Jeffery Brickler

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19 thoughts on “Jeffery Brickler”

  1. Sabrina Janczak

    Hello Jeff and welcome aboard this wonderful CI ship. I too have bummed stories and I am still plugging at it, so don’t feel bad. Like anything else, practice makes better. Ben said it again: pace is sooo important, and its hard to slow down.
    And it s hard to let go ( may be it s a control thing, at least for me) and let them tell you the story rather that impose your story. It s a skill that I am still working on.
    Hang in there!

  2. Hi Jeff, and welcome.

    All of us mere mortals have days when the story bombs. (Won’t speak for Susie Gross or Blaine Ray) That’s when you have two choices:
    1. stay in the moment and see if something develops
    2. bail and do a bail-out activity like a dictation
    Which one you do depends on a number of variables: your comfort level, the students’ comfort level, your energy for the day, the students’ energy for the day, what’s happening at school, etc., etc.

    Of course do some analysis and see if you can do better next time, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Even Kobe Bryant makes bad plays and has bad days occasionally.

    1. One of our baseball Colorado Rockies gets $90K per game. Every time he comes up to the plate he gets about $20K. He makes an out two out of three times, at best. This month he has been making an out 3 of 4 times.

      So he gets $60K or more per hit. We get a lot less money than that. Even if only one of fifty of our stories is a homerun (that is a high percentage, by the way, even for Blaine and Susie), we need to get that this CI business has very little to do with entertainment and everything to do with providing input in the form of listening and reading to our kids.

      But I know what this is really about. It is that, once we have tasted what a good story is, we want more, bc it is so much fun, so real, so unlike anything we’ve ever known in teaching.

      That right there is worth a few bombed stories, especially when the kids could hardly care less about what kind of class we teach. They’ve go their own stories going on out in the hallway!

  3. Welcome Jeff, I look forward to getting to know you.
    Like those before me said, you wouldn’t be the first one whose stories bomb. Heck, it sounds like you’ve had a pretty good run thus far. When the stories in my class stink, we own it and vow to come up with something better next time. That’s the beauty of this, there’s always a next time and soooooo many chances to do things over.

    1. Great point and Brigitte I have, for years now, blamed it on them. Not in a critical way, but I make it clear that the classes with the best stories are the ones who own the process best. I just ask the questions and keep the train on the tracks and at its absolute slowest speed, folks.

  4. Welcome, Jeff. French 2, 4th period, the story went fine. French 2, period 7 – same structures – it bombed. Like Robert said, stay in the moment or do a dictation. Dictation was my choice and it worked out fine. I also asked for them to write some sentences using the structures since we had a few minutes left. If there is anything cute in their writing, I will blend it in with the 4th period story. The learning curve is steep, but well worth the effort.

  5. Welcome, Jeff. What I am about to say sounds like NOT staying in the moment. I don’t think it is. 🙂 Actually, all I will do is tell you my experience.

    I believe that there are many ways IN to becoming skilled at storyasking.

    One way is to choose structures, start with PQA, move into a story, stay with it even when it gets “icky”, and pray–jump to dictation if all else fails. Works great for the non-anxious teacher types. If a beginner can do this well, you ARE Kobe Bryant. You were born to do this.

    There are many others who can use the Matava story type very well. They provide just enough structure to keep the teacher sane and to get a goodly number of structure repetitions, but are open-ended enough to keep the story in the students’ hands. However, unless you are pretty highly skilled, even these stories can be hard to pull off–especially when you are working with very beginning students.

    Then, there are highly-anxious teachers like me who need much more structure and do a lot of reflecting. When I first started doing this a thousand years ago, I didn’t even know the students were supposed to “create” anything. I stuck to the script like superglue. I needed to do that so that I could learn how to be with my class with this kind of teaching. Over time, I began to give up control, permitting them to add more and more details as I became more skilled at classroom management and the “wholistic” idea of story (I use “wh” purposely here to emphasize the idea of the whole). I even scripted out the “possible” circling questions so that I wouldn’t speed up and forget to sufficiently circle all parts of the sentences.

