Slightly Puzzled No More

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16 thoughts on “Slightly Puzzled No More”

  1. I think you are absolutely right here, Ben, especially for new teachers. The hardest part about teaching TPRS for me is emotional and relational. My gut instinct is to go to class with my defenses up, ready for the battle that is sure to come my way. It is so difficult for me to create a non-threatening, non-hostile environment for my students to learn in. Especially when I feel that I am entering a threatening and hostile environment myself. If I go in with an antagonistic, negative, or defensive stance toward my students, TPRS looks nothing like it should. But it’s hard not to adopt those postures when I go in day after day to class after class of students that challenge me minute after minute (I’ve made some progress, but the progress is very slow).
    It’s tempting to teach grammar because it’s safer emotionally. There’s an obvious theatrical aspect to TPRS. It’s not just a method, I think it’s an art. It’s personal, and I think you have to put a piece of yourself into it. And I know I shouldn’t let it affect me, but I am new, and my skin isn’t super thick, so when the students reject my stories, my lessons, it’s hard. If I were teaching verb charts, THEY would be the ones who felt like they had failed. THEY wouldn’t have studied enough. THEY wouldn’t have paid attention. But I feel like in a lot of ways, in TPRS, we take our students out of the line of fire and step into it ourselves.
    A struggling Spanish student from another school called me on Saturday to ask for some help with an assignment. He is failing his class, and has learned next to nothing (he has clearly not studied or paid attention AT ALL). But as I helped him conjugate the verb ser and figure out what an indefinite article was, it just confirmed to me that I can’t teach my kids that way. Even with all my struggles in my classes, I really think this student would have learned a lot more in my class. It wasn’t fair that he be asked to memorize stuff that won’t even help him speak. I encouraged him not to think that his difficulty in this one class meant that he “wasn’t a language person” but that different people learn different ways, and he could have better language learning experiences in the future.
    It might be safer for me, emotionally, to spend my days giving my students worksheets with fill in the blanks for definite and indefinite articles. If they didn’t get it, I could tell their parents, “It’s not really hard. Un and una mean ‘a’ or ‘an’ and el and la mean ‘the.’ He’s just not studying or paying attention.” But with TPRS, my students are not struggling because they don’t study (I don’t ask them to study) or pay attention. But they struggle because I can’t manage my classes well enough to give them enough CI every day. Or because I don’t personalize the CI enough to make it interesting.
    I know that the first year teaching can be tough for anyone. And I am sure my students would be learning even less if I were teaching using a traditional method. And maybe it’s because I am inexperienced that I find TPRS makes me more vulnerable, but at least as a first year teacher, I think that is definitely the case.

    1. Stephen, in my first year I nearly dropped out three times bc I really sucked at classroom management. After almost 30 years I feel I’m pretty good at it but I’m still learning!
      So if your heart is for your students and the language then keep at it. I believe teaching (which really is about relationsships) can be one of the most rewarding jobs life has tooffer us.
      Good luck to you!!!

      1. Udo said that teaching is really about relationships. So true! It’s at the core of everything. And when we don’t “target knowledge” but instead “target relationships”, we ironically get much greater gains in the language!

  2. Yes. Classroom discipline is a big topic that takes years to learn. You will find that this gets better. TPRS is actually a very strict system when we have the rules piece in place and working. Is Maine possible for you in the first few weeks of June?

  3. Stephen, I think you’re doing great, from everything you’ve said. It is an unusually large task to take on the amorphous quality of TPRS at the same time that you are learning everything else, from classroom management to grading to learning the school culture and system. So give yourself a lot of credit!
    One of the teachers in the Alaska TPRS group sent me a description of her way of cycling through stories. I think this structure could help with management–I’ll come back and tell you her name later, if she lets me, but this is one of the ways to work yourself less and use what you are typing so that it goes farther. It does use homework grades, and I know a lot of us don’t like to do homework. It also depends on internet connectivity, but still might give you some ideas:
    7th Graders: In this class I have been using Scott’s strategy of using students’ sketches of what they like doing in their free time for creating stories, which was explained to us in Scott’s first of the year opening activity. At the conclusion of each class period I write up the story using the words that I wrote on the white board while telling the story. I then post this mini-story to the class website and instruct the students to print it off at home, read it to a parent, explain what it says and have their parent sign it and return the signed story the next day for a grade. I then use this same mini-story as a reading/translation exercise. I make an overhead of the mini-story and have each student read aloud then translate one sentence of the story. If the student gets stuck on a word I allow them a ‘life line’ in which they may ask a fellow student for help on the word. The kids like this model and the one who provides the correct answer feels gratified as well.
    There is also an interesting tool (“15 repetitions”) that I have used when my kids just wouldn’t get doing TPRS, and I needed some clear structure for myself. I’ve posted it on the page where I collect interesting tidbits, and if you click on this link, it will be a pdf at the top of the page:
    You don’t really sound as though you need any suggestions, really–these are just for those days when you need something that feels more like a directed lesson structure.

