Yeoman Circling

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4 thoughts on “Yeoman Circling”

  1. Eerily timely. I am saving this and reading it several times a day. I have been caving out of fear – yes, even at the beginning of the year and even though I spent the summer (and the past seventeen years) gearing up to NOT cave. This rings real and true on so many levels, it just might be a career changer for me. Thank you, Ben, from the bottom of my heart.

    1. And another thing Kelly about this fear of caving in to kids’ negative mental energy. The fact is that they get a bitchy edge in class because they:

      1. don’t understand.
      2. have never been made to show up as human beings in the back and forth give and take that language acquisition requires.

      I use the Classroom Rules and jGR for the latter of those two things, and I use SLOW for the former. Today in teaching my French 1 and my French 3 class I went the same speed for both. A kid in the first year class could have sat in the third year class and understood. Not at the same level, perhaps, but enough to pass a Quick Quiz. How could I tell? Well, I know how slowly I was speaking, much slower than in my previous 13 years with TPRS/CI. When you go that slowly, anybody can understand. How cool is it when observors come in and leave saying that they could understand! Anyway, yeah, make them understand by going much slower than you want, so slowly that it’s painful, and then hold them accountable via our rules and rubric and bingo we got it going on. TPRS too hard? No. Grammar instruction too hard? Oh yes.

  2. Kelly I was certain I am not the only teacher who has caved in to that control of the class in the invisible world by one or two students (usually one). I am glad that I now cheerfully confront those kids openly in class using jGR on a daily basis to create a failing grade – because the kid IS failing the class in the sense that they are failing to honor the work of back and forth reciprocal sharing of language with the rest of us. Nobody has ever confronted them before and that job has fallen to us and if we fail to do it then who is going to confront these children who are so ubiquitous in our nation’s classrooms? I use jGR at 35% and quizzes at 65% so that if a jerk is passing the quizzes because they are so easy, I can still fail the kid with a bunch of 2s or 3s on the Interspersonal Skill grade. I use it as a hammer if I need to. (This year I haven’t needed it bc I am going slower than every before – Annick Chen hung out in my level one class yesterday and after the class told me “slower than Linda Li” which made my day.) So Kelly go for those few kids and school them. I am so glad we are talking about this. Right now in September it’s not about CWB or how we deliver CI or even SLOW as much as it is about exposing and dealing with the jerks who slouch (don’t let them, not for a moment!) or the rude mouthed kids (don’t allow that either – confront them with phone calls). We still have a week or so to get those kids out so try that avenue as well. Use jGR failing grades to justify your position with parents and counselors. Do not let yourself get run over. Act in every instance. Have the classroom rules right there and enforce them, especially #5, over and over and over and over. Take half the class norming the kids to the Classroom Rules if you need to. Or more than half the class. Do that now and you won’t have a problem later. This is the time for classroom management building and don’t forget that CWB is about that more than it is about instructing in the language.

    Related to this discussion is this rather lengthy passage from my book TPRS in a Year! Robert talked about this skill a few days ago:

    Skill #22: Staying in the Moment

    This is my favorite skill. It requires heart. Staying in the moment means that you do not leave the moment that has been created in the story. You do not digress. You do this to keep the comprehensible input alive. The way to make sure you do this is to:

    – teach the student and not the language.
    – stay on the sentence until it parallels the original story – see the conclusion of this book for details on how to do this.
    – milk in extra details via circling, making sure that the details are connected to the lives of your students.

    Staying in the moment may be the most challenging skill of all the TPRS skills because it involves going against so much of what we have all been taught as teachers, which is be in charge, drive the story, say the right thing at the right time, be funny, etc. The fact is that if the teacher is the one driving everything forward, there is no “space” for the kids to join in the game.

    Most importantly, if the details of the story are not provided by the students, they will not be interested in the story. The instructor must create spaces via artful questioning that allow for those spaces to be filled by students’ answers that are interesting to them.

    This involves staying in the moment, resting there, waiting for the right cute answer, avoiding the desire to push forward. Here is a sample of how that can be done in a story I wrote for my class:

    a dévisagé – stared at
    est monté – went up
    se sont disputés – argued

    ? Marcel and his girlfriend Sheila are in a car on (local street). They stop at a red light.

    ? Sheila looks up at a building. She sees Larry in the building looking out a window at her. Sheila stares at Larry. Larry stares at Sheila.

    ? Marcel is angry. He gets out of the car and goes up the elevator in Larry’s building. He argues with Larry. Sheila cries.

    I made a “car” (two chairs) in the middle of the room. I got two kids up to be Marcel and Sheila, thus instantly personalizing the story. They shuffled up to the “car” and looked at me with that expectant look they do. They shuffled too slowly, so I just yelled at them to get into the car:

    “Montez dans la voiture! (“Get in the car!”)

    I put Larry on the third floor of a “building” (actually a countertop that runs along the side of the classroom). I told Larry to look down at the kids in the car.

