Highest Priority

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9 thoughts on “Highest Priority”

  1. All I have to say is that this blog has quickly become the rock of my professional sanity, the center of my focus for the future, the direction that I have been looking for for nine years of teaching. Thank you Angela and Drew for putting yourself out there. This is also my first year with TPRS and it is positively affirming to see others doing what I am also trying in my class! How ironic to get that here when I do not even get that kind of professional sharing amongst the teachers I work with on a daily basis. I hope to eventually work some persuasion around my own department…
    After watching just the first clip:
    Angela, I thought your slow circling was great! The number of reps that you get with the main structures makes it near impossible for your students to NOT understand Spanish. As a Spanish teacher I wish that I could get some experience with TPRS in some other language to really feel what it is like from the students’ perspective.
    A rule that has been number one for me in my class since beginning my TPRS journey has been Ben’s rule to have desks (and laps!) clear, sitting up straight, clear eyes, etc. I thought this would never work in high school where I teach but it has! In fact without it I am sure the approach would fail. My number one “five finger rule” is: “clear desks & laps, sit up, squared shoulders, clear eyes = Listen to Understand.” It’s a combination of Ben’s rules, but it makes it clear to the students why they are sitting up, etc. – to listen! It’s obvious that most all of the students are responding during your teaching, but the one girl in the front who continues to look in her bag – perhaps bring her into the PQA limelight?
    Overall, thank you for your trust with us here in the blog! All of this is a great idea and confidence builder for me. :)…I am sure for all of us!

    1. And Brian in that vein of training kids about exactly what behaviors you expect in your classroom (i.e. your classroom rules/norms), I did something that was a first for me today. I didn’t just explain the rules, I modeled what I wanted from them.
      I am working this year in a school with kids whose family’s are 95% below the poverty line. They are almost entirely non-communicative – I have never been in such a school before.
      I have noticed this year that behaviors such as reciprocality, sitting up, squared shoulders, clear eyes, being ready at any instant to either let me know that they understand (through their eyes) or that they don’t (fist punch move – credit: Jason Fritze) are not as easy for them as I would want. Why can’t some of them do that? And why do I just assume that they can?
      It is because many of them, most of them, have never been required to do that behavior before. It hit me just today that, now into the fourth week of the school year, I have been assuming that they could do a behavior because the kids in the other two schools I have done comprehensible input in could do it.. But they were from other cultural groups.
      So the breakthrough I got today was this: I had to go the exreme of acting out in front of them the behavior that I wanted. I had asked a question, something like “How many girls were there?” and got a bunch of stares. (Usually if they don’t respond it’s because they don’t get it and I have to slow down. But most of these kids got it easily because they all speak Spanish. But I was still getting a lot of looks and stares.
      So…. I tried the new idea – the “modeling the behavior I want” card. I asked the question, “How many girls?” then I sat down in an empty desk and just stared at me, playing the role of both me and the student. I sat there and did that “I am not going to participate in this class” thing. It made the kids nervous.
      Then I modeled the same thing with squared shoulders, nothing on my desk, clear eyes, etc. and I suggested a cute answer: “14 girls!”. Then I got out of the desk, became myself again and, with conviction and energy and a slightly stronger vocal intent, I said clearly and slowly in English that the first behavior, the stare at me, WAS NOT A PERMISSABLE BEHAVIOR IN MY CLASS.
      Why did I say that? Isn’t it obvious that just staring at me is not an acceptable behavior? Yes, to me it is obvious, but to these 35 9th and 10th graders from real poverty and really bad middle schools, IT IS NOT A GIVEN THAT THEY UNDERSTAND WHAT BEHAVIORS ARE ACCEPTABLE AND WHAT ARE NOT.
      That was the breakthrough for me today. If I want a certain behavior from a group of kids, I learned today, I can’t just assume that they know how to do it even when I explain the rules as I did in the first three weeks of the year. I had to model the behavior.
      Now, the very next time I see a kid spacing out – probably tomorrow – I am going to stop class, model the behavior of showing them what not to do and what to do in the above example, and in two weeks I will have no problems.
      As I said to them today, I have worked far too hard to learn to teach this way, which is a way we can use to really and truly learn French, to have even one student sit in my class with a bored look on their face. I simply and emphatically will not allow it. I will walk over to the kid with the glassy eyes and I will stop, stand at his or her desk for a moment, find an empty desk nearby, model the right and the wrong way, tap the offending kids’ desk as I go back to continue the lesson, and cheerfully model the behavior I want until I get it. If not, I go to the phones and the administration because this elective course was a choice for the kid and not a requirement.
      What was I thinking? I needed to MODEL the behavior I want, not just say it.

