Today I got an email from Ray Bauer who is doing important work in elementary TPRS. His email reflects perfectly my thoughts of recent weeks, that kids ultimately need to feel in control of generating their own stuff for the CI class.
(I can think of only one exception to the above statement, and that is re: stories generated by Anne Matava and Jim Tripp and other master story crafters. Wonderfully crafted stories will always be as or more effective than stories generated by kids. I feel that we might be rapidly moving in the direction where both will be commonly used in TPRS classrooms.)
Anyway, here’s Ray’s email:
Today as I was in the middle of some PQA about Halloween with a sixth grade class I took a moment to reflect on how much teaching (and life in general) is better with Comprehensible Input. The retention level is amazing. I’m the only Spanish teacher in my school and I feel like I can pick up one year right where we left off the previous year with confidence that kids remember the vocabulary and structures.
My sixth graders now are on their second year of Comprehensible Input but I can only imagine the possibilities when the current first and second graders reach sixth grade. Hopefully the budget cuts don’t affect me and we can see how far this program can go.
I have recently started to give the kids student-generated texts. Volunteers write funny stories for the classes to read. I often show several classes stories that individual students write. Not only are the other kids curious to read their classmates ideas, but the authors love the attention. I’ve seen this become the sole source of getting a kid totally hooked on Spanish.
Thanks for all the support, ideas and tricks on the blog.
In particular, Ray’s sentence about student generated texts:
“…I’ve seen this become the sole source of getting a kid totally hooked on Spanish…”.
is therefore well timed for me as I move, spurred on by Duke and Michele, into less and less of a “controlled by me” CI environment in my classroom. If one thinks about it , moving in the direction of giving up control of the CI in a TPRS classroom would probably be a rather noxious thought to most main stream TPRS teachers, given what we had to do to retool from what we used to do. We think we are the CI maestros and that’s it. Well, that is what I used to think. I must give some good thought to what 35 different kids are experiencing in my classroom. Yes, we differentiate naturally, but could a closer look at this idea of giving up control in our classrooms and really exploring, developing, the concept of play lead to more gains and happier kids? That’s my question du jour these days.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
7 thoughts on “Ray Bauer”
I am also trying to wrap my head around this idea of a more student-centered classroom for a couple of different reasons. The school where I am has a very high concentration of kids with behavior issues and medical conditions – as well as not too many meaningful consequences from the front office for those who are sent out by a teacher. Students don’t really play sports or instruments or do many of the things that are good to PQA. This means the ideal model of discipline first and total control by the teacher is just not physically possible. (If I am to keep my mind this year. ) I don’t mean a “the kids are just too loud I’m a new teacher and can’t get them to be quiet” type of room. I have taught for ten years and I can manage a room. But here at this school I mean a collective classroom vibe where if I truly stuck to my guns and the rules on the wall I would have to kick 1/2 the class out (and be left with 12-14 students). The lack of a culture of achievement in the building and the student population are forcing me to change some things.
1. I draw a lot more than I used to. I ask them to draw a lot more than I used to. This seems to focus them better than simply words. Somewhere in the Willis book or another there is mention that students are twice as likely to remember a word if there is any kind of visual with it.
2. The Ben Slavic 90 minute plan is my default plan these days when a one word TPRS doesn’t work. But somehow – perhaps by mistake – I have ended up with a different sequence of activities than Ben outlined. And it never seems to be quite the same.
Freewrite or dictation > grammar fix / hospital > repeat it in Spanish > CI questions (when I do insist upon the rules of 50% and all that) > add in other details > small groups extend story > draw 6 box wordless version to demonstrate understanding while I review small group additions > quiz
I guess what I am getting at – and trying to vent or posit to a group of minds who will get what I am saying – is that we / I need more ways to let the students “in” that are not just limited to the teacher asking questions and making everyone be silent. In my situation that questioning model is possible for 10-15 minutes at a stretch but not 90.
The embedded readings and embedded drawings are great ways to accomplish this.
3. In my frustration with the school and the year so far I have occasionally reverted to some old (pre-TPRS / CI) tools and activities like vocabulary cards, forced output games, and reading comprehension (students alone). It is amazing to me HOW TOTALLY INEFFECTIVE AND WORTHLESS these types of things are. All they do is mark time. Which I needed while giving individual quizzes on my monthly required words list) Until I started doing CI I never realized how much of my Spanish classes were just playing the “game” of going through the motions and not acquiring anything.
I agree that there has to be some direction and control but why not let the students choose the three structures or provide the reading / drawing material in a more open format? I have lost my way in my mind here in this post so I will stop for now.
Killer post. So honest. Especially:
“…until I started doing CI I never realized how much of my Spanish classes were just playing the “game” of going through the motions and not acquiring anything…”.