    With meaning of the structures clearly established, and written and translated and clearly visible and ready to be pointed at throughout the story, with three actors and a good script, all was ready for a great class! “What a great start!” I thought. Then there was that little pause, like, “O.K. what do I do next?”

    The kids weren’t laughing and the story wasn’t funny. Instead, they were giving me “the look,” as if to say, “What’s next, oh purveyor of alternative teaching methods?”

    I answered their look with my own look, “Hey, you think it is easy to just get a funny story going? I ain’t no Susan Gross! Some of us TPRS teachers actually have to WORK for a story!”

    Still the look. But I resisted the urge to yell, “I can’t do this stuff! It’s too hard! Someone help me!” I just stayed in that moment:

    Just hang in there, Ben, and explore this moment. Don’t try to drive the story forward too fast! Ask questions and listen to their responses and pick the right ones and just let this thing go forward in its own way! Circle and listen for cute answers! Trust the method and play the game and listen to them! C’mon, man, you can do it!

    The look.

    Stay in the moment! Ask the questions. Circle or die!

    The look.

    Class, where is the car? (Paris!) No, class, the car is not in Paris! How absurd! The car is in Denver! (Ohh!) Class, where in Denver? Someone yells out “Colfax Avenue!”

    Colfax Avenue is a well-known street in Denver for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its seediness. I think:

    That really is the right street. Yes! Colfax! Perfect! How could it be any other street?

    Immediately, the look was gone! The mood in the classroom had completely changed. Nobody was nervous any more. The look had been replaced by smiles and laughter. The boy who suggested Colfax was pleased with himself beyond words.

    There are so many stories around Colfax Avenue in Denver that I could tell that each kid was making their own association – all of a sudden what used to be a struggling story was actually alive with energy because of the mention of a street! Colfax Avenue and its reputation in Denver had united us. The idea that their friends were in a car driving around downtown, where so much crazy stuff happens, and no longer in a classroom in southwest Jefferson County, had captured their interest.

    By staying in the moment of the story until a cute answer was suggested, the story was saved. The kids were given their voice in the story. It took off from there. Had I reacted to the look by taking everything over, jumping out of the moment into something I could control, the resultant disenfranchisement of the kids would have dragged the story to a halt.

    Later in the story, I had another opportunity to stay in the moment – this time it was to wait for the right physical detail to be suggested:

    When Marcel was being jealous because Sheila was looking up out of the car into the window at Larry, I waited until I got the right answer from the class:

    Class, why is Sheila staring at Larry?

    No answer. The look. Another one of those moments where I could either rescue the story or stay in the moment and wait for the right response. What should I do? I waited. I resisted the impulse to tell the kids that Sheila was looking at Larry because she thought he was cute, which would have been my idea and not theirs.

    Then, from the left side of the classroom, just when the discomfort in the classroom was growing, a superstar blurted out in English these words in a fit of laughter while putting her hand to her nose:

    Because Larry has a big zit on his nose!!!

    Bingo! Hanging out in the moment had again paid a big dividend, well worth the discomfort that was in the room just a few seconds before. The class erupted in laughter, and my superstar had one of those big “wall to wall” smiles on her face.

    I immediately told her that this was exactly why Sheila was looking at Larry. It was obvious! She was correct! I expressed true amazement that she knew that. I sent the message that I myself could never have come up with such a cute answer. I told her how proud I was of her perfect suggestion at the perfect time in the story and I heaped the praise on. Nothing motivates like success, and my superstar had been successful because I had stayed in the moment and not rescued the story.

    Of course, sometimes we wait and nothing cute is suggested. Does that mean the students aren’t learning and that we are failures at TPRS? No. Cute answers, though wonderful and in my opinion necessary, are not the point of TPRS.

    Are the kids hearing the language? Are we speaking the target language to them in the class, and are the kids reporting in on comprehension checks at 80% or above? If so, then we are doing our jobs. Then, echoing Gilbert Gottfried, we can say with confidence, “I am intelligent, I am a good person, and gosh darn it, my students are learning!”

    So staying in the moment may produce wonderful suggestions that give sparkle to a story, but if it does not, that is just fine. We need to expect less from TPRS than all glitter and gold. Personalized comprehensible input is just fine.

  3. This is not related to the above but I am at school and can’t find the recent thread about the two kinds of teachers – those who genuinely are trying to learn CI and those who just claim to do it:

    There is a teaching coach person from the district assigned to Lincoln High School in WL and two other departments. She observes classes and reports to the principal. It’s unclear what her relationship is to Diana Noonan. This is a former AP Spanish teacher who sees herself as a TPRS person but, as Annick said to me today, does she really know about TPRS? Now this person observed our TPRS Italian teacher today. After class, she told the teacher, who is fighting to learn the method, that she:

    1. Talked too much in the TL.
    2. Should have put them in groups.

    So this is the kind of person I was describing last week. This former teacher claimed to know all about TPRS but in reality apparently, judging from what she told the Italian teacher, doesn’t know anything.

    Those people are all over. When they are in a position to report to an administrator, it is a problem. Watch out for these people.

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