The 90% To 99% Jump

Since we talked last weekend I have been taking up your and Diana Noonan’s (DPS World Languages Coordinator) challenge/mandate of using less English in the classroom.  It seemed like an odd idea, after all, I LOVE speaking in Spanish with my students!  There is such a sweet smell that fills the class when we are operating completely in Spanish.  I am always reluctant to break the spell.  I thought I wasn’t using much English at all.  But I was using more than I had imagined.
For me, making the 90% to 99% jump is like going from Shawn White in Turin four years ago to Shawn White in Vancouver this year.  It was a quantum jump in the degree of difficulty.
Over three days I had a bright student in each class count the number of English words I used during the period each day.  Here are the results:
Spanish I:  43, 24, 20 words
Spanish II:  66, 50, 64 words (What?!  Behavior problem)
Spanish II:  21, 17, 12 words
Spanish I:  12, 26, 13 words
AP Spanish classes:  Did not check
Are these results typical?  Has anyone else tried this?  I found it to be tougher than I had thought.
Using English to quickly make meaning clear makes sense to me.  That is the beauty of Blaine Ray’s approach–we want to be comprehensible at all times, so we say a word in English quickly or write it on the board to help kids get it, and we move on.  We occasionally check for meaning with English, but we do not want students to have to guess.  But I found myself inserting little words and commands in English involuntarily in every class.
I am cautious about reverting to the complete use of Spanish like I did in the old days–operating in lock step, straight-jacket Spanish at all times, making kids guess.  I do not want to have something like this redevelop.  Blaine has mentioned this snippet from the teen novel  Speak by Laurie Anderson in his workshops.  It is a good example of the problem with playing the game of using ONLY Spanish and trying to get students to guess the meanings of words, like I used to do.
In one memorable passage of the book, the author describes a high school Spanish class.  I love how the narrator says that it was “easier to ignore” the teacher because she never translated into English:
“My Spanish teacher is going to try to get through the entire year without speaking English to us.  This is both amusing and useful–makes it easier to ignore her.  She communicates through exaggerated gestures and play acting.  It’s like taking a class in charades.  She says a sentence in Spanish and puts the back of her hand to her forehead. “You have a fever!” someone from the class calls out. “You feel faint!”  No. She goes out to the hall, then bursts through the door, looking busy and distracted. She turns to us, acts surprised to see us, and then does the bit with the back of the hand on the forehead. “You’re lost!”  “You’re angry!” “You’re in the wrong school!”  “You’re in the wrong country!” “You’re on the wrong planet!”
“She tries one more time and smacks herself so hard on the forehead she staggers a bit.  Her forehead is as pink as her lipstick.  The guesses continue.  “You can’t believe how many kids are in this class!”  “You forgot how to speak Spanish!”  “You have a migraine!”  “You’re going to have a migraine if we don’t figure it out!”
“In desperation, she writes a sentence in Spanish on the board: Me sorprende que estoy tan cansada hoy.  No one knows what it says. We don’t understand Spanish–that’s why we’re here. Finally, some brain gets out the Spanish-English dictionary. We spend the rest of the period trying to translate the sentence.  When the bell rings, we have gotten as far as ‘To exhaust the day to surprise.’ ”
I do not want to go back to that, but I am going to consciously cut back on the English and use it only to establish meaning.  Thanks for the challenge, Diana.



44 thoughts on “The 90% To 99% Jump”

  1. This may be a silly question but….. Are you talking about the English you speak from the time the bell rings at the beginning of class to the time it rings at the end? OR are you talking about the English you speak from the time you start til you end a “story?”
    In my practice there is a difference, perhaps there should not be?
    Thanks for challenging us by taking on the challenge…..

  2. That’s a hilarious story, Bryce. Well, at least I’d say that that Spanish teacher captivated her students’ attention! I think she could have come up with a better gesture for “cansada” and saved herself all the drama (I don’t speak Spanish but a check says that it means “tired”). She could have pretended to yawn to get the idea across a lot quicker!
    I teach French in Canada and I use a method called “AIM: the Accelerative Integrated Method”. Our mandate is “Pas d’anglais dans la classe de français” and we try to stick to it 100%. How do we get meaning across? Through specific gestures that are part of the program.
    Most of my students think I don’t know how to speak English (I teach grades 3 to 5 so they’re a little more gullible than older kids). This, for me, is the ideal situation because then they do not try to speak English to me since they think I can’t understand it. It forces them to use the French they know, and I can help them along by using gestures to prompt the words from them.
    We use a system of motivation for ensuring the “Pas d’anglais” rule (which the students have to stick to as well) which involves “Les cartes”: students receive one at the end of class if they did not speak English. We count “Les cartes” at the end of the month and prizes are drawn.

  3. That means the entire class, Skip. My truths about using English in class are finally becoming clear to me, after all these years of claiming wrongly that I was doing real comprehension based teaching:
    1. I never saw Blaine use English. He used to come to Denver to do master classes in the high school I now teach in. I never saw him use English with those kids. Yet I went back to my school at that time and used English. I missed the point.
    2. In my mind there is a huge difference between what I used to do in a typical class, 60% L2, and often well below that, (while still calling it TPRS!) and what I do now. The following statements hold true for me now:
    a. most “TPRS” teachers are below 50% L2 in their classrooms. Therefore, they are not doing TPRS, not even close. They need to stop saying that they do, because it sullies everything.
    b. there are some brave souls who do between 50% – 70%. They are not doing TPRS either. That was me for nine years.
    c. some folks actually get above 70%. They are strong, because they are able to keep their egoistic teacher show-off mind in check pretty well. But are they doing what they say they are doing? No.
    d. Diana raised the bar on all of us in DPS to 90% last month because of this possible three year project we may be getting approval for soon. She reminds us what Dr. Krashen actually means. Moving from 70% to that 90% over the past month has been, for me, a very intense but very enlightening experience. It has shown me things that are hard to describe – a sweetness (Bryce’s term) in the interaction with the kids, and an ease and confidence and elegance that is hard to describe. And I was so close to it all those years!
    It is much like an exponential curve, in fact. where the gains and satisfaction in the classroom seem to go straight up the closer you get to about 95%.
    I can’t ever see that exponential curve ever going to 100% L2. Sylvia, although you stay with those kids fully in L2, I don’t see it working for me personally – I can’t speak for my TPRS colleagues. And that statement for a lot of reasons. I have to clarify meaning much faster with my kids than gestures would allow, or I would lose the thread of the CI. 35 urban high school kids, all of whom have to pee, aren’t going to be gesture aware. I can’t reach them without my own favorite skill of Point and Pause. I don’t have to SAY the L2 to them – and I don’t – but I have to write it down via Point and Pause, and that WRITTEN Engish keeps things moving along very nicely. I will post your video here later today so people can see how wonderful what you do is, but I guarantee that the use of gestures to clarify meaning would simply never work in my TPRS classroom. You would have to come down here to see why, to really get it (our kids don’t sit on the floor in front of us in coat and tie). We had this discussion on this blog a while back and I love sharing thoughts with you all but we are two different animals in two different jungles. I talked to Dr. Krashen about this last summer. Pas d’anglais ain’t gonna happen chez nous.
    Back to the point, Skip – there is an overall gap between 50% and 95% of L2 use that teachers who claim to use TPRS hang around in, but it is only the ones above 90% who can say that they are actually using, in the way Krashen intended, comprehensible input that we could actually call the real deal. People below 90% aren’t getting it done, and I think that the gap between 80-90% is where the rubber meets the road, as in the following heavily researched image:
    less than 20% – no car
    20%-50% – car on concrete blocks
    50% or below – four flat tires
    60% or below – three flat tires
    70% or below – two flat tires
    80% or below – one flat tire
    90% or below – need new shocks badly
    90% – 95% – riding smooth
    Just my opinion.

