On Encouraging Speech Output During Circling – 1

This comment by Carla is longish but important to read in its entirety if you are following the current thread on this topic:

I am an intermittent reader of Ben’s blog but my dear friend and colleague, Alisa, mentioned that people were discussing circling recently. She watched the video Haiyun took of me doing a demo at Blaine’s workshop and suggested I post it here.

Here is the link and my reflections on the experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nGnYTbHHK8

Blaine asked me to do a little demo in French. I tried to circle the structure exactly the way Blaine does. The big change for me was having my actors give a full sentence answer. (In my classes I normally expect only yes/no or one-word answers. I have never pointed to the phrase and asked for students to read it.) It was also new for me to stay with one structure for so long because I usually work on two or three at a time.

As you watch the video, you will see Blaine stopping me to explain how to give the actor confidence. This was a revelation of sorts. So many students come into a language class already worried about their accent, pronunciation and grammar skills. I have found this especially true of my adult students. So if they come to class with the expectation that they aren’t good at languages, then giving them confidence is crucial to their success. Blaine’s advice certainly worked with the actors in this demo.

If you watch all the way through the end, you will see Kelly’s confidence grow. She initially says, “this is harder than I thought,” and she was at a “15% confidence level.” But by the end, she is able to say the key structure with good speed and pronunciation. This change was obvious to everyone at the workshop: they immediately started clapping.

After the lunch break, Kelly said that she went up to her room at the hotel and told her husband (not a teacher) what she learned to say. He corrected her pronunciation and she felt bad again!

After the workshop, I taught a structure in this way to my 6th graders. In each of my three classes, the students asked if we could do it that way the following two days. I also taught à la Blaine in my next adult class. We circled one structure for a long time but added variables to extend interest and get more reps. We also did a timed writing. They were able to write 40-65 words with very decent syntax. At the end, one student said to another “Can you believe how much we can say and write!” (They have had a total of 4.5 hours)

I am grateful to Blaine for giving me a chance to demo French under his watch. Something clicked for me with circling. I understand how Blaine’s process (circling with 2 actors and myself) provides the necessary reps to boost student confidence.

Of course, this is a piece of the bigger C/I pie. I will continue to hang out in the language with my students, use keynotes, white boards, dog treats and all the other things I do for novelty. But I will definitely be using circling in this way quite a bit now that it makes sense to me and especially now that I see how it impacts my students’ confidence.



2 thoughts on “On Encouraging Speech Output During Circling – 1”

  1. It seems like the strategies are more “conscious” based where students are made aware of their gains by hearing their output. This could result in their internal monitor to be more active/more conscious since they are focusing on form/pronunciation (even if the teacher does not correct the actor). Which puts it into question since language acquisition occurs unconsciously.

    I’m not sure of having the students repeat something so new.

  2. Leigh Anne Munoz

    I love this thread — why would anyone say that you had criticized Blaine, Ben? I don’t get it… am I missing something?

    Anyway, I cannot do exactly what Blaine does — he has a whole ‘Pied Piper’ thing that completely eludes me much of the time. But every now and then, it happens — I can feel my way through to some students picking up the language in a way that I can only describe as ‘almost immediately.’ I do try to make mine use complete sentences after a couple of months in my class, too.

    I think that some high school students can grab on right away, but I do see many that are still hiding inside their brain while I try to beat my way in with French.

    For the most resistant of these kids, (maybe about 4 out of my 200), I just don’t have any answers. Most of my students seem to have a willingness somewhere in between that of ‘Kelly’, above, and my troubled non-participants.

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