The Myth

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22 thoughts on “The Myth”

  1. I feel like you are writing to me specifically! I definitely felt like problems and solutions were difficult. Maybe I am changing my mind, thanks to this post and something that just happened this morning –

    I just printed out some old comics from stories we did over a month ago that I didn’t get to give out and read because problems with our school printers followed by some weird schedule changes that caused me to just move on to another activity. I will be out the first week of March so I am pulling together work to leave for the sub. They like to read and illustrate when I am out so I got out these old stories. I re-read them and realized that they really are quite cute with a simple problem and solution that makes sense even if it isn’t too clever or crazy. In the moment I felt they were too simple or stupid and I was just trying to finish before the period was over. But with the passage of time, reading them again I love them. Simple is good!

  2. One thing that I’ve found as well, and it depends on the class, of course, but not all classes really get into goofy/crazy stories. Some are quite content with more or less “normal” stories, and can even be turned off by stories that they think are overly silly. Personally, I think they could lighten up a bit, but our work can be successful without grand spectacles that wow our students. There’s nothing wrong with stories that are more mundane. It’s like how Van Gogh could take a simple pair of work boots and celebrate its specialness.

    I really enjoy working with students that are very creative, but connections can also be made with students who prefer more “serious” down-to-earth stories and topics of discussion. In the end, if we’re communicating using the target language in a way that is comprehensible, and at least somewhat interesting (particularly for ourselves, heck, we’re the ones in a school building day after day, year after year…) then our work is successful. Like you’ve said before, most of us are mainly teaching the first couple of years for most students, and so we’re just planting seeds. It would be great if we could speed up the process, but it just takes time…

  3. I’ve been struggling with this very idea, Ben, about creating some fascinating problem in our co-narrated stories. Maybe it’s a competitive thing in me, or an ego thing… but when I see online how teachers have their students create these provocative characters that, through their artwork, suggest some deep emotional turmoil, I begin to want to see that in my students work. And then, I’m just not getting the kind of invisible character that makes creating a simple but compelling story happen.

    However, recently I did get a good one. His name is Kube. He’s a coconut from West Africa. He’s green. The fact that Kube is green and not brown caused a heated debate (all in English… don’t judge me, lol) amongst my students who mostly come from Nigeria or Ghana. I had to hold off on doing the story until the next class because their debate was all inclusive and all consuming for the entire class period. “I thought this was Spanish class,” joked a heritage Spanish student that happened to walk by in the hallway and pop into my room at that time, curious at the commotion. (I’m lucky to work with kids who believe that a lively conversation is more important than covering any kind of planned material.)

    So, I fashioned a story from the info provided by the student creator. The students were so goofy in the whole description of Kube. Baking each other, as it were. Finally I got to the problem part of the story and finished it quickly. That went pretty well.

    I don’t know. I think I just need to accept to throw out many of the Invisible characters that students submit. If they don’t strike me as being simple and compelling, I’m gonna throw them out.

    Or I might, when I ask students to create a second Invisible character, to think about a defect that object might have and then base it’s secret, fear, and problem off that defect.

    1. …I’m also thinking about how the development of the character builds students interest, and how to feed that fire more. For example, this coconut’s name is Kube. Thinking back, it really is an awesome name. I could have paused on that name more to talk about the qualities of that name. Like, how Kube sounds like ‘cube’ and how a coconut is boxey like that. How Kube most likely has self confidence as a result of his name.

      I see how whenever we have some buy-in to a character, and that goes for me more than for my students, then with whatever story line that follows, or problem that occurs, we will stay interested.

  4. The struggle of finding a good problem is REAL. I love diving into story asking and OWI creation but coming up with the problem is where I get stuck and things peter out. I love that we have decided that it is ok to let students take a minute in English to come up with a compelling problem that then the teacher can translate into their level of language, instead of giving them a target problem. But many times the problems are superficial and I feel bad that I am not good at leading the story into thoughtful life issues with a moral. I can’t spin them on the spot and depending on their mood, middle schoolers may go deep or may go superficial and silly (not that that is bad necessarily). Story asking is a great opportunity to touch on important themes and weave in culture, but my wish to have a problem of ¨value” has led me to talk with a peer about creating a list of “problems” that use high-frequency chunks or structures for when we nothing is coming to mind for the class. Like a stack of cards I could flip through and pull out a problem when we need one. Or like what we can do with the die – put different places or adjectives on each side and roll it and make a quality story when nothing is gelling. Anybody else have a list of ideas for problems?Boy our work is so much more challenging on so many levels than those of our peers who flip through text books when we do this kind of “teaching¨, isn’t it?!

