When It Falls Apart

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37 thoughts on “When It Falls Apart”

  1. I think one of my issues is that I have trouble coming up with PQA for structures like “Mucho Gusto” for example. Are there times when you don’t use one of the structures in the PQA because it’s hard to incorporate? Or it’s just not interesting? I suppose it doesn’t have to be funny and interesting every time, it’s just challenging when you don’t get feedback from students (like from first period 8th grade.)

    1. Hi Annemarie,
      You are right…Mucho gusto is just one of those phrases that doesn’t fly with PQA. It isn’t a high – frequency structure really. It’s use is limited.
      Think about adding an introduction of characters to the class. Whenever a character enters a story, pause, introduce the character and utilitze “mucho gusto” and go on. It can be low-key or high energy..whichever fits your personality.
      That is a great skill to develop: the ability to recognize which phrases will work in which circumstances!!
      with love,

      1. Hi Laurie, I know this is totally off topic – but did you get my e-mail? I have not heard back from Robert either, so I am wondering if my e-mail to you are blocked somehow.

    2. …are there times when you don’t use one of the structures in the PQA because it’s hard to incorporate…?
      Absolutely! It happens a lot. It’s just fine. I think it is Laurie who doesn’t even go with three structures anymore, just two. No problem, as long as most of the words in the story have been acquired by the class. That is something we often forget but is a cardinal rule in CI based instruction – the structures are the only thing in the script that should be new to the kids. Underline that last sentence 50 times. The problem there, of course, is that it would take a meticulous story script writer to accomplish that. We mentioned Amy Catania’s Cuentos Fantasticos as meeting that requirement for middle schoolers. But Amy told me years ago that writing that sequence of story scripts about drove her nutty. LICT does it well. Carol’s stuff as well. That’s about it. We’re still just flying by the seat of our pants. If we ever stop, I’m out. It would be too boring. It is the very lack of predictability, of plans, of vocabulary lists, that make it fun. I know I’m in the minority on this, I think that Grant is right there with me, I know Frewing is, but there you go. We each should take from this approach what best works for us and not feel that we have to do it in a certain way.

    3. I agree with Laurie, it isn’t really a PQAable structure. But I think it lends itself great to TPR. I like to introduce “likewise” along with it, then I will interchange them during some PQA and they have to give me the correct gesture, which they usually make up. The last time I did this story, “Nice to meet you” was a swoop of the right hand, accompanied by a short bow. “Likewise” was the same, but with the other hand. It happened to be the first day of a new adult session, so introductions were in order and therefore we were able to get more reps and some unforced output of it.

  2. Ben, it was really great to read this blog post today, it’s like you read my mind. I had two stories totally fall apart on me early in the day, periods 3 and 4. I’m talking the ceiling opened up and came crashing down. That was horrible for my confidence. I had a planning period at 5th and then lunch at 6th. I spent that time wondering if my story would get me through the day. I was worried. I bet I spent at least ten to fifteen minutes just sitting and worrying, not taking steps to remedy the matter, but just sitting and worrying.
    It was at lunch that I realized what the problem was. I was too focused on the story. I wanted it to be extremely compelling at the cost of all the rest. What happened was that the story was not compelling at all, I constantly went out of bounds, almost nobody was understanding what I said, nobody wanted to participate (and that was frustrating), and because of that they started shouting out and goofing around.
    During lunch I realized that I needed to just focus on the basics, speak slowly, stay in bounds, question circle….etc. I was going to do that and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. My 7th and 8th periods ended up going great. During the execution of those lessons I said to myself, “I’m back baby!” 8th period was what I consider a home run class. It was the basics that got me there. It is now the end of the day and, truthfully, I’m still feeling bad about the 3rd and 4th period classes. I mean, they were just that bad. But, I am happy that I was able to turn my day around. This will be marked as a learning experience.

    1. So Ray tell me what you did to turn it around again, before 1:08 p.m. tomorrow. I have a bunch of teachers coming in and my confidence is down. I didn’t go out of bounds, I know that. I could tell the kids got it. But, honestly, after sitting down and worrying, I keep associating it with a few kids who have gotten away with less than good focus this year. They didn’t know what was going on and when I swooped in on them as per my new initiative to include every single kid (fairly new to me these past few weeks), the vibe got darker. I really dislike it when that happens. It is so hard to get all the kids on board in this stuff! And then, if they are strong personalities, and the others who are getting it are quiet, then the invisible power grab goes on and those few pollute the air. You did right. You slowed down, gave up the desire to fill all of our second career goals of being a stand up comedian, and humbly let things unfold as they would. Hopelessness is a good quality in this job, really. Things unfold more honestly when we let go of the need to control everything. Thanks for you comment, Ray, it helped a lot.

