.) I have several that work at gas stations and restaurants until nearly midnight and then the school opens at 7 a.m. with the first class beginning at 7:25 a.m. Many kids are supporting their whole families. Grinding poverty is taking its toll on many students. So it is not always easy trying to figure out where to draw the line. Many students are so exhausted that you can wake them up for a while but then they want to sleep 5 or 10 minutes later. Having said that, I will take Ben’s approach of modeling and insisting more on attention from everyone.
    I also wanted to say that NTPRS in St. Louis was my best one ever. I had been a little disappointed with the previous two NTPRS conferences that I attended but the new format seemed to be a good one. I totally appreciated the extra attention to SLOW. I absorbed so much from Linda Li and Ben in this regard. It also helped that I went to the gym nearly every night and that I ate better and was more well rested. I liked the format of previous conferences where we would spend nearly half of most days learning another language but this can also be exhausting.
    I attended the national Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. at the end of July. Krashen was one of the endorsers but was unable to attend. At NTPRS in St. Louis I asked him if I could pass out flyers at one of his workshops about the march and he was very grateful that I had asked him. Along with the march the organizers also had a 4 day conference at American University. I was able to attend 2 days of the conference. These people are our co-thinkers and leaders in the fight against the current disastrous course of American public education. Matt Damon was the final speaker. His speech was a gem. Here are a few links
    I support all the rationale behind the need for the blog to be private. There is so much fear among teachers throughout the U.S. right now. Our schools are more and more being run by corporate types who have not the slightest idea of what good instruction is and can only see the world through the prism of test scores.
    A good thing about the blog is that it gives us a lot of confidence. This confidence is needed as we defend what we are trying to do as we deal with administrators and other teachers.
    As I have previously stated, I am all over the place with my teaching (Spanish 2, ESL and Spanish for native speakers at a high school and also Spanish and Portuguese at a community college). NTPRS was once again a lonely place for an ESL teacher. I did, however, find a teacher, Caroline Freund, who taught ESL in Italy who seemed to be in a situation similar to mine. My ESL students this semester are almost entirely refugees from Nepal and Burma/Myanmar (Karen, Karenni and Chin language groups). As I have stated before, teaching ESL to Spanish speakers does not count because its so ridiculously easy.
    I had some good conversations with the coaches about teaching ESL. They seemed to have a better understanding about the challenges of ESL and had some good advice. My dream is that one of the many talented people who participate in this blog would also try their hand at ESL (to students with whom they do not share another language). The good thing about teaching ESL is that there is a clear understanding that the goal MUST be proficiency in the English language. That does not mean they are very good about getting there but at least they do not live in the insanity of most foreign language teachers who are all wrapped up in a grammar based approach that will never produce students with any kind of language proficiency.
    I hope to send some videos in the next month or so.
    Once a month our district has a meeting of all the foreign language teachers. Sometimes I feel like some sort of preacher who is standing on the street corner yelling at everyone passing by. It is not easy taking on teachers who have barely the slightest appreciation of what must take place in a foreign language class besides opening up a textbook combined with directives from top administrators who have not the slightest idea of what is involved with language acquisition.
    One idea I am considering is to offer to teach a Spanish class to the top administrators in the district.
    I appreciate everyone who participates in this blog. This is what keeps me going.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben