Support for the Invisibles – 1

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8 thoughts on “Support for the Invisibles – 1”

  1. Megan this is great information and very positive for me and Tina because when the words “just happen” to fit in with thematic unit vocabulary, and when we thus teach for the end of the year and not unit tests, we end up getting much better/deeper gains because the words the kids learned were words that they wanted to learn them. You have supported our theories as many have and with each new email we add fuel to our argument – snarkily initiated by the TPRS people, not Tina and I – against targeting. So thank you Megan for helping Tina and I believe – more and more each day – in promoting our own ideas about what is best for kids in languages and damn the torpedos!

  2. Megan, which students’ jobs did you use or were all the jobs in place already?

    I’m also new to this approach and have tried an OWI in my grade 5 which went very well but I haven’t dared asking a story yet because I still have to find the right students for some of the jobs.

    1. Udo in that class John Becker asked the story and he only used two jobs, the artist (Megan) and a Profe 2. That’s it. I would advise against assigning jobs before the fact but rather let them emerge organically as you ask stories. The stories can be very very short to start. You just want to give the feeling of moving from a one word image, which is a synonym for “class created character” which is what I should have called it way back in 2003 but it’s too late now because they are all calling it an OWI.

      Here is a very long synopsis of the class that may help you get the idea. It’s not so much about the jobs. They emerge later in time. Nothing is pre-planned. One of the driving thoughts of the entire Invisibles approach is no planning. Do we plan our conversations here, or at the dinner table?

      You may need to get a cup of coffee for this. It’s long, The passage is from Tina and my first Bite Size Book, which is a new collection of 30-35 page books about this work that we are offering to teachers because of all the ridiculous confusion and heresay going around about topics like OWI and the internet. One doctorate person on the morelist even said that OWI was not my idea, but has been around for years. So Tina and I are writing these Bite Size Books that teachers can read in a planning period, etc. because, with our combined fifty years in the field, we know about how hard it is to get professional development within our busy schedules:

