Three Week Backwards Design Plan

Week 1:
1. Monday (next week not tomorrow because we have state testing this week) – I isolate the big structures from Françoise Hardy’s Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles – that song is my end goal. I PQA those structures. It will take the entire class. I’ll have a kid count structures. Goal is 75+ reps per each of five or six structures. Bell to bell L2 – no messing around. The structures will probably intertwine because they always do – the magic stuff. An option is to have the kids write on little squares of paper, as per Michele, possible stories generated by the kids (Student Generated Scripts (SGSs) and, instead of the PQA described above, just do a story from what they write. Either one. Just  get mega reps on the base structures of the song.
2. Monday after school – write a simple base story from the song. This would be version one (V1) of any subsequent embedded readings (EBRs). Read it with the kids, spinning discussion out of it, hanging out with the spinning, seeing where it goes. Use SGSs from Monday or, probably better, generate some new ones. Concentration on the words in the song, spinning stuff about those words. (So far, of 100 minutes, that is probably 90 in L2, the rest in translating the story into English. So, since the first two days are predominantly auditory CI, I need to power up some more EBRs on my eight remaining days. So,
2. Tuesday after school – write V2 of the song – 90 – 100 words (instead of the 25 or 30 in V1) for a heavy reading day tomorrow on
3,4. Wednesday (block day) – read a lot, limiting the spinoff discussion, to try to even out the auditory CI with the reading CI. Do that for 45 minutes. Let’s say that if I got 30 minutes of good reading in, I can say that, out of the 145 minutes so far (half way through the Wednesday block), I will have done, very roughly, 100 minutes of auditory CI (ACI) and maybe 45 minutes of reading CI (RCI). Of course, that depends if I can shut my English mind off and tell Ben the Scholar to shut up as per Robert’s post of a few weeks ago – kids don’t really care how smart I am. Sorry about all the acronyms, as well, but I like stuff like that. Half way through the block, give the kids a much needed and well deserved brain break in the form of beach ball madness (BBM) which is where the kids are told that they all have to get a touch before it hits the ground. After a few minutes, as Esteban McMillan (my department chair whose room I teach in) told me, tell them that the break will be over as soon as the ball hits the ground. (Now there is a whole new topic – no kid should end a year not knowing and having worked in some way with every other kid in the room; how can we have personalization going on in stories if they don’t know each other? That is one of the great benefits of the first few months of Circling with Balls, by the way). After the brain break, since I am not trying to get the song all ready for Friday (I tried and failed last week, we didn’t get anywhere near enough reps and that is why I think a two or even three week backwards design is going to work out better than a one week design), my goal in the second half of the Wednesday block (the fourth of five 45 minute chunks available to me), will be to go with the Michele kids’ scripting stories thing (SGSs). So I pass out the little squares of paper and give them five minutes to come up with any story of four or five lines only in which (someone or something) wants/tries to ________ and fails but then wants/tries to ________ and succeeds.  I give them the structures from the song and off they go for those few minutes. Then, following the three steps, I do some (limited) PQA then, and then get the story going and do that for the entire rest of the period. This gives me another 35 minutes of ACI so I’m up to 135 of that vs. RCI. No worries. What counts is that I am at least thinking about getting more reading in. I really believe that it is more important than the ACI, not because of anything I know, but because Susan Gross told me that in clear terms about three years ago. So (sorry for the ramble but it’s how I learn and I can’t help it), I am seeing the need to make this entire (frontloading/backwards design) process three, not two, weeks, in length. My reasoning is that, if I stick an extra week into the process, I can get that much more EBR’s in! So now, at the end of this story, we have reached the end of the block and four fifths of the week is gone. This takes us to
5. Friday. Oh no oh no oh me oh my. They are in need of a break. These are just kids and they have been taught at a very very intense level for the equivalent of four class periods in a row. If they have some things to do that are different on Friday, it will be best. We all have our favorite down time activities, but I have a special problem in that I want to get a free write in, plus some basketball (word chunk team activity), plus some FVR, plus maybe a dictation, plus whatever else stuff I am forgetting here – Bryce what am I forgetting? So I guess I’ll just do the free write, maybe assess something, play some ball, and …….. Fun stuff. Lighthearted stuff. Maybe bring in some donuts. Like that. If these were paying adults, I would go for an intense reading on Friday, but these are kids and they worked real hard all week and need this break.
Week 2:
1. Monday – I think that a good V3 EBR with at least a few hundred words of a generic story using vocabulary from the target song (still two weeks away) plus vocabulary from the stories they wrote last Wednesday would be a good idea for Monday. I can get 45 minutes of RCI in, to bring my reading totals up into more balance with the ACI minutes. Not bad! Of course, it won’t be 45 minutes of pure RCI, what with the spinning out of it and all, but I can keep my eyes on the prize and try for 30 min. by limiting the ACI. That would give a total of roughly 115 min. of ACI vs. 75 minutes of RCI. More importantly, I would be on my third version (V3) of the EBR. Not bad. And it would contain stuff from their questionnaires and from their various little stories. By writing this out like this, I am beginning to see how these three things (EBR, student generated scripts – SGS, sorry, can’t resist the acronym- and backwards design) might fit together.
(Of course, on any day at any time after a story or a reading I can and should throw in a quick quiz (QQ – I’m on an acronym roll) on either story or reading content. I just need to have a good patient quiz writer and some ten point scantrons around for that. Isn’t it weird how assessment is just a waste of time?)
2, 3, 4. Tuesday, Wednesday block – I would definitely devote these classes – about 140 minutes of instructional time – to a new set of SGSs using target vocabulary from the Hardy song. I would try to do shorter stories so that I could maybe get all the stories in, since kids feel left out so easily, and since I do have three class periods there. I would do a lot of writing of each story on the whiteboard as the story developed or after each one. Years ago a student told me that seeing a story that we just did written out on the board was a very powerful way to learn for him. By now, if I do stories and RCI in the form of writings of the stories on the whiteboard, I am probably at 100 minutes of ACI and maybe 100 minutes of RCI at this four fifths point in the week. All very rough figures, of course.
5. Friday, I would do the same Friday stuff as last week. Not sure about that.
Week 3:
1. Monday, like last Monday in Week 2, I feel that now getting a fourth version (V4) of the EBR would be a cool thing to do. Maybe a four or five hundred word monster or more, written exactly as per Laurie’s formula, with the core story still there at the base of the new story information. (By the way, if you have done these, they are quite easy to create. You just sit there and make up stuff with the structures/questionnaires that are next to you at the computer – choose whatever you want to include as new vocabulary – and make up whatever comes into your mind, keeping your kids in mind. It’s actually fun.)
Such a class on Monday would set a record amount of reading, as I always short shrift readings, and allow me to do something I have wanted to do for awhile, do less Blaine novels. Not that they aren’t well written – they get the job done, but student generated personalized written stories that describe things that come out of class are much much greater. Plus, I am the only one who knows the real knowledge level of my students, so I can write to the specific learning needs of the class. For example, if my level ones are not clear on the pronoun celui, I can just interject it in its various forms right into the readings, which Blaine’s novels can’t do. I and nothing else controls the level and time of delivery of grammar instruction in my classroom.
Personally, I now believe that, even if time is an issue, I absolutely must convince my principal, or whoever makes those decisions, that, the fewer preps I have, the better it will be in terms of having time to deliver a top quality product to my students. Those personalized readings have lately become a big deal goal for me. I could see offering the kids Blaine’s books as kind of an adjunctive thing, but, when they are the focus of study in the class, things flatten out.
(Of course, I’m not sure how this all plays if someone has three preps, you may need to stay with the novels, but I only have one – my single class of level fours is now getting the same exact classes as my level ones. I’m not saying that they didn’t learn anything in three years of being in a traditional classroom. Well, yes I am. What they learned about grammar they have forgotten, because they only learned it for short term memory testing. I can’t say they know much French – those worksheets had no value! In truth, with no stones being thrown, but just to STATE A FACT, those fourth year kids didn’t acquire anything in three years, so that, whether I do a class with my ones or with my fours, it is the same level of interaction between us, which is just more fuel for the argument for doing away with levels of language study – two sophomores in my current fourth year class are considering sitting in my level two classes next year – they just want to learn French – because there is no AP French program in our school, which happens to be one of the strongest schools academically in the Rocky Mountain region with some majorly talented students. Why no AP French program? Guess.  That’s right, they weren’t taught with an eye towards acquisition, but only towards taking a test on learned grammatical structures. THE PROOF IS ALWAYS IN THE PUDDING. O.K. minor rant over….)
2, 3. 4. Tuesday, Wednesday block – more student generated stories including target vocabulary from the targeted Hardy song, process as described above.
5. Friday – another mop up day and then the song, followed by fun stuff like basketball, etc. Maybe that story game that someone suggested here lately. Who was that?
Conclusions – this is entirely off the top of my head. I am probably leaving some basic things out. Let me know. Leave comments. But, thankfully, for a change after this mercurial blobby week, I feel a few things coming together. We’ll see. Don’t forget, first person that figures this out makes the video and I have immunity because I already did it.



