Whatever Floats Your Boat 1

Reading has become the central core of my comprehension based fluency program. On Monday, I do 95% L2 PQA to set up the structures. On Tuesday, those structures form the core power for the (also 95% L2) story. On Wednesday and Thursday, the story thus produced forms into a spectacularly effective reading passage, which is read, translated, its grammar discussed (40% L1) and spun into new (60% L2) discussion. Then, on Friday, I use the same discussion format used on W/Th for the reading to discuss a song or piece of poetry.
The actual ratio of L2 to L1 for the week, then, is just over 8:2. so that by the end of the week I will have spent about 80% of the time actually using the target language with my kids. It must be noted, however, that the time spent translating the text into L1 is really a form of input since, during that time, the kids are reading, the translation being key yet incidental to their experiencing the powerful form of input known as reading.
Like my classroom rules, this weekly schedule has required over ten years to take form. I am very happy with it. There is tremendous freedom in it. I don’t even have to plan – not a thing, except which structures/story to use for the week, and then it takes up to 30 minutes to create the reading in mid-week. I spend more time connecting wires on document cameras and LCDs to set up my classes these days than I do planning.
There is tremendous power in that. It is the way teaching should be, and must be, in this time when we suddenly find ourselves in the nightmarish situation of having to spend easily over half of our working time in meetings and having to justify to others what we are doing in our classrooms.
At least, with this crackerjack weekly schedule, I hardly have to plan. I know that my boat will float nicely down the river of the week without hitting any rocks, won’t have to negotiate any difficult turns, the engine will take care of itself, that the banks of the river are high and safe and will keep my boat in the middle of the stream, and that the water is clean and wonderful. I no longer  have to “remember to teach anything”, as this schedule and the way it is all planned out results in everything teaching itself naturally. All I have to do is show up in the classroom.



29 thoughts on “Whatever Floats Your Boat 1”

  1. Epiphany! Ben, the way you explain translation here, it just allowed me to put the pieces together and really begin to overcome that old false dilemma of grammar-translation vs. immersion. What a powerful tool (along with dictation), being able to use translation as a fully comprehensible un-intimidating way to give students lots of written input, and AT THE SAME TIME placate colleagues and administrators who demand ridiculous amounts of output way too early. To them, translation and dictation are forms of output, but we know that, when used in the right way, they are really just CI in disguise.

  2. Great point here:
    …translation and dictation are forms of output, but we know that, when used in the right way, they are really just CI in disguise….
    I actually experienced that today. The reading was so comprehensible and the input so fine and slow, at times, that I felt that I was dealing with a manner of instruction that I had never experienced before. Translation as input of L2. Very cool.

  3. “All I have to do is show up in the classroom.”
    Easier said than done. I don’t think I really started showing up (or asking my students to show up) until this year, my 6th year as a teacher.

  4. Ben, I love your floating metaphor. I find myself floating as well, and letting the waters take me wherever CI winds will sail me. I think I allow myself to float because if I didn’t I would drown. I would drown for fear of not reaching all my students all of the time. I would drown for fear of failing the kids who do not want to take responsibility for their own learning. I would drown for fear that the administrators do not understand the big picture anyway, and I would drown for all the other inherent fears that come with the territory of teaching.
    So floating has become my survival mechanism, my “bouée de sauvetage”.
    Quick question though: how do you pick your structures each and every week.
    I have a feeling you have probably addressed this question ad nauseum though.

