Michele On Student Generated Stories

Skip added a riff to the Student Generated (Skeleton) Story idea set forth by Michele. She provided structures to the kids and had them quickly write stories, choosing one and going with it, but, unless I am mistaken, Skip offered an option of asking the kids for basing a story on some expressions that they would like to know (the already famous I Am Pancakes line is an example – talk about hooking in a bunch of young kids! – I Am Pancakes!) and then going through the process Michele describes below. In fact, I am going to paste Skip’s comment here so we don’t have to look for it in putting this new riff into our classes if we want to. Here it is, followed by the blog Skip asked Michele for:
Hi Michele –
I have been wanting to thank you for taking the time to write out step by step instructions  on Ben’s blog (3/6/2010-way down under the comments) on how to have  students create stories from  3 structures..
After reading your “instructions” I gave it a try in my class and OH MY GOODNESS – it worked so well!   To get the structures I  asked  3-4 students in the Spanish 1 class to write down a word that they would like to know in Spanish but didn’t.   I used those words as the structures.   Their words/structures were:
                I am Pancakes
                I want to throw it
                I do what I want
                Put it away!
                feed me!
                make me a sandwich!

It worked beautifully.   We had actors and everything.  I had them give me words on Wednesday.  Thursday when I came in I had actually planned to NOT try the new idea because I was a bit nervous to try something new.   They asked me immediately if we were going to use their words.   Of course I said yes.  The “buy in” was fantastic.   I had no trouble at all finding the “best” story.   The other groups were green with envy and I could tell they couldn’t wait for the next time.  Everything you said would happen did.   The L2 flowed for most of the period.  I also liked the fact that it brought in the first person – something we hadn’t  worked with much this year. 
Thank you so very much.   I am going to forward your “instructions” to my colleagues because I think they would find this idea very helpful them as well. 
I appreciate your support and help. 
Skip Crosby
Poland, Maine

Michele’s instructions:
I walk into class, put three structures on the board (here are the ones I used last week, when we were studying Russian Golden Age writers):
participated in
not knowing about
was arrested
I do a minimum of establishing meaning, maybe a grammar pop-up, and maybe a little bit of PQA (these particular words are a bit dangerous for PQA).
I pair up the kids (Ben puts them into groups of 5-7) and give each group 1/8 piece of a sheet of paper (Ben gives them 1/4) and I say, “You have three minutes to write down a story using these three phrases.” I want them to make them up in L1, so that they take very little time, but now many write them in Russian. At two minutes I start collecting the stories. I let myself laugh as I read them, or make comments so that they all know I’ve read theirs and appreciated them.
[I think Laurie or Ben said that they have them write stories first and then do the PQA stuff. That’s probably a better idea, because it would be all L2 after those first two minutes.]
I take a quick look at the stories as I collect them to see which ones will work most easily. Sometimes the way the kids use the structures doesn’t work well for Russian, and sometimes the vocabulary is too complex.
One pair wrote, “Mimi [a girl in the class] went to play bingo, not knowing that no one under 18 can participate in bingo games. She was arrested.”
I asked that story: Class, who went? (Lots of suggestions, mostly from their own stories resulted.) Yes! It was Mimi! Class, where did she go? (I put a finger up to halt the group that wrote from answering the question.) No, not to the moon, the Olympics. . . she went to play. . . yes! Bingo! But class, she went to Bingo and she didn’t know. . . that LeBron James would be there…that the choir was singing instead…that the electricity was out…that it was a bar, not a Bingo parlor… no, class, she didn’t know that she couldn’t participate! Why not? And so on, until we have the skeleton story in place.
(Note: it’s less free for the class as a whole, because I am not going to accept their suggestions unless they miraculously get the answers right, than it is when we ask an Anne Matava story–in those, the kids get more free rein with the story. Here, they are waiting to find out what happened, and the kids whose story it is are bursting with pride and anticipation. In Anne’s stories, I can make specific kids heroes by choosing their suggestions. Either way kids get recognition, but there’s more control with pre-scripted stories. Sometimes groups will “leak” stories to their friends, and then there are shouts of “nichestna!” unfair.)
Then we can do a number of things. I can type the story up on the LCD as they dictate. I can have someone draw it on the board, or have groups draw separate pieces on white boards as I retell (that is a Susie tactic that lets you repeat numerous times, then repeat again as you ask which is what picture, allows you to use the vocab again as you comment on the drawings, and so on). I can back the actors up to their original positions and ask for the details, either from the actors or from the class…how often does she participate in Bingo? or try to participate? why did she participate that night? how did she get there? did her mom know? who arrested her? did she spend the night in jail after having been arrested? what did she say to her mom? did she explain to her mom why she wanted to participate in Bingo?
Students can write it up as a dictation or a fast write. If it’s a higher-level group, they can add in the details that they like in their fast write. We can do a parallel story.
Or we can just go on to the next student script: “Two monkeys wanted to participate in the Olympics. They trained and became curling champions. They went to Vancouver, not knowing that only humans could participate in the Olympics. They got so mad that they sabotaged the track and were arrested.”
We follow the same process–the kids who wrote the story barely holding themselves back from blurting out the answers, throwing in details to reclaim ownership of the story–maybe I give a quiz if the period comes to an end–
And then we might make it to a third story (”Donny went to participate in a soccer game, but he broke the rules and was arrested”). Then I might write that up, and we might extend it in the next class, or choose one story for our aide to expand on for us.
Now that Laurie has been sharing her tactics, I plan to try to pull all the stories together from three or four classes to make embedded readings, because I think they will be watching for their own ideas with great excitement. But that will be after we come back from spring break, our annual language competition, and parent-teacher conferences, so I’m going to be absolutely spring-loaded by the time we are ready to go again.