    Some people may be smirking right now, as they read this, but I must say that I found out a lot about myself from scripting possible questions on paper before I tried to do a PQA or ask the story. It was EYE-OPENING to me to realize how “lacking” my skills were in this area. Scripting circling questions and open-ended questions helped insure that I was actually doing what I thought I was doing. (The kids didn’t even really notice. I think one kid, in all this time, has asked me why I was looking at the paper.) Having the questions written out meant I could ask the questions or NOT. It was nice having them there to remind me. AND–I got really good at circling. Having the questions available did NOT keep me from staying in the moment and listening to the kids. It gave me options. It also slowed me down–always good.

    This teacher, me, needed lots of repetition of this skill. Winging it was not a good option for me. I don’t script as often now, but occasionally I do—on a new story I’ve written or am trying out for the first time. Questioning is a bedrock skill which deserves our attention and practice.

    A good friend, and highly competent TPRS teacher, told me a story recently about being observed by a knowledgeable peer. The peer noticed that my friend’s circling was in a narrow rut–that she circled the same part of the sentence every time, ignoring the other structures that needed circling. She asked open-ended questions in that same narrow rut–which, in the end, meant that the stories tended to stay in that rut and be quite similar all the time–going flat. Unless we tape ourselves and have another trusted peer critique our work with us, it is hard to see these kinds of things for ourselves. There is NO one right way to do this, but sometimes we are working against our own success unconsciously.

    I have, also, learned many things from being peer observed that can help keep a story from bombing.

    For instance, if one of my actors has her/his back facing the class and is only talking to me, the class can’t hear or see them very well. Much of the class can lose interest and get off task while the student, a few close-sitting students, and I have a very interesting and fun conversation. Nice for us, but what about the kids in the back? Solution: always have actors in a chair (back to board) or standing (back to board) facing the class. Move yourself toward the back of the class from time to time, and project from there toward your actors–putting yourself in the place of the back-row kids.

    Another problem: How to keep the whole class with you? Remind yourself in your lesson plan to do check-ins with the audience every 30 seconds or so. One I love is: “So, class, Gisela says that “blah blah is true” (whatever “fact” has been established). Pointing to whole class or someone who needs to re-engage: “Do you believe that? Is that really true?” All of a sudden, imaginations are piqued and kids get involved. Yes, it’s true?t Of course, it’s no? Maybe? Hmmm. Sometimes, I write an interesting student comment on the board, and say, “We’ll see. You never know. Could be.” And, we go on with the story.

    Other problems I have encountered which may lead to bombing:
    Story has too many details and has become unwieldy;
    Story can’t be followed by much of the class because of above situation,
    Story details don’t fit together in a cogent narrative (bizarro factor has taken over the story and it’s really no longer a story)

    Over time, I have become pretty expert at seeing these things starting to develop and make adjustments quickly so that we don’t go down the road to destruction. Works most of the time–not always. They still acquire.

    One thing I have noticed with kids, over many years of doing this, is that they want to be able to remember what’s going on in the story as it’s being told. They, too, get anxious when things get out of control–which expresses itself as boredom, disinterest, tuning out, misbehavior, etc. Blaine’s brilliant skill of constantly recapping the story each time a new detail is added can seem painfully redundant to us, the fluent speakers, but it is wonderfully redundant for our students who need to feel confident that they own the plot and hold all of the info in their heads, that they know what has already happened so that they can think of what “could” happen next.

    Geez, there I went again. All of this to say, each teacher follows their own path in this storyasking quest. Bottom lines: stay in comprehensible TL during PQA and storyasking; have a plan; be willing to veer away from your plan; get new actors (Thank you so much for your work, Gisela. Do we have another volunteer?); add a character; work on your skills; always be cognizant of student needs in this process; bail when you need to (sometimes I really love it when the bell rings–saved again).


  6. Thanks, Jody…. This type of reflection is so helpful….This is they type of thing that so many teachers of all comfort levels would find useful. Perhaps you could post it on moretprs – just a thought…

    Anyway, I like your idea of pre-thinking the questions you might ask. What advice to you have regarding HOW to ask interesting questions that lead somewhere. I lack creativity to a huge degree. I have watched teachers take the three structures and know which questions to ask…. Nothing seems to come to me…

    For example, if you were to take the three structures s/he buys, s/he is thirsty and s/he knows/doesn’t know I have a difficult time 1. knowing how to begin 2. what questions i would ask (in advance as you suggest) that would be interesting…

    I am able to get by right now because I am using the Matava/Tripp but I would like to get to where I can take three random structures and “work them”…

    I know your comments were not directed to me but this is an area that I could really stand growth in and would appreciate any thoughts you would share.

    thanks again so much for sharing above…

    1. Skip–great questions! Working on it right now–logging my process. I emphasize “my process” because I truly believe there are many roads INto, but all roads, even if they’re not ours, have something to teach us.

