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42 thoughts on “Question”

  1. This post makes me even more wary of circling. It is a cautionary tale if I ever read one!

    I responded to Udo:

    Circling is not something I do anymore, nor do a lot of members of this PLC. Some of us do “some” circling but only in very “light” terms, with very young students and certainly never would we dream of insulting our students with overly formulaic circled/y/n questions. I can promise that they wanted more than to be treated with a mechanical approach.

    The question is how to provide that “more”. There are those in our group who might want to answer that question. Maybe a few will on the blog today. I will post this question.

  2. Also Udo when you say below that one student is hard to understand – what do you mean by that? If it is that they can’t speak well, I want to be clear that I am of the opinion (vs. Blaine Ray for example) that we cannot expect speech output too early. It takes thousands of hours. So that is one question I have. Could you perhaps be expecting speech output too early? There is a category here on the PLC on the right side of this page – “Output” – that may have a few articles on this topic as well. Also, if you search in the search bar for “speech output” a few more articles that have been posted over the years may pop up.

    Clearly from your second paragraph below you have the gift of bringing your students into the process with their hearts. This is not that easy to do, so good on you. Now what you need to do in my opinion is explore how to do that. (I differ from most in the field on this topic since I advocate non-targeted over targeted input.) That is because in my own view the former aligns with Krashen and the research and the latter aligns with the need to align with school curricula and the TPRS movement (vs. the overall CI movement).

    The short answer here is that the non-targeted CI movement in our work will reach them. If you can make it to Portland, OR this summer there will be a conference of elves to discuss this – the first non-targeted CI conference ever and the first ever conference for elves who happen in this lifetime to be masquerading as language teachers, and who miss Rivendell deeply. You will find out there that what those more advanced kids want from you is non-targeted discussion and far more Story Listening, with authentic tales from the culture they are studying, which will pull you and them into delightful conversation. Beniko Mason has a book coming out on it soon on Story Listening that will in my opinion be a game-changer.

  3. I just had a long conversation with Elissa McLean yesterday about this very topic.

    As a former circler, I have now switched over to what Ben describes. I called it “lithe targeting” and Steve Krashen said that was exactly what he is recommending in T2, the kind of targeting he says is optimal. Trying to get reps for the sake of reps is T1 which he calls “the enemy”. I used to be an avid circler, even using baseball counters to tally up my repetitions. On a good day in a good lesson I usually hit around 35-50 reps. But those repetitions came at a price. And eventually, I realized, like it seems you are starting to see, that that price was too high. And in working with Steve and Beniko and Ben and my students, I began to see that there was no reason to be paying that price anyway.

    It was as if I were working my butt off paying ransom for a prince who was actually safely back in the castle playing the royal Nintendo. Most likely he was back there eating Doritos trying to rescue the princess while I worked my tail off to rack up the repetitions. Most likely he was also complaining and shooting me dirty teenage looks cause the Doritos were getting a little stale. Or he was growing weary of the royal video game.

    So, the prince was not in need of rescuing. Language acquisition would occur no matter what, and in fact, I was allowing the royal teenager to grow a little pasty and pudgy in front of his royal TV screen. I should have stopped all the hard work, cause the prince was perfectly safe, and gone back to the palace, and LOOKED THE PRINCE RIGHT IN THE EYES and taken him out of the Royal Video Game Tower and made him walk with me through real fields, to real parks, where, who knows, there may have been real, flesh-and-blood princesses to meet and discuss.

    1. Through a typo, I realized I typed “lithe” targeting. While a lovely word and reminiscent of a dancer, I meant “light” targeting. Though the image of a lithe dancer snaking their way through the classroom pretty much accurately describes the feeling of teaching this way.

  4. Love the tale of the Dorito Prince. I taught a lot of those kids. They weren’t fools. They would sit there and check out when I tattooed myself w Circling all class. Now I really feel that Circling may have caused more harm than good since it was introduced. I remember the moment I first heard about Circling. I was in the front row of a group of about 150 teachers at a Blaine Ray conference in Denver in about 2004 or 2005. We came back from lunch and since I could reach out and touch Blaine I saw how proud he was to bring us something brand new. We were genuinely excited to learn about circling. We thought we had beat the problem of how HARD TPRS was to actually do, like to actually do it. Now, over ten years later, when I read what Tina says about the Dorito Prince, I know that it is accurate.

  5. So what do you do when you go back to the tower and really rescue the prince? When you throw open the tower door and the prince emerges, blinking, into the sun and takes his first steps through the grass outside? What do you do with him in those fields, those meadows of input, without circling? How do you get the repetitions to go down? How do you get him to be able to say the stuff you want him to say? And fast? How do you TEACH HIM, for Pete’s sake?

