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27 thoughts on “PSA 1”

  1. Trisha Schutzius

    I got to see Ben practicing PSA this week in his class at Abraham Lincoln. PSA is a powerful technique, and I’m excited to start practicing it in my own Spanish classes. I don’t know how to initiate a new thread, so I’m going to use this conversation to share some more profound, fundamental truths that I gleaned during my two-plus hours chatting and watching.

    It’s not that Ben has his students in the palm of his hand or that he uses TPRS techniques almost effortlessly, although he does. It’s not that you can’t help enjoying the entire class period, even though you do. It’s the fact that we must never forget, in the day-to-day and period-to-period of our jobs, that we need to keep in touch with one another, keeping in mind that “iron sharpens iron.” Ben teaches at a huge urban high school that serves an almost 100 percent minority student body. I teach some 70 miles to the north in a college town at a tiny, conservative, private K-12 school. But we are actually from the same place, a community that values getting to know our students and loving them in our own way by helping them love the language we are teaching them. We are like ex-pats, some living in more hostile countries and some living in more accommodating ones, but we can be very foreign to those whose rooms are next door or whose offices are near the flag pole.

    When I first started in TPRS about twelve years ago, I read the List-serve religiously, went to some National Conferences, and attended lots of workshops. After a while, I didn’t read or go or communicate as much with the TPRS community, thinking I had the basics down. But I couldn’t fight the forces that surrounded me as they suggested I chip away at a purely TPRS framework to appease people who needed to see the trappings of a traditional program. It was a very strange trip, but after a lot of communication and re-direction, I have the support of my administrators to come back to the TPRS model.

    My advice to all who participate in this blog is to also visit, observe, and talk to TPRS colleagues. I am very fortunate to have Ben and other strong TPRS’ers along the Front Range, but the community is growing, and there are fellow ex-pats all over. Ben surprised me when he said it was good for him to have me come by as well. It shouldn’t have surprised me, because it is that it is essential that we seek and provide support for one another, no matter what our level of expertise may be.

    Thanks again, Ben.

  2. This almost makes me feel sad, because I get a bit lonely out here. It would be so much fun to go and watch Ben, or anyone, do TPRS in class. But this community helps me feel that there is a world out there where TPRS is something other than just what that weird American teacher does. Since I’m tutoring private students this year, I feel even stranger. On the one hand, it’s so easy to work with small groups, that it almost feels dishonest to take their money. I find myself looking forward to all my classes, without exception. On the other hand, I miss the challenge of the troublemakers, because they were the ones that gave me the biggest thrill when I managed to get them on board.

    Today a rather quiet girl stayed behind to say, “I wish my teacher in school taught like you do. She just recites her lesson in English and I don’t understand anything.” And I thought, oh, how I wish she did too. How do I get the message to other teachers that there’s another way, that their input can be comprehensible?

  3. …how do I get the message to other teachers that there’s another way, that their input can be comprehensible?….

    I think we do this by taking good care of ourselves and not getting overly crazy about it. By thinking good thoughts and trusting that there is a season to everything, and that it will all unfold as it is supposed to. Keeping our focus on being good to ourselves. Because we are good.

    I’m going out for a bike ride.


    1. Our Principal has asked each department to come in to discuss “what’s wrong with the freshmen.” Apparently, they as a group are suffering from a failure to thrive in what we at school like to refer to as a “rigorous” academic environment. Could it be 40 minute classes which meet on five days out of a six day cycle? Could it be that the kids can use their cell phones wherever and whenever they they wish – including the library which now resembles a student union. All we need as a Starbucks and a Sbarro Pizza and we would be good to go! Could it be parents who send them to us looking for something other than what their public school offers – religion – only to be shot down when we try to discipline or bring attention to a potential problem – like ADD, drug use…. the list goes on?????? I have to be very careful in this meeting because I do not have a problem with my freshmen! Go figure – all A’s and B’s. They look forward to coming to class, we do not fight over homework since I give hardly any, but for all of these reasons, I feel the need to be careful and if I say anything at all, I need to be very careful. Hopefully the others who are shrouded in textbooks, long vocabulary lists, charts and worksheets will do all the talking and I can be invisible. Just to tell you the Spanish one and two exams included grammar charts to fill in. I addressed all the problems they are experiencing when I embraced TPRS five years ago. I was already told once this year that I needed to be careful about what I was doing by my Dept Head- her kids told her they should have taken French b/c I give no homework! Oh la la!

