February 25, 2008

Dear Readers:

I have a new blog. All the old posts will be retained, but the new site is or you can access it through The blog has a single purpose – to help you and me become better at TPRS.  Feel free to comment or question anything.


Three Santys

February 19, 2008

Krashen and Blaine and Susie are hauling, in big Santy Clause bags, into the world, right now, from the great American West, some very cool stuff for language teachers worldwide.

It’s kind of a reverse covered wagon thing, except that Krashen is hauling his stuff in on the back of a beach buggy, Blaine has his on the back of a golf cart, and Susie has placed her stuff on the back of two snow white horses pulling a surrey.

Krashen is inviting us all to have a ride on the beach. Blaine wants us to play eighteen with him and Von. Susie is inviting us to take a ride in that fringed surrey. Why not?

The Final Bell

February 18, 2008

Should we pass kids just for sitting in a chair? What does it means to be a real teacher in a data-driven world? I think we must learn how to reach and support kids in spite of the data addiction currently gripping, choking, American education, an addiction, which if we are not careful, can lead us to put the grade before the kid.

What is the mythical point of contact between the idea of fully supporting a kid and the idea of honestly assessing them? Assessment has always confused all of us most of the time – it is so arbitrary.

In some teachers, assessment actually overtakes the classroom, and no real teaching occurs. That is a dark thing. It is why so many like Tolstoy and others couldn’t deal with school, seeing it as endless drudgery filled with mindless boring tasks, to paraphrase the great Russian master.

When in February I sign a paper allowing a failing student to register for French II at the high school, I do so in order to keep the plant alive. If the plant dies,a simple email to the high school in May if the plant shows it has died straightens things out. But this rarely happens, because I water the plant.

Those who refuse to sign the sign up slip for next year in the interests of “just being honest with the kid” forget that they are doing it in the middle of the year. Why do that? The year is only half over. My job is to teach the kid and not the curriculum all year long. My job is to teach kids French in that order. My job is to do all I can to give these kids an experience of what it feels like to succeed. I know I am not alone.

I don’t care a fig about analyzing the student and all of that stuff. I can’t control any of that. I can only control the teacher part. I can only control what I do in my classroom. I succeed or fail in teaching my students to the degree that I am able to open up my heart, not my head, to the kids, and to support them as people first and students second, as precious jewels and not data bots.

I can only keep loving and supporting each and every last pierced gothic freak and superstar soccer player no matter what, all the way up to that final assessment when I REALLY find out how much they have learned, which is when I finalize what level they should be in. 

Any discussion about assessment brings up a great opportunity to remind each other on this list about the related point of what Blaine says about weighing pigs – you can’t make those porkers grow any faster by weighing them more often.

So, why don’t we just actually DO CPI during the weeks and months leading up to the final end of year assessments, seriously minimizing tests, and then letting those big bad boys – the end of year common and district assessments – naturally select out who should go to the next level, à la Ted Sizer? If we do massive slow CPI now in February, we won’t have to do frenetic CPR later. I apologize for that bad pun. No I don’t.

We need to remember in this discussion that if a kid is doing their best imitation of a potted plant in our classes, that there are reasons for that: stuff going on at home, being only fifteen years old in present day America (I am still scared and I have been here a lot longer than that), not connecting with the drudgery of school, etc.

We can’t play the failing card on them in February! That’s all they need – another reason to not want to get out of bed in the morning,in the harsh light of winter yet, another class to cross off, another adult to mistrust, another room to become a plant in.

When we fail them by not signing their forms for the next level, we become sheep eating flowers arbitrarily. But sheep do such things out of ignorance and we have no such excuse. That is why I sign those forms waiting for that end of year assessment to make the decision about next year’s level for me. To keep the plant alive as long as possible, by never taking anything they do or say or fail to do for me personally.

So I am just going to continue to place my focus more and more and still yet more on loving and supporting kids even if they have gnarly snarkification assessmentos zits.  We love and support kids, and we don’t get into the details.

