Giving up control, staying in flow, and, most importantly, allowing the kids to feel in control as well, all while delivering massive amounts of CI every day, is what I have been wrestling with lately. It started with Michele’s comment here a few days ago:
“…they like doing illustrations for their own stories. They like coming up with their own needs of what to say. They like choosing the songs that they will sing and talking about the artists and the people in the songs. They like, in essense, running the class…”
This has to do with a fundamental shift in how I conceive of my TPRS classroom. It’s like a train I can hear but not see yet. The kids’ role in what we do must change. They must be given more freedom. But we all know what happens when kids are put in groups. What to do? I feel like I just got to the bottom of the stairs in the dark and I’m not sure which step is the bottom one.
My current French 1 kids are bringing this change. They are unlike any kids I have ever taught. I go in, and they start yelling out stuff they want to know before I can even start the lesson I had planned. After a great few months of Circling with Balls/Cards and fantastic One Word Images (the last one was “Pumpkin”), they just start in in French.
The student who wrote and recited the text from “A Wonderful Surprise” from a few days ago here, in another class started a discussion about her boyfriend in French that lasted the whole class period. (The artist went crazy with that one.) Another kid brought in a story about a French gymnast who won the world championship on vault last week, and we talked about that the entire period.
So this is kids driving content. But it can’t just be free form. It needs some structure. Plus, I certainly don’t want to stray too far from Blaine’s Three Steps, which, as far as I’m concerned, are the absolute guarantee of success in any TPRS classroom. How to blend what we know is working for us now with what we know is coming in terms of more kid ownership of the class?
I think what I am going to do as an initial experiment is start setting up a page, which treats content spatially and not linearly and thus would allow me to go in any direction that “feels right” (vs. the dead concept of linear lesson plans).
Maybe the idea of having a bunch of links to all the potential cool things that I can do in my TPRS classroom in one place, on a page, will give me some answers to how to give kids the feeling that they are more in charge of things. I really don’t know, but I love the idea of a place where I can present TPRS in spatial fashion.
I’ll mess with that site for awhile. If anyone else does, let me know how it goes. I really want to figure out a way to make the kids feel that they are in control, but not stray from the CI plan that we know works so well right now.
I will make new categories for
student centered TPRS instruction



25 thoughts on “”

  1. I’ve been experimenting with this also. With my senior students (16 years old, 4-8 years of French) I’ve given them 5 web sites to visit. They can do during class time and at home. All of these sites have:
    – audio texts to listen to
    -transcriptions of the audio, not translations (except for Twext)
    -a variety of different texts to listen to
    -different levels of difficulty
    Some of them have videos to accompany the audio and one has translations
    I’m asking them to listen to between 5-10 hours for the month and to complete a very simple log. I’m also asking them to choose interesting and comprehensible texts. I’ll see what they think in a few days. So far their opinions have been very positive.
    I’ll be asking for feedback from them at the end and asking:
    -if they felt their French improved
    -how much they understood in general
    -how engaged they were with the material and how engaging the sites were
    -if they learned anything cultural
    -if it was an enjoyable activity
    -if we should do it again
    -any other sites they would recommend
    I’m hoping that they get tons of input, both reading and listening, that they self select material that is interesting and comprehensible, that they replay the texts therefore getting repetitions, that they learn something about the language and the culture (a few sites have great cultural, vocab and grammar comments). In short, as you said Ben, it’s about “giving up control, staying in flow, and, most importantly, allowing the kids to feel in control as well, all while delivering massive amounts of CI every day”. I’ll see how it goes. It’s definitely something that goes with Krashen and CI teaching if it works out well.
    I don’t think these sites are for beginners, but there may be something equivalent for 2nd or 3rd year students.
    Here are some of the sites I assigned:
    These ones might be easier. I’m not sure about interesting though:

  2. Ben, I’m thinking about structure. I don’t do enough assessments in my kid-run class (I will try to pin myself down and make that happen from now on). But we absolutely do the three steps. We establish what the new words are, whether on the run or not. We tell a story. Eventually, we read that story, whether during or after writing it as a class. Sometimes we embellish it. Sometimes we read other stories and embellish them. We sing, and we talk. Like your kids, mine have very clear ideas about what they want to get out of the day. I don’t see any problem here, if “structure” means the three steps. I honestly think that we could go the whole year like this.

