Report from the Field – Charla Aranda

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38 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Charla Aranda”

  1. Hi, Charla, almost all of us have been where you are. It gets better. I too was keenly aware of the perceived unhappiness of my kids when I was beginning TPRS/TCI. The first year was relatively easy because the kids were sick, sick, sick of the textbook and all the grammar that came along with it. Students who followed did not share that insight, they did not know what they were missing and that created a different kind of problem. Whenever they seemed unhappy, I thought it was my fault, something that I was not doing right. Laurie Clarcq was the one who told me to chill and that it’s probably them and something going on in their lives, not me. I too have offered grammar worksheets to kids which they rarely complete. My level 4’s do have a grammar book. Krashen says they should know how to use one. The answers are in the back and once in a blue moon, I have them bring them in to look at one grammar point or another and they are free to work in it to their hearts content and I will happily explain anything outside of class. Scott Grapin and I were talking about the sustainability of story-asking. He does a story, novel, culture sequence (Right, Scott?) and he says the result is usually a request to go back to stories – same with my kids – at all levels. Lucky for us, who are beginning to suffer from story fatigue, that as I type, the use of imagery in the classroom,which many have been doing already, is being is being explored and fleshed out as for all of us to try or re-try in our dynamic, ever-changing classrooms. If you have only three dissenters out of two hundred and fifteen, count yourself lucky. Sounds like you are doing outstanding work. Keep up the good work, it’s truly a journey.

    1. Thanks Chill!
      It is nice to know I am not alone, and that this is a normal part of transitioning into TCI. I appreciate your comments. Next year I want to get into using more novels and infusing more culture into my classes. Great ideas.

  2. Hi Charla,
    What a great report. Thank you for sharing. I have some overlap with your situation because I am new at my school, and have Chinese 1-4 — the 2, 3 and 4 classes were used to a textbook before this year. For me it’s been a really positive transition especially with the 3 and 4 classes. It’s been great to see their fluency developing this year. Before this, they had a lot of words in their heads, but not that flowed together well.
    As Chill mentioned, story fatigue is real. I have avoided this by intentionally not making co-created stories with actors part of my weekly plan. It’s maybe one week out of four. Video & Discuss is a good replacement; Look & Discuss is another; Listen & Draw is another; I consider Special Chair something different from regular Story-asking, too. I keep a chart of things that work for step 1, step 2, step 3 of TPRS and rotate around among them. Also, I’m beginning to think as others have about seasons of the school year having different emphases: like late winter is a time for more reading and less interactive, creative work with them.
    I haven’t had complaints about not doing conversation “practice” but my 3 and 4 classes are small, so there is a lot of opportunity for everyone to speak during PQA and discussion. Here’s one activity that requires students to speak more – sounds complicated but worked well with my 3 and 4 groups. This is based on an improv comedy game I saw where they called it “Car.” One brave student (or could be two, working as a pair) goes out in the hall while we decide details of the scene. Two or three other students act a “role” — ex, one is allergic to the car seat, another thinks he’s Napoleon, the other is upset because he failed a math test today. For these roles, the whole class (minus the one or two in the hall) creates the “role” based on target structures which were on the board. When decided, the students with roles sit in the “car” made by chairs. The one in the hall is invited back in and becomes the “car” driver. He or she interacts with the actors, who act and speak in character, until the driver accurately states what their “role” is. The audience’s job is to verify whether or not the driver figured it out correctly, and sometimes I let the audience give a hint because the driver couldn’t figure it out. High engagement for my students. I did this with Chinese 2 as a more silent, more charade-like game for the actors. Each scene lasted maybe 3 or 4 minutes at most, so lots of students could rotate through acting roles. Audience members could also be asked to take notes on what happened, I think, to create a reading about it or quiz questions based on one of the scenes.
    For that handful who asked about grammar notes (I agree with you – really???)… is there a book or a website that you could point them to? For Chinese, there’s a great site for grammar explanations at: I keep that on class webpages as a resource.

    1. For Spanish grammar lessons there are a million websites and youtube videos. I have linked several to my website.
      I love your “Car” game. Sooo fun! I am definitely going to try that out!
      Also, I have never done a “Listen & Draw”. I’ll search the forum for more information on that. Thanks for the ideas. They come at a much needed time. 🙂