  4. Ok what about this rationale…. Much of the English I use at the beginning of class helps to nurture a relationship with the students. If All but 5-10 minutes of the class in L2 it seems to me justifiable if it helps the “affective” I have a really strong relationship with the majority of my students/classes and I contribute some of it to the English I speak….
    I can’t picture me doing 90-100% Spanish from Bell to Bell…. Can someone help me understand how to do that??
    Shred that….:)

  5. With AIM, we hold to the belief that the teacher needs to be the role model for speaking in the L2 at all times. If the teacher does not stick to that rule, why can’t the students? So for us, it’s most effective and easiest just to mandate the Pas d’anglais rule for everybody. Every now and then, “Qu’est-ce que c’est _________ en anglais” is acceptable, but that’s about it.
    I also appreciate that I teach younger kids, who, on the whole, are probably more adaptable to a Pas d’anglais rule. They’re less afraid to take risks and make mistakes.
    I think the Point and Pause technique you described, Ben, is good, as it still allows you to stay in the L2 orally.
    I’m glad that we are able to exchange ideas. I must say, it’s a little difficult because I’m as unfamiliar with TPRS as you are with AIM, so we don’t really know what we’re dealing with. But I think that TPRSer and AIMers are onto the same thing ie. teaching language in a way to enable our students to speak and understand it rather than spending ridiculous amounts of time on grammar and conjugating verbs.
    Thank you for posting my videos! Hopefully it will allow your readers to see that AIM goes way beyond gestures. Once a critical level of fluency is reached, gestures are stopped altogether.

  6. Hi Skip,
    What are some of the conversations that you have with your students in English the first 5-10 minutes of class? If you knew that information about your students, do you feel you would be able to conduct the conversation in L2? (What language/level do you teach?)
    I use certain kinds of questions to find out about my students in L2, which helps keep the conversation personalized and in the target language from the start of class.
    I use L2 95% of the time in my Intro and Intermediate Chinese classes. The 5% is the same as what others have said — it’s when I ask (in L2) what something means, they give me the English and I confirm what they said in L2 (and repeat the English word).
    I often start class asking if anyone has any news — good, bad, so-so? In the Intermediate class, if no one offers anything, I might say (in L2) “Everyone’s pretty busy, eh? With college applications?” That prompts someone to say something i.e. they finished apps, or got wait listed at X or received a scholarship to Y etc. A personalized conversation continues from there.
    In the Intro class (juniors, so no college apps yet), I might ask, “How is American Studies going?” ” (It’s a core requirement, very time-consuming, lots of reading etc. The question is sure to elicit a groan). Someone says something about AmStud (which everyone has an opinion about) and I build the conversation from there.
    Other times I start class with a question or two about something else I know they have opinions about (the food in the cafeteria, Spring Break, their last test etc). If new vocab is needed for the conversation (often it is), I write it on the board to keep the CI going.
    In my experience (15 years teaching ESL, 5 years teaching Chinese), students appreciate learning language that they can use to express their opinions and to share what’s happening in their lives.
    I believe L2 Bell to Bell in first year classes is definitely do-able. You seem quite close to that; especially since you already have a pretty strong relationship with many of the students. Maybe you could try starting out class in L2 without making a big deal about it, shoot for a simplified conversation on a topic you know is close to their hearts, see how far you go, and then build from there the next day. Increase the time in L2 incrementally.
    In terms of structure, my mentor strongly suggested that I start and end class in L2 from day one. I completely agree; it reinforces that this is what we do in Chinese class; we speak Chinese.
    I remember last year, after I switched to only L2 in March (Intro class), one day half the class was absent due to a required test. I informed the students that we would review today and I began reviewing in English. Immediately, one student said, “It sounds so funny to hear English in this room.” Another said, “Why don’t we just review in Chinese?” They had become accustomed to Chinese as the default language.
    One of those students went on a study abroad program to Shanghai that summer. In his first email to me, he told me how most of his classmates were freaked out that the teacher spoke ONLY Chinese, but that he loved it :- ) L2 Bell to Bell had given him a level of confidence that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
    If you increase the start and end L2, eventually you will get to the point where you have taught the entire class in L2.
    Good luck and keep us posted.
    My two kuai.

  7. …one student said, “It sounds so funny to hear English in this room.” Another said, “Why don’t we just review in Chinese?” They had become accustomed to Chinese as the default language….
    What a great post, Caryn – the perfect answer for Skip. I hadn’t heard all those options for Monday’s general “what did you do over the weekend” discussion or to start a class and will print and do those tomorrow.
    Skip, we can’t afford those five or ten minutes to start in L1. Relationship building can be done in L2 as well. By simply talking about them in L2, we build relationship. And nobody has mentioned the key important skill phrase of all time here lately in the form of the famous Amy Teran (North High School, Denver) principle, so here it is again, as we put on our emotional shoulder pads for another week in the trenches:

  8. This is so loaded (for me). Remembering my first (only) French class and how lost and demoralized I felt. Yes, it was a TPRS class, but most people knew some French. I knew none. It went too fast–even though the teacher was going slowly–not slow enough for me I’m afraid. And I’m not dumb.
    I agree that class should be 100% in target language. However, 100% comprehensible for 50 minutes every day from super-beginner day one is incredibly difficult for a teacher. I doubt that anyone truly does it–the comprehensible part that is. I believe that plenty of people speak the target language 100% of the time in beginning classes. I’m not convinced that it is comprehensible to the students. I work with younger children. Believe me: they are not even aware of when they are not understanding in their native language let alone a new one.
    Teachers often get a lot of positive head shaking and verbal responses in the target language from a “number” of their students. However, I KNOW that it is unlikely that the language is that transparent and comprehensible for most of them. Those, who don’t understand, stay much quieter than those who do.
    The above is NOT a call for using English in the classroom. It is a call for big-time training in “how to make language comprehensible to all students” without resorting to English: slow, constant, constant comprehension checks (which slows the exciting story down I am sorry to say), etc. BTW, what is that etc.? I use gestures, but they are only good for retrieval of “items” or “phrases”–not extended language. I would really like to have an extended, REAL conversation about this one.
    I think this is a very difficult skill/topic and I was an immersion teacher for a long time. It almost killed me at times. Working with 10 and 11-year-old brand-new beginners, 0 level, highly inattentive creatures, is incredibly hard. Teaching songs is easy; teaching structure and disciplined attention is difficult.

  9. Something weird is happening. My post is very cut off. I changed and added to this post several times. Nothing came through. I am too tired to fix it. The last three paragraphs aren’t even there. Hmmm.
    Basically, I am not asking for a sermon on this subject. I get it. I could use a few real life tips for teaching tprs to young, inattentive, squirrely, loud, lovely children who love my class. However, I do speak English to help them find some disciplined attention to focus on what is important (not their neighbor’s shoelaces) and acquire Spanish.
    With my students who already have some language infrastructure solidly in their cabezas, I find it very easy to stay in TL all of the time. It is very hard with early Level One students who are 10-11 years old.
    Teaching for June (truly wish it would hurry up)

  10. Jody wrote:
    “It is a call for big-time training in “how to make language comprehensible to all students” without resorting to English: slow, constant, constant comprehension checks.” (Format question: How does one italicize from within the blog?)
    Great post.
    I agree completely that learning how to keep language comprehensible is a key skill. I also believe it needs to be taught explicitly to most language teachers. And, I would love to have an extended, real conversation about this.
    I learned how to keep language comprehensible as an ESL teacher. I did not know how to do it immediately but eventually I did develop the skill and, later, as a teacher trainer, one of my responsibilities was to find ways to help other teachers do it.
    Because students didn’t share a common language (or I didn’t speak their language), English was the default language. And because the purpose of our ESL classes was communication (I was working in refugee resettlement), we didn’t teach grammar, worksheets etc. We focused on helping people learn to communicate orally.
    Looking back, 20 years later, many aspects of the strategies we used to teach ESL back then were flawed, but some of the basic premises were very solid. One of the most important skills I learned, if not the most important one, was learning how to deliver comprehensible input which is, as you so aptly describe, intimately tied in with the ability of the teacher to diagnose what is going on with all students at all times, in addition to the ability to make continual adjustments to keep the language comprehensible. (Sorry for the run-on sentence; I’m too tired to edit).
    I also agree with your point that it is incredibly difficult to teach the entire period in comprehensible L2 every day from Day 1 in a class of rank beginners. I definitely do not claim to do this in my Intro Chinese class from Day 1. When I said I believe the L2 Bell to Bell is doable in first year classes, I meant after a certain amount of time where basics are established. For me, last year I made the switch in March with my Intro class. With this year’s Intro class, I did it in January, and I felt I could have done it earlier — perhaps mid-November. I will try that next year.
    I was suggesting to Skip that at this point in the year, he may want to try beginning his class in L2, i.e. try the relationship building in L2, instead of automatically starting in English.
    (Sidebar: I think clarity on Skip’s class’ age and level would help the discussion of this particular point. If it is a level 2 middle school or high school class, depending on what their first year experience was, I do think it could be possible to stay in comprehensible L2 for the entire class. And if it’s a level one class, that meets for 50 minutes 3-5 days per week and Skip already has a strong relationship with most of the students, I also think it could be possible to start class by continuing to build relationships in L2. Jody, I’m interested in your thoughts on these two scenarios).
    When I suggested starting and ending class in L2, I should have clarified that I think, structurally, it is very valuable to develop a routine whereby the first 5-10 minutes and the last 5-10 minutes of class are in L2. What’s done in between may very well include more English because it IS difficult to maintain 100% for the entire period in a beginning class. My point (which was my mentor’s point) was that starting and ending in L2 can help create the sense that the NORM for the class is L2. And English is used when necessary.
    Jody, I sense that we are on the same page with regard to how to make language comprehensible. In my mind, comprehension checks must be continuous AND the teacher needs to know how to simplify the language until it is understood by EVERYONE.
    When I am unable to convey some information in L2, I will use L2 to say something to the effect of “This is difficult. Chinese and English grammar are so different! Don’t worry about it! If you understand XX, great. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. Next month … easier.” Students continue to receive comprehensible input because I know they are able to understand what I have just said (about what some people may not have understood) and they understand it is OK for them not to understand something in my class. We then move on to something that is completely transparent.
    (The other skill you mention that goes hand-in-hand with comprehensible input: moment-to-moment diagnosing. Also agree that it is worthy of an extended discussion).
    I also wanted to comment on another point you made about elementary students.
    You wrote:
    ” … However, I do speak English to help them find some disciplined attention to focus on what is important (not their neighbor’s shoelaces) and acquire Spanish.”
    [Caryn] I think it may be easier to deliver comprehensible input at the high school level simply because students have (or should have) more self-control. I also teach a Saturday Chinese enrichment for 4 native English speakers (1st and 3rd graders) who are in an immersion program. The purpose of the Saturday enrichment is not discrete skill building, but for them to receive more comprehensible input. In that sense, it is like a play date in Chinese. That said, I definitely have to use English with them with regard to discipline.
    Jody, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and would love to hear what others think about the idea of Jody’s original point:
    “It is a call for big-time training in “how to make language comprehensible to all students.”

  11. Skip,
    I agree that the affective piece is incredibly important. Having a good relationship going with our students is a key to getting them to relax enough so that they can acquire. It doesn’t always work. I am struggling with a couple of students in one of my level 2 classes in that regard right now.
    I try to handle the speaking in English and just BS-ing/affective filter pre-filtering before class (when I am standing out in the hall greeting students as they enter), before the bell rings if we are in class, and after class.
    The goal is comprehensible input bell to bell and CI is Spanish that the kids can understand. I love this topic and I want to keep learning how do it better.

  12. Caryn you totally zeroed in on a number of points that made a lot of sense to me. They validate so much of what I have been trying to do in trying to inch my way to actually, for real, making
    “language comprehensible to all [my] students…”, as Jody said.
    What you describe is the future of what we are doing/trying to do. It all feels very clumsy, but it has a purpose and we will one day know and see it in our teaching. We must learn to make language comprehensible.
    I remember when Skip taught a Spanish lesson for us, he went way too fast and we had to spend the first ten minutes just getting him to slow down. Such is the case with all of us all the time, I fear, and one of the reasons why we struggle so much with Jody’s goal, even though it is so simple.
    I have the image in my mind of three arrows, like the green recycle arrows circle symbol. Each arrow represents what I might suggest is a basic requirements for the CI to be indeed comprehensible.
    The first arrow is SLOW. No need to embellish that point.
    The second arrow is 90% instruction in L2, with limited necessary English exactly as you describe above, Caryn. Your idea of norming the first ten and the last ten minutes of class in L2, by the way, is a brilliant idea that I will immediately try to get into practice, even though I am not used to it. (We are setting new habits for ourselves in all of this so we can’t be too rough on ourselves if all that we are discussing here doesn’t immediately kick in in our classrooms – this is hard stuff in the first place, and new habits are hard to create!).
    The third arrow, that points back to the first one of SLOW, would have to be the TEACHING TO THE EYES arrow, which, as I have stated before, is very prevalent in class when I stay consistently in L2 – I would like to get feedback on this by the way – is is true for others or is it just me? Really, the amount of eye contact I have with my students goes up ten fold when I stay in L2! Very bizarre and very wonderful. Why wonderful?
    It is wonderful to have the huge increase in eye contact with my students because it creates instant discipline. We are not just decribing best practices leading to greater CI here in this discussion – we are describing how to guarantee ourselves a fine kind of discipline. I know that because, in my 7:30 a.m. first period rough and tumble class of 35 city kids just a few hours ago, the minute I went into the cycle of SLOW – L2 ONLY – TEACHING TO THE EYES, the class instantly became focused and a bunch of rowdies on a rainy Monday in Denver turned into a bunch of wonderful, attentive children. I said the four letter “s” word to myself in gratitude and amazement, as I was truly shocked at how really powerful this stuff that we are talking about here really can be. It was one of those classes where you look the tiger in the eye not knowing if you are about to be mawled or not. Going to the book for me has never been an option, and I tried to make the input comprehensible. I believed that Krashen’s ideas (and, in this case today, a lot of Michele’s) would work if I worked them, and I knew that if I could pull it off that I would look back on what I did with pride – looking right into the eye of the tiger and backing him down. It worked and I received a wonderful note from a VERY DIFFICULT kid at the end of the class that I will put up as a blog entry when I get home later today. This shit rocks, y’all.
    So the SLOW arrow points to the 90% L2 arrow points to the TEACH TO THE EYES arrow and together they all create a nice sense of real discipline (real discipline to me means truly, not falsely, engaging students).
    Of course, there is a fourth arrow, moment to moment assessment. As you said above, Caryn:
    (The other skill you mention that goes hand-in-hand with comprehensible input: moment-to-moment diagnosing. Also agree that it is worthy of an extended discussion).
    Maybe those four skills, those four arrows:
    90% L2
    CONSTANT ASSESSMENT (including lots of ten finger comprehension checks)
    when done effortlessly by us after years and years of practice, point to and create more than authentic discipline in our classrooms – maybe they point to the art of the thing. The artist takes paint and canvas and creates art, but it is not without a massive internal struggle that wrenches the ego from its false mooring in grammar and the use of L1, and looses the ship onto the stormy waters of trying to get CI going in our classes just as you and Jody describe above. But the result, the anchoring of our boats in the calm light blue waters of the Aegean from which came some of the languages we teach, is well worth the struggles we are going through today. We’re all coming into some kind of harbor. We’re all coming into some kind of harbor. We’re all coming into some kind of harbor.

  13. Michele it may be that the class this morning worked because I used a combination of two student generated scripts, of four offered. (Do you call them skeleton stories – is that what you mean when you talk about giving the kids three structures and having them write possible scenarios on small pieces of paper in under three minutes?)
    Anyway that is what I did and have been doing for the past three weeks, and the stories and CI overall have been better. I think Michelle M in Kansas also reported success with this format.
    By the way, bigger groups, five groups of seven, for example, work better than smaller groups. All I need is four or five scripts to work from. But the feedback to you is that these student generated scripts or whatever they are called really do shift the CI that we generate to a higher level.

  14. Ben,
    That’s so cool! I can’t remember who suggested the idea to begin with–probably Susie–but I did it just a couple of times last year, and the kids loved it. But then I forgot about it until I got tired and a bit lazy this year. It takes the pressure of the story off me, and gets back all that attention that wanes when I am too focused on “my story.”
    I call them skeleton stories, because they often use all three structures in one sentence to tell the story. Then I can ask the details if I use that story.
    Laurie’s blog has a very creative embedded story that resulted from her having combined a bunch of skeleton stories. As soon as I get through a crazy week next week, I’m going to try that, combining stories from three or four different classes. I’m just amazed, over and over, by the power of the embedded readings. I suddenly realized that “embedded readings” are very similar to “extended readings” that we’ve always known about. The difference is that I was beating my head into the wall to extend the readings on my own, and embedded readings seemed to me to at least start with the idea of simplifying a longer text.
    Now of course, Laurie has turned that on its ear too by taking a short text with one structure, and then adding to it bit by bit both with what the kids supply and with her own creative ideas. I’m not that creative, but luckily kids are.
    It doesn’t really matter how we do these things, as long as the kids are interested and we’re supplying CI. The trick is to keep changing it up so that the kids are more and more involved, the ultimate involvement being when the kids take over and teach a class in the auditorium because too many people want to attend! I really think there’s a movie in that somewhere.

  15. Michele is this close to the idea?
    (this was my first pd. class this morning):
    These were the target structures (backwards design on a Françoise Hardy song called Tous Les Garçons et Les Filles):
    tous les garçons et les filles – all the boys and the girls
    se promènent dans la rue – stroll down the street
    savent bien ce que c’est d’être heureux – know well what it is to be happy
    Step One went well. I just PQA’d those three structures. The first two structures stuck together made for good general discussion. I asked if all the boys and the girls went down the street of if they went down the sidewalk, or if it was penguins going down the street and the usual reps via circling process. The last expression was hard for level one kids but they handled it nicely and all I had to do was change the word happy to some other emotion, along with changing the subject. I find it harder to circle the verb in PQA than the subject and the object. Anyway, after five or seven minutes of that (which is a lot more CI than one would think as long as one is staying in the target language), I went to the SGS.
    This was the SGS (student generated script) that I chose from among the five offered (written in under three minutes by a group of six kids in English right after I explained what the words meant and right before the PQA):
    All the penguins of the Arctic chase all the boys and girls down the street. A penguin’s life is a hard life filled with fish and cold water. So when they chase the boys and girls down the street they know what it is to be happy.
    This became the story, along with a lot of discussion about where Denver was relative to North and South America, that we did and which took up most of the class period (written by a student in English so that I could remember what happened and write the story as a reading for class tomorrow):
    There were eight penguins in Patagonia. It is very cold there because it is close to the Antarctica. The eight penguins were citizens of Patagonia. There were also eight boys and girls who were citizens of Patagonia. There was a problem! The penguins were chasing the teens. The penguins are mad at the teens because the teens know what it is to be happy and they only know what it is to be stupid catch fish all the time. They want to go down the street together and be happy like the boys and girls.
    The Quick Quiz at the end of the period, exactly as it was written by another student in English with yes or no answers, was:
    1. Are there eight penguins? (yes)
    2. Is the USA in South America (no)
    3. Are there ten citizens in Patagonia? (no)
    4. Are there only two girl penguins (no)
    5. Did the penguins chase the people? (yes)
    6. Did the people chase the penguins? (no)
    7. Did the penguins chase the people because they were happy?
    8. Did the penguins chase the people because they weren’t happy? (yes)
    9. Did the penguins know what love was? (no)
    10. Did the people know what love was? (no)
    Now I will write a simple story from this, we will read it tomorrow, expand it into a bigger story, which tomorrow after class will turn that into a bigger reading, with, of course, the base part from today embedded in there, share the same story with all my classes (the vocab, not the story, is the real target here to set up that song), and see how that expands into a bigger and bigger reading in each class. I’m just slow, and I like to describe in detail all the steps here so that I can understand clearly what the process of doing skeleton stories and turning them into embedded readings in a backwards design setting really means.

  16. Gee whiz Ben! Your PQA book is where I turn when I have forgotten how to go slow, circle, and talk to kids. Thank god for slow. Fast is where we all lose it. So although I was thinking “I’m slow” was Ben being self-deprecating, it is instead what I am personally aiming for.
    Okay. So WOW. I think you just explained it. I think it helps us all to remember that a story like that really does take a class period to do. It really isn’t so different from what you already taught us to do, is it? Just the tweak…that the kids come up with the story and it is therefore not what the teacher has in mind. Then they truly own the stories and remember the vocabulary.
    If we go into the classroom with our three structures, it doesn’t matter whether we pull a story from last year’s class, from Anne’s wonderful book, or from the heads of our kids, as long as we keep listening to the kids. We don’t really need the three structures for CI, but by doing backward design to get to songs or readings, we will then empower our students. I saw that yesterday with an adult group. When we finished the reading that we’d been aiming for, there was a collective sigh of happiness and relief. I forgot, or maybe didn’t know, that there can be a feeling of apprehension as students face a text, thinking that they won’t understand it. My HS/MS kids don’t tell me that they are relieved to understand. My adults voiced their appreciation. Maybe that’s another reason the embedded/extended stories work so well. There’s a base of comprehension from the outset. And maybe that’s why the skeleton stories work–at least some of the kids in the room know exactly where that story is going.

  17. “If we go into the classroom with our three structures, it doesn’t matter whether we pull a story from last year’s class, from Anne’s wonderful book, or from the heads of our kids, as long as we keep listening to the kids.”
    Amen to that, sister!

  18. Ben,
    I love the recycling image! Another tee-shirt?
    VERY cool about your 7:30am class! I can relate to the teaching to the eyes thing. If I’m not teaching to the eyes, who am I teaching, the wall?
    P.S. You really have a way with words in English. I can only imagine what it’s like to read your prose in French. Your imagery is so beautiful and apt and always brings a smile to my face. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to this blog. You are really an inspiration.
    Enjoy your day!

  19. I’m just trying to get a clear picture in my head of a good, efficient way of expanding the original story you write/read ” into a bigger story, which tomorrow after class will turn that into a bigger reading”. Do the students expand on it in writing then hand that in? Do they do that in groups? individually? I can’t seem to find the recent post about expanding and embedded stories that had lots of explanations.

