Response To Marc

Marc commented on the post today:
Marc Sheffner 11.05.10 at 7:14 PM
“Thanks for posting this, Ben. It helps me address a dilemma/problem I’m facing with regard to PQA. (I don’t understand what is or how to use it; I don’t use any IT in my language classes, it just gets in the way). I recently wrote it about on the forum, with reference to your blog post. My problems are a) how to unearth interesting material from the students, b) how to circle this material in 90-min. classes with college students who have zero tolerance for anything NOT about THEM (and that includes movies), c) how to find and use material that is both interesting for the students AND me! d) how to keep student-generated material from being totally unstructured – otherwise I spend the whole time just translating into English the things they want to say.”
Here is the beginning of a response to him:
Marc I’m with you on the technology point. It’s not that I don’t think prezis are just about the coolest thing to come along for language teachers because of what they bring – a non-linear shift into spatial representation of language constructs, which is right up our alley, it’s just that I think it clutters our CI instruction and our classrooms, reflecting what you said.
This is certainly not a popular position to take, but I’m taking it anyway and have been thinking about it a lot this past week in particular. So your comment, Marc, is extremely well timed for me.
I certainly don’t want to get into a big thread here on the use of technology in the foreign language classroom – I would much rather try to develop a thread about how we can get PQA going in our classrooms better, which is a running question for me all the time. But, of course, as is the case with so much of what we uncover every day, the two are related.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could quantify how much personalization and resultant mirth come out of high tech and no tech language classrooms? Maybe Dr. Krashen could help us build a model to measure that by. If mirth and human interaction and subsequent language growth can be quantified.
Marc I pasted a number of your points from your recent post on TPRS Japan
(which will become required reading for me now) into a Word file in my computer and I will try to begin responding to each point over the next few weeks in the form of blog entries. I apologize in advance for not being thorough enough with your questions – they would require an entire workshop to adequately address. Plus, November seems to be showing up as a super busy month of introspection about teaching, at least for me. But we will discuss what we can.
Now, before a long bike ride with Bryce in the mountains today in 76 degree perfect Colorado heavenly weather, I would like to quickly just address a few things you said:
“…I’m pretty sure I can’t spin [student provided personalized information] out for more than 5 minutes…”.
Now in response to that here is just a simple point and not meant to be preachy – if you tell your mind you can’t spin PQA out for 5 minutes, then your mind, which is a computer, will accept that information. What if you could spin PQA for an hour? What would that look like?
My own experience with PQA is that about ten years ago it looked like a book with a lock on it and then one day I found a key lying on the floor in a Susan Gross presentation and picked it up and opened the book and found it quite easy to read. But it does have a lot to do with what you think is possible. I’m not trying to preach here, brother – you know what I mean.
You also said: 
“…they already know the details (in Japanese), plus only ONE student out of 12 has had a parking ticket; this is about ONE student, and the other 11 will be getting bored right off the bat…”
If we can get this dialogue on PQA going enough, Marc – and we can do it in private emails as well – I really want to coach you through this – you will see that it is fairly easy to get the other eleven students involved in spite of any negative baggage they are bringing into the room – see a coming post in response to something Thomas Young wrote here recently that is tangential to that thing about kids’ attitudes in language classrooms.
Anyway, here’s what might pop into my mind (be receptive and open to what pops into your mind in CI classes!) if I knew that one of my students got a parking ticket:
The student who got the parking ticket interacts in some way with the next eleven. What would that look like?  Well, they can have other peripheral roles in some kind of weird series of events that they don’t know about, but you act like you do.
By skillful questioning, you end up turning the parking ticket fact into a scene with judge and jury and the first student begging for mercy to the judge/student for clemency and the jury/other ten students throwing out curses in English from the jury box at the judge for being such a shit that he would throw the parking ticket victim into jail for five years for a simple parking ticket.
Now, where did that come from? I don’t know. Would it work? I don’ t know. But there is only one way to find out and that is to start asking questions. So I start with some PQA and I say to the class:
Class, Yoshiko got a parking ticket! (I make them go ohhh! by cuing them – remember, doing PQA is a lot like animal training)
Class, did Yoshiko get a parking ticket or a new pair of glasses? (circle that)
As soon as the circling on that gets saturated (you will know when), add a detail or new character in – one of the most valuable things Blaine ever told me).
The circling of a sentence until it is saturated and then the bringing in of a new detail or a new character is key to PQA. In this case that you are testing the PQA waters in here you have eleven students to choose from. Take the attitude that they want to participate and be confident that you can bring them in, because everybody wants to play!
As the PQA rolls out, it is their answers through this continuous circling into greater and greater degrees of fantasy involving THEM, and your gentle guidance of the overall scene into the direction of what occurs to you intuitively during the PQA,  that brings the involvement and the fun.
I repeat – they really want to play, even if they are Japanese.
One more thing I have to add here – reflecting that technology topic – I wrote something about this  just this week to echo what you said above. I’ll paste it here:
Overuse of Technology
The thing is to have fun. And technology entertains, captures interest, but isn’t very humanly funnily interactive. As Krashen says, “Robots can’t converse.” Take a good look at kids when technology is used a lot in a foreign language classroom. They aren’t that involved. Are they? I could be wrong. I don’t think that they are.
Sorry if that offends. To me, it’s not about how excited the teacher is but how excited the kids are. I don’t even WANT to be that excited because I have to teach five classes a day. 
Susie’s term “just have fun and talk to the kids” is the key. And it involves no machines. It is so simple that the truth of it is missed. It is a basic human thing. We have it or we don’t. If we don’t, we don’t have real language acquisition. C’est ce que je pense, moi.



