Report From the Field – John Piazza

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16 thoughts on “Report From the Field – John Piazza”

  1. Such a key and subtle point – too easily missed unless we read that last paragraph twice. Especially this:

    …you are not overwhelming them with words….

    and most especially:

    …streamlining your vocab for the purpose of building up the classroom culture — it is when you are doing this that they are REALLY acquiring the language….

    This thing about going out of bounds with kids may be the single most understood thing about comprehensible input instruction. We thought the big bad wolf in this work was always not doing SLOW, but now I think it is not Staying in Bounds. John hits the nail on the head in this article.

    How to know if you are messing up by trying to teach too many words? Just assume you are. Or look at your board at the end of class. In an ideal world, you have the original three structures with NOTHING else up there. Not a single word, bc the art of this is that you have taught any additional vocabulary you use in the flow of the L2 discussion BEFORE that class. I know it’s impossible, so consider it a big success if you have just a few words on the board at the end of class. If the board is cluttered, they will leave class with cluttered minds.

    1. And John we are on the same page on this. There is a definite link in my having success with the Three Structure Weekly Lesson Plan (I just made that term up but it is the best descriptor of what I do now weekly personally) and your putting the breaks on word quantity in your fluency program. We start with little and expand from there. We don’t start with a book full of words and start from there.

      1. This is where, once again, using a textbook can really undermine our work. The massive chapter list is there, and we feel the pressure to “cover” them all. But we’re teaching more words by refusing to teach that way.

        I remember at NTPRS this year, in the workshops, sometimes the groups had only one poster size piece of paper taped to the wall. There was a lot of complaining about this, but it really helped us to limit the number of words we could write on the board. Working with absolute beginners, there should not have been more than 4 or 5 words up there.

        The cluttered board/cluttered mind thing is definitely a problem, and a big temptation for us in the classroom. Perhaps a way to deal with this, is to use small white boards, and assign a student to stand up and “be” a structure (perhaps with a sound or gesture), and you only have 3 of them up there. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m really excited about assigning jobs to my kids.

  2. Great point John, right here:

    …we’re teaching more words by refusing to teach that way….

    Small children start with limited amounts of words and grow from there. Why should it be different for our students? The research supports the idea, and, in my own classroom, I have experienced for years what can happen when I let too many new, unfamiliar words into my instruction – all those new words make the overall input incomprehensible.

    There is a powerful link between Staying in Bounds and Checking for Understanding. People who are new to this should not be overly concerned that they won’t learn it because it is so complex. It is not complex.

    It is about mastering a few simple techniques, and Circling is not necessarily one of them. Circling is like #4 in importance in my mind to the big boys of:

    1. SLOW
    2. Staying in Bounds (means no new vocabulary or limited new vocabulary in each class)
    3. Checking for Understanding and getting choral short yes/no/single answer responses from the whole group.

    1. 2 things: 1) this post is a nice reminder that I must pull back on that entertainment edge I tend to get in week 3 or 4
      2) I have 6 classes, 1/2 level 1 and 1/2 level 2….every class is about students and so different topics come up, different vocab is used-how do I even begin to keep track of and/or attempt to prove what has been acquired? Suggestions?

        1. I get what you’re saying but I’m asking in case I need to defend “what my kids know” and “what I’ve been teaching” these last few weeks. Don’t forget, as much as I agree with everything we discuss here, some of us go to bat for the method and I feel ill-equipped.

          1. I didn’t mean to be tongue-in-cheek on that one. You know, we are sufficiently past those days in our department and in our district that I don’t even know how to answer it anymore. Maybe somebody else will.

            If somebody made me do something like that at this point, I’d make up some junk and they most certainly would not know the difference. So somebody help Jen here. Dude. What a big pain in the butt this entire subject of targeting vocabulary is.

            I repeat something I said awhile back that most folks doing Krashen based teaching but who also try to build a curriculum around certain target vocabulary are getting into a little sticky situation there and I know that I am one of a very few people who agree with that even in this community but I gotta do what I gotta do.

