Tense Usage

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60 thoughts on “Tense Usage”

  1. I am of two minds about this also. When I started c.i., I used all tense forms but what I got was consistently a mess. The kids simply couldn’t tell present from past. This might have had to do with not enough circling, pop-ups, etc. This year I am using Adriana’s book and the first 8 stories are present tense, next 6 fulll mixture.
    So far, I am getting WAY better Spanish from beginners but again I am not sure if it’s because this program is forcing me into a really vocab-sheltered system (more reps on less stuff) or if it’s because the grammar is simpler. Adriana started out full mix a la Dziedzic but has now simplified to present-then-past because in her experience it works better.
    I am thinking of rewriting her book to full mix, now that I have seen how to really restrict the vocab and add extended readings to it. One would go a LOT more slowly since one would be asking actors in one tense and class in another…and then there would be the problem of what do do in stories where the characters are talking in past tense…

  2. I no longer do any pre-story PQA (cwb,owi etc). All PQA this year has been done in stories. Basically, all I do is ask the superstars the same questions I ask the actors.
    Next sem when I have a split, I think I’ll modify Adriana’s stories and basically I’ll do the following:
    — narrate in past tenses
    — PQA and question actors in present tense
    — Throw in a mix of present and past tense (or whatever) dialogue into stories
    — do more reading in various tenses
    — do WAY more pop/ups

    1. I ask the story in past tense and we read the story in past tense. Most PQA during the asking of the story happen in the present tense, because that feels most natural and is normally what’s required by the meaning. Remember, too, that I get lots of present tense in the readings because most dialogue in the readings is in the present.
      So past most places with present mixed in mostly in dialogue. I teach Latin, though, and the past is the vast majority of what we see.

  3. Characters always talk in the present when it’s a quote, of course.
    I write the structures on the board in the present. I start the PQA in the present but sometimes the verbs don’t lend themselves to that. It’s intuitive. Again, no rules. But personally I want them to see the verbs in the present on the board, then I say what they mean, do PQA in either tense, whichever feels natural, and at that magic moment when I know it’s time for the PQA to become a story, I very clear indicate to the kids that it is time for a story by 1) getting up an actor, and 2) start throwing my thumb over my right shoulder every time I use a verb, while sometimes touching the verb behind me with my other hand and then maybe writing the verb I just used in the past and saying both. I know that made a ton of sense. What’s weird is that they understand just fine which verb I am changing up on them whether I point to it or not. All the words around the verb support their meaning. That sets the stage for me in the story to hammer the past tense verb during the story and since they are not focused on the structure of the verb, only its meaning, they absorb present, past and imperfect forms and then that night when they sleep all that complexity is organized by the deeper mind. Then when we do the reading in the present the next day it’s all cakey to them. After a while they can comprehend in either tense while listening or reading. As long as they get enough input. We focus so much on teaching technique details. Too much. Just speak to them in whatever tense you like. It’s not how you teach, it’s how much you speak in the TL. If I went back in a classroom it would be with the intent to never speak English. It messes them up. Long answer to a short question.
    Related:
    https://benslavic.com/blog/transitioning-from-pqa-into-a-story/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/not-too-many-details-please/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/presentpast-question/

  4. But they don’t always talk in present. E.g. story where a Mom busts her kid for skipping school: “where *did you go*?” Or Johnny sneaks out at night to go to the library but his Dad thinks he’s seeing his GF: “what did you do last night?”

  5. Yes, and thanks for clarifying that Chris. The whole thing about all of it is that we use the tense we would normally use. For me, that means that I do a story in the past because when we tell stories they are usually over. Yeah, direct quotes could contain any tense. Readings work great in the present. I think we do it all differently. That’s what’s great about this approach.

