Learn to Fly on Your Own

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37 thoughts on “Learn to Fly on Your Own”

  1. Hi Ben,
    I find it REALLY strange how so much of your blog speaks directly to my day…..
    Just today I flew…. I walked into the room planning to finish up talking about my card and somehow, I cannot even remember how, we spent the whole period “circling’ the word TALKS….. It was unbelievable. It was hugely compelling. I am sure kids were not cognizant of “learning” Spanish but there was hardly a word in English. It just kept going and going and the more we went the more we laughed and (truly) had fun. You are SO right. You cannot write that stuff and the written stuff just can’t be that good…
    Thanks for the reminder and for all you and others on this blog do to keep me “flying”

    1. Wow! I’m truly impressed. I have no idea how I would manage to spend a whole period circling one structure. I don’t know how I would come up with enough questions to keep it going for 48 minutes. I’d be lucky to last 10 minutes. I really got some work to do. To Ben and Linda Li, please come do a workshop in Ohio!

      1. Chris it really is just about experience. Like Malcolm Gladwell suggests in Outliers, we need around 10,000 hours to become expert at anything. It’s just about time and persistence. The clouds look far off from earth, but not when you are in a plane flying through them.

  2. I agree that we need constant reminders of what the method is really all about. I had the opposite of a day that flew. My 8th grade classes were half empty because of high school visits, it’s a hot day (Kids in SF can’t handle anything over 68), and the energy is just gone. It is so hard to resist the temptation to pile busywork on them when their response to the “space” in TPRS is to disengage, disengage, disengage, anything but look me in the eye and have a conversation.
    Thanks for the reminders.

    1. That space is where the action, or lack of it, is. The more we hang out in those moments of silence and just walk around the room and smile and be patient and go back to where the slowest student lost track of the CI, the more we show that courage in those moments when we are not flying, the more we will get that this method is not all about hitting TPRS home runs out of the park at all, but rather about embracing being grounded – not for lack of a plane (we have the best plane in CI), but for lack of passengers (kids who have been taught by parents and other teachers to show up for life).

  3. Chris,
    The remarkable thing was that I have had this boy who WILL NOT SHUT UP! I mean he talks constantly. So (and I really can’t remember how it happened) I “flew” into “who talks a lot” Everyone one said “jake” – It was remarkable! From there it just took off. “who doesn’t talk a lot” Those names were clear too – some never talk…. Who talks more…. ______or ______ We even got to who talks where (in the bathroom etc) , Then we went to who talks more “me – their Spanish teacher- or their other teachers (we named their teachers – I spoke more than all but one of their teachers:)).
    So, the chatty kid was focused so much because he knew that he was the subject of the class that I don’t thing he spoke in English at all.
    I think the key was that it was all about a dynamic in the class – the fact that Jake “habla mucho” in a fun, light-hearted way that, in an ironic kind of way, made him the star.
    We were full “lost in the language” when the bell rang.

  4. I think you just set up a story, Skip! Here’s your script, from page 15 of Anne’s book Story Scripts Vol. 1:
    He Talks Too Much
    stop it!
    the whole time, all the time

    Troy talks too much. He talks all the time. (At this point you can find out what he talks about, in what language, etc.) He goes to the movies and talks the whole time to John McCain. John McCain says, “Shhh! Stop it!” but Troy does not stop talking. The manager comes and says, “Leave the cinema!”
    Troy goes to the library. There he talks the whole time to Lexi, who is trying to do homework.. Lexi says, “Shhh! Stop it!” but Troy does not stop talking. The librarian comes and says, “Leave the library!”
    He goes to the dentist. The dentist has her hands in his mouth. She can not help him, because he talks the whole time. She says, “Shhhh! Stop it!” but Troy does not stop talking. His teeth rot and fall out. He can’t talk anymore, because he has no teeth.
    (Skip, I can’t get the variable underlined here but they are in the script book)

  5. He talks so much that he and his friends decide to record him and put him on youtube for other people to hear. He posts talks about ___________and _____________ and ________________. His talk about _______________gets 12335,483 hits in one day! He is discovered by the Tosh.0 guy and is offered his own show.

  6. I think I needed to see a post like this. By using Cuentame Mas the way I have been I’m starting to feel like I just went from one textbook to another. I went from being a textbook teacher to being a pseudo-TPRS textbook teacher.

  7. Charlotte Kroeker

    My Grade 8 class was a disaster today because of me. I lost them. I cannot seem to circle for longer than 10 minutes. I am very focused on getting to the story and there is way too much out of bound stuff. Will I ever get the hang of this?

    1. I had this issue when I tried to do PQA and stories in the same block. With shorter 45 minute middle school classes this year, I have devoted Mondays to PQA of new structures, and now that the pressure of getting to the story is gone, we spend lots more time circling, comparing and contrasting different students. Is this something you could try in your class?