24 thoughts on “Response To Marc”

  1. Our coaching session yesterday included focusing on PQA. I think one of the best uses of technology is to ask kids to send in interesting pictures and songs and articles for use in the class. But for PQA, we had two wonderful ideas. The first comes because of technology. One was using our district’s birthday listing on the grading site. With that list in hand, you can get a great discussion going about who has birthdays in what month, and I can imagine spiraling off into when it’s good to have birthdays, what months are bad…
    Karen C said that when you’re PQA-ing (this comes from our example about shopping for boots), you could ask other kids for details about the boots. If they say the boots are huge pink ones, then you can string out that conversation, seeing whether the student in question will buy into a weird set of boots.
    Another point was that Marcia put “you shop/he shops” up on the board, but just as I was getting nervous about telling her what I shop for, she limited the question by asking what I shop for at REI. I think my questions are sometimes too broad. So here, if you knew you were going to do shopping, you could use technology to pull up pictures of several local shopping sites.

  2. …one of the best uses of technology is to ask kids to send in interesting pictures and songs and articles for use in the class…”.
    Michele just to be clear yes, this, of course, is a good use of technology in our classrooms because it leads towards greater personalization. And, with twexted songs, at times, if they really know the song and have PQA’d it to become important to the social group that our class is, I would love for the kids to use technology. I am talking above about using technology to lead to higher and more personalized versions of CI/PQA. As a method of delivery of CI. That is a human thing. I am not against the use of machines in class. But we need to define what that means. Certainly sites like
    are fantastic for spurring CI discussion forward, but at some point they will fail to bring mirth and mojosity. During the Promethean board discussion yesterday, a student, referring to stories, said something like, “I would rather read a book than see a movie about the book because then I can form my own images of the characters and places. It’s much more interesting.”
    It’s like Marc said, “…[my] students … have zero tolerance for anything NOT about THEM (and that includes movies)…”. So, yes, use technology to create great CI, but expand the CI beyond it into the hearts of the students. Don’t focus the class on the machine generated images and sounds and expect the kids to respond on the heart level, sitting there, like we see in certain tech dominated classes, waiting. In all classes with all methods, the kids are sitting there, sitting there, waiting for it to be about them.

  3. I think technology need to be looked at as another tool in the toolbox rather than a destination. Too often we in education are told that some new idea (which is almost never truly new, but usually a repackaging of an old idea) will be the solution to ALL our problems. If we use that new tool, EVERY child will want to learn. EVERY child will be successful and want to do well in your class! If only you use that new tool/idea/curriculum/product.
    Of course that isn’t the case. It still comes down to the content and skills that the kids take away from the classroom. If they find them interesting and relevant, they will pay attention. If they don’t, they will tune out, unless they have some sort of motivation to force them to pay attention.
    I love using technology in my classroom. Not for the sake of the technology, but because of what it allows me to do. It allows me to gather content and share content in a way that is so much easier, varied, and convenient than ever before. I’ve been using technology for a long time (started using the internet in my classroom in 1997 – probably very few teachers can say that! I was part of a project run by Arizona State and the Eruditio project to get teachers online. I had a 14.4kbs modem and a laptop, and I was one of only two teachers at our school to have access. There wasn’t a lot to see online, but I was seeing the possibilities for the future before other teachers were even aware that these things existed.) and I’m probably what would be considered an ‘early adopter.’ When I get a new tool or toy, I want to know its capabilities and then look for ways that tool or toy can make my life easier or better. But I’ve seen too many teachers and non-teachers who get the new tool and don’t really think about how it can be used to enhance their teaching – they look at it as an end in itself, as just another amazing product that will revolutionize education and make EVERY kid want to learn. Hey, kids! Look! I’m using an iPod! Now you’ll all want to learn French because I’m using an iPod to teach it!
    Anyway…my thoughts on Prezi are that there are many things that it can do to enhance CI and give your students options. I have started posting my daily lessons online as one big prezi with a calendar for each month, and then if you zoom in on a date you can see the actual lesson for the day. This is not really any different from what I was doing before – I was making a powerpoint and adding two new slides each day – one for bell work, announcements, etc. and then one with the new vocabulary. But now, it’s better! I can move from day to day, but I can also share it with students. So if a student is absent, or just didn’t quite get the lesson that day – they can visit the prezi and see what they missed. Make-up work is a little easier, and that is a time-saver for me and them.
    The one thing that I am not done with – but I will be adding it soon – is that in the middle of that daily lesson plan prezi, I’m going to have some big words – question words. Right now I have them on posters in the front and back of the class, and that won’t change. But what I’ll also have is around those words some options that students can choose. So in the middle of one cluster might be the word “OU?” – then around it, different choices like à la discothèque, à la cantine, au café, en ville, à la maison, etc. At first, they will have English translations a little smaller than the French words. Or I may just put up pictures of those places. But as the year goes on, the English will get smaller and smaller…until it finally disappears.
    This is no different from the posters I have scattered around the room with those same vocabulary lists – those lists that the district says I need to ‘cover’ with students. But it’s different in that it’s right up front and center, and the list can change as necessary. I can add personalized stuff to it – it won’t just be “au supermarché” but it will be a picture of the Ranch Market right around the corner! It won’t be just “à la maison” but it will be “chez Martin” and he will have a picture of HIS house up there!
    When we do a story, I will ask them the usual questions – but I will also give them some options in French. No need for me to translate from English, because they will be able to see it for themselves and make a choice. So often the beginning semester has trouble coming up with answers unless you translate or give them the choice. I don’t want to tell the students – where is Mario? Is he at the dance club, or the cafe? I don’t want to limit them – I want them to be able to come up with the library or the post office or Martin’s house if they want to, without having to ask me to translate. And as we go on in the year, the kids will have picked up those words by osmosis rather than memorization, and they’ll be able to put them together – we won’t be going to the dance club, but eventually it will be the little dance club under Martin’s house, with a cafe inside of the bathroom! This beats having to walk around the room to the various posters, and it is so much easier and more creativity-inducing than a boring list.
    I’ve got big plans for it. All of the question words will have some suggestions and fun answers, to use as jumping off points.
    One of the things kids have trouble with is ‘pourquoi?’ They don’t have trouble answering it if they know the answer. But if I want them to be creative, they haven’t quite figured out that thinking yet. So I’ll have the other question words with possible responses, and pourquoi will have things like because it’s nice out, because it’s raining, because it’s too big/small/expensive, because he’s afraid, because he needs a monkey, because it’s Monday, etc. If we come up with some fun ones in class (as I’m sure we will) I will add those to the mix.
    So while technology won’t save any class that isn’t already filled with useful, relevant information, it can enhance a class by giving students a bit of a scaffolding. Give them more options in the target language and you’ll be able to spend less time in English. And if your students only want to talk about themselves, that’s fine! Give them the vocabulary they need to talk about their lives, and then make it all about them. All you need is that one little piece of information and you can build on that. Technology won’t give you that first piece of information, but it can definitely be used to make the language accessible to all the students so that they can use it to talk about themselves.