    The answer is simple but it is hard to accept. It is intuitive and also counter-intuitive. It requires us to surrender, to trust, to unlearn, and to be brave. It requires us, sometimes, to enter into a professional debate with absolute knuckleheads.

    The answer is to teach him whatever he wants to know. talk to him about topics he finds interesting, compelling even, so interesting that he cannot look away, must drop his carefully-crafted air of teenage insouciance that he developed through a long string of royal tutors who wanted to talk to him about the fall of Rome and the causes of the American Civil War and the plusquamperfecto. So it may be kind of a challenge to find topics, especially at first, before he has learned to trust us, topics that are compelling to the royal imagination.

    But basically our work is to find a topic that is compelling and talk to him about it. And to make sure he understands it. And to be constantly on the lookout for signs of royal boredom, and to make adjustments to the conversation based on that.

    How hard is that? Well, it is not actually all that hard. I mean, we were his age once and if we try hard and believe it is important (and use some strategies that are tried and true to bring bored and jaded kids into the fun), then we can surely connect with him on an emotional level. What is hard is unlearning, giving things up.

    It is harder to unlearn than to learn. It is harder to give something up than to take something up.

    But the payoff is, to me, worth it. Here is what I have recently unlearned. And being a stubborn Taurus (gosh just ask my supervisor…poor thing…) unlearning is hard for me! Fourteen months ago, I would have debated you for hours on how all that I am about to say is obviously untrue.

    So, we must unlearn:

    1. The concept of repetitions – it seems like that makes sense. Say it more, so they hear it more, and remember it more. Beniko says that the repetitions put kids in their conscious minds. The conscious mid is the enemy. Repetition also engenders boredom. Boredom is the enemy of teacher and student alike. It is hard to give this idea up. It just seems to make so much sense! And, it is hard work. It feels like we are earning our paychecks. And of we do not repeat the same thing over and over, why, what will we SAY? Giving up the idea of repetitions was hard for me. But in giving it up, I gained so much freedom. The struggle was worth it.

    2. The concept of teaching the language – that seems to make sense too. Heck, my job description says “French and Spanish teacher”. It should really read “Manager of the Improv Troupe” or “Head Storyteller and Lecturer”. I had to give up the idea, which was ingrained down to my very bones, since my own schooldays, that I am teaching language. I am USING language in a comprehensible way, to communicate interesting things to kids. Giving up the idea that I was hired to teach the language, its parts, was hard too. But it was worth it. Because now I am free. I can talk about whatever butterfly catches the prince’s eye in this meadow called French and Spanish.

    3. The concept of getting the kids to do stuff – They just need to listen and read, listen and read, and not do anything else. WE do not naturally trust the minds and spirits of our youth, and perhaps not the minds and spirits of people in general. Teachers always be saying, “The kids are lazy, they need to be measured so they will learn more”, and the educational “reform” (or “deform”) movement be going, “Teachers are lazy, they need to be measured so they work harder.” But people naturally want to listen to things that are interesting to them. It is their own internal motivation to find out what happened next that is the only thing I am after anymore. So, no reading logs, no comprehension questions, no vocab quizzes, no book reports, no tests, no match-the-word vocab quizzes, nothing that really looks too much like school. Instead my classroom alternates between an acting troupe and Story Hour at the library. It is hard to give up the idea that our classrooms should abound in activities and stuff for kids to do. We are Americans over here. We are still grappling with Puritan ideas on hard work, sacrifice, self-denial, and our inherent sinfulness and slothfulness. But even Americans can unlearn this. We can unlearn that things need to feel like work, like punishments.

    Maybe we need to go back thousands of years and learn what Socrates says here.

    “Education is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn’t in it, as through they were putting sight into blind eyes…but the present argument, on the other hand…indicates that this power is in the soul of each and that the instrument with which each learns–just as an eye is not able to turn toward the light from the dark without the whole body–must be turned around from that which is coming into being together with the whole soul until it is able to endure looking at that which is and the brightest part of that which is.”

  6. So how do we talk to our prince? How do we compel his attention to topics that can carry the language into his unconscious mind? I just posted about this on the poor old More TPRS list. So I will quote it and then go work on another writing project. All I want to do these days is write, write, write.

