Report from the Field – Melissa Sadler

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22 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Melissa Sadler”

  1. Melissa I do want to share my opinion that choice of materials is most important, critical even, at the second year because students raised on stories in their first year seem to get really picky and amost kind of bitchy in the second year. Two straight years of stories never works out.

    It’s weird to the point that I have noticed a syndrome that we could almost call a “sophomore slump” that I have heard spoken of by many strong TPRS/CI teachers here in DPS. The problem is so bad that Annick Chen doesn’t even let her second year classes do any stories, preferring lots of PQA and reading instead, specifically to avoid this story slumping phenomenon.

    So Melissa the problem could be related to this idea, and I would like to hear what the group thinks is your best move with that class right now. I personally agree with what Annick does. There is nothing as crappy as working as hard as we do to get a good story going and have the kids not appreciate it like they did in level one.

    I think that the best use of time in level two is a major read fest. I have done that and the gains are excellent. So keep us up on how this class works out with the Cuentos de Ensalada. And don’t work too hard. I think that the single reason not to go overboard trying to squeeze every minute into CI is that sometimes our mental health suffers.

    We always have to remember that it is impossible for us to do anything more in a four years program than get our kids a good foothold on the side of the climbing wall, but only a few feet off the ground of what is really a very long period of time that requires many years. We can’t forget that or we will go crazy trying to do the impossible in our classrooms so people will think we are good teachers and like us.

    Simple reading is a healing balm to any CI class – the kids make great gains when they read, perhaps the greatest, and it is so easy to serve up a nice big plate of R and D every day, with a nice brain break in the middle of class while we call roll. I wish I had know about the power of R and D a long time ago, and had the courage to drop my focus on stories down a notch over the years beyond level one.

    1. Thank you for this response. I felt like I was failing with them. It feels more comfortable to read with them but I think one reason that they did not like the other novel is I allowed it to go on too long. I have learned my lessson. Now with Cuentos de Ensalada they seem to be getting more on board.

      1. Melissa you said that you kept them in the novel too long. So it is clearly a good idea to know when to hold them and when to fold them. If a chapter just lacks mojo, tell them what happens in it in English, and one minute later you have skipped it. Do this with half a book if you want. Read selectively. Nothing says that you have to finish the novel. We aren’t teaching the novel, but the language, and for that the input has to be at least interesting. Of course, doing Step 3 readings using ROA on stories that they created in class is a good way to read too.

  2. Choice of material is so important. When I find something that works, I hang on to it and use it over and over again, and find I can get more and more out of it.

  3. “It’s weird to the point that I have noticed a syndrome that we could almost call a ‘sophomore slump’ that I have heard spoken of by many strong TPRS/CI teachers here in DPS.”

    This is definitely a real thing. I think it’s very bad for us to ignore this and to force our way on when the same old stuff isn’t working. I always felt like Blaine fell into this mistake, essentially suggesting stories straight for four whole years. Maybe it works for him, though.

    “students raised on stories in their first year seem to get really picky and amost kind of bitchy in the second year”

    Yes, yes, yes. But I think that speaks to the beauty of the method. In our level 1 classes the kids are taught in a way that connects with them and that actually helps them learn in a real way. Thus they develop an appetite for good instruction in our rooms. Once things start lagging and if we are no longer sensitive to their needs, they notice because we always have been. In other classes maybe they can block it out or ignore it or whatever because that’s what they are used to in those classes. They expect more from us, though.

  4. I found that lots of PQA / PSA, esp related to “current events” in the kids’ lives was the most compelling for those level 2 kids and/or 10th / 11th graders who are sick of stories. It is pretty easy to stretch “weekend chat” and/or create classroom discussions based on stuff going on at school, sports, the play, whatever the kids in the room are into. Combining Houdini and/ or “My own car” with talk about drivers ed, getting your license, cars, etc. is pretty compelling to this age group.

    Also movie talk with short videos, commercials, etc. And spinning discussion from an image or viral youtube creates some great reading material to supplement whatever novels you work with.

  5. I agree jen and would add two points:

    1. Look and Discuss of any image ((, google images, etc.) is a great way to break any routine that sets in with lots of R and D. I just start class with an image and we go with it as long as it is fun, being sure always to hit one structure at a time for mega reps until moving on to some other aspect of the image. (I am not that big on YouTube and MT so much as I am into L and D because of the seeming constant hassle that comes with YouTube.) When all of a sudden in a class the kids are presented with a spatial image (right brain) and not a linear ones (words on a page), their interest picks up, so L and D seems to always be a winner, as long as it is not overdone and as long as it happens in fairly short bursts with no English.

