Model What You Want From Them

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72 thoughts on “Model What You Want From Them”

  1. Once again, Ben, you have wowed me with your words. What I am taking away from this, however, is how to deal with the opposite of what you encountered. I have rowdy, energetic fifth grade boys (and a few girls) who say whatever they want, exaggerate every sound I make and, sometimes, give me a headache. I wonder if I can succeed by modeling the behavior they present to me: shouting out, trying to say seven different things at once and making myself unintelligible. I have no idea if this will work, but I’m prepared to give it a shot (unless someone tells me I am nuts). I am only 4 weeks into TPRS and I love it, but if I can’t figure out how to keep my kids reigned in, I might lose my mind. I will admit that the kids, as well as the parents, are excited for this fast-paced change in class routine, but without good control (which has been my issue for my entire 11-year teaching career) I’ll be fried come Thanksgiving. Thoughts?

    1. I wish I could say my class is a “fast-paced change in class routine”. I’m having boredom problems, especially in my Spanish I class. My Exploratory Spanish classes aren’t too bad as I have an extreme amount of freedom so I’m choosing the structures I want to teach, I’m personalizing the class and I’ve been teaching some legends/folktales as well and this class is really fun. However here’s my Spanish I class situation: I teach 8th grade Spanish I for high school credit and the Spanish teachers are very clear on what they expect students to know in Spanish 2 (which is chapters 1-6 of the textbook). I personally know a TPRS teacher at another school who used to have to teach the same textbook we have and he told me that Cuentame Mas plus Pobre Ana basically covers everything I need to cover in Spanish I. So I convinced my forward thinking principal to order Cuentame Mas. I’ve been using it and I’m just not very good at teaching it. The students are noticing a boring routine: I introduce vocabulary, I ask some questions using that vocabulary, they read a mini-story using that vocabulary, then I introduce some new vocabulary again- lather, rinse, repeat (over a few days span). The PQA questions included in Cuentame Mas include a lot of words they don’t know and they aren’t very engaging. My biggest weakness is PQA, I’m not good at it and the students are very bored as I try doing it. I would make up my own, interesting PQA but I can’t think of what to ask so I’m stuck sticking to the PQA script provided…….God I suck! The only “engagement” the students have gotten over the past 2 weeks is when I write “alternative” stories using our vocabulary/structures and I make them humorous. For example, I wrote a story in which the sheperd ate the family that he lived with and ran to the woods to live with the wolf. Other than that, I am sucking hardcore. I will be recording a video soon to hopefully get some tips.

    2. Just a simple thought Allison: the Dictee (or Dictado or Diktat or whatever language you teach) is your big friend. I’ve got one German I class that is really feeling their oats, so I started the day with a Diktat that just slowed things down at the beginning and gave them a forum to challenge themselves in a safe environment. It gave a quick change of pace, and provides a bit of balance to all the interactivity (for me too).
      This of course isn’t the solution to everything; I only do it once a week, twice a week tops. But shift gears. Build up their confidence most of the time, but don’t be afraid to challenge them either. When I first started I was mostly guilty of non-variety, and my students would get unruly and I’d blame myself. Actually they usually just need a different look to keep the regular stuff you do in perspective.

  2. Chris, I’ve been in a similar spot. Ben’s quote posted from the French dude is what drives it home for me. “Laughter is the birthright of mankind.” You get buy in and energy when you diverge. So, diverge in confidence. Get the kids laughing. Lower the stress. Use the same words from your ‘text’ if you feel you have to but personalize it personalize it persoanlize it. Get them laughing and watch the magic.

  3. Allison this is actually something we all go through in the beginning. Are the rules posted (see posters page of this site)? Have you gone over the Five Finger rules (so a search on this blog for them)? I think that you are not enforcing the rules. You can shut their asses up. I know it. Great idea from Nathan on the dictee (resources page of this site). But, also, just slow down. Breathe. Make eye contact with each kid. If a kid blurts some shit out, turn on the kid and laser point to either classroom rule (posters) 1, 2 or 5. Do not let us forget this situation. You have been very candid with us and I can say with all confidence that yours is the most common and biggest problem in TPRS. But, as opposed to there being some flaw in you, it is really something that can be solved with minor mechanical adjustments. And call the parents of the offending kids (it’s the same ones all the time, right?) and explain how you need them to follow rules 1, 2 and 5. Now, you can’t just let this scroll out. Report in right here to this comment thread tomorrow, the next day and on through the next two weeks, and we will see some real changes real fast. I can hear Bryce and other experienced teachers shaking their head on this. You are going to fix this thing and right quick, if we in this community have anything to say about it.

    1. It took me a day to figure out how to read replies! So yesterday wasn’t great, and today was a mixed bag. First fifth grade class–fabulous! They did an act-out of the story we had created based on PQA in pairs as I read it aloud. Then we did a choral translation of this story. Then we had a silent reading activity with a story I scripted based on the PQA of the two classes. In pairs they worked to translate what they could (some new vocab., but they could handle it). Choral translation and some pop-up grammar. Nailed the kids who were talking out of turn, with a major no-nonsense tone.
      Second class, disaster. I told the kids at the beginning that when they were acting the story out in groups (I had them work in groups of 4 since there were 4 characters in the story–was that the fatal flaw of my plan?), it had to be silent. Like a TV with the mute button on. Did it work? No, not at all. They were loud and rambunctious and all over the place. Had to stop immediately because they were so out of control. Read them the riot act, that I wasn’t able to trust them, that they weren’t following my directions and that bummed me out because we might not be able to do activities like this for a while. I don’t want them to think that I don’t trust them in general, but I had to get their attention. I won’t see them again until Monday, so I have some time to figure out what to tell them next time we meet. I gave them the same story I gave the first class to read individually and then in pairs, then with choral translation. That part went better, but I am afraid that I might have sent some of them in the opposite direction. It was hard to really get choral answers from all of them, but I kept repeating the same sentence until I saw all students participate. (There’s a girl new to our school in this class who didn’t have French, or any foreign language, in fourth grade, which is when we start. She is very much a wall-flower, but today she even participated, which was new for her. Despite a one-on-one conversation, she’s really holding back and saying that everything is fine.) This worked out fairly well, because it ensured that I had everyone on the same page.
      So it was a better day in some respects, and worse than others. Feedback? I feel so lucky to have found this community, and have been religiously blogging myself to keep track of my activities and thought process. Comments there are always welcome!

      1. Allison any group work is going to end up out of control. I have heard of kids acting out stories, but that was years ago and I don’t think it is a good thing. Putting kids in groups, like someone said the other day, is code for let’s speak English and not do any work. The thing is I know I mentioned paired work on reading the story but it is not something I want to continue for the aforementioned reasons. When things work in one class and not in another, in my view, there is usually a kid or maybe two who are at the root of it.

        1. So fifth grade has been full of state testing this week. A welcome break. But I’ve had the chance to set up some serious PQA and circling with my fourth graders. Because they are a “clean slate,” so to speak, I have been tough with them. They don’t know French class to be anything else than what I present to them now. We have nicknames, “La carotte bleue” and “Super Tessa” in one class and “La fille qui lit,” who will be the star of our first story, in the other. I have named them using my laser pointer as a sword. But for some reason it’s so easy for me to take things a little farther with these guys than with my fifth graders. Is it perhaps that for my fourth graders, French is still very new? Every year it seems to be the fifth grade that gives me the most trouble. Despite my reminders about the rules (I have the 7 posted, but not just the 5 of the 5-fingers). I have exactly 6 days before I see them again, and serendipitously I have a workshop with Susie Gross in which she will talk about classroom management. It seems that if this breakdown were to happen, it happened at the right time. That isn’t to say I don’t still need help!
          Thanks to all who have supported me and given me ideas. I am very excited to try a written dictée; I did do a drawing dictée with my fifth graders on their last story and that was actually quite successful. Slowly, slowly, slowly…

          1. (Should I be posting this somewhere else in order to get more responses?)
            So here I am, back again to throw all of my faults on the table. Today I had a “chat” with my fifth graders, the ones who have given me the most grief. Today we started a reading of “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge,” which I know has some complex grammar, but I figured that since it was a story they all knew, it would be OK, right? No, wrong. They get all hung up on the little words and then think they can’t read the story. This happened with a story they read a month or so ago. I gave them a sheet with about 20 words or phrases I thought they would need in order to get the general idea, but they couldn’t get past the possessive adjectives and imperatives in order to get the general idea. So I opened up to “what vocabulary tripped you up?” We only went through the first three pages of the book (which is 18 pages and loaded with pictures) and my entire board was covered with vocab. We then went through the first three pages with choral translation. It was fairly successful, because we had done the “Que veut dire…” with the unfamiliar vocab ad nauseum. I then did some PQA around the main ideas of the first three pages. But if it takes me this long to get through 3 pages, what happens when I want my sixth graders to read a novel?
            And then my 4th graders. I am like a 3-year old at the bank when it comes to telling a story. I have my 3 structures and spend more time circling the “extra” vocab I have on the board than I do my 3 structures (which the kids seem to know fairly well). How can I keep myself from spinning into these ridiculous stories that are really dumb and stay a little more on track? Or am I over-thinking this?