  4. My criticisms of technology came off as rather harsh. It’s not the best time to talk to me about technology. All my classrooms have a built-in DVD/CD/video player, projector, screen and OHC. Laptops can be borrowed, but they need setting up. This usually takes at least 10 minutes. There’s just 10 minutes between class periods. Then there’s all the times when the projector won’t work, or there’s no audio cable, or the YouTube video you want to show (and which took just 3 seconds to load on your office computer) is still spinning its circle and showing you a black screen and it’s been 5 minutes already….

  5. The student who got the parking ticket interacts in some way with the next eleven.

    You’re changing my understanding of PQA. You’ve got the student’s personal info (3 parking tickets, plus obviously she drives), and now you’re, what, spinning a story using that info?
    Here’s the layout in my mind: Step 1) PQA – get personal info from and about the students, asking questions and comparing students and circling, all the while.
    Step 2) When it gets too hard to continue to provide CI with 1), then move on to asking a story. The story is from the textbook.
    Given this is how the landscape looks from my standpoint, it’s obvious that there’s a Grand Canyon between steps 1 and 2. I think you’re trying to show me how to bridge that gap. This is one of the difficulties I’m having, yes. How to relate personal info about students to a story from a TPRS story textbook (say). Or vice versa.

  6. I try to make up stories based upon the PQA – and only if I can’t get something from that do I use a story from a textbook or that I’ve scripted.
    I usually go into the class with a plan B in mind. I’ll have thought of how I can make the story work with the vocab for the day. But I’m really hoping that something interesting will come up when I talk to the kids, and that will become the focus of my story. The PQA should lead naturally into the story, rather than just being an appetizer for the story to come. But if it doesn’t work out that way, it’s good to have a plan B in mind!
    For example, the textbook I have to use has the second year kids doing food items. Sure, I could write a story about some random person making a meal and things going wrong. But if I can get the kids to talk about their own experience with that, it’s more fun – so I end up talking about Maria’s quinceanera, where she wanted to prepare cheese sandwiches and ice cream but because of some problem, she ended up serving frog legs and chicken feet.
    If you use textbook style stories, the kids will learn the language but won’t really build a world of references. If you make stories based on your students’ lives, they’ll make associations between students and that will stick with them for a long, long time! My students this year all remember that Omar likes to swim and he’s really good at it – he’s faster than a shark. They also know that Maira turns green when she’s angry, and that Adrian gets in trouble because he gets undressed in all sorts of inappropriate places. So if a story comes up where we’re at the beach, who do they think of immediately? Or if there is a bad guy and you need to take him down, Maira immediately comes to mind. And Adrian…well, we were talking about circumlocution earlier this year and I told them sometimes you have to come up with a way to explain something when you don’t know the word for it. Someone asked how you say ‘stalker’ in French and Adrian immediately said “there’s a man who watches me while I undress!” No trying to conjugate or remember that there is a reflexive verb in there, or how to use that direct object ‘me’ before to watch. Nope, it just came right out.

  7. Heather,
    Bravo, for both these posts.
    I feel that I was too harsh too, in a way. You give all the reasons for using technology. I do love it, get too involved in it, see great ways to use it (and more because of your articulate explanation!) — my big argument is when a district assumes that more tech is going to make us more successful. Twenty teachers in our building are going to get Smartboards this holiday season, and twenty more after that. We all got training. Next year, we have enormous budget cuts coming down that will chop programs. (And we will have four more standardized tests to cut into our instructional time.) But we’ll have very expensive technology in the rooms.
    You are so right about how the stories come back into play as the year progresses. I love it! Another area that recycles in my room is the song list. Kids manage to direct the story so that they can work in a chorus of their favorite song. It’s pretty funny. Our IB director came in the other day and said something to them that made the whole class burst into singing a gypsy song.