      Moving from an Image into a Story
      Of course, the purpose of the one word images or the individually created characters is to get a story going. However, remembering that our goal is comprehensible input, whether we get to a story is not important. What matters is creating interesting and hopefully compelling comprehensible input. Whether it takes the form of creating a character in class and stopping or carrying the character into a story doesn’t matter.
      Sometimes the right sequence of questions we use can lead us seamlessly into a story. When that happens, we hardly even notice that we went from an image into and into and through a story.
      Below is a lengthy example, taken from one of our workshops with teachers on the Invisibles, of how a one word image character created by the teachers at the workshop flowed seamlessly into a story. Three of the suburban St. Louis teachers at the workshop teamed up to make it happen in the following way:
      First, a teacher named Monica developed with the class a one word image of a pickle. She did a great job of making the one word image of the pickle interesting via her voice and manner. We all had fun being in on the creative process.
      While that was happening, over in the artist’s chair behind her easel, Megan was following along, busily making the pickle interesting with her artwork. It was a challenge, even with an image as simple as a pickle since, as we know, the artist’s drawings have to be colorful, visually compelling, big so all can see it, simple and with strong, with bold lines.
      As soon as the image of the pickle was created, which took about 15 minutes, we turned the easel around and looked at Megan’s pickle drawing. This was the “Great Reveal” after Monica had finished building the image with the class, We all clearly loved it. The room was aglow with a kind of energy one rarely finds in schools. Megan had drawn the pickle according to the requirements listed about, and in the process had given it personality.
      It should therefore be said that those teachers who are working with artists to do one word images in their classrooms are strenuously advised to find an artist who can make the image activity “speak” to the hearts of the students in the class. Without a sufficiently talented artist, this work can fail. Who can get excited about an image that is drawn without care, some stick figure?
      And yet, when you first begin auditions for the job of the artist each year, you will see students who hand you scribbled out figures because don’t take school seriously anymore. Everything to them is just one big never ending assignment. The one word image process changes that. When students see that the job is real, and requires real work, the tone is set for the hiring of the other 13 possible student jobs in the overall Invisibles storytelling process.
      Back to the creation of the image. The four questions that Monica had asked to make the image compelling were: (1) big or small (our pickle was big); (2) what color (our pickle was green); (3) big or small face (ours was regular sized and happened to be on the lower backside of the pickle, and; (4) sad or happy (our pickle was sad.) Note that sad is a very good emotion for OWI drawings because kids love to then make the character happy in the Invisibles story that follows the One Word Image process. This going from being sad in the one word image to being happy at the end of the resultant story is exactly what happened with our pickle.
      So, upon the “Great Reveal”, we all gave a round of applause amidst a lot of positive comments from the group and Monica took that opportunity to discuss the pickle even more, Megan reveled in her triumph. It was a great one word image and everyone was happy to have a new Invisible character as a member of the class. It was destined to go into the class “gallery” on the back of the wall, ready for possible inclusion in a future Invisibles story, but not before Spanish teacher John Becker then got up and said that he was going to try to make an Invisibles story based on the pickle. It was a good decision.
      Now this requires a bit of explanation here. At that point in the workshop John could have done a fresh one word image or he could have done some Story Listening (a major focus of our workshops) or he could have just started a story with one of the individually created characters that we had created earlier in the workshop that were now in the gallery on the back of the wall. But the energy with the pickle was so good that John made the right decision to try to turn Monica and Megan’s one word image of the pickle, who had not been named yet at that point, into a story.
      As an aside, to be clear (and this is a very important point for those now using Invisibles because there is confusion on this point): we can create an Invisibles story from (1) a class created image (one word image), or (2) or from an individually created character – a character drawn at home or in another class by a student. In our St. Louis workshop we worked from a one word image (class created), but had the students been real students in a real classroom, it often happens that we use individually created characters.
      It is a big deal when an individually created character gets chosen for an Invisibles story, and the child who created it beams with pride and then in a very focused manner answers all the questions we ask about the image. (The questions are based on the prompts the students provide on the back page of the character.)
      The first thing that John did to then start the story was to move Megan’s drawing from the easel to the middle of the white board, where it could now turn into a story, front and center. Megan busily set herself up at her easel to make a panel drawing of the story. She ended up with three panels in the story when it was finished. It turned out to be the right amount of panels for the amount of time it took John to create the story.
      When John got up there next to the character it immediately became clear to our coaching group that we were watching a superstar in action, with a beautiful Spanish accent and perfect pacing and wonderful command over gesturing and, on top of that, a sense of mirth and mystery about him. How could John’s story be boring when those kinds of ingredients went directly into the pickle soup? (Note: there will soon be a Bite Size Book like this one on how to use our bodies and voices to work with building Invisibles. It will be called )
      Here is what John did with the one word image:
      1. He stood at the front of the room with a sense of confidence and excitement about what the class had created together up to that point. He gave Megan a nice glance of appreciation, which was reciprocated.
      2. He looked at the pickle and then he looked at us.
      3. Naturally, we all smiled because we loved our pickle. There was a happy feeling of anticipation in the room because we knew that now together we were about to do expansive and creative work with an image that we already loved. We knew that we were going to use our imaginations with no limits as to what we could do.
      We knew that we could trust John to keep all of us in the loop about what was happening. John has been doing stories for a long time and it showed. There is nothing like being in a class and understanding everything. It beats walking out of class feeling thoroughly confused about the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns, which translates into feeling stupid about one’s ability in languages.