  2. Angela,
    I think for your first five days with TPRS you are doing some great things in the classroom. I think you have a great loud voice with good pronunciation. (This is coming from the guy who mumbles when he isn’t in class). I think you work the room well and I saw a dedicated attempt to engage each student in answering and asking questions. I always forget to do that so it’s a good reminder to me.
    I would recommend that the kids have nothing on their desks. It takes their attention off of you and on their pencil bags. When I teach my yearbook class I get so frustrated with them doodling when we are supposed to be studying photojournalism and writing. I revert back to my Spanish hat and say nada en las mesas.
    My other recommendation to you would be to slow down just a bit. Also when you were asking questions about where the butterfly fan was, I think you were rejecting a number of good answers which confused the kids a bit. I was hoping you were going to take the rainbow answer. With that strategy you were getting a ton of reps in with está but at the beginning of the year it’s difficult to train kids to give those good creative answers.
    Remember that you can compare students too. I forget the butterfly fan’s name but you can set up another person in a different location and compare who is where PERO someone else is somewhere else.
    I think your circling skills are good. You are getting a good number of reps on your target phrases. You are hitting your positive phrasings and your negative phrasings. I also appreciate you introducing multiple clauses especially this early. I think there were some “que” phrasing in there. This will only help in further levels.
    Keep it up and thanks for sharing.

  3. Tomorrow I will observe a colleague who is beginning TPRS and hopefully have some tips for her, so this is practice for me in coaching, which I have never really done before.
    I don’t speak Spanish and I could understand everything, so I think the SLOW was good. The Pause and Point was also good, but I would get rid of the stick and just use your hand. Personally, I found the stick waving around distracting.
    I think in the beginning of the 1st video, there was good review of what people liked and the kids were responding well. That is how I think the whole hour should go, if possible. In Spanish, responding in Spanish.
    So then the Donde esta question, to me took too long. For me, if the kids don’t suggest something right away or don’t get what I’m asking, I would give an example, like is she in Alaska? Then, take a couple of suggestions and move on, if there isn’t a good one, then I give one or I just use the expected one. I think it’s okay if there are butterflies in the class. Also for butterfly room, I would have taught them the word room in Spanish, so you could say mariposa again.
    Then you backed up to review the facts, which is good, but there I would like to see more circling technique to offer a variety of questions, so even though you are circling the same thing, you can ask in a different way each time, statement, negative, yes/no, either/or, question word, etc. I keep a circling poster in the back of my room, in case I get stuck.
    Now, I have the question words up on the wall, but I also have some that are in clear folders that I can hold. So as I ask, I hold up the who or the where, so I don’t have to walk over to the posters. I only have who, where, what and how, so for all the other words, I still walk over, like how many or which.
    Anyway, that is what I saw, hope it helps. It is, of course, just my opinion.
    Thank you for sharing. That is very brave and generous.

  4. Thanks so much for all of the feedback! It is scary putting yourself out there, but it can only help me to improve 🙂 I will definitely take all of your suggestions/feedback and apply them in my classroom.
    I definitely agree with Brian that this blog has truly been my saving grace. I feel such a connection with all of you, more so than the people that I work with on a daily basis. Again, great feedback and comments. Thanks so much everyone!

