Parallel Questioning Is Enough

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11 thoughts on “Parallel Questioning Is Enough”

    1. Me too. Thank you, Ben. I once tried to create a whole parallel story when reading Pauvre Anne, but I never went beyond the second chapter because I was running out of time and of ideas. It seems so evident to me now that we limit ourselves to doing parallel questioning with paragraphs that lend themselves to this work. Same with RT.

  1. Thanks for the post, Ben. I, too, have struggled with the idea of the “parallel novel” and thinking I needed to try to create an entire set of parallel chapters. Now I think of it as more of a “parallel vignette”, almost a tableau vivant.

  2. You just wanted to say tableau vivant. Who wouldn’t?

    From Wikipedia (

    Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants) means “living picture”. The term, borrowed from the French language, describes a group of suitably costumed actors or artist’s models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The approach thus marries the art forms of the stage with those of painting or photography, and as such it has been of interest to modern photographers.

    And so, with parallel questioning, we create an image of our own student or students driving a certain car, not the one Brandon in the novel drives, and going out with a girl in the school (not Marianne in the novel) and him picking her up and going to such and such a (local) restaurant (not the one in the chapter book) and that becomes an image, a tableau vivant, that, like a photograph, when complete, is simply left after having come to life as a sort of painting for a few minutes in our classrooms and then right back to the novel we go to look for more tableaux we might build or even for some Readers Theatre if we feel like it that day. Or not if we don’t feel like it. Because this way of teaching is about doing what we feel like, following something unexpected that happens, loosening up, living a little, having fun, going with the energy, giving up control, trusting that if we speak the language to the kids in ways that are interesting and comprehensible to them then we are fully doing our jobs. And so the tableaux we make there in parallel questioning are limited in time to what WE want it to be or what THE CLASS wants it to become. Parallel questioning, RT, tableaux vivants, all come under our control to do when and if we wish for how long we wish in our comprehension based classrooms. In that way we gain control over our teaching. We never think that this work is too intimidating for us. It is not. We can move in and out of images or texts or RT or R and D or PQA or stories as we wish when we wish (as long as we are not infected by the popular idea in TPRS circles that the CI teacher has to teach certain structures at certain times, thus effectively tying a rope around our creativity and going against the way Krashen says we learn languages). Most of us get freaky about the RT or R and D or PQA or stories and think that THEY are the way to successful CI teaching when in reality it doesn’t matter what we do, and in fact we become much more effective when we just go with the flow of the class and damn the structures. And I would say the opposite on another day because there are no truths in this work. Nervous about going to work tomorrow? Worried that it may not come out the way you want? Then stop trying to make it all about what you want and turn yourself over to the process that this work really is. Feel better? Good. Letting go of control – don’t leave home without it. Frickin’ breathe.

    1. Let go! I have been letting go more and more and it is so liberating. Before I tried to control so much because that is what I was taught to do. I was trained to be in control and keep the kids occupied. So stupid. I used to always feel overwhelmed scrambling to find and use a good worksheet or to come up with the perfect lesson. Hogwash! Never going to happen. It is so much better to live in the moments that we have and enjoy them. It is so liberating to not have an agenda that I must follow or a test to teach to. Besides, language cannot be boiled down into some set of questions on a test. That’s impossible.

      This calm is helping me become a better teacher and human. I can admit that it is not there every day, but it is there much more than it had been ever before. In fact, it was never there before.

      Maybe the number one skill to learn in Comprehension based teaching is to relax. All the other skills are important, but relaxing may be the most important.

      1. Well said, Jeff. Being relaxed is so important to comprehension based instruction. The less I think about the unhealthy and irrelevant paradigms that the hierarchy of my school tries to impose upon my teaching the better off are both me and my students.

  3. I know this was first posted back in December of 2013 and it wasn’t new back then, but I just need to say that this, to me, is one of the most important things I do when questioning my students comprehension of a novel and/or TPRS reading. The bottom line: it is not boring to the students. It breaks up the monotony of asking about simple facts of part of a novel about characters that they do not personally know. It is much more entertaining to them to talk about themselves. i.e. “What did the boy say to his mother?” When the kids answer with “Don’t go!”, because that is what he yelled to his mother in the novel, I then ask “Who in this class yelled “Don’t go”? Then we create a very mini-story. “To whom did s/he yell ‘Don’t go'”? It is basically just PQA. It becomes more interesting and the kids instantly become more interested. You can see it on their faces. I ask a parallel question to almost every question I verbally ask about a novel. As Ben stated before, sometimes these parallel conversations last one minute and other times it lasts a lot longer. Sometimes we maintain the same parallel story throughout all my questions based on the novel and other times the story changes. It’s okay. The key is to always keep it interesting to the kids.

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