      Nothing about what we were about to do was going to be predictable, reductive or boring, nor was it going to be related to some list that Monica needed to teach us, such as words from high frequency lists, thematic unit words, words from a textbook, or words pulled to backwards plan for the reading of a novel). We were going to have a conversation, and we weren’t going to be directed down a certain pathway about what it was going to be!
      The characteristics of a conversation are: 1. It has a familiar nature (i.e. people who converse are familiar with each other); 2. It is improvised (i.e. not forced – made up as it goes along); 3. It is free (i.e. not limited in scope to any predetermined idea or scripted text); 4. It has pleasure as its goal (i.e. we enjoy the conversation first and foremost); 5. It is made up of a linguistic fabric (i.e. the target language for us); 6. It guarantees a person’s membership in the group. (We cannot hope to teach a language when there is no community present. For the authors this specifically means that the students have jobs and we talk about things that the students – not the textbook – have created and therefore have ownership of).
      4. What John was doing, then, was consistent with what language is. Our conversation was unpredictable and expansive, with no agenda except to align with the national overriding standard of Communication by using the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication, in particular the Interpersonal Skills mode, while aligning with the ACTF 90% use position statement. Imagine that – a curriculum not tied to a list of words somewhere, or a textbook, but rather one aligned with how languages are actually learned – via real comprehensible input – and with the research.
      This freedom, because the overarching goal is always – or should be – communication – allowed us, under John’s guidance, to enjoy a kind of egalitarian human quality of reciprocal and participatory heart centered sharing where the person with the degree in the classroom got to drive us in the direction of some kind of agenda.
      Since I had done that kind of reductive teaching myself as a teacher for almost four decades, I felt very happy to learn more about our pickle, about the grand adventure he was about to have, with no agenda or requirement to make me nervous, to say something cute, because as a student if I didn’t measure up since II couldn’t follow along with the five to seven people in the classroom who process language faster than I do.
      In light of the previous paragraph, after the story, I pointedly asked John if all the language he had used had emerged during the story and he said yes. He told me that he experienced less stress when he didn’t have to focus on certain words when building the story. He agreed with me that the fun of the story, its richness, its cuteness, etc. all happened because Tina and I had made it clear in the workshop that he was free to go wherever he wanted during the story creation process. We told the teachers that they were there to teach the language, not parts of it.
      5. So, looking at the pickle there in front of the class, John started asking questions in very crisp fashion using very “light circling” (credit: Tina Harden). Light circling can be defined as just touching on a word with a few repetitions to help the students understand the story.
      6. John’s first question was “Class, what is the pickle’s name?” (Pepe) The question had not been asked by Monica, because we had wanted her, as a beginner with one word images, to ask only the four questions mentioned above of size, color, size of face, and emotion.
      7. At this point, with sufficient – not too many and not too few – facts inherited from Monica, having only asked the pickle’s name, John ramped everything up by asking the power question that is Invisibles Story Questioning Level 3: “Class, where is the pickle?” Why is it a power question? Because whenever we ask “where” in a story, we feel the interest in the story ramp up. It happens as well with the other power question (asked in QL4): “with whom”.
      8. John immediately got three quick suggestions: on the beach, in a jar, and in Los Angeles. So, happy to be learning Spanish is such a fun way, I put those three ideas together in my mind and suggested to John that Pepe was in a jar on a beach in Los Angeles. John immediately lit up and smiled and said, “Correct, Ben, it’s obvious! The pickle is in a jar on a beach in Los Angeles!” I felt so good that I could contribute to the class. John made me feel happy about being in his class. At that point,we were in vintage Blaine Ray storytelling mode, and there wasn’t a target to be seen for miles.
      9. Note carefully that by asking only two questions (the pickle’s name and where it was), John had gotten a story cooking with gas in less than a minute from the time he stood up. Why is this important? It is because the students need and want closure within one class period about what happens in a story. They don’t like it when the story doesn’t finish in one period, so quickly getting all the way up to QL3 (of 7 levels) in the Invisibles protocol by asking only a few questions guaranteed a short and snappy story, well under the 25 minute window that we were looking for in our training session there in St. Louis.
      10. John now asked for possible answers to Questioning Level 4, “With whom is the pickle?” (The power questions of “where” and “with whom” were proving their great value once again in yet another story.) The answer John went with was “with Tina the Toaster”. Of course, other things had been suggested but I could see that John chose the toaster because he was thinking ahead that if the pickle was going to get to go swimming the jar would have to be broken so that is why John took the answer of Tina the Toaster – an object made of metal – and not some soft object.
      (“Tina” was a one word image that had been created the previous day in this workshop by another teacher, so two more people in the class were brought into the group as valuable members because one had created the image of the toaster and one had drawn it. As soon as the toaster was allowed into the story, they themselves became part of it. In this way we build community in our classrooms.)
      11. So then at that point all John had to do was ask what happened next (Questioning Level 6 is resolving the problem, or not. In this case, the class all agreed that Tina broke the jar with her fists – Megan had given Tina two small fists coming out of each side of the toaster, so later when we did the Great Reveal of Megan’s artwork, tthere was this toaster with a determined look on its face in the second panel hitting the jar. Then in the third panel the jar had been successfully broken and Pepe was heading – kind of bouncing – happily for the water on his little pickle legs). John had started and ended the entire story in around 17 minutes, which is an accurate measurement because I was timing it.
      12. For those curious, the next questioning level (7) in this Invisibles process, which we didn’t have time to do, would have been the filming of the “final product” video, just a short (5 to 7 minute) repeat/re-enactment of the story put on film for the archivist and documentary filmmaker to use for the end of year projects described in the Invisibles book (A Natural Approach to Stories, by Ben and distributed by Teacher’s Discovery).
      We all thought it was a great story. Short, snappy, fun, great art work, a clever problem with a clever ending. We all had a good time and the experience brought us more together as a group. (And now there is a Facebook group called “CI Liftoff – St. Louis”, if anyone in Missouri wants to join.)