    My own working hypothesis, or firm belief, is that if the teacher, no matter what language, has the knowledge, training, and skills to:

    1. Find a topic that is compelling to the students, so compelling that they have no choice but to attend
    2. Establish an atmosphere of trust and very low anxiety, and a high degree of community and happy belonging feelings
    3. Speak so slowly and comprehensibly that the students rarely experience a feeling of being lost, which destroys confidence
    4. Stay in touch with the class and the individuals in it, in order to monitor their comprehension and employ fix-up strategies when needed (repetition, gestures, translation, drawing, realia, etc.)
    5. Follow up each session of aural input with visual input in the form of a writing that follows the original aural input very closely, with very few new elements of syntax and vocabulary introduced that were not understood originally in the aural input
    6. Use the text as a vehicle for more input that is also compelling to the students

    Then the students will acquire the language no matter what it is, or what writing system it employs, and no matter if the teacher chooses to use pre-selected target structures or not.

    The targets are not the issue, it seems to me. The comprehensibility and affective filters are. That is what the hypotheses say. And the hypotheses have stood the test of time and are still not disproved.

  7. …the targets are not the issue, it seems to me…the comprehensibility and affective filters are….

    Note that it is our position, and Tina tell me if you disagree, that targeted input is overall less as effective in promoting comprehensibility and lowered affective filters than non-targeted input. It is on that point that we rest our case and invite all sorts of scrutiny and testing and examination and whatever else anyone wants to bring to the table.

    1. YES because in NT work you are more present to the kids, their eyes, their body language, their invisible lines of nonverbal communication. You are more responsive to their comprehension. I know that some people will say that they ARE responsive with targets. I can hear them now. I challenge them to try going without the burden of repeating pre-selected pieces of language over and over. I challenge them to see if taking that load off their minds lightens them up and lets them see the kids, emerging from the mists (or lists…word lists). With the increased comprehensibility coms lowered affective filters. Plus I think the increased interest also does that as well.

    2. If affective filters can be low (and interest is part of that, providing interesting topics that are kid-centered) and comprehensibility can be high then they cannot help but acquire. That is what the hypotheses say anyways. So, yes, I throw my hat into the ring and my trainer and coach is Steve Krashen. I fight for him, in the sense that I am putting his theory into action in the ring where there is a lot of Real Life taking swings at it.

    3. We limit ourselves on becoming language parents my using targets because those are either written on the board or on the back of our heads like a hammer in our hands behind our backs. WACK!

  8. Dear Tina and Ben,

    thank you for your wonderful thoughts. (I’m the new member from Germany.)
    Although your words go right to my heart, I know there are things I have to take my time to unlearn them – I must not rush myself.
    It takes a load off my mind what you say about circling, because even in my year 4 class the large amount of yes/no- questions felt akward because I straight away got the feeling that very few reps were necessary for them to really get it. (I work at a Waldorfschool and we start with Russian and English in year 1. I do a lot of TPR and other CI- methods which the children enjoy.)
    I had a exhilarating experience with my grade 7:
    After the first two stories one of the girls asked (in English) if they could do a story about me! After a moment’s thought I agreed although I had planned something else of course. She started the story with ” Mr Wegner was sitting in the bin.” and someone else added spontaneously “again”. You may imagine that we were laughing quite a lot during that story and I completely forgot about circling. The whole thing just felt good. Afterwards I thought I hadn’t done such a good job because of the missing circling and no new vocabulary. But after reading your comments I will feel free to use a little cirling or don’t do it at all at all.

    1. I am so glad that you had that peek into the happiness and ease in NT work. After nine years of doing it the old way, I feel freer and lighter and happier. What a hilarious moment when the kid said, “Again!” So cute. That kind of moment when one comment sparks the whole class, sets the class on the edge of their seats, is what I live for in comprehension-based teaching. It is so much more frequent in NT work than using targeted language/circling. The shift has been huge for me, and I can’t not share. It is why I am willing to stick my neck out on that dreaded More TPRS list even though I get sweaty palms every time I hit send.
      Udo I like the way you said you will feel free. I feel free too. Free to follow the fun in class, free to be myself in school, free to put the kids truly front and center. Circling got us all down for a long time. I was working with two colleagues yesterday and we were doing a lot of unlearning. I took videos and I am glad that we captured some of the “aha”moments as the unlearning happened.

