Last year, on the first day of the Maine conference, which starts again today almost exactly a year later, I looked out at the 70 teachers attending, and there was a big guy, a Patriots fan, clearly an athlete, but also, as it turned out, a great German teacher and one of the finest human beings I’ve yet met. I quickly threw him a football as I began modeling the Circling with Balls technique, and we quickly got to work. Due to budget cuts, Mike is not attending this year, but his school did get some Obama money to send one new teacher. Anyway, I just wanted to send a shout out to Mike from the group – as we get to work today, we will miss you and send you all the best and maybe we will be able to get together next year!
Also, Mike sent me a quote a few weeks back.
I saw this quote today:
“Devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression.”
Amos Bronson Alcott
(To me, this quote suggests that human verbal expression evolves toward levels of beauty perhaps in direct relationship to the time we spend verbally interacting in beauty in our classrooms. We can “walk in sound beauty” in our classrooms. It reminds me of something that Susie Gross once told me, that we should let the language fall from our lips as pearls. It is this pursuit of beautiful sound in our classrooms, done consciously, that adds du coeur (heart) to our jobs. I know from working with Mike last year that he teaches the German language in this way – for the joy of it – 36 years worth and counting in Mike’s case. When we see Dr. Krashen we should offer him hugs because he has offered us a way to teach in beauty. So thank you Dr. Krashen. Your work reminds us that we can be more than just teachers in our classrooms.
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
10 thoughts on “Mike Walker”
We did miss you today Mike. What a GREAT day we had. Three teachers agreed to try some peer coaching. Powerful stuff. I am not sure who benefits more, the teachers watching or the teachers practicing.
Hopefully you will be able to join us next year.
I am attending Ben’s Maine fiesta for the second year in a row. Ben was talking today about the unconscious process of language acquisition, and how, according to Krashen, the unconscious mind parses (sp?) CI- maybe whilst we sleep? Why does it retain some CI and not other? This is getting me thinking. I did a weird thing with my 8th graders at the beginning of this school year; it was not very TPRSy of me, but I wanted a way to quickly get a sense of what they had retained from last year’s stories, so I gave them a list of about 30 Spanish words and asked for English meanings. I teach in two schools in two different towns and, although I had worked with the same Cuéntame stories with each 8th grade, they were different kids, environments were different, I saw them at different times of day, blah blah blah. Amazingly, at least to me, the words that were forgotten (and retained) with high frequency in each class were THE SAME. ooooooooooooo. So, I am thinking, what causes the unconscious mind to save some and chuck others? One might think it was an issue of personal relevance or resonance,(remember that woman who worked with the Maori in NZ teaching them English by giving them words they wanted to own) or # of reps, but this situation seems to point elsewhere. I am wondering about the SOUND quality of words, and if perhaps there are certain sounds or sound combinations that “stick” better than others. Don’t you have those words/phrases that you have repped until the cows come home and they still get them wrong or don’t get them? Anyhow, this is heady stuff and not what I’m usually into, but it does fascinate me at times, the whole magical process of language acquisition. Looking forward to day 2!
forgive me, mike! my maiden voyage on the blog and my comment wasn’t about you. just learning the blogropes. miss you, though. I could see over and around everyone in front of me…
Carol Gaab said something about research that talks about the brain sort of organizing information during sleep and discarding what did not make sense. I am sure I have butchered what she said. If Carol is reading this, I wish she would clarify!
Mike, we missed you, buddy. Ben kicked it hard again and we all got energized. It wasn’t the same without you, though. You were doing TPRS back when I still thought Komm Mit! was the pinnacle of second language pedagogy. Rock on, brother.
I was correcting tests this morning (Saturday) after a brutal week of teaching: Homecoming week, two days of three-hour, parent-teacher conferences (3-6 p.m. and then the next day 5:30-8:30 p.m.) that came after the teaching day, assessing (aka testing) students, announcing at the football game on Friday night…AND withdrawal—I couldn’t go to the Maine TPRS/Ben Slavic conference.
While correcting this morning, I decided to take a break and get some breakfast. This breakfast wasn’t food—it was this website. First, let me say: It’s a little shocking to see your name as a blog entry, but thanks for all of the “shout-outs”. Last year, so many things regarding TPRS fell into place. It wasn’t so much the nuts and bolts of TPRS that I learned about—-it was philosophy.
For one of the first times at any conference, we talked about the soul of TPRS, about our relationship with kids. For many years, even though I was a veteran of TPRS, when things got bogged down, I assumed that maybe I was “doing something wrong”. The beauty of that Maine conference was Ben Slavic.
We learned that not only can we rely on our own colleagues in our own state (Peter, Anne, Skip, Alice, Deb…), we have a national and even world-wide connection. Ben has provided us with a place and a forum to ask for help, to discuss techniques, to vent, to rely on one-another. I have met many fantastic and gifted teachers at every conference (Sweet Briar, Va., Bar Harbor (Deutsche Woche), and many TPRS conferences. Every single one has energized me.
Ben’s conference/training workshop last year has had the most impact in all my years of teaching. Why? Administrations roll out initiative after initiative. Nearly every time, I think: In the TPRS community, we have been doing that for years. Literacy was a huge initiative in our school, and yet, Blaine, Krashen, Susie were talking about this a decade ago. The acronym even changed years ago to reflect reading as a huge part of TPRS. Yet, at least in our school, our school district spent tens of thousands of dollars on literacy “experts”, teachers’ workshops, and after school meetings in the past four years. What I have learned about literacy has come through this TPRS community, and most of it has been for free.
I have the good fortune to know Anne, Skip, Alice. Peter, et al. You, Ben, introduced Anne to the nation. How many teachers have benefited from her stories and “backwards planning”? I literally saw Skip Crosby at a Blaine Ray workshop in Maine become a TPRS convert. He struggled with Blaine’s telling of a story until Blaine passed out a written version. Suddenly Skip’s voice shouted, “I can read this!”