    1. Laura you said –

      …many times the problems are superficial and I feel bad that I am not good at leading the story into thoughtful life issues with a moral….

      I think that is what Sean was getting at when he intimated that he was getting good at not caring if he came up with a cute problem/resolution. Not sure that’s what he said but the idea is that our job is the CI part not the entertainment part. We put so mucb pressure on ourselves and for what reason?

  5. Laura I admire your being willing to put a list of problems together. But over the past four years I have broken contact with the idea of working. For me if a problem isn’t there, it isn’t there and I have no difficulty in stopping the story in English and moving to something else. I also convey to them that I am not the only one expected to be creative in the class. I feel so distant now from all those TPRS people who work so hard. I’ve changed. Hope I didn’t offend you with all my hippie talk. I just worked so hard on TPRS for so long and it’s not what I ever really wanted. The new way is my way. If I hadn’t gotten so much support on my ideas (described adequately in the “38 Reasons” category), I’d think I’m crazy. But I’m not. I just don’t want to work so damn hard to be a good teacher. The job is too difficult in the first place.

  6. Love the hippie talk. Love non-targeted. Love not planning! While I have been away from this PLC, I have always come back to the image from 6 years ago when I found this PLC of you talking about just walking into school with your coffee cup and enjoying hanging out with the kids in the TL, and I have done that AND the kids have totally acquired. So thanks!

  7. Thank you Laura – my remembrance of you from six years ago is that online I would think from your words that “This person was meant to be a teacher.” That’s who you are to me, not having met you. The sense of how you teach that I got in the comments you made back then was that you were all over every aspect of this work.

    My secret is that I wasn’t meant to be a language teacher. I did it out of sheer love for my content area of French culture and French literature. The kids just happened to be the only way I could feed my habit of reading Saint-Ex and Diderot and all the people I fell in love with 50 years ago. I tried the PhD thing and hated everyone in the U of Rochester building bc they were so full of themselves, badly entrapped up in their minds, so many little Jeremys like in Yellow Submarine (“Ad hoc loc and quid pro quo! So little time, so much to know!”)

    And it didn’t help that as a Jungian critic I just didn’t fit anywhere. My thesis advisor was a feminist who was always flying to Paris and gave me little help. For my orals they had to bring in a guy who knew a little bit about Carl Jung and French Literature from the U of Buffalo. Boy, those folks were more full of garbage than those 75 year old Latin teachers with whom I have jousted all my life.

    Rambling here. I think the point is that I treasure my career in the wrong field. I felt the pain of the kids just sitting there suffering at the hands of said Latin teacher and I did what I could to lessen their pain there in class. I’m actually finishing up a book right now about all that – it’s a book that has as its one goal to make this all easier. To bring the joy without effort.

    Knowing people like Sean and Alisa and Matava and everyone who has come and gone here over the many years has been one of the best parts of my life, because I wasn’t so lonely. There are freaks here who actually think like me. It’s good this site was made private. I have learned to not trust the so-called CI experts out there any further than I could throw them.

  8. The hardest thing for me about working with OWIs and Invisibles is coming up with the problem. We function in L2 so consistently while we are creating the character, then there is this switch to English* while we flail about, trying to come up with a good problem.

    If we’re done with the list of questions from ANATTY and ANATS, and I still don’t see a good problem, then I might ask, what is its fear and/or secret? Another way to assure a problem is to insist that there are family members and/or a significant other. I used to ask, does he have family? and too often the answer was no. Now I ask, whom does he have for family? I always follow that up by asking, is his (father) also a (coconut)? Of course the answer is no, which in itself can hold the problem.

    For example, if our character is a spider and his parent is a hat, the parent could have expectations of the child that he can’t meet. Anyone who is looking for less frivolity and more substance need look no further than this phenomenon of the family members belonging to different species, so to speak.

    Another good strategy is to review the character with its drawing at the end of the class, then have kids write an idea for the problem on exit slips. If your kids are anything like my period 7 class, you may need to insist that they write their names on their exit slips, and not write anything that they wouldn’t want their mothers to know that they wrote. With my period 7 I had to follow that up with the promise that if someone wrote something inappropriate and I was unable to determine the author, henceforth all problems would be decided by me and would come from Sesame Street in one form or another.

    So far it has worked very well. Just be sure to tell the kids that simple problems get bumped to the top of the list, or someone will write you a mini-dissertation.

    Our saving grace in all of this is that the character creation takes place on day 1, and the story on day 2. So we have some time to mull it over and have a problem in the back of our minds, just in case. Don’t forget that the two questions “Where is he?” and “With whom?”, the questions that we ask to get the story started, may yield a wonderful problem, in which case we are all set. But particularly with my less-disciplined groups I always have a problem in the back of my mind to fall back on.