  3. Julie Quenneville

    Wow, this is fantastic information. I am excited to use these ideas tomorrow! Just to recap, is L1 questioning figuring out the name, L2 size thru emotion, L3 its location, L4 whom it’s with, L5 the problem, and L6 the problem resolved or not?

    I think I’m getting this…

    1. This is a very lengthy response taken from the book on the questioning levels:

      Level of Questioning 1 – The Town Meeting
      After the SSR reading time, the town meeting happens. It is the rst level of the questioning process that is so important to getting us through our story in an e cient, focused and ordered fashion.
      During the town meeting, rst, I review, in English, the jobs that the kids will be doing that day. It is a check-in period. The town meeting brings a certain sense of relaxed and friendly anticipation into the classroom. It’s a time to set things up. This is when we cleverly prepare the ground for the story.
      The town meeting is a pleasant time. We haven’t seen each other for a day or two, and so, as colleagues often do,
      we check in with each other before getting to work. The students see a relaxed and happy teacher, no matter how we feel inside that day.
      We can’t just barrel our way into stories. The experience for the children when all of a sudden an adult is speaking to them in a foreign language is a spiked a ective lter.
      In my experience at least, because of the fact that their rst language brings comfort and ease to my students, it is best if they rst connect with me in L1 so that they can relax into L2 for the bulk of the class session.
      To start the town meeting, I quickly go around the room and inquire about what is going on with my students that day. I feel things out, checking in on happenings in their lives outside of French class, or maybe just making eye contact and o ering a smile of recognition.
      However, this all happens very quickly. It is just a little time to set the tone for the day. The underlying message is that we like each other. Building connections and trust is well worth the short time it takes away from L2 input that day. Connecting and focusing on kids’ emotional safety is our #1 job in schools, not teaching the subject matter.
      Using L1 in the Town Meeting makes our time in the language much smoother and more productive. The L1 used at the beginning of class is like putting savings in a
      bank. We withdraw larger dividends of L2 because of this L1 investment now.
      I also ask those employed how their jobs are going, and if they are happy with their jobs or if they want a change, etc. They always share important things on this topic, allowing the teacher to keep tabs on what is happening in this important area.
      This daily ritual also subtly reminds the students that they need to show up in class that day as more than a passive observer of the story creation process, but as an active participant. It is an invitation to the dance. It is conscious group oriented goal setting at its best.
      Students are not used to being needed in a classroom, but in an instant, with the town meeting, attitudes change as the kids are reminded that they are needed and important for the class process that day and every day.
      Students want so much to be of use and feel as if they are
      a valuable and contributing part of the community. In the town meeting we thus meet our ancient human needs to be a part of community. Then the academic part follows.
      The town meeting is conducted in English because we need to make it clear in every class we teach that what we will be doing that day rst and foremost is connecting with our kids. It is a kind of warm up into real communication with them later.
      There is one very important task to accomplish during
      this time. It is during the town meeting that we choose the story’s main character. Since we are in English at this time, it is easy.
      As explained earlier, we can either choose a recent One Word Image, perhaps one that we did just the day before or even that same day if it is a block class. We can also always use an Invisible that was created by one person out of class or by a team of two students in class, as described earlier.
      As stated earlier in this book but very much worthy of being repeated is the admonition to only accept main characters which have been developed physically but also psychologically—having been given an emotion and a reason for that emotion when the drawing was originally created. We will need the reason for the emotion later, when we create the problem for the story.
      On certain days, we may decide to do a story about a character from a story earlier in the year whom we miss. If he or she is on the back of the wall in the class gallery, it is easy to have that image in our hands in a matter of seconds.
      The right character emerges during the town meeting.
      I carefully avoid promising to a child beforehand that
      her character will be used that day. If a child has been promised that her character will be used that day, the story
      is usually at because it wasn’t a group decision.
      However, if the town meeting, which remember should only last a few minutes, drags out, then I make the decision. There is no voting. I just know. I’m the one who has to propel the story forward anyway, so it helps if I like the character better than anyone else.
      During these important few minutes to start class, community-building is happening. The kids are having
      fun and the instructor is getting to know her students in a way that rarely happens when the message is sent from the teacher that the curriculum is more important than they are.
