Archive for the ‘personalization’ Category

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.


Extending PQA into Stories

January 27, 2008

Throughout the year, I like to update the kids’ names. If I give a kid a French name, they are just as boring and de-personalized as American names, and they are hard to recognize in the middle of spoken French.

But outlandish names that are connected to something about the kid, some activity they do, etc. tend to lighten everything up and increase interest.

One of my students went to a Hanna Montana concert here in Denver last month. She came dragging into my classroom in the morning. Her old name was dropped and she became Hanna Colorado.

A kid named Joe snowboards. He went to the Winter X Games in Aspen last weekend. So we changed his previous name to Halfpipe Joe.

Whenever I find out something new about a kid, if they go to a concert or to a boarding competition in the mountains, I PQA it. I don’t forget that I have a story lined up, but, because my class is about the kids first and the language second, I spend some time talking to Joe about his boarding.

“Class, Joe snowboards!”, circled for ten minutes becomes “Class, Joe snowboards fast down the mountain without a shirt on with a big parachute attached to his back and a mini-parachute attached to his board!”

I just talk to Joe and the class about Joe’s snowboarding, fudging it into a weird little scene, extending PQA out into a scene, thinking in the back of my mind that I might later be able to connect this new information to a story at some point.

If that scene about Joe’s snowboarding turns into a full blown story, great – I have a more personalized story. If not, great – PQA, which is at the heart of the method, is occurring. I can always ask my other story on another day. 

What is better than just talking with a kid and with the class about his or her life, with a smile on your face, loving their answers?

If you feel that you can’t reach the kid in such a setting, you probably aren’t going slowly enough, circling enough, and pausing and pointing at every new word that comes up during the PQA.

What have you done so far? You gave Joe a cool name that is important to him. You have talked slowly in the target language about a cool thing that he does. You have created a personalized imagined scene in the classroom about him. You have been laying down some serious comprehensible input.
And Joe has never left his seat. If you want, when the discussion about Joe wanes, you leave him there and do something else with another student. 

Debbie has a large yellow dog named Chance. Talk about Chance! When you do this, you are learning to see beyond mere students sitting in a classroom into a more imagination-filled world. You build on each little detail you get from a student.

In your inner teaching vision, you might see Chance knocking the guy down on the slopes up at Aspen. So you set that up. But it rarely goes where you think. That doesn’t matter. Comprehensible input and personalization matter, and you are doing both.

So you go back to Chance’s owner and you give her a funny name (just circle it with the class, the students come up with the cute answers) and one of them says something like “Chance’s Mom” or something personal which gives her an identity in your class.

How important this is! You are honoring what Joe and Chance’s owner, your students, have chosen to share with the group. Thus you give those students a meaningful place in the class.

You are always alert to where the circling might could go, straight into a collision between Joe and Chance on a mountain slope, or maybe Joe gets stuck in a tree because he gets so much air out of the halfpipe (your students are always the best in the world at what they do) and Chance saves him because he has the loudest bark in the world. Just go easy and see where the circling takes it.
Giving the kids funny names and circling normal information into weird stuff while they sit in their seats in your class is the object of the PQA process.

If these are raw beginners, just extending the PQA may be a good place to stop. But you may want to go on into a story! You have a couple of characters, so why not?

Starting a story is no more complex than having Joe stand up. Describe him again to the group (recycling previous  information). Recycle some more. Keep circling, and getting new details, reminding your students that their only job is to give you cute answers. Just see where it goes!

The story will go on, twisting and turning, and you just keep circling. Always remind the students that they bear 50% of the responsibility for the success of the class. Don’t forget to pause and point each time you use a question word or write a new word on the board, giving the students SLOW time to process.

You don’t need a lot of bizarre details. They confuse everyone. Just a few. In my opinion, the best PQA and stories are usually built around normal every day things with just one or two bizarre details.
Look how a normal person in your class who snowboards has been sparkled into someting a little more than normal, and in some way the circling and the individualized name have lifted their status in the room into a special, more interesting person.

Joe was transformed by your questioning into something more than he was when he came into your class, which is the essence of all great storytelling.