  5. What an image! The opposite of floating is drowning. And you have beautifully identified the causes of TPRS teachers’ drownings, the various fears of:
    – reaching all the students
    – failing kids who don’t want to show up
    – administrators who are not qualified to observe us
    – all those nontangibles in teaching
    Thank you for pointing that out! It completes the boat image. Now all we have to do is nurture ourselves and know that we are fine just the way we are and that we are doing our best and let’s just wash all this worry out of the cells of our bodies, as per:
    About how I pick my structures, I am not a planned person. I do feel that the first 200 words should be consciously put in a Word Wall to be present at all times for inclusion in the daily CI. (I am still updating/changing the one I use and it will appear soon on the posters page of this site.) But when it comes to choosing stories, and Grant told me he does this also, I feel a freedom in choosing whatever story speaks to me right before class starts. There is real freedom in that and hence an increased quality of spontaneity in the story. I suppose I should apologize for that because teachers are supposed to be in touch with word order and emergence of whatever and plan out structures (why do they do that again?), but I reject that notion that we can pick and plan and choose structures to any more effect than just doing so randomly by opening up my Matava book and looking at a few of them until one whispers to me right before class, “Hey, Ben, check out these structures, pretty cool, huh? Do them! Do this story! NOW!” And since the kids are walking in, that’s what I do. Not very scientific, and people who do this in the TPRS world are probably in the very small minority. But, hey, I gotta fly my freak flag. I am so tired, so bone tired, of stifling what springs up in my heart and soul as natural and good for my students because of things I was taught long ago. I actually did that as an AP teacher and it was so much suffering those years, pandering to 4%ers, teaching only white females at the upper levels. I just feel like taking a rod and breaking all those old thoughts of what a teacher even is, as it sings in The Messiah (which I listen to on my bike rides) “like a porter’s vessel”. Good God, when are we fricking going to relax in our work? Krashen has shown that there is an unconscious order of acquisition that we cannot predict or order no matter how much we try. The brain will acquire what it acquires. So why do we concern ourselves with this stuff? Just pick a story and roll. I have been doing that for years and years now with no loss of strong test scores, which is what it’s all about, right? Because if I get the test scores then people will like me right, and I won’t get fired, right, and they’ll let me have a job. How pathetic that way of thinking is, seriously. The schools lucky enough to have us in them should be begging us to come to work for them, because we don’t bring shaming energy and “you are stupid and shouldn’t study languages” energy into them, like those baboons with whom dear Clarice has to work. OK, I’m needing a cup of coffee here.

    1. This is what I aspire to. Thank you for the reminder. I don’t have a word wall and I really need one. Well, I actually have a really small one up but have not used it yet. I’m not really sure what I’m doing in that area. Many have talked about a 5min warm up using the wall. Could someone (or afew ppl) spell this out for me so I get some ideas of what to do.

      1. I am in desperate need of a word wall as well. I’ve looked through about 4 different Spanish word frequency lists and most of the words are: que, le, les, se, los, etc. Not only boring, but these words will come up eventually. I need a good Spanish word wall that I can start using asap. I have a feeling my planning time will be shortened by having a word wall list and I’ll have something to fall back on if I’m in a rut.
        This is a great post, by the way. My goal this 9 weeks will be to start planning like Ben and have my weekly schedule start to mirror his.

        1. Word lists don’t work. So what is the word wall for? It’s just my opinion, but the purpose of a word wall is to help bring action to stories from its friendly perch on the wall and not necessarily to be a word list source for the purpose of “learning the language”. Of course, as those words repeatedly rain down on the action (the kids look at them during stories, searching for cute answers and I laser point to them whenver they occur for extra reps within the context of whatever CI is going on in that moment), they are learned. But, keeping in mind that language is fluid and we acquire them by hearing them in flow, in context, bubbles of water connected inextricably to other bubbles of water, we don’t get all hung up on teaching the “top ten” most common food words and all of that. So the list doesn’t have to be long. Mine is 140 words and more than I can get done in one year. I don’t bow down to lists of words, but to armies of words together, to languages.

          1. The biggest benefit that I can see is for the teacher. It gives us an instant place to go to find everyday words to insert into stories. It alleviates the “pressure” to think on our feet, just a little….and it allows us to throw words at the kids that our departments would like them to have. If only so that our students feel that they are “learning” what they are supposed to.
            I love the armies of words image!
            with love,

    1. Can you tell me what you do with the list? Is it just there? Then as you do stories there is a visual for kids to pick out a structure to add? Someone posted that they do some sort of 5 min warm up using the list, but I don’t know what that means (say the words? kids translate chorally? other?). I know what Ben means when he says word lists don’t work. I am firmly in that camp. At the same time, though I can see for some kids it might be a “safety blanket” for them to get comfortable with CI, because it is something familiar to them. Someone (Grant?) a few weeks ago said they shoot a nerf gun at it and uses those structures for the day, which I think is totally amazing!
      It seems that especially my (previously non CI) level 4s would benefit most from this as a transitional “tool,” but I don’t have a clear picture of how to use it very quickly (5 min max). I tend to get bogged down with this kind of thing, letting the kids hang onto it more than they should. So if anyone has any quick things they do, please share 🙂

      1. I mean that when they are presented in a list they don’t work. Especially thematically, like rooms in a house, foods, etc. They work for 4%ers maybe or motivated kids but that is not whom we teach. So in the form of a Word Wall they work because we can access words for the CI easily when they are there on the wall. As I say often and I like the image, they rain off the wall into the CI.
        I’m the one who does the five minutes to start class at the Word Wall. I find that it is a strong focusing device for each class to start working. It’s not abstract and so the most unfocuses kid has no excuse not to be sitting up with clear eyes and squared shouilder. That is because I say
        “this word means” this, and
        “how can we remember that?”, and
        “how can we make a gesture to put that word into our bodies so that we can remember that?”
        It’s TPR. But it is not considered part of the TPRS method. It’s just what I personally do to frontload my students’ overall vocabularies and to start class in a focused way for everybody. It takes a few minutes. I used to do five, now I’m down to two words, because I need every minute for the listening (M/Tu) or reading (W/Th) to follow.