  20. Yeah that post from Laurie was just so perfect. Laurie, write at least a pamphlet on embedded readings. The blogs scroll out of present time and we lose them. But write like a pamphlet – use the old blog. We can load it up here as a free download. I wouldn’t mind having a free download on the skeleton stories either, Michele. You are really helping me here.
    Norm there are two principle directions that the story that was created in class today about the penguins could go (of course it was lions in another class and the Village People in another, etc.) Since I only have time to write one reading for all my classes – as the Denver p.m. traffic is piling up on me as I write this – I wrote the one about the penguins.
    Now, Laurie told us to just play around with the entire thing of embedded readings and so that is what I am doing. What I have decided to do now that the Monday class is just over, and the quick quizzes are done, is to take the generic reading (a student wrote it) and use it as the reading tomorrow.
    I think that all the classes will be able to read it easily because I stayed in L2 all day as each class created these stories – got massive reps on the three target structures – so they know the terms cold.
    And, when the readings are over, if they read as easily as I anticipate, I will be able to just leave those three structures and go to three new ones. Remember, the stories are only vehicles for teaching the language. Now, if the reading is faulty and I am overating how easy it will be for them, then I will do more read and discuss around those terms, adding in details and making a fatter story.
    But I don’t think I will need to do that. I will see tomorrow. Expanding on the base reading will be necessary or not.
    If it does not, and the kids know the stuff as I think they will, I then want to move forward in doing the same process as I did today with three NEW structures from the song which I am backwards designing.
    Again, the stories are only vehicles for teaching the language, and I have a lot of structures to teach to get this song ready (although this song is a lot more simple than “L’Amoureuse” of ten days ago, which was way too long and complex for my level ones, and so I learned something there – to keep the songs at a level reflecting the level of the kids’ French).
    Anyway, those are the two directions, Norm, that the story (here it is below) will take. Either the kids will read it easily or not. And I will react by either expanding the story or by moving to the next three structures that I want the kids to learn in the song.
    Here is the reading for tomorrow. Notice again that it is written in French (obviously in English below for clarity). If I give them the L1 with the L2, obviously, they won’t try to decode the L2. Notice also how top heavy it is with the three original structures:
    All the penguins of Chile (there are eight of them) aren’t happy. They don’t know what it is to be happy. It is a big problem for them. But it is not a problem for all the boys and the girls – the true citizens – (there are eight of them) of Chile, because they know very well what it means to be happy.
    So, all the boys and girls know what it is to be happy, but all the penguins don’t know it. Therefore, the penguins are jealous of the eight citizens. They are jealous because they want to know what it is to be happy, but they cannot be happy because they are penguins. And their jealousy forces them to attack the eight citizens of Chile. The scene is not good.
    Now, I can make that last sentence into something new, a new story using the structures that are next in line from the song. I can glue, or tag, or connect, the first story with the second. That is, I can embed the first story into the second. Laurie – pls. comment if needed, but this is what I think is called scaffolding. Isn’t there that word scaffolding? Nobody knows what it means, but we all do it? Is this scaffolding, when I expand a story to the next level? Anyway, I’m going to use:
    hand in hand
    looking in each other’s eyes
    walk in love without fear of tomorrow
    and I’m guessing, knowing my kids, that they will have the penguins quickly really pissed off about that and attack the eight good citizens of Chile. That’s probably what will happen tomorrow. Those eight penguins will see those girls and boys so in love and lose it.

  21. Jody,
    I love this line from your previous post… However, 100% comprehensible for 50 minutes every day from super-beginner day one is incredibly difficult for a teacher. I doubt that anyone truly does it–THE COMPREHENSIBLE PART THAT IS. (emphasis mine) – such an astute observation :o)
    I love your students’ stories! LOL!

  22. I found myself today in each class absolutely having to clarify a few things in L1. But who cares if I am well over 90% in the target language? The change for me has been from 70% L2 on a good day, with plenty of showing off, to now 90% pretty much every day. It’s like taming a beast. But boy are the benefits in what the kids are acquiring apparent, at least to me! Plus, it is so much easier! It flows and the kids really lock onto the CI. To repeat, once it is going, it is so much easier!

  23. I took the challenge with my 8th graders yesterday, after I explained (in English) what I was trying to do. I managed fewer than 10 English words in about 30 minutes! Kids liked it, too, I could tell. I’ll have to try harder with the 6th grade and 7th grade–but I do loads more classroom management with those groups, which makes things harder. I guess I’ll just trust that once it is going, it does get easier.

  24. Congrats, Janet. We have to keep consciously pushing ourselves to do this. It does seem harder to stay in the target language, but it pays off.

  25. Letting the kids compose a skeleton story from three chunks is the only thing that is saving my sanity in dealing with an extremely unmotivated French 2 group in my urban high school. They can’t wait to hear/read their work in L2, and could care less about any story/reading I present or come up with, unless I work REALLY hard to cater it to their interests.

    1. Now that we’ve read Dr. Krashen on the Net Input Hypothesis, there seems to be no reason for doing anything but what completely engages the kids. I am amazed that what we do almost by mistake under the TPRS flag turns out to be exactly what we should be doing.

  26. It’s a done deal for me. I present the three structures (chosen from whatever text I am aiming at with the backwards design), they get three minutes and not a second longer to come up with a script, and we start the story. The smaller (one fourth of a page) squares all fit in my hand or are easily seen on a flat surface near me, so I can combine elements of all the stories into the group story that we create. I just look at their skeleton stories and whip up the CI. You’re right. It’s all about them. What was I thinking?

  27. To echo Toni who echoed Jody above – this thread has been about the use of L2 in the classroom, yes, but just to say again that the L2 must be comprehensible. Many of us think that just by speaking in the target language we are making ourselves understandable. We can’t assume anything.
    We don’t go to the next utterance until the previous utterance has been understood. We use the skills of slow, teaching to the eyes, point and pause, only L2 (with those few rare exceptions) and frequent comprehension checks to effectuate the above.
    That is the art of all of this – creating fun waves of comprehension back and forth all class with most if not all of our kids – the dance of CI.

  28. Michelle, I think this is what turned around one group of kids for good in my room too. It’s just a tiny bit different from asking kids to fill in variables in existing stories, but it so takes the pressure off of me, putting it on them in a way they don’t even recognize, making it ALL about them…the only thing that I see now that is a problem is that when I try to then introduce the text that I’m leading to, they make a parallel story so fast that I almost can’t keep up, and they certainly don’t care about that reading as much as they do about the parallel story.
    And Ben, that “not a second more” is exactly what I had to do in my room, because otherwise they get too involved in details. I really don’t want details. I want the simple outline of a story, a skeleton of a story so that we can add the details as a class! It’s fun to see them rushing to create, isn’t it? And now…half the stories come up to me already in Russian. I still tell them that I’d rather they were in English “because you can’t write fast enough in Russian,” and I think that adds to their determination to write in Russian. Really, given that these are structures they aren’t supposed to know yet, they shouldn’t be using them. But they seem to like the challenge.

  29. i am SUCH a visual learner…. could I see an example of the “skeleton stories” the kids are writing and maybe a script of what I would tell them to get them to do it?
    Also, Bryce, Caryn THANK you so much for addressing my question….