          2. Are your 5th graders in their 2nd year?
            I know we noticed this year that our middle schoolers (in level 1) got freaked out by a paragraph and they do better if the sentences have some space between them. I wonder if the reading was just too hard and they should be reading something simpler, like just writing down the story that you tell in class or adding some more detail to it, like the extended readings. If your whole board is covered in new words, I would say the reading is too hard. A few new words, you can just right on the board and it shouldn’t interfere too much, but you don’t want so many new words in the reading.

          3. I would change the text. I know Barb Cartford has taken many legends and simplified them. I have a great book called “La Historia de los Colores” by Subcomandante Marcos and I’ve drastically simplified the text. Keep the images, change the text.

  4. Chris are you doing stories yet? They whet appetites and bring interest. Also, have you talked to each kid in a one on one about their grades while the others have done FVR? Of course, talking one on one with them about grades is just an excuse – really you are building a personal bridge with each kid that will cause them to see beyond the “teacher” they see you as now. Tell them candidly, just mention to each one, how you hope they can come up with cute answers to your questions. Do it even if it takes two full periods. Show a video if you have to. I have found that bringing two up to “discuss grades” at a time speeds things up and even improves the discussion because there are three. But spend that personal time with them now. Tell that this way of learning is new and you need their help. Also, they are staring because you are going too fast. Slow down. Like Allison, provide a daily report on how this changes, as many of us comment here (that is what I mean by a blog community – and we all work together to solve this problem. Your problem with boredom, Allison’s with the rowdy thing happening, are in fact all of our problems, and we all have had them, and they have also threatened to drive us nuts as well at some point in our work with this approach, so we all will learn from this. Courage, mon vieux!

  5. Hello. I’m new here and just wanted to add a few things to the discussion. First, I should introduce myself. I’m a 3rd year Spanish teacher at a small school in NJ. This is my first year trying TPRS (or even knowing about it, for that matter). I’ve been researching since Summer’s end about TPRS. I have a binder FILLED with information. Ben, I bought your book TPRS in a Year and I have your 45+ page booklet on the different things you do in your classroom. I have your DVDs. I am TPRS-stalking you (I swear, I’m not crazy!)
    I’ve been to every TPRS-related web site I could find, including the moreTPRS Yahoo! group and So far, in teaching Levels 1 and 2 the year has been going better than my last 2 and that’s a great thing. However, I do have some students (and 1 whole class) that are showing signs of withering. I know I need more practice but I must say I’m comfortable with this method. It suits my personality. I’m going to try the modeling behavior tip for the class that really give me trouble. I’ll check back in to let y’all know how it goes. I just attended a webinar with Piedad Gutierrez on Reading. I know I need to add more of that to my lessons. I just have the craziest schedule. Laurie Clarq contacted me as well about a mentor but I haven’t heard back from her after my response.
    Can I just throw it out there that I really really would love a mentor? Live and in person!? Anyway, I’m glad to hear that we can send in video tapes so I hope to do that when I’m a little more certain of things this year. Sorry if this info. is just not in the right place. I’m just so excited to meet you all!!!

    1. Jennifer I’ll just cut and paste this into a separate blog post for your bio and thanks. Pls. send a last name or initial. I haven’t heard from Laurie here in a while either. But isn’t Pidead right there in NJ with excellent training offerings?

  6. For me, this is the thread to watch during the next week or two. This is what it’s all about. The honeymoon phase is over, since all of us have been teaching for at least 3 or 4 weeks if not more. All the questions and difficulties popping up in my class and my mind right now are echoed by the teachers here who are honestly sharing their classroom experiences, warts and all. Thank you for your candor. Nowhere besides this blog have I ever experienced teachers letting their guard down and being honest about the emotional warfare that plays out in the classrooms every day–talk about high stakes!
    I too am thinking and worrying: Am I going too slow? Am I boring them? Are they beginning to think that this whole storytelling thing is just a sham and losing respect for me? I haven’t been enforcing the rules as strictly lately, and the chaos is starting to rear its ugly head, in little glimpses, and will continue to do so until I do something about it. How do I just shut them down on a bad day without alienating them completely? Am I brave enough to take them all to task every time even if it means having parents come at me? We haven’t even opened the book yet, what if they don’t understand any of it once we do, or start to believe they haven’t learned anything?

    1. I”m in the same boat as you are. I know that I AM boring them. I feel I am losing respect as a result. I had students ask me yesterday “Are we behind or ahead of the other Spanish I classes?”, and I heard another kid say “way behind”. I told them we’re not behind or ahead and you can’t compare our class to their class. By the end of the year we will be on the same page but process is going to be different and we’re going to be doing a lot of different things.
      I haven’t been enforcing my rules as strictly either. I was on it the first 2 weeks and started slacking. I’ve been giving too many warnings (the 1st offense consequence) and haven’t graduated to the 2nd, 3rd, offense consequences.
      I’m in the same exact situation as you plus add on the fact that i suck at PQA and storyasking so I’m boring them even more.

  7. Definitely, John. In the “Learn to fly on Your Own” thread, Skip’s issue and the responses were a real life saver today. Yesterday I had to ask two students to leave the classroom and go sit in the office. They simply would not stop talking. In fact, the girl got sent to the principal’s office for talking while sitting in the office. (I hadn’t given a referral, just needed to get them out of the room so I could take back the class.) Today, I used I introduced “talks” and “a lot”, then zeroed in on the girl – the guy had left for a football game. She readily admitted that she talks in all of her classes (and apparently gets away with it); one guy who has a couple of classes with her wanted to know how to say “annoying”. Tomorrow we hit the Anne Matava story about talking.

  8. REPORT: Had a great class today with the section I was worried about, thanks to the dictee (dictation) format. They have their first reading translation test on Monday, and we did a practice dictee today. I told them that in the future this would be for their grade, but today we would do it as practice and to review the reading for Monday. I chose 6 or 7 of the more difficult sentences. After they corrected each sentence, I would take a few questions, and it really made them aware of things they had previously just passed over, thinking they understood. I have probably never had so many “a-ha” moments happen in any one period as today. Before today, I knew they needed to look a bit more closely, deeply, at the story we had created, but I did not know how to get them to look AGAIN at something they thought they had “down” because they had seen it more than once or twice. Also, this activity created an atmosphere of quiet study, focus and honest curiosity about correcting their mistakes, not ME correcting them. Not sure if you had recommended this as well, Ben, but I took a tip from Diane Grieman, which is to tell them I will only mark them down for mistakes they do not correct. Automatic incentive to be very detail oriented, and not at all intimidating, even for kids with learning issues. On that note, I really like this exercise because my students with auditory or visual processing issues can be successful, because they’re getting the language aurally and in writing, and they can use their strength to confirm what their weakness may have missed, that is, use the text they see to correct what they heard, or vice versa.

    1. BTW I confronted the boredom issue head-on at the beginning of class with this statement: “Some of you may think this is kind of boring, or that you don’t need the practice, but trust me, we all need the practice. If you pay attention, you will discover things you missed. Also, I would rather have you quiet and bored than noisy and disrespecting my classroom and your classmates. So until you can cooperate, prepare for class to go very slowly, and to be very bored.”