  6. I mix tenses most of the time. I’m not very good at being structured. I’m better at teaching mixed classes. Because I always have a mix, I sometimes remember to re-tell from perspective. We put the story on the board in whichever tense it is. Then I ask the “upper level” kids to switch tenses. We write in the changes. I ask the “upper level” to read with the changes, then erase the changes and they do it again. Finally, I ask who wants to retell from perspective without reading; I point to the board behind the teller to emphasize the changes s/he is making. I keep saying “upper level,” while sending awed looks to the lower level kids who are right in the bunch with the upper level. The upper level kids have to work hard to prove they are still on top.
    All this has to happen after the story is completely solid in everyone’s minds though. We’ve asked it, acted it, small-group acted, created tableaus, drawn it, read the original in varied voices, captioned pictures, picked the most important statements, tweaked it…and everything else I can think of to wring more out of one story.
    Speaking of stories…a great one right now is Max and the Schnauzer (old Car Talk show). My classes are all working through a retelling of this. When we’re done, I’ll play them the story in English.
    It’s in the http://www.cartalk.com/content/0829-max-and-schnauzer
    An old woman hits a car salesman who doesn’t look to the left as he rides his bike off the lot where she originally bought her car. The boss sees and offers to repair her bumper, since he knows she’s not at fault. She goes off to shop while the repair is happening, and comes back after the shop is locked up. She panics, because she’s left her dog in the car. The boss goes to get her car out and finds a dead dog. He makes an excuse and goes to get a replacement dog. When the woman gets her car, she is irate. “That’s not my dog! My dog was dead.”
    We are having a fun time with this, but it’s taken two days in one intermediate/advanced class to get through just the first sentence. Might be a while.
    The site is a paid one, but I got mine on a podcast through my cell phone and downloaded it (I hope). #1542 is the podcast number.

  7. Thanks for all of the answers! This is my first year with this and I guess that the biggest struggle is my first year group. I teach one section and the half time teacher teaches the other three sections. I have all of the upper levels, so I will have all of these students in Spanish 2 next year. I feel like I should stay in present tense with my section of Spanish 1 because the other teacher is teaching his classes traditionally. Then I can crank up the tenses next year with all of them.
    But after I have read your responses, I think I am understanding it a little better. If I do a lot of the spoken parts in past or whatever fits, it seems that they will see the present tense most of the time in the readings and on the board. It’s hard to get over the fear that the conjugation police are coming for me!

  8. Susan Gross once told us how when Grandma sends Jimmy back to his parents after a nice weekend with her and Grandpa, she doesn’t lean down and say, “Jimmy I am so happy you are able to spend the weekend with us! We have a good time! Do you enjoy yourself?” She uses correct grammar and Jimmy understands and that is how he learns to speak correctly himself, by hearing correct spoken speech (i.e. grammar) all the time, not sheltered.

  9. Acquisition of tense probably happens late. If true, then this is incompatible with schools – too much emphasis too early on accuracy. I am not talking about acquisition of a few words in the past tense. I’m talking about that feeling for tenses that when hearing a new word, the ending alone is enough (not context) to accurately comprehend. Or when speaking with a new word in a never before heard tense, it just happens, and it happens without thinking of a rule.
    I was not taught with a CI-based approach, but I do recall that hearing verb endings was one of the last things I could perceive in authentic (regular pace) speech. Thing is, tenses often don’t hinder comprehension, since you can figure out the tense by other means, rather then have to know the correct inflection. Which would you prefer: a student who can get his tenses right with a limited vocabulary OR a student who confuses tenses but knows a lot more verbs? The latter is the kid who comprehends and produces more language, albeit less accurately.

    1. That’s precisely my take on it Eric. And Katie, the conjugation police are out there as we all know, but they’re super lame and not to be taken too seriously.
      I usually ask my kids when they (one or two type A students) are fretting because they aren’t picking up the verb conjugations instantly, if they’ll have any problem understanding this utterance, “my friend buy a car yesterday”. Both subject/verb agreement AND tense are incorrect. But the speaker is completely understood. If only they had paused and went through their conscious mental verb bank to come up with the correct form!! (if they even know the correct form). Yeah right, few enjoy talking to someone who belabors their speech in favor of perfection so much.
      I would love to get 4 years with the same group some time in my career… just to see what happens naturally with grammar acquisition in a CI environment over those 4 years, with my own eyes.