    2. Wow, how’d I miss this comment? Good stuff! I bought a nerf gun on Friday (on sale!) so I’m going to use this list you provided to add some more spontaneity to my class. Plus I think it will just be plain old fun for me to shoot at the words and randomly teach whatever sticks.

  6. I actually pulled this email from October, a question from John that is germane to this discussion. Here is the question:
    I’ve been thinking about implementing the word wall to a limited degree, for example, to post words that will be in a chapter reading that I am preparing students for, but which I may not get to during PQA, stories, etc.
    My question is about the role of English translation words in word wall. Do you also write all the English translations on the wall next to the words or is it just the L2 words, and you tell them what it means before you translate chorally?

    My response is that I don’t translate Word Walls. Not enough room. Plus, every once in a while I have them chorally read the list in rote fashion and they are happy that they “know so much”. As I said, the 140 verb heavy words that I use (not on my site yet because I am making some changes to the site) are all I have up there all year.

  7. Starting tomorrow, I’m officially going to try to implement Ben’s suggested weekly schedule. I’m definitely nervous about making PQA last the whole period but I’m taking the leap tomorrow because, I must admit, I’ve been doing an awful, awful job at staying in L2 for even 60-70% of the time. This is going to change. Then I’ll to a story on Tuesday, reading on W/Th, and something on Friday.
    Ben, how do you find paintings that correlate to the structures you did that week?

    1. Chris,
      Remember, all of the skills that you use in storytelling/asking are at your disposal for PQA. Circle. Compare students. Compare students w/celebrities. Get more specific by adding details. Go ahead and write a ‘semi-script” and have it in your back pocket just in case. Pie is a great topic. :o) Take your time and enjoy the kids. Give them time to warm up and get into it. We’re rooting for you!!
      with love,

      1. Update:
        My PQA-only Monday went really good! I must admit, I was using some pictures to add to the questioning, but it went very well.
        My plan for today was to create a class story, but alas, I have a nasty Upper Respiratory Infection (I think) and my voice would have been out by the end of 1st period. So I needed to give my voice a rest, thus disrupting my plan for today. So instead, I created a reading that used the two structures from yesterday (didn’t even have time to get to the third! It’s not as hard to “drag” PQA out for 48 minutes as I thought) plus some of the structures we’ve done the past few weeks for some extra repetition. Besides, I didn’t do enough reading with those structures anyways. So today was silent reading for about 5 minutes, then with a partner they translated the reading and wrote the translation down under each line. Saved my voice and still did something worthwhile. Although the whole “teacher-created” story stuff is looked down upon it seems, I must say that I am a funny person (one thing I got going for me) and I can come up with some funny stuff to keep the kids interested. The gasps that I heard when they got to the cliffhanger ending of the story were priceless.

        1. Writing stories for class reading is the perfect outlet for that!!!!!!! I hope that today goes well and that you are feeling better. Ben wrote in another post that I only try for two structures….and that is the truth. Sometimes I plan around just one structure and wait for a second structure to “emerge” naturally. That is often easier for me than trying to hook up two seemingly random structures.
          So glad to hear that the PQA went well!!
          with love,

    2. I don’t really do paintings much if at all lately. No time. There’s never enough time. In general, I am currently in confusion about Fridays, doing songs and paintings and all that. Any discussion of anything requires frontloading of vocabulary and one class every Friday for a new song or painting, and that is just too much to organize. So the honest answer Chris is that I don’t.

  8. I know this thread is old but as I wrote earlier today, every time I need help I stumble on just the right conversation. I have to admit immediately-early on in the year-I am afraid to be doing this. I’m fighting the good fight and trying my best but I’m afraid. The Fear is making me over think where I get my structures and which scripts I use and It makes me lose my evening with my husband because I’m always on here, refreshing the site repeatedly. It’s because I’m waiting for something (someone?) to write that thing that erases The Fear. I’m so scared that I won’t teach my students what they are expected to know by my peers/colleagues that teach traditionally. This thread comes close to helping.
    I know there are no right answers but I wish there were someone close in my town that I could sit with in person and chat with after school. I’m just so alone. I know that’s what the plc is for but there are so many threads and comments and it all gets lost in my head.
    Sorry to vent but I have to do it. I’ll keep chugging along and my word wall consists of the themed vocab from the textbook but it’s scrambled onto many pages of my easel paper. I can’t hang them on the wall since I have 2 classrooms but I’m switching out when the classes in each room are done with a list. My jGR is at 50% of the quarter grade and I’m trying to assess in different ways for the remaining 50% as per my school. Anyway, I found this thread and thought I’d bump it since it really does speak to me…