      You’re right. My comments were not directed at you. They were directed at me because I am always looking at the things I do, trying to distinguish among those things which help and those which hinder the process of storyasking and students’ language acquisition. To me, this particular process–questioning–is the crux of the method and deserves our personal reflection and study to improve it in ourselves–and just make it easier and more natural (in other words, somewhat “automatic” or “acquired”). Long-term project, he, he.

      1. I think I made this comment somewhere else, but the entire questioning process for me must be in my body and visceral so that I can focus on norming the class, following the rules, and personalizing the classroom by putting most of my energy not on the circling but on the kids.

        I know, that is a big order but I think it can be done. Just now I was experimenting on how to explain this kind of “visceral circling” to the group by recording myself talking about that idea, and, if the video isn’t too gnarly and not too confusing, I will post it here and you guys can tell me if it helps. I just feel that it is time to make some videos where I talk about this stuff instead of writing it all the time.

        It is going to necessarily be a little weird, maybe hard to follow at times, just because I have neither the time nor the inclination to make movie quality videos (they would never get done), but so be it. We’re going to explore every option we have to use the internet as a training tool.

        That, by the way, is a whole ‘nuther idea, a brand new one, that members of the group may want to consider in the use of video area – you don’t necessarily have to film yourself in your classroom – we know that is one royal pain in the petoot – so maybe we can consider doing these kind of videos where we just talk about stuff, like the one I did tonight.

  7. …I would like to get to where I can take three random structures…

    I think the structures need to be connected in some way. That is why I value Anne’s structure choices so much. Because of their connectedness, each location of her stories is very tight and easy to get through. They work hand in glove so that in a few sentences in a single location all three structures are there, fitting happily together. This is true of Jim Tripp’s stories as well.

    When the structures are connected and you find out PQA information about certain members of the group, then it is natural and easy to draw connections between the group members and this heightens the level of personalization achieved. Then, when the story starts, there is that cohesiveness that Jody refers to as necessary to keep things from going off the rails.

  8. I guess there is nothing wrong with just systematically moving through the 3 volumes of story scripts that we have…..? that is what we have been doing but ….

  9. I also appreciate this reminder from Jody about pre-scripting the questions. As soon as I read that part I flashed back instantly to St. Louis, where we were practicing circling with a partner, using those worksheets! I totally need to do that! I have not done that in class, as a rule. NOt sure why. Probably got distracted by some other detail that was less of a priority than circling. Shaky foundation. Gonna prescript some questions now! Thanks 🙂

    1. Jeff, so glad that you joined the blog! This is an incredibly encouraging, honest and supportive community. I am so encouraged when more Latin teachers become excited about using CI, TPRS, because I know that these programs will grow in numbers and spirit. You sound a lot like I did a few years ago when I was just starting out with understanding what CI was really all about.

      Since then I’ve had a lot of less than perfect days too, and many stories that have bombed as well, but I love my job much more now after four years of working with a CI / TPRS paradigm than I ever did before. I am really a happier teacher because understanding language acquisition through a CI lens has helped me be more patient with the process, to not sweat over things that are of little consequence, and to have more joy in connecting with my kids. It is trying sometimes, especially when there are those kids that don’t appreciate what I’m trying to do, but I am finding that even some of them, after enough CI and both kind-hearted and firm attention (as in holding them to their 50 percent firm), will even come around too.

      Glad to have you on the journey!

      Valeas, David

  10. Welcome Jeff!

    We are so glad to have you here! The beauty of the struggle is this: Because we struggle we constantly strive to do better. We look to each other and listen to our students. Without the struggle we would miss soooo much.

    with love,

  11. Jeff,

    Glad you made it here. This ongoing work that Ben has created is like a library of best practices for CI folks. Some days, I think that all I do is tell stories that bomb, and other days, I think I’ve finally got this TPRS thing. And so it goes. But, I am clear that on the days when I bomb, I am the one learning the most. That’s okay.

    Go back and look at what you described of your situation: new baby at home; two schools; five preps. Stercus sacrum! You can give yourself space to learn what is now important to you in your teaching.

    I am so excited to see you taking this path.

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