  9. What John and Chris say so honestly and boldly and so truthfully absolutely must be the thread of the entire year! Discipline precedes instruction. Those kids who make those cracks about being behind other sections must completely be put in their places. That kind of comment MUST be responded to with a parent phone call. This is ridiculous. We must enforce the rules and decorum in a society gone mad. We must go slowly enough that these little jerks get instant eye contact with us, we walk over to them physically and lock on to their eyes, and in no uncertain terms we laser point the rule, probably #4, and we demand obedience. These are children who have been allowed by teachers and parents to express themselves when they are not happy in class. WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON IS THAT THEY DON’T LIKE BEING PUSHED INTO ANOTHER PART OF THEIR BRAIN AND INTO A WAY OF BEHAVIOR IN CLASS THAT DEMANDS THAT THEY INTERACT IN A CIVIL WAY WITH AN ADULT. Now, everybody get the book out who can’t do that, because your fluency program using CI won’t work and you might as well quit now so that your students can keep up with the sections who are in the book and life will be fine for all involved except you, who is the only one in the building who knows better. Are you really going to allow these kids, their ignorant parents, and their clueless administrators to drive your curriculum? Robert is right, that would be unprofessional and unethical. John is right, these are the few weeks in the year when we lose them of tame them. Just remember, discipline first and then instruction. Get on the rules, get on the phone, and get with the program. you can spend all summer being wowed about how great this all is, but now that push is coming to shove, I advice that you learn to be the adult in the room that the kids secretly want you to be, and learn to frickin’ pick up a phone.

    1. Monday, I plan on going in ready to start enforcing the rules I laid out the first couple days of school. I’m going to put a poster up beside the rules of the consequences to remind everybody, including myself, what happens when the rules are broken.
      If a student breaks a rule, as a warning do you write their name on the board or have a roster that you keep readily available to keep track of infractions? I struggle with trying to keep track of who has broken which rule how many times. And when do you recommend making phone calls, in the middle of class in front of everybody or at the end of the school day? And…how do you address the parents and address the issue over the phone? I know a lot of parents can get defensive if approached the wrong way. Should you “start off with a positive note” and then get into the negative as we are told to do by administrators?
      One more question: Am I blaming myself too much when it comes to the boredom problem? Should I be putting more of that blame on the students? I’ve been under the impression that I’m just not being “engaging enough” and that’s why they’re bored.
      Thank you for this wake up call, by the way. I should probably do a video at some point next week to start getting some feedback on what I need to fix

      1. …I’m going to put a poster up beside the rules of the consequences to remind everybody, including myself, what happens when the rules are broken….
        I vote no to the consequences poster. Some have these at home, in every classroom they go to every day, maybe some kids have them in their bathrooms at home, or on the ceilings of their bedrooms, and live with threats like these from adults daily. The place to modify the behavior is in the classroom when it happens with the laser on the rules chart (not the five finger rules, which have less teeth than the Classroom Rules poster) and with your eyes directly on the eyes of the bully. Here are the rules from my posters page on this site:
        Classroom Rules
        1. Listen with the intent to understand.
        2. One person speaks and the others listen.
        3. Suggest cute answers, avoiding English.
        4. Clarify if you don’t understand.
        5. Sit up…Squared shoulders….Clear eyes.
        6. Do your 50%.
        7. Actors – synchronize actions with my words.
        …if a student breaks a rule, as a warning do you write their name on the board or have a roster that you keep readily available to keep track of infractions?…
        Hell no, that is what teachers do. You are beyond a teacher. They will work with you and you will feel the love and the magic of this approach but only if you don’t act like their other teachers, whom they have become numb to. If you are a kid, I wonder if having your name written on the board is going to win over your good will? Or if the teacher goes over to a roster and makes a threatening notation of the behavior that that will change your behavior. Hell no those things don’t work. What works is SHOWING UP IN THE MOMENT AS THE ADULT IN THE ROOM. I PERSONALLY WOULD HAVE MADE THE KID WHO WHO ASKED IF WE WERE BEHIND THE OTHER SPANISH SECTIONS UNDERSTAND IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS THAT WE DO NOT SPEAK THAT WAY IN CLASS AND THAT WE ARE GOING TO LEARN THIS WAY AND IF THEY HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT TO GO TALK TO COUNSELING OR A PARENT IN FACT I WILL TALK TO YOUR PARENT TONITE. I’m sorry, but my good will goes out the door when they show me bad will. Have we as the adults become so afraid of lawsuits and angry parents and administators that when little Fauntleroy says something COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE in our classes we let it go as a minor incident? WTF?
        …and when do you recommend making phone calls, in the middle of class in front of everybody or at the end of the school day?….
        at the end of the day or in the evening – never in class.
        …how do you address the parents?….
        You tell them the truth. That you are required by the national guidelines to use the language 90% of the time in your language classroom and that you are working hard to that effect and that little Fauntleroy seems to not understand that fully so could you as the parent please talk to him about his use of English in my classroom and his need to follow the classroom rules which I happen to have right here in front of me (have them in front of you) and actually the one that little F-head seems to be having the most trouble with is rule #5 here so let me read it to you and by the way is F-head around maybe you could call him because maybe we can really come to an understanding of what behaviors I need in my classroom right now. I really need your help. That would be great! And then hang up because you made your point. If the parent asks about verb conjugations say that you would be very happy to discuss that point in a school setting with an administrator, because things have changed so much in the past ten years that I always feel more comfortable discussing changes in pedagogy with parents when there is an administrator present. And, by the way, please allow me to email you a copy right now of the ACTFL (that is the national parent organization of all foreign language teachers in the United States) position statement on what they are recommending we do in our classrooms. That should help you understand the changes I am forced to teach under now, and do you believe that I can’t even use the book as the primary method of instruction any more? Yes, things certainly have changed. And so the reason I would like to email you the ACTFL position statement is that maybe if you shared it with F-head you could make him realize how much trouble he really is causing me in my classroom because he has trouble following a few rules, especially rules 1, 2 and 5. I sure would appreciate your help on this! Here is the ACTFL position statement I mentioned and please, do come visit with my administrator so that I can further explain to you about all the recent changes in foreign language instruction in our nation:
        Position Statement on Use of the Target Language in the Classroom
        Research indicates that effective language instruction must provide significant levels of meaningful communication* and interactive feedback in the target language in order for students to develop language and cultural proficiency. The pivotal role of target-language interaction in language learning is emphasized in the K-16 Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century. ACTFL therefore recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom. In classrooms that feature maximum target-language use, instructors use a variety of strategies to facilitate comprehension and support meaning making. For example, they:
        1. provide comprehensible input that is directed toward communicative goals;
        2. make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support;
        3. conduct comprehension checks to ensure understanding;
        4. negotiate meaning with students and encourage negotiation among students;
        5. elicit talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time;
        6. encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language;
        7. teach students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when faced with comprehension difficulties; and
        8. offer feedback to assist and improve students’ ability to interact orally in the target language.
        *Communication for a classical language refers to an emphasis on reading ability and for American Sign Language (ASL) to signed communicative ability.
        Approved by the ACTFL Board of Directors 5-22-10
        …am I blaming myself too much when it comes to the boredom problem?….
        I think you are but I would need to see some video first. The thing is, Chris, this method is not about your being engaging or theatric. It is about making kids understand the language that you are speaking. My books include ways that I have found work to make things more interesting, but it is not about that, really. I don’t remember to do a fraction of that stuff in PQA in a Wink!, etc. Nobody does. The real book that I need to write is the one about trusting ourselves in the classroom and acting like adults. The real game that we are all trying to learn to play here is how to get kids to follow the rules and make certain that they understand us in class, because, in fact, they know that we mean business with the rules. So yes, it is partially their fault for being boring kids, but it is your fault that you have not forced them to show up as human beings in a participatory and reciprocal way. That is why I want our group small – to be able to discuss stuff like this – the real stuff (you know it’s real when it has the potential to upset you). That is why I am getting ready to cut a bunch of people out of this dialogue this weekend as per:
        I only want people on here who have clearly indicated that they are willing to get dirty in this work, to get down into the stuff that upsets us and keeps us awake at night. This group is not for lurkers, really. It’s for people like you, Chris, who get it and who want to make it work in their classrooms and are willing to ask real questions like the ones above. Because we want to teach for real. We want our lives to real, not fake. And teaching from a book is fake.