      1. …the others who are shrouded in textbooks, long vocabulary lists, charts and worksheets….

        This is so well said. Like the kids are supposed to like and respond to that kind of outmoded teaching. Not with cell phones in their hands and having been spoiled by technology and permissive parents in middle school! I taught in an Episcopal School for elite members of the Columbia, SC community for years. I get it with those kids. What will the castle tutors say?

        Honestly, what you wrote here chill makes me see more clearly than ever how the old way of teaching (your point above in italics) is just not going to fly and that the very people who will be discussing what is wrong with the kids should be checking out the big fat logs in their own eyes.

        Those folks are simply and completely failing to keep up with the change in society. You, on the other hand, are. But as far as saying anything in that meeting – it would take the jaws of life to get me to open up my mouth at such a meeting.

          1. Your leaders are holding a meeting about “what’s wrong with the freshmen.” Really? Let’s just start from assumed negativity. Isn’t that the main issue? Well, here is the real truth: there is nothing “wrong” with the freshmen. “Failure to thrive” is a symptom of systemic or structural deficiencies. How can you be “leading” a school when you view the students as defective / deficient? They are kids! Young human beings! How do these people get in these positions??? Arrrrrrrggghhh!!!!

            Sorry. I have not offered

          2. I got to observe Jen last week — what a GREAT experience and great motivator!!! Thank you JEN!!!! your students were awesome!!!

        1. OK….a couple of my colleagues give spelling tests….from vocab lists….have the kids do “vocab work” each week, flashcards are due Wed., the vocab work due on Fri, and the spelling test is on Monday. They say the kids “love it” because it is an easy grade for them (they are graded for handing in flashcards, handing in vocab work — oh, and choice is involved: they are given a list of 10 things they can do with the vocab and they have to do like 5 out of the 10…..examples: write word 3 times; make a “find the intruder” game; break the word into syllables; and other things like that. They also say that the kids love it because they are learning a lot of vocab.
          Well, yesterday as I was wallowing in doubt about not giving them vocab “work” and spelling tests (after our dept meeting the afternoon before) I was reminded why CI really IS so much better!!! in my SPanish 1B class, I was working on family vocab — Picture up on the Eno board of Spanish Royal Family, asking the kids who Juan Carlos’ grandchildren were, what the name of so-and-so’s aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. etc. then I asked one boy, who is REALLY good, “how many children does Jaime and Elena have?”
          Have = ‘tienen’. He was STUMPED….he did not know the word ‘tienen’….when I have kids for 1A, they know the verb ‘to have’ like on Day 1. But, he didn’t have me for 1A, his teacher stuck to the ‘curriculum map’ and tener is a stem-changing verb, that is not taught until 1B. So, I am stopping the doubt!!
          Also, I had a former student stop by the other day telling me that her teacher this semester gives pronunciation quizzes, and that she got a 50% on one of them, and that she was really nervous about the next day’s quiz because it was on the “rr” and she can’t roll her “r”s. Again, I began to doubt myself and my tactics, until I remembered that last year my Level 1’s did presentations that they read aloud and I was blown away by their pronunciation. When I asked them how they got such great pronunciation, they all said “Because you speak to us all the time in Spanish!!” 🙂
          So, to this PLC: thank you for the constant support and ideas, and a BIG thank you to Sabrina….who motivates me every day!!!! 😀

          1. Mb,

            I m not going to let you off the hook, ever. We are all in this together and we need to support each other. That’ s one of the things this PLC accomplishes. This is where I met you and that is how our friendship started, remember?