      1. ^ this brings up a super-interesting point. Sure, “my friend buy a car yesterday” works. But if kids hear it in class it’s bad input for other kids (one of the problems with communicative teaching). The main issue is that they are getting
        A) a slightly ambiguous message
        B) bad grammar
        If we buy modern research, which is basically that the brain collects a ton of data, runs it through the parser and the U.G., it seems to follow that we should *not* be presenting “bad input” (i.e. Student-generated) in class very much, or at all. While research shows that some errors are interlanguage (i.e. the language-learning brain will “screw up” partly because of its own internal mechanisms, “software,” etc, and not purely because of input errors), we are majorly slowing good acquisition by presenting junky output as input.
        My experience this year is that I am getting MUCH more accurate output because of major vocab restrictions and way more reps on the vocab. Blaine’s method– using multiple characters in similar situations with similar dialogue and vocab– provides so many reps that acquisition is much more accurate. Plus, he suggests with actors (and class) that if you don’t get an accurate, fast response, they don’t really have it yet, so go back.
        When I talked to him last year, he told me about early days with TPRS and how Krashen initally advised him– in the absence of much research– to do 75% c.i. and 25% grammar. So he did that and then he said “at the end of the year, the kids were still writing “Yo quiero voy a Disneyland” (“I want I go to Disneyland”) so I ditched the grammar work [outside of pop-ups] altogether.” When he did, his results went up obviously BUT he was quite insistent that you stay on things until you get perfect output. This year he told us that with his grade 9s he spent 2 periods on “algunas casas” (“certain houses”) because the kids hadn’t mastered “algunas.”
        Anyway, what I took from this is that if we are doing multiple tenses (and I will be detailing my experiences as of Feb 11) we should
        A) not settle for bad (wrong, or ambigious) output
        B) re-use the vocab constantly
        C) do a LOT of pop-ups/comp checks to make sure they get the diff between tenses (or whatever)
        It seems like a bandwidth/bottleneck problem: you are inputting more stuff– grammar points– with more tenses so you have to slow down.

        1. Chris, the example of the bad English sentence is simply to illustrate that we can communicate our intended messages just fine without having our conjugations down pat. Not student-student communication. I completely agree that the less “bad input” that students get, the better. Why would one purposely present incorrect language to students?
          Re mixing up the tenses, I’m not sure what Michele meant, but what I intended to concur with is that I don’t stick to the fixed structure of past for oral stories and present for reading, but rather do what feels more right in the moment. I have found this puts less pressure on me to fall into an arbitrary pattern, not that I think the pattern is ill-advised, but it is certainly arbitrary.
          I’m not sure if I understand your point about correct student output, so excuse me if I misinterpret, but I don’t agree that we should shelter teacher talk insofar as the students cannot reproduce the utilized grammar/tense/conjugation correctly themselves. I tend to trust in “the net”, with (transparent) comprehension of my messages as the first name of the game. I look forward to reading your experiences with this Chris!

          1. I think what I meant is, if it comes out of the teacher’s mouth, it has to be
            A) 100% comprehensible
            B) part of either the current or a previous story.
            I agree with Krashen et al and nontargeted c.i. but the prob is, we don’t have enough time to build complete acquisition of a ton of items. In my case I get the kids for 2 years and I want them to have solid basic fluency (500-600 items plus grammar). I found that in my first 2 years of freewheelin’ I got a massive variety of ok spanish. Now that I am way more restricted (less vocab and much more repetition) I am getting better output and a lot more of it.
            So basically if it gets said, it has to be– or have been– read. If we give the kids a small amount of rock-solid good c.i. we will allow their brains to operate more easily on tense endings, adj agreement etc etc because there will be fewer things to focus on (hence more focus for each thing). Thinking aloud here.

          2. You’re swaying me on this point Eric. As you know, all I want to do is leave it to natural pacing and natural emergence but when I realized years ago that we don’t have the instructional minutes that we need, I have been in a kind of quandary on this point. You express it so well above.
            I’ve been talking with Zach Zaitlin about this. Do we absolutely need a pacing guide to direct us? Must we try to limit our teaching to those 500 items? Thinking about using a pacing guide makes my socks roll up and down because I instantly feel the potential loss of spontaneity in the story. But you sure make a good point.
            (I especially like: “If it gets said, it has to have been read.”)

          3. I question using top 100 or 500 or 1000 lists, too. I know my four year old son acquired the word “train” really really early. I don’t know where it is on any list, but I bet he would have missed out if I had intently focused on words above it.