From the time we gesture the words in a story, through the PQA and into the story, magic can and does happen. I just had a guy who skates get into a cool discussion about his skateboard in class. I had lowered my voice because 8th period can get a little rowdy (expectedly – the kids have been in restraining devices all day) so, in order to keep the room totally quiet, I was whispering comprehensible French to them and they were getting it and it was a very cool time.
With this skater, I didn’t leave a new expression until I had what felt like the right number of reps on – all three – subject, verb and object. Call it Conscious Full Circling. The kind that really creates the magic. Anyway, Dirk, I’m losing my train of thought here like you did above.
I started out to say how much I wanted to say something to really support the deep points you make, and to say something to give you confidence that those “issues” will be resolved at some point if you just keep fighting the good fight.
The bottom line is that, when we use TPRS/CI, our kids acquire. And, as you said, when we use forced output games, vocabulary lists, and such, the old way, our kids acquire A LOT LESS than most people realize in spite of all good intentions.
That statement is apt to be personally insulting to someone who has been doing it the old way, but there we have it. It is too bad that many teachers who hear about TPRS feel the need to reject it. It’s kind of like life – if you want to you can find things wrong with anything, but a person could never take away from the greatness that life is with their words.
TPRS – what Blaine has given us, and CI – Krashen’s incomparable gift – are full of light and light and more light. There you have it. Try to find things wrong with it, but that will not change what is happening now on a daily basis in foreign language classrooms more and more every day throughout the United States and abroad.
The door is opening and the light is streaming in. Either get some dark glasses and say that it doesn’t work, get some sunglasses and enter the room slowly, don’t go in the room, whatever, but just understand that this stuff is lightening in a bottle. It is killing ignorance in language teaching. These days I routinely see things happening in my classroom that I would not have dreamed possible – not even remotely – years ago, things that CANNOT POSSIBLY be measured BY DATA. O.K. I’ll stop the rant right now.
But talking to Mario just now about his skateboard in whispered French with 35 kids right on every word was kinda cool. It brought the rant. Before I met Susan Gross, I never used to rant about how fantastic being a teacher was. Teaching sucked. There you have it.
And, to echo what a lot of kind teachers have told me privately about this blog site, thanks, Ben, for this blog. (I’m thanking myself). This site has helped me become a better teacher. (I’m thanking the scared me who – in spite of all fears and sleepless nights – tried the approach and each day over ten years got a little better at it, and did not back down from the newness, the radical kind of teaching it brought, along with the fears of failing at it, and is still getting better at it. Thanking that Ben.
All of this is way off my point, but Dirk I will certainly return to this comment and read it again and again. There is a lot to chew on in there. So thanks for posting it.
“…I agree that there has to be some direction and control but why not let the students choose the three structures or provide the reading/drawing material in a more open format?…”
I have wrestled with this question for years. I have learned that there is a certain point of critical mass where things get too open. Yes, we are totally safe with scripts, esp. if they are well crafted. No, we don’t get that particular quality of student input and the corresponding heightened interest and ownership when that happens. We must find the middle ground. I really want to find the common ground. Until I find it, I’m sticking close to scripts. I’m going to tread slowly into the uncharted waters of student generated TPRS materials, but tread I will. And I’ll just keep my eyes out for Michele’s next post.
Well, here comes a comment that also gets into deep water. I’m not sure, re-reading it, whether there’s really a point. I’m trying to answer what happens when the kids choose their own words and to comment on the drawing thing, because both of those happened in my room today.
My d-i-y class had a very different idea of what was going to happen, and I was forced to flow with them. Under the guise of looking for the words they wanted to “really learn,” we re-read a bunch of old stories and collected words so that the class artists could draw pictures. Then we played an old fashioned game of swat (this ordinarily does nothing except reaffirm who knows the words…no acquisition happens, just as you mention above…) — and while we were doing that, I chunked so that silly ideas kept popping up. “The train returned to the gypsy and said that it lost the fence.” (I haven’t been able to figure out how to do the chunking game, but the idea of saying sentences as the flyswatters were moving just came into my head.) Then we did a very long dictation with the same pictures, telling a story that I made up to fit the pictures as they came along. I managed to use over and over the two structures that I had wanted to emphasize. The kids didn’t notice. They were so excited that they could put in all their own choices of words that I slipped it past them. They just want to write these days. I want them to read. So they think that they “won,” because they got to write, using their own word choices, while I know I won, because we spoke Russian for most of 80 minutes and I got to repeat my chosen structures a couple hundred times, according to my spy.
I’m just waiting for this to fall down around my head. It feels on a daily basis like I am herding cats that are all racing somewhere together. I think that today gave me a little better handle on what I need to do though: figure out my secret structures and go for those, hanging on as though they’re what’s keeping me afloat. And if those structures aren’t in what the kids choose to read/sing/write, I need to figure out which HF ones are. Lately, those are more and more often becoming words like “which,” “therefore,” and “in order to.” Strangely enough, those are also the words that help create more complex speech and writing, and which give kids higher marks in the proficiency world.