We can call the kind of personalization described above authentic, because it involves real activities acted out in class by the people who actually do them, as opposed to actors becoming animals or fictitious creatures. When the person doing the things in the story is allowed to be who they are in real life, interest in the story can be greater.
Personalizing stories in this way, building from PQA, is an advanced skill. Even stories with no such personalization as described above can be very interesting. Both ways produce success.

Offending Kids

January 20, 2008

Personalization in PQA means actually talking with the students about real or imagined things in their lives. It is just a free-form conversation. We can always avoid conversation that may possibly offend a child by simply steering discussion away from anything too personal.

We talk about their socks, and how they score five goals in hockey games, and how they are the best cheerleaders in the world.

But, in stories, the instructor must be constantly alert to possibly offensive words or situations. The instructor has less control over content during stories, because they are always trying to pull cute answers from the class. The instructor must not forget how much power there is in words, especially with children whose minds have not yet developed discriminatory capacities, and especially when they are in groups.

That is one reason why the experts in TPRS tell us to build stories around the popular culture, where there is so much room for free language. It is also why they tell us to always compare our students in a favorable way with celebrities. We can insult Hannah Montana in a story, but never our own students, who are the best at everything.

However, what if one our students is playing the role of Hannah Montana in a story? Do we allow Amanda, a real student in our class, to insult the student playing the role of Hannah Montana? Absolutely not. Kids don’t often see the lines as easily as mature adults.

Even adults can be offended by poor choices during story. I once did a demo class with a group of teachers in which a teacher playing the role of Mark Anthony was accused of being a bad dancer. I saw an opening for a chant, and asked the class to actually point their fingers and chant at the teacher who was playing the role of Mark Anthony – “Tu danses mal! Tu danses mal!” etc.

Mark was able to play if off, as a mature adult, but I could feel, standing next to him, that on some deeper level the chanting was hurtful to him. And what if he had not been acting the role of a celebrity, but of himself? The whole scene would have been just too personally attacking.

Isn’t that true in life? I certainly have been guilty of saying things that I thought innocuous to friends that actually offended them.

So, in stories, we remember to avoid anything that could be interpreted as personally attacking, whether to a student playing a role or playing themselves. The best stories always seem to include a combination of real kids interacting with celebrities – they are the ones that generate the most interest. We should keep the format, but avoid any embarrassing situation that may offend the child.

Content Choice in Stories

January 20, 2008

I’m seeing lately how much our choice of content affects stories. We all seem to be so focused on the skills of telling a story, which is a good thing, but I personally am just now beginning to see how much the content of a story can impact the quality of a class.

Of course, personalization is the key, which to me means getting kids up and acting. But what are they acting about? If we choose content that in some way does not in some way reflect the truest interests of kids, even if we were skilled magicians at TPRS, the story is very often simply not interesting to them.

I have found in my own experience that taking my kids into a fifteenth century world of forested creatures provides good content. Stories around rock stars and teen celebrities always work well. Stories based on Sponge Bob characters work wonderfully, because most of the kids are experts in this area.

This could be expected: if you study them, episodes in Sponge Bob have all the timeless qualities of true stories. The only drawback there is that you have to listen to Sponge Bob laugh in order to get story ideas.

A huge leap forward in the choice of content for stories has taken place lately in my classroom in the form of rap music. I have vastly underrated the influence, for better or worse, of rap artists on American kids, and French rap is awesome stuff.

So, if you want to avoid the hard work of finding interesting story content, and yet are ready to break away from boring canned materials, check out some rap music in the language you teach.

The commercial interests who produce these artists do a lot of content research for us, out of greed. No wonder rap music appeals so much to kids in their mid-teens – it is commercially aimed at them!

The French rapper named Yelle has a song out called “Speak to My Hand” (“Parle à Ma Main”). I taught some of the more recognizable terms to my kids (“Non, merci”, “Pas intéressé”) and then played the song, which was about a teen girl who has an argument with her dad and goes out on the street and is a guy-magnet, but rejects them all with catchy rapped phrases like those above. The theme of the song is “les mecs sont tous nuls” (“guys are all zeros”).

While we listened to the song, with the kids trying to pick out words they could understand, I asked three boys to lipsync the words. These “mecs” were soon dancing, strutting their stuff with amazingly accurate singing, and their accents were vastly improved in those moments of the song. The reaction of the girls in the class was electric. The whole class wanted to do a story right then and there featuring the characters in the song.