10 thoughts on “Three Week Backwards Design Plan”

  1. Wow Ben! Glad you are taking today off–major effort here!
    Re Week 1, Wednesday: I give my kids only 2-3 minutes max to write a story outline, because that’s not TL. They have to use the structure(s) I give them so that we get the reps of the same structures in every story.

  2. Yeah I thought so. That’s better than giving them the choice of what structures to target. I like the (someone or something) wants/tries to ________ and fails but then wants/tries to ________ and succeeds deal because they need something concrete – otherwise the stories that they come up with are way wacky. Do you agree with that point? I also agree with the 2-3 minutes deal. Otherwise they dally.

  3. Hi Ben,
    Can you please explain this activity of SGS’s. I need more details – it appeals to me, I think, but don’t know how to carry it out. The backwards design idea is excellent – I have been using it while reading Pobre Ana. I go back and forth between novel and class stories.

  4. Ben, I agree about the idea of the structure of solving a problem in regular stories, but when I’m giving students the structures to use in a skeleton story, I don’t insist. It could take them too long. I’m going to give mine these three tomorrow: participated in, not knowing about this, and was arrested. If I wrote it, there might be a kid who was participating in a game, didn’t know it was illegal, and got arrested (we’re reading about Russian writers who were exiled or sent to labor camps for various reasons). I’m sure there will be some wacky things that they come up with, but I can edit and choose the ones I want to use. When we ask the stories, we almost always do come up with a problem, and there is almost always a destination. And yet the kids will come up with stories I would never have thought of.

  5. I agree with Michele on identifying the phrases. It helps my high school students to know that we are working with high-frequency phrases. I will usually put 2-3 up but they only have to use one. Sometimes they get so caught up in trying to connect the three phrases that they get no where at all!!
    The ideas that they generate on one day can become a base for PQA, can remind me of the chorus of a song that I can use, can become a chant a la Joe N., …all kinds of things….but the fact that they are their ideas is golden to them.
    By choosing the structures we put them down on the right path going the right direction.
    with love,

  6. So we just give them the structures and two or three minutes and just take what they give us and go for a chant, some PQA, a story that may or may not go to the level of a problem. Is that it? Then, Michele, we go from there quickly to another story if it fades, I assume? Just want to be real clear here….

  7. Ben, you are getting exactly what I always intend to do. But I absolutely love the idea of what Laurie does with including more phrases each time and also weaving in more details. I just can’t change what I’m doing too fast. I’ve got a delightful embedded reading that I’m going to have for all my classes on Pushkin tomorrow–starting with his being a political fool. The tsar will send him away to Romania and he will dance with the gypsies (we even have a gypsy song to sing) before he comes back, meets his beautiful wife, gets incredibly jealous and eventually dies in a duel. It’s about as sexy and violent a story as you can get.

  8. Thanks for evolving this discussion all of you (sorry I’ve been absent lately). I tried an SGS (in groups of four, after we had TPR’d and PQA’d the structures for a half a day) in L2. Just 2-3 sentences, gave them 3 minutes, they seemed to understand what I meant by “skeleton story” so I didn’t even have to explain it. I read each one to the class, and then picked the best one for the next day’s class. I felt very confident because it was THEIR script and not MINE!! So, if it sucked, it’s their fault right? 🙂 Is this a common feeling?
    Re the song. I play it for the kids twice (besides it being background music at the beginning of classes or during a brain break while we are working on the structures), once the first day or two, and again right before reading the lyrics, and have them write down familiar words/phrases they hear. I really think that the more familiar they are with the song (without being sick of it) before the lyrics are read, the better. Then, for a repasito the following day/week, we CLOZE the lyrics.
    BTW, I am getting lots of mileage out of CLOZING readings, especially as repasitos the following day, and from Jason Fritze’s “Question word blocks”. Other ideas for getting reps on the readings?

  9. You get some small cubes (2″ or so cubed) from the shop room or wherever you can. Write 6 question words on the cube (Who, What, How many, etc.). After a story or reading, pair or group the students and have them play with the cubes. One student rolls the cube, and whatever question word it lands on, they have to ask a question using that word. I prefer doing this is pairs, so you’ll need quite a few blocks. Our shop teacher was happy to do this for me. Then my kids sanded them down before I wrote on them. I think it fun for the students to keep score too (1 point if they stump the person, 1 point if they answer correctly), but from there it’s all personal preference.

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