  5. Angela – and great comments from Brian, Melanie and Drew and now we are rolling – in your clip I saw something I still do, use bits of English when I should not, allow students to not lock onto my eyes and engage with me, and sometimes go a bit fast. So these are very common things to all of us, really.
    That said, the kids were with you just fine, I thought, so go figure, but that was because the content was easy for them, as all Circling with Balls questions are designed to be easy.
    But, as I learned early on, the kids are good at hiding it if they don’t get something. I advise that you give them more time between questions and answers and putting more air between the words.
    You have the natural presence of a teacher, that is for sure and not blowing smoke here. You command the room and move around the room with authority. Too much authority, actually, I’m with Melanie on the stick thing – that stick scared me. I use a laser pointer and it is much easier.
    Great classroom set up with the camera behind the kids, as effective, if not more effective for our purposes here than Drew’s camera set up. The video of my own teaching that I edited this weekend actually shows the kids because I had the releases, but, if there is any doubt, this is a good set up.
    Angela if you read my blog post from today about going up to kids who are not focused, you may get a feel for how to provide just the right amount of embarrassment for them so that no one gets off the hook on the rules/norms. You may not go to the exreme that I do as I describe it in that post, but at least let those kids know that you are aware of their lack of contact with you and make them make eye contact with you by pointing to the rules (again, the laser pointer works wonders for this purpose).
    This is Circling with Balls and it is very well done. Now, start thinking about doing a story. Just start thinking about it. You are closer than you think to doing one. The kids are already providing cute answers. You are really going to see the energy go up a level when you start a story. The video I am putting up soon will serve as a model, but it is a level 2 class so I hope it is not too complex.
    Go back and read the Five Finger rules blog post – just do a search on that term – it is the fastest way, faster than the categories, to find things on this training site. I agree with Drew that the kids can’t be allowed to do anything but have clear eyes focused on you and clear desks. It’s not too late to change that. Just go in tomorrow and tell them that we have a new rule today, nothing on desks, no notes, no heads, no water bottles, nothing. Ever. With a big smile.
    I can’t believe this is your first year at this. It is not really too fast but that is only because the circling you are doing is simple. You can’t go that fast in stories. In spite of that, there is a real sense of pacing evident in this clip which will only get better.
    I couldn’t see if you wrote the English on the board when you wrote donde esta. I think you did but I just couldn’t see it. Just wait until every set of eyes is on that (laser pointed for me) new expression written there in both languages.
    In the video, when the kids start suggesting “where she is”, one of them says “in your chair”. These kids are going to be good at providing cute answers in stories. Really, what I said before is true, if they are doing this well with a mere warm up personalization activity wait until you get to stories.
    But do not allow the kids to all answer together. It just creates noise and we don’t want that. We want absolute and total quiet except for the speaker. I have a rule – I don’t know if it is currently on my rules list (posters page) – but it is “One person speaks and the others listen.”
    Maybe that rule should be up in my classrom now because my big suggestion to myself and all of us is to limit the speech to either you or only one kid at a time while all eyes are on the speaker. Again, it is not too late to change that. Just use the stick. Just kidding – don’t. That stick is too big.
    Great use of “What did I just say?”. Use it more often, and the ten finger comprehension checks.
    Don’t use English. This is advice from a teacher who uses too much English but it is nevertheless true. When the clip ends, you are speaking in English and that can confuse the kids. Better to spend the entire period on asking if she is on the back of a giant butterfly in the target language than sneak the English in like that. Avoiding English in this way may be the hardest skill of all for new teachers, even harder than SLOW.
    I’ll look at the other tape after the Broncos take apart Oakland tonite on Monday Night Football. But Angela I echo what the others say here – for a teacher new to TPRS this is awesome work. Thanks for sending them in.
    And everybody don’t forget Drew’s four other clips. He wants more feedback too. And when I put up my videos, all 25 of them, I want feeback. I have a long way to go too. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease and Drew and Angela and I are going to benefit from this work and so I challenge us all to take the plunge and go for it! It is very very hard to look at images of ourselves teaching. But consider the alternative, taking five years to get to a place in your classroom where you could be in one year.

  6. And Angela I wanted to echo something Drew said:
    …remember that you can compare students too….
    So, instead of getting too much circling on one kid, bring in another kid, or yourself, to compare/contrast with. Or create a little scene (extended PQA) with the actor standing up and ask where and maybe when and see how far it goes. Even if it lasts 30 seconds it is worth it – extended PQA scenes give the kids the training wheels for the stories that eventually will emerge from this kind of training.

  7. Ok, I’ll put the stick away! 🙂 I’ll have to check out those $2 laser pointers. I went in today and really enforced nothing on the desks…wow, what a big difference. Even when they let their heads start to sit on the desks, I enforced the rules and it was much better and they were more focused. I’m still struggling with getting 1 person to answer at a time; they all just want to yell out, but it’s getting better.
    I agree, Ben about the kids are good at hiding if they don’t get something. It’s difficult because I know that they can be dishonest during the comprehension checks and I don’t want that. I will take all of your suggestions and definitely implement them right away!!

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