It showed me the importance of content. It made me conscious that, often, if a story wains, it is not so much because I am not doing the skills involved in asking a story as well as I could, but rather, that I just have boring subject matter.

Ramblin Jack Elliot

December 22, 2007

Ramblin’ Jack Elliot is an American folk singer.  He is considered the link between Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan.  Originally from Brooklyn, Jack created an image of himself as a “rambling” cowboy singer, going from town to town, singing folk songs, relating to people from a stage through his music only. 

Using his music as a shield, Jack stopped relationships when they became personal, and hit the road, imitating the life of the cowboy.  He was never in one place for very long.  Jack is still rambling around the American folk music scene. 

How much of Jack shows up in our classes?  Do we leave a topic in a story too quickly, as Jack left towns, before it gets fully developed?  Do we fail to adequately personalize our classrooms, as Jack did in his own life? 

Most importantly, whenever he spoke, Jack “rambled” along.  People could never get a word in edgewise in conversations with Jack.  Do we “ramble” through our stories, never making sure that the comprehensible output we are offering is fully grasped by our students?

When performing, Jack “rambled” on about various topics between songs.  His audience had come for the music, but he talked halfway through his sets.  Do we do that in our classes, speaking English when our students had come for the target language?

When Jack talked, he talked at people, not with them.  Do we do that?

Jack is a perfect image of what not to do in TPRS.  By focusing more on the method, as Jack did on his music, we sometimes build a wall between us and our students, and then we wonder why our classes are not interesting and exciting. 

Jack could afford to focus only on his music, because as a performing artist he was separate from his audience.  We, as TPRS teachers, however, cannot afford to do that.  We are not separate from our students in the TPRS classroom.  We interact with them in class or we bore them. 

Students in a TPRS classroom form a complex web of personalities, and when those personalities work together it creates magic.  We, unlike Jack, cannot afford to “ramble” along in our classes, focusing primarily on the language at the expense of high quality Personalized Q and A.  When we do so we create incredible distances between us and our students. 

Until we learn to be effective at PQA, we are like a train full of faceless captive passengers, speeding down the tracks, thinking incorrectly that the train is more important than the passengers inside.  If the train approaches a small town, which in this image represents a potential scene in a story, we need to slow down.  We must invite the passengers in our trains to participate in those scenes.

Of course, the metaphor is clear to the experienced TPRS teacher.  Like Jack Elliot, all of us have approached potential scenes in a story at too high a speed, talking and singing about things of interest only to us, forgetting the need to personalize the classroom, to focus on the passengers of the train, to develop one scene instead of four. 

When the teacher forgets to SLOW down, many “could have been” scenes in a story are missed, all of their elements missed, because of too much speed, too much moving around from topic to topic, and not enough personalization.  Too much Jack Elliot.

We need to understand that there are people in the room, and that they do not understand the language we are teaching.  Thus we need to keep our train/story going SLOWLY, and we must always remember that there are passengers in the train, our students. 

Like the people in Jack Elliot’s rambling life, who always wanted him to slow down, our students want us to slow down and recognize and include them in our classes.  Most importantly, those passengers, our students, want to be acknowledged as people, not as an audience.

Math and TPRS

December 22, 2007

In the Estes Park, CO “Trail Gazette” on March 24, 2004 there was an article about a math teacher at Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Jason Cushman, who received a National Science Foundation Presidential Award for excellence in math teaching. 

The majority of students at Eagle Rock had either dropped out of traditional schools or had been unsuccessful in the study of math.  When Jason was asked how he sparks interest in the kids, he said:

“The first way to draw kids in is to make the topic relevant to their lives.”  We do this in TPRS when we personalize our classrooms and relate our discussion to things that are important to teenagers. 

Then he said, “I then give my students complex, open-ended problems that let them explore concepts.”  We do this in TPRS by letting students hear the whole, spoken, language in all its complexity, and, by going slowly, allowing their deeper minds to explore this complexity of sound.

Next, Jason said, “Their self-concept increases and they experience positive academic transformation in all subject areas.”  Nothing motivates like success.

