Question for the Group

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28 thoughts on “Question for the Group”

  1. Craig the way I look at is based on the incredible plasticity of the mind to understand meaning when it hears a verb relative to the tense and the person. We don’t have to “teach” those things – constant input will be enough for the brain to arrange all the tense and person forms itself.
    So since most stories are told in the third person, and it feels natural to the listeners, we use that form. And I personally have found it best to ask the story in the past and read it in the present. But as always there are no rules about any of that.
    As long as the brain hears one basic form (third person) and one basic tense (past for stories and present for readings) then it has the blueprint to decode any other tenses and forms. It just needs that one.
    No teaching is involved. Just lots of good listening and reading input do the trick. The brain arranges it, not the teacher, who is just the vehicle of the input.
    My opinion.

  2. When I first started using storytelling it was very natural for me to create stories using the first person. It was easier for me to invent stories about things I had and places I went.
    I see nothing wrong with starting this way. In fact, at NTPRS this summer Blaine presented 1st person parallel characters to storytelling. It may see novel to some but we talk about ourselves all the time in the TL. I encourage others to try creating absurd stories about things that you have seen or done…students love it!

  3. As Ben said, the brain will automatically sort it all out over time, Craig. It just has a way of doing that.
    I agree with James. Ask the story in the third person, but then add some dialogue so the actors can speak in the first person.
    For example: “Class, where does JimBob go?” Class answers: “JimBob goes to Fuddrucker’s.” Then turn to “JimBob” your actor. “JimBob, where are you going?” JimBob: “I go to Fuddruckers.”

    1. I find that very often something kind of magical happens when you turn to the actor and ask the question, too. I teach a language that makes no changes to verbs, but it still does something to the atmosphere when we all look to the student acting and see what he or she says. (Or lip-syncs to me saying their response.)

      1. Related: Sometimes when I do MovieTalk, I do it as if I’m the main character, then we read in 1st person.
        We could also do point of view (POV) readings of the story – rewrite it from the mind of a different character in the story. Could be fun to make changes based on an arrogant, sporty, introvert, extrovert, etc. character.

        1. Yes, great. Also, pretend the story is in different genres of film and retell it in those formats. If this scene were part of a horror film, a documentary, a romance, an anime cartoon, an infomercial… how would it play out?

    1. I think this is a great way to bring in the first person. Come to think of it, last year I did this when I wrote up a couple of our Star of the Day (8th grade) stories, so it read as if the student was telling about him or herself. It was a good change (for me as well as the kids). Thanks for reminding me!
      I love the different characters’ POV idea, Eric.

      1. I’m good with not getting a ton of reps on first person. Of course, French allows that as first person forms resemble third person forms a lot more than in some other languages. But in general I always try to remember that it is not how clever I am at fitting in first person reps, but time and the natural order of how language is acquired that will win the day. I don’t have to be so clever all the time. All I have to do is deliver the CI.

        1. Acquisition of inflection requires input. But remember that frequency in the input is not the only factor in acquisition. (e.g. if something else in the sentence gives away the meaning, then there is no need to process the verb ending).
          Here’s a mind-blower for ya: acquisition and ability to use the language may overlap, but are distinct. Generative linguistics (Chomsky) maintains this classic distinction between competence (acquisition) and performance (use/skill). VanPatten (working within the same framework) told me that the Natural Order studies and acquisition orders are apples and oranges, because the Natural Order studies were measured by output (use of language) – they are accuracy of performance orders, not orders of acquisition! It is theoretically possible that we have acquired something, but we can’t use it yet. There are output procedures and stages of output that have to be traversed. Unfortunately, SLA has been primarily obsessed with grammar and input, so there are under-researched areas.
          Honestly, for languages with verb inflections for tense and person, these are NOT going to be acquired in years 1, 2, and probably not even after year 4. What will get acquired are a few inflected forms as vocabulary items. (e.g. como = I eat, but first person regular inflections have not been acquired). And that’s not a big deal. It’s our traditional mindset that worships conjugation which makes us think that’s important. But we can communicate without proper inflection. Grammatical accuracy really doesn’t impact communication much. This should be obvious and the reaction of anyone proclaiming to teach for communication should be to stress fluency (speedy comprehended input and speedy comprehensible output).

  4. Something I picked up at NTPRS this summer: Become a voice for a student. For example, if the student responds to a question, you can repeat the answer in the first person by saying…”Class, Charlie says, ‘I want a pool!'”. That way you’re getting more reps on 1st person.

  5. Or, if you ask Charlie “Do you want a pool?” and Charlie answers, “yes”, then you can turn to the class and say, “Charlie says, ‘I want a pool’ “.

