Comments on Bryce’s iFLT teaching are still in the works, I promise. I wanted to get on line and admit that life is a bit topsy-turvy for me just now. It’s going to be a while before I get back to regular posting, thanks to several layers of personal and academic complexity.
I don’t want to slight NTPRS 2012! I was lucky to be in Las Vegas (in itself a real trip!) last week for an amazing whirlwind of a conference. After doing the demos in the mornings, I didn’t attend too many sessions. As always, I learned a great deal from Laurie just by teaching with her, and so I didn’t feel cheated at all. And the four sessions I got to were mind-bending.
Katya Paukova arrived late in the week, and her sessions nailed down two big facts for me: first, that we are headed in the right direction when we discuss the news with kids, as that is helping them get to where they’re eventually going to need to be in discussing events beyond their own lives. Second, even up to the highest levels of language acquisition measurement, both the ACTFL/OPI scales and the ILR scale assume that speakers will make grammar mistakes. Grammar does not come into the equation at the intermediate level at all unless it interferes with comprehension. We know this, but it is useful to repeat it, and I think it’s finally in my head. Only at the superior level is there a note: “no pattern of grammar mistakes.” Katya kept saying that we have been wrong, wrong, wrong in our fascination with and obsession on grammar. Three cheers! Maybe I have it now.
Two sessions will fundamentally change the way I teach. One was Michael Miller’s. He demonstrated how to work with a class on new structures that went from PQA to cultural demonstration. It was compelling, comprehensible, and absolutely flawless. I will be channeling Michael as I begin my year.
The other session was one that I didn’t get to attend, but I heard about it. I ended up going to the coaching room and telling Gary that I wanted to practice Blaine’s new technique. Gary kindly opened a new coaching round just for me, taught me the basics, shared his notes, and then coached me through a lesson. (I don’t know Gary’s name…someone else must! He is a master teacher.)
The essense of Blaine’s new technique will sound “old.” He has an actor with whom he speaks in the present. Then he alerts the class to the facts about the actor in the past tense. He goes back and forth about those facts between the class and the actor. I was stunned to try it with “live” and “called” to find that my “students” could handle so many verb forms on their first hour in Russian.
The conversation went as follows, though it adds circling and any details as usual. (As always, I am probably leaving something out.) The critical part here is that it is reported speech, past tense, present tense, the “you” form, and the “I” form.
What is your name? (“My name is Max” is on the board. The teacher helps the student with that limited output) Oh, you are called Max? Class, his name was Max. He said he was called Max. What is your name again? Oh, that’s right, your name is Max.
Where do you live? You live in Denver? Class, he lived in Denver. (Circle, circle…) Class, he said he lived in Denver, or in Max? Oh, that’s right, he was called Max. He lived in Denver. Where do you live? You live in Denver.
The part I kept leaving out was the verifying piece. Blaine walked up while I was coaching and reported a Russian line to me, so I used that with the group. He said that the critical part here to make the student feel at ease was the verification. The student answers the question and then needs to hear that s/he is correct about the answer. Verification offers closure.
Then the teacher introduces another actor so as to have a parallel story.
I’ll be combining these two new ideas as I do Movie Talk (Ashley Hastings) this fall. I am very excited and a little apprehensive, but I think that my kids are going to love it.
I have to mention one last little thing. One attendee at the conference was vocal about how there was really nothing new at NTPRS 2012. He made some valuable suggestions about holding roundtables and providing time for collaboration. But I have to argue with him about the “problem” of having offered nothing new. First of all, teaching with CI/TPRS is always changing just a little bit. There are additional tweaks that every teacher can make. As we get better at something, we’re going to have fewer huge insights, but we need to change up the routine to keep our own brains working, as well as offering the kids something new. Second, it seems to me at least that I will always need reminders about the basic skills, because I ddin’t learn my language this way, and I backslide into ruts, if not into my earliest learning style. I love watching others practice the simple skills and realizing both how far I’ve come and how far I can yet go with those same skills. I am grateful for the people who put aside their lives to offer all of us conferences and workshops.
Whew! I intended to just mention two new things and get back to some “assigned” work, then to family. Once I start teaching, I hope to resume my ten-minutes-a-day blogging.