    2. We talk so much of our need to provide the kids with as compelling materials as we can, but after I get to really know a class (like my current third year kids with whom I have been with all along), I find myself demanding interesting information from them, and holding THEM accountable for entertaining me as we learn to create banter based on trust. Sometimes you can get a leitmotif going about a certain lighthearted running joke about a certain kid. Lots of us do that here. Like Ramiro has hair not unlike that of Ringo Star and kind of resembles him. So whatever we are talking about, we find some odd connection with his hair. He loves it and laughs heartily about it, and that is crucial, as humor at the expense of someone is not humor.

    1. Totally agree..when you get to that point where you have “class inside jokes/stories” that are all about that particular group culture…so magical 🙂 I think that is my favorite thing. My very first CI group had this really goofy thing going with “une vache violette” I don’t know where it came from but it kept coming back in all different contexts. Last year had a group that was totally into hating “Pauvre Anne” …like so into “loving hating her” if that makes sense. Sounds cruel but it was actually a hoot and they totally bonded over getting all melodramatic about it in a very fun lighthearted way.

    2. Ben,

      Another L&D option that I can suggest is the New York Times’ learning blog. Every Monday, they post a photo without a caption as a Common Core look-for-evidence activity. (Students are encouraged to observe & comment about their opinions.) The next day, they update the post with more information. Some of them are quite interesting– a fat Spiderman in Madrid with a crowd of tourists looking at him, a smoking protester in Ukraine playing a bright blue piano to a crowd of riot police.

      Here’s the link: Then search “What’s Going On in This Picture”

    3. My third year class if so fun. Many days we just talk. We have so many inside jokes that the hour goes by fast. In fact to make up snow days we had to extend the day 10 minutes and it happens to fall in my 3rd year class. It is so great to have the extra time just to hang out with them. I should try doing this with my 2nd year class also. My fear has been some of them tuning out but I’ll try it and see.

      1. One thing to make a level two class work in just a “hangin’ out in the language” way is to find those odd little quirky facts about just one or two kids. When everybody is laughing about them, at no one’s expense, it is hard for other kids to tune out what is happening. If they have enough language and you have enough receptive and fun kids, it could work at level two.

  6. I have same prob with my 2s. I have noticed that what they REALLY like is…structured writing, movietalk and L&D. I think they just get tired of my voice and I am having problems coming up with ever-more-novel stories.

    I was away Fri and left my TOC and class to read Pobre Ana ch5– on their own– and worksheets (all CI-based). Worked great. So silent reading and simple output seems to go well…eventualy they get bored and want stories again.

    1. Yes!!! They are tired of just listening to my voice in the usual way. I really need to just jump into movie talk as well. I am prepared to do The Black Hole so I guess I just need to jump in and do it.

  7. I can’t speak to the “sophomore slump,” as I rarely teach students in consecutive years, and most other language classes in my school are not taught with CI/TPRS. I can, though, speak to the use of novels, which I have had success with at all levels. The truth is that all of the novels are corny and very distant from the realities of our students (even though they try to connect with pop culture references), but I actually think it is amazing how “compelling” they are given the limited number of unique words included. My strategy is always to relentlessly exalt the novel as a “classic” and a masterpiece that makes profound commentaries about the human condition. When the kids (usually in a playful way) claim that it is stupid, I tell them that if they think that, they’re not understanding how deep it really is. They need to look harder. I say, “Houdini isn’t here (pointing to head). It’s here (pointing to heart).” As in Jen’s case, they know I am kidding, but I never (even for one second!) will confess that for the entire year. When I see them in the halls years later, I will tell them that I am learning new things every year from the book since it is timeless. My point here is that I don’t think it is as much about the actual resource as much as how you frame it. I have read on CI/TPRS blogs that students LOVE certain novels, which is a great, but I have simply not had that experience. I do believe, though, that they love to hate it…and that might be just as compelling.

    1. I’m totally stealing this Scott. “It’s here.” (point to heart). hahaha.

      I don’t teach high school, but I do see the same kids from 3rd to 8th grade and so far, no second-year slump. I attribute that to the variety of CI activities. There’s TPR, TPRS, MT, SSR, Novel Reading & RT, Kindergarten Days, L&D, and I’m slowly adding to my repertoire of magic tricks. When I spend a time away from stories, the kids start asking for them.