After all, we have TPRS to do help us do that, and so we are WAY AHEAD of the game. We are in a ball park that many teachers don’t even know exists, bless their hearts.

So let us not waste our time getting into arguments about defining assessment and passing and failing and input and output and all that. We have our end of year exams to decide those things for us. How dare we focus on anything else but the student? How dare we forget our real callings as teachers, to help kids become (not necessarily fluent in French) but better human beings.

I will not apologize for the self esteem movement, nor on the other hand will I lie to kids about grades. But I sure as hell will make my tests easy during the year so that they can experience some success and want to pay attention in my classroom.

Then, deftly holding off until June, only then will I nudge them gently and with loving kindness away from the next level of study if the testing gods so decree. Of course there is a place for tests, but to me during the year they should be just easy little things.

Teachers who have already written kids off now in February because they are assessment nazis deserve the loud snoring and springtime desk drooling of the kids they have written off when they refuse to support those kids all the way up to the final bell.

Pennies From Heaven

February 18, 2008

When we focus merely on how we are doing the method or, worse, on just recreating the story script itself in class, perhaps we miss the entire point of TPRS.

In my view, the real point of TPRS is not to focus on the method or the materials. Instead, it is to convey to our students a sense of wonder and awe that such a thing could have happened, that such characters could really have existed and done those things.

We do this primarily with our voice – its timbre and tonality. We use our voice to ask questions about the story in a way that conveys marvel and wonder. Think of reading a bedtime story to a child. Do TPRS that way. Don’t circle such magical ideas in a boring way!

Children learn languages because of the way we say them – because of the meaning we put into them. We inflect, we express surprise, we express great wonder, we learn to dance with our students using our voices. We are so proud, so deeply proud of them, that they know such things, things even we didn’t know – about the details of the story.

If we do that, the kids will have the NEED to tell us more details. We welcome that ouptut, their cute answers, for what they really are – pennies from heaven.

How Oz!

February 13, 2008

Speaking of boxes, our students are really just little munchkins who, hiding amongst the flowers, have long been waiting for a big box to slam down on their ugly old grammar teacher witch, and wait, as well, for that witch’s sister to melt. 

They have been waiting for a little dog, someone, anyone, to pull back the illusory curtain of how we learn languages, and to show them how to really do so, which is as easy as clicking one’s heals together and wishing for a story. Imagine that!

I have a message to all witches: look down the road. You will see a lion named Blaine, a Dorothy named Susie, a tin man named Jason, and a scarecrow named Joe, skipping arm in arm in your direction.

Here they come, skipping with joy down the yellow brick roads of their careers, revealing the gold, the pure gold, that gives the yellow color to the bricks. This is the TPRS road, and we invite all teachers to try a skip or two. You might like it! Better than monkeying around!


February 13, 2008

A man was carrying a very heavy wooden box on his back. The box was crammed with books and paper. Someone asked the man why he was carrying it, and he responded that he had to. When asked why, he responded that he was told that he had to carry the box and so he did.

We don’t realize the deleterious effects on our teaching and personal lives of such boxes. We just don’t. Like the man above, some teachers are made crazy by these boxes, but they can’t seem to put them down.

If they did, they would very quickly deposit them by the side of the road, and continue walking through their careers with straight back, bright eyes, a light step, and a lot of laughter and plain old fun in the form of shared language with their students.

Those students, all of them, are waiting, just waiting, for real instruction in the target language, instruction that is interesting and meaningful to them. They are waiting for their teachers to understand that they don’t have to carry boxes anymore.


February 13, 2008

I don’t know how I would teach writing and grammar without free writes and dictée. Want to teach grammar? Use these two things. They are the most effective tools I know for teaching grammar quickly and efficiently, because they are interesting and meaningful to the kids.

Laurie Clarcq

February 11, 2008

Few TPRS listserve posts have inspired me like post #90514 from Laurie Clarcq, from which I have here pulled a few gems. In this text, Laurie absolutely gets to the soul of teaching.

Another Laura had said on the list: “I, their teacher, have not yet figured out how to …keep the ones at the front and the back all on the same train.”

Laurie responded first to that common idea that everybody learns at the same pace:

“Well….actually….that is an illusion that education is trying to sell us and the public we serve. That doesn’t happen. Never has. Never will. Not in the classroom. Not in the church service. Not even at the most frenetic concert of fans. Someone will always be off in their own little world.”

Then Laurie brought up an idea that is very close to my heart – that of staying in the moment with the kids, the fear, all of it:

“The great thing about teaching is that we have the chance…once in a while…to reach out and bring [unconscious kids] back in…if not into the lesson…then at least back into the moment with us.

“It’s about the MOMENT.

“That’s why slow enough is important. So the moments don’t rush by.

“That is why Personalization is so vital. So the moment connects with the recipient.

“Learning, true learning, is about the world communicating itself with the mind, the heart, the soul.

“This is what TPRS allows us to do. And grading has little to nothing to do with it.”

In the above comment Laurie is shredding the entire idea of evaluating kids. She suggests that evaluation is a complete farce, done only as a received idea and because we have to. Laurie states that, in the true world, data is never going to communicate one speck of how much is actually learned by a child.

If one were to reflect on it, there is deafening research now that the tell and test method of grading is REALLY off, that since the kids forget what they learned for the test within twenty-four hours, it is really a bogus instrument. Such research supports Laurie’s point here, that learning is not really something that can be measured.

In this next gem, Laurie suggests that the real purpose of teaching, grading, all of it, is simply to keep the kid in the room. To keep the kid connected to something that has meaning. To keep the kid involved in something interesting. Any teacher that does that cannot be said to have failed a child. Thus:

“That is why you don’t want them to leave the language classroom. That would be soooooo many moments lost.”

“This too is the knowledge, the truth to keep in your heart, and to communicate with your students every chance you get.

This next paragraph suggests that we cannot use grades to force kids to learn, that education cannot be forced on anyone but must and will be received by the learner as a conscious choice that they make.

“School is a GAME. Education is found, accepted, or taken…not given. No one can give you knowledge. They can give you information, theories, insights and their own conclusions…..but until the student takes it, and responsibility for it , on their own…it is not acquisition. It’s not knowledge. It’s not anything. It’s just equipment in the GAME.

“There are some good, actually excellent, reasons for playing the game and playing it well. Certainly there are many many social, personal, and financial benefits. But it is not soul-defining. It’s not value-inducing.

“It’s the moments that take place during the game that make playing it truly valuable…and those very rarely (at least in my 26 years of playing…) the result of a great lesson plan.

“They are almost always the result of connection and communication.

“Now that is all well and good in theory. How about reality? We are all left to our own individual and professional devices. You know your students and your system. Follow your heart. Lead with your convictions. But be careful not to sacrifice anyone in the process…especially yourself.

Those last two words must not be overlooked. Too many teachers trash their own lives in some kind of frenzy to please others. We must take care not to sacrifice ourselves in the grading and assessment game, which is a point that I hope came through in a few of my recent listserve posts about assessment – that simplifying how we grade is, in the current climate throughout our nation, a necessary thing.

“So I do my grades as honestly as possible. And then I get back to the moments.”

Thank you so much, Laurie, for speaking so with such bravery in a data-driven world. I certainly am not going to stop giving tests, because I want a paycheck, but I am going to trust even yet more what my intuition has been screaming at me all these years, that we are there in those classrooms for those kids and nothing else.

Dairy Farming

February 9, 2008

[Note: Byron Despres-Berry asked me if I was a dairy farmer when he saw some night owl blogs on the listserve. Here is my response:] 

 Byron I wish I were a dairy farmer! That was very funny. Life wouldbe so much simpler! Maybe.

But we are teachers! Like you, I often wake up at night with so many fearful and elegant ideas about teaching and TPRS. But I bet we aren’t alone!

It’s like my in-services in TPRS occur when I’m sleeping. Then I have to get up and write down what I learned. There is a lot of unlearning also going on. I am in recovery, so to speak, from teaching in the old way. So I just wake up at night.

But I am glad to wake up! We are all waking up. We are all waking up together. We may not want to wake up, but we’re going to have to wake up anyway.

Because if we don’t, tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of children are going to flat out beat us over the head with our new marching orders that say, “Wake up now and teach us right! We really have to actually learn the language now! We have a planet, Earth, that we have to clean up, and we can do it so much easier if you just wake up and learn how to teach us the right way!”

Ain’t it great?


February 8, 2008

In a recent listserve post (#90412) Donatienne wrote:

“Google Maurice Carême. Here’s a link I pulled up with a few of his poems. I think they are all little jewels. I met Maurice Careme at a book fair in Brussels when I was 15. I went with my mom who looked like my older sister. We had a blast. She was an “institutrice” and used his poems in her second grade classroom all the time.”

I respond:

Donatienne you met Carême! I love love his work. Oh my gosh. That got my heart skipping a beat when I read that. Those poets in that genre just flip me out, all the ones you and Erwan and all have been talking about.

Now just find me some space in my schedule to teach these gems, y’all. Of course, we could just present them to the kids straight up as a free standing poem, which I sometimes do on Fridays after a week of stories and reading. But there is also the enticing idea of embedding them in stories!

The idea of bringing songs and poetry into stories is just so rich! I tried to bring the first part of Christophe Willem’s Double Je in this week to teach some serious vocabulary around introductions. It really worked.

It wasn’t some lame thing of having the kids introduce each other (output too early in my opinion) – instead it was an authentic YouTube videoclip in which a very popular French pop singer is introduced to a group of adults. Of course I had their attention! I am just overwhelmed by this idea that songs and poetry can be used to gig up stories and CI. It’s the blending of three mighty forces – songs, poetry, and narrative teaching.

You know, we have so many choices in TPRS! Blaine has given us a formula (circling, cute answers) for fun, for energy in our CI classes. Lise said on the list yesterday that in the middle of a story she got her kids chanting a line from the story using Mary Had a Little Lamb. Words flowing naturally into a fun chant for a few minutes and then back into the story, who woulda thunk it ten years ago in our profession?

We can blend a song with introductions (Double Je above), as well as poems into stories, mixing, blending poetry and song and stories. There are probably hundreds of examples of this happening every day in TPRS classes around the world!

Back in the fall my class had studied this awesome exchange between Marius Pontmercy and  Cosette from Les Misérables:


Je ne sais même pas votre nom, chère mademoiselle/I don’t even know your name dear miss. Je suis fou!/I am crazy!  Qu’elle est belle!/How beautiful she is!


… dites-moi qui vous êtes/tell me who you are.


Je m’appelle Marius Pontmercy/My name is Marius Pontmercy.


Et moi, Cosette/And I, Cosette.


Cosette, je ne trouve pas les mots/Cosette, I don’t find the words.


Ne dites rien/Say nothing !


Mon coeur tremble/My heart is trembling.

And there is another line where Marius says:

C’est un rêve..?/Is this a dream?

And she says, putting up one finger and looking directly into his eyes:

Non…c’est vrai!/No…it’s true!

There have been many moments since that time some months ago when I have been able to insert this last part of this scene into stories, much to the protestations of my students who are at the same time fascinated by such declarations of love but feel compelled to yell “Gross!” in the middle of it.

I don’t mind, because I am a great singer and they love to listen to me sing, and, let’s not forget, when they hear such bits of songs in stories, they are awash in comprehensible input, while at the same time getting to see and hear some great literature.  

It’s incredible, really, how such “moments” from opera, literature and music can fatten up a story, and now we’re bringing poetry into the mix. It never ends!