Simplicity 1

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27 thoughts on “Simplicity 1”

  1. Thank you Ben. This is the template I have been looking for. I feel a sense of security, calm and orderliness which had been missing in my instruction. I have a wierd flex-mod schedule – a cycle of A-F day which is strange enough as it is, but you have laid out a plan that for me is majestic in its simplicity.

  2. Melanie Bruyers

    During PQA, I like to have a time with a slide show on the Smartboard where I show culturally appropriate pictures of the target structures and circle and ask them questions: I am using Sabine und Michael which is thematic, today’s theme was breakfast, so today I showed them pictures of tables set for German breakfast with wooden boards and egg cups, etc. I also brought in a wooden board and an egg cup for them to touch.
    Ben, is there any place in your week where you show pictures and ask the students about the pictures? I realize it is not really PQA then, but just QA.

  3. Melanie, as long as you’re letting the kids answer questions that you don’t know the answer to, it’s PQA. Pictures (especially those on / or the American equivalent and source, I think) are great story starters.
    Ben, I can tell that you’ve cut us off! Please! let us in again!!
    In the meantime, I also love this template.

  4. I have a reason Michele and John. I just can’t say it until the blog has undergone the changes described earlier. I know, I know. But I gotta do what I gotta do.
    And in the case of Melanie’s comment, that means a ramble. I’m not talking about a regular ramble. I’m talking about a wide open spaces ramble, a prairie ramble, a tumbleweed ramble, a long ass ramble. You’ve been warned.
    Melanie any pictures I work with are actually paintings, and that only on Friday as per the taxonomy presented above. But even then only when it’s not a song or poem. So not very often. In my view poetry and music are more interesting, so I don’t discuss paintings much. The week is just too short.
    Here’s a question – when we insert a thematic piece into general PQA (mixing a particular thematic unit into a general PQA discussion based on three structures to set up a story), might this possibly drag down the energy level and general interest of the PQA discussion?
    Personally, when I place the kids’ focus on ANY thematic instruction – breakfast in your example above – things start to drag. Even if I keep the personalization piece in and ask the kids what time they have breakfast or what they eat for breakfast, it’s just boring.
    I don’t care what time they have breakfast or what they eat. Thematic unit discussion is the kind of discussion that is easy to have with a student after a lot of CI, but not before a lot of CI. Like after at least two years worth.
    To address any topic in a language class, one must first have heard and read a lot of CI. My definition of CI is exactly Krashen’s and doesn’t include camouflaged presentation of what are basically word lists unless we do as Michele says above.
    Let me be clear on this, however. In the way Michele qualifies it above, which is to say that anything can become CI if you act like you don’t know the answer and you encourage the playing of Blaine’s “game”, then yes, thematic units can lend themselves, like anything, to the creation of interesting discussion with the kids.
    However, when we start trying to teach like fifty words connnected to food and meals, and we “PQA” them for a half hour and then give the kids a quiz on them, the kids won’t know them. Refer to Profe Loca’s brilliant delineation between CI and Pacing Guides, which are usually no more than thematic unit delivery systems, on this site on the home page link “About TPRS”:
    To add to what Profe Loca says, I would add that the biggest flaw in pacing guides and the resultant bogus common assessments is that too many teachers don’t give the kids in front of them a break. They don’t repeat the words enough.
    That is one of the first things I noticed about Blaine’s and Susie’s workshops. Both of these masters were always aware of what the kids knew and what they didn’t know. It was uncanny. They both have a kind of sixth sense about if the word had been acquired.
    Now I understand that they were working from the largely ignored but crucial assumption that if students haven’t word the word enough, they will not have acquired it. Diana Noonan is always hammering that one home here in Denver Public Schools. She is always reminding us that we must teach for acquisition, and test after that, not before. Testing after the word has been acquired and testing it in context is what brings confidence in kids.
    When I used to focus on thematic unit vocabulary, I could rarely get more than twenty repetitions on the target structures before the car ran out of gas. There isn’t enough personalization, which is the lifeblood of comprehensible input teaching.
    Without at least 75 repetitions on each target structure on Monday, the story won’t work the next day anyway, so I have to stay with the structures. I might put that last sentence up for consideration as one of the most misunderstood things about CI in general and a major reason people can’t get it to work for them. The purpose of PQA is to get enough repetitions of the target structures to set up the story and allow it to work. That means a lot of repetitions.
    I don’t see how we can present a whole bunch of loosely grouped words – they are just word lists but we call them thematic units under the bogus assumption that if they are bundled together somehow each one will be easier to acquire – and then we ask kids to remember all of them after a just a few repetitions or worse, visual presentations only.
