The Training Piece

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20 thoughts on “The Training Piece”

  1. I can’t be as pessimistic as you, Ben. I do thoroughly agree when you say: “You will find that most experienced teachers with TPRS merely want to share what they have learned on their own arduous journey to good teaching, and are not making any great claims to be great experts at this or anything. We must keep that attitude going of working together for the common good. ”

    But there are great TPRS teachers out there that don’t make a lot of noise. Jeff Moore in Macomb, Illinois is one. He’s the one that showed me how. One of my students attended his class and reported, “He doesn’t teach. He just spends all hour chatting with his students in French. ” Another is Tamara Galvan, here in France. She read about TPRS in the States while she was getting a degree in teaching, studied it and started doing it without ever being able to attend a workshop. When she demonstrated for our workshop in Agen, she blew everyone away with her mastery of the techniques, working with teenagers who had been told for years that they were hopeless. I wish you could have seen the smiles she put on those kids’ faces.

    Yes, training is important. Yes, go to every workshop you can. Yes, read blogs and moretprs and books. But I think the most important thing is to go into your classroom every day determined to use Comprehensible Input and to reach your students … and to go in the next day determined to do it again, just a little bit better.

    1. Warning – long rambling response to Judy. Don’t read it:

      It’s not pessimism, Judy, as I am sure you know. Rather, I receive too many emails from people struggling mightily with the method. Certainly there are many fantastic examples out there of people who are quiet yet teaching lights out with CI. That wasn’t my point and I apologize to you and Martha back on that elementary thread if I didn’t make myself clear. My attempt is to reach those who are struggling – that is really what this site is for and I don’t do enough to direct the conversation in that direction. I’m working on it. But please understand that in no way do I mean to imply that great things aren’t being done out there; they just aren’t my focus. The message I want to focus on more than any other is the need for those struggling, those who doubt whether they can ever make the CI approach work for them, to bring hope to their days in spite of their doubts. The method is that strong. The promise has been given. All they have to do is keep getting up and going in and use the Classroom Rules and jGR and the Ten Minute Deal, and thereby get a handle on classroom discipline first, and then continue to work on their skills over and over in each class, focusing in particular on SLOW, Staying in Bounds and deepening levels of intuitive Circling, with the PQA counters doing their thing in pure support of their teacher’s efforts, and the quiz and story writers doing their thing, with the artist and one of those interactive whiteboards adding delight to the latter part of the class, all supported with the quick quizzes. That is a formula that I know can work for those struggling. That is my concern. You may interpret it as pessimism because I sometimes cannot hide, and don’t want to, that I am one who has suffered so much in learning this method. I have had to struggle with all my heart and soul for fourteen years to learn this method and I have gotten pretty depressed doing it sometimes. I do feel as if the deck is stacked against us who are not naturally strong at this method, because there are so many factors that work against us on a daily basis in our buildings, and not just the students. That is not pessimism, but the truth. We must support each other and keep the faith. There is too much good that can come from our struggles if we just carry on and deal as best with can in all good faith with each new situation we are faced with. Those who created the factory model of education, which is still in full form still today, wanted docile students who would make good obedient workers for the work force so that the corporate engine could steam ahead, with the resultant diminishing of the overall quality of human life, which in my opinion is based in joy. The result has been that when anyone in education comes up with ideas that champion the human spirit and self expression with full-on ecstatic expression, as can happen in our stories, people who are not comfortable with that full expression of the human spirit and want to keep things tomb-like in education, get nervous. They don’t like all that light coming out of those weird language classrooms where things are so different and I think that is why they refuse to see any of the light, to touch on Chris Stoltz’ rhetorical question this morning (and whose views we have missed these past months so welcome back Chris and are you guys in Canada still on strike?). Dealing with all that opposition hurt me, being in those buildings, and on this dreary and rainy Monday in Denver with a long and tough part of the year approaching, my thoughts are with those who doubt their ability to do this work, just as doubt riddled just about every class I taught my entire career. So for those who are flying high, that is great. I am so happy that the method is in full gear somewhere. But my heart is and always will be with the teachers like me who work at some level of fear. For me I can say now in retirement that I could not have taught another class in a school building if I had had to beyond the last one I taught back in early June. That is what has driven the three books I wrote and this blog – the need to do all I can to defeat the fear of teaching this way, because it takes real bravery to do so. I want to help others get this stuff with all my heart and soul. Many kids will think more about their lives as language learners and therefore as people if we can but get this stuff up and running in our classrooms, get some laughter and lightheartedness in there, let the fear die so that love and grace and kindness and fun and play and the importance of the individual may play more of a role in our profession. That is my prayer for all of us on this Monday morning.

  2. Ben, I am a lurker. I read the blog daily but have never left a comment. I’m sure there are many more like me. Know that, even though I don’t comment, I read and reflect on your posts and other’s comments. I am in constant awe of the intelligence, insight and creativity of the members in this PLC. This blog gives me the inspiration and energy required to go into the classroom every day, excited to hang out with my students in Spanish.