      Once the meeting is over, it’s almost as if we are a ight crew of an airplane bustling about getting ready to take o . People move to their respective job hub and, with the Assistant to the Videographer’s hand held high or wrapped around a clapboard so that the class knows that lming is about to begin, the story starts.
      The recommended amount of time to spend on the town meeting is 2-5 minutes.
      Level of Questioning 2 – Who: Review and Add Information About the Character
      During the town meeting, the teacher and the students have spent time together in English, and a character for that day has been chosen. Now, in the second level of questioning, we review and add facts about our character.
      With the drawing in front of us, we of course get excellent repetitions on details that were established when the image was created. But we also add a few new ones.
      An important detail to discuss from the character’s backstory or add at this point if it is not already speci ed is what the character’s job/profession might be. Knowing the character’s job often makes the problem easier to establish, especially when combined with the psychological pro le that has been supplied early on by the character’s creator. Plus, kids love jobs. It gives a “real-world” feel to the story.
      The recommended amount of time to spend reviewing and adding information to the character chosen for the story that day is 5-10 minutes.
      Level of Questioning 3 – Where
      Having established details about the character, we are ready to move on to the character’s setting. Where does our
      story start? This is a powerful question. Asking “where” anchors the character rmly in place.
      Making the location as speci c as possible aids the students’ imaginations and helps build a stronger movie in their minds. So we ask questions about exactly where in France, exactly where in Paris, exactly where in the Ei el Tower, exactly where in the restaurant on the second level of the tower. The more we tie down the location, the more we can imagine.
      We now have a character and a starting point. The actor portraying the character should be brought up with a round of applause to the stool to your left by the end of this point in the questioning sequence.
      The recommended amount of time to spend deciding on where the character is going to start out the story is 1-2 minutes.
      Level of Questioning 4 – With Whom
      Whether the creature is alone or not depends entirely on the feel of the story. I usually prefer bringing in another character. New arrivals are often from the class gallery of characters.
      Sometimes, the students want to bring in the additional tdslavicnatapprbook172203 145
      A Natural Approach to Stories
      character from another class, causing a very high level of excitement and no small amount of confusion, which is good because it requires us to negotiate meaning, which de nes what we should be doing in a language class.
      Trying to avoid the “too much information” quicksand, we add only a few details about this second character. Then we then move quickly on to Questioning Level 5.
      The recommended amount of time to spend deciding on who the character is going to be with in the story is 1-2 minutes.
      Level of Questioning 5 – Creation of the Problem
      At this point we should expect to be about ten to twelve minutes into the story creation process. We don’t want to be more than fteen minutes in at this point. It’s the perfect time for the problem. How to create it?
      First, we know that part of the (or in some cases the entire) problem was handed to us when the student who created the character also provided us with an emotion and the reason for the emotion as in the examples:
      1. A winter cap hated summer because he knows he won’t be used. A cap dreads feeling useless.
      tdslavicnatapprbook172203 146
      The Seven-Level Questioning Sequence
      2. A jar of jam that wanted to propose to a jar of peanut butter but didn’t know how. A jar of jam doesn’t know how to express her wants to others.
      At this point, if we want, we can just use the information we already have to send the character(s) o to the next location to solve or not solve the problem. This is easy. By thus creating a character in the beginning who has both
      a physical and psychological pro le, we really don’t need to worry about what the problem is—we already have the makings of one.
      Of course, from the beginning of the Town Meeting up to this fth level of questioning, other information may have been added to the growing narrative so that the instructor must keep in mind when deciding with the class what the very best problem would be. As usual, decisions such as these are completely up to the instructor and the students.
      It is best to keep an open mind and hold the possibility
      of a problem in mind, while remaining responsive to the students’ ideas or your own inspiration. This exibility and freshness is exactly what makes non-targeted storytelling so entertaining!

        1. Julie my main go-to move with the Invisibles, personally, is not with one word images, which were an add-on six months after my original work with them. I prefer the individually-created characters’ information on the back of the drawing about their problem, fear and secret. One of those things always speaks to me, either before the class or during it. I can’t describe the feeling of happiness when I know a kid has drawn a really attractive character with nice colors, nice feel to it, etc. and when they also made the effort to create a cohesive character on the back of the page to go with the attractive drawing. I love working with well-thought out individually created characters. It’s the mostest!

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