Report From the Field – Carly Robinson

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13 thoughts on “Report From the Field – Carly Robinson”

  1. It sounds great! I think you’ve really grasped what the whole thing is about and little by little things will clear up and every year will be better than the last. I wouldn’t worry about not having a lot of jobs. It’s better to have a few that are really working than to assign a bunch and then have them fall flat.

    Free writes are also called Fluency writing, which was what they were called long before Blaine Ray started doing TPR Stories. I think the original name helps to keep in mind that we are not aiming for grammatical perfection, but for fluency, ease in communicating ideas. Almost all teachers today will recognize that it’s wrong to correct a student every time he opens his mouth, just as you don’t correct babies who are learning to speak. It’s exactly the same with writing. If we correct every mistake, all we do is make our students hate writing assignments. If we focus on content, the form will take care of itself. It’s a long process, but in the end your students will acquire grammatical correction, both written and oral. It always amazed me that my colleagues complimented me on how well my students wrote, whereas my lessons were mostly oral. I’ve always been convinced that it was fluency writing that made the difference.

    1. I advise everyone to watch the Brr videos of Ben. He makes a statement there that struck me as pure gold. A student does a retell with mistakes but totally comprehensible. He tells her that was perfect and we need to redefine perfection. I have a student that freezes on one idea during fluency writes. It’s hard to get students to change what they want to say to something they can say. I gave this quote to this one student and I think that it broke through some. The first fluency write was 5 words. The next 11 words but when I sat with this student and worked one on one without giving any words in 10 minutes this student wrote 42 words. That is perfection and everyone won because of it.

  2. Ideally we:

    1. have lots of jobs.
    2. use free writes in the way Judy describes above.
    3. have funny names for each kid.
    4. personalize effectively.
    5. have a strong and capable story artist and quiz and story writers.
    6. have a folklore in each class, one that grows each month and from which we draw for truly personalized class stories.
    7. use jGR effectively.
    8. circle more than we think we need to.
    9. stay slow no matter what.

    That and more things we could list are the ideal. How many of us do even half of those things in a typical class? I sure don’t. In a typical class I don’t do a fraction of all those things contained in my books and articles and comments I have made here. How could we do all that stuff?

    I just checked and today we reached over 28,000 comments over the past seven years. That’s a lot to remember. I try to remember the Three Steps, because they reflect what I have come to see as the underpinnings of all work in comprehensible input – we say something, they read it, they write it. That’s what I can remember.

    So much depends on the students as well. And I wish to restate – it must be made very clear – that there are not and cannot be experts in this work, and just because some of us talk more than others (out of love and fascination for the method) doesn’t mean that we in our classes actually do much of what we talk about and write about each day.

    It is as if the sky offers us endless beautiful stars each day, ideas that we all personally create every day in our own teaching, and we reach and grab and experiment with each new star but then on another day we grab other ones and work with them. But there are no “right” stars to grab. We grab the ones we resonate with, we work with them, with the ones we want to try out that day in our classrooms, and some work and some don’t and we enjoy our successes and remain humble in and appreciative of our failures, for they teach us so much.

    This work is essentially one of daily internal exploration, rather than one of trying to reach some kind of external TPRS ideal. We don’t have to teach like Linda Li or Blaine Ray or Jason Fritze. It doesn’t hurt to imitate those masters in the same way that young painters imitate the style of painters who have come before them before striking out in search of their own style.

    Ultimately this method draws its uniqueness from the fact that it allows us to find ourselves in this work, and not feel the burden of being like someone else who has been successful at it. This alone makes working with TPRS/CI interesting and worthwhile.

    This work is just one slow unceasing process of internal growth and there is no way we can reach some kind of ideal, for there is none. Each of us daily goes in search of our own “ideal” way of using CI. It will differ with each one of us.

    I know that the PLC gives the illusion that some of us are hitting on all cylinders every day in every class, and laughter abounds with great gains happening every day, and there is an implied idea that other less experienced teachers can aspire to that kind of teaching some day if they work hard enough.

    But that is just an illusion. We cannot become clone-like versions of successful CI teachers, because then we would always be striving to meet some kind of standardized vision of what great CI looks like. We can draw from the collective ideas that we have come up with together and then do the internal work of applying certain of those ideas to our teaching in ways that are unique and special to us. We do not really learn the method as much as we apply it to who we are as teachers. There is a difference.

    Thank you for that wonderful report Carly.

  3. Carly,
    This is my first year with the PLC. I started with TPRS in 2004, but for various reasons (external and internal) I backed away and got out of touch. I feel like I am starting all over. I am Rip Van Winkle. I am still trying to figure certain things out. But there is so much here. Melissa suggested that you see the Brr videos. That’s something I haven’t done yet. So I started with the first one.

    I think what hurt me the most in the past was truly letting go of traditional thinking about my role and my relationship with my students. Storytelling just replaced what I had been doing before. My focus was still on the subject (now a story) rather than on the students in the interpersonal mode.