    2. I have to thank you, Udo, for the big smile that came to my face in reading how that class hijacked your class and had you in the bin. That is so cool. Can you imagine how much fun they had in thinking that they tricked you but really you are the one who tricked them. It’s not about circling or reps. It’s about the level of interest. This is what we must work towards finding in our own practice in the classroom. I think that we are all coming to this realization together right now. We are become disillusioned with all the circling and all the questioning – that is to say that the illusion is disappearing – that is what disillusionment is. We are all becoming disenchanted with TPRS – that is to say we are no longer enchanted by the false promises of skill building in the CI classroom and we are starting to see that if it is interesting, we could probably do whatever we want, ways of teaching that are more individual to our own teaching nature’s, and give up the idea that there is a “one size fits all” product we can buy in the summer workshops and go put in our classrooms. I have been waiting for this time for many years. I have been waiting for something real in this work. I like being disillusioned and disenchanted, and as Tina said in her response comment to you as well, Udo, I like this unlearning process. It is hard to unlearn things. But we can do it. A new era in education demands it. One that puts the kids and their needs first. Like to put you in the bin.

    3. Welcome, Udo.
      It is a relief to know that something that is not working is something we can let go of.

      It is helpful to remember that a lot of discussion about language learning is more pertinent to your beginners. We language teachers are not always clear about this, but so much of what we talk about relates to Novice/Low Intermediate levels.

      So if circling is working with the beginners it must be because they do not have enough language to follow less repetitive language. The key with circling is that it is to be used only for language students do not understand. If students understand what we are saying then we can just say it at their rate of processing. The advanced students will resist circling what they readily understand. That is why circling demonstrations are done in another language.

      Three things to think about:
      1) What and how could we use questions with students in native tongue? This would probably work well with advanced students.
      2) Certain “advanced” structures are just bigger amounts of language that cannot be used independently. Frequent use of “I wish they were here in class today
      3) Yes/no and one-word answer questions are effective ways to review.
      4) Questions with one word answers can be crafted so that they are long and complicated, offering a greater challenge to the greater abilities of the advanced learners.* Greater abilities could include greater vocabulary, faster comprehension, and longer L2 memory.

      We do not hear a lot about gradations of processing text types. In dictations, for example, we notice that some students can only retain words, others phrases, few retain the entire sentence in their working memory. They are dependent on more repetitions of the sentence to pick out the words they still need to write down.

      *Joe Scott, from here in Massachusetts, often said, “Have you noticed that complicated questions have simple answers and simple questions have complicated answers?” Simple question: “What is death?” Complicated question: “What is the color of the Dorito bag that the prince had in the tower that Tina related to us in the comment above?” This could be a challenge for L1 listeners.

  9. Udo, here are two more observations on circling:

    1. I watched Blaine guest-teach a class with a story about the “The Kisser of the Year.” It stood out to me how little circling he actually was doing. He was asking questions to move the story forward, but he was not questioning every subject/verb/object/adverb in any sentence.

    2. At ACTFL in Boston, Carol Gaab went out of her way to may it clear that TPRS is not about circling, although she did use questions for engagement and processing of the story. (It was a demo in Hebrew about Batman and Catwoman. Unlike your Year 4 students, this was Hebrew, Lesson 1 in a 60-min session. It was targeted, but the targets were the core of a mini-story. The mini-story was processed in a variety of ways. Questions took place throughout, but all my energy was on understanding and following along.

    1. In several exchanges with Steve K and Beniko recently I have seen that Steve considers that TPRS done right contains little circling. Carol’s comments and yours here, Nathaniel, back that up. The really good storytellers naturally do not circle. But that is still how it is being taught to new people. So, my issue is that there is a widespread belief – Chris Stolz was just lecturing me on this at breakfast before he visited my class last week – that new people need circling. I see it differently. We have trained new people to just make themselves comprehensible.

      There is no need to make them learn to juggle ALL THE BALLS. Engagement, discipline, going slow, looking for subtle signs of the students’ not comprehending, using our body language…is that not enough? Especially when combined with kids needing the hall pass, kids who did not get enough sleep last night cause Uncle Joe was up being loud, assembly schedules, kids going to the Speech Language Pathologist, kids with ADHD, kids, kids, kids.

      If I had to pick, juggle circling or juggle the humans. It’s humans. Every time. New people need, first and foremost, to make a shift in their feelings and attitudes. Those foundational shifts on the level of feeling and attitude are much more important than a mechanical set of skills or a word list or a list of steps…and more lasting. They also provide something that a list of steps can never provide. They provide a lens through which to view our teaching, a filter to evaluate our teaching decisions through, with the core values of communication and community.

      New teachers need lenses, principles, foundational skills. They need LESS to consciously think about. They need to free their minds. They do not need circling. In my mind, really, no one NEEDS circling. Alls I ever do anymore is do some very light circling of stuff that comes up and needs taught or that I just like to talk about, and so there is energy behind it.

