NTPRS 2012

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.

7 responses to “NTPRS 2012

  1. Gary’s last name is DiBianca and he is an extremely talented teacher and coach. He does take the time to present occasionally, so if you see his name, sign up!!!!

    with love,
    and missing my professional family,


  2. It was fantastic at both Breckenridge and NTPRS. Did I learn new things? Yes! Did I see the same old things? Yes! And did I learn from them? Yes! At a deeper level I took down things because now I was ready. Just like when you watch a favorite movie over and over or a song. You are still taking things in and making them novel even though you know them. It is the aha-ha hammer tapping your skull and skills.

    Gary’s coaching of you was great. I was there. And it was cool that Blaine walked up and reminded you to verify details with the informant student. Gary and I were sitting next to each other when we got Blaine’s session. What I saw was Blaine take as much