  8. Another side of the argument is that we are all different, have different capacities with technology. What Heather and our own Noah Geisel in the classroom next to me at East High School do with machines is almost effortless accomplishment, with me, it’s just the opposite.
    So discussion on the use of technology (not to mention Krashen’s ideas) can ever really be resolved. We are all different, and we should not try to force aspects of TPRS/CI/Technology on ourselves or others if they cramp our style and make us feel like we can’t do it. We should do what is best for us and our kids and leave the rest.
    Sometimes our passion for this stuff is misinterpreted as an attack on others. At what point does a person’s passion for what they are doing professionally become an attack on others? That is just a rhetorical question.
    As long as we keep our goal on kids’ acquiring language, all will be well. Now that we have stepped out of the stone age with Krashen leading the way and technology in the mushroom cloud state, it’s all good. We just needed to step out of the stone age – the use of the book to teach languages.
    Now we can start teaching for acquisition. We can use TPRS/CI/Technology as best we can as it reflects our own temperaments. There are no experts. We do what we do. If we get good at it, we try to help others. We start blogs. We try to help and learn from each other.
    We learn to really enjoy our jobs and our lives through the help and society of our brothers and sisters in these new areas of teaching. We step gallantly, with one knee poised high, with one arm up in the air for flair and style, and we smile at what we are now able to accomplish in the classroom. We have been let out of the Sick Can.*
    *evoking this blog entry from two years ago:

  9. It is always a problem when people jump on a bandwagon, and schools/districts/departments are notoriously bad for jumping on bandwagons.
    I remember my first year teaching. 6 traits was all the rage. It’s still around – but have our students become better writers because of it? Are they better than they would have been without the 6 traits? Are we reaching students now that we wouldn’t have reached before?
    I’ve seen many gurus come and go. The reality seems to be the same no matter what the gurus say. You will never reach ALL of the students – but admin (and the public) always seem to buy in to the idea that if we just use the right technique, textbook, or technology we will be able to get 100% competence. Teachers who are in the classroom know that it is an unrealistic goal – there will always be the student who doesn’t care, who doesn’t want to be there, who doesn’t need the credit, etc. I remember when my dad started his second career about 10 years ago – as a math teacher in the LAUSD. He told me that ‘nobody’ was going to fail his class, because he was going to make them want to pass. I asked him – what did he plan to do about the kid who was only there because it was a condition of his probation. What was his plan for making that kid care? He really didn’t know. Now he’s been there for a while and there are plenty of kids who fail. He’s got kids who are never or rarely in class, or who never turn in any work or tests, or who just sleep the whole hour. Those kids are making the choice to NOT pass, it’s not that he’s not trying to reach them. But there will always be gurus to tell you that ‘if you only tried THIS approach, the kids would skip into class singing and happy to be there, ready to learn.’
    So, yeah…it’s a problem when admin buys into something like technology without addressing other issues. Or giving technology without the continuing support needed to make it work. I know that the teachers in my building all have smartboards – but do they all know how to use them? How many are treating them as glorified whiteboards? Probably quite a few, because they don’t have the money or time to spend on learning how to use them to make their lives easier!

  10. There are so many things at play here it’s nearly mind boggling. Just some comments:
    1. Our society as a whole is looking for the “silver bullet” that will solve the problem without effort. We see it constantly in the news: a fix for the economy, the latest drug for obesity, seven phrases that guarantee the other person will do what you want, etc. This transfers, of course, into the world of education. I was at a workshop earlier in the year and heard the presenter basically guarantee the we would have attentive students if we used a certain level of technology in our classroom. (Only a couple of problems with that: a. it isn’t true; b. our district can’t afford it; c. teachers don’t know how to use it.)
    2. That search for the “magic wand” leads us to faddism. Currently my district is pushing GRR (Gradual Release of Responsibility). It is the “framework du jour”. After going to an inservice about GRR I realized that it is basically the five-step lesson plan and Madeline Hunter (and any number of other systems) re-packaged. The presenter actually acknowledged this and said the district is requiring us to do the training so that everyone throughout the district is using the same, commonly understood terminology. I appreciated the honesty and can get on board with the need to use a common frame of reference. I just hope they don’t change the frame of reference again before I retire.
    3. Our system (both political and educational) uses designated funds far too much. Michele’s school is probably getting all those smartboards because they had to spend designated funds for technology or someone wrote a grant request for technology. Unfortunately, no one seems to look beyond the installation to think about training and upkeep. I know a couple of places where the smartboards are already non-functional, so they are now whiteboards.
    [Totally extraneous political comment: I voted no on a number of propositions on California’s ballot because they were designated funds propositions. We can’t come up with a budget on time now, so how do we expect the legislature to do so when we further hamstring their ability to determine where funds are most needed? How do we expect teachers, administrators and districts to use funds most effectively when we restrict what they can be used for?]
    4. Technology can grab attention, but it cannot hold attention. The content and presentation must be engaging (i.e. relevant and personalized).
    5. A further
    a priori assumption is that one size fits all. It’s all part of the push toward standardization in places where it doesn’t belong. It is also part of an antiquated system: the factory/assembly-line model. Schools as factories is an attempt to impose the wrong theory and practice; it is an industrial mindset, not an educational mindset. It assumes that the goal is to produce interchangeable parts. That’s fine for building cars, TVs, etc. (Even then it can be frustrating, because I often want something that is not “standard” for a particular product.) It’s totally wrong for education because the goal should be to produce individuals on their way to fully realizing their potential. An infinite diversity is what we want, not uniformity.
    6. The educational establishment as a whole, and teachers’ unions in particular, has failed to police itself and demand accountability. If we had done so, there would be no place for people who don’t know the first thing about the inside of classroom to tell us what we ought to be doing. But when you hunker down and protect teachers who have no content competence, no methodological awareness and no personal connection to their students – well, we have seen the results.
    [Sorry, I’ll get off the soapbox now.]
    Anyway, I think that “technology” has become the new “textbook” for many “educational services providers” in that they let it drive the process rather than being a tool to be employed when and as needed. After all, to the man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. I will determine when, where and how to use technology in my classroom – thank you very much. And I will do so based on the interests, skills and needs of both myself and my students.