    1. THIS THREAD IS HUGE! And of course just what I need right now. I am 3 weeks in, post honeymoon, and yes, I too am seeing the behavior beginning to deteriorate.
      1) The talkers: I stepped it up last week with them. Got right in their lovely little faces. Stopped everything. Pointed at the rule. This really does work. I think my issue is that I need to ALWAYS do this intervention. Sometimes I don’t (why? who knows? I catch myself at times in the old school mode of “trying to get through” something OR the conversation is really happening and compelling and it’s easy to let it slide OR I typically suck at the whole discipline thing OR ALL OF THE ABOVE)
      The usual cause of the imbalance, as in most other imbalances…is speed and rushing and frenzy. It is impossible to notice, to be present, to act consciously when we are speeding :0
      The good news is right here, right now. Because I am declaring publicly to this posse of radically compassionate human BEINGS that I am going to kick it up again next week. No more sliding. I see from my first steps on this path that I cannot let anything slide or I might as well use a textbook. Gah! The radical shift for me is that I am not going to berate myself on this stuff, as I usually do. Instead I am going to be the change. Send the kid out of the room. Call the parents. Use our “academic alert” system that is in place at our school. Also modeling modeling modeling. That post really stuck with me because so much of this boils down to “common courtesy” or even “etiquette.” So we do need to model what these behaviors look like because most of our kids have no idea what we’re talking about.
      My sense, in my own classroom, is that the kids don’t quite know the boundaries. Because the vibe of the class and the content is so free-flowing and fun it is harder for them (and sometimes me) to discern where the line is. For me I have to practice over and over noticing when the line is crossed and bringing us all back into the boundary. I feel like we (students and myself) are all on a huge learning curve.
      2) The “I feel like I’m not learning anything”-ers: last week in a reflection exercise I had a few of these responses. “I wish we could take notes because I learn more” “We are going so much slower than last year” “I haven’t really learned anything new” etc.
      My response to these kids was to acknowledge their discomfort, and to remind them that we ARE going slowly and it is on purpose and here’s why (with a brief kid-friendly reminder about acquisition vs learning). I also said something like “Feel free to take notes on your own time if it will make you feel better, but just know that you cannot memorize a language. I will not waste classtime on this because what you really need is to listen and respond to language in context…constantly!”
      So that is where I am. It is really easy for me to write all this up and it will be really hard for me to execute (yeah, the old “theory vs practice” dichotomy) so that is why I’m kinda using this forum as a way to be held accountable.

      1. …you cannot memorize a language….
        What a great thing to say, so true and perfect to tell a kid. I don’t think that what you said there is easy to say, Jen. I think it shows a level of self-awareness and maturity that is rare. And it is that very self-awareness, that ability to articulate things like what you said above, now at this hugely important time of year, what we may call, the “let down”, that will propel us through it into the new. We want the new, we want our teaching to be artful so that our professional lives aren’t boring, there is no lack of people who want to tear us down (read Bryce’s comment here today) and we are getting hit from all sides. It would be so easy to quit. But we can do this, and it all comes from that refusal to take shit from kids who shouldn’t be blamed. It is like, finally, real adults are showing back up in their lives with real plans that really work and they don’t know what to make of it. They MUST be invited and coerced, really, to accept the change in their brain activity and in their behavior. If we lose that battle, the one most of us are fighting now, we will lose this year, and we will, because we are junkies, be back in the summer trying again, all because we backed down to a bunch of kids. That is how bad it is in American education. And the data freaks are not helping, since the kids figure out how to play the memorization/testing game starting in 5th grade. They get good at it. But we can do this. Your eloquence there, Jen, easily convinces me that we can do this. We just have to grow up ourselves. We have to learn to smile when our hearts are torn to bits by comments like Chris heard last week. That is why few people do this. But we do it because we are not afraid.

        1. Jen, thanks for sharing. We all struggle with finding that balance and keeping the boundaries firm. I’m struggling with that in my level 1 class in particular. When I found out that I would have no freshmen I thought the class would be more engaged because of the extra year of maturity. Not a chance. If anything it merely means that they are a year more experienced at playing the school game and therefore a year slyer.
          Some things about that class:
          -For the first time in years I had to send two students to the office just to get the poison out of the room. The office had to put them in different rooms and send one to the principal to stop the party. Since their return they have been better.
          -They keep asking “how do you say”. At first I thought this was an interest in learning the language (and I still think it partly is), but now I see it as primarily a mechanism to derail the class and get out of the hard work of paying attention. Now I tell them to ask me that during a “brain break”
          -I need to be more aware of elapsed time and give them a “state change” (brain break) more often.
          -I am getting better at knowing when a student is having a bad day and when there is an ongoing attitude issue. Thursday one girl was showing that she didn’t want to be in class but not quite to the point of my choosing to confront. Friday she was happy and engaged and contributing.
          -This class is right after lunch and basically unwilling to do TPR, so I need to work on other ways to teach some of those things I have always taught via TPRS (stand up, sit down, jump, etc.).
          -I chose to address talking through Anne Matava’s “he talks too much” story as well as directly. Before reading the story I wrote we did some storyasking. Starting with “talks” I asked “who talks”. After they got the idea that this was a story and not a blame session (I didn’t let them use the girl who truly does talk too much), they were very happy to send me to Africa to talk too much to Angelina Joley and then go home and dream about talking to Angelina Joley. When we read the story I had them read silently, then asked how much they understood. Got a finger rating of 80-100% from everyone. One guy joyfully shouted, “I can understand this!” Then we translated just to be sure. Homework was to take the story home, translate it for a parent and get a signature of completion. (Back to school night is this coming Wednesday. I shouldn’t be getting too many questions about what we are doing in the class.)
          -I still need to work on going Slow-LI.
          Jen, an analogy that might be helpful is learning to play an instrument. As a keyboard player, here are some parallels I see:
          -You can memorize some aspects of playing but you can’t memorize playing. (I can memorize names of notes, values of notes and rests, key signatures, fingerings, etc. just as I can memorize the alphabet, words, etc. – but none of that is music or language)
          -You can memorize pieces of music, just like you can memorize structures and phrases, but that still isn’t playing
          -There are no shortcuts. If I try to play an i+1 piece (something that is a stretch for me) at full speed from the very start, it will take me longer to master it than if I start slowly and work my way up. Processing language is the same way. If we start too fast, it will take longer to acquire the language. I remember sitting at the piano and setting the metronome to an extremely slow pace. It was boring to play at that speed, but it was necessary to build the foundation for playing up to speed.
          -In ensemble playing, everyone has to work together. The more advanced, more talented, more musical players have to have patience with others, but the less advanced/talented/musical players have to allow themselves to be stretched. (That’s why the barometer student has to be the engaged slow processor, not the disengaged student.)
          -In high school, nearly all of the “practice” – both for music and for language – occurs in the classroom. In a professional setting, participants would come prepared to refine what they have done on their own; in the high school that doesn’t happen, so the classroom has to serve multiple functions, including being the “practice room”. This is especially true for languages other than Spanish in much of the country.

          1. That is why, years ago, I stopped the use of that phrase Comment dit-on? in my classroom. They are indeed sly. Another argument against that phrase is that even if you gave them the L2 answer they would forget it for lack of repetitions. That repetition thing is so key!

      2. “The usual cause of the imbalance, as in most other imbalances…is speed and rushing and frenzy. It is impossible to notice, to be present, to act consciously when we are speeding :0 ”
        Speed is an issue for me too. I saw a great example of being in the moment and even milking it in the Sr. Wooly song “Me Duele.” He says My head hurts a lot, my throat hurts a lot, and my stomach – o -o- o. Then he goes into this long “oh” part where he throws in all this emotion. To me this was extra and not important… even embarrassing, but for some of my students, this was their favorite part. They laughed so much. Then he goes into “I’m hot; I’m cold; I have a cold,” with such seriousness and intention. Had I been him, I couldn’t have done it. But because he did, maybe now I can. The power in it comes from going slow. It reminds me of a creativity podcast I listened to recently, about learning to exist in the space of fear, uncertainty and doubt and let them become the fuel for brilliance.
        These are kind of random thoughts late at night.