      1. Charla below is an unedited passage from my next book about what Diana has done. Thanks Diana for allowing me to put it in the book. Any proofing or editing suggestions, or additions to the text, are most welcome – send them to me at
        Strategy #16 – Listen and Draw:
        Diane Neubauer has described an activity that we should all use in our CI classrooms, both as a strategy but as a bail out move.
        Diane reports:
        “This is my favorite comprehensible input activity. I have to keep from doing it too often so that my students don’t get tired of it. You ask a story that the kids draw as you go, which means that you tend to go slowly enough (they’ll complain because they are drawing the details). Then afterwards you can grade the drawings and use them for a lot more. Later, type up the details everyone drew (with a few twists) and you are ready for Read & Discuss.
        “I developed Listen and Draw once while trying to engage a lethargic, sleepy group of eighth graders in Personalized Question and Answers. We had introduced three or four new words, made some gestures to help recall them, and then I began to ask questions. Silence. Students sinking in their chairs.
        “In a moment of inspiration, rather than try to drag interpersonal communication out of them, I asked myself, “What can I do that will still cause these chatty kids to listen to these words in meaningful context?” And I gave each of them a blank piece of paper. I left our new words on the board and began, slowly, to describe a scene. The students sketched what they heard, somehow visually including every detail.”
        Diane’s target structures were:
        cross the street
        waiter/service worker
        chocolate milkshake
        Slowly Diane described a scene using no other new words:
        There is a person. He’s a man. He’s a waiter. He can speak Mandarin. He likes milkshakes. He’d like to have a chocolate milkshake. He’s beside a street. The street is pretty: there are a lot of flowers. Across from the waiter, there is a small restaurant. The restaurant sells milkshakes. The waiter is about to cross the street to buy a chocolate milkshake. I rephrased things after they’d heard it all, such as: There’s a Mandarin-speaking man who is a waiter. He’s beside a pretty street… etc.
        Diane continues:
        “Describing and sketching such a detailed scene took about 20-25 minutes. As a follow-up, I asked the students to show a classmate and describe it in Chinese for one minute. Then, I took volunteers who re-told their sketch to the whole class, pointing out features in their drawing. I collected the drawings and graded them out of 5 points for including all details. Grading the drawings makes them take this seriously, but they enjoyed it, and wow, what an improved level of engagement. They were asking me to repeat and the focus level was very high.
        “The next day I had scanned in several drawings and showed them on screen. I asked the students questions about each. They loved looking at (and laughing at) their classmates’ drawings. Even students not yet ready to speak can be highlighted with Listen and Draw, and using their sketches both encourages them and gives them status with more vocal classmates.
        “Since then, I’ve found it helpful to shorten the description and include two sketches of about 4-6 sentences, and maybe 5-8 minutes needed to complete each sketch. With classes that know how to play, story-asking for the specific details is great. My current 7th grade class is excellent at that. One scene recently created with them ended up with a student from the class at (recurring character) Apple Juice Man’s house watching SpongeBob on TV on Sunday (targets: watch TV, weekend, with). The kids added who and what and really owned it. There was passion when they saw each other’s versions of Apple Juice Man!
        I say congratulations to Diane. What she describes above is real comprehension based teaching. It’s “monitor and adjust” with style points thrown in. This drawing idea is indeed a gem of a CI strategy and also it is a gem of a bail out move. It slows the kids down and focuses them. PLC member David Talone said, after trying it, that it “eliminated the need for me to be so interesting. And it does what all comprehensible input should do; it focuses the kids on the language.”
        Diane continues:
        “With my distracted, bouncing-off-the-walls class I think this might become a permanent part of the PQA process in my classroom. I almost always try to review some of the drawings the next day as a class warm up before the story.”
        James Hosler has added an excellent suggestion to Diane’s idea: “Use a student’s pictures as the basis for a quick quiz, e.g., in L2, “In this picture, class, does Albert want to eat vegetables?” (Such questions can be made up on the spot, as long as the questions have one word answers and as long as the quiz writer records the correct answer for grading as each question happens.
        What Diane has come up with here illustrates and defends how what we do is not a method but rather an ongoing, ever changing process. Yes, we need the skills to make the process work, and the strategies and techniques mentioned in this book have proven helpful to many, but when we can adjust on our own, without relying on a book or computer program, to our students in constantly different ways, we have made what could be called significant progress into this way of teaching. When we are faced with chatty kids, we would do well to remember Diane’s perfectly phrased question to herself right there in the middle of class: “What can I do that will still cause these chatty kids to listen to these words in meaningful context?”
        Listen and Draw Follow Up Activities
        Diane shares some of the follow-up activities that can come from Listen and Draw:
        – teacher describes a detail and has students point out that feature in their sketch.
        – brief pair work: students describe their finished sketches to another student.
        – volunteers retell the description to the whole class while pointing out features of their sketches.
        – use particularly entertaining images the next day (asking questions about the picture and discussing – they love seeing these).
        – teacher types a description and the class reads it together.
        – teacher types a parallel storyline and compares and contrasts it to their pictures.
        – teacher or students write up true/false statements, read them together or silently, and have students write their answers.
        – students type or hand-write a description of another student’s picture the next day.