            Don’t let your fears dictate how you teach. Do you see how you story is testimony that the process works . Your job is to provide CI to your kids slowly and repeatedly day in and day out. Did I hear fun?

            Don’t let fear settle in, that is your worst enemy. Your colleague teaches pronunciation. So what? That is her cup of tea, not yours. She likes an English breakfast and you are more of an oolong person. My all time favorite is Earl grey, I drink it every morning, since I was 17. We are all different. Just cultivate your own garden as Voltaire would say.

            I am hooked on this quote I read from Krashen yesterday :
            “The comprehension hypothesis, in fact, insists on pleasure from the beginning, on acquirers obtaining interesting, comprehensible input right from the start. The path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.” I am framing this last sentence and putting it right on my desk as to remember it everyday.

            Talk later!

          2. “The comprehension hypothesis, in fact, insists on pleasure from the beginning, on acquirers obtaining interesting, comprehensible input right from the start. The path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.”

            Judy sometimes references her experience with horses. I’m going to draw on my experience with hunting birds. When I was actively practicing falconry, I had a red-tailed hawk, and we used to go hunting. The thing is, for this to work, the bird must be turned loose with – literally – no strings attached. That means that the bird comes back only if it wants to. Otherwise it flies away, never to be seen by you again. Consequently, the bird must see advantages in being with you. Now the initial contact is absolutely traumatic for the bird: trapped, jessed, leashed, introduced to these terrifying, huge creatures that manhandle it and essentially starved into submission (though the food is always there, just in the hand of this dangerous, huge monster). But once that trauma is survived, the experience must become pleasant or the bird will be gone. The bird’s will must be bent and shaped but neither it nor the spirit can be broken if this is going to work.

            I see our relationship with our students much like that. Their introduction to a new language is at least potentially terrifying – there is this vast amount of “stuff” that is completely unintelligible. If we do not make it pleasant from early on, our students – like the bird – will shut down, and the unpleasant situation in the classroom will drive them away at the earliest opportunity. In these unpleasant situations, only the “jesses” of high school graduation and college entrance or parental insistence keep the students in the language classroom. As soon as the jesses are released, they fly far away, never to be seen near the language classroom again. (Hint: can we say low retention rates?)

            Indeed, “the path of pleasure is the only path. The path of pain does not work for language acquisition.”

          3. This phenomenon of fear comes up often even before the first day. I sometimes get kids who are completely panicked about
            “learning Spanish”. It’s amazing to me how entrenched these false ideas can be in a young person. The only thing that works for me is to dispense slow, compassionate, comprehensible, pleasurable activity–tpr, one word stories, much drawing on the board, and deeeeep personalization–staying “small” in the language area and “very large” in the compelling, comfort area.

            Even then, I always get one or two who are deeply concerned that they haven’t “remembered” everything TODAY. It is a beautiful thing to watch them yield to positive pleasure over time as the culture of the class and success take hold. It’s one of the best things about the job.

            Thanks for the analogy, Robert–quite apt.

          4. mb and Sabrina: This is the time of the year when I typically begin to wonder what the heck I have taught this year. What do they know? The past and the present tenses are a jumble. The French 4’s have not heard the subjunctive enough, have they acquired enough to be successful in college? I have two great kids who just told me they are planning French minors in college and I worry that they will run into a grammar buzz saw and be discouraged. Anyway, I came home with all of this on my mind and thought, hmmm, let me check out the blog and see if anyone else is plagued by end of the year doubts like me and after reading Ben’s reading ramble, I found these posts. The narrow and deep is something I need to really focus on. I am usually okay, but when May comes, I feel this urge to speed up and try to do just a little more, just one more thing. Oh, I should have done that. As usual, the warriors of the PLC come through. Thank you, thank you. You guys are better than a twelve- step program:)

      2. Tell your admin to get their heads out of their asses. What comesnfirst, learning, or dicking around? In our school,

        A) phones used during class time– in or out of class– get confiscated, sent to office, and the parents have to pick them up after school. If kids say “my Mom needs to get ahoold of me,” we say “your Mom can call the office.”