Then, “I try to remove myself from the role of an expert.  I let the students think about math and try to achieve consensus through dialogue in the classroom.”  In TPRS we do not deliver instructional services from on high.  Rather, we achieve consensus though dialogue with our students in the form of meaningful (i.e. comprehensible and personalized) input.

Ashley’s email

November 20, 2007

Ashley said: Today before class I got seriously nervous. Stage Fright. I’m-gonna-throw up-nervous. Why? I have had these kids before and they like my class. The kid who I thought was completely bored yesterday asked me on the way in “Are you going to talk about my name today?” and my entire being relaxed.

Reality is so hard to perceive. We talked about two girls who are cheerleaders in class. They throw another girl in the air. We found out the “flier” has fallen twice before. Another kid plays baseball and once “accidently” threw a ball that hit our principal (it was an encouraged lie). Another kid plays violent video games (touchy subject, but we went with it). The boy who asked about his name has a mini blue BMX bike that was stolen by Enrique who needed it for his chihuahua. My TPRS muscles are sore. I told myself I’d sit through the queasiness and take it. I think they’ll be sore for a while until I’m more comfortable with personalizing. They were all answering and I got an 8-10 finger response (all but three 10s) from everybody. So far so good.

So. Since I have had many of these kids before and mostly all of the vocabulary we are working they have acquired or are familiar with, do I need to include more details quicker/speak faster/anything else to encourage more energy in class? There are so many facets to this, I know I can’t pin it down to one thing. Sometimes I get on the circling bus on autopilot and don’t have the conscious wherewithall to move on when they have it! What do you do with second year personalization? Freewheelin’ it (or at least trying to…)


I said: Ashley – Reality IS so hard to perceive! THEIR reality is THEM. The kids’ first need is to be included, to be important, to CONNECT, to belong (Bob Sullo). Another of Sullo’s five needs that kids must have before they can learn is to HAVE FUN – kind of cool for us!

Tuba Man. Wow. And look how YOU reacted when he said that. Personalization is not just AN aspect of TPRS, it is, along with CI, THE aspect. You were nervous as we all are thinking that in order to teach a language we have to slay this beast of content. But it is not about content. It is about people, like the restaurant owner says to Kermit in “The Muppets Take Manhattan”.

As soon as Tuba Man said that, you relaxed. C’EST ÉVIDENT! It was never about teaching words, but connecting with people, from whence MEANING then emerged. Meaning didn’t emerge from your cleverly fashioning words into a story – it emerged from your connecting with Tuba Man.

And look how you took a bike into a blue stolen-for-a-chihuaha-by-a- friend BMX bike! So the details and the personalization were the long gusts of wind under your wings, and also you clearly went slowly enough because you got all 10’s on the comprehension checks. Awesome!

That last question about getting more energy is a good one. Personally I don’t think more energy would come from more speed. Would come from leaving circling patterns at the right time. More details might do it, each detail spiraling further into the bizarre. Also the quality of the story’s direction. What does that mean?

In post 85663 today Blaine said, “Each detail is more specific. Your lesson plans would involve planning where the story can go.” To me this means constantly anticipating the direction of the discussion, like in chess, and nudging it always closer to the land of FUNNY.

For example, this morning I had a fairly boring:

“Gabriella wants to play soccer (information here from identity cards). Goes to JB Sports, gets ball. Goes to the Summit Ridge soccer field. Plays ball.”

I was counting on good circling, pausing and pointing, SLOW, adding details by listening for cute answers, and all of that to get me into something interesting.

Not only that, I was counting on PERSONALLY CONNECTING as per Tuba Man above with the kids. Gabriella was ready to strut her soccer skills in front of the class. So at that point I was pretty ready to start a class – I had a general story line, training in doing CI, some personalized information, and I was ready to roll. Here is what came out of that this morning:

“Gabriella wants to play soccer against the teacher. Goes to JB Sports. Has short discussion in TL with employee. Gets blue and white soccer ball.” No great humor here so far. But I’m not freaking – it doesn’t always have to be funny – CI is happening.

“Goes to soccer field.” No humor yet. Big deal. But then I saw – by planning on my feet while circling/anticipating the direction of the story – that if Gabriella was going to play soccer against me in the middle part of my room where a lot of stories play out, I might as well THROW SOMETHING BIZARRE in. I just remembered that I have really been stressing what a great singer I am. I put that information into the circling and it became:

“Plays ball against the teacher. Teacher plays soccer and sings at same time, loudly and with abandon – scares student, wins.”

All I needed to get the energy flowing was one bizarre detail – I sing loudly when I play soccer. I provided it because the kids aren’t yet adept at playing the game but they are learning quickly.

So this shows that humor can inject energy into a story, and that it doesn’t have to be a constant stream of humor. One weird detail is enough, especially if it involves expressive vocal changes.


Personalization and Names

November 20, 2007

When we build identities, so important now as we begin the year, there is no rush, in my view, to get the names out. For me, the names emerge organically. That is to say, from basic and authentic human interaction as it occurs with your students in a natural way.

You dance into an identity with a kid. You may perhaps learn a little fact in class while circling with sports balls or in some other identity building activity. Or the fact may emerge in the hallway. It may look so small. But you keep it, keep it, in your mind, like a treasure, and when the right moment arrives in class, you play the name.

Names EMERGE. This is such a fine thing. You are a watcher of the process, a contributor, to be sure, but you don’t have to be clever and put the naming game all on yourself. They don’t want you to. They want in on their names.

They may act amused if you tell them that they are Pablo, but they resent it on some level. You labeled them without getting to know them. Why do that, when the creation of funny, organically emerging names that reflect the REAL KID, is so crucial, so crucial, to your success.

When they have seen you pull an organic name from one kid, they are just waiting to see what you do with them. Even if it takes seven months, it is still better than the other way of branding.

So go ahead, get to know them, and wait, wait, and the name will emerge. Some names happen in the first interchange of the first class because of something the kid did that was unique and worthy of a cool name right away. My Pencil Man.

Or it may take forever, like with The Boy Who Goes in Front (who had walls up, walls). So I waited, waited, and moved my chair figuratively closer just a few millimeters every day for six months, waiting for his name to emerge.

Establishing identities is a very delicate little art form of waiting, wating, and then a little thought will appear in class, or some little event that no one but you notice happens, because you are watching, watching, because you know that meaningfully personalizing your classroom is what you want to do.

You would no more tell a kid their name then tell them a story. Instead, by asking, asking for information about them, about them, you suggest from what you know, and you house it in humor.

A petite arrière chambre voice in your mind says, “Hey, that kid over there who never says anything in class just said to a friend in the hallway outside your door that he ate 9 donuts from Albertson’s in five minutes this summer.”

This is major information. So you yell down the hall how impressed you are with that and ask him if you can use that in class and he mumbles something but you see in his eye a look of recognition and from that little look emerges not just the name but HIM as your student WITH AN IDENTITY and now, only now, can you set yourself to the task of teaching.

Because when a kid has an identity EVERYTHING CHANGES. In class, now, you cleverly work Donut Man into the discussion (notice I didn’t say story), and because of this one little thing you have done, the class works.

So, me at least, I wait, wait, and use names as glue in the classroom process, and the kids become more than mere Pablos, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Thoughts on Personalizing

November 20, 2007

For those who are circling with balls here is a suggested way to spend the first ten minutes of the first class. Useful for beginning identity builders mainly.

Since the first minutes of the first class strongly set the tone for the year, I do not “introduce” the class in English. My students did not come to my class to hear English. They are curious to find out what French sounds like. I will not let them down.

I take a sheet of brightly colored card stock, different color for each class, fold it lengthwise, write my name on the left, and draw a picture of my sport (bike). The bottom half with my name and picture of a bike is facing them, propped up because it is folded in half. I do this in each class so that my paper matches theirs in color.

While I do this, they are watching, wondering. No talking. I don’t even call roll, because I will do that later by looking at their names while they are imitating what they are seeing me doing now.

I write my name in big letters neatly – Monsieur Slavic. I draw a big, clear, easy to see picture of my bike. I am modeling a behavior and sending messages now.

I start by circling the word monsieur:

Classe, MONSIEUR (write this word on the board, pausing and pointing, with translation) Slavic ou MADAME (write this word on the board, pausing and pointing, with translation) Slavic?

(They answer Monsieur)

(I say Correcte! Très intelligents!)