        1. This is from my book:
          Skill #22: Staying in the Moment
          This is my favorite skill. It requires heart. Staying in the moment means that you do not leave the moment that has been created in the story. You do not digress. You do this to keep the comprehensible input alive. The way to make sure you do this is to:
          – teach the student and not the language.
          – stay on the sentence until it parallels the original story – see the conclusion of this book for details on how to do this.
          – milk in extra details via circling, making sure that the details are connected to the lives of your students.
          Staying in the moment may be the most challenging skill of all the TPRS skills because it involves going against so much of what we have all been taught as teachers, which is be in charge, drive the story, say the right thing at the right time, be funny, etc. The fact is that if the teacher is the one driving everything forward, there is no “space” for the kids to join in the game.
          Most importantly, if the details of the story are not provided by the students, they will not be interested in the story. The instructor must create spaces via artful questioning that allow for those spaces to be filled by students’ answers that are interesting to them.
          This involves staying in the moment, resting there, waiting for the right cute answer, avoiding the desire to push forward. Here is a sample of how that can be done in a story I wrote for my class:
          a dévisagé – stared at
          est monté – went up
          se sont disputés – argued
          Marcel and his girlfriend Sheila are in a car on (local street). They stop at a red light.
          Sheila looks up at a building. She sees Larry in the building looking out a window at her. Sheila stares at Larry. Larry stares at Sheila.
          Marcel is angry. He gets out of the car and goes up the elevator in Larry’s building. He argues with Larry. Sheila cries.
          I made a “car” (two chairs) in the middle of the room. I got two kids up to be Marcel and Sheila, thus instantly personalizing the story. They shuffled up to the “car” and looked at me with that expectant look they do. They shuffled too slowly, so I just yelled at them to get into the car:
          “Montez dans la voiture! (“Get in the car!”)
          I put Larry on the third floor of a “building” (actually a countertop that runs along the side of the classroom). I told Larry to look down at the kids in the car.
          With meaning of the structures clearly established, and written and translated and clearly visible and ready to be pointed at throughout the story, with three actors and a good script, all was ready for a great class! “What a great start!” I thought. Then there was that little pause, like, “O.K. what do I do next?”
          The kids weren’t laughing and the story wasn’t funny. Instead, they were giving me “the look,” as if to say, “What’s next, oh purveyor of alternative teaching methods?”
          I answered their look with my own look, “Hey, you think it is easy to just get a funny story going? I ain’t no Susan Gross! Some of us TPRS teachers actually have to WORK for a story!”
          Still the look. But I resisted the urge to yell, “I can’t do this stuff! It’s too hard! Someone help me!” I just stayed in that moment:
          Just hang in there, Ben, and explore this moment. Don’t try to drive the story forward too fast! Ask questions and listen to their responses and pick the right ones and just let this thing go forward in its own way! Circle and listen for cute answers! Trust the method and play the game and listen to them! C’mon, man, you can do it!
          The look.
          Stay in the moment! Ask the questions. Circle or die!
          The look.
          Class, where is the car? (Paris!) No, class, the car is not in Paris! How absurd! The car is in Denver! (Ohh!) Class, where in Denver? Someone yells out “Colfax Avenue!”
          Colfax Avenue is a well-known street in Denver for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its seediness. I think:
          That really is the right street. Yes! Colfax! Perfect! How could it be any other street?
          Immediately, the look was gone! The mood in the classroom had completely changed. Nobody was nervous any more. The look had been replaced by smiles and laughter. The boy who suggested Colfax was pleased with himself beyond words.
          There are so many stories around Colfax Avenue in Denver that I could tell that each kid was making their own association – all of a sudden what used to be a struggling story was actually alive with energy because of the mention of a street! Colfax Avenue and its reputation in Denver had united us. The idea that their friends were in a car driving around downtown, where so much crazy stuff happens, and no longer in a classroom in southwest Jefferson County, had captured their interest.
          By staying in the moment of the story until a cute answer was suggested, the story was saved. The kids were given their voice in the story. It took off from there. Had I reacted to the look by taking everything over, jumping out of the moment into something I could control, the resultant disenfranchisement of the kids would have dragged the story to a halt.
          Later in the story, I had another opportunity to stay in the moment – this time it was to wait for the right physical detail to be suggested:
          When Marcel was being jealous because Sheila was looking up out of the car into the window at Larry, I waited until I got the right answer from the class:
          Class, why is Sheila staring at Larry?
          No answer. The look. Another one of those moments where I could either rescue the story or stay in the moment and wait for the right response. What should I do? I waited. I resisted the impulse to tell the kids that Sheila was looking at Larry because she thought he was cute, which would have been my idea and not theirs.
          Then, from the left side of the classroom, just when the discomfort in the classroom was growing, a superstar blurted out in English these words in a fit of laughter while putting her hand to her nose:
          Because Larry has a big zit on his nose!!!
          Bingo! Hanging out in the moment had again paid a big dividend, well worth the discomfort that was in the room just a few seconds before. The class erupted in laughter, and my superstar had one of those big “wall to wall” smiles on her face.
          I immediately told her that this was exactly why Sheila was looking at Larry. It was obvious! She was correct! I expressed true amazement that she knew that. I sent the message that I myself could never have come up with such a cute answer. I told her how proud I was of her perfect suggestion at the perfect time in the story and I heaped the praise on. Nothing motivates like success, and my superstar had been successful because I had stayed in the moment and not rescued the story.
          Of course, sometimes we wait and nothing cute is suggested. Does that mean the students aren’t learning and that we are failures at TPRS? No. Cute answers, though wonderful and in my opinion necessary, are not the point of TPRS.
          Are the kids hearing the language? Are we speaking the target language to them in the class, and are the kids reporting in on comprehension checks at 80% or above? If so, then we are doing our jobs. Then, echoing Gilbert Gottfried, we can say with confidence, “I am intelligent, I am a good person, and gosh darn it, my students are learning!”
          So staying in the moment may produce wonderful suggestions that give sparkle to a story, but if it does not, that is just fine. We need to expect less from TPRS than all glitter and gold. Personalized comprehensible input is just fine.

  10. Mistakes I see myself doing in the classroom from this discussion:
    1. My consequences poster is next to my rules poster. I’m taking it down. I don’t enforce it anyway. I’m a wimp! I don’t want kids to feel like I am their enemy. They won’t learn from me. I keep trying to build positive relationships. The district is harping on this this year. I do it! Also, if they are kicked out of class they miss so much that they become behavior problems!
    2. I am constantly breaking my OWN rule! ONE PERSON SPEAKS AND THE OTHERS LISTEN. I will find myself continuing to talk and I don’t stop when I hear others begin their side conversations. It’s my fault they don’t listen. I have even stopped class to point out that THEY are letting me break rule ONE! It has not helped. I have made phone calls home to one entire class. (period 3) Started other classes yesterday, but every number I called was disconnected for the kids who’s parents I REALLY needed to contact. Go figure. For the ones I have talked to, the parents have been supportive, but the kids have not improved. I know…. Pick up the phone again. I even cried in frustration one day last week (real tears) different class. This class got COMPLETLEY quiet. (period 5) I wish I had had the strength in that moment to look at them and say; ” sure! you little shits will shut the F up when I show intense emotion and cry, but you don’t give a FLIP when I am trying to do CI and you are bringing me to the brink because you can’t shut-up! I realize I am the adult in the room, but when they speak English I do too! I told them that it isn’t easy for me to stay in L2 ESPECIALLY when they don’t.
    3. I suck at modeling what I want from them. I speak TOO MUCH L1 ! I’ve tried the sit in an empty chair thing and model. They think my class is not a REAL class. I’ve made it too fun! I told all my classes on Thursday that this is a real class; it just feels different. I ask for their undivided attention so they don’t get homework. That doesn’t work either because they don’t DO their homework in their other classes anyway. Yesterday, for my 7 th period class (my only level 3), I showed them some of the Canadian teachers teaching French and talking about how they teach. You posted the link but I can’t remember who it was. They didn’t call it TPRS but it looks and sounds the same. I wanted to MODEL to them what they should look like. They were stunned at the proficiency of the same level class (11th grade). I also pointed out that they are USING L2 during class and it’s NOT perfect! Go figure! I will see on Monday if this had any impact.
    This is my 3rd year using tprs. My level three class wants me to teach how I did in first year. I THOUGHT I WAS!!! I know making a video of myself will help. I’ll be doing that next week. Ill let you know how it goes. Otherwise, I too am suffering from the I SUCK at this syndrome. Yet I still move forward. The honeymoon is WAY over and the way my classes are now I won’t survive the year with my mental health.
    Things I plan to work on: consistency, PQA which is a whole other discussion, phone calls home and growing up.
    A bit about me: I never wanted to be a teacher. I graduated with a degree in French and a minor in Psychology. My parents pressured me into taking an Ed class in my senior year of college. I dropped it aftern the first day (I was not excited about designing bulletin boards and creating lessons…. NOT FOR ME. I got married right after graduation and my husband and I moved to California where he was stationed in the Air Force. Out of financial need I applied to be a substitute teacher (no responsibility or lesson plans and flexible hours). I started with my first assignment at 22 years old. After transferring to Idaho I continued to sub as I raised my two daughters. Bill got out of the Air Force and we moved back home to Indiana. I continued to sub and be active in the school where my kids were enrolled. As I became more popular as a sub, administrators started asking me what I was certified to teach. In would laugh this off, I didn’t see myself with the responsibility of teaching.
    One summer, after my girl were old enough to take care of themselves (high school and middle school), a friend of mine noticed an ad for a teaching position at a private school just down the road a few blocks. It was a mixed level class for one period a day. The French program was being phased out. My friend and family convinced me to apply. Without a certification I was hired on the spot. I spent the next three years there and i went back to school to become certified to teach. When I was there, I built the program in three years to 4 classes a day (part time). I often talked to the Spanish teacher about how she taught her classes. She was a grammarian 4 %er all the way! I mentioned TPR to her and she went off on how stupid it was and that I shouldn’t waste my time! Like a new teacher, I took her advice and yet I never stopped thinking about TPR and that it just seemed right.
    Four years ago I got a phone call from an administrator friend of mine in the public school. He recently started as principal and he needed a language teacher to replace the Latin teacher who had just retired. I left my private school after 4 years and started with another new program to build. My first year there was teaching French to kids who were expecting Latin. Talk about a tough crowd! in the middle of my first year there I began experimenting with TPRS methods. I didn’t really commit to the method completely until the following year. I went to a workshop in Chicago and I was hooked. I’ve been using the TPRS exclusively in the classroom for the last two and a half years. Last year was a disaster for my students because I was ill for 9 weeks due to a chronic condition and they had a sub who didn’t know French. He gave them the textbook and said, do these pages. My students had never seen the book! I can tell I am still trying to clean up THAT mess. I link that to many of my discipline problems. This year is still better than last. I am looking forward to sharing this year with you all. I do love teaching kids and I am still surprised that I am a teacher. Lol 🙂