    *This is not to imply that I am opposed to lively discussion in English, ACTFL and its 90% notwithstanding. The difficulty that I am trying to avoid is when a wonderful, detailed storyline gets cooked up in English, I work like a fiend to write it in L2, it’s loaded with words and phrases that the kids have never seen before and will never see again, I come away feeling like not much language was acquired, and this becomes standard operating procedure in that particular class. I’ve had a couple of classes like that, and they could tell you all of the funny things that happened in English, but not much, if any, of it in L2.

    1. Anne said:

      “If we’re done with the list of questions from ANATTY and ANATS, and I still don’t see a good problem, then I might ask, what is its fear and/or secret?”

      That is why Invisibles are superior to one word images. With the former, we already have a problem, fear and secret before we start the story.

    2. Anne you have described here a few of my classes over the years!

      “they could tell you all of the funny things that happened in English, but not much, if any, of it in L2.”

      Thank you. I feel better now. This happens sometimes. I’m always looking to avoid it but not gonna beat myself up about it.

  9. Those are great suggestions and strategies! I knew I just needed some better angles at it because I know the kids have ideas for interesting problems they would like to see reflected in the stories but, hey, they are young and worried about being clever for their friends. What is his fear – that is a great question. Making the family be different with different expectations – that is a great idea. The character wants to be in the NBA when he grows up but his parents want him to be a doctor….

    And yes in my younger classes it amazes me how excited they are to make up the problem and it is totally a five minute rambling problem that they have spontaneously created. If I have the right questions that they can give a simple answer to that may solve the problem. Mil gracias!

  10. Hot take – is a problem even necessary? Even if all we get to is a description of the character and setting with some thinking and dialogue, are we not getting good non-targeted language into the classroom based on student’s ideas? It’s not a creative writing class, it is an intro language class, so the story part is sort of the icing on the cake.

  11. YES. That thought about not needing a problem keeps coming up in my mind. I totally agree. It’s part of the new initiative to give ourselves a break. If as you say Carly our only job is to deliver comprehensible input to our students, then why are we stressing so much about the problem and solution? Sheesh!

    AND we can blame them as uncreative, not by finger pointing at that class, but in a lighthearted joking way of course. When they see in the art gallery that actual stories are happening in other classes, and we say in a friendly way, “Yeah, we haven’t made too many stories in here, have we?” their competitive nature will come out and we won’t be the only person in the room trying to find a way to end the story.

    Thank you Carly for both your comments today.

  12. Well thanks. However, this space is only as valuable as the flow of comments we get going. I encourage any and all to bring up anything at anytime. Email me at if you are stuck in class. It’s takes a village to learn this stuff. It’s only through our group sharing that we grow and work through stuff. When I think back to that Denver conference and working in the evenings with Dr. Walker and all I am reminded about how much work you have done via great courage. Seems like that conference wasn’t that long ago but I know it was. Les jours se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas.

  13. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Carly I think these are such important questions. When I first started on my CI journey, I was taught that the story didn’t really matter – all that mattered was compelling CI. So we could go on and on with the description of the enormous yellow sparkly gummy bear who wasn’t very smart…and never have a plot – problem or resolution…when it got boring, just move on to something different – don’t worry about the story. My kids were dissatisfied w/that and so was I.

    Through this PLC and my own experimentation – up to 9 classes a day grades 1-4 for several years running – I have learned that the kids in fact get fatigued when the extended description (character/s & setting/s) goes nowhere. They want the story arc – they crave a problem and a resolution. If stories are evolutionarily baked into us – then the plot structure is, too.
    So I felt liberated by the notion that a story could be created start to finish in a shorter pd of time! Even if it has a lame ending! In the (real!) gummy bear example, that 3rd grade class couldn’t agree on an ending, (but they created a great story and several attempts to resolve!) so guess what? A dog came by and ate him! I just pulled that one out of my hat..or maybe I heard a kid suggest it under their breath? No one cared how it ended. They LOVED the experience of creating the character and his problem (obsessed w/YouTube but his parents forbade it) and they were satisfied with the symmetry of the story of the dumb Gummy bear, who tried extracting YouTube by clobbering his parents’ computer with a hammer, but ended up abruptly and inexplicably devoured by a passing dog. When they look up at the wall and see the OWI, they fondly remember the the whole creative experience….

    1. Yes yes yes!! I think that for me I’ve given myself permission to bail if the energy isn’t there and just type it up with an ending even if we didn’t get to act one out in class. Sometimes I lose them with the acting part. But the characters lend themselves deliciously to stories as long as I don’t get myself too tangled in the details or in trying to incorporate absolutely every suggestion from the class.

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