  9. The Fear – and I know exactly what that means – can be put at bay with a good schedule and I think that is your point Jennifer. Here is the text from the original article (from a year ago):
    …this schedule and the way it is all planned out results in everything teaching itself naturally. All I have to do is show up in the classroom….
    So why not let the schedule just take you through the week? Another great thing to handle that feeling of being scattered with too much to do/to cover is doing reading of a novel. I had that thought again today in class – how much easier it is to teach a novel than a story, as per:

  10. Ben,
    Here’s what I plan on doing: Day 1-PQA the structures, Day 2-story ask the structures, Day 3-read the class-created story and Day 4-read the class created story, Day 5-Word Chunk team activity or Song of the Week or PQA more questionnaires. “Warm Up” each morning when we look at the easel of words (word wall) that come from text book and kids copy down 3 or 4 and we briefly discuss. What do you think? Too much or just right for all this?
    I haven’t gotten to my second day of working with the reading yet. I’m trying today and my first class bombed. Full of attitudes and deliberate lack of participation. I called some homes but no one answered. I scored them very very low on the rubric and I’m counting that as my “perception of them over a period of time” because I think they deserve it.

  11. This is what I do each day. Wednesday sometimes is needed to finish the story, or we go right into the reading of it, depending. It’s a strong weekly schedule and I wouldn’t trade it.
    About the attitudes from the kids, what were the structures? If they are flat sometimes the class is flat.

  12. We were on Day 4 with the structures from Matava: talks, stop it already, all the time. This was the only day that sucked. Yesterday we read, and those classes were good although some classes had to read a story that was half made up by me because we didn’t even get to second location. Today I did not know what else to do with the reading because we did dictation and I also did some spin off yesterday already. So I did dif things depending on the class. Those things include: reading another class’ story, PQA all over again with the structures (that class was great because we went from talking about who speaks different language at home and the family’s nationality to talking about the Holocaust and why many people didn’t say “stop it already”.)
    I couldn’t help myself and actually reprimanded first period class because it seemed they were purposely defying me and undermining what class is about. So I stopped the story and put on another class reading for them. They complained at the end that the details were weird and I told them that it’s because it belonged to another class and if they would only do what I ask, their story would interest them because they made it. I feel it may have fell upon deaf ears, so I scored the rubric low and called home on 3 kids…..
    I really feel lost.

  13. The thing is if you get enough reps in the PQA, and then stay in bounds, go slowly, and check for understanding, the story will be o.k. It depends on the four things:
    – enough PQA reps, with each question having one of the three target structures in them
    – SLOW
    – staying in bounds
    – checking for understanding
    It doesn’t have to be wonderful. Make it clear to the kids and to yourself. As long as you are giving them slow CI in a meaningful setting to them you are doing your job and aligning with standards.
    But I have a feeling that it isn’t that. My guess is you are nervous about getting it right and they sense that and their natural reaction is to push back. To what extent do you listen to their suggestions? That is a huge factor – their cute answers get into the story and that makes them involved more. What about that?
    I would not try to get past the point you arrive at in a story. Don’t speed finish into a second location. The story is just fine with the one location.
    Also give a quiz in the last two minutes every day if necessary. Your quiz writer writes it, even about readings. If you give a jerk kid a 2 on jGR and she then gets low grades on a series of tests, there is the F, the phone call, the chance to communicate with the parent for some behavior mod. Don’t threaten them with jGR low grades, but be like a machine, giving the score that they earn. Convey that.
    Can you get to Maine for Joe’s workshop?
    Try a few more stories and then maybe Monday go to the book? That’s what Blaine always suggests. It has the effect of making them appreciate what they had before. But keep them in the book for at least two weeks. Plus, you can recharge. Hey, it’s October.

  14. 1) I feel I AM listening to their suggestions.
    2) I think the problem is the few kids with tudes but I’m running into 2 issues when I call home: a) The family is UNREACHABLE ALWAYS! or b) The family makes excuses
    3) I like the idea of doing listening quizzes at the end of EVERY class. It’ll help to make sure my jGR grade is meshing.
    4) I would feel hypocritical going back to the book since I’ve spent weeks telling the kids that I don’t use them and giving them reasons based on research.

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