    1. When I met Shannon last summer in St. Louis, it makes me so much more in touch with what she writes here – it makes more sense, if you will. Likewise, Libby, had we not met at NTPRS, this would not make as much sense. What you shared here about the crying jag in that class is a treasure. It represents the first time anyone since 2007 has written something so honest about what they feel when they are teaching. It shows me that we are moving out of our minds and into our feelings on this blog, which can only be good. Trust me that by the end of the weekend, or sometime next week, I will have chopped away the dead wood on this blog and we will be back to the smaller group. This kind of honesty requres a totally safe place. Wow. You are normally so cheeful and, as I felt talking with you last summer, usually in happy relationship to your kids, because you love the game, so to read the above is wonderful. It’s like, we always hide that stuff, but you and Jen have just come out and said it. Very freeing for me to read it. I’m not in here with a bunch of lightweight fakes. I’m in here with real human beings who feel sadness and frustration as teachers for what they are, opportunities for growth. This is what I have always wanted in this blog space and it is happening. That is called trust. Thanks, both of you, for your candor. And that was Norm Veilleux in Canada. He pretty much holds the fort down for Krashen north of the border. I saw some video of him a few years ago, only it was just uninterrupted footage of a class, and it was pretty much the level of what I want to get to in my own teaching.

    2. Libby, there are days when I go home thinking I’m such a fraud. People in my district here me talk about using TPRS and CI, and the results that I get are so far beyond what grammar-based classes are doing, that some people see me as a kind of “master” at this. But I know there is so much more that I could be doing. I still fall back into the old traps. When I see what some of my younger colleagues who are new to CI are doing, it just blows me away and I say, “I wish I could teach like that.” Bottom line: emotions are the most changeable part of our human makeup and are affected by so many factors, don’t evaluate yourself on how you feel. Don’t judge yourself on your worst day, either. Thomas Edison failed a lot, but we don’t remember him for that. Here’s a quote I saw last week while I was in the Apple Shop getting my computer going after a failed system upgrade:
      “We are all failures – at least the best of us are” – J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)

    3. Oh man, Libby, I think you just wrote my bio 🙂 With a few different minor details, but 1) I also never set out to become a teacher. Totally fell into it. 2) I also am often the first one to break my own rules :0 3) I also have shed many tears and/or just left the room and/or just stopped class and told the kids to leave. I am amazed that I am still employed.
      Anyway, it is so powerful to be able to connect with all of you who are going through / have gone through the wringer also. The whole “oh my class isn’t a real class” and all of that is so external. I can see that pretty clearly now only after a couple of DECADES of stumbling around and hiding behind a wall and smashing my head against said wall, drowning in handouts and attempts “to be a real teacher who is organized and can march through the plan,” then taking the total opposite tack of saying “who cares if they can speak Spanish?” A wildly swinging pendulum. I have to say that my yoga practice has helped tremendously with developing the ability to see the difference between the exteral spinning stuff and the real deal. And of course yoga and teaching are all about being present, so there’s that 🙂 And in an interesting detour on my path I’m finding myself feeling that my teaching IS my yoga practice. Hmmm.
      Someone else posted recently about doing all sorts of social justice projects and stuff like that: I did that for the last several years because it was the only thing that engaged the kids. Probably because it was the only ting that energized me. Of course they acquired little to no L2 because of the lack of reps and structure. But I can’t beat myself up for that now.
      Anyway, I am grateful for all of the encouragement, support and solidarity I feel from all of you!!! And tomorrow begins a new week and a new chance to practice all of this!
      🙂 Jen
      PS Is it me or is the transition into CI teaching totally exhausting? I’m feeling really tired and having a hard time getting up in the morning. It’s a good tired, very different from the exhaustion of playing the charade I played for years. But kinda odd, because I typically wake up super early and now I am barely making it to school on time :0

      1. Jen on the fatigue thing, my opinion is that being present, when one has not been for a long time, requires a certain fatigue that early on can be fatiguing as you make the switch to authentic interaction with the kids. But, the more I do it, the less tired I get (although I have to admit this response may be skewed by my new hard won status as a .5 teacher this year after those 34 full time years). But I think that there is something to it. Look at David Young and how he is embracing going deeper into his career due to the economy. Would you like to do that using the old way? I look forward to seeing David every year at NTPRS for many years to come as we both age together (when David sent in his bio for this group it read like my professional history, even starting out in the Illinois/Indiana area). No, I really think that the fatigues is only the old way of looking at things, that hatred of the job on a gut level and all of that, leaving the body. Like they say, pain is weakness leaving the body. I feel that truth as a distance athlete, and I know that Bryce and Ben Lev do as well, and it can be said that teaching is very much like distance sports. By all indicators, I should not be able to spend as much time as I do on this blog, hours and hours a day, really, but it is fun and feels effortless. Just talking to people like you, real authentic humans in a world of zombies, is energizing and brings me great happiness. My prediction is that you’ll get less fatigued as the year goes along. Starting up a year is alway a rough go for those weeks into October anyway. But here we are in October, our group is much smaller as of today, the bios are coming in, and off we go into the fall and winter! We’re gonna be fine.

        1. Yeah, I am not worried about it. Like I said it is a good tired. Like tired from hammering yourself on a trail type of thing, not tired as in the dread/denial/ fear/ want to crawl into bed and never get up type of thing. It’s just an interesting thing I have noticed. I think it is due to the energy I’m expending almost constantly (because I am so excited and liberated that I cannot stop myself from thinking about my classes and about all of the amazing people out there encouraging each other). Yes! You said it….energizing!!! But it is a good “problem” to have! I’m just gonna try to go to bed earlier 🙂

          1. I knew I was hooked when years ago I found myself running across a parking lot on a cold winter morning to find out what was going to happen with my first period 8th graders. Most teachers were doing the “Trudge” into the building. Weird, but I wanted to know what was going to happen!

          2. What a great way to start a class:
            ¿Qué va a pasar hoy?/What’s going to happen today?
            Think of the mood it sets. Not even I know what’s going to happen, but I can’t wait to find out. I like this class more than you do; now, let me ask you some questions!

  11. I’m sure a lot of us have heard complaints about so much repetition in TPRS classes. I found a quote by Lil Wayne that pertains to repetition and learning:
    “Repetition is the father of learning.
    I repeat, Repetition is the father of learning.
    Intelligence, and all that, comes from repetition.
    Awareness, preparation, all that comes from repetition.
    Money, ______(censored), all that comes from repetition.
    Rotations, record spins, repetition .. . …
    TV spots, awards, repetitions.”