      1. And Ray, given the sheer enormity of the work we have to do to learn this, since it has never been done before and so there is no established “way”, I think that those moments sitting there in honesty and worry and that weird ass feeling of fear are important. It is like, I would rather hear a singer sing with resignation than pride. We can’t always be wonderful masters of this method. It’s not part of the deal. We are just in there humbly asking questions, seeing what happens, letting the sense of community take over, and being part of something instead of being the master of ceremonies in charge of all the wonderful things happening. This way of teaching is an ego crusher. But it is in those hopeless moments that we get deeper into what this work is all about. It’s that Dylan Thomas poem Nullus again, where there are those pauses that are so dark and empty, but in which the creative changes takes place. We can’t shove this method on our students. We just humbly ask the questions. It is a co-creation and resignation to the greater process that we are part of. I know that, but I forgot it, and I learned it again today. I’m so proud of how you sat with the fear after your 4th period class – you didn’t run, and then you went and allowed those wonderful p.m. classes to happen. It’s a process, and there is no such thing as mastery in this stuff. It’s like life. I like that. The old way of teaching had no life in it.

        1. Hey Ben, sorry for the late reply. I didn’t check the blog post until now. In a nutshell, what I did to turn things around was focus on the basics much more than the story. I spoke slowly, I question circled, I stayed in bounds. I put the basics of what we want to do over the story script. You’re right, I tried to be the comedian and it blew up in my face.
          Basically, in my experience, the basics are what give the stories their structure. They hold the stories up and push them forward.
          This is what I told myself during the worrisome lunch period: Just name the main character, speak slowly about him (batman, I brought in a batman doll who needed to get to his girlfriend, Ann’s story tweaked) question circle, focus on the structures, listen to the students creative answers, be sure before starting that they are sitting with straight backs, squared shoulders and clear eyes (this is huge!), question circle more, keep speaking slowly, and let the rest work itself out. It worked out.
          Now, you’ve been talking about kids whose behavior makes it hard to carry out class. In one of the failed lessons I had some tough kids, but I can’t make that an excuse because I’ve had great stories in that class in the past.
          I realized in the afternoon that the morning stories failed because of me, and not the kids.
          Sometimes I’m guilty of thinking that a script is so good that it will do everything by itself. As I do this more and more, I find that sticking to the basics is what creates a good story, never abandon the basics.
          Thanks a lot for the comments, I hope my reply helps.

          1. …the basics are what give the stories their structure….
            This is gold. Diana and some other teachers and I were processing after observing in my classroom today and Diana said that Circling is a thing that is so basic and never done enough that that neglect costs teachers heavily in their CI attempts. That was directed at me because I am not the biggest circler of all time. Her point supports yours. If you want this to work, do the basics. And then do them again. And again. Just like you describe above, Ray. Let the story go a bit and do the basics. Just to repeat what you said, for its gold:

              …the basics are what give the stories their structure….
          2. This is a skill I need to work on. I circle a lot when introducing structures, I circled a hell of a lot during the circling with balls phase. But I really dropped the ball after that. I don’t circle nearly enough when doing PQA and stories. I can’t help but think that the students get bored with circling…”oh he’s going to ask us the same question over and over again in different ways”. But maybe that’s just because it gets repetitive and boring for me since I already know the language. I do think though that my Spanish I students get easily bored. It’s 8th grade for HS credit and it’s all the “cream of the crop” fast processors, so I think they “get it” fairly quickly and then they get bored because I’m beating a dead horse. It’s hard to make PQA last all period in this class, unlike my 7th grade Exploratory classes which are awesome.

          3. Yeah the 8th graders have to be handled differently. Try circling for awhile but breaking up the predictability both in terms of the “classic” order of circling but also by staying away from the object so much and changing subject and verb. The art part of circling is to do a lot of it but stealthily. That is a real skill – stealth circling. I don’t come close to that, and, like you Chris, never circle enough. Hey, there’s always the next story. That’s what’s great about all this stuff – we never seem to lack chances to practice when they make us teach five classes for the big bucks.

          4. On the IJFLT site, Carol Gaab has a great article that describes artful circling. I read it all the time!

          5. In my experience, my tighter,basic stories are clear and easy to follow and all the campers a are happy. Go to fast, too detailed , too cute by half and I crash and burn. For me the expansion and decoration of the story with details is best left for the reading – embedded, acted out – whatever!