    1. Thank you for the link! Among other helpful articles there are several on AP. I might have to create an AP syllabus next year, and he posted his (in brief and in 15-page for College Board form).

  3. Another game for these advanced levels is the Alibi Game. It’s interesting because there’s a lot of built in repetition of structures and vocabulary. I have the students get in pairs and then tell them that there was some kind of petty crime committed last night. (Someone stole the headmaster’s red motorcycle, for example.) The police are going to come to question them and they have to be sure they have an alibi. Each pair of students has to work out where they were and what they were doing at a specific time last night. Each student is his partner’s alibi. I go around helping with vocabulary. When they are ready, I send one student out into the hall and the others, who are now the police, grill his partner. When they have asked all the questions they can think of, he goes out into the hall and his partner comes in, and the “police” ask him the same questions, to see if their answers match. When he contradicts something his partner said, they are eliminated (guilty) and we start on another pair. we have a lot of fun and there’s a lot of useful vocabulary that gets repeated over and over.

    1. Charla, Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m at a very similar place as you. This is my second year teaching Spanish and my first year teaching CI. At times I feel bogged down, uncreative and illequipped. Yet, I know that I would feel even worse if I were still trying to teach from the textbook like last year. At this time last year I started researching CI and became very frustrated with how ineffective I felt as a teacher. At the end of the year I felt like I had failed my students and was determined to go about this year differently. This year, after abandoning the textbook, I still feel anxious at times, but I have much more hope that I will get better at this and each year I my students will have a better teacher than the year before.
      Also, Ben and Diana are helping me arrange some observations of other teachers in April. I’m holding on til that time when I will be inspired and reenergized by those who have more expereince under their belt. If at all possible, I would encourage you to find a teacher that you can observe.
      Thank you to all of those who are so willing to support and encourage the newbies!!

      1. You will likely be working with Visual PQA and when you are here, Lori, you definitely want to observe Julie and some of the others who do vPQA, which because of the slides is more comfortable than stories. When we get the link up to the Google folder on Visual PQA along with my explanation of how Julie does it, you may be able to take a step forward in your classroom before you even get here.

        1. Thanks Ben, that’s really encouraging. At this point I’m not even sure what vPQA is.
          I’m still figuring out how to use this great resource (PLC), clearly 🙂 I don’t always take time to just sit and read and research because I need to plan for the next classes. (“The tyranny of the urgent” sometimes gets the best of me.)

          1. Nevermind, Ben. I read further and have at least a mental concept of vPQA now and look forward to seeing it in action. I have a really hard time with PQA in my classes and love the idea of a more guided, concrete way to go about engaging my students in this way.
            I have SO MUCH to learn!!!

          2. Leah the guided format we see in these vPQA slide shows is going to shake the foundation of the entire TPRS/CI house. So in that sense you are not new to it, we all are. It has so much potential IMHO that it makes my socks start rolling up and down when I think about it.

  4. Lori, it’s definitely a process. It took me awhile to trust the method – more because of me. It works.
    You will get it and your kids will be better for it. Have a good day.

    1. That has been my experience, too, Chill and Lori. I was sold on it. I thought that I understood it. And I thought that I trusted it. And yet there are always misgivings that are felt, that I should be doing more, that I can do more. We cannot do more, we can only think about how we can teach through CI more purely and more personally. (Maybe that understates the task, but those are big things.)

  5. Lori all we can do is teach a few structures in each class. We must give up on the idea that we can teach a language in 45 minute daily chunks over the course of four years. The hours in a secondary school program – 250 in a two year program – add up to a mere fraction of the hours – at least 15,000 – needed to master a language.
    We must remember that for our own mental health. We must endeavor to make our lives simple as language teachers. Too much is at stake. That is a big reason I made this change after 24 years as an AP teacher. I chose this work because I sensed I could be a lot happier teaching this way and I was right.
    Establish meaning of a few structures, get reps and start a little story. After that write up a reading from the story created for the next day. Embed limited amounts of new words in the reading. Then watch your kids’ input-based knowledge of the language you are teaching them skyrocket.

    1. Nathaniel and Ben,
      Thank you for the encouragement! It’s true. Although I want so much more for my students, I’m impressed with how much more comfortable, and excited, my Spanish 1 students are compared to last year’s Spanish 1 students. Next year will be even better! And, yes, this is MUCH more fun than the textbook. Especially when there were so many chapters left untouched by this time of the year, looming over my head and shouting “You’re behind schedule and you are failing these students!!!” Now the textbooks stay on the shelf in the staff room and I can’t hear their taunts 🙂

        1. Reminds me of the saying “We don’t teach standards. We teach kids.”
          Likewise, we don’t teach a textbook, word list, or grammar. We teach kids.
          TPRS dares to teach at the comprehension pace possible of the students!