        B) the librarian is a Nazi: no phones, games, social media or talking louder than a whisper in library.

        In BC, the School Act stipulates that students must comply with reasonable requests from admin and teachers. No phones/MP3s in class is reasonable.

        Also, when it comes down to your idiotic admin question about “bad freshmen,” I would say “my students are meeting learning oucomes and behaving in class.” Have your evidence ready, and bring a good book tobthe next dept meetin where this convo happens. If people don’t want tonhave what Michael Fullan calls “tough conversations”– like, maybe fewer phones and hwk, and more memorable and meaningful activities in class are in order– and just want to bitch about “kids these days bla bla bla,” bust out the book.

        Good luck.

  4. How do you think this strategy would work for a group at the opposite end of the spectrum you describe? I have a group that so far has not been capable of doing stories because they are too exuberant, lack impulse control and degenerate into chaos in about 30 seconds.

    Reading this post makes me think of trying this with them. I just feed them the details and they have no say in adding details it but can choose from the narrow menu I provide by responding to the questions posed by “the emperor” (a funny nickname for me that emerged from one of the kids talking about his dad giving them “choices” but that ultimately “the emperor” has the last word…so i picked up on this and dubbed myself the emperor).

  5. I can never count on someone coming up with something really cute in a small group, so I often give them choices. And when someone does throw out something funny, I home in on it and make it the main point of the story. I think that by the time we’re finished, they feel that they produced the story themselves, but actually it took a lot of nudging from me.

  6. I’m not good at asking the story and I know it. But last week in Chinese 2 the story we were working on was dull and sounded too much like the last one we did. The structures were “can make,” “Chinese food,” and “really?” Plus I had an extra list of some popular Chinese dishes because some kids said they are bored and want more terms. I went into the class the next day having brought with me a stuffed dog toy because the kids are always cracking jokes about eating dog. Then I admitted that this story was dull and needed a new ending. They took the dog, put it onto a plate and had a chef at P.F. Chang’s serve the actor a plate of sweet & sour dog meat instead of pork. Okay, it wasn’t PC but everyone was laughing and enjoying the story and we got lots of reps.

    1. Hi Tamula, I had a class learning some food-related words recently. I told them to use words they knew to make a menu. We had bunny nuggets (tuzi ding), turtle salad, a glass of guinea pig, etc. They learned words like hamburger but who wants to put that on the menu when you can have tuzi ding instead? My students are always gripped with fascinated horror that I’ve eaten dog, there are recipes for cat, snake, etc. Great way to review animal names, too.

      1. I love it! That gives me some great ideas for combining the food lesson with teaching them the zodiac animals. Thanks Diane! And I tried dog once, too, just for the experience. I think it must be part of the Chinese teacher initiation or something.

        1. Eeewwww, I don’t think I’d ever be able to try dog.

          Anyways, we’ve had some not very PC things in stories too. There’s a very, very bright kid in my class whose parents are from Serbia and they go there every year. He’s very bright and know more about politics and US involvement in other countries’ affairs than 90% of American adults do. There’s a running joke among him and his friends that he’s a communist (he’s not but h understands why ignorant American teens would think that given the geography.). So in a story where a structure was “prepares dinner”, the wife prepared communist head for dinner. It was hilarious and he did a great job making it look like his head was being served. Actually, it was either him or his buddy that suggested the answer.

          Now, I’ve calmed down on the craziness of some details because I’ve realized that I have a sense of humor that is offensive to some and deemed inappropriate by others, being a newer teacher it’s been a steep learning curve figuring out where to draw the line in middle school

  7. I love this technique and do it fairly often! It’s all part of the game. If no one wants to volunteer to, say, “want a big, fat, ugly hamster”, I just pick a student and say that they have it. The best part is when, after circling a bit, you ask that student directly whether or not they have a big, fat, ugly hamster and smile and nod and they usually say yes and the class laughs. It’s really great! So, yeah, definitely a great technique :).

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