  12. First. . . everyone eventually has those days when it feels as though you’re not going anywhere. No one should be feeling bad that the day is not perfect. Humans compare everything, so everything is relative. Even if you feel for a long time that you’re hitting it out of the park, after a while, the park days are the “meets standards” days, and you’re waiting for something new. That’s when we open up TPRS in a Year! and find a skill we haven’t acquired, and tell the kids what we’re working on, and apply it. Each of those funny little skills has the ability to change up our classrooms.
    I say that because the other day I fell flat on my face in front of an observer. I stood there in front of the kids for about 30 seconds while I tried to figure out what to do next. Partly I was in amazement because that’s not supposed to happen to me, especially when I have an observer. But guess what. . . she didn’t even notice (or at least, she didn’t tell me she noticed!) —
    I was going to talk about the repetition thing. This year, having kids count my English words has really worked for me. I think hard before reverting to English. I try to stay at 50 or under, though in the first-year class that often doesn’t work because I don’t want to do the “guess what I’m saying” thing and waste more time on management.
    The complaints about repetition have largely ceased in my mixed classes over the years, and I suspect that’s because of having had kids count my repetitions. When I look disappointed over how many times I’ve said a structure (and the kids are allowed to pick which structure they’re listening for–keeps me accountable), then the class starts helping out the next day, repeating the structures in their questions and answers. It’s like they realize what needs to happen. Cool, eh? Just one time I engineered it so that I had a kid counting structures, had one that I had said perhaps 85 times, and another that I only got in 30 times. At the end of the period, we had a little vocab quiz. You can guess that I felt my neck was on the block, but indeed it worked out: the structure that the kids heard 85 times was 100% in the class. Only about half the kids got the other one right. If you can get one student to help with that kind of research, it’s very compelling for the students. If you let the whole class know, they instantly learn all the words, or they miss all the words, and the results are skewed.
    My hat is off to all of us. We’re doing what we know is best, whether it’s a flawed presentation or a perfect one, and who’s to say which is which. Let’s try not to beat ourselves up when we’re working as hard as we can.
    Hugs and handshakes go out to all of you. (Accept whichever one is socially appropriate!!)

      1. If I hadn’t had those books to walk me through my first year, I would not still be doing this. I almost memorized PQA, and I tried one new technique from TPRS in a year every week the entire first semester. Now I just dip into TPRS when I find things getting stale, and loan out PQA to every new teacher (I have two copies!) because I think it’s the best thing going. Anyone can start with the Circling PQA at any time and do it for any length of time and succeed. If that were the only thing I ever did, it would still be enough to teach the entire language.
        Life savers? Maybe. Life makers? Yes.

        1. Michele thank you for the kind words. TPRS in a Year! owes its accuracy to Susan Gross’ guidance and editing so let’s not forget that. PQA in Wink! is my own baby – I could never have written without working in a middle school and trying to deprogram my head from that quarter century of teaching AP lang and lit. I wrote both books with the express purpose of understanding my subject matter. And if you want any more loaner copies of either or both books let me know and I’ll get them to you.

    1. Michele,
      How does your structure counter system work? You mention that the student picks the structure. Is this choice from the 2 or 3 you have put up on the board? And then do you just have that one student counting or do you have other students counting the other strucutures?
      I have not added in this job yet, and now is the perfect time. It is so cool how your students get the repetition thing and help to increase the number of reps. Did this organically happen through years of the process?
      🙂 Jen

      1. Jen, when I remember to put the structures on the board (now I have a SMART board and am learning all over again), the kid who is counting the structures makes a mark every time I use one of them. For about the first twenty minutes, that means that when I say one, I point and pause, do the gesture if we have one, AND look meaningfully at the kid. Usually someone sitting nearby will help remind that person if it’s necessary. I like giving that job to a kid who’s having a hard time focusing. I turn it around though, and say something like, “Ryan is very energetic and is therefore the perfect person to notice when I’ve said a structure.” Sometimes I give it to a kid who never “gets” a particular phrase. But usually it’s the same kid on a daily basis. That gives me two grades a day: the “words in English” and the “number of reps.” If you ham it up and look totally despondent and then try to cram in more reps at the end of the period, the kids will start to get the idea. I tell them 50 times is developing, 75 times is proficient, and 85 is exceeding the standard. We’re all learning together.
        I think it does happen over years. But it helps to have those jobs in the room to keep all of our eyes on the prize.
        Oh…and…if I don’t get enough reps in today, I can always slide that word to tomorrow’s list. It just means that I don’t get to have three new words the next time.

  13. Oops.
    When I said, “That’s not supposed to happen to me,” take it exactly as it sounds. I feel as though, when I have an observer, I’m supposed to teach a “perfect” lesson. It’s not that I set up the day so that I do that, but it’s the feeling I have. After all, I’ve had support from numerous TPRS gurus, daily support from kids, regular workshops, and I read read read and watch watch watch. I always feel as though by now I should be way better than I am at doing this. Luckily Ben told me that it takes about seven years to get a true handle on TPRS methods. Katya told me it takes six major workshops. I’ve got the workshops in, and I’m just hoping Ben’s right. That first day of my eighth year I’m going to be perfect, right Ben?

  14. The first day of your eighth year will indeed be perfect. Like the first day of your first year and the first day of this year were and this coming Monday will be, in fact. We think perfection is something we are always moving towards. In my own world, I am perfect because I try.

  15. I have decided that whenever I teach a perfect year I will immediately retire, because then it will be time to do something that will keep me growing. Fortunately for my income, that is not going to happen for quite a while.

    1. My retirement plan is to teach for 8 more years at the high school. It’s a pathetic plan and will require that I teach to an absurd age. The bright side of it is that I would be very disappointed with my level of competency as a TPRS/comprehension based instructor if I were to retire now. So therefore I am happy that I have at least 8 years of K-12 instruction ahead of me and that gives me a lot of time to improve my instruction.

  16. Right on David. I feel the same way. This stuff really is challenging and fun. Why not do it for as long as we can? The younger ones discovering this now as they begin their careers have no idea how fortunate they are.

  17. Does anybody have students do bellwork when they enter the room? I’ve been having them do bellwork everyday since that’s what Harry Wong says to do, to get students seated and working as soon as they enter the room. But it’s sometimes time consuming to “come up with something” to have them do for bellwork, and I’ve heard some students sigh when they enter the room and see that AGAIN there is something for them to do when they enter.

    1. Chris,
      Bryce Hedstrom does a Repasito which is described on this blog. I do one with my French 1’s. I am actually thinking about doing it more with other levels. Hope that helps!

    2. I am of the opinion that the planning of every minute of class, the wonging of the class, is not really necessary. I often just hang out with them a bit in English. Life is too short to plan every minute we live. There has to be some room for hanging out. To defend that position, I cite Krashen who says that the deeper mind will accept or reject things (during sleep) learned during the course of the day anyway. So a lot of what we look upon as useful bellringer work, if it doesn’t get down into the unconscious fabric of the mind which is what language is made of, may not be. It may just be busywork.

  18. Libby Whitesell

    Hey Chris,
    Yep, I know what you mean. I have been doing bell work for the past 4 years. It’s required by the administration. My bell work exercises include; drawing new vocab into a ‘visual’ dictionary, translating sentences from the story (this is good for pointing out spelling and grammar), drawing an illustration of the sentences, and sometimes I have them write from English into L2. I don’t collect this bell work, instead I look to see that everyone is working on it. We go over it together, I ask for questions and I continue into the lesson. Sometimes the sentences I have them translate is a short review of the story from the day before and it leads easily into a retell and then continue form there. I hope this helps.

  19. Thank you Libby and Melanie, good ideas from both of you. I’ve just been getting tired of doing the bellwork, I’d rather jump into the lesson as soon as the bell rings, but having the bellwork allows me to talk to students who were absent or have questions. And I’ve noticed that students tend to be a little more chaotic on days that I don’t have bellwork up and ready.