          4. James, my son’s first Spanish word was “zapatos”, not in the top 1000 but not too far out. Same thing with “train”, at least in Spanish. Sometimes our scope needs to allow for nouns and verbs that really interest our kids, because for them they probably ARE high-frequency. One of my students I know could not live without the word “bacon” in Spanish, and the class eats it up too (literally and figuratively), but it’s not even in the top 5000. I’m guessing most of us do the same things for some classroom objects and such. I ask why shelter such high-interest words when it brings them closer to the other 99% of high-frequency language we want them to acquire, not to mention the grammar? Though I’m not sure anyone here would argue this point.

          5. High-frequency + high-interest. High-frequency to the kids. In other words, personalize – give them the words they want to express (organic). Bet they’ll stick a lot more that way. E.g. rather than have it planned when to teach “grandmother,” within a year’s worth of target language interaction with your students, that word is bound to come up. And if a word on a list doesn’t come up, then it is for good reason.
            Beyond the highest of the high-frequency words (e.g. beyond the 100 highest frequency words), the bang for the buck of a word of frequency 200 is not that much greater than the word with frequency 1000.
            Schools seem worried that the same vocabulary needs to be covered in every level. What makes one set of vocabulary better than another? Regardless, kids are going to master different words from each set and thus have different vocabularies, so why does it matter that every level 1 teacher try to teach the same vocabulary?
            taught vs acquired. It’s what is “acquired” that counts.
            Students with different vocabularies would enhance a class, since then they provide new input to their peers. And if you were to target some words that some students have better acquired, then there’s surely some other language aspect they would be acquiring (e.g. syntax, morphology, etc.) How unnatural it is to try to get all students to acquire the same sets of words! Can you imagine how ridiculous that would be if we took that approach to L1 acquisition?!
            As long as everyone is using guidelines to assess acquisition (spontaneous/automatic/unmonitored tasks), why should it matter what words are being assessed? There are no vocabularies that are labeled “Novice-Low words,” “Novice-Mid words,” etc.

          6. Jim and Eric are both on the money. “Cat” is not in top 100 but great word for story (Blaine starts there). “To fight” mot in top 1000 but high interest for boys etc.
            The point of the frequency list (for me) is to get me to *think about what really matters*. E.g. we simply do not need to obsess over #s, time, date, weather, greetings, goodbyes, etc (the way every 1st year text does) because these are low-frequency and can be taught as background.
            Obvs we will all use non-top-1000 words– we have to; we are in classes,nnot the real world with 1000s of hours of c.i. avail to all comers– but the frequency lists give much-needed perspective.

          7. To piggyback and change the subject somewhat…
            “Students with different vocabularies would enhance a class, since then they provide new input to their peers. And if you were to target some words that some students have better acquired, then there’s surely some other language aspect they would be acquiring (e.g. syntax, morphology, etc.)”
            This reason Eric, along with my school’s tiny student population and block scheduling (therefore greatly limiting the options of classes for kids to take) makes me very eager to learn more about multi-level classes. I hope someone writes a primer on this. Gerry Wass of Missouri seems to be really flourishing with this approach (and I think he’s doing 1-4 multis).

          8. Chris, it sounds like you’re floating toward the Susan Gross adage “shelter vocabulary, not grammar”. If this is what you mean, I am right there with you.
            I commend the effort to focus only on stories (if I understand you right). I used to do this my first couple years (along with lots more pop-ups), and I found that interest went down mainly because novelty wore off. But maybe I didn’t do it right. And perhaps a different teacher personality will allow this to work.
            I personally thrive on the opportunity for ample PQA (not necessarily story related), floating back and forth from present and past if called for (for year 1, then start using conditional a bit in year 2). One thing I learned from an enthusiastic Year 1 class this year is that I want to do a better job from the get-go of denying “How do you say ___?” requests and stressing the skill of circumlocation. At first I felt like a jerk doing it, but I’m getting more comfortable doing it justifiably. (They can get a dictionary after class if they’re that curious!) If it’s REALLY important to them or the class, I’ll stop and ask them what they wanted to say, and then we’ll all figure out together ways to say that idea using words they know.
            There certainly is something to say for mastering a small amount of language versus kinda being good with a bunch. I’m not sure we’re disagreeing on much if anything here. We’ll have a better idea after you publish that post of yours.