I might add here that this is all done SLOWLY with aplomb and humor. Establish a light mood here in the first class. The kids want you to be lighthearted. They NEED you to be lighthearted. There may be other adults in the building who are sending the message that learning is a very serious thing, but we know otherwise.

I read something by Thomas Merton one time who said that trying to get it all done and how important it all is can actually be a form of violence, and we have enough violence in our schools already. Anyway:

MADAME (pause and point again at this word) Slavic?

(They say no)

(I praise them for knowing the difference between me and my wife by saying in French, “No class, you are correct. Not Madame Slavic but Monsieur Slavic! What an intelligent class here!”)

Le PRÉSIDENT (write this word on the board, pausing and pointing, with translation) Slavic?

(They say no)

(I praise them for saying that, adding how absurd it is to say that)

Le DOCTEUR (write this word on the board, pausing and pointing, with translation) Slavic?

(They say no)

(I praise them for that)

Le PETIT COCHON (write these words on the board, pausing and pointing, with translation) Slavic?

(They say no)

(I praise them for that, saying I am not a little pig, perhaps pulling out a plastic pig from the prop box and telling them that THIS is a little pig and how absurd it is to say that I am a little pig.)

Le PROFESSEUR (write this word on the board, pausing and pointing, with translation) Slavic? (If I say this right they say no and when the light bulb goes on we all share our first laugh of the year) (I praise them for hanging in with me this far.)

Then I do the same thing around the bike I drew to the right of my name. I just happen to have my road bike in the room, and I point to the bike and write on the board:

fait du vélo/rides a bike

And then circle through professeur and vélo:

Classe, le professeur fait du vélo!/Class, the teacher rides a bike! (Ohhh! Train them right now in how to react with great interest and admiration in everything you say)

The teacher rides a bike? (yes)

Tyler (point to Tyler) rides a bike?

Depending on what Tyler indicates say:

Yes, class, Tyler rides a bike or No, class, Tyler does not ride a bike. How absurd!

Hopefully, Tyler has said no, but you know how to adjust here b/c you went to Susie’s coaching workshop on circling this summer at NTPRS.

Class, does the teacher or Tyler ride a bike? (teacher)

You are really a very very intelligent class! That is correct! The teacher rides a bike! (Ohh!)

This sets Tyler up to want to say what sport he does but he has to wait, b/c I am modeling some very significant behaviors in these crucial first minutes of the first class of the year, and we are establishing a name for me and an identity as a bike person.

When we circle with balls, or in this case with my bike, we introduce ourselves first. It is proper that we model this activity first. Tyler just has to wait.

Circling around the word bike: Class, does the teacher ride a bike or a pig? (bike) (You praise them for their abilities to understand the difference between a bike and a pig, adding how absurd it is to ride a pig.)

One caution: saying the unexpected response here, à la Blaine, that you DO ride a pig, is probably not a good thing to do right now in the first ten minutes of the first class. The kids might just go home and tell their parents that they have this weird French teacher who rides pigs.

It is always a good thing in TPRS, in my opinion, to stay with active meaningful circling instead of always thinking that you have to get somewhere. Are you familiar with that little guy or gal living in that little back room of our teaching minds, saying “Move it! Get going! You’ve got to get to the story!” That person really needs to be shown the door.

Personalized discussion – PQA – is at the heart of TPRS, not stories, and if it is going well, and everyone is understanding, then who needs a story? If personalized discussion leads into a story, fine, but any story that does not arise from personalized discussion is not really going to be very interesting.

The above discussion, almost unbelieveably, has emerged and taken form and vibrancy and life from one simple sentence:

M. Slavic fait du vélo/Mr. Slavic rides a bike

This is what you want to do in class. Milk, add details, circle into all sorts of tangential places, go round and round, repeat repeat repeat, keeping it all meaningful and personalized.

By filling out MY sheet of card stock first, in silence for a few quiet moments while the class watches me, and then when I move right into French talking about my name and what I do, I am sending many messages to my students:

  • By filling out the card in silence I am sending the message that silence is going to be a part of what we experience in our class this year, and that silence is a good thing which brings focus to any group.
  • By speaking only in French I am sending the message that we will not be speaking English in class this year (except as per my “3 rules” I posted on about a week ago).
  • By using cognates, I am sending the message that it is up to me to make my message clear, and that all they have to do is sit back and listen and enjoy the sounds of the awesome French language. (I am the one being paid, not them, and I am responsible for making myself understood in my classroom. They are not dumb. They never were, and they never will be.)
  • By slowly circling in the first minutes of the first class of the year, I am sending the message that slow circling will be the rule in my classroom all year.

