Archive for the ‘the Pure Land’ Category

Using Our Voices

February 1, 2008

How can we open our hearts to our students? How can we make the language we teach beautiful to them? We must do so consciously through our voices.

The first thing is to remember that just the sound of any language is a beautiful thing in and of itself. So, to reach this place of pure shared meaning with our students, why not focus on speaking the language beautifully?

Secondly, we must focus on how are students are perceiving the words we say. Why not try to understand what our students are really hearing us say? Why not make that effort to put ourselves in their shoes?

Doing both of these things will take us closer to true teaching but out of our comfort zones. We cannot be what we currently think teachers are and succeed at TPRS. We must first change our very conception of what a foreign language teacher is. How do we do that?

We just keep pushing out on our comfort zones, filling real space, by softening our voices in the direction of what the French call l’intime, circling more than usual, pausing and pointing a lot, going slowly, doing the mechanical skills of TPRS, but adding in a certain quality of voice, not a whisper, but a kind of “these-events-I am-telling-you-about-are-only-for-your-ears” and “this-is-very-special-stuff-I-am-telling-you”, as well. We must actually change the tenor and timbre of our voices! If we do that, we immediately move into the Pure Land (see PQA in a Wink!).

When we do change our voice quality, our kids will respond a bit awkwardly at first. They are used to living in noise. But they will settle into this “elegant word space” (the Pure Land) when we make it clear to them that we are not going to stop speaking to them in this delicate, soft way, which is far above a whisper but below our “normal” teaching voices. We thus save our voices.

We use our story to share something very special with the kids, things that we would not say to just anybody. We tell only them about a knight meeting a magical tree in the middle of a forest just north of the Massif Central in France. We tell only them – other people can’t know it. A person has to be in this classroom to know these things!

We use the tenor and timbre of our voices to convince our students that we would say these things only to them because they are the knight, the tree, the story. So we spend our class periods in a kind of bowing down, via soft language, to them, to the amazing events that they create with their cute answers to our questions, to the astounding beauty of the events they think they have created before our eyes.

As the story unfolds, we realize that the Pure Land is reached when we use our voices to create a certain purity of sound, of words elegantly spoken, not barked or yelled, but served up on a silver platter just for them, like a good meal, specifically because they are so wonderful.

Now, in future classes, I will try to remember that all I have to do to make TPRS work for me is to combine the basic skills of circling, etc. with making the language beautiful just for my students. I don’t need lesson plans. I do need circling, and I do need to be aware of how I am using my voice.

Knowing that human beings are irresistibly drawn to beauty, I use the language I teach as a beautiful bridge into my students’ hearts.


Just For Them

February 1, 2008

It is our mind that makes the language comprehensible to our kids, but it is our heart that makes it meaningful to them.

We often fail to try to understand what our students perceive in our classes. We focus instead on our own perception of our teaching. Yet, to make TPRS or any narrative method work, we must try to understand what our students are experiencing each day in our classes.

We do so by opening our hearts to them. Some teachers can enjoy a class without a lesson plan because their hearts are open to their students, and their minds know the tremendous cyclonic power there is in circling.

These teachers have mastered circling as a teaching tool, so they don’t really need a lesson plan. They know that you can build a fifty story building out of one sentence of PQA. What is there to fear?

Would you rather go into a class without a lesson plan or without an open heart? I would rather be without the lesson plan.

Our students sit there, looking for something real. What can we do? The first thing is to stop trying to change them, to “get them to learn” the material. This is not what they need. We can’t “get students to learn” anything, ever. Students choose to learn.  They choose to participate.

Instead, we must accept our students where they are, and open our hearts to their situation, which is that of being prisoners of our words. They cannot leave the room, so they are prisoners. We must, then, bring compassion and an open heart to them, because of the power we wield over them.

When we open our hearts to them and accept them as they sit there, looking for something real, they can open their hearts to us. They can change. When our hearts are open to them, and their hearts are open to us, we can both change. If this happens, much more learning can occur. We call this kind of learning authentic acquisition.

If we create a game in our classrooms built around piagetian grammar/translation analysis of language, open heart is not needed. This old way of teaching does not need the heart quality. It is a dusty old hotel.

But if we use a narrative approach, listening to the students as they listen to us, sharing meaningful and interesting ideas, then the reciprocality of human interaction drives acquisition, and we teach in uplifting space. This only happens when our hearts are open to the students. It is not enough to have an open mind – we must have open hearts.

So we cannot be successful in teaching a language by trying to “get” our kids to learn anything by focusing on the language as the subject matter of the class.  It won’t work. We must first just be there with students, using language as a vehicle to reach them, knowing that they, not the language, are the real subject of the class. When the students, not the language, are the real subjects of the class, then the linguistic exchanges between student and teacher can soar.

So our goal is not to teach the language to the students, but to communicate with them using the language. To do this we must connect with them, with their hearts, where language sleeps. When we do this, language awakes and takes on life as the vehicle to create meaning, and the paradigm is reached and surpassed.


November 10, 2007

I got this from a high school colleague the other day. She had just started TPRS last year, got really good at it. But then:

 I am wandering around lost in level 2.  I knew what to do with beginners, more or less. I just don’t know where to go from here with this class.  I can’t picture us doing the old ask a story, read a story sequence over and over again for the rest of the year.   It’s hard to describe how frustrated and elated I am by that class, simultaneously sometimes.  One group is begging for output, so I’m going to throw something at them that enables them to talk quite a bit extemporaneously. I have to acquiesce to their emotional need to produce some language and feel that sense of accomplishment.  

I responded: 

There is no doubt in my mind that the much-discussed output question is always exactly that – too discussed. I feel that if the kids like it and it makes them feel good, do it, as long as it is natural and not forced. It’s not even an issue for me.

Then she said:

I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

I responded:

Me too.

Next, she said: 

I have a million 2nd year questions: what to do about accuracy in writing, for example. Do you still let them just cut loose and not worry about accuracy? How can you do otherwise if you’re trying to do the Pure Land most days?

I said:

Do the minimum and yes, don’t worry about accuracy. Stop trying to figure out TPRS with your mind. Classes don’t flow in the mind! Think of Willie Nelson’s voice.  Did he try to get that?  No, it was a natural gift.   Enjoy your own natural gift of pure relaxation and enjoyment of the kids and the method. Try it. Try relaxing one day. Tomorrow. You want the Pure Land.  But reread your sentence: “…trying to do the Pure Land”.  The Pure Land cannot be tried for.  If it is tried for, it can never be reached.   We get closer to the Pure Land when teach from our slow heartbeat side.  It is like committing suicide on your teacher self, the one that wants control over everything. Just ask the kids the questions and back down with all the energy. I  am calling the kettle black here. I am actively trying to learn these days how to get into slow heartbeat class management style, the style that is a ticket to the Pure Land.   

She also wrote: 

Should I stop and teach some grammar, just to satisfy myself that I have, so that I can refer to it when they make mistakes? Along the lines of, “I taught you that rule 3 months ago, now I get to mark it wrong when you make a mistake?” The whole thing is so absurd.  

I said:

The kids don’t need grammar to speak the language. Grammar is not of the heart. But P and CI are of the heart.  P and CI.  Do them.

Then she added:

It feels wildly irresponsible to just play on and not DO anything about mistakes! 

My response: 

If you want to correct mistakes, give dictées and they will learn to write.  Only dictées.  I have described in detail the form in TPRS in a Year! THAT is all you need for writing.