          1. Each time we get another fresh cute answer from our students in our questioning, we remember how much this work of CI is really totally all about kids. Each time we act astonished at how clever they are, our students offer even cuter answers. In a flash, once they know what their job is in the game, they become masters of transferring our old boring teacher questions into marvelous new things. Of course, we let them think that they are the ones doing that.
            It is in the happiness of talking to our kids that we remember what is important. Ironically, good communication brings strong gains in language skills.
            Stendhal again – his definition of happiness:
            Un bavardage sans détour, et la présence de ceux qu’on aime….
            An endless conversation, and the presence of those one loves….

  6. Someone in attendance at Liam O’Neill’s presentation at FLENJ was asking the question: “How long to you spend on your three structures.” As Liam said, as long as it takes – they get some structures faster; some take longer. I heard it said many times – narrow and deep!

        1. And as I shared recently on moreTPRS, sheltering vocabulary is best practice!
          As Paul Nation, leading vocabulary acquisition researcher says: a motivated adult with 5-6 hours of FL study per week can acquire 500-1000 words in written form. That number is going to be less for oral fluency. I say: 100-200 for oral fluency per year, especially since our kids are not as motivated and may not have that much FL time per year.
          The thing really special about Blaine’s LICT curriculum is that it is the SAME plot all year. Literally, every story asked in class is an extended/embedded version of the previous story. Now, that can get old, but is a reminder to pound the highest of the highest frequency language every day – recycled throughout the year.
          That’s also what makes “Star of the Week” special – massive reps spread out over the year, because you can make that activity go for months!

          1. I liked how Laurie suggested to try to insert something the characters “say-think-do-feel-have” in our stories. The simpler the rule the easier it is for me to remember to do it

  7. The U.S. state dept has these estimates about language mastery. They say “easy” languages (for an English speaker) such as french, spanish etc can be taught to functional fluency in 700 hours. Chinese, Vietnamese etc they need 1200.

    1. Not sure how they define “functional fluency” and we know from studies of what happens that very few get to the Intermediate level. They may be basing their estimates on programs with motivated, educated adults who are taught in small classes and in intensive and immersion programs.

  8. I think I have to agree with Ben here re: motivated learners. But then again I tend to think schooling as we know it should be completely optional after about third grade, maybe even sooner. If there’s one thing compulsory schooling completely fails at, it’s instilling intrinsic motivation for learning. Just my opinion…

    1. At FLENJ Dr.Krashen brought up the question of “motivation” and its effect on learning. He thinks “motivation” does not matter. If I understood correctly, what matters is “interest” and “compelling” rather than motivation per se. He told us about a kid who loved watching a TV serie in Cantonese (his heritage language was Mandarin). This kid had no -motivation- to learn the language, he actually didn’t care the least, but the TV serie was so incredibly compelling that he learned how to fluently speak Cantonese. Dr. Krashen told us he was a big fan of TPRS because stories are compelling and interesting to the students. Krashen thought we must let children explore their own interests. The standardization of education (common core) does not allow children to discover for themselves and one size does not fit all, like you are saying Greg and Ruth.

      1. That’s really thought provoking–thanks for sharing this point. I think a lot about motivation and its affect on learning, and it’s encouraging to hear/be reminded that providing interesting and compelling input can make up for lack of other motivation.
        I’d also like to share that when looking at the FLENJ materials you shared, I was struck by Krashen’s blurb about implementing common core vs. addressing poverty and malnutrition to improve the learning of American students.

          1. The FLENJ conference materials were shared in this dropbox:
            I am so glad they can benefit someone. It’s time consuming to read, but a decent alternative to being at the conference in person. Many teachers read off the PowerPoint step by step.
            I went to Krashen’s session on the Common Core, very “interesting and compelling”. My sophomore daughter is taking the PARCC test this week , and in a way I am glad she did not opt out so I can get some insider information on the actual tests. This year the results don’t “count” in the childrens’ grades. It’s a test run. Many kids did not take the test seriously: answered in codes, wrote how much they hated it, one kid wrote his English essay in Spanish (haha). These are some of Greg’s former students. Clever clever kids.
            I unfortunately missed Scott Grapin’s session. Scott and I met though, but didn’t get a chance to talk much. The TCI teachers in the Pascack (?) District (N.J.) are sharp! Sharp!

  9. Well if you knew 1000 words as per paul nation that would be a solid base. I bet adults could learn more in 700 hours than kids– the motivated would do homework, etc.

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