    Think of college textbooks and vocabulary testing, which inflict great harm on many college students. Just because they are older and in college doesn’t mean that they can learn languages any faster than anyone else. Some of the lists I seen in college texts are nothing if not cruel.
    Ramble on. It is not right to turn language instruction into an academic exercise. Rather, language in itself can be a dance with lots of laughter and fun. Cannot life be that way? It is what we choose. That is why I have chosen comprehensible input.
    Formal thematic instruction, even it if is mixed into PQA, functions in a narrow and wide way, and we know that for a language to actually be aquired, the instruction must be narrow and deep.
    For me, PQA is when I ask a question and the kids send me back silly stuff and I greedily stuff it all in the back of my mind in hopes of retrieving it at the right time when the story happens. I am planning my Tuesday party there on Monday with all the PQA. And the purpose of the party is to celebrate the three structures.
    The only thing that should tie the Monday PQA down are the three structures. Do the math on the available minutes. Every question that I ask during the PQA has to include one of the two or three target structures or the story won’t work. This is what Susan Gross calls sheltering vocabulary but not grammar.
    Keeping PQA on the topic of breakfast is just too hard – read “boring” – for me. At some point, every teacher who does PQA has to make a decision as to whether they are going to personalize the structures for silliness or not.
    Rambling bodaciously. No shame. Since, in my own mind, life is very very silly, I want my classes to be silly. I used to think life was really serious, and I actually thought that I was a serious man, un homme sérieux, a good teacher who taught seriously. Life’s too short not to enjoy my kids, my life, and my job – those wonderful things that Le Bon Dieu puts in front of me so freely every day – to not make kids feel good about languages. Comprehension based teaching allows me to do that.
    Pretty good ramble, huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? And Melanie is probably wondering, “What the heck did I say to get Slavic to go in that direction? Oh well, I’m rolling and might as well roll on.
    The truth is that I’m just really bad at thematic instruction. I’m sure that there are teachers who are great at it. In my world, however, some of the students would want to know about breakfast vocabulary and would pay attention, but others wouldn’t. They would go out on me. And even the ones who paid attention would do so mostly for a grade on a test than out of sheer interest.
    I would sense the loss of the other kids in such a lesson. I don’t want to lose those kids – they are important to me! We are not going to make a single dent in the Achievement Gap unless we teach to and include all the kids in class. Last I heard this was the United States of America, where public education in spite of all odds must serve all the kids of our great nation.
    Unless someone wants to tell me that if a kid comes from poverty and is likely to live her life in poverty, and can’t read past the sixth grade level, then she shouldn’t be in a foreign language class…. Just don’t do that. Instead, read Krashen on getting books into libraries in urban and other tax base deprived areas. Do that instead, but don’t tell me all kids don’t have the right to learn a language. Them’s fightin’ words.
    If a kids fails a grammar test, can’t do grammar, do we conclude that they can’t learn a language? That’s just stupid. Most tests as they exist currently don’t measure CI trained kids’ overall command of the language, their very cool ability to work with language in class – not produce it, but work with it, and then, each at their own speed, produce it. Each blooming when it is natural, and not too early because the blooms were forced open at the wrong time or were force fed the wrong kind of fertilizer:
    I remember when I started doing CI. Planning my classes to target some thematic group of words, say food vocabulary, always killed the interest. The story wouldn’t fly half as high. Thematic teaching, for me, was a lead weight around the ankles of the PQA or story. But that’s just me.
    I just know that whatever is most personalized is most interesting to the kids. Tie the PQA down, yes, but tie it down with the three structures and not with a thematic unit. The first allows freedom of discussion that can become highly personalized; the second doesn’t.
    I would ask one more question on this topic of PQA and thematic units. Would we in our everyday lives want to sit around and talke about breakfast for 45 mintues? Wouldn’t it get boring? Especially if there was only one expert allowed, the oldest one, the one getting paid. In that scenario, we give up personal(ized) power to someone who knows more than us. I’m not sure that’s optimal for learning. Our job is to empower our kids, to encourage them, to build them up, to make them feel like that they can do it. That’s what Blaine’s cute answer option does.
    Rant over!

  5. Melanie Bruyers

    Hi Ben, I didn’t know if I used the word “thematic” it meant a list of 50 food items. My structures for that day were “you are right” “the soft-boiled egg”
    “again” and “did it taste good?” , but I did only get about 30 to 40 reps in for each of the structures. I did have to let go of the theme a little bit, like we talked about whether Rebecca Black or Selena Gomez is a better singer and who has tried Sushi and we had a little story at the end where the person was on the street in Israel being served a soft boiled turtle egg by her grandmother (for breakfast). But thanks for the ramble, I always enjoy reading this blog and thinking about what and why I do things in the classroom. Also, thanks Michelle for your response about pictures.

