I’m back from Maine. On Thursday, I modeled the various CI activities that I like to do to build up to stories, and then on Friday I modeled an Anne Matava story (“Don’t Drink The Water!” – thank you Elissa!). Anne then did a story in German – so fluid – I think she could teach a story for five hours in a row. Mike Walker couldn’t be there but was able to send a teacher who is new to his school who clearly is a real talent at this – Donna Irish, who also got in on some acting and seems to be a natural to this stuff. And then we ended the conference yesterday with some practice in reading, how to sequence that, etc….
Also on Thursday, two teachers, Peter Nutting in German and Johnna Little in Italian, worked some CI – actually they worked a lot of CI! Peter did a One Word Image and Johnna did some Circling with Cards. (I say circling with cards here because the sports balls is what middle school kids do – they all play sports – but when we work with teachers they do other stuff, so I’m calling it Circling with Cards here – we can use both terms).
In my demo preceeding the work by Peter and Johnna, the group and I co-created Skip sleeping in a big box in an orange train station in Miami. We were just about to figure out who was there in the box with Skip, and wonderful Patty was just about to start dancing around the box, much to the consternation of Skip, when we all had to take a much needed break because we had been doing straight silly CI for over two hours at that point.
Then Marcus from Vermont (a.k.a. L’Empereur Insolent) asked for people who spoke other languages to work/be coached, because he said that trainings in other languages help him better learn/observe the ins and outs of the CI process better than hearing languages he already knew. It was a great idea because it set up, for me, the high point of the workshop – Johnna Little from Boston.
Johnna is fluent in three languages and had met Paul Kirschling in Chile when they both took students down there a few years ago. Paul called and told her to come up to Lewiston. She has been doing TPRS for all of two weeks! But the Italian teaching she did – those moments of work that she said were very scary but she sure could have fooled us – was stunning.
With virtually no experience and in less than an hour, Johnna made us love Italian and yearn for more. First, Johnna is a real teacher, in the truest sense of the word, and that explains some of it. Also, Italian and Johnna are both very demonstrative, animated, vibrant, full of joy. Combining that sense of joy, and a teaching format like TPRS/CI, was a match made in heaven.
This is what happened. Johnna danced the lesson. She danced it. Somebody suggested Mozarella in response to one of her circled questions, and, at the mention of the word mozarella, the thing just took off into a dance.
We talk about music a lot, and I have thought a lot about how to get music actually into my classroom more for real, but I had never even thought that a TPRS class could be danced. I’m talking movement up and down the central aisle, then dancing with full joy over to the board to support some meaning with Point and Pause, stuff like that. Not dancing to show off. Dancing because the language in that setting demanded to be danced.*
The coolest thing was that whenever the CI came to certain particularly energizing Italian words, Johnna did pirouettes. As I drove home from the airport just now (yeah, Saturday – I missed my connection in Atlanta by 3 minutes last night because the plane was late out of Portland), driving home thinking about the teaching I saw (so wonderful to see Peter moving around between the students and the board and the actor, controlling it all with a sense of fun and big approval of students’ input, going nice and slowly all the while), I kept thinking about how atypical these two days of teaching were.
It wasn’t teaching in the old sense at all. It wasn’t about “trying to figure out how to do TPRS” (gag me). We didn’t talk so much about teaching. We just had fun. We just used language to have fun. At least that was my own experience – it is what I have taken with me from the past few days.
The danced Italian was teaching in the new sense. It was a metaphor for the kind of work we need to do in the future to really “get” this approach. I saw in what those teachers brought to the table in Maine something different. Johnna and Peter put it all out there, in spite of how nervous that must have been. They went for it. We worked together. I can’t explain it any better than that.
We learned a lot of stuff together. At one point, Therese made a really valuable suggestion about keeping the board neat (the way Linda Lee keeps a board) by using blue masking tape to make columms to make the all-important visual piece work better. Other things were suggested, one about the use of technology – I am waiting for that blog entry to share it here and I’m sorry I can’t remember that teacher’s name but it will help a lot of us who like to mojofy stories using technology.
We all learned other stuff together – we learned about a little pig named Porculus from Jenn, a Latin teacher. He’s a little pig but he’s a good pig and there are already Latin kids in New Hampshire who go to his Facebook page and everything. But I hope that Jenn lets him become a multilingual pig. More on Porculus later.
So it wasn’t so much a workshop about me presenting stuff, but rather one in which all of us just worked together to get better at it. It sure is hard to convey even a small part of what happens in those workshops. I’m sure the people who attended the Japan conference feel the same way – it can’t be put into words. Something just happens.
I’m really glad I went to Maine. Thanks to Skip and Beth Crosby for their hard work setting it all up. Skip wants to make the Maine TPRS site more active. So let’s do that – let’s start visiting and posting at
And thanks Rebecca, Annemarie, Patty, Katie, Queen Shit, Bethany, Caroline, Laure, Peter, Beth, Nan all the way from Florida, Adam, Liz, Donna, Jenn, Deb, Steve, Johnna, Alice, Stacie, Anne, Kerry, Maureen, Cheryl, Dave, Dan, Therese, Alex the Goat Expert, Joan and Kerry and Marcus (romantic friends of Donna Irish who became a man on Friday and who clearly, like Johnna, has a background in acting), Elissa who was also in LA, and anyone I didn’t include here. I learned a ton. The sense of warmth from y’all was unique in my experience. And, the main thing – I saw something I had never seen before in TPRS instruction. Danced Italian. How cool is that?
*Yes, we know that comprehensible input can be chanted, sung, rhymed, yelled angrily, whispered romantically, etc. We’ve all done that and it adds no insignificant amount of mojo to our lessons. We are not robots and comprehensible input cannot be provided by robots, as Dr. Krashen has specifically stated. But that CI can be danced as well as verbally mojofied is something I am not going to let go of. It is a completely unopened chapter in the book we are all discovering together – this chapter written by Johnna, who wrote it without even being fully aware of dancing the CI since her mind was on the (unfamiliar at first) circling process and so it goes with all great inventions – they happen independently of the conscious analytical process. Thank you Dr. Krashen!
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
11 thoughts on “Maine”
Thank you so much for coming to Maine. I think that this year went even better than last year. You were more organized, or something. The PQA session for Don’t Drink the Water was inspirational–I have never done that much with PQA. It was truly masterful and gave me an ideal to aim for. The story itself went well too.
I heard a lot of people saying that it helped them to see their peers working. It’s as helpful to watch someone who is making some mistakes as it is to see someone like you who makes it look effortless. It helps me a lot more to watch someone else than to teach and be coached myself. I’m too focused on what I’m doing to take in any feedback.
I think it was the right combination of modeling and instruction on your part, and participation on the part of other people. Your instruction was firmly rooted in Krashen’s teaching, which gave it consistency and authority.
What makes your presentation different from most of the others I’ve been to is the sense of collegiality that you emanate. You don’t come across as an expert but rather a brother-in-arms. Your humility makes it easy for us to identify with you and gives us permission to be less than perfect. At the same time, it is clear to everyone in the room that there is a reason we have you come all the way out here from Denver–you are a veritable treasure trove of experience, wisdom, and encouragement. A gifted teacher and a loving colleague.
We are very fortunate to have had you here. Thank you.
I was thinking how it must be greatly satisfying to know that because of you (your expertise, encouragement, coaching, amazing insight and knowledge) many teachers will enter the classroom more effective than they were on Wednesday the 6th.
I spent some time at school today (Saturday) putting blue tape on my board and moving my question words down on the board near the tape. I spent some time on Sunday looking over my story structures and thought of questions I could ask and directions I might go with the PQA.
I feel like for the first time I finally have a good idea of PQA and what it is supposed to look like. Watching you do it and then watching Anne really crystallized it for me.