  4. Stephen you wrote:
    “… it’s hard not to adopt those postures when I go in day after day to class after class of students that challenge me minute after minute (I’ve made some progress, but the progress is very slow)… “.
    Keep the postures. You need them now. But start making the changes on the inside, where the kids can’t see them. Forgive them for their having adapted behaviors that push your buttons – they are only repeating what they see all the time in other classes. I have three suggestions:
    1. Do you know how wine bottles come in boxes and each bottle is separated by an accordian-like cardboard square thing? I suggest that, as you work from a story script, focus only on one bottle of wine – one sentence – at a time. Don’t just open up all the bottles at once and pour them all over the place. Make yourself totally understood via Point and Pause, Circling and SLOW. Pour out the wine of language bottle by bottle, line by line, and don’t go deeper into the story until each single line is totally understood. Do lots of recycling. How is that connected to getting their little asses to shut up? It makes things so simple that they understand totally. When they understand at the level of what Dr. Krashen has recently termed a state of transparency, they are with you. It is when they don’t understand that they are against you. Do you see that when you go all over the place and too fast, that they can’t keep up, and then they start acting out? Pour out each bottle, each sentence in the script, SLOWLY and then reach for the next bottle/sentence and work your way methodically through the story. Today I got through only the first three lines of Mike’s story about Chester. Our elephant, Pissedophe Christophe, didn’t even turn around and see the chair. Let go the idea of finishing the story. Just be clear with them, above all (and that means SLOW). This brings discipline.
    2. Now, and this is the obvious part – do the above, sentence per sentence, teaching with strict adherence to those rules that we discussed here today in the form of the comments to the Suck Zone blog. Those people who posted are all heavy hitters with the rules, and they are all saying one thing – the rules work. So, as you go through the script slowly with total transparency, enforce the rules and you are two thirds of the way there. Is this your weak spot?
    3. The third suggestion I have is to love yourself more and to forgive yourself for not having achieved greater discipline by now. The sad fact is that our schools, our kids, via television and all of the other devastating stuff in the pop culture, are in a state of total chaos. The technology revolution is about to deliver a body blow to the entire system. So, take that into consideration when you berate yourself. We all suck at discipline because our kids have no discipline. What we DO have that others in our field don’t have is a way of teaching that attracts kids’ interest. We can run with that. How? By taking everything that we have learned about TPRS and keeping on keeping on honing our methods.
    In conclusion, I am asking you to consider, as a way of looking at the discipline issue, to
    – make certain that you make yourself 100% clear to your students when delivering CI. Pour out the entire bottle before going to the next one.
    – use those rules. Come from a place of loving strength, because they are children and need to be told the rules.
    – always remember that we teach in conditions that now, historically, are the worst they will ever be. What we do is service work, and make no mistake about it.

  5. 1. I think I do need to work on SLOW. I think you are right. At least a couple of times today I saw that I was clearly going too fast. Which means it probably happened a whole lot more than I was aware of.
    2. I’ve got those rules (with slight modifications) on my wall. I’m trying to enforce them as I go. I spent all three days last week going over the rules and procedures (snow/ice day on Friday). But I find that after lots of phone calls home, detentions, and even suspensions, I have the same behavior. And refusal to cooperate. How do I enforce rules when I really don’t have any power? I think I do have some issues with my administration not backing me up on discipline. I have pages of documentation on students who are continually disruptive and disrespectful in my class (and they are doing similar things in other more experienced teachers’ classes), and even after having several detentions and even skipping detentions, nothing happens to them. What do I have at my disposal, if a call home doesn’t change anything and my administration doesn’t do anything?
    3. Thanks for the encouragement, and I’m trying to keep my chin up and not beat myself down. What do you expect to happen because of the technological revolution, exactly?
    I am now telling myself that I have less to go this year than I’ve already completed. I’m trying to psych myself out and remind myself that I have a two month paid vacation at the end of all of this. And I believe in education for kids from socioeconomic backgrounds, so yes this is service work, and I am putting my actions where my ideals are.
    Thanks for the advice, as always.

  6. All this questioning from us new teachers is why I’m so excited to go to Chicago this summer. I wish I could go today. I just really need to see it again…hear it again…ask my questions and such. I wish there was someone near me who had the resources to come to my class and observe me and give feedback.

  7. Bess,
    Two ideas for observation if there’s no one close, both of which I’ve used:
    1) Videotape your class and ask a guru to watch it (you can mail it, or post it privately on Teacher Tube or hide it in Clear MSU’s applications). Delayed response is still quite valuable, because we don’t really change our teaching so much from week to week. I set up my camera way in the back of the class, started it before class, and let it run. You couldn’t really see the kids, but you could hear and see me.
    2) Turn on your Skype and let it run for a class with someone visiting. Vera has visited my Alaskan classroom (and even circled with the kids!) from Moscow, and Susie has visited with me and my kids during a class. It’s more of a pain for the person watching, because there’s a specific time they have to be on.
    You can also gain a lot by asking a friendly administrator to come watch you and use Susie’s administrator checklist, OR you can ask another person in your department, or even a parent to come watch you. You can give them the same checklist. They’ll have questions; you’ll have answers.
    But definitely…go to Chicago! You will be so fired up it will last ’till December.