  6. My understanding of a thematic unit is where the kids kind of memorize a bunch of single words around a certain theme. What you did was right on target for good CI. Nice amount of reps, nice CI. No that rant was just something that happens from time to time. Honestly, I think that random PQA but that is (counterintuitively) connected hard to the three structures is the best PQA. Is there a story script connected to those three structures? Where did they come from?

    1. Melanie Bruyers

      Hi Ben, I use Sabine und Michael, so there are chapters with 8 parts and then each of the 8 parts has 8 structures and then I break that into 2, so those 4 structures don’t have a story script, so I make one up, but there will be an extended reading with all 8 structures and a shorter reading with a story board with the same 8 structures that I use for dictation. I shared my story scripts for the last couple of chapters at GermanTPRS in the files.

  7. TPRS is an excellent demonstration of the need to avoid reification of Bloom’s categories of learning. Best remembering– longterm remembering– of discrete terms is not simply rote remembering from simple repetitive rehearsal of discrete items. Best remembering of discrete items comes from subconsciously “catching” the sense of those discrete items within larger, synergistic contexts of meaning that appeal to the human mind’s power of subconscious, pre-reflective comprehension, analysis, evaluation, creation, etc. Indeed, each of Bloom’s categories is best understood as a synergism of most, if not all, of those same categories.
    I believe this is leading somewhere important, but i don’t have time to pursue it right now. Please help me out!

  8. WOW! Thank you for all of this! It feels like I am somehow suddenly “legitimate” in my 20-year frustration. I don’t feel as though any of the information I’m getting from this blog is “new” per se, but rather an affirmation of lots of bottled up aggravation that I have never been able to articulate. I have been feeling all of this in my bones even though I may not have had the words to describe it. Probably because at the end of each year when I resolve to “become a real teacher next year” I am just too fried from trying so hard to fit into the inauthenticity of it all. Anyway. Now the can of whoop ass is open. Last night we had parent conferences, and of course a 7th grade parent comes in talking about how much his child loves French. Of course he loves French! The kids in that class sprint into the room every day, laugh and smile and have fun and learn a lot of French, and leave the room “babbling” the expressions they worked with. I hear them down the hall and its so fun! The problem with this is that next year the child will be tracked by our system into the “language for non-honor roll students.” This tracking does nothing to the child except make him feel dumb. Next year , or actually this year when the kids choose whether to take Spanish or French, the labels will be in full force: who is taking the “dumb French” and who “gets to” take “intensive.” It is sickening to me to watch this year after year. Of course we don’t call it “dumb French” but that is how the kids perceive it and so it is real to them. I have always wondered why we do this to kids? “Well, they need another study hall to work on their math.” Or whatever. I don’t really know how beneficial this is. Woudn’t it be more beneficial in the overall picture for the kid to have 45 mins in the day where they see and feel how smart they are? How they can hear the Spanish or French and respond to it because they understand it and are excited about how much they get???
    I’m preparing an e-mail to go along with a discussion/inquiry I would like to have with the “higher authorities.” I have a Krashen clip on acquisition and I plan to link to a few blog posts, but which ones???? They are all so informative. Also I know I need “hard data” in terms of how much the kids actually learn, which to “the system” probably means I need to wait until next year until the next teacher notices this.
    Does anyone have advice for me in terms of articles, etc. I can share as part of my “inquiry?” I do plan to meet with ???someone??? to inquire about some of the insane practices like the tracking and don’t get me going about people who don’t even speak another language somehow being “experts” on whether child x “has the ability to learn a language,” and the perpetuation of the illusion that “languages are for honor roll students.” Grrrrr!!!
    I realize as I move through this transition is that probably it is best that I channel my full attention and energy into the kids themselves, into each class every day so that “the prana is not dispersed.” Then the work will speak for itself. I know I have a long way to go and I do have a tendency to get ahead of myself. Nontheless, if anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them.

    1. Jen the people to talk to on this are Diana Noonan and Susan Gross. Diana is in Mexico until Monday, so email her about this next week. I will email her today about this. Contact Susie through her site:
      Either of these true leaders can help you articulate what you are thinking. They both have a way of going right to the necessary concepts. They will help you pick a path that leads to your goal.
      Meanwhile, a sentence you wrote really grabbed me on a visceral level:
      …I am just too fried from trying so hard to fit into the inauthenticity of it all….
      This speaks volumes. This is honesty. See the latest issue of The Language Educator (April 2011) for a wonderfully honest article by Scott Rex on this topic. The article is called:
      “We Ignore Current Language Research at Our Own Peril”

  9. To Jen, re the levels of tracking to which you refer:
    At each of those levels, the overwhelming probability is that each Bloomian category of learning will tend to be reified by the curriculum as a distinct physical entity rather than understood as merely a synergistically relational concept, each one assuming (or subsuming) the other. So the result will be fragmented, so-called “direct instruction” of each skill in extreme isolation from the real data– the data about how those skills interrelate and are best acquired by allowing them to interrelate with the personality of each student, as well as with each other. Perhaps no Bloomian category of thinking is higher than another. What is high thinking is to have them all working
    inter-supportively together no matter which one is momentarily in dominant operation.