    Since joining this blog last spring, I have spent hundreds of hours reading posts and comments. I have studied your videos, Eric’s videos and videos by others. I have implemented many ideas discussed on this blog and have found that my teaching has improved. I realized that, how I had been teaching for the last 6 years, was a kind of lame version of TPRS. I thought that just because I did stories and had students read novels, I was a TPRS teacher. I now understand that it is so much more than that. So, thank you to you, Ben, and to all that leave comments. This PLC has been invaluable to me.

    My department (there are 5 of us) adopted TPRS several years ago. You will not find textbooks in our classrooms, but rather shelves full of readers. My students don’t fill out meaningless worksheets, but rather interact with me in Spanish for 90% of the class. I feel very fortunate to be in a school that supports TPRS/CI. But I don’t know of any other school in the metro Detroit area, or even Michigan, which has a WL department dedicated to TPRS/CI. There are a few of us out there. This summer at NTPRS I met Brian Peck from Detroit and a few teachers from the west side the state. But if there is anybody else out there, let me know. We would love to get a group started in SE Michigan.

    1. Hello Brian! So now we have two Brian’s in Detroit! Your comment makes me think about how hard it is to keep doing the CI when everyone else around you is not. I’ve been fortunate to be the only foreign language teacher in my building the past couple of years, which has allowed me to focus on my own development. Soon, we’ll hire another foreign language teacher and the department will build. Until then, I’m working on getting my TCI down.

      You know, I’m reading a book called “Play”, written by this guy named Stuart Brown who founded the National Institute of Play. My school, ChicagoQuest, has partnered with the National Institute of Play. We at ChicagoQuest are dedicated to incorporate play elements and game design in our curriculum.

      The book is all very interesting… but one thing that stands out to me as we’re talking about training teachers is the author Brown’s description of a hockey coach who gives nothing but positive feedback to his 13-15 year olds. No negative feedback or criticism. That, along with some playful activities he has the kids do, have set the team to win championships year after year.

      My take away is; find your community (the Brians are doing it in Detroit) and give nothing but positive feedback. Ben Slavic, seeing you give feedback at the War Rooms over the summer, is our guru on this.

  3. Thank you for your timely post…

    I do agree with you. I have experienced so many people conclude that the method doesn’t work after a time of experimenting with it because they are not willing to invest the time, money, energy and effort it takes most of us to create long periods of compelling comprehensible input.

    My passion is to encourage, train, and help teachers in their LONG journey (for most) in becoming skillful and effective in delivering ci.

    I want to be, albeit in a very small way, what so many of the TCI community (you all know who they are 🙂 have been to me….

    There is a LOT of work yet to do….

  4. Note to all PLC members: a Milwaukee area TCI group is forming, and Chinese teachers are at the heart of it. Their first meeting is coming up, on Sunday, Oct 12. Pamela, who took over Diane N.’s job at Lake Forest is going to be there.

    Please contact me if you are interested in going.

  5. This seems like a good post to reach out to NYC area teachers and see if we can get another meet up going. I can be the point person if you like, respond here or email me at and we can throw some dates around 🙂 Let’s get some training and coaching going!

  6. I needed to hear this! I’m pretty new with this. Yes, I’ve been going to workshops and observing teaching for a couple years, but this is the first year I’ve had the courage to really commit. I do love what I’m seeing in my classroom, but I realize how much there is to learn and practice. I agree that training is key!

    I was a little overwhelmed yesterday because I was asked to present what I am doing with One Word Images to all my World Languages colleagues in the district. I do not really feel qualified to present/demonstrate OWI as I’ve only been trying it out myself for a couple weeks! I am going to have to push myself and be more aggressive, as you say. Do you have advice as far as doing a presentation/demonstration on OWI? In particular, how can I do this with a group of mostly Spanish teachers? What key points should I be sure to make clear? I am also interested in showing them how a dictée would work. Is there any I could tie in a dictée with a OWI? Any advice or guidance would help!

    1. Emeka, can you do your demonstration in a language other than English or Spanish? The persuasive power of TCI lies in experiencing it. As long as teachers experience the demonstration in a language they understand well, they will be skeptical and fail to see the true power of the method.

      If you can do the demonstration in a language other than English or Spanish, then you will need some things for support, such as question words and a bit of vocabulary. If you speak any language other than the two most common ones, you can also show what happens when the teacher goes out of bounds. As part of a demonstration, this may be useful. Many of us go deliberately out of bounds when we are introducing the “I don’t understand” gesture at the start of the year, just to be sure that students understand what they need to do.

        1. Emeka I would start with OWI for a few minutes without any explanation. Explanation is a bad word in TPRS/CI training, in my opinion. It keeps everything in our heads and not where it needs to be in our bodies (where language is) and our hearts (where laughter is). That’s just my opinion.

          I would start with OWI because that is what they asked you to do. But I would stop after a few minutes. In San Antonio I had a group of over 300, more like 400. I couldn’t even see them all. And I did OWI for over an hour. One woman fell asleep. I don’t know if it was me or the activity. But can you maybe instead do either CWB and talk about one or two cards? Two preferably so that you can rock and roll the contrasting things between the cards. This gives you the personalization piece that OWI doesn’t have. Highly recommended.