      1. I think the key as a beginning CI teacher is to know what to say, how to say it, what can be said, and how little we need to say.

        My non-CI training involved a big jump from novice to novels. It lacked the hours of comprehensible narrative and interaction. I needed to know what to say to my students without going out of bounds and without moving too fast. I think that learning to circle helped me to get there. Maybe I am wrong. But this may be what Chris has in mind when he says it is necessary for beginning teachers.

        The crux of the matter is, How do we talk to the kids? Look at the divide between what we did at the university and what we are asked to do. We just finished a literary analysis of “Pedro Páramo” before graduating. We now are in front of a class holding a textbook with a grammar explanation and a vocab list. And what do we do with that? “Pedro Páramo” is out and the kids do not understand what I am saying. I was never trained to look at that list and identify a compelling problem (“Pedro Páramo” has no friends) and help the kids come to a solution.

        Our solution for the jump from novice to novel was to put in a lot of study time until we got good at non-communicative activities. And then we worked hard at the novels until we were good at analyzing novels. But we missed that whole thing about talking to our kids.

        So we come back to the question, “How do we talk to our kids?” And we start to do that and we have a moral dilemma, “Is it OK to talk to our kids.” Then we start to see kids respond to language and see that it is OK. And we find that the only way to get better at talking to the kids is to talk to the kids.

      2. Tina, I couldn’t agree more on what you say about the necessary shifts on the level of feeling and attitude. I have been teaching ESL for more than 27 years now to children aged 6 to 13 years old and this year it is the thirteenth time that I started with grade 1.
        I always tried to bring as much heart quality to my teaching as I could and I feel the kids have in a way been my most important teachers because they make me want to find more and more and better ways to reach out to them in the target language.
        My ultimate goal is not just fluency in English but that as many of them as possible get the feeling that the language enriches their lives.

        1. Udo you said this:

          …my ultimate goal is not just fluency in English but that as many of them as possible get the feeling that the language enriches their lives….

          This is the kind of sentence that some teachers just gloss over as not practical. But I can tell that you mean it, esp. bc you are a Waldorf teacher. I support your sentence. I feel that if a teacher really is trying to get their L2 students to some degree of fluency they are going to fail. Too many hours of CI are required. But with your goal, if they were to have something like that to go to work for every day, well then, things could be different and we wouldn’t, as a general rule from what I have observed and based on my own experience, hate our jobs so much. It is because the kids would sense a shift in our priorities from getting them to learn certain things to being with them. Few adults actually spend time being with kids. And in any language, I might add, L1 or L2. it’s fine. We’ve all gone overboard with the language teaching thing. We have focused on things that would aggrandize us when our time might be better used in helping them believe in life by asking less of them and giving them more. Demanding less from others and giving them more. Serving them. If we did that we, believing in support from life itself, not asking admins so much for it (they can’t give the support we need), and then we could all slow down and make our days pleasant, not just bearable. to teach certain things and could then relax and enjoy just being with the kids. Not too many teachers even talk about this so thank you for mentioning it.

          1. Ben, you said:

            … I feel that if a teacher really is trying to get their L2 students to some degree of fluency they are going to fail. …

            I’m not sure I understand, because firstly I thought good TPRS does exactly achieve this kind of fluency for many students and secondly it must be one of my goals because they need some degree of fluency in their exams and according to my colleague who did the exams in the last two years most of them passed the oral exam with good or very good grades.
            And what is more important to me is that these young adults need good grades in order to go into a profession they like and not just to work for the money. Only with good grades they have a good chance of choosing their profession.

            You are definitely right about the little time we actually have for doing CI and because of this we still have vocab binders in which my students copy some chunks of language. Since yesterday I have decided that I will only hold them responsible for knowing the meaning of these vocab items and they no longer have to study from L1 to L2 thereby considerably lessening their workload. (I’m not in the habit of giving lots of vocabulary and I heard recently that at our High Schools which start with year 5, kids get up to 100 or even 150 new words each week – and I fear it is true!)

            Would love to read your comment.

          2. Udo the lack of clarity comes from my failing to define “some degree of fluency”. What I meant and should have added was that most teachers are not aware of what the research tells us about the thousands and thousands of hours necessary to get to even “some degree” of fluency. All that input is required just to get a little bit of authentic output, as per Wynne Wong of Ohio State University: “A flood of input must precede a trickle of output.”

            So I see all these teachers going for fluency in their classrooms as if it is the golden calf to attain and yet they will fail precisely because of that flood of input that is required. So my point was why go crazy trying to get kids who are going to get 500 hours of input in a four year program – more like 300 of the thousands necessary and that even in a well run CI classroom – and those 500 only if we deliver comprehensible and interesting CI every minute of those four years. My thinking is we need to just relax with the kids, if we really reflect on what is required for even a small degree of fluency.