This experience of having a student-run class feels like a prezi. We do something for a while, and then we swerve around and do something else, which connects back to the original thing but more under a microscope, and so on. It’s really fun but like a weird Harry-Potter carnival ride. This is not what I was taught to expect when I walk into a classroom. It makes my two English classes feel horribly dull, because I can only truly play with part of the curriculum there. In Russian, we have the entire world. Hmm…that actually makes me think about some changes for my English classes, like letting the kids bring in lyrics and songs, and not being afraid of them…choosing the subjects they’d like to read about…picking up on what one of them writes about during fast writes and making it into a story…
I’m really intrigued by the idea of student-generated stories but haven’t tried this yet. Can anyone who does this explain how they do it? Do the kids write in English or TL? If in English, how do you get them to limit their vocab? I know I’ve read some posts from Michele about this, but I’m forgetting now…. I think she gives the structures, the kids write stories and then she asks a story using parts from the kids’ stories??? (Michele- please correct me) I’d love to hear specifically from folks more about how they use the student-generated stories.
Ray- the kids that volunteer to write the stories- are they writing them in Spanish? Or do they write in English and you translate? What guidelines do you give them?
Anyone else have suggestions? Thanks!!
Elissa, you’ve got it almost exactly right in describing what I do with those student-generated stories based on structures that I assign. The only additions would be that I limit their time to two or three minutes, I limit the space they get to write on by handing out 1/6 or 1/8 of a piece of neon paper, and generally I tell their “entire” story, but let the class add to it as we tell it or I adapt it as we go, depending on content and vocabulary. They’ve usually written these in English. Occasionally I do what others have mentioned here, and pull a bunch of ideas into a single story, or use one for the first run-through and embed more of their details into successive, longer versions of the story.
Things are morphing though. I haven’t handed out structures so much lately. Instead, at least in my wonder-class, one student will come in with a full-blown story. Another kid will step in and disagree as though it was her story from the beginning, and then we’ll have parallel versions going and a kid who dropped in from another school and thinks that we’re pretty tough will make peace by figuring out a way to pull both versions together. By then the whole class is engaged. I had to stop and talk about Halloween on Monday and Tuesday, just to have some real information, but even then they were all messing with one another’s costumes. Maria said that Roman had worn a beige outfit with brown boots, for instance, and he kept repeating that he had the Men in Black outfit on with a brown belt. And kids who had not even gone out found out that they had been dancing with others in the class downtown…there were eyewitnesses.
When they come in with stories in Russian, I let the stories flow. Then I’ll act like I’m interpreting it for the rest of the class, asking questions of the storyteller as though I didn’t quite hear or understand, and circle bits and pieces, sometimes getting extra details from either the teller or the class. The notetaker is also writing everything down, and so sometimes I’ll ask her for what the storyteller said.
When kids come in with a story they’ve written in Russian, I read them out loud to the rest of the class in the same way–sometimes going to the board to put up a structure (especially if I’m correcting one that the student wrote), and sometimes asking for more details from the writer.
About half of my classes are listening classes and half are reading classes. My description below is what I do to personalize a READING class, not a listening class.
My 4th-6th graders either write stories in English, or in Spanglish (they write the Spanish they know and if they need to use words they haven’t yet learned they write them in English). I don’t know if the later is great for them but that is what they’ve been doing. (with my elementary school kids I’m not interested in output yet, I want them to write the stories strictly to personalize class so receiving a story in English is fine) Then I type the story completely into Spanish. If there is a structure that I want to reinforce I just add it into the story. I love being able to add things to kids’ stories! Isn’t it great being the teacher and having the power!
For example, I recently wanted to practice the vocab words hombre and mujer, so I randomly created sentences in a kid’s story containing those vocab words. The authors of the stories don’t seem to care if a sentence or two is added and they still feel it’s their story. Remember, their name is clearly marked under the title proclaiming that it is their story.
When the kids write the stories they are free to put whatever vocab they want, I don’t restrict them at all. The way I obtain 100% comprehension is by writing the English translation very small on top of the words that the kids don’t know.
Here is an example sentence:
David tiene un perro, un gato y un conejo.
Now, let’s imagine that my students have studied every structure in that sentence except for conejo. Then, before making my photocopies of the written story, I write the word rabbit on top of conejo very small. That way I make the sentence 100% comprehensible. A kid or two might even learn the word conejo in that moment also.
I have been giving my students 200 word stories and providing the English translations of whatever words we haven’t yet covered very small above the Spanish words.
I got this idea from Blaine’s Interwoven Language version of Pobre Ana.
This method has really been working well for me. Let’s remember, reading does wonders for language acquisition, but it needs to feel effortless.