  11. Marc back to the PQA. You really hit it with the term Grand Canyon. But you will find very soon that PQA is not at all far from a story – the north and south rims are closer than you think. The two want to be linked. That is, the PQA wants to become part of a story, if it can. The three parking tickets (I thought it was only one – the plot thickens! – why did she get that many?) is now almost demanding some kind of story format. And if the story is to be real to the class, it needs to come from the class. Those parking tickets are a link into a personalized story. The only way to find out is to ask the questions and see what happens and have a back up story if it doesn’t fly. I frequently take what I can from the story and what I have from the PQA and try to cram them together and sometimes that works. I don’t care if a story fails. It’s still CI. Let’s just keep this dialogue going. The canyon is not that bad. The fact that you know about the gap between PQA and stories – have identified it – is 90% of the battle.

  12. Marc you also said that another problem is “how to unearth interesting material from the students”. My response to that is that the questionnaires are something Anne can use but honestly I don’t use them anymore. We shouldn’t feel pressured to find out stuff about our kids and make it into some kind of cool story. We just talk to them, and stuff comes up, and we use it or not. You’re not the MC of some game show. Just talk to them. Stuff will come up. Relax.

  13. Marc you said you wanted to figure out “how to find and use material that is both interesting for the students AND me”. Again, we need to not put that kind of pressure on ourselves. Do the PQA. Try some stories from scripts. Try to blend them. If you don’t, and it gets all haywire, read a book with them – reading with them as described somewhere on this site makes for a totally easy class period. If the material at hand for that class period is not totally personalized, who cares? We aren’t perfect. CI is a work in process. Krashen has said that what we are doing is as close if not closer to his ideas than anything in the world. That should make us relax a bit, knowing that we’re not dinosaurs. This stuff takes time, my brother.

  14. Marc I am having trouble understanding this fourth problem you listed in your comment:
    “…how to keep student-generated material from being totally unstructured – otherwise I spend the whole time just translating into English the things they want to say…”.
    Could you expand on this?

  15. I read this to mean that he has difficulty keeping things in bounds when using student-generated materials. They want to be able to say so many things that are out of bounds.

  16. Yes, Profe Loca, that’s what I meant. The more satisfying lessons with this difficult, low-ability, group have come from abandoning my planned materials, and just talking to them. But they can’t say much, so they say it in Japanese and I translate. In some cases, I’ve actually had my structures and vocab for the day on the board all ready, and in the end I never used it. It stayed up till the end of the class, as a testament to “prior planning”‘s uselessness.