            And I also feel that holding kids responsible for vocabulary is wrong. We don’t know, can’t know, what they know bc it is all beneath the surface. Maybe they look on an assessment that they don’t know a word but just need the right context to show that they do know it. And I don’t think words in a list, which are dead, can be alive unless they are in interesting context. I don’t think that we should try to dredge words from their deeper minds. This is especially egregious in oral testing, which should be outlawed since it’s like asking a toddler to speak well. It’s brutal to children and they quit, thinking that they can’t do it. But they can. They just need more time!

          3. Ben, maybe you feel so strongly about vocab because you have to do tests and grade them. I am totally opposed to grading (one reason I chose to work at a Waldorfschool) so I sometimes just quiz them on vocab and only call on volunteers who put up their hands.
            My own experience with vocab learning – I worked with cards: on one side a chunk of language or a complete sentence and on the other side the German equivalent –
            was positve for me.

          4. I too hate grading. And I have always been interested in Waldorf or Montessori for that reason. I received a catalogue from the evergreen state college in Olympia Washington when I was in high school. It gives no grades. I really really wanted to apply but it was 2500 miles away from home in Georgia. Strangely the summer I graduated we moved to Portland Oregon. It was the no grades college down the street what called me here. And so now I give as few grades as I possibly can. And they’re fluff. Shh. Don’t tell the principal. She thinks I’m starting to give a shit.

          5. “So my point was why go crazy trying to get kids who are going to get 500 hours of input in a four year program …”

            Would this be an argument then for teachers to teach skills and vocabulary instead? I mean that is what I see AP teachers do. They drill and kill to get the results. My high school feeder school starts the year with 40 students in AP and second semester ends with about 12. Amazing! I would fight for a NON-AP French class to include the all kids and just have fun.

          6. Not once was I able to sell my admin, in 24 years, to make the upper level classes non-AP. They cared much more how they themselves looked as admins and so needed the brainiacs to get the 3s and 4s and the heck with the rabble. Shame on them.

  10. I would like to thank all of you very much for your comments in which I feel a lot of heart-quality. Becomming a member of your PLC has already paid off for me.
    I’ve experimented a little with circling past tense forms of irregular verbs in year three and four:
    My year three students really hung in there with me. I got some very loud responses. (I start with writing and reading in year four. Before that it’s oral work with movements. lots of props (young learners love toy animals). pictures and picture dictations storylistening with picture books and some simple games of course. I also hand out what I call picture cards beginning in the middle of year two eg with parts of the body and animals and we play Memory in class where they have to say the words and the players are asked to help each other with the words or come and ask me if they have forgotten. I also use a handpuppet called Mr Monkey who doesn’t speak German at all and I believe the children are more in love with him than with me – which is great!)
    But with my grade 4 I got the feeling I must already be careful how much simple circling I do because they comprehend even faster. Having done a huge amount of commands in the previous years they haven’t acquired past tense forms. So having mainly listened to verbs in the present tense they naturally tend to use them when retelling a story in the past. So that problem is on me and I will do some serious thinking on how to use the past tense much more often in the first three years of oral work.
    If you have any ideas on that I would be very interested.

  11. … I will do some serious thinking on how to use the past tense much more often in the first three years of oral work….

    That is why I recommend starting telling stories in the first month of Level 1 in the past tense forms – and writing them out/discussing them in the reading in the present. Then the past forms and the present forms are all solid by the end of year one. I don’t work so much on other tenses or forms and rely on reading discussions to focus more on them from Levels 2 to 4. There is no plan, of course, of when to introduce a tense. I just speak naturally to them.

    I used to drive myself a bit crazy thinking I had to include a certain tense in my instruction (“Oh! here is a chance to teach si clauses in the pluperfect and result clauses in the past conditional!”) and so I would start circling that and the next thing I know the kids are going like, “Hey, what happened to the fun stuff we were talking about? Now you have us doing pattern drills!” and most of the kids would have the screen savers come up over their eyes.

    Of course, lots of command forms besides past and present verb forms are there from the beginning. I don’t know if there is any research on this but my feeling is that if the students are able to quickly identify a verb by hearing it/reading it in the command and past (auditory during stories) and present (visual during readings) forms, then over the years that follow they easily interpolate meaning in the future/cond./compound/subj./etc. forms.