We have all had these “eureka’ moments. That is what we strive to do for every one of our students: To give them those “eureka” moments through stories, through reading, but most of all, though our love of teaching. You talked about this last year, and through this website and blog, you provide a safe place to discuss ideas and to reassure those teachers who believe: I am not doing TPRS “right”. I haven’t met Laurie, Robert, Duke, Nathan, or Jodi, yet I feel like them though their words.
So, this is a long “thank you”, but it isn’t just about this past week’s conference—–it’s for your tireless and prodigious effort to write and collate entries, to keep all of us connected. We all run into those “dark days” when it seems like what we are doing is not working, but then we see your lighthouse beacon telling us, “Have no fear. Stay the course.”
Mike thank you! Your use of that expression – staying the course – really resonated with me, because we all have encountered such singular, strange opposition during our voyages. Yet we stay the course because we believe in what we are doing.
There are so many things that we learn every day in our classes that I feel an almost moral obligation to use the internet to keep the dialogues, the changing, upward spiraling ideas, up in the forefront of the discussion as each new one arrives. Just during the workshop, there were at least three important new changes that came from the teachers at the Lewiston conference. We need to keep on top of them.
In fact, I wanted to underline a few random thoughts that I had after the conference, things that were mentioned but that I feel should be underlined for those who were present, so that we don’t forget them, and so I might as well do that here:
1. Remember when I put my hand on my forehead and started repeating one of the target structures out loud over and over and over again? I was trying to model something that will keep us from chasing rabbits into the weeds and losing our kids during a story – that is the idea that the target structures must be in our minds at all times during the story. This tags onto a recent blog here about how 87% of Anne’s story “Table Manners – part 1” was built of either target structures or newly introduced variables. So just to repeat that idea – our deeper mind must be like a kind of “echo chamber” – it echoes into our conscious mind the three structures over and over and over so that we try to get reps on THEM and not get enamored of other words/cute skirts that happen to come along during the story.
2. Therese reminded me as she drove me to the airport about how, in K’Day, we can just “go anywhere”. I wanted to share that with the group because I didn’t make it clear in the workshop. We can tell the K’Day stories to the kids, of course, but Therese reminded me that we can just talk in a very general way about we see together in the pictures, having fun, talking to high school kids like they are five years old. How much they love K’Day can only be known by doing a K’Day. And all it takes is one supportive parent to do the milk and cookies thing and we have a (Friday usually) highlight of the week (ten minutes only – we leave them wanting more).
3. As Peter worked from a One Word Image, I noticed an interesting thing – there really is very little difference between doing CI as a One Word Image or as a Circling with Cards/Balls session. In both, we expand and personalize CI. The only difference is that the One Word Images start with nouns and therefore require a lot of verbs to get going, and Circling with Cards/Balls discussions start with verbs and require a lot of nouns to get going. Not an earth shattering idea here, but it made me realize how CI activities of any kind, including stories, are essentially made of the same fabric and are a lot simpler than one would think. The needle just keeps on threading together personalized comprehensible input that is slightly bizarre and therefore interesting and meaningful to the kids – that is really all we do. TPRS, like philosophy, is a simple thing made complicated. At it’s base – and this is again why we must keep the lines of communication open between all of us, Mike, as you say above – at it’s base this stuff only looks complicated. Delivering CI to our kids in the form of listening and reading is really a very very simple thing. If that is true, then it is our emotional support of each other as we go through the succeeding weeks of our careers – through the winter and over the dell – that keeps that idea of simplicity alive, and makes us able to realize that teaching a foreign language is not the freaky, heavy thing that many teachers seem to want it to be. We support each other by reminding each of other about how simple this really is to do. As I said in a recent blog, our part in all of this is to simply relax.
I wanted to throw a ‘bow out to Dan. Dan, your kids are so lucky to have you as their teacher. I won’t forget our conversation at the end of the workshop. Throwing a ‘bow, dude.
Now to go watch the Broncos try to beat the Ravens.
I am so jealous of all of you…I’m at an AP workshop for four days….and it’s a bit excrutiating. As at former conferences (read: Pre-TPRS), I live for the networking after the sessions. And even then, I don’t have too many folks who are on the same page. Sad thing, these traditional times. Glad you’re all out there!
Michele four days of that. Hey, could you find out why mainly white females end up in those AP classes? Maybe you could also ask why that exam is so hard that less than four percent of kids even get to that level of rigor in their studies. And maybe you could ask why it is so hard to learn a language. Inquiring minds want to know. And I would love to know why they dropped the AP literature exam in French a few years back. Too tough? Kids can’t hang? Teachers not qualified? Or not enough money coming into the College Board bank accounts? I would also like to know why, since colleges now give their own entrance/placement exams and eschew all other results, what value they see in the AP language exams. Is it just the dollars, then? Then you can report back here. Because, quite frankly, I know that I am not alone in thinking that the AP language exams are not very valuable to the kids, which, the last time I heard, was the point. Given the track record of most AP teachers in most schools (excepting those willing to work themselves into a frazzle – and worse – teaching to that exam), the entire concept of a kid taking a language for four years in order to demonstrate a “passing” result (3) to some administrator who then approves of the teacher seems strange and not very based in, again, doing what is best for the kids, or for that matter for the poor overworked, freaked out, teacher, who actually buys into the game. I mean, when more than 19 of 20 kids are basically sent the message that they suck at the exam enough to not be admitted into the class as seniors, then what is really going on? Can you ask the College Board representatives those questions and get some real answers?
Great post, as usual. I will munch on that one for a while. We sure hope to see you next year -ok?