    This year I have been trying to personalize more although I have not done well with sticking with a structure. My goal now (and for next year) is to do structures with personalization.

    There is only so much one can do in one year and it sounds like you have really done a lot. We all feel like we are stumbling. The good thing is that you are stumbling in the right direction.

    1. … storytelling just replaced what I had been doing before. My focus was still on the subject (now a story) rather than on the students in the interpersonal mode….

      This is a tremendous insight, Nathaniel. When we focus on the story, it’s about us and what a great job we are doing as teachers. We want everyone to see that we really are great teachers. That’s what it’s about for us. The students get to offer us things which we decide upon, but when that happens they feel that we are the deciders and resent it on some level.

      Turning it around is so subtle, to where they feel as if they are in charge because of the focus on them, the awed responses we make, the honoring of the things they say, the eye contact from us that says that they really are that neat and we are just admiring their wonderfulness.

      It’s so very subtle. There is a razor thin difference between making it about us and making it about them. We must not teach to their foreheads but to them, to who they are. We maintain control, but it’s genuinely all about how wonderful they are, and not how wonderful we – who want nothing more than to be recognized as wonderful teachers – are.

      1. Carly, thank you for sharing your experience, which as Ben says, is everyone’s experience. At the risk of sounding cliche…this is a process, not a product. It is truly a practice. We do the best we can on any given day, and then we let go of that day and begin again. It ain’t always pretty.

        I have been listening to a lot of Matisyahu lately…especially his acoustic stuff…this song has become my mantra recently:

        … let yesterday burn and throw it in a fire…in a fire…in a fire…Live like a warrior!!!

        We have to remember that we are all warriors / pioneers or whatever you want to call it. This is a turbulent time of great shifting, and we are on the front lines. It is messy, for sure. And I agree totally with Ben about all the stuff we say in this forum…we are earnestly trying to hone our craft, but we definitely don’t waltz into the room each day and have a perfectly choreographed dance. That is actually why what we do is so energizing and exhausting. We are getting real. You are right where you are supposed to be! Don’t “should” all over yourself.

        Nathaniel nailed it in the comment about the story replacing the former curriculum . Such a great point! That is exactly what can happen if we lose awareness. And we all do. Of course we do. We are doing something truly foreign to the system. And look how cool it is that we become aware of these things and in that awareness we evolve!

      2. This talk of teaching to the student in the interpersonal mode makes me think about why I got into teaching in the first place. I found the classroom experience in my high school days one were my identity was shaped and molded unlike any other place or experience. Knowing this, I wanted to teach to help create a place for young people to develop a healthy sense of identify for themselves. I thought the English classroom would serve best to create such a place. But as it turns out, the CI foreign language classroom creates a special identity-building, self-actualization place for students as well.

        1. English classrooms were loaded with courageous humanists and I agree, Sean, some of those folks have probably had an impact on generations that cannot be measured. But now look at the English teachers. A few heroes teach on, but many now just deliver English instructional services and the kids get to dreading reading literature and poetry because it is, let’s all say it together, so PRESCRIBED. So perhaps the tides are shifting and we who use comprehension based instruction to teach languages are starting to find ourselves, quite oddly, in the new coolest part of the building.

          1. Yes, quite oddly to me. I have 5th graders who tell me I’m cool. This is the first year that has happened so I don’t think it’ll go to my head (!). What I really think they mean is, I listen to them and incorporate who they are into class, and we do things that feel purposeful and real. They contrast that with their reading class, sadly. I think that CI language courses probably have the most in common with drama classes (or at least the drama program at my elementary/middle school).

          2. That’s interesting… so CI language classes are a combination music class and drama class. Oh, and a foreign language class.

  4. Yes and jen for me that means forgiving myself for not being a perfect teacher. Just being aware and trying and feeling when it works and when it doesn’t work is all I can do, so thank you for saying what you did above. At least we’re trying to knock down the walls that keep us from reaching the part of our students’ brains where they actually acquire the language – the unconscious part. We’re no longer teaching to the conscious faculty, which can no sooner acquire a language than it can fly to the moon. No, it is not easy. Yes, we can keep trying.

    1. Ben, thanks for posting my little update on this year. And thanks to the community for all the support. It feels so crazy that there are feelings of success and of failure in the same day, in the same class even. Success – we plowed through to the end of the chapter. Success – a really strong choral translation of the last paragraph. Failure – three heads on desk, one that went unnoticed because I wasn’t facing her so that students commented on how I always “pick on ” certain student students and let others get away with it. Thanks for always reminding us about the importance of forgiveness and trying.

      1. This is my experience, too. I just had a prospective French teacher come watch my 5th grade class, and I wonder what she thought of it. I found out I was asking for too much yet with some new words – they could understand but not answer questions with very great confidence yet (even one-word answers). I told them partway through that I realized that I was asking them to process some new stuff that hadn’t quite stuck in their heads yet, and thanked them for persisting… they really were. If I could’ve redone it, I would’ve scaled back and made sure the students could really excel at it.

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