          9. I could see clearly a long time ago that when they ask how to say something they don’t care. They are only drawing attention to themselves. Plus, how is it going to help them to hear it once? They need the reps. They also need to be able to say other things to form a contextual fabric around the word they want to know how to say, but they can’t do that yet. I certainly hope that everyone reading here stops allowing kids to ask how to say things. It is a ploy. They don’t really want to know.

          10. ^ not necessarily ^ but good point (this was my first-year-with-tprs flaw: way too much vocab added in). The problem is that for everything we add we get fewer reps per thing. There is definitely declining marginal utility on added vocB.

          11. Maybe another responsibility to add to the “A Good Teacher Will…” poster:
            -regulate the amount of new vocabulary introduced during class
            (kinda follows the “stay in bounds” line, but goes beyond that)

          12. “If we give the kids a small amount of rock-solid good c.i. we will allow their brains to operate more easily on tense endings, adj agreement etc etc because there will be fewer things to focus on (hence more focus for each thing).”
            Bingo. And of course I’m sure you mean “small SCOPE of rock-solid good c.i.”. The master TPRS skill is allowing for novel ways and scenarios to naturally recycle these high-frequency words (I shoot for staying within the top 1000 in my two years, knowing that I surely won’t try to teach them all but gives me a comfy yet strict allowance). I think that skill is way more intuitive than most imagine once we let go of the “cover and conquer” attitude toward language teaching.

          13. Chris said: “So basically if it gets said, it has to be– or have been– read.”
            I started only recently to have my story writer also jot down everything from PQA sessions, which later get read together with the class.

        2. Two periods on “algunas casas” is a good way to define slow.
          RE tense use, I am finding that students have taken an interest in clarifying whether so-and-so “is here today, but was not here yesterday” or “is not here today, but was here yesterday.” I just happened to point that out one day, laser-pointing “está” and “estuvo.” They were onto it the next day.

  10. I have a split class of level 1s and 2s starting feb 6 or so. The beginners know nothing and the 2nd years have had free-form, all-tense TPRS. I have a plan in mind and I’ll be blogging how it goes.
    Jim do you have an email adrress for Garry Wass, th guy with the split classes?
    Chris

  11. Somewhere on this blog (!) I have shared that I also teach mixed classes. Garry and I have talked, and I think it felt as though we were on the same page. He’s better at verbalizing what he does than I am.
    Last year, I had mixed 1-2 and mixed 2-AP classes. This year, I have only one level 2 in the level 1 class, but the other two classes are 2-AP and 2-3/4. Someone complained that my mixing classes gave parents the expectation that every teacher would do it, and they gave most of my upper-level kids to the immersion teacher for her 11th-grade class. I think I’ve told this group about that.
    Still, it’s my strong belief that mixed classes are no harder to teach than is talking with your own children at different levels. You ask different kinds of questions of kids with different abilities. I find that my level one kids are at different places pretty soon in the first semester. Even if they’re all at one level, their specific skills vary. One is a better actor, another the class artist, and a third is a great mimic. The next one learns to read faster and another one turns out beautifully written story. I have a kid right now whose accent is to die for, but he’s got no Russian background, and the rest of his abilities are very low because he has been making bad choices in how he spends time and money…
    I don’t do great units or projects because those take planning that I can’t then re-use until the current crop of kids has gone through the system. But my kids do annually repeat information about geography and major cities and souvenirs and cultural icons, and they get a little more into how to apply that information to their lives each year. Usually we have a story or song focus going, and all the groups get the same basic stuff, with certain kids getting to read farther or do more discussion. I absolutely agree about limiting chances for incorrect input, but also remember that my kids did not learn poor grammar from siblings or from their friends; somehow, the major grammar they got was from us.
    What I find is that the more advanced kids pick up the grammar and topic information because they aren’t focusing on the meaning of the vocabulary (as has been said above). The repetition burns the structures into their brains, and they are able to think on a different level about the information.
    How many words do we “get” through? I rotate through only about 200 structures (individual words or chunks of words) over four years. I do add prefixes and suffixes of all types, helping kids hear roots a lot, but still there are only about 200 main structures on my list.