  3. So, I hadn’t heard of prezi so I went there to find out more. The first sample I saw on the page read, “Math is not linear”. And I thought, “Darn. I’ve been using Math as an example to explain to parents and kids that _language acquisition_ is not linear.” Then, I thought I’d click it to see what it was about…
    Holy crapola, or, as my students are fond of saying, Oh, Snap-ito.
    This presentation:
    is the Math version of CI, it seems to me.
    Watch it. And, replace Math with Language learning and you’ll see what I mean!
    Linear Math is:
    *Not motivating,
    *Prevents studetns from being exposed to other aspects of math they might enjoy (why can’t I learn the to ask “Por qué? until chapter 5?)
    *It foster anxiety (bingo!)
    *It obscures the big picture (language analysis turns ’em off to language learning!)
    *It spreads misunderstanding about what Math is
    And that’s not all. The “what can I do?” section includes great suggestions that we do like, Go on tangents and Foreshadow. the foreshadow one is particularly interesting – foreshadowing, as I’m thinking of it, would refer in our discipline as using natural language to communicate even with beginners. Allow them to hear the real grammar in real context. This ‘foreshadowing’ builds into kids asking about the structures they hear us use but know we haven’t yet taught. that is, of course, when they are ripe for a mini grammar lesson.
    I don’t know Alison, the mathematician who created this, but I feel like I could have a very interesting conversation with her on the bus!

  4. Yes this is what I was trying to ferrett out above, Michele. You describe the potentiality of making everything three steps CI and at the same time having that CI be generated by the kids. (Of course, I will always use Matava stories bc they just flat out work anytime they’re needed.)
    Not only you, but Jim has been at the front of developing this kind of student generated stuff in his own classroom as well, for a few years now. Bottom line, it’s going to be an improvement if we keep the backbone, the three steps, but have the content coming from the kids.
    We already have the “student generated stories” category here, and hopefully we now will get more stuff into the “student centered TPRS instruction” category as well.
    I’m not looking for a formula, of course. I never have. What my level ones have been doing lately, pre-empting class with their own ideas, has shown me that, if the sense of play from the personalization activities of the first months has been strong enough, it will go all year. Just establish meaning, gesture, do the CI, let them teach us how to play, and see where it all goes.
    Make it all about them and it won’t matter what it is. It could be something weird that happened in the hallway right before class. Turn it into a story. Get the kids up to act it out. If it flops in five minutes, do something else. Play, play, and, if that doesn’t work, play.
    I’ve always suspected that the real teachers were the kids. They try (I see it in their faces each class that I try to control the learning – which is impossible!), they try so hard to reach us with their message to “just play”. But we have become serious men and women. They are all little princes and we inhabit planets, each in our own way, and we tell them how serious it all is. But not anymore. It’s time for us to really learn how to play from the best teachers in the world – kids.

  5. Grant that is a powerful comparison there, with the math. It makes me think that what we are doing is not just about languages. It’s about something far greater. Look now, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s goin’ down….

  6. I like the math presentation. Judy Willis, author of Ignite, has also written a book about math. She has the 1st chapter (or the intro?) and the TOC online. It’s called Learning to Love Math. when I read the beginning of the book online, it seemed to me she was advocating a math revolution away from worksheets, like the kind we’ve had in foreign language. I had this kind of shaken up feeling of “how’s that even possible!!!” and wanting to read the book. If that kind of shift is possible, and even necessary to communicate math to some kids, how much more so in foreign language! If even math isn’t best taught linearly, what’s our excuse in language, where children learn their 1st language by hearing the whole language at once?

  7. I’ve been sending out the math links to my favorite math teacher, who sounds as though he spent all of last night learning how to do prezi. Thanks, for me and for him!
    One more comment…I don’t really think that I am giving up control of my class when it’s kid-directed. There’s an ocean of language out there. I am still limiting the scope of the input by keeping vocabulary in bounds. I have to help the kids “flow” the lesson. And I don’t believe that giving up the lesson to the kids necessarily means putting them in groups at all, especially not in self-directed groups. They still don’t know the language better than I do. I still need to be or help bridge the main source of input.
    Finally, getting to where we share content is a process. It takes time, because the students have to decide that they want to learn, and they have to trust the teacher and themselves as partners. It might never happen in some classes. It sounds as though it happened almost immediately in Ben’s French 1 class. I think it happens when the teacher makes it possible for the students to contribute to the content, and keeps happening when the teacher gets excited about that student-directed content.

