L – Blog Entry 2

In Alamitos I met a teacher, L, and we talked about maybe blogging about her experience of what she learned this summer. The link to that first blog about L is:
Now that school has started I have received some emails from L. They express what it is like to really believe in an idea but then how decidedly difficult it is to get it going in the classroom. I will just let her words speak for themselves. They are so honest, and in need of response. I have responded to her privately and may include some of my responses here, but the thing that she has asked for is to get responses to her questions from all of us in this blog community. So, here goes. [I was given permission to edit for clarity and brevity, and made no changes in the author’s intent]:
L email of 9.6.10:
Below is a condensation of my first five days. I did not talk much about my feelings [during this time] but yesterday I almost sent an appel au secours [S.O.S.] to your blog. The problem was that I had too many questions and everything was just a big mess in my head.  I felt quite overwhelmed.
My first 5 days:
I have 4 preps for levels 1,2, 3, and 4 AP/IB.  My students get good results in the IB test, not in the AP, only about 50% pass.  I have 4 preps for levels 1,2, 3, and 4 AP/IB.
This year I decided to switch to TPRS and for the very first time, back to school was an unpleasant experience.  Before school, Ben had told me it was not hard, it was new.  I say it was very hard.  The only workshop I had attended was Los Alamitos.  I had seen Linda for one day then I had switched to the French workshops.  One week before school started, I ordered Susan’s DVDs because I needed more help and did not feel qualified at all to start TPRS with 4 different levels.  I watched her several times and I  practiced circling many times.  I was still not ready, and I was not sure how to prepare an appropriate story.
French 1.  95 minutes daily. First day:  I did some TPR and that went well.  I did some circling based on their drawings of an activity they enjoy (we did this with Ben at the conference) but after a while it felt “cold”. Then, I started a story. Big mistake. Since I did not know what to do with beginning students, I used the structures Susan had in her DVD.  Il est allé, il était fâché, Il a mangé.  I will never do that again.  Susan’s students were French and Spanish teachers and she is a master at the technique. In the end, it felt like a very long 95 minute period! That was on Wednesday.  On Friday, I did TPR, greetings, alphabet, counting, a song and that helped make a connection with my students.  I had always had a great relationship with my students from the very beginning.  That year, there was nothing. I was drained and it felt like a failure. I am working on changing this but it’s now taking longer. 
French 2.  50 minutes, daily. Only 16 students.  Today, after 5 days, it’s getting better.  I am starting to get the feel of writing and creating a story and the students had a good time. A 50-minute period was also completely new to me. 
French 3.  Those kids just know the passé compose and the imparfait.  I have one semester, until mid-January, to cover all other tenses, relative pronouns, review possessive etc… and a ton of vocabulary.  We did one story so far but it does not feel like it’s going to work.  We accomplished more/more interest when we were reading the story than when we were creating it. I may keep the traditional technique with a few changes: more texts, much more reading, no more long grammar exercises.
French 4.  First attempt at story felt very awkward.  Lasted about 15 minutes.  Stories will not work at all here.  Zero interest but also no time. We need to be informed about current events in the francophone world and organize speaking activities for the IB program.  We’ll watch the French news and start by reading l’Etranger.  We need to also prepare the AP (I hate the AP).
I was told today that some teachers do not start stories right away.  They wait for a few weeks until students acquire some basic vocabulary.  I think I will do that next time.  Students arrive in the French class all excited to learn some French and during the 1st week at least, I think they like to learn basics: greetings, numbers, the alphabet, learning how to give basic information about themselves etc….  TPR works well too.
I have made a lot of errors in the past few days and I have learned a lot.  I did a lot of planning and un-planning.  I wish I could have talked to someone since asking help via email was even too time consuming for me. I am not doing what I had planned to do before school started but I am gradually adapting.  With 4 preps (never had more than 3) it’s a challenge.  Honestly, I am still worried that my French 1 will not learn enough.  Here is an example of my errors: today, as part of the vocabulary, I gave: ses chaussures and I told the students it meant his or her shoes.  Huge amount of confusion: how could it be his and her at the same time. That was too advanced for beginning French 1 and I had not anticipated such a reaction.  Usually, I laugh with my kids when something is really different/ “weird” and we discuss it but again I do not have the same type of connection with my French 1 this year.  We had a boy in the story (which was created from students’ questionnaire) and I should just have said his shoes. 
Now I need a workshop that does not teach me a foreign language, unless the presenter tells me why s/he is doing what s/he does (how to create a story, select the vocabulary, length, time, schedule, amount of vocabulary, errors to avoid, etc…) and that is not designed for experienced teachers either.
[to be continued…]



8 thoughts on “L – Blog Entry 2”