            Krashen told me and always says this that he did the research and it is up to us to figure out how it works in the classroom. Thanks a lot. Hey, Jen, why not just pull a list of most common vocabulary from our DPS website and make a paper airplane and fly it to the people who want it? I know, I know, that’s rude. I need some sleep.

          2. I have to add this big point: we learn languages from a few words and that expands. That’s how it happens. When we take a bunch of words and try to cover them, even in stories, from some thematic ass list, we kind of insult Krashen’s work. That’s just my opinion. Below is a link among many here on this topic that speaks directly to your point here:

            ….every class is about students and so different topics come up, different vocab is used-how do I even begin to keep track of and/or attempt to prove what has been acquired?…


          3. Jen, If you need to keep track of exactly what words have been introduced and/or how many reps each word has gotten, simply assign students to do that. I am doing that right now with a Latin 2 student who has never taken Latin before (mentioned in a post a few days ago). It gives him an immersion in the vocab, and it gives me the kind of data that you are talking about.

          4. Yes Jen, like John says, have a kid keep track of what words come up in class. Get a small notebook for each section, and give it to a kid with great handwriting and great attendance. If you need the words from that class, you can just go to the copy machine and copy the pages straight from the notebook!

          5. Actually, I already had a girl who felt the need to make notes doing that for one of my classes and my intent was to make those copies. Fantastic! And then….if a World Language colleague asks what “they know” I can just hand them the pages (???) Even if I haven’t necessarily given a formal, summative assessment?

            Ben, what you say is exactly right and I know you’re only trying to help. It’s true that when one starts to focus on a certain list of words that “must” be “covered” the whole method flops over on its back and dies. It is sad. And I’m not saying that I have anyone hounding me right now at my school but I just want that ability to say, “Look. What I’m doing is different but I’m not just hugging trees over here. We’re doing actual work.”

            Thanks again to everyone.

          6. “What they know” is such a subjective phrase among language teachers. Most teachers, and anyone who is forcing you to produce “proof” of what you are teaching probably has this kind of definition: “a word that a student has memorized and has demonstrated their ability to translate and manipulate grammatically on a test or quiz.” So just give that person the list and say that the students have LEARNED these words. You may not have gotten enough reps in for acquisition of every word on that list, but if you have spent ANY time circling them, your students probably already know those words better than they would with a 19th century approach. So I would give no more details than required, and not sweat it unless you are pressed. If you are pressed, then, you can use the theory and research that Ben has so helpfully collected on this blog.

  3. “First, you are not a clown. Have some dignity, and realize the value of what you are teaching them. Second, you have the rest of the year to teach them the language, but if you don’t establish the classroom culture, you won’t be able to teach them anything.”

    This is gold. And it’s what I struggle with the most. Sometimes I feel like a clown and that it’s my job to entertain in the TL; but if I had established the classroom culture and required responses from everyone, then I wouldn’t have to play the role of the entertainer.

    Has anyone ever had success in year two (with classroom culture), when they botched classroom culture in year one?

    Thanks for sharing John!


    1. Hi Andrea,

      I am really excited about just that. I’m now starting to see real change in some unruly kids in 7th (my 3rd year with them) and 8th grade (my fourth year with them). It has been due mainly to the great rubric for Interpersonal Communication, and my explanations and reminders. Today during a review/reminder of the expectations (and that 25% of their grade, in my case, comes from those skills) the room was so quiet and undisturbed that I had to catch myself from talking too much about it. They were great today for a story retell (including the new Sound Effects Guru – a chatterbox boy who needs a LOT of attention and now can get it for something good and helpful).

      I found myself telling people at lunch that I am starting to have fun with my 7th grade class! Yippee!

    2. Yes. I had success with classroom culture in my 12th year after botching it in years 1 through 11. But I can forgive myself. I didn’t have jGR and I didn’t push the jobs thing enough in previous years. I wrote a whole book on personalization, and now I find that hiring and firing kids does more to build proper adjustment to my students than that book. Hyperbole? No.

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