    2. Hi Charlotte,
      I also suggest writing out a script for your PQA until you feel more comfortable. You don’t have to use it like a checklist – it just gives you ideas and confidence during the pressure of class time. You’re not forced to think so much on your feet while things are feeling so new. After more practice, you can do less prep. It does get easier over time. Last month I thought my PQA was the pits but it’s improved, and I’ve had some good classes on 3-4 structures and PQA’ing them.

  8. It’s like you really truly can’t jump on a bike and be riding it in one minute. You have to fall a few times. I’m not being sollicitous here, it really does take time and it takes being in TRPS/CI classrooms and just working at it. Like anything good, it doesn’t happen fast.

  9. Charlotte I think that this is a problem also:
    …I am very focused on getting to the story….
    That is upsetting the balance – trying too hard to get to a story when you haven’t yet just spent some time relaxing with the PQA. When doing PQA, try to just hang out there and forget the story. By trying to get to the story, you are forcing things. Ultimately, this method is about light, slow banter where you stay in the moment of what is being said, and you don’t try to set your sites on anything like planting a flag on the top of story mountain. Just hang out with them. Here are three ideas you might try:
    1. Maybe talk to a super star before class and say, “Hey, I’m trying to learn how to go slow and to make my instruction totally clear to everyone. Can I ask you a simple question in class and then you give me a few cute answers and we’ll see what happens?” ANY question for the super star will do. “Do you have a cat?” is a good start. See what happens. Don’t try to do anything more than that, just getting information about the cat. Go to the resources page of this site, click on worskhop handouts, scroll to One Word Images, and practice with that activity – the intructions are spelled out step by step on how to do it. Good practice in PQA.
    2. Or you could go the resources/posters page of this site and find the questionnaire prompts. Make copies and have the kids fill in the left hand column (both columns is too much all at once) THOUGHTFULLY in class. Matava does this. I think skip uses this too. For months on end. You just PQA a few of the things that the kids say, the things that contain energy and personalized interest and so would be good sentences to circle for PQA bc they are ABOUT THE KIDS. Then, when you have a sentence like “Classe, John has a blue duck at home who sleeps in the bathroom!” then you can find another kid’s questionnaire and if you notice that they have a pet you can compare John’s blue duck with the pet of the other kid. They might even fall in love. Sometimes, this kind of banter/comparing information you get from the questionnaires turns into a little extended scene of PQA. Or even a story.
    3. Do some simple reading. Reading is always the perfect thing to do when you are pissed off at TPRS/CI. Or if you are not up to trying to make a story fly. Five classes is a lot to put that kind of pressure on yourself. Do R and D (see category) whenever you’ve got the PQA or story yips.

    1. 1. I love reading classes. I will never NOT do reading in level 1. It’s a source of CI and it’s so damn easy and relaxing, I love it.
      2. I’m getting to a point where I like PQA more than stories. Last year it was the opposite because I initially misunderstood what PQA was. I think PQA should be renamed to B-SITL (BullShitting in Target Language) because that is what PQA is for me. 47 minute long gossip sessions in Spanish. I find myself capable if getting lots of reps with PQA while I can’t with stories because I find circling to be tough and boring during stories. In all honesty I’m not a fan of circling, mostly because I’m not good at it and I don’t get enough reps while circling without feeling bored and getting the “how many damn times are you going to say (target structure)?” look. I think PQA is where it’s at

      1. Once again I am reminded how Michael Miller said in his 2011 NTPRS workshop that “the better he becomes at PQA, less is the need to EVER do stories….”
        Looks like you are there! 🙂

  10. thank you for all the suggestions! I think I will do the embedded reading I wrote out next class and give myself a bit of a break. Perhaps I am growing weary and impatient.

  11. I’m uneasy with the way I’m doing reading. I ask for a choral translation, giving them the hard words that they stumble on, then circle anything I can in the sentence, then go on to the next sentence. It either seems too easy, so boring, or too difficult, and we seem to be translating more than we are circling, so there’s no where near 90% in the TL. Is there another way, or am I doing something wrong? I haven’t tried to get a side story going, but when it’s applicable I ask the students questions about themselves to personalize the vocabulary, kind of working PQA into the reading. The students don’t seem to have any problems or to be bored. but maybe they’re just very polite.

    1. My kids have done so many stories that I can’t afford to take time spinning out into the D part of R and D, always creating new auditory CI when we are doing novels. Instead, lately I have been adopting Susie’s steamroller or snowplow or whatever technique she called it where we just plow through the chapter. When we do this, I know the kids are getting lots of reading CI, which is the point. I read slowly, waiting to hear them just a split second before I say the word in translation. The kids are graded using jGR on what I hear from them as I walk around the room seeing who is doing the hard work of choral translation. I want them to create a movie in their mind in much the same way that they do that in stories. I feel that reading is just so underated. I don’t care how boring it is. I hold them accountable with jGR and quizzes written by the quiz writer or by little translation checks at the end of the period that serve as exit tickets. Judy for me the point of reading is to get solid flowing translation into L1 with the kids reading aloud. I’m o.k. with it being too easy, so boring, or too difficult, as you say. I don’t like to interrupt the R and D (talking about novels here) for more D when what I want is more R. Still learning about reading, for sure.