    1. Nice approach. Could be used any time.
      There’s also lip-syncing, which I first saw Katya Paukova do about 5-6 years ago and still remember how cool it was to see the actor “speak” fluent Russian that way. She got behind him & tapped his shoulder for when to mouth words. It’s fun when used rarely. I’ve done it two different times when it became the right thing to do with the Novice class in the course of discussion. That may have expended its specialness, but it’s really fun to do those few times.
      (Actually, this year I have kids in the Novice class – end of week 2 – who are regularly putting together full sentences in speech… this is unforced but welcome. About 4 out of 13 of them. I am really so proud of that class…)

  6. So many great ideas! The one about becoming the voice of the student is one of ten thousand ideas. So how do we remember them all? We don’t, and the point is worth making here, as a general caution, that this work is not centered in the mind and cannot be “learned” in the same way that our students can’t learn the language unless made to swim (heads above water) in it.
    It’s the same with us. If we try to remember to “do that new technique” we will lose our flow. This doesn’t mean not to intentionally try a new technique to start, but over time this work is about the skills/techniques/strategies of CI instruction being moved from intentionality of instruction into the body, where we have our success in the classroom, because we “feel” the work.
    Hundreds of new and wonderful little tricks like becoming the voice of the student happen every day in our classrooms but are never recorded and never will be. That is the real work. It happens because we are not overly caught up in our minds. Yes, we may follow a sequence of instructions as written out in ROA or vPQA or Star of the Week and that is fine but in general we need to not think so much when we do this work.
    I really like what someone said here yesterday (perhaps it was from something Jason said at NTPRS that Angie recorded) about our never having to go past one sentence. How freeing that is! We feel the circling, the reps in context, and we feel that it isn’t time to move on, that the students are really benefitting from the extra reps we keep throwing in, so we park on it – parking not because we THINK of parking but because we FEEL the need to park – and we make meaningful eye contact with the actor, and we notice a kid not focused over there and so (Teaching 101, right?) we walk over to the lost kid and whisper that we are going to repeat it all for them to understand and all of a sudden we see that this work is about making happy eye contact with kids in the joyful expression of language as a moving, living and breathing thing and it is in THOSE moments when the real teaching happens and as is true with all great things cannot be written down and sold and captured in a bottle but must be allowed to be what they are, fleeting, and we were lucky to be able to experience them at all, and we only did so because we weren’t trying to squeeze the life out of the circling by “doing it right”.
    The moment this work becomes a method is the moment it no longer works. That is why so few teachers stay with it. But they will retire and an entirely new kind of teacher – I think of Angie Dodd and Carly Robinson but there is a carload of them in our PLC – young and unfettered by the idea that they have to do CI in “a certain way” – will take over, and a million kids will breathe a big sigh of relief, because their language classes will carry honest meaning in their lives, and they won’t hate their language classes and we will have entered a new age in foreign language education, and nothing hippy about it.

    1. Exactly, Ben!
      “. . . there are no methods in teaching. Method implies a formula and formula implies a science. Teaching is an art, not a science – and teaching is the highest art form. Here is why: All by yourself on a stark stage with only one prop, a chalkboard, we are asking you to hold the attention of an audience for an hour or more. . . I was patient with traditionalists because I believed they had good intentions but did not know about the 20-years of research supporting TPR. But now in the 21st century, there is no excuse for not knowing that there is a better way to acquire multiple languages for people of all ages including adults. . . So to press on with a ‘failed’ strategy generation after generation is almost criminal.” – Foreword to the 7th edition of “Learning Another Language Through Actions” by Asher
      Many teachers don’t get this. They crave a formula with steps and even a script to read off. That is NOT teaching. What teachers need is practice in comprehensible and compelling input enhancing strategies (e.g. circling and storyasking) and those skills are what we need to elaborate this art form!

      1. Your last paragraph is gold Eric. A formula is so very helpful….but it is an outline for instruction. What we do becomes the art of teaching when we incorporate our own gifts and channel the energy of the class within the options that possible outline gives us.
        I have to admit that helping others to find their art as TPRS teachers is one of the most challenging and exciting teaching challenges I have ever faced. I’m convinced that it takes a community to teach it.
        with love,

    2. Ben, I wish there was a way that this comment of yours wouldn’t get lost in the galaxy of comments that is this blog. These are really key thoughts for this work. They create a lightness in what can seem overwhelming. You remind us to trust ourselves.

  7. Ruth there is indeed a lightness in this work which comes with time. It necessarily feels heavy at the beginning. Then it just keeps getting lighter and we can’t believe it’s a job. That is when via the spontaneity that always accompanies the lightness we see that what Susie said about “just talking to the kids” is not a catch phrase but a truth.
    I’ll make that comment into an article and maybe a primer?
    The galaxy of comments by the way – now in its 9th year – is about 50 comments away from 40,000 of them. But I really feel that the breathtaking core simplicity of this work does get mentioned over and over again. It really is the same three steps and their simple skills that have not changed since Blaine invented them along with Susie so long ago in the 1990’s.
    The same thing that prevents the lightness and spontaneity (and along with them the fun!) is a kind of slowly crumbling negativity about teaching languages. That is why so few people hop on the TPRS train – they think that learning a language is about hard work. I know because I thought the same way for a quarter of a century. But it’s ok now. All better. Owie gone. We can all go out and play and quit worrying about our teaching so much now. The scab is now falling off our profession. Bright days ahead!

