Change takes time!

Ben Slavic’s blog has a thread going about gestures. TPR (total physical response) always included movement (“Jack walks to the table and puts the chair on his head”) but a lot of people modified TPR to include gestures. I love using gestures–I use them to define most words in new songs for my level one kids, and supplement the meaning on the board and sometimes a picture with a gesture if it’s appropriate. Like others on Ben’s blog, I occasionally go to an on-line ASL dictionary to look for signs for words that don’t immediately call a gesture out of the kids. 

For a while though, gestures were somewhat downplayed in TPRS. I have always had the experience of students’ remembering words when I show them the gesture, so couldn’t leave that behind. And one of my observers last week mentioned that after watching me, she was going to do a whole lot more with gestures. She also added a note that she tried an activity she watched in my class and that it didn’t go very well. 

Having done this TPRS stuff for three whole years now (I’m using this phrase to underscore that I’m still new at it and not at all an authority), I keep realizing how long it takes me to learn things. I don’t want people to come to my room and think that it’s going to be necessarily easy to change how they do things, or even that they should adopt everything they see. We are all talented in different ways, so what works in one room may not work in another. An example for me is that I always wanted to ask my kids the comprehension questions in Russian, but kept doing it in English. But this year, I’ve finally changed over to asking, “Shto znachit…” (What does … mean?) in Russian. My fear that it would be an incomprehensible phrase to the barometer kids has not been realized, and I’ve moved on to the “What did I just say?” in Russian as well, and “How will …be in English” (the literal translation of “How do you say … in English?”) — These phrases are extremely useful for kids, and they are beginning to ask them in appropriate places. But I’m not yet able to figure out how to use Betsy’s ticket out every day, despite my hope. I’ve been working on getting the comprehension questions into Russian for a couple of years now. Maybe the tickets out will come by 2014!

So on this Sunday, when I’m back from an amazing weekend with students, I am cautioning myself to remember that I don’t have to try to recreate myself in any way overnight and enjoying the gains I have made. Small steps toward a goal ensure that I move there steadily and that I can retain my gains for a longer period. 


6 responses to “Change takes time!

  1. What a great message! Perfect for the beginning of the school year. Thank you! You invited me to identify my strengths and use them to my students’ benefit, while I find the way to implement all those fantastic ideas and activities that came out from the national conference. Thank you for reminding us to pace ourselves with joy and also to be brave and adventurous. We should never underestimate our students’ abilities. Blaine has said many times that the students learn what we teach them.


  2. So glad it’s helpful, and your Blaine quote is also a great reminder!

    BTW, I added your site to my “helpful website” list, because I had completely missed it before. Apologies!! I appreciate the information you have there. It’s a great place to send people for a clear introduction to TPRS.


  3. I’ve just recently started reading your blog–sent over here through Ben’s blog and I am really intrigued by your use of Scaffolding Literacy. I’m also intrigued with Betsy’s ticket out that you alluded to. Can you give me more info? merci!



  4. Happy to see you here, Dori! There are a number of posts in the Scaffolding Literacy category in the sidebar to the right–start with the earliest one from last April, and move on up by date. After you read whatever makes sense to you (including the awesome links people have sent me), I’d be glad to answer questions, but I’m not at all an authority on this method. I’m just starting to use it in English and advanced Russian classes.

    Betsy has “tickets out” every single day. The whole class stands and does a bit of a retell, answers a question, translates a word or something like that, one at a time at the end of class, every day.


  5. So yeah, gestures!! I remember you using ASL for a song about a whale that you were teaching the students when I observed you in spring 2010. When I first began TPRSing, I would always teach gestures to my students, but then I never really used them after the initial vocabulary introduction phase. This year, I started using them throughout the entire process (vocab intro, PQA, storyasking, etc.), and WOW!! I am amazed at how well it is helping my students. (One thing I’ve noticed is that it particularly helps my students with poor eyesight–I had never considered that as a benefit before!) Continuing to use the gestures as you move on to new target structures and new stories is great, because it can be easy for students to ‘forget’ words that they’ve not seen for awhile, at least not in a focused way. A simple gesture makes the new repetition comprehensible once more. Having a long list of gestured vocabulary also makes for fun, physical brain breaks when you are deep in the storyasking process and need to change the pace for just a moment! I’ve not used the ASL dictionary, but I need to!!! Clark houses the middle level Alaska State School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, so it would be great for my students to be learning ASL in order to communicate with their DHH classmates!!


  6. Wow…you can get the real ASL signs and get someone to help you make them correctly. I go off the website that shows them in a dictionary, and I hear that Ben Slavic or Bryce Hedstrom uses a pair of physical dictionaries. I like the idea of using them, but ours are kind a mix. What you said is true though–you can recall meanings of words with the simple gesture — if you keep using the same ones, that is — and you have extra support for those kids who see poorly and more movement for the rest of us. I find that I’m not using them in conversation almost at all with my advanced kids, but every so often, one of them will do a sign for a word that just went by and figure it out.


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