By taking time to stop and laugh if something is funny, I am sending the message that we will be laughing a lot in my class this year.

  • By making them react with Ohh! when I state something, I am sending the message that everything I say is totally fascinating to them, and that it is THEIR JOB to make sure I understand that they know that.
  • By immediately writing any new words on the board with their translations, pausing and pointing to Monsieur, Madame, Docteur, le Président, and le Petit Cochon, so that they can see and process every new word I use in English, I send the message that we will use English as a basis for understanding words in French this year, so learning will be easy.
  • By praising them at every turn, I am sending the message that they will not be criticized on even the smallest level in my class this year, and that I will make the language clear and understandable. When they sense in this first ten minutes that they are understanding things, they relax. They know that there are no papers, books, excessive rules, threats, etc. and that all they have to do when they come into my classroom is relax and pay attention, and they will learn. They feel good about themselves as students.
  • By speaking clearly and slowly and meaningfully in class, making loving eye contact with each of them, each of them, each of them (even the Mildreds), I am sending them the message that any hostile or controlling personality they may have brought with them as protection just won’t be needed.
  • By discussing myself (my name and a sport that I do) first, I am sending the message that this class will be about us, the people in the room, and not anything else.
  • By supplying card stock for this activity, and by having the cards carefully collected and rubber banded at the end of class by the Card Demander, (and the markers collected carefully by the Marker Demander, I send the message that we don’t crumple materials that I have given to them, leaving them on the desk or on the floor at the end of class, nor do we steal my markers.. Collecting these cards and markers in this way seems so minor but is so major.

When I allow a child to leave cards or markers on their desks and walk out at the end of class, I send the message that in this school we use mountains of paper, crumple them, write sloppily, and that if they lose what I have given them I will give them another one the next day.

When I do this, I send the message that I will be their mom or dad and pick up after them at the end of class. When they get away with this (my bête noir is the paper under the desk at the end of class), they are sending you the message that what you ask them is not important.

The devil of teaching is in the details – in those really small things like how they treat their card in the circling with balls activity and all other activities, or how they speak to you, etc..

  • By supplying markers for this activity, and telling them as they come in to put all their stuff on the side counter of my room, I am sending the message that our room will not be cluttered nor will it include writing for at least the first few months. I used to think I would let kids take notes and then realize on their own how impossible that is, but now I just say no writing until later.
  • Also, by providing markers, I am imitating Susie, who has been known to wing handfuls of twenty markers at a time at high rates of speed at unsuspecting workshop attendees. I do this because I have found that whenever I imitate Susie, my own success with the kids is guaranteed.
  • When I finish my self-introduction and am ready to start the PQA with the kids, I do so with joy. By doing this I send the message that the heart and soul of this class is going to be laughter.
  • By fitting a five minute assessment in at the end of the class, I am sending the message that they will be tested often for short periods of time in my class.
  • By asking them if I am the President, or if I ride a pig, and they answer correctly BECAUSE I DIDN’T LEAVE THAT INFORMATION UNTIL I KNEW (KATHUNK!) THAT THEY GOT IT, I send the crucial message that tests in my class will be easy and that they will succeed in my class if they just pay attention.
  • By guaranteeing their success on tests on this first day of class, I build good will, and I also insure myself against the October Collapse, which happens to some foreign language teachers when the kids’ gas tanks of good will finally hit empty because the class hasn’t been personalized.

So if you are circling with balls, this may help.

Business as Usual

November 18, 2007

If new teachers, in their efforts to satisfy some kind of benchmark on some pacing guide, forget the kid, they will never effectively teach the benchmark anyway. The kid will only do enough to pass the class, and they won’t acquire much, leaving the foreign language profession with business as usual. Unless kids are brought emotionally into the class, with all their magic and light, teaching becomes just another mechanical exercise in left brain boredom.