  17. We shouldn’t feel pressured to find out stuff about our kids and make it into some kind of cool story. We just talk to them, and stuff comes up, and we use it or not. You’re not the MC of some game show.
    This was helpful! You’ve mentioned this before, I think. I need reminding.
    A further difficulty (yup! there’s more!!) is that I’m dealing with false beginners. Actually what I’m doing when I ask questions or do timed writings, is learning what they know and what they don’t. Because I don’t know, it’s very hard to start with a clear “3 structures” that I want to “teach” them. And when I DO go this route, I end up pulling the focus away from what the students are interested in.
    I had a great class today but it was with a group of rather more motivated students, altho the class is “Basic Conversation”. These kids want to learn. They draw ideas out of me. I give tons of CI. We laff. I’m on a roll. I also had a class that didn’t go well and tired me out so much I let them go 10 minutes early: “Enough already!”
    The more I write about this, the bigger, more profound (and disturbing!) the issues start to look. E.g. today’s class that didn’t go so well: is this really a problem of how I do PQA? Or is it more to do with discipline and (not) making the ground rules clear at the beginning? I suspect the latter. Much energy was spent just getting them to shut up and pay attention.

  18. When I can tell I have a class that isn’t going to settle down, I pull a Ben-style dictation. That is, I work a little with the structures on the board so the students know the structures are there, then do a dictation including those structures (pointing at them as I say them), with some other baby-easy language that I’m sure they know. Then we do the correction step (quietly, as Ben insists), and then I ask individuals to translate the sentences. Then the class reads after me, and finally I circle and go for more details. It helps if I’ve come up with a mini story that we can fill in. I use Jason’s technique of gesturing with a big smile toward the folks who have provided the details each time we circle the phrase. It’s another way of giving the students the attention they crave, and everyone gets on board. Doing either this quiet dictation activity or a few minutes of FVR on a rowdy day establishes a mood of concentration.

  19. Thank you Michele, right on the nose. I got rolled today by a couple particularly rowdy groups; I’m sitting here during my prep just staring at the walls trying to figure how to turn this ship around, and read your very timely comments. Let’s carpe that diem tomorrow!

  20. I’m still not buying into the use of technology in language classrooms. Technology in the service of comprehensible input is wonderful, and I will be experimenting with Duke (up again from Mexico in December, Jim also involved via the ‘net) on twexting and skype, in the belief that those are examples of how technology can serve CI. We’ll see. I’m optimistic.
    However, the ubiquitous use of machines to engage the visual part of the brain to keep kids busy looking at languages or pictures instead of combining those activities with the delivery of tons of CI concerns me. We have such precious little time (150 hours per year) to accomplish a task that requires tens of thousands of hours. Why would we spend it engaging the visual part of our kids’ brains in a language class? I don’t think the brain can function in two parts of the brain at once. Can it?
    We need to learn how to do CI in the form of listening and reading. It is hard for us and for our kids, because (again, correct me if I am wrong) up to 93% of the human experience is visual. Everybody wants their class to be visual. It’s easier. Susan Gross once observed that, even though two thirds of kids are not visual learners, they have had to become so in order to function in schools. They sometimes forget that they even have an auditory capacity, and we have to remind them (and it ain’t easy).
    We in languages are not teaching a visual subject. Our kids can’t go to the target culture carrying little white boards around asking people to write what they said down.
    I know that Annick Chen – a master at CI at Lincoln High in Denver – uses a document camera to make sure that the CI is clear. That is what I’m talking about. I’m not doubting how machines can enhance the CI at all. I question whether the current use of machines in class helps or hinders the delivery of CI, that’s all.

  21. from a note to Ben..
    I have had to absolutely tie my hands not to get involved with prezi because it’s very alluring. I am too much on line as it is, and agree about the tech thing taking over and not being what we really need, if we’re teaching communication. When I get into something new, I start to obsess over it. I don’t want to have a new technology start running my lessons. That’s what happened for the week after I came back from an AP workshop. I used the website like crazy, just to be able to justify all the time I’d spent writing exercises at the workshop.
    Then I came to my senses and remembered that doing exercises on line doesn’t teach a darned thing. Instead, hearing and reading comprehensible, compelling input is what nails language into our heads. Using tech to share that reading is one thing. But turning the kids over to computers to manipulate small pieces of the language is what the textbooks already had us doing for years. Same tack, different tool. We already know it doesn’t work.

