Achieving Flow

Just so y’all know, I’m not teaching Russian (yet) this year. I am still reading everything I can on CI and participating in our state language conference and FB pages related to iFLT and NTPRS. So much of what we do as CI/Storytelling teachers is just plain good teaching that everyone should know it.

In some ways, my new position is exactly the same: I’m providing comprehensible input and scaffolding reading for students, and I’m helping (teenaged) teachers encourage and strengthen language acquisition.

In other ways, it’s very different: I am in a vocational program, teaching early childhood education. Half my day is teaching what educators need to know about working with young children, and half my day is leading a group as they participate in a lab school for preschoolers.

Much as in my first years of teaching and first years of Storytelling, I am spending long hours learning and preparing. While no one is ever “done” perfecting any part of the teaching craft, luckily at least the class management piece is not an issue. But this out-of-school time is also the kind that I look at the clock and think, “how can it already be 6:00?” I’m engaged in something that is vitally interesting and that I’m passionate about. And each little piece leads to something else I need to read, research, or write. It flows.

When I think of Russian lessons that flowed, and when I look at the classes that flow now, one of the pieces that stands out to me is transition elements. Understandably, the big sections in a language acquisition class (the songs, the reading, the conversations) have to be personalized, compelling and comprehensible, or students of any age zone out. But transitions are critical. Teaching more content, I am having to learn new brain breaks. If I want new random groups for a discussion, it’s better when I have a Quizlet Live game first that organizes them for me. (I can’t use “practicing counting” or “everyone with a red shirt move toward the board…” as a means of getting new groups.) If I want students to sit in new places, I have to start by having their name tags or notebooks out before they arrive. Hmm. As I read this, it occurs to me that I actually can use those language-based transitions in this class, because I’m modeling what will work well on the preschool floor. After all, we do songs and clapping games for practice.

Lesson flow was easier for me to achieve when I was teaching Russian. Song instruction flowed naturally from singing to drawing to discussion about the artist or the situation. News articles flowed well from personalized CI talk with the new structures to parallel story-asking, to maybe a MovieTalk on the same subject, to an embedded reading versions of the article, and then back to a small-group response. I could have a quick brain break with movement that echoed something in the lesson. And it was okay if we went off on a tangent directed by student interest.

I definitely wasn’t always perfect, but “flow” was easier to achieve if I was on my game because I was concentrating first on language acquisition, with content/culture being secondary. Now I have to cover a lot of specific content, because I want my students to be prepared in the preschool for safety, health, guidance and developmental needs.

Justin Slocum-Bailey has written about how we sustain flow for individuals by validating student needs. I’ve been using his signals in our classroom – especially the ones to identify distractions and “full up” feelings. And I’m working hard to personalize the experience for everyone. But in addition, I’m trying hard to be clear about transitions and make it feel as though each small part of a daily two-hour class moves naturally  into the next one. I hope that the content classes will feel to my students much like my swift-moving hours of preparation: there’s never enough time, and I want more!

Teaching Russian Online

This year I have a grand experiment: transferring CI and TPRS skills to teaching online. I’ll be using an online textbook with some students, and creating my own program for others. I’m not Señor Jordan. Wish I were! And Señor Wooly taught me a lot about film making this summer, but man – those two-minute videos take a lot of time!

I’ve experimented with two little Masha films. I take a lot for granted in a face-to-face class. It’s easy to get repetitions there! Online, it’s not so easy. Two other obvious pitfalls: first, that it’s almost impossible to personalize. Second, I have to depend on students’ learning to read in Cyrillic almost immediately, because it’s hard to get interaction otherwise.

So, here are my first efforts. Try ’em out. EDpuzzle is fairly limited, but it allows recording without programming. I have no choice over text placement or font size/color. Moving sound or text is difficult. By the second experiment, I realized that shorter is better. (But yes, the statistic of 79 to 1 – prep to interactive exercise – is true! I have spent five or six hours on these exercises.)

The beginning one:

Here’s the second half:

The video that should come about five lessons later, and demands a lot more reading:


In-service brainstorming

We’ve all been in brainstorming sessions at inservices. Having read Susan Cain’s Quiet, I finally understood why those sessions didn’t work for me. She alludes to ways to help mixed groups work together, and I just ran across another source that suggests how to combine group and individual work. While it wouldn’t necessarily work in a beginning language class, it might just help improve our lives in teacher groups.

Annie Sneed reports on research by a team led by Paul Paulus, in which group brainwriting generated  more ideas than either individual brainstorming or spoken brainstorming.


Summer Conferences 2016

IMG_9529Travel is great, and hanging with my favorite colleagues is better, but I am ever so glad to be home where I can breathe Alaskan air and walk on the earth without having concrete in the way.