  3. Thank you Ben for reminding us through this thread today that stories can fall flat on our heads for the obvious reasons you mentioned. although I am not teaching as I still have a student teacher for the next two weeks, I am coaching her. She has also been focusing on the details at the expense of the story, not allowing enough repetitions of the structures. I think the reason ( at least for me) for falling into this trap is my fear of not making the kids laugh and engaged in the story, and trying to compensate for this by adding details, which take time away from what we are really after ( the structures). it is a fine balance that we need to work on every day.

    1. …I think the reason ( at least for me) for falling into this trap is my fear of not making the kids laugh and engaged in the story….
      The desire to entertain must be kept at bay. We are not entertainers. Thank you for this reminder, Sabrina.

  4. Yes, Sabrina. The focusing on superfluous details, that is dissembling, and it is bad. We should have the target structures in our heads and hammer them. We teach the structures, not the story. That is why, in a way, PQA is a lot easier (as long as we have the right structures).

    1. We should have the target structures in our heads and hammer them. . . . That is why, in a way, PQA is a lot easier (as long as we have the right structures).
      How true. Today I was doing PQA with my level 1 class. The only word we got to was “schimpft” (yells at, scolds, berates) – but we found out that N’s mom “schimpft immer” (all the time) but only when he is “böse” (bad, mean) – so obviously he is bad all the time – oh no, his mom only thinks he’s bad; he’s really a nice guy. C’s mom also “schimpft viel” (a lot). C is a girl who tries hard to be disengaged, but today when I asked if her mom “schimpft” I got a genuine reaction: roll of the eyes and “Oh ja!”. We even found out that one of the guys in the class “schimpft”, but only on the football field with the team. Huge number of meaningful repetitions of “schimpft”. I did have to add in “spinnt” (is crazy, literally “spins”) because N thinks his mom “spinnt”.
      BTW, I’m amazed by the growing number of students who are starting to open their mouths and have German fall out. I can tell some are working ahead of time to think it through, but then they start talking and it’s fine. If it gets tough, I give them as much support as they need to get through with a sense of success. I really think it helped both them and me to share my experience in France two summers ago: I simply mangled my way through the language but got what I wanted. The French were gracious and laughed along with me when I messed something up. I also remember experiencing those moments when – in spite of having the language to understand what was being said – all I registered was “wa wa wa wa wa wa wa”. We all need those reminders from time to time. But a real key for my students, I think, was that I shared with them my moments of weakness. If I, the language expert, could have those moments, then it’s ok for them to have them as well. No shame, no guilt – it’s just part of acquiring more of the language.
      I also had a great time today in level 3/4/AP (yep, that’s a single class with 35 students). First they did some presentations, acting out a chapter of a story we are reading. Then during extension we started a “labyrinth book”. It’s one of those that has a short section of text, then you have to decide on a course of action and go to the appropriate page. I wasn’t sure how they would like the book, but it was a real hit. We’re going to go through it a couple of times as a class making different choices (I have one student whose job is to keep track of what choices we make) in a few places. Then it will be available for FVR/SSR on an individual basis.

  5. Great post Ben. I have to remind myself all of the time to not beat myself up when stories/PQA fall flat. I think that this a rough time of year for students and us as well. In our district, we are just coming off of 2 weeks of standardized testing, Thanksgiving break, and then in a couple of weeks, Christmas. Also, I think that in a few of my classes, they are craving for something new. I’ve been toying with the idea of teaching one of Blaine Ray’s novels. I have never taught a novel before…any suggestions?

  6. I’ve been wondering where you’ve been. Two weeks of standarized testing. Hmmm. I bet the kids loved that.
    Just take Pobre Ana and power through it like a snowplow. That is Susan Gross’ way of reading novels and in my opinion it is the best. They have to follow along as you read and when you abruptly stop and ask Johnny what the last word you said was, he better be able to answer or you pull out that eight foot long stick again and beat him with it. Just kidding. But the point is to get the text going on in the kids’ heads like a movie while they listen to you. Of course, break out, in the way we do in reading classes, to discuss each paragraph to get more auditory CI (i.e. you read, “Anne is an American girl” and you ask, “Class, is Anne an American girl or a Canadian girl and circle that like that).
    It’s funny you should mention that you are going to start doing that because I am also just starting Pauvre Anne tomorrow because we are a little burned out on stories. They do need a break. A novel is a great way to do that. I wonder what Skip is doing for reading novels. I think he is ripping a bunch of PQA with the cards this fall. But for most of us, we want to try to read 3-4 novels this year and so having one done by the mid-year break is probably a good idea.
    Angela I am going to do Pauvre Anne for like 20-25 min. per class. It’s just too boring. I won’t let a lot of parallel stories develop because then we are just back into new stories based on the novel, and our goal is to take a break from stories anyway. That frees us up to stuff that we rarely get a chance to do, like dictee, FVR, free writes, Kindergarten Day and all those other things we never have time to do.