  8. Thanks for introducing me to Prezi! I’ve been making presentations and I love the way I can just add and move things to jump from place to place. TPRS is so inclined to jumping around in a non-linear fashion, and I like being able to do that without being tied down to the slide format.
    I’d love to hear how others are using it. I’ve been redoing my Paris unit, getting rid of the boring slides and replacing them with all sorts of neat things – youtube links, websites, more images, trivia, etc. I’m planning to make a Prezi to be used with the stories – not necessarily vocabulary (although that will be a central area on the Prezi) but replacing some of the lists of things with Prezi groups. So when we discuss HOW someone goes to a place, I can go over to the group of images and vocabulary showing methods of transortation. When I ask them WHERE someone is going – I’ll have images ready for various places around town. When I ask WHY something happens – I’ll have various reasons listed, some funny, some serious. I find that doing this gets the kids to pick up the vocab for these ‘list’ type things a little at a time, rather than a huge list that everyone forgets after a day or two!

  9. Heather, I’ve been looking at prezi as well. My problem, though, is with the YouTube videos. All streaming media is blocked by my district. Are you able to imbed a movie on your hard drive, or are you able to access YouTube?
    (I even paid for the EduPro version, but the desktop prezi reads only flv files, not mov or avi or mpeg.)
    Thanks in advance for any hlep.

  10. LOVE that Ted talk. I think I could watch Ted all day.
    We’re doing this sort of thing in TPRS, but I’m not sure exactly how to explain it. I wish I knew how to take and embed videos better.
    Heather, could you let us look at a sample of what you’re doing?? It sounds fascinating. Even if you haven’t finished something, I’d sure like to see it.

  11. Robert,
    I’m not sure this will help, but usually on youtube video saving sites like and you can choose to save the video in .flv format. Have you tried this?

  12. Robert,
    What you want is the VLC media player. It is open source (thus free), works on both Macs and PCs and really does the trick nicely. It even can play most region 2 DVDs from Germany without the need for a region-free video player.
    I know of some teachers who aren’t allowed to install anything on their computers who just install the VLC player directly on a flash drive and run it from there.
    Good luck!

  13. I just found out something really interesting: you can turn subtitles on under Ted talks in 22 languages!! I’ve just been watching that video again with the Russian subtitles on. Probably not something I should do with my kids, but great for me!

  14. Nathan,
    Thanks for the help. I just downloaded the player, and it works fine on my Macbook. I’ll try it on my computer at school. I can download it on my Mac but would have to get an administrator to load it onto the PC. I may try the Flashdrive method.
    I would also like to see your presentation. Do you have it on the prezi website?

  15. Here’s one I’m working on about Paris:
    I’m keeping my daily stuff on Prezis now – I was using PPT, but like that this can be set up sort of like a calendar.
    Every Thursday is ‘cool video Thursday’ – we take a brief look at the lyrics of a song (I give them an idea of what it’s about and then we translate the chorus). Now I have links to sites related to the artist, the video itself, the full lyrics, and the chorus. I can also use the text size to put translation of words they may not recognize.

  16. Thanks for posting this, Ben. It helps me address a dilemma/problem I’m facing with regard to PQA. (I don’t understand what is or how to use it; I don’t use any IT in my language classes, it just gets in the way). I recently wrote it about on the forum, with reference to your blog post. My problems are a) how to unearth interesting material from the students,
    b) how to circle this material in 90-min. classes with college students who have zero tolerance for anything NOT about THEM (and that includes movies),
    c) how to find and use material that is both interesting for the students AND me!
    d) how to keep student-generated material from being totally unstructured – otherwise I spend the whole time just translating into English the things they want to say.

  17. I meant to thank Heather for her presentations too. I loved the Paris one! After seeing your presentations, Heather, I understand how Prezi could be used for lesson planning. so much potential! I like the way it moves us one step farther away from linear thinking, more towards the way we really think…

  18. Thanks, Carla, for the plug on some of the Prezis I’ve developed. Ben is keen to point out the non-linear aspect of storytelling and how Prezi is well-suited to it. Two notes on this:
    1. If you haven’t read Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” pick it up NOW and read it. He describes storytelling as being one of 6 essential aptitudes for success in the 21st Century. Each section comes with a portfolio of activities you can do to improve your skills in that area and several are great to incorporate in a storytelling classroom.
    2. Ben is right that technology CAN be a distraction to comprehensible input. So too CAN markers, music and even the teacher. Planning and implementation are the key factors in determining whether or not tech is getting in the way. Beyond this point, I would encourage teachers to reflect on our role not only in teaching the target language but also the greater service we owe to our charges of helping them prepare for success after graduating. As language teachers, we can and should be helping our students with math, literacy and honing 21st Century Skills that include (but are not limited to) using technology in positive and productive ways. The welcome challenge is in finding ways to do these in the target language with comprehensible input.
    Pura vida,
    Noah Geisel

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