  20. Chris, I have tried to do bell work. A few years ago I had something ready every class period every day – and with five preps a day, that was a lot of work. It still just didn’t quite work for me. Unless I collected and graded it, thus creating more work for myself, students didn’t bother to do it – not even copy down the right answers when we went over it. And I couldn’t give them a simple completion grade, because that is work habits and, according to my district, cannot be part of an academic grade.
    Students also groan about the sameness of every class. Imagine going to six classes per day, and every one of them begins with a writing assignment while the teacher cooly takes roll – getting that paperwork done is obviously more important than the students themselves.
    So, as soon as the bell rings (or right after announcements for fourth period), I greet the students and ask how they are doing. Yes, it’s formulaic:
    -Guten Morgen/Tag!
    -Wie geht’s?
    -Welcher Tag ist heute?
    -Was ist das Datum?
    -Wer ist nicht hier?
    But in between those formulaic greetings is some conversation in German:
    -Wie geht’s? (How’s it going?) Oh, Ben is tired. Ben, why are you tired? When did you get up? When did you go to bed? Was the weekend too short or too long? etc., etc.
    -Today is Thursday. I see guys in jerseys. Does that mean there’s a football game today? Who is the opponent? Are they good? Is Pacifica better? Who will win? Who won last week’s/yesterday’s game? What about the freshmen?
    -Today is October 6. That’s German-American day. Do you know any famous German-Americans? Where does your family come from?
    -Cody is not here. Why isn’t Cody here? Oh, Cody is sick. That’s too bad. Who will see Cody and tell him what we do in class today? Maybe he isn’t really sick. Maybe he’s a secret agent on a mission and just says that he’s sick.
    Quite frankly, I find this time chatting with the students far more profitable than I ever found bell work. It means that I don’t submit attendance until later in the period, but that has advantages as well:
    1. If a student comes in late (e.g. was seeing a counsellor), I don’t have to go change the roll data at the computer
    2. Students see that I am interested in them, not just completing roll
    3. Students have to acknowledge who the other people in the class are, even if only by their absence
    4. By talking about who wasn’t there, I remember and have no trouble later when I do go to the computer to enter attendance
    The attendance office has learned to deal with this. Only if I haven’t entered anything by 3:00 p.m. do they call me up to remind me. Otherwise they know that I will get to it when I am able.
    My district stresses “bell to bell” instruction. I believe that I am doing that in a way that fits my personality and teaching style.
    Oh yes . . . my opening sequence is pretty formulaic, and I have one girl in level 3 who simply rattles off the answers to the opening questions as a joke, so I will vary the order just to make her (and everyone else) think. Sometimes I will ask a different set of questions: What did you do/eat/see/hear over the weekend/last night? How’s the weather? What time does this period end today? (We have a rotating extension that changes the schedule every day, so this is a good reminder of what’s going on.) Who’s your favorite English/Math/German teacher?

    1. Thank you Robert for this class opener idea. Personalized. Not formulaic, but simply a framework for good freestyle, quid pro quo CI. Good for me to use tomorrow!

    2. Thank you! Danke! <–(I Google Translated that) This is extremely useful information. I may start doing this instead of the bellwork if I find the students "have had it up to here" with the bellwork everyday.

    3. Love this idea! I used to do a version of it when I taught from the book, but I mostly asked for output from the students and we never got very far in the TL. I can see starting off with more of a conversation with the students so they can add details as they are able; a sort of PQA. Food for thought. Thanks! – Louisa

      1. I agree that this is very helpful, Robert. Thanks for posting. I swear this is the most mind-blowing single blog thread for teachers ever in the existence of the internet. Now my assumptions about how to begin a class have been completely called into question. I thought I was the only teacher who for some reason couldn’t get into the whole process, in part because of the lost class and prep and grading time required for a few minutes of peace and quiet, and for what, to enter names on a computer screen? From this perspective, it really is about the students (and teachers) accomodating the system.
        This is another example of real language education that does not fit a certain view of what education is supposed to look like. If there is casual banter and adolescent energy (that is, communication on their terms, in any language), it is not intellectually serious and therefore not truly educational.

      2. This takes time to build, but by the time I’ve had students for two or three years, the conversations really can get interesting. I’ve had students tell about stopping a thief, dealing with an irate customer at work, having an accident, going to a concert, etc., etc. (One of the advantages of being the only German teacher at the school.)
        One other thing that I do is meet my students every day at the door with a greeting and a handshake. The only way you get in without physical contact is to tell me you are sick. If a student comes in late for whatever reason (excused or unexcused), we still shake hands. The rule is that to get into the class after the bell rings, you have to have a piece of paper (tardy slip, note from another teacher, hall pass, etc.) to show me. I look at the paper, shake hands and say hello. On rare occasions I don’t make it to the door; many students then come to me, and I go around the room to greet the others. Also on rare occasions I will forego the slip of paper – if the person can explain to me in German why the tardy occurred. That’s usually reserved for year 3 and 4 students, who are amazed that they can actually do it.
        I also speak in German to the students who bring call slips, etc. My students love it because they know what I’m saying but the other student is usually utterly confused – and I’m upholding the 90% TL goal. And I answer my phone in German. Since the German culturally correct way to answer a phone is with your last name, saying “Guten Tag, hier ist Herr Harrell” works for the person on the other end of the line and models a cultural norm for my students.
        Never give up . . . and never surrender! (Kudos to those who recognize the quote.)

        1. One more thing, I also have the following information written on the board in German:
          Today is [day of the week]
          The [number]th of [month]
          d. xx.xx.xx
          Heute ist Mittwoch
          der neunzehnte Oktober
          d. 19.10.11
          Once again, students are getting cultural information in the target language; I don’t have to spend a lot of class time teaching how to write days and dates in German. Some days I don’t get the day and date changed before class begins, so I get to say, for example, “Heute ist nicht Dienstag sondern Mittwoch”; “Heute ist nicht der achtzehnte sondern der neunzehnte.” Sondern (“but rather”) is late acquired, but by the time we get there students have heard it literally hundreds of times. so the formal discussion is along the lines of “well, duh”.
          Another fun word is “doch” (au contraire, “not the negative thing you said, but the positive opposite”), so I try to get students to say make negative statements so I can say “doch” Not too long ago I said something with a negative, and one of my students blurted out “Doch!” and was extremely proud of herself. (I was proud of her, too.) [Example of “doch”: “Have you no bananas?” “Doch! (We have bananas.)]
          Okay, time to quit rambling and head to bed.

  21. This does not have to do with the recent thread of bellwork, but I needed to post in order to keep myself accountable to, well, myself. I think I have found a way to reign in my rowdy fifth graders. I reviewed my rules and modified the 5-finger rules. I don’t need to worry about note-taking with my students, so I removed that rule and replaced it with one that states, “No talking unless you are asked to.” This one is even good for me, because I can totally relate to Jennifer’s statement about breaking her own rules. I told my students that this was the case for me and I needed their help. I have a friend who teaches math who told her students that instead of being solar-powered, she is “silence-powered.” I love this image! Anyway, I just wanted to report that I feel like I’m on a good path with these jumpy guys, and that I have confidence that things will change for the better. I thank all of you for your support and ideas. It feels so nice to have found this amazing community; you are all great!

  22. Allison, just to tag on the silence thing from that math teacher, here is what Dirk said in his bio:
    …I push myself really hard and the kids really hard on the rules. I used to think you overstated this idea that there must be order before acquisition can occur….
    My prayer for good behavior lies there, in those words, where we really don’t have any other choice but to own our role as the adults in the room. People wanted an update on my “bad” class. Here it is, simplified:
    I knew that one junior was sending out dark judgemental energy to the 9th and 10th graders. This is a kid with serious behavior problems, it would not be far off to call him sociopathic (I address him in a lengthy series of blog posts coming up here called “Pigs Can’t Fly”). Now, once I figured out that this upperclassman was hijacking my class of undersclassmen, I (mainly invisibly and with a smile on my face) hit him with everything I had as a teacher. If he threw some nonsense out in class (he would do this in Spanish which I do not understand but the whole class does, I (without the smile this time) would walk over to him every time and blew him back ten feet with a comment in English as to how this is my classroom. Now, he is like a tire with the air let our of it. He gave up his bullshit control efforts. He lost and I won. And, like Dirk said about following the rules and contacting parents NOW at this time of year (really in August and September), the class is much much better. Thanks for asking.
    (I might add that I do believe that all classroom discipline issues are control issues and that we who decided to go into the field of teaching did so, most of us anyway, without one single conversation with anyone about the issue of who is in control of the classroom. We naively think that we are because we are the adult and yet hundreds of thousands of teacher around the world will go into their buildings tomorrow without control, just the appearance of it. Someone else will be in control. There is always one kid (like the one I describe above who tried and failed to bring in the two other juniors in the class of 38 kids against me) who try, by teaming up with a few others, taken control of the class from the teacher while feigning the role of a student. That is why we have rules and why we enforce them and if there is a problem we contact other adults and we re-educate the kid about what their role is in our classroom and that’s it. Discipline precedes instruction.)

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