2 thoughts on “Michele On Student Generated Stories”

  1. I forgot to say, Michele, that I give the groups of kids more specific instructions than “just write a skeleton story”. I tell them to start with a character or characters who then want or try or need something to happen and first fail, but then they try again and succeed. I tell them to try to cram their story idea into three or four sentences.
    Jennie and I are in Bryce’s class right now, the AP class. So relaxed! The kids talking like 75% of the time. It is a logical result of them not talking much in the first years. This class is proof that input precedes output. In fact, Brian Barabe recently asked me a question about what AP TPRS classes would look like at upper levels (that question will be posted here later this week as the queue opens up). This particular AP class hasn’t been with Bryce over the years so I can’t tell you what that would look like from being here today. And I have no idea yet myself. We’ll have to depend on those few AP teachers who can address that later, or anyone else with any ideas. I can see in this class today, however, even though most of the students are book trained over past years, that the idea of just speaking, in the form of a story or PQA or discussing a piece of non-fiction or whatever, in a relaxed way, just speaking in a relaxed way, about what comes up, is the way to go at upper levels. It is very relaxed in here, all in Spanish – it doesn’t even feel like a class in a way, just a bunch of people sitting around making up weird stuff in Spanish. The SLOW thing is in full force in this classroom. A guy fell out of a boat just now and now he can only speak “Feesh.” Maybe when I grow up I can teach this way with my upper level kids, the ones I’m raising now. So my two observations about this class, quickly here, are the 75% L2 production by the kids and the feeling of peacefulness and freedom to just kind of sit back and absorb the language and suggest things and hang out. I like Bryce’s classroom.
    Now the class just left and we are debriefing. Jennie has great observations. This is when we learn. We agreed just now that it is not about performing, being good at this, but just being at the level we are with CI based instruction, and letting the kids be at the level they are. So much to say about this. Bryce just said that most kids leave years of classes feeling bad about their Spanish and how happy he is that his kids feel confident and happy about their Spanish. That is the bottom line for me.
    We are also discussing my participation grade 70% thing. One last thought about this little spat about assessment that I’m having with Bryce is that he indeed coats his teaching with a layer of love, so that his students clearly feel valued. If we assess heavily or if we don’t may not really matter, really. Do our kids feel judged or not may be the real question. Those of you who know Bryce personally know how he honors you when talking to you. I am going to keep exploring this low intensity assessment deal I’m into now, because it is important to the continuous unfolding and expansion that I personally have always experienced with this method, but, in the end, the truth is that, as long as the kids feel honored by us, the assessment piece will all be o.k. For me in my own world, summative assessment lowers the feeling of confidence of more than half the students in my classes, while it raises the affective filter, so I am now feeling like I want to do less of that. We’ll see where it goes. It is always changing. I clarified with Jennie and Bryce that I assess my students’ participation once or twice or even three times a week on a written rubric as a quiz that goes into the gradebook, not in the form of one generalized participation grade at the end of a fixed period of time. These are actual quiz grades. And Jennie just said that a better term is an Active Listening Grade. What a good term and I will use it. An Active Listening Grade. She said that Participation Grade is not the best term, because the term participation is not “meaty” enough, and that “what counts” should be something measurable, and that there must be something more tangible to measure. I agree with Jennie’s point. I think that, as long as we define “active listening” in certain terms, as on the rubric that I use for those quiz grades, all will be o.k. – and the term participation can be axed out of the discussion. (Bryce just said that in his class you have to “act like you are paying attention” – “if someone took a picture of you in class, what would you look like?” I like that.
    Anyway, we are now using Susie’s “Checklist for Observing a Foreign Language Classroom” (available on the posters page of this site or at susangrosstprs.com) to evaluate Bryce’s classes, so gotta go for that and then gotta get back to Denver before I-25 clogs up. That’s all for today from Roosevelt H.S on a beautiful day in the Rockies. Jennie said she will add some more stuff here later, and I apologize for any editing errors or lack of clarity above.

  2. Ben’s theme is honoring students. Honoring who they are, their personal stories and histories, honoring ourselves by being genuine with them. When assessments feel like judgment, we’re giving the assessments too much power.
    I am seeing this loving respect of students in Bryce’s classes and in Ben’s, and in the interactions of the three other teachers whose classes I’ve observed today. It feels like coming home. All the discussions and details I’ve been processing return to the genuine awareness of each person’s true spark. See that spark and protect and nurture it, avoid smothering it with too much of our egos or our righteousness, and they will thrive.

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