    1. I’ve been wondering what the heck a snowplow reading is. So is it when you read and just randomly ask students what the last word you said was? What if there are words/structures in the chapters they don’t yet know? I’m guessing if you are trying to plow through it, you’re not pre-teaching the vocab?

  7. Chris the materials don’t yet exist to have all the words in a novel pre-taught and PQA’d and I don’t know if it can even be done. That is where Blaine’s novels come in – they are so simple. Pobre Ana consists of three hundred words. If you do a lot of stories from August to now and give them that book, they can read it. Plus, in my opinion they don’t need to know all the words.

  8. Angela Williams

    Yeah, the kids loved the testing 🙂
    I really want to get a novel in this semester and I think that now would be a good time to do it. We are burned out with the stories too. You’re right Ben, Pobre Anna is waaay boring…I was thinking of maybe doing Patricia goes to California, the second book. There is a bit more action, but still very simple vocabulary. I may even take your suggestion and just do it for about 25 minutes, which is half of the class period. Trying to drag it out for 50 minutes might be too much of a stretch.
    Also, are you going to just read the novel or incorporate any “reading activities”?? I want my students to value reading the novel, but I think that if they see we are just reading and we aren’t “doing anything” with it, they won’t value it as much. What do you think?

  9. There are lots of choices and the kids are right – without some fun stuff around the novel we will lose them and no blame on them. One option includes a parallel story to reflect what is going on in the novel. I thought I was going to play that down this year in favor of plowing through the book. After talking to my colleagues at Lincoln about this today, however, I see that the parallel story (a mirror image of the book but made up and ridiculousized by the class to be about them) is going to have to happen. Then, I will do a lot of writing of that parallel story with some dictation in there, all of this in a rich bed of auditory input to create the parallel story. Basically, this new approach is novel-centered and not story centered. I will try to be more specific later, maybe this weekend, about what I learned today from my Lincoln colleagues on how to do this. The new plan could be me into Pauvre Anne for the rest of the year, with lots of reading and writing as well as auditory input, using the book as a base of operations for all kinds of things. Here is yet another brand new concept coming in from the side just when I thought I had a plan that worked for me. Never a dull moment. More specifics later.

    1. Do keep us posted. Although I don’t have a novel to use in Latin (yet–a few of us are starting to work on that), I am fortunate to have a textbook with stories that are fairly interesting. I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the class, without monopolizing the entire class with plowing thorough an extended narrative.

  10. John I just answered this in great detail and then some security setting on my computer ate it. I’ll get back to you. I am wanting us to get this reading discussion going. There is a lot to say. There is also a lot to say about computers that eat stuff but you don’t want to hear that.

    1. Be sure to click on over to Jody’s site – link to the right and up – if you have not had a chance to read about how she has worked with “Pirates”. If you know Jody, you know why her kids must love learning from this talented TCIer!

  11. Angela Williams

    I think that Michelle Whaley has some awesome reading techniques on her blog that I noted somewhere…I’ll check on that this weekend and see what I can come up with.

  12. John and Angela without stepping into hyperbole, after my experience with creating a parallel story from Pobre Ana today, I think that this idea of basing a CI curriculum on a short novel (those stories in that Latin textbook will work just fine) you are going to really like this. It is very powerful for personalization as explained below. If the potential I see here bears out even at 50%, this stuff is good! However, I left all my notes at school just now and so may not write it up till next week. Basically, you take the text and, going paragraph by paragraph, do the following:
    1. they read the paragraph silently or translate with a partner if they can handle that.
    2. you read it aloud while they read it. (loudly and slowly).
    3. you and the group chorally translate the paragraph (loudly and slowly).
    4. you discuss the facts in L2, with no grammar explanations. Just a simple discussion of the facts.
    5. you get a parallel character, telling the kids that you are going to publish the novel they create in May. This main character has to be a kid who shows up everyday, who is of good cheer, who has the right “vibe” to be the hero.
    6. In one of my classes, a girl named Janet loves her new identity as a Mexican girl who lives in France. Going back to the paragraph for the day, you start gathering parallel details. You may say that Anne is American, but what is Janet? If Anne has five people in her family, how many are there in Janet’s? If Anne has blue eyes, what color are Janet’s eyes? Today, we learned from this kind of “parallel questioning” that Anne is Mexican, lives in France, has 33 people in her family (my 10th pd. class), of whom 13 are boys and brothers and 10 girls are sisters with 9 dads and 1 mother. First they said four mothers but then a few thought about that and we settled on one mother. Janet has red eyes. We go on and on, developing our own novel.
    7. You write out each new sentence and sending it all from your keyboard onto the screen through the LCD (you can then save the story for publication as the eventual novel). This of course is great for reading, but I notice a lot of kids really studying the text as it appears on the screen. They are not aware of it, but they are learning how to write.