  8. Wow Stephen! If you make enough money teaching to not teach in the summer, you may definitely want to stay in the district that you are in amigo mio. :o) Even in the very few summers that I did not have to work a second (or third) job, summer is never a vacation. We spend hours in the classroom, cleaning up from the previous year, or preparing for the new one. (very few of us just show up ready to go on the first day lol) We read all of the articles, blogs and literature we don’t have time to read during the school year. We get ourselves to workshops and conferences. (many teachers I know attend 2-3 locally in addition to a “national”) We tweak our stories, clean out our computer files, pick up props at garage sales, and keep up with listservs. Not to mention the hours invested trying to improve or maintain our language skills. Not to mention the numbers of teachers who take students on trips after school lets out….
    It’s a change in pace, a break of sorts, a labor of love, but definitely not a vacation. (ask Ben’s wife!!!)
    Especially now that I’ve been “Blaine-washed” Seems like my TPRS lenses are always on lol.
    Hope Ben’s got enough space in this website for all of our summer conversations!! :o)
    with love,

  9. I think the reason why many teachers reject it is simpler than that. Let´s say a teacher has been teaching grammatically for 10 years. They have all of their lessons, tests, projects, etc all planned out. Admin is happy, the parents are happy, if the kids aren´t happy they drop the class because they are ¨not good at language¨or ¨not turning in assignments on time¨. For this teacher to unlearn everything they thought they knew about language acquisition and to throw out 90% of their materials and start from scratch is a long shot for most. The only drawback of traditional teaching from this perspective (the wanting to punch the clock and get a paycheck) is the insane amount of grading essays and taking points off for missing accent marks. If the teacher has a family, are a coach, it´s even less likely that they will look to new ways of teaching. One really has to be convinced of the research and also want what is best for the kids.
    We really need to be reaching student teachers somehow if any dent will be made in the teacher profession. I did meet a student teacher at NTPRS, so maybe this is already happening. She now has to start teaching in a traditional setting though and will have to teach in the wrong way just to get her certification.

  10. It´s even worse with the ¨student centered learning¨ that we are seeing in schools with tech programs. Teacher many days just assign grammar game activities on the Chromebook or a ¨project¨ in groups and goes to sit at his/her desk checking email. Meanwhile the kids are using google translate, shopping for prop dresses, and checking their sports schedule when the teacher is not looking.

    1. This is collaboration. The teacher and the kids see no importance in learning the language. Such teachers are part of the downfall of our educational system. It’s as if no one enjoys rigor any more, challenging kids to become more.

    2. Greg, we had a Mandarin teacher last year who did just that; grammar and projects online. She sat in the back and monitored. It was a sad sight. Then, our charter school district (with 3 high schools) decided to cancel the Mandarin program altogether this summer. Yep. Our district went from requiring 4 years of Mandarin (you heard me right, requiring 4 years from fresh-senior year) to nixing the program altogether. We got a new CEO in the middle of the year who decided to finally offer our high school students some electives. Guess what, they didn’t choose Mandarin.
      I also sense that online programs like Rosetta Stone are falling out of fashion. I remember hearing 7 years ago that De La Salle Institute (Bronzeville, Chicago), a sister catholic school of yours, Greg, ran Rosetta Stone exclusively for their foreign language program. I doubt they continue to do so now.
      Anyways, I do agree with you Ben, that with the non-targeted approach more teachers will dive into CI teaching. It is such a relief to not feel like I have to suppress the classroom’s creative, collaborative spirit by regularly redirecting us to the targets. It’s like letting the horses out to graze on open land where the grass is green and fresh, instead of keeping them confined in the fenced in, muddy pasture where the grass is scarce.

  11. Here’s another good reason not to reject TPRS/CI: I just found out that I had 2 out of 3 students pass the AP Spanish Literature and Culture test last year and I never, not once, had them read or study any of the texts or materials the College Board required to make my class a certified AP Spa Lit and Culture class.
    For those non-Spanish teachers, the AP Spanish Literature test is a big step more advanced than the AP Spanish Language test.
    Only my Spanish heritage learners took these AP tests. 3 of them had the courage to take the AP Spa Lit test full-well knowing that I did not teach them that curriculum. Instead, we did lots of FVR, watched telenovelas (and read the transcripts), and lots of self-selected non-fiction reading followed by informal discussion panels. (I’m trying my best to align my Spanish Heritage classes with Krashen’s research.) We did very little writing. Just some journal entries, really.
    *2 out of 3 students passed. The other student that didn’t passed was mistakenly placed in a non-heritage class, so he didn’t get all the reading exposure the other 2 students got.
    We’ll see what happens with their scores again this year. I have no plans in implementing the College Board curriculum. If I have 2/3rds of my students pass the AP Spa Lit test again, I’m going to have to speak up louder so all those traditional teachers know.

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