    1. Great information, Michele. Your comments about what you have as same /different for the different levels of experience. Also, your comments about number of structures in 4 years…200.

    2. Michele, I think I knew that you did split classes and I must have forgotten. We’ve got a resource right here then! Hopefully you and/or Gerry and/or anyone else out there will present on this at future conferences.
      One question: Do you find the first few weeks of a split class to be difficult for the newbies?

  12. And on the topic of split classes, just to repeat the point for those who may not have read it here a month ago, the greatest beneficiaries of split classes in DPS have been the upper level students. We think it is because the younger kids force the teacher to go slower, but really that slowness is all the upper level kids can handle. There is an entire army of teachers, CI and traditional, out there who are skewing their classes to the faster processors, and even they can’t keep up. We know how it takes thousands and thousands of hours, not hundreds, to process fast L2 speech and complex reading. But when we don’t have the newbies in there, we forget. We think that because they are older they can go faster than they can. Once I taught a French 3 class the same lesson at the same pace as the French 1 class the period before. It was fantastic. They felt so confident! Split classes? Heck yes!

    1. “when we don’t have the newbies in there, we forget.”
      I do remember this now Ben, and thanks for reiterating it. How did this go over with admin and the bureau of creditry? I want to hear about any difficulties in implementing this in the first place, before students even came in the door.

  13. The credit deal would have to be that the kids get credit for however many years they have taken. It’s not confusing, but as you imply some counseling (which means counting credits in many schools) departments can’t handle it. Diana can address this more. I will email her right now to ask her to respond below if she has time.

    1. We started “jumping kids up a level” about 4 years ago. After the obligatory gr. 8 Intro course (no hs credit) approximately 1/4 of our students will jump over the Level ! course to Level 2. They continue on to take Levels 3,4 and 5 if they choose.
      At the end of Level 1, a few more students have shown a great deal of growth (or have moved in from another district etc.) so a hand ful of them jump from Level 1 to Level 3 and then they will take Levels 4 and 5 if they desire.
      At the end of Level 2, usually 2 or 3 students will jump over level 3 to level 4.
      Decicions are made by the present year teacher and we work together carefully to keep track of the students. Over the summer rhey are required to read the novels that they miss by ‘jumping”.
      Occasionallly a student who is not recommended will request to ‘jump”. They must take the final exam for the level they would like to jump and score about a 75 in order to do so.
      We have the full support of the administration although it has taken us several years to convince them that it is the right thing to do.
      They are required to take 3 years of HS language, regardless of the levels they are in.
      Our level 4 and 5 is actually a two year rotating 4/5 curriculum which helps with scheduling. Last year 2 students chose to take the Spanish AP online in lieu of the Level 4/5 (they had already taken the level 4 as juniors) It was an independent study course and they each scored a 5.
      Two years ago, three young women were jumped from 8th grade to Level 2 and then asked to jump to Level 4. They scored 100% on the Level 3 State-based Regional final and are in the 4/5 class this year.
      What it requires is some open-mindedness AND someone who will be in charge of the bookkeeping. That is very important.
      We love it. I was worried that it might go by the wayside after I retire, but our principal (now) is very supportive.
      with love,
      Laurie

        1. “They must take the final exam for the level they would like to jump and score about a 75 in order to do so.”
          Similar in my district, but the problem is, the traditional teachers at the high school write a traditional test (e.g. “fill in the blank with the correct object pronoun”, and “which doesn’t belong: orange, strawberry, stapler, grape”). So, a CI-taught kid with more fluency and more functional vocabulary may not pass the test geared for students taught traditionally. Major bummer. I honestly don’t have a place to send my 8th graders. They’re way too advanced for level 1, but in order to get placed in level 2, they have to get an 80% on the traditional level 1 final exam.
          What I really need is the levels to align with a proficiency range (level 1 – Novice Low-Mid, Level 2 – Novice Mid-High, Level 3 – Novice High-Int Low). And that could be assessed with a rubric and various unrehearsed, spontaneous tasks.

          1. Now you are talking like my school’s WL dept. is thinking, roughly at least. Our great dept. chair is looking at how we can expand the options for students in different classes based on their actual language development instead of pushing them through 1-2-3-4-AP, and finding ways to ensure they have college-worthy credit for each year they take. Probably like Diana has done with DPS.