  13. Oh, yeah. I’m doing Piratas with my 7th graders and they are WAY into the parallel story we have created (although I’ve had to rein it in on some of the appropriateness of their parallel character descriptions.) So, we’ll read from the story one day, the next day do parallel story. They are digging it so far. I think I might be going too fast, though, since I had them assess themselves on how well they are understanding the story so far and some of them get stuck on the new words. I try to use these new words in the parallel story but it just doesn’t always work that way. They are having a hoot acting out both the regular piratas story as well as the parallel story, and different students volunteer to act each day so much that I have to use my “cold cards” to ask for volunteers because they get annoyed when I call on the same students to act. Love to hear any cool ideas you have using Piratas.

  14. Annemarie how far away from the plot of Piratas do your kids take the discussion? I have found that in parallel stories it is easy to build characters but hard to align plot with the original story line. Comments?

  15. Yes, I agree this can be tricky to continuously align plots. This is how I’ve done it with them so far and it doesn’t stick to CI necessarily but it fills their need for peer to peer time. I chose a portion of the story we just finished and write 5 questions about it. For example, how does the Spanish captain and his crew get to the coast? How do they get to Puerto del Príncipe and the market? What does the captain want at the market? And his girlfriend? And Felipe?
    In groups of 4, the students come up with answers for each, they share their ideas, then we vote on them and voila, we have a mini-parallel story which I will ask them the next day. And the story grows.
    There is much more English this way, but they really like it and it’s a nice break from they way I typically do stories. So, as you can see, the creation of the parallel story is not really a discussion in the target language, but it is the next day when I have them draw the parallel story, retell it to a partner, and then we act it out in class.
    (Annemarie I am answering here because there is a posting glitch in the comment space below.)
    That is a missing link for me. I remember that this came from Michele in Alaska – that was a few years ago. I always felt that kids putting their heads together and coming up with plots and subplots from target vocabulary was great and should be used more often. There you are using it. And I remember Michele and Laurie presenting on it in their session in St. Louis.
    So let me be clear. Given that Blaine’s books are boring, the way to do a parallel story within a chapter would be to read the chapter, and then, instead of just asking the new plot line using the new characters from the class’ new parallel novel, hoping against hope for an interesting story line, you have the kids create the story line from information provided by them to the questions you ask them about that chapter. Sounds more complicated than it is.
    I really appreciate this. It will help me as I try to continue my own work of exploring the potential of parallel novels, that thread from a few months ago that I took out of the blog post listings here so I can have time to see how it works. This is a possible partial answer to the problem. Thank you!

    1. Let’s see whether this comment section works…I was so excited today because I was able in one class to pre-tell the novel to a group of new kids and have them able to participate with one-semester kids. Then in my parent group, I was going to have the beginners read the first chapter of a new novel, but first grabbed some paper-doll figures off the wall to ask that chapter. The group came up with a hysterically funny parallel story as their own pre-reading of the story. We wrote it up together, and what occurred to me then was that I can check for new structures that we didn’t use (from the “real” reading) and add them as part of an embedded next level, to read before I tell them the “real” story, read it to them, and have them read it. That’s all a nice mix of Scaffolding Literacy method and TPRS. SL doesn’t have the personalized story-telling included.
      I didn’t get to the reading with my adult beginners, but I was able to pre-tell the story for the intermediates, using first the story that the beginners had told. That allowed me to use structures with them that I wasn’t absolutely sure they knew and be able to go a little faster through the reading with them.
      I must recommend offering classes to parent groups. They are patient and interested. They laugh at things I don’t even think are funny, and they so purely enjoy learning. You can find out by teaching them whether you have the techniques down. Sometimes the kids are hard to reach, and it’s a relief to find out that I can still teach. Other times, I come off a great day with kids, and parents make it feel as though I can walk on water.

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