    I personally would rather spend my time, and this is just my individual preference, on long stories/readings in level one instead of games because I don’t like to feel the pressure of creating the fun. I would rather that the kids do that from images. I don’t enjoy feeling like one of those clowns who comes to a birthday party with all the responsibility of making the games funny so the kids will laugh because I am not a clown. But that is only my feeling à moi. Games never worked for me. Too much pressure.

    1. My kids in grade 1 to 4 (at the age of 6 to 10 years) just love our simple games and I’ve never felt any pressure. Ben, maybe games didn’t work because of the age of your students. When the kids get older I usually don’t play games anymore only as an exception if the kids really ask for it – probably as a reminder of how much fun it was in the elementary school.

      1. I think this is a correct observation. I agree fully. When kids get older, they lose the ability to play games in the pure way and it becomes about who can win and since older kids learn in middle school who the winners are they have to lose if they are not in the winners group of five to seven kids so they fade out of class. The winners take over.

  12. Just to add here that it is important, very important to me that I not worry about “getting in” repetitions on, let’s say, specific forms like the future/conditional or si clauses or the subjunctive forms. It is my view and I think it is supported in Krashen’s work that natural language will naturally bring those forms in. It is not something I should have to worry about. In fact, it turns my class into one that focuses on form, which is what the conscious faculty does in spite of the fact that Krashen has repeated stated that his findings reveal the pre-eminent role of the unconscious mind when focused not on form but purely on meaning in language acquisition.

    1. Krashen sent this to Tina on Sunday. It discusses Circling but applies to any focus on form in our language classrooms:

      …Circling: Are we just doing ALM (audio-lingual method)?

      Yes, at its worst. This happens when (1) there is a targeted structure; (2) the questions are obviously intended just to supply more exposure; (3) students are expected to produce beyond their competence. But circling done when there is no targeted structure, when the questions are truly interesting, and “forced speech” is not demanded, is a powerful means of providing comprehensible input. When it is done right, students are not aware it is happening, and focus only on the message.

      The first TPRS classes I attended, taught by Jason Fritze and Linda Li, used lots of circling, but I wasn’t aware of it, because the stories they were creating (and asking) were so interesting.

      Jason Fritze noted in one of his presentations in Turkey (2015) that the essence of TPRS is not circling. The essense is compelling stories. Circling is [ed. note: read “should be”] a device for comfirming compehension and pushing the story along.

  13. I LOVE that we are not expected to circle. That was something that never felt natural to me. There are no predetermined structures to circle anymore. When structures emerge, they will see them in the written story and have enough practice with that. I also feel that if some students don’t acquire those new structures, more than likely they are common enough that they will come up again at another point during the year-and they usually do.

    I totally agree with talking about what captures their interest because that is how to truly engage them. At this moment, I am watching my student teacher do a “conversation from the back of the classroom”. The kids are quiet, listening, and respectful. They are answering the questions but I can see on their faces that they are bored. Why is this? This is from their NT story. This frustrates me but I’m not sure there’s an answer. I suppose the teacher can stop the conversation (which was only 7-8 minutes anyway) and go on to something else.

    When I started TPRS (the traditional way with targets), I felt very lucky to have 84 minutes of class because it was very easy to plan around the targets. I may be wrong, but lately I’m feeling that shorter periods of time may be easier to “not plan” and kind of “go with the flow”. For example, I typically spend anywhere from 10-15 minutes in the beginning of class to talk about whatever they want-their weekend plans, interesting things going on in their lives…I recently mentioned that in one class we spoke for 65 minutes. The students probably thought they got me off track from class since we weren’t discussing the current story but, in reality, we were right on track because the objective in every class is simply to communicate in Spanish what interests them! However, not all my classes are that talkative. So, if the kids are painfully quiet and have NOTHING to say, then I have no choice but to go on and review the story-look at artwork, do activities and games. They do enjoy the games but I still need to have “filler” activities in case we have extra time such as Pp practice on emergent structures (I know-it sounds boring and too much like “school”!)

    By the way, I recently did a Reader’s Theater type of activity. I chose about 8 different words/expressions from the written story and had one student assigned to each expression and to do the sound effect when I read the story out loud. I originally planned to have them try out for the part and to possibly compete against each other to be the most dramatic, loudest, etc. To my surprise, this whole segment of class to try out for the parts lasted over 45 minutes just for eight parts!! The whole class was in Spanish and the kids were so entertained. They also were hearing important parts of the story the whole time. That was so much fun.

      1. It’s probably was too easy for them but I thought we wanted it to be fairly easy so we could have a “conversation” with ease about the story. I would think that the conversation wouldn’t go too well if it were too difficult either.