  30. For Skip–hope this is what you wanted!
    I walk into class, put three structures on the board (here are the ones I used last week, when we were studying Russian Golden Age writers):
    participated in
    not knowing about
    was arrested
    I do a minimum of establishing meaning, maybe a grammar pop-up, and maybe a little bit of PQA (these particular words are a bit dangerous for PQA).
    I pair up the kids (Ben puts them into groups of 5-7) and give each group 1/8 piece of a sheet of paper (Ben gives them 1/4) and I say, “You have three minutes to write down a story using these three phrases.” I want them to make them up in L1, so that they take very little time, but now many write them in Russian. At two minutes I start collecting the stories. I let myself laugh as I read them, or make comments so that they all know I’ve read theirs and appreciated them.
    [I think Laurie or Ben said that they have them write stories first and then do the PQA stuff. That’s probably a better idea, because it would be all L2 after those first two minutes.]
    I take a quick look at the stories as I collect them to see which ones will work most easily. Sometimes the way the kids use the structures doesn’t work well for Russian, and sometimes the vocabulary is too complex.
    One pair wrote, “Mimi [a girl in the class] went to play bingo, not knowing that no one under 18 can participate in bingo games. She was arrested.”
    I asked that story: Class, who went? (Lots of suggestions, mostly from their own stories resulted.) Yes! It was Mimi! Class, where did she go? (I put a finger up to halt the group that wrote from answering the question.) No, not to the moon, the Olympics. . . she went to play. . . yes! Bingo! But class, she went to Bingo and she didn’t know. . . that LeBron James would be there…that the choir was singing instead…that the electricity was out…that it was a bar, not a Bingo parlor… no, class, she didn’t know that she couldn’t participate! Why not? And so on, until we have the skeleton story in place.
    (Note: it’s less free for the class as a whole, because I am not going to accept their suggestions unless they miraculously get the answers right, than it is when we ask an Anne Matava story–in those, the kids get more free rein with the story. Here, they are waiting to find out what happened, and the kids whose story it is are bursting with pride and anticipation. In Anne’s stories, I can make specific kids heroes by choosing their suggestions. Either way kids get recognition, but there’s more control with pre-scripted stories. Sometimes groups will “leak” stories to their friends, and then there are shouts of “nichestna!” unfair.)
    Then we can do a number of things. I can type the story up on the LCD as they dictate. I can have someone draw it on the board, or have groups draw separate pieces on white boards as I retell (that is a Susie tactic that lets you repeat numerous times, then repeat again as you ask which is what picture, allows you to use the vocab again as you comment on the drawings, and so on). I can back the actors up to their original positions and ask for the details, either from the actors or from the class…how often does she participate in Bingo? or try to participate? why did she participate that night? how did she get there? did her mom know? who arrested her? did she spend the night in jail after having been arrested? what did she say to her mom? did she explain to her mom why she wanted to participate in Bingo?
    Students can write it up as a dictation or a fast write. If it’s a higher-level group, they can add in the details that they like in their fast write. We can do a parallel story.
    Or we can just go on to the next student script: “Two monkeys wanted to participate in the Olympics. They trained and became curling champions. They went to Vancouver, not knowing that only humans could participate in the Olympics. They got so mad that they sabotaged the track and were arrested.”
    We follow the same process–the kids who wrote the story barely holding themselves back from blurting out the answers, throwing in details to reclaim ownership of the story–maybe I give a quiz if the period comes to an end–
    And then we might make it to a third story (“Donny went to participate in a soccer game, but he broke the rules and was arrested”). Then I might write that up, and we might extend it in the next class, or choose one story for our aide to expand on for us.
    Now that Laurie has been sharing her tactics, I plan to try to pull all the stories together from three or four classes to make embedded readings, because I think they will be watching for their own ideas with great excitement. But that will be after we come back from spring break, our annual language competition, and parent-teacher conferences, so I’m going to be absolutely spring-loaded by the time we are ready to go again.

  31. Skip just go to yesterday’s blog
    Backwards Design + Skeleton Stories + Embedded Readings
    just before the one with Bryce talking to Blaine. I will go back and bold some of the headings to make it easier to read. In that blog I try to describe Monday’s – yesterday’s – process. It includes a skeleton story written by a group of six kids in under three minutes that became the story and the quiz for that day, and the blog is quite detailed.
    Just to update that, then, today I took more structures from the song that is the subject of this backwards design process, and spent the class getting reps on:
    (les yeux dans les yeux) – they already knew this but I worked with them anyway
    (la main dans la main) – they already knew this, too
    ils s’en vont
    sans peur
    le lendemain
    The end target line from the song is actually “…et les yeux dans les yeux, et la main dans la main, ils s’en vont, amoureux, sans peur du lendemain…” – I think that’s it, and I knew they knew “amoureux” from the last song, and of course they knew the first two structures from September but I put them up there anyway. The process was
    1. teach the structures (establish meaning – it has to be done – use of English ok here to explain stuff) – two minutes or so
    2. ask them to make up those little stories – three minutes max
    3. then I took one (about a goldfish) and tried to see how I could mix that skeleton story with the words above in free form CI, just asking questions to see where it all went. The class (same one that did the penguin story yesterday) soon had, via the CI, created a goldfish with four eyes (just to get reps on it because the word eyes is in the song) and no hands (fish don’t have hands – it’s obvious) and then I just kind of married their story with the words and freely used the terms as we kept talking. I hope I’m not overexplaining this but I know it is hard to grasp without seeing it. I just took the terms I wanted to teach, had the kids make up a little story, then spent the entire rest of the period in L2 making up random images and events about whatever came up. The kids were amazing in their ability to hang with the dialogue between us, with me just asking questions and them sometimes vehemently arguing with me about choice of content, which is really fun because sometimes they get these looks on their faces like, “How dare you make that fish (a kid standing in front of the class) wear glasses!” and I get back in their faces like in a real argument. It makes them forget that they are in French.
    I might add that I kept thinking how much I would like to have kids count certain structures in all my classes now. They really get into that and it builds a bond between us. I tell them I want to get at least fifty repetitions of each structure that is targeted. Now, check this out – look what happens (described below) in the invisible world between me and my students – we are team building, working together to get reps on structures rather than me “instructing” them. I tell them at the start of class something like this in English:
    “Hey class, do you see those words up there? For you to understand the song later, you really need to hear each of them a number of times in a way that makes sense to you. You won’t be able to really understand the song unless we do that. So, how about we just start talking about them, and would you five mind making a little tick mark in your composition book each time I say the one I ask you to count? Thanks. That is really going to help us. Now, some of you are very visual learners, and this class is not visual but auditory, so you may find it a challenge, even annoying, but all you have to do in this class is listen and I will grade you on
    – what I see in your eyes (I have a participation rubric – most get tens)
    – maybe a little quiz at the end of class, but it’ll be real easy – all you have to do is pay attention
    and you kids remember that humans learn mostly visually, so I respect how hard it is to learn through your ears, but you must try. All that I am asking you to do is try. No homework, no big tests, and you are graded on how hard you try and those little quizzes that are so easy and many of you are just killin’ it so far this year because whenever we do one of these classes you just understand so well and I can just see how well you are doing and remember I will never compare you with anybody else in the class, either.”
    Now, Skip, what that does is take away the “in your face” authority “You need to learn this!” energy in the class. If you knew the truth, the kids don’t really all feel that they need to learn what we think is so important. That’s a bubble buster but the fact that I speak French is not really all that impressive to kids. A lot of them speak Spanish or their friends do. What’s impressive to them is their iphone. I will never get a kid to learn French. But I can create a scenario in which we are all working together shoulder to shoulder to get a bunch of reps on certain structures. And, after the class, I can ask how we did, not how they did. And they don’t walk out of my room thinking that they are stupid. It’s like “did we get enough reps for us to understand the song later?”
    I really like this. I really like working with my students to create cool and fun CI that amuses all of us and it’s not even like school. I can just feel all of the old images that I had of what a language teacher is totally crumbling away these past few weeks, spurred initially by the genius (for real!) Laurie and the incredible Michele. I can see myself not stressing anymore about a lesson plan and teaching certain targeted content. I feel all of that fading out of what I think teaching is. It’s melting! It’s melting! Either I align with Krashen’s statements or I don’t, and, unless I am wrong – pls. correct me! – we don’t learn languages in any certain order that we know of and can plan for, anyway, so why teach that way? I don’t know, dude. A lot of the stuff I used to hold true is, under recent light from folks like Diana Noonan and Jody and Bryce, really showing itself to be false.