I took a LOT away from those two days. I had lots of very grateful people come up to me after and tell me how much it meant to them to have this training. The peer coaching model is SO POWERFUL. It is so helpful to watch other teachers deliver Ci. I know that what I learned Thursday and Friday will be of great help to my students. It will make language even more accessible to them.
So, thank you amigo! I really do appreciate all you have done for us here in Maine.
Thank you, Skip, for organizing this! What a treat to see Ben in action, watch Italian being danced, meet the Insolant Emperor, as well as the mastermind behind all those great story scripts (Anne!)…It was a sweet couple of days– definitely worth the “lange fahrt” from Vermont! Hope it can happen again next year.
I told Ben in an e-mail that those two days spent with him are going to keep me in teaching. I’ve wanted to join the TPRS band for years but never knew really how/where to start. Well, I did it. When students came in on Tuesday, the textbooks were gone, there were new rules up, new posters, and a teacher with a renewed sense of hope that I can do a good job and actually teach Spanish instead of teaching about it. Each of my classes so far has roles assigned, we’ve learned/gestured a handful of verbs, and have done a card activity based upon one of the students’s drawings about themselves. It was wonderful and the kids were really excited about the changes. I left the day hoarse, exhausted, and fulfilled. We even held a short funeral service for the textbook in one class!
Thanks, Ben, for giving me something good to lose sleep over (creating stories between 2:00-4:00 instead of worrying about how to grab those kids with numbers 1-30). Thanks to all who were there for being fellow learners with me even though many of you were experts. I feel like I’m part of something really big!
Blessings to all,
Dave you are more than welcome. The Kool-Aid is not too bad, huh? Once you start slugging it down. And don’t worry about the waking up at night. It’ll stop happening in less than ten years from now, I promise. But it’s a good waking up, right? Like, “I can do this!”, kind of feeling. I never felt resentful about waking up at night thinking crashingly about what we have here from Krashen and Blaine and Susie and Jason. On the contrary, for the first time in my teaching career, I felt alive after meeting Susie. That’s worth losing a few hours of sleep over, n’est-ce pas?
Thank you, thank you for posting this. But it just makes me so so sad that I couldn’t come this year. Last year was so helpful for me, and to think that this year was even better…Sniff.
The passion and love comes through in your post, Ben.
Those Maine/NH/Vermont homeboys are so direct and honest and it seems like they are fearless. But yes we sure did miss you, Kit. I am writing up a storm here this week to make sure that I can convey at least some of the energy that that workshop released. It is hard to put it all into words but if that’s what we got, we’ll use it. Have a great year and keep swinging your Krashen Slugger.
Wow! Two days into this and what did one of my Spanish I classes want to do with the two stories/pictures generated? Write a kid’s book! That came from them! So we’re going to compile them for the daycare program next door! Somehow I gotta wonder if I had told them they had to do that for a grade they might have whined at the idea…
I was trying to think of how to circle “había” (There was) and I thought about doing a memory activity with a picture. Put a picture of something up for a few minutes, ask students to look at it, then take it away. Say a series of statements about the picture (There was a girl with a white shirt, There was a beach) and have students write “yes” or “no”. Repeats “había” , reviews a ton of descriptive words and nouns, and can be a competition of sorts for the highest # of correct answers. Any ideas ay or nay?
Sometimes I just circle with other verbs… habia una camisa o comia una camisa (there was a shirt or a shirt was eating)… habia una playa o jugaba una playa (there was a beach or the beach was playing)…
One unfamilar with the notion of the bizarre in TPRS might wonder about such strange images as an eating shirt or a playing beach. We do that because the bizarre or the exagerrated or the unexpected lend themselves to “catching” the interest of the mind. That is why we do that. When everything is expected, when it’s all kind of robotic, the kids tend to fade out. It’s got to be weird and it’s got to be about them and it’s got to be slow and comprehensible.