        I don’t think it was because it was another teacher. I tend to get the same response from most of my classes during the reading from the back of the classroom. Maybe I’m not doing it right. Steve, thank you for reminding me to do some PQA during this. I used to a couple years ago and I’ve been forgetting lately. I think I just have a lot of my mind since this whole NT is new to me. I will try that. The other day, however, I did a little bit more RT during this activity. Just about 5 minutes where I took a phrase and had various kids say it different ways but I didn’t have them compete for parts like I described above-that was a different lesson. It was entertaining and made the conversation more interesting. I’ll have to work on this.

  14. ” At this moment, I am watching my student teacher do a “conversation from the back of the classroom”. The kids are quiet, listening, and respectful. They are answering the questions but I can see on their faces that they are bored. Why is this? This is from their NT story. This frustrates me but I’m not sure there’s an answer. I suppose the teacher can stop the conversation (which was only 7-8 minutes anyway) and go on to something else.”

    I think that we need to address boredom in general. Sometimes it is school culture but our classroom should be ours to shape as we see fit as professionals. I use brain breaks like high-fives a la Anabelle. I also do simon says. During a reading I personalize the reading with embedded PQA but only when I see that it is interested to me, if I can get to know students better. I can do this better during reading than during creating the story (day 1) because Day 1 is all about suggesting, management, jobs etc… A lot going on in Day 1.

    My reading days have been going fast. I am trying to have student re-read their stories during FVR and I let them read other classes stories according to level.

  15. Hi Udo.

    I went back and read what you said, “Perhaps they felt that after working on retelling short, interesting newspaper articles since year six I was selling them short.”

    The “after six years” is what stood out to me. How much do they spontaneously speak up and interact in L2? How fluent are they? They more they are ready for it the more satisfied (many) students will be with the opportunity to do so.

    1. The thing is, they were much more interested in using English and doing so spontaneously in grade 5 and 6. Now in grade 7 I kind of have to remind them that they can already communicate a little in English. They know that I will help them out with words and they are allowed to switch to German if gets too taxing for them.
      We have three lessons (45 minutes) a week from grade 1 onwards which gives them about 420 hours of English at the end of year six.
      In my class of 12 students two of them speak with some real fluency except that they ask for words they don’t know yet and with some grammar errors. These two sometimes watch movies in English. The others can communicate if it is possible to express their thoughts in simple sentences.
      Maybe I should add that I always keep telling my classes that errors in English are learning mistakes so they should try to speak some English if possible, from grade 5 on.
      I must admit that with my seventh graders I insist in a friendly and encouraging way, they at least try and not just speak German all the time because it’s so effortless and comfortable.
      I have the gut feeling it could be puberty which has dampened their former enthusiasm for trying out their English. What is your opinion on this?

  16. I think it is puberty to be sure. The difference between 6th and 8th grade is dramatic. However, my mantra is always going to go back to the word compelling. Thus when you say:

    …they know that I will help them out with words and they are allowed to switch to German if gets too taxing for them….

    Then the implied message from the teacher here is that speaking the language is taxing. When the students see that their teacher wants them to speak, and they are not sure if they can because how could they after so few hours of input, then they sense that and shut down. But with enough interesting and even compelling input, the strained feeling in class gives way to a natural desire to speak. They speak for the oddest of reasons, that they want to say something.

    Any of us who have teenage kids know that one all too well, right? It is my opinion that the angels give extra rounds of applause each night to parents and teachers of teens whenever their heads hit the pillow.

    Tina and I therefore think that it all depends on the topic and on using a non-targeted approach. Actually it is not something that we think, but something we have dramatically experienced in our own classrooms. We have been working on this one aspect of CI instruction for over a year now with five star results. It’s a shift away from the mainstream, and many people do not approve, openly so. We were even kicked off the iFLT website, so we must be on to something!

  17. Great thinking, Ben. It’s what I like to call “living the language”. I will go with “compelling” and if I can’t have it all the time, I will strive for “interesting”.
    I tried out Blaine Ray’s story telling approach many years ago and it took off splendidly for some weeks but then it became another mechanic teaching tool, my fault no doubt. (I didn’t do PQA and the stories were done by me, no involving of my students, to mention only two major errors.) I didn’t know how to make it come alive and so gave up. After a couple of years I gave it another shot but with the same result. I felt that TPR-Storytelling sadly wasn’t for me. But now I am sure that with TPRS (CI&focus on the kids etc.) I will never give up again.
    And thanky you once more for this fantastic community and sharing of ideas!!!

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