    1. It’s true what Eric and Laurie said above about practice and community. I would be lost without this community and the Maine conference and Jen who came to visit in the flesh. And it is the every day in class practice, the trying, the flops, the good times – lots of practice and lots of trust and patience and not too much thinking that slowly slowly bring things together. It does sometimes feel light, and then I have a really awful class and it feels like a job again and I just want to drive off to the ocean. But it’ll feel light again – trust!
      I remember that someone here once said how learning how to do this work isn’t so different from our teaching. I’m not sure how that connects to what I am thinking about here. Maybe it’s like how throughout the summer I spent a lot of time reading posts and comments here (input), reflecting, and thinking but with nothing tangible to show for it. I did no planning or prepping even when I tried. No output. I must say, my affective filter went up sometimes when I felt overwhelmed at all there was to think about and try.
      Now school has started. This is my time for output, and I am reminding myself to start simple with what feels super comfortable. No forcing. I can add on and try new things as it feels right, and while always remembering the basics.

  8. This year? I’ve only seen each class 2-3 times since we’ve just had one week, and we go every other day, and one team had a field trip already.
    6th grade exploratory – an enthusiastic mini-story about a dog and a cat who like each other. They are friends. It’s going great because it’s super simple. The kids are with me. “Oouuiiiiiiii!” “Nooonnnnnn!”
    We will build on it slowly as we add a few other super 7 verbs one by one. At least that’s the plan. I have these kids for a quarter (21 classes) then they have a quarter of Spanish, and then they choose.
    7th grade – “Nice to Meet You” was pretty much a flop after some okay PQA. They didn’t get the joke. I’d never done it before, and I lost my thread in a couple classes. The third class was better as I rescued things by bringing in other question words.
    8th grade – No stories yet.
    I also have 2 classes of 8th graders and a few 7th who weren’t “recommended for foreign language.” I finally got the okay to teach them French for two of the quarters (along with a quarter of technology and research with the librarian/tech person and then one quarter of career exploration). I’m planning to do pretty much what I do with the 6th grade exploratory classes, maybe switching some things up for the older kids.
    Historically (2 years doing this), stories for me have been a mixture of enjoyable and fun and painful. I think they sometimes got too complicated. My best ones have come from images rather than scripts.

    1. Keep us posted. You’ll love the 8the graders with stories. But all of us gravitate to different strategies. It’s nice to have so many! I’ll stay only with stories if the current interest keeps up. But eventually they’ll tire of them. Or I will. Then I’ll be armed and ready with vPQA and all the rest. Feels good. What I like right now is with Stories on Day 1 and ROA on Day 2 of a two block cycle I really feel grounded and for the first time I don’t have that “scared” feeling. It’s so great to follow a clear routine. On Day 1 I just follow the energy of the PQA or story. On Day 2 I just follow the 16 step ROA sheet. The kids appreciate it as well. That’s why I’ve been pushing ROA so hard here lately. Whenever I get scared, I own it all and breathe and remember all I have to do is deliver the CI. Sweet!

    2. “stories for me have been a mixture of enjoyable and fun and painful. I think they sometimes got too complicated. My best ones have come from images rather than scripts.”
      I wonder Ruth if the images help things go smoother because you have a clear “distraction” (for lack of a better word) from yourself. I mean to say, when we’re working with scripts, if we don’t have a picture of a celebrity or something else interesting to the kids, OR a trained actor that we can trust to move in synchronicity with our words, it can be harder for them. In that case we have to help the kids imagine so much more, and that is more challenging for students to VISUALIZE. This is why I almost always have a picture of a celeb up on the wall to keep pointing at. “Look at David Bisbal class (Not me! deep breath, nerves settle, riff on David a bit, ok back to me)” Related: Search “Wallflowers” on this site.
      ““Nice to Meet You” was pretty much a flop after some okay PQA. They didn’t get the joke.”
      How can we make sure the humor is realized? I’ve done this story tens of times and so I’ve found that it helps if I make crystal clear that the person your student is meeting is very nervous. Stress this part. He or she looks at your student and immediately gets nervous. In the embedded version you have the option of including the structure “forgets his/her name”. If the nervousness factor of say Justin Bieber doesn’t lead to a logical consequence of him forgetting his name and saying he is someone else, then maybe use the “forgets…” structure to clarify. And you surely have to milk the celebrity stuttering his response to your student. That for me always brings some humor. Then to top it off, your student replies “Nice to meet you __(insert the name the celeb said even though that isn’t his name)__” This always gets some smiles for me too.
      I may have to take full responsibility for this script not working for some teachers who received an earlier version of my book. I had written it incorrectly, writing that the celeb says “My name is Barack, Barack Obama” but now it is corrected and the celeb should stutter the wrong name for maximum effect (“My name is B-B-B-B-Barack Obama”).

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