  12. Instead of circling sentence by sentence I circle after reading a paragraph. I ask for details that aren’t given in the reading which I think is kind of fun

    1. Chris….this is a GREAT idea……i can use this to weave our required vocab into it! Like: ‘what do you think he’s wearing?’ (Might have to remind them to be school appropriate)

  13. Thanks, Ben and Chris. I like the idea of waiting for the end of the paragraph to ask questions, and to ask about things that are not in the reading. So, Ben, you’re saying it’s okay to just translate the text together without doing any spectacular fireworks? I thought maybe I was leaving something out.

    1. …you’re saying it’s okay to just translate the text together without doing any spectacular….
      I need to be really clear that I am not the one to say what is okay or not. I just say what I do here since I can since it is my site and I ain’t making any claims, just wanting to communicate with y’all wonderful and real people about teaching. Big difference. Huge difference.
      My reasoning for not doing a lot of spinning of D in the reading of a novel is purely about time. I used to really get into creating spin off stories and all, and after about five years of that, I realized the kids were, during a reading class, spending a whopping 80% of the time on auditory input.
      Which is the way it works and is fine but I work in a school where the kids are expected to read and write and speak WAY EARLY compared to the amount of time ACTUALLY NEEDED for those things to happen.
      So I just decided to admonish my class that I NEVER WANT TO HEAR the word “boring”, and that we need to get some UNINTERRUPTED READING CI going (i.e. no spins, no pop-ups, or very very few of them) and get that READING FLOW going so that their unconscious minds go about the business of making a movie in their minds (credit: Susan Gross) and letting it all go down that way instead of being Mr. Entertaining Teacher Spin Out A Story Man And Don’t Forget A Side Order Of Pop Up Grammar. Like Jody says below, she never circles in reading, they just translate.
      When I refer in this blog space to R and D, I am increasingly seeing that I mean in readings generated from stories and not novels. I CAN do classic R and D with a novel if I want and am in the mood, but this thing about working in schools and getting the kids to read and write is really pushing my best practices schedule unnaturally forward, like by about three years. Can’t be helped.
      But I had that look last year with Krashen and I could tell where he was on this point and I ain’t ever gonna forget it. The truth is we don’t need to be all about this pushing early reading thing. Unless we dont’ teach in poverty areas. Rich kids? Yeah, they can read. (Carol said that, not me!) So, is Carol Gaab right on that? Remember that thread from two weeks ago? Is this really about poverty? (If you don’t remember that thread then ignore this paragraph – it won’t make any sense.)

      1. can you please expound on this last paragraph about your convo w/Dr. Krashen about reading in the early years? My only experience w/ leveled evaders was last yr. the 4th graders did Brando wants a dog,and it was a revelation to me- so gratifying to wines the. Reading independently and comprehending. I had pretty much covered over 80% of it before we started, then used the fab T guide to ID. Anything I might need to circle

        1. Sorry for interrupted post- I am a huge fan of reading with the elem kids- it’s very guided in grades 1-2 but a lil looser in 3 and that experiment w/ Brandon in 4th was so awesome and affirming for my Ss and for me! This year we’re doing Brandon in 3rd and 4th!,it’s so fab for this age group!

  14. I never “circle” in reading. (I have a lot of reasons for not doing it, but I don’t believe there are any “rules” associated with this one way or the other.) We just translate; I ask a few comprehension questions, and perhaps a grammar pop up if appropriate. We may then act out the paragraph (or chapter) with actors or everyone in small groups if its a good reading for that purpose. Then, we read on.
    I love the parallel story stuff. For me, that always happens after we are done with a chapter. It is a way to “cement”. I go back and find paragraphs with important structures, plot heaviness, or that are just really fun. I have always done these with one actor per every couple of paragraphs who sits in front of the room for her/his interview about the story.
    I interview the student actor by reading a sentence from the paragraph and asking them if that is also true about them. They say “yes”, “no” or sometimes elaborate. I check with the class (often accompanied by the big wink “aside”) about the veracity of the actor’s statement. I even whisper to the actor that I’m going to question whether he’s lying or not to the class–and is that ok? depending on how shy they are. This exchange with the audience often sparks amazing spin-off stories which must always be “approved” by the student actors. Under no circumstances are they permitted to feel ganged up on by the other students. They control where the “parallel story” goes. We move through the paragraph (or two) until the steam runs out. We applaud, and I pick another kid.
    It is a great way to get more reps of structures in the reading, ultra personalize, and since we are repeating the story, it gives the faster processors the opportunities for output they so greatly desire and gives the slower processors one more chance to hear the “original story” and the salient structures I have chosen to highlight. Slower processors often have difficulties holding on to the plot and the details of the story. This is a great reinforcer for them.

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