          Or you could do that little story about the thirsty dog for them, if you feel up for it. Just tell them that you want to show them more. I wouldn’t even do OWI, come to think of it. What are they going to do? Just start in with CWB or a Really Short Story.

          Obviously you have someone’s attention already.

          1. The other day a colleague was feeling overwhelmed about her lower-performing students. They were not able to do some listening exercise well. I asked if she were sure they could even understand what was being said. She was sure they should be able to. I reminded her that it is a lot harder for them than they think. I then asked, “Remember the demonstrations I did last spring with ‘She is Sarah. Is she Sarah? Who is she?” Remember how hard it was to follow that [simple language with lots of repetition and circling]? And we are the language experts. You can see how hard it might be for our students.” Apparently she remembered because when we parted she offered a warm thank you.

            She connected with the heart thing. She would never have connected with the head thing.

          2. I tried a 20 minute MovieTalk demo (Wildebeast from Birdbox Studios) for parents tonight. We definitely overestimate comprehension. I had only 1 structure (“thinks that it is”), I gestured it frequently when I said it, and my counter reported 28 reps (and she missed some, I’m sure), but when I did a 10-finger comprehension check at the end, a few parents had a 7, one had a 6. And any new word I said (except for “the” and “a”) I pointed and paused and relied heavily on cognates. Btw, I only did the comprehension check, because a 5th grader also attending asked me to do one – he wanted to show everyone he had a 10 😉 Even with less-than-optimal comprehension, I feel I got my point across. I started a reading and handed out a copy that was color coded by tense to demonstrate the unsheltered grammar. I also listed the # of occurrences and the frequency ranking for the structures and a few other words in the text.

          3. This anecdote moves me. It is true, Nathaniel, that she responded on the level of the heart and would not have heard your point on the level of the mind, which in some teachers is like a steal trap and “what’s all this hippy stuff about stories and laughter anyway?”

            Sometimes this work shows itself to me as just one big incredibly slow movement away from the mental judging and analysis kind of instruction to a more heart based acceptance of people without judgment so that the language just seeps into the mind in our quiet and focused classroom, and not just the mind also the body and the heart, because language in my view cannot be confined to the mind – it is so much more than that.

            Like, we are all here in this room together, let’s communicate in another language, but for that to really happen, kids, we are going to have to know each other as people and respect each other and work for a common goal – that of understanding the input that I bring to you each day.

            And for that to happen, you must open up your hearts to me and you must respect the work I have put in to be able to teach this way. And for that to happen, we need some rules, and the first rule is only one person speaks at a time, and since I am the only one who speaks the language in here, it will be me who is speaking most of the time.

            I will thereby teach you, a little more each day, to understand what I say. And if you listen carefully enough, you will hear something and if you hear (hear also means to understand in French – entendre) enough language, then bam! you will know it as if by magic.

            But you will have learned something else besides the language – you will have learned how to interact in a civil way with others. Start with me. Understand that you will not be allowed to be uncivil in my classroom. I will use the national standards in the Three Modes of Communication in order to make that happen. If you are uncivil in this classroom, you will probably flunk this class. Don’t go there with me.

            Then when you are an adult and working at a job, you will be successful because one of your teachers in high school taught you how to interact with others. It was the incidental result of how we in this classroom chose to solve the problem of learning a language.

            You can thank me later. Right now, let’s work. I will speak in French to you now in a way that you can understand me, and when you break one of the rules on this chart right here, I will stop class and we will fix it. Each time. Ready? Let’s go!

          4. Ben, I’m marking to read this passage to myself in the mornings before class. It’s like an extended mantra. I also have a meeting coming up with a parent of a student who has been uncivil in my classroom, to say the least, and I plan on reading this before that meeting as the parent appears to be permissive of her student’s behavior.

          5. ?they should be able to? Good that this was addressed for this teacher. I think it’s just that each student does or does not understand at that moment. “Should” understand seems part of old ways of teaching. More like, I thought they would, but they didn’t, so I needed to adapt to their comprehension.

          6. Such a good point Diane. “Should” is old school. It implies that the kids are the problem. “They would, but they didn’t, so I need to adapt” is at the core of good comprehension based instruction. It implies that if the kids don’t understand, it is the teacher who must change. This is the difference between what used to be and what is coming in our profession. Such hubris, to blame a kid for not understanding something when they need hundreds of more repetitions that are comprehensible to do that. So full of unbridled pride. It’s the teacher’s job to make herself understood, and to teach the students the skills needed to make her successful in being understood. All success or failure is directly attributable 100% to the teacher, no wonder what the hand they got dealt looks like.

          7. Thanks for this advice about personalizing my mini-training. I will think about either CWB or a Short Short Story. A teacher last year already modeled some questioning similar to CWB, so maybe I work up the courage to try a story. Can anyone direct me to where I can find the story about the thirsty dog on this site? Thanks!

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