      I think TPRS is unique as a TCI method in that it is better-designed to target structures. I am still not sure what is better: targeted vs. nontargeted CI. Certainly, the targeted input accelerates acquisition of targeted vocabulary and leads to output of this limited vocabulary sooner than nontargeted input. Nontargeted CI is more natural and reps get spread out over a longer period, so the output may be delayed, but better in the long-run. In non targeted CI we expose students to more vocabulary and probably more grammar. One concern I have with infrequent, short classes, is the fear of retention loss from the nontargeted CI.

      1. Here are a few articles from previous years on non-targeted CI:

        I think that time is a big factor. Targeted input is manageable in a 50 minute class. Non-targeted input, the way small children learn languages, requires much more time for acquisition to occur, but in first language acquisition that time is there.

        Another point is that at the beginning of the year if we do CWB we are going so slowly that even non-targeted structures seem easy to acquire. Whether they are acquired remains to be seen. I don’t want to start a big discussion about the differences here, however. I don’t think we know yet. It’s going to be a personal decision. If I had to vote right now, I’d go with targeted structures. Just easier to manage and I feel safer when doing stories, because of:

        1. Thanks Ben! You’ve probably noticed me making a few posts on this topic of targeted vs. nontargeted CI, hoping someone would take the bait and give me the answer 🙂

          I kind of wanna do my own classroom experiment – teach 1 section of 8th graders with targeted CI and the other section with nontargeted CI and see what the differences are at the end of the year. I agree that time is the biggest factor and the benefits of nontargeted CI may not be seen until years later. If nontargeted CI is effective in the classroom, then we could loosen up the vocabulary. I wonder if that is at all what makes me want to believe in nontargeted CI – an attempt to do more with the little time I have. I took out my LICT level 1 to read the last story and you can see a lot of structures, but such a limited vocabulary.

          1. I think we’re giving the students non-targeted CI all of the time AROUND our targeted CI when we do stories, pqa, embedded readings, novels, etc. Otherwise, we’d just be hammering in lists of verb phrases. What holds them in place during stories, pqa, reading, etc.? Non-targeted CI.

            I always think of the “targeted structures” as an anchor–a very heavy anchor–which keeps me cognizant of the need to proceed SLOWly and to make the language comprehensible. Non-targeted CI surrounds my targeted structures and keeps them interesting and in context.

            My experience with non-targeted CI:

            I taught for several years in a dual-immersion program (elementary)–where non-targeted TL is the law–and English is verboten. The challenge to keep language comprehensible is enormous and quite difficult. As hard as one tries (using gesture, pictures, diagrams, etc.), over time, the language chasm between the haves/have nots widens greatly. Only because they are young do they tolerate it.

            Many kids who are EOs, but who are poor and/or spec ed do not acquire the TL well and drop out/are counseled out of these programs within the first three years–even the BEST immersion programs. In addition, these students are often quite behind academically (probably would be behind in a “regular program,” too). The dirty little secret–which has been know for 30 years or more. Some immersion programs are quite selective in their admissions process–thereby avoiding this “problem.”

            In immersion programs, the sheer number of hours students spend hearing non-targeted, semi-comprehensible TL mimics their experience with first language in a few ways: They have WAY more time in the TL than in a traditional FL program, and somehow pick out comprehensible parts from the non-targeted CI the way toddlers do in first language. However, kids in immersion programs often have very interesting interlanguage and fossilization dilemmas after several years in a program. Wonder if that’s ever been studied?

            Top kids in immersion programs have superior comprehension and speak much better than any FL student, from regular FL programs, I’ve ever met. Hands down–true fluency. Not true for those low kids, however.

            I wish you luck with your investigation, Eric.

    2. Scott, I’m with Eric – I want to copy this: I say, “Houdini isn’t here (pointing to head). It’s here (pointing to heart).”

      I began talking about the main character in Susan you mafan (Terry Waltz) today by using a chart with a list of all the things she thinks are a hassle in ch. 1. (There are a lot.) Then we went through the class and found out who would be Susan’s best friend based on how many of those things were also a hassle to each of them. One boy said none of them were a hassle. That didn’t let him off the hook, though – I said maybe opposites attract. It was a fun time.

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