  1. Hi L,
    I’ll chip in as a second-year TPRS teacher. What you’re saying is very familiar across the board and describes my last year pretty well. Last year I spent the summer gearing up building up my shiny new TPRS machine and couldn’t wait to get it out on the road. I wanted to get to stories and go the whole nine yards not just for my student’s sake, but so I could see how the thing worked with me at the wheel.
    This year, I also totally loaded up and have a bunch I want to try, but I’m basically keeping my summer’s worth of prep in the garage until later. This year my only agenda for the first few weeks is to get to know my kids better and make the rules second nature for everybody. My dirty secret from last year: I didn’t really believe in the rules I had posted on my wall (I didn’t even post them until mid-way through the year) and I only enforced them sporadically. And the students sure picked up on that, and played the “let’s wait him out game” all the time until I just gave up on them for the most part (you should have seen some of my German II class coming in the first day “We have rules this year? Aaaaw. I don’t like that.”)
    And to be honest, I didn’t really think all the rules were practical. I thought it would be nice for only one person to speak at a time, for example, but thought that was more of a guideline. Now I demand it, telling them if they’re hearing English from somewhere else, their ears won’t process the German they’re hearing otherwise. I demand their 50% and point out my weaknesses whenever I can in delivering my 50%. I think our students can accept honesty from us that we’re stumblng as we get better at things; it’s what we expect from them, after all.
    I’d say post the rules prominently that you believe in and enforce them. Whatever you allow you endorse. Don’t be afraid to post other ones later when you see the purpose behind them. I get it now, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to appreciate the rules except for seeing what happens when they’re not in place. That stinks, but there it is.
    Also, don’t worry about converting your upper level students yet; they’re already converted to something else having stuck with French as long as they have. Use what they believe in and tweak it as you go; it’s a long school year. Find a comfort level up there with something you can both accept (usually a lot of reading and writing) and add one-word-images, stories, etc. in as you gain faith in them yourself.
    Wish you luck!

  2. Dear L
    I also have 4 preps of French 1,2,3, and honors 4. You blog told my story. I have dabbled with the idea of TPRS since I first saw Susie in 2003. I tried it with levels 1 and 2 for a marking period in 2005. I panicked, not knowing what to do next, and fled back to the security of the textbook. It wasn’t until two years ago when a graduating senior from the freshman class who had a marking period of TPRS – and it was sort of TPRS, because I didn’t do it well – said the following: “Mme, remember when we made up those silly stories. I remember that stuff.” I almost fell over. So in the Fall of 2008 I began attending every workshop that I could. I stalked Susie Gross all over the eastern seaboard. I read the books and the blogs and by the last marking period of 2008, I ditched the textbook in all levels. Some days were good, most were not. 2009 brought another summer of workshops, massive amounts of encouragement from the TPRS family and I will say that last year was a mixed bag. Looking back, I may have better off starting TPRS in levels 1 and 2, tried to ease some elements of it into 3 and 4. I think my life would have been easier. I have gotten some horrified looks from TPRS veterans when I told them that I jumped in the deep end with all of my levels at the same time! I am fortunate to b e the only person who teaches French at my school, so I know what needs to be filled in. I also, in a private school, have a high degree of academic freedom. I will also share with you that the vestiges of traditional teaching are hard habits to break. For example, I obsess over verb paradigms and the order of teaching which tense first. Go figure. Summer of 2010 – more professional development, webinars with Carol and Scott, workshops in New Jersey with Piedad Gutierrz. Now it’s the beginning of the year 2010. After all of the community support and the professional development, I finally feel empowered in the classroom. I feel finally able to talk the talk and walk the walk. I am far from expert, but I have come a long way and feel so much more secure and at peace with what I am doing. Most of the kids are happier and feel that they can have success – not one French 2 did not sign up for French 3. This is the year in the past where I had massive attrition due to the difficulty of traditional grammar. Our school wide enrollment is down, but I have more incoming freshmen in French than I had last year. I have more tools in the toolbox. Nathan’s comments are excellent. Don’t be too hard on yourself . You will spend some time in the cave, but when you emerge, your professional life along with your students (vis-a-vis French:) will be transformed. Courage!

  3. “…I did some circling based on their drawings of an activity they enjoy … but after a while it felt ‘cold’….”.
    I keep Circling with Balls CI fluffed up by always asking them if I, the teacher, do the activity that the kid does. When they say no I say that, in fact, I do, but not as well as the kid. Except for singing. I am the best singer. So they challenge me and I act like my singing is better, which drives them nuts, and leads to sing-offs and such. It is in this comparision to us or others – Blaine said it years ago – that we egg them on and keep the CI interesting. There are other ways to “milk” those discussions, but that is an example. The thing is to be always on the alert for actual real human (non data driven) information. That is one reason that people perceive that what we do is so hard. We have to actually make the discussion visceral. But language is not a thing of data and of the mind and of processing information, but reaches down deeper into the human experience. So try that. Let us know how it goes. Just extend out those discussions in whatever natural human way they go. And remember to go slowly and use Point and Pause to make it work properly. And since you have a kid taking notes on the proceedings (what interest everybody has on the cards), and you have another kid writing a quiz during the class, everybody has to pay attention or fail the (five minutes at the end of each class) quiz.

