Conference notes

Wow…a weekend with Terry and Carol is just about the best thing that could have happened to me. I’m going to start notes here, and any of the Alaskans are welcome to add their ah-hah moments too!

Starting with Terry, the feedback that I got was how lucky we are to have a PhD in methodology who is able to articulately discuss the reasons that TPRS works. One of our teachers said that we are often lacking the ability to verbalize exactly what is so strong about CI methods, but having Terry on “our side” gives us power. Another colleague, who attended Terry’s Chinese demo lesson, came out saying that in that one hour with TPRS, she learned more Chinese than she had in an immersion/home stay of six weeks last summer. I’m going to choose to cheer Terry and TPRS, rather than weep over that waste of linguistic training! I’m sure she had great cultural experiences–

Most of my notes are from Carol’s classes, though I am very excited to try Terry’s literacy games that I got to take home with me. The literacy games are going to be set up so that kids can play across languages, across the internet, and across levels of the same language (or even with their parents). They’re based on ancient Chinese games. Terry decided to start with existing games and turn them into literacy practice for sight words, rather than making up games based on the needs of the class. The next step is to make the games social–she’s tapping into the current generation while still allowing a classroom to use the hands-on games. It’s a fascinating concept.

I hadn’t ever thought about how important it is to have kids know the HF list as sight words. Terry made it clear to me that if kids are still decoding, they aren’t reading. And if they aren’t reading, they can’t use reading for acquisition. We have to assure that they are fast and accurate with the sight words. The other thing I had never thought about is the fact that students learning Chinese can’t depend at all on the sounds of the letters to give them a hint for pronunciation. Even if they learn what the characters mean and can read them, they can’t hear them. Thus it’s required that they learn the words before reading, or reading becomes a looking-up exercise.

The theme of the conference was literacy. I was amazed how the theme pounded ideas into my head. Over and over I heard how we have to read, but from Carol I finally got two things straight. First, when we’re reading little classroom texts, that is the time that we have to wring every bit of reading out of the kids. She gave us lots of different ways to vary the reading, and I’ll add those on here. But I had been trying to approach all reading basically the same way. During the time you read the little classroom texts, you discuss, make parallel stories, get opinions, re-tell, do group choral reads, partner reads, fill-in words…always changing up how you do things. Ask for the meaning, then which one meant X. (I tried that in my classes today, with great success!) Carol kept pointing to the target words on the overhead as she conducted the class, so that I could tell that I had finally acquired the meanings of those words because I was seeing them and hearing them. She said that you could spend an hour on a single paragraph.

With novels, on the other hand, you want to pre-read, and this doesn’t mean in the way that I have always pre-read with my students. You try to use the HF vocabulary that you will find in the chapter/novel to discuss many aspects of the story in advance. Really, this is what Scaffolding Literacy says to do, but gives me even more direction on the pre-reading. Carol had pictures of Houdini, his family, and all sorts of cultural pieces. She discusses the opinion questions that might come up in the story, or the history. I realized that when I’m reading Poor Anna (or preparing to), I need to really go over the characters, so that the kids know who they’re learning about. Then I should do some things with ways to get to Russia and how a person gets a visa; what homes are like in Russia–these are all things that I try to cram in while we’re reading, and it’s too much. Carol says that we should be giving all that background information that they’ll need and having many of the discussions in advance, so that the kids are basically begging to read the book. Then once you get into the book, students can really just read. Hiroko Kataoka (another of our great presenters) did a reading exercise with money–showed the money, talked about what things mean, showed pictures of many nations’ currency and had people notice which countries used pictures of men/women, which ones had architecture, different colors–I could do that with at least Russian rubles, especially as we head into the chapter where Anna has to change money. There’s SO much to talk about in advance! I feel as though I’m finally understanding how to teach these novels. (Can I do it?? There’s the question!)

Carol also talked about three times to use Readers’ Theater: when there is a confusing series of events, when there is an exchange among characters, and when there is an exciting event.

Off topic…but appropriate here: every 20-25 minutes, Carol had our teaching group stand up, wave our hands, jump, and generally wake up.

Speaking of brain breaks and processing, I thought one of the most helpful parts of the conference was when our university course director asked us all to get into groups that had not attended the same sessions and share what we were taking home and would try this week. I got lots of ideas (Hiroko’s), and was able to verbalize what I’d learned too. We really need to do that with our kids. It was a wonderful change of course from any “write x number of pages, developing a plan for what you will do to use the material.”

Can you tell I had a great weekend?

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