          2. Diane this is why we follow and test using the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines in DPS. We have developed assessment tools at great cost to taxpayers which at least give us a general idea of where a student is at the end of each level of study. Some DPS kids end up at the end of level 1 at NM or NH. But some go to IL. We must accommodate what that means for the individual kids. It honors the needs of the students and doesn’t continue the cookie cutter educational nightmare that we know now.
            Some students fly and some students walk. No blame. They end up each spring at different levels of proficiency. What Lynette Lang at Valor – Diane’s school – is looking into is what any department chair should do: she’s putting into place a system where a student who finishes level 2, for example, at Intermediate Low, can be placed into a class of similar proficiency leveled kids.
            Students shouldn’t be placed in the next level based on how much time they spent sitting in a chair, but rather on their proficiency level. This is an option to multi-level classes and is a different kind of plan. I like it better, although Paul Kirschling and a few others in DPS report great success simply by combining level 1 with level 2. Maybe he’ll read this and comment on that. But in this system, one first year student could be placed in a third year class while another could stay and enjoy another year of level one.
            Credits would be allotted in terms of seat time, yes, so that a first year student who repeats level one – because it is best for him and gives him the most confidence that he can learn a language – gets credit for two years. When we award credit in this way, it hurts no one, helps everyone, the counselors are happy, the credit thing is the same, and any decently built school schedule could accommodate it.
            This all seems very obvious to me. Don’t forget to read the articles in the Multi Level category on the right side of this page if you haven’t already. They add to the discussion here.

          3. Yes, sadly. And Eric…the tests that you describe aren’t even really good tests for “traditional” teachers. Hang in there buddy! It can and will get better. You are young. :o) It’s a bit like thinking you’ll never be old enough to drive. :o) If you stick around long enough you can find, or better yet, create a larger circle of cooperative colleagues.
            with love,
            Laurie

  14. Michele you have an email for Gerry?
    I’d loooove to hear more specifics about split classes. Questions. Like I have “Rochelle plays soccer with Pelé.” What questions are advanced? Basic?
    How do you guys deal with reading stories where there are leve 1s and 2s? How to avoid vocab overload on beginners?

  15. Like I have “Rochelle plays soccer with Pelé. What questions are advanced? Basic?
    Basic to Advanced: (add circling and personalization to the ?)
    Who plays soccer w/Rochelle?
    Who plays soccer w/ Pele?
    What sport do they play?
    Fishing ?
    Where do they play?’
    When do they play?
    How many (days per week) do they play?
    How does Rochelle play?
    Does she like to play soccer?
    Does she like to play soccer w/ Pele?
    Why does she play soccer w/Pele?
    Does she want to play soccer w/ another player?
    Who does she want to play soccer w/?
    Should she play soccer with Pele?
    Did she play soccer w/Pele yesterday?
    How many years has she played soccer?
    How many years has she wanted to play soccer w/Pele?
    Would you play soccer w/ Pele?
    If Pele invites you will you play soccer w/ him?
    If you had the opportunity to play soccer w/ Pele, would you play soccer w/him?
    Who would you play soccer with if you had the opportunity?
    Who would have played soccer with Rochelle if Pele had been busy?
    By the end of the season, how many games will she have played with Pele?
    As for the reading? Separately for the first few weeks then…Embedded Reading por supuesto. :o)
    with love,
    Laurie

      1. Basically the changes occur in the “tense/mood” and the leveling occurs when questioning students. Level 1 students get Level 1 questions. Level 2 students get level 2 questions. Rochelle plays soccer. Joe (1) Does Rochelle or Tiny Tim play soccer? Yes! Rochelle plays soccer. TT doesn’t. In this class, who plays soccer? (the first 2 weeks level 2s will answer, but soon L1s catch on to this question) Paige (L2) , you play soccer? I believe it! (L2’s get it, have it on the wall, point, but don’t expect 1s to master it yet) How often do you play soccer? EVERY DAY? (point to calendar) Mon? Tues? Wed? Thurs? Fri? Sat? Sun? John (L1) Does Paige play on Monday? Yes! Paige says that plays soccer on Monday! Martin (L2) Paige says that she playts soccer EVERY DAY. Do you believe that she plays every day? (point or have a L2 translate)
        It’s a back and forth slow dance. If you go too fast, it is easy to get lost and forget things, but if you go slowly enough there is time to remember who is L1 and who is L2 and sometimes by January you can’t even tell the difference……
        with love,
        Laurie

  16. Anybody interested –
    There are at least three articles in the “Multi-Level Classes” category from previous years here. Just find that category in the list on the right of this page and then you can find the articles. Lots of information there.