I feel about being home the same way I feel about teaching with TPRS-learned CI: there’s a direct connection between me and what’s important.

I always learn a lot from colleagues, and this time was no different, but for now I have one shout out of gratitude and three big takeaways from the last two weeks. The shout out is to those at NTPRS ’16 who fed me ideas, patiently listened to me practice, and then honed my language policy speech for the ACTFL ToY. Bryce, Betsy, Mike, Richard, Lizette, Lisa, and most of all Susie and Mira: I am a lucky woman to have you in my court.

Three takeaways: The first is from Keith Toda, who showed how to use Zaption as a follow-up to a beautifully-delivered MovieTalk at IFLT 2016. I’m going to be trying to copy your smooth operation! There were a number of MovieTalk adaptations that showed the power of using film as pictures, with actors, and in other very interesting ways. Keith was true to the original idea of MovieTalk, and then used technology as a perfect way to follow up. More on that later (in a different post).

The second was at both IFLT16 and NTPRS16: Justin Slocum-Bailey demonstrated using gestures to feed the needs in a classroom while honoring students. One gesture lets students point out something that is distracting them without distracting the class. Another helps them realize that sometimes we just have to rise above whatever is going on. A third symbolizes the opportunity we have in life to make lemonade of problems. These simple gestures offer profound lessons to students – and to their teachers.

Finally, I got another subtle tweak for using gestures that support comprehension. (These include ASL signs and gestures the class makes up to define structures.) Haiyun asked Susie Gross to observe her lesson for students of Chinese, and shared that Susie encouraged her to use gestures after saying the word. Haiyun is a highly accomplished teacher, so it would have been very hard to find anything to improve. Having Susie Gross return to NTPRS this year added grace and wisdom to the proceedings. And Haiyun is the example of how the best teachers are still anxious to learn.

Thanks all.

ps: if you Twitter, find the #IFLT16 and #NTPRS16 feeds. Lots of good stuff there. Look for Jeremy Jordan’s (Señor Jordan’s) video in which Dasani and Coke bottles interact. Señor Wooly taught us all how to use Adobe Premier Clip to make films!

pps: I am still walking on air after being recognized by Blaine Ray at NTPRS16. There are many who have contributed (much more) to TPRS. The fact that it exists and that teachers keep sharing and learning and creating is what makes our work great. To (sort of) quote Blaine, his TPRS has given all of us the permission and encouragement to do what is right for our kids.

Summertime listening

Am I willing to do something I know is right, even if people will make fun of me or ostracize me? Am I willing to take a chance on something new? 
I suspect this question is part of the answer to why more people don’t try new methods of teaching. There’s so much that can go wrong.
Evidently there’s a different tipping point after which each of us will take on a practice that seemed foreign. But sometimes, even when a practice clearly returns better results, we still won’t consider it. I highly recommend podcast #590 from This American Life.

On listening

Part of today’s STARTALK course is to watch a TED talk and read an article, both on listening. Julian Treasure says that we should be teaching listening in schools. I think that those in the TPRS community have found a way to do that. I now hope that I can figure out a way to do so in an online class.

The article is by a 17-year-old who offers a way to improve listening comprehension and thus improve language acquisition. I’d love to talk more, but my assignments are due. More later, if I can!

TTOL: happy brain


Wish I’d known more of what I know now for these great kids.

What is it about good education that makes brains happy? My current StarTalk course (Transitioning to Teaching Online) is just amazing. For one thing, I wish I’d had the information years ago. The best practices that we are looking at, the course preparation materials, the syllabus re-writing and especially the forums where we post our responses and comment are inspiring and thought provoking.

The first big surprise, other than uncovering my weaknesses and some concepts I never considered, is the idea that successful online teaching is not “flip the switch and sit back.” Our three main instructors are incredibly involved with us in the day-to-day comments and responsiveness. And one of the best practice suggestions is to cap online classes at 20, because online classes done right take so much time for the instructor. It doesn’t seem to me that a whole lot of administrations know this aspect of best practices!

I’m openly sharing my journey as you can see from the top menu line. The Personal Learning Log is supposed to be just a list of resources we’d like to come back to later. I’m ending up planning my responses to questions and putting ideas there too, so it’s stream-of-consciousness mess. If my instructors request a more compact list, I will make that change, but for now, that’s what I’m doing.

Two requests: first, if there are other Russian teachers out there who have dabbled or taught online, please connect! This course has teachers of Hindi, Mandarin, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, and Turkish, and their perspectives are very helpful; but I’m the only Russian participant. Luckily one of the fabulous instructors is a Russian professor, or I’d feel more alone.

Second, my TPRS/CI community: please share ideas for online teaching using our methods. I am going to use a beautiful new online textbook that one of our instructors pointed out ( for the purposes of starting an online course, but would like to be able to do my own thing with it too.