  4. Wow. Ben …this is three blogs…maybe four.
    First.. L …you are a strong, brave, caring teacher. Few teachers are willing to let go of their own comfort in order to try to do something better for all of their students. That will go very far with your student…it just doesn’t feel like it right this moment.
    Using TPRS with students is all about the deeper messages. The message that you are giving your students right now is more powerful than any of you know.
    Going in the right direction, even though it is tough, is more valuable that being comfortable.
    Going through the steps…and really doing something…are not always the same thing.
    The connection with the students is the most powerful factor in the classroom.
    Three powerful points that, within just one week, you have become aware of. Because you are aware of them, your students are getting the message. Trust me on this.
    Being a good teacher means that you can communicate your goals, your knowledge and your expertise as a language teacher to your students. It doesn’t mean that you can plan weeks in advance. It does not mean that you can control the outcome of every lesson. It does not mean that you will win over every student. It does not mean that you will always feel competent.
    You can plan day by day, wonder why lesson flopped, generate some confusion, feel inept…..and still be an outstanding teacher. But…you will never feel like the teacher that you used to be. TPRS is not about the teacher having all of the ducks lined up in pretty little rows. It is about getting in the pond with the ducks and leading them through the muck and the lily pads and under the bridge and a million other places that ducks in a row never get to see.
    So…..yes…it feels overwhelming and a bit messy. That is probably a really good sign.
    with love,

  5. Next L,
    Let’s take a look at all of the things that you have worked out in just one week:
    1. The most advanced level is probably not the best place to start. They have years of learned instructional behaviors that are very ingrained. They also have a fairly grammar-driven test to get through. Trying to rework their entire program will drive you all crazy. Let the AP/IB group go and do what you always do for them. As your TPRS skills increase, you will find yourself automatically adding CI-based activities to this level without even realizing it. Until then…don’t worry about it.
    2. Using reading for CI is sometimes the better choice. You can go slowly, circle, create a parallel story, add interesting details, personalize and a number of other things that will increase interest and develop your skills. And you won’t be creating a story at the the same time….just working with one.
    3. TPRS with true beginners has its own set of challenges. By starting with TPR, supplementing thematical vocabulary and then moving into stories slowly you will be more successful. The most important things is to create that positive connection with your students.
    4. A 50 block of time is easier to plan for at the beginning than a 90 minute block. TPRS requires students’ full attention and interaction. It’s hard to find ways to make that work for an hour and a half without exhausting everyone in the process.
    5. When it works, it is great fun!!!!!!
    Again…these are things that you yourself worked out in the first week and your students are already benefitting from this new knowledge. They are NOT suffering. Your Level 1s will be fine. Not only will they have had colors and numbers etc…by the end of the year they will actually be able to use them in a myriad of ways, creatively, comprehensively, successfully.
    with love,

  6. TPRS is not a program. We can’t package it up and sell it, ready to use on Monday. We can’t buy a program, open it up, take it out and go. It’s not a new way of organizing vocabulary and presenting grammar.
    It’s a new way of living for everyone involved. Everyone needs time to adjust.
    And that is okay.
    It is a very conscious, and conscientious, way of teaching.
    Think of it like getting married. At first it looks like a great idea…and a lot of people jump right in. Some people even have a nice little honeymoon. Some people make it look really easy. So you give it a shot. Do what you think you should. Then you realize that you can’t do what you’ve always done and be what you’ve always been. And then reality sets in. Being married requires a whole new set of skills. A commitment to communication. A willingness to be flexible with an ability to set boundaries. The “I” paradigm shifts to “We.” Somedays are better than others. But ultimately, like being married to the right person, teaching with TPRS outshines any other option.
    Maybe this explains why TPRSers never seem to get enough training, go to enough conferences, see enough presenters, or sign up for enough workshops. It’s not that they didn’t get it the first (or second or third or thirteenth …..) time. It’s that they love TPRS and want to continually be committed to it, to continually be better at it, and spend time with others who feel the same way. Using TPRS makes teaching a fuller experience…..and even when their attempts are clumsy….the acts of forgiveness, compassion, connection, and communication are so powerful that teaching without it just is no longer an option.
    with love,

  7. “…TPRS is not about the teacher having all of the ducks lined up in pretty little rows. It is about getting in the pond with the ducks and leading them through the muck and the lily pads and under the bridge and a million other places that ducks in a row never get to see…”.
    Laurie you rock!

  8. I am using TPRS for the first time this year and have had mixed results. First of all, I did not start the year with something I was not familiar with (TPRS.) I started with the usual fun activities in French 1 class. This gave me a chance to develop a rapport with students and have fun at the same time. Then, I introduced only one TPRS element for the week. (My first attempt at a quiz failed and I had to back track with students so they did not feel like failures.) I also let students know if I thought that 80% of the students were not passing a quiz with 80% accuracy that I would redo a lesson or rework the material they were learning. I believe that it is more important to gain the trust of your students in the beginning when you are starting with TPRS than to do all TPRS all the time. I feel as I master each technique, I will add other elements of TPRS to my lessons. Go slow, go slow, go slow, it all takes time.
    Middle School French teacher
    Anchorage, Alaska

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