  17. After a short conversation with our school counselor, I realize that any multi-leveling in our tiny school is unlikely. Freshmen all take the same classes, sophomores take either Spanish 2 or Art, and the rest are lock step with their classmates again (except for one other elective block the next semester). The only way I could do multi-level is if I had a 3-4 split, and I’ll probably have to do distance ed with another district in on it if I want make anything like that happen. 🙁 I don’t know if anything beyond Span 2 will ever be viable here otherwise.
    But there are many upsides to working in the tiny little town district where I do. 🙂

    1. Your classes are probably multi-level as it is! Ask questions and plan readings on the levels of kids in the class. If you have some level 2s who can do the level 3 reading, let them. Make mistakes and keep the level 1 and 2 readings in the handout for the level three class. You can read through those quickly, or ask them to predict how to make it more complex, and in any case you can then check which kids need to have things made simpler. Sometimes I’m surprised that my level 3/4 kids need what I’ve actually written for the level 2 kids.

  18. …sometimes I’m surprised that my level 3/4 kids need what I’ve actually written for the level 2 kids….
    Michele it’s what you said about the need for ELA kids to “read down”. That is such a good expression. If it isn’t an easy read for my kids, it’s not going to help them much. Just the fast processors will benefit. It’s like you and Laurie say at conferences about embedded reading including only a few words at each upward embedded level.
    That’s why I am at odds with the DPS focus on reading as many novels as possible starting in level 1. My position is that we should have our kids read lots of Step 3 readings based on stories only in level 1, with only Brandon Wants a Dog or Pauvre Anne being read in the late spring of level 1. Then in level 2 they should read all the level 1 novels.
    Just my opinion.

  19. I agree with Ben. I’m finishing Adriana Ramirez’ 8th story and we are reading Berto and I am constantly amazed at how much vocab is in it. It feels as if I am constantly translating. I would be better off maybe doing more stories and focused reading this year and “doing” Bero more quickly next year.

  20. Yep. I noticed the same thing. “Level 4” was really not all that more “advanced” than “level 2” as a whole. I think all classes are multi level anyway bc no 2 kids are on the same timetable. But that does not mesh very well with the lockstep mentality or with kids’ expectations of where they “should” be.
    Someone on here has a cool system where they have “levels” called beginner, intermediate? and the kids can choose to stay in a “level” as long as she needs to. Who is that? And how did you convince your dept.?

  21. I haven’t figured out how to go narrow and deep and read more than two novels per year. I think that I would have to see it in action to get it!! (but I am like that about a lot of things) Luckily I am in a small district and can teach and/or negotiate to teach at a pace that works for me and my students. I’m sure that in a larger district I would drive my colleaugues crazy!
    Bottom line is….if it is working…..fantastic. If you want to try it a different way, have at it. Check in constantly with students to know if the pace/depth is right. There is no magic formula….but there in magic in the formula!!
    with love,
    Laurie

  22. I tried a simple new trick for verb tenses. This semester, I am in full grammatical mix: all necessary grammar from Day 1.
    So, narration in past tenses. Direct questions to actors in present tense. E.g. “Class, the boy ownED two elephants. [ turn to actor] Boy, do you own two elephants? — Yes, I own two elephants.”
    Problem has always been, how do you get third-person (sing or plural) reps on present tense? You got a lot of “he was…are you? I am…” But not a lot of “are you guys/they/we are” and not a lot of “she is.”
    Solution? Get the actors to answer questions *about each other* in the present tense. So after you narrate “the boy owned a dog” and circle it, you ask the actor “do you own a dog?” and he says “yes I own a dog.” (Maybe another question or two etc). THEN you ask your first parallel character “does Johnny own a dog?” and she says “yes he owns a dog.”
    Anyway I’m gonna see how it works.

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