  22. I was having a discussion with my husband about the positive changes that technology has made in education. He pointed out that there were (for example) plenty of good guitar players out there before You Tube became such a big piece of his guitar life; he said that it’s still true that he needs to practice, and that the Internet can’t change that. He is of the opinion that most of us have within us the knowledge to improve in ways that we are crediting to technology. I told him that without the Internet, I never would have happened on Ben Slavic and changed my entire teaching life for the better!
    I’ve been thinking about all of this as I prepare to give a tech talk in February. I plan to discuss how teachers can use tech to ease their isolation. I know that what they want to hear is how we use all the bells and whistles in class, but I’m not going to do that. I’ll probably discuss how to network, how to use the web if you have to assign homework, and how to use it for such things as our Skyping meeting.
    I’ll share stuff like quizlet and quia and crossword builder, but my emphasis is that those are for use after you think the kids have acquired the language, not for the process, and that they are really only ways to make testing easier if you must do it that way. They are simply easier tools than handing out pieces of paper and writing on them (because of automatic grading). For me, the web is a godsend because of all the material available on it. We can easily read the news in target language, or look up something on line. The Internet saves me time in those ways. I no longer have to waste time borrowing and then listening to music to find good songs. Kids find them. I also don’t have to buy materials that turn out to be rotten. I can mostly write my own.
    Still, all this tech is going to end up as never-decaying plastic in our dumps eventually. It makes me crazy that we keep getting new pieces of electronics and having to chuck the old ones.
    Probably what’s going to happen is that when I submit my final presentation notes for this conference, they’ll tell me they don’t really want me. They want people to teach how to have kids jumping up in front of a smartboard and manipulating vocabulary words. I know there’s other stuff the kids can do, but if it doesn’t supply a stream of CI it’s not worth all these dollars.
    Sometimes I think we keep piling on the use of tech because of all the tech in kids’ lives and the increasing result that kids therefore often don’t know that it’s possible to focus on one thing for a long time. We’re trying to meet them where they are, and I’m still trying to decide whether that’s always a good thing. Brain breaks aside, telling a story is one long-term focus I can point to in my classes. I’m going to let others tweet and text students (or provide 3D images as soon as that’s possible). I’m going to keep trying to teach them to interact creatively without requiring electronics. Maybe I’m in the dark ages.

  23. “…we’re trying to meet them where they are…”.
    The argument seems to be “Who needs an adult in the classroom when kids have technology and each other?” I don’t know – maybe 35 urban kids stuck in a room together for 55 minutes can use that time by themselves to learn a language. We’ll see. I’m sure that the researchers are very busy right now designing assessment instruments to prove the value of technology in learning a foreign language. I know that Duke sees the entire language acquisition process as too teacher centered and is just about finished in designing a way for kids to learn languages on the streets from each other via music. We and also Jim are actively trying to see if twexting in classrooms can create the desired CI. Actually, I am convinced it can because I have been using twexted songs, and am about to do so much more in the next few months. But the point is not about twexting but the use of technology overall.
    “…I’m going to let others tweet and text students (or provide 3D images as soon as that’s possible). I’m going to keep trying to teach them to interact creatively without requiring electronics. Maybe I’m in the dark ages…”.
    Well, TG, then I am too – yeah, that makes two people voicing this message! Our society is different. Kids get to be heard even if they have little to say. The idea of the teacher as source of knowledge is going by the bye fast. And if the kids don’t like what’s going on in class, they can – are always trying – to disappear into little machines, as if by magic. It won’t help – will only exacerbate – America’s foreign language problem.
    If we let them. I stand firm with Krashen’s point that we learn languages by hearing and reading them. Since the kids don’t know the language, maybe they should just hear it and read it and hear it and read it some more, and not try to speak or write or interact with machines in the TL until they have had those thousands of hours of input, or they can do it on the side, to support – not supplant – the valuable classroom minutes for CI.
    It’s the machines in the classrooms, replacing the direct instruction of CI via listening and reading, that I question. Our students take our class and listen to and read the language delivered to them in a way that they can understand – this does not include, as you said, having “kids jumping up in front of a smartboard and manipulating vocabulary words.”
    This is not a bash on technology, just a repeated point that seems to be getting lost in the cables these days – technology must be used in the service of CI to be effective, and at least there are two of us, Tech Geek and me, who believe that. Sounds like the two of us are in a George Lucas movie. Maybe we are.

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