  10. By the way, just above here, that last sentence of mine last states what TPRS is all about, especially when we don’t forget to include attitudinal and psycho-motor components.

  11. Wow Frank, that last sentence “What is high thinking is to have them all working inter-supportively together no matter which one is momentarily in dominant operation” is really and truly what TPRS aspires to and is. Until someone can come up with a way of assessing holistically, the real effectiveness of TPRS won’t be “proved”. The fact that this hasn’t been done says much more about the failure of assessment designers to examine anything rich and complex than it does about TPRS.

  12. It is most important to traditional teachers to be able to keep assessment design traditional. If not, if someone were to come up with a way to measure what kids who are taught with comprehensible input can really do, then they are in trouble. The truth will out on them.
    As long as they can teach to a test designed by people who don’t get Krashen (some instruments still test verb conjugation knowledge!) it doesn’t matter if their kids have learned skills that they will actually need in the target country – they will look good on paper and most principals won’t know the difference.
    Until that change occurs in assessment (think of formal interviews with kids and what that would reveal in four year programs as an example), we will have to accept as yardsticks the huge enrollment increases that we find in many properly run CI based classrooms (where the Achievement Gap is dealt a strong blow).
    And we can also point to the obvious good will and enthusiasm of our students and parents as per a blog entry coming up tomorrow from Bryce. Again today I refer the reader to Scott Rex’ piece in the latest issue of The Language Educator (April 2011):
    “We Ignore Current Language Research at Our Own Peril”

  13. It’s on my desk at school. I will get something here on Monday. Scott basically describes the gorilla in the room, that those who (still!) teach for grammatical accuracy can’t possibly address proficiency as well, and something has to give. I will ask his permission now to duplicate some of the text here on Monday.

  14. First of all I have to say that I really appreciate that Ben takes time to share insight and be a facilitator for those of us who strive each day to provide the best for our students. It would be so much easier to have lessons plans that read : Define vocab; Do exercises A-G on pp. 117-125; Complete verb worksheet packet. Also, several folks have touched on this, but research points out student attitude as factoring as much as 20% into success with acquiring another language. How can any method be effective if it does not address this? For me, the bottom line is no other strategies that I have tried can address my students’ attitudes as well as meaningful and compelling comprehensible input through TPRS.

  15. I have my copy right here in my hands. This article needs to be read by all. Hope you get permission from Scott Rex to quote liberally from this gem.

    1. I went looking on line for that article and couldn’t find it. If someone is willing to share it in another manner, could you comment on my blog somewhere and I’ll e-mail you? — is it an ACTFL journal?

  16. I’ve been doing the schedule that you mentioned you did previously: structures PQA on M & W, readings T & TH, then dictation and assessment on F. With four preps (Fr 1 &2, Ger. 1 &2), I’ve been unable to keep up with that. Some days I just don’t have a reading to do (I’m adapting Allez, viens! and Komm mit!), and I’ve been unable to even have an assessment ready for all four preps, even though I’m required to do one each week.
    I’m going to try what you describe above and see if it works better for me.

  17. Yeah Byron it’s a work in progress and it will always be thus. It’s like trying to fit a ton of really good food from Whole Foods into the fridge and the fridge is never big enough. It’s a good problem to have!
    Each of us will work out a schedule that works for us and these are only my sharings about what works for me. I agree with you about the earlier schedule. Too busy. And here at the end of the year it is all different because like Anne’s kids we got burnt out on stories.
    So what I am doing to end the year, aside from our DPS assessment this week, is lots of reading, plus I want to try and see if the kids can do the Petit Prince, and if not, then we’ll end the year with lots of music and poetry and discussion of paintings.
    They want to do that last choice and I’m certainly for it as well. It is a great way to show them what they can do after only two years of French.

  18. Ben, when you have a moment, could you elaborate on the accent work that you do with your students? I have searched past postings on your blog and was unable to find anything.
    Thanks for always sharing your insight. This blog has been a great help!

  19. Hi Ben, First of all, thank you SO MUCH for this PLC. It has meant so much to me. I was interested in your ideas about a weekly schedule for an A/B schedule. My students see me every other day for 90 minutes (except on Tuesdays for 60 min.) I think anything for 90 minutes is probably too long. I like to break my classes into halves or thirds for variety. But PQA and what? Definitely some kind of exit slip. Silent reading is good, too. What else?

  20. The links below are to previous articles here about block schedules over the past few years. But things have changed so they may not be up to date. Of the four links, the top one probably has the most information:

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