  32. Ben and Michele,
    How do you make it work to use the TL 90%+ and the English SGSs? Personally, I have to have my kids write their SGSs in the TL or they throw in way too much weird stuff and I can’t get enough reps of the target structures. Nonetheless, if this were the beg. of the school year, I would have to let them write the stories in English and I know without a doubt that they would at least be speaking English together as they are concocting a story. I am not trying to convince anyone to use the TL for SGSs; I’m just wondering how you handle the management piece on that. Thanks!

  33. Dear Toni,
    I use Russian to tell the kids they have three minutes to write a story. They will all ask (in Russian) whether it’s in Russian or in English. I say “in English,” and then they often do it in Russian anyway. It is indeed two minutes when they are speaking English at the beginning of the period. I had one situation last week in which a kid asked me, in Russian, why they couldn’t speak Russian, and we had a mock argument about how I understand their English writing better. Then she read her story to the whole class, asking whether they understood, and they all said they did.

  34. Hi Toni,
    I think that two things prevent the “overboard” vocab…1) They only have 3 minutes, so there isn’t a lot of time to go into detail. It is just about enough time to flesh out a skeleton story with the target phrases. 2) They figure out that the details will come later, as the story is asked.
    Even if they “sneak” in out of bounds words, we can, as the story director, rephrase their choices, or substitute with a word that they know or a cognate.
    I hope that helps a little!
    with love,

  35. And I in no way feel obliged to create THEIR story. I am merely looking for a story line or lines (if I use more than one of their scripts in the creation of the CI) that can generate, in very loose fashion in the spirit of free form PQA, a story (or just a discussion) that is interesting to them. I ask questions and things unexpectedly happen, and I am always ready to follow any interesting tangent anywhere.
    I find that, if I don’t have that flexibility to go where the CI goes, I feel like I am trying to force the thing. Think of Elvis in the early years. What made him great then was that he let that energy flow through him, but, in later years, he so much more conscious of himself and it showed. He was no longer free. He was boring.
    So it is with a good story – there is something going on in there that is greater than we are, than anything that we could consciously create. It is a melding of the group mind that makes this stuff flow, makes it interesting. If I keep practicing, I might be able to say some day that it is even compelling input.

  36. I know I am a little late with this post…can anyone give me an idea of how we know if we are 70% or 80% or 90% in TL? I see Bryce had kids count words, but how did he know that was too many words? I’d like to evaluate how I am doing with this.

  37. Diane,
    You are right, it is tough to get an exact idea just what percentage of Target Language we are using. The percentage of English has to be an estimate, unless we were to record the class and then painstakingly transcribe and count the words. The counting of English words was just a way to give us an idea (and to encourage a little friendly rivalry between classes–notice that the Spanish I class actually had the FEWEST English words spoken). I suppose you could go by time spent speaking in English versus the target language, but I am thinking that if there were only 20 or so words in English used during the ENTIRE 52 minutes class period by every single person in the class, both students and teacher, that class was well into the 98%+ range.

  38. For me it’s about “outbreaks” of English, not isolated words. I can contain them all right. But if I think of something really cool that would make me look smart in front of my students so that I could get their approval (hey, I’m not the only one….), and I thus break the solid line of L2 that has been going on for 20 or 30 minutes, and then do that again when a kid walks in and we get into a side conversation about that, then that to me is very serious. I can’t do that anymore. I would be very disappointed in myself that I allowed those two L1 outbreaks to torpedo that class. Those outbreaks are bad, if I want to hook that unconscious mind into a low affective filter level and thus plenty of acquisition by getting every kids’ deeper mind focused on the message and not on the words. It’s those L1 outbreaks that I have really tightened up on these past few years ever since our district WL coordinator Diana Noonan tossed down the glove in front of our Denver TCI team, challenging us to stay 95% or above in the TL.

  39. What spelling error? What embarrassment? I hope we get to the place in this group where, soon, we put up crap video and say wild and crazy things. Anyway, if you ever want things you say changed, just email me and I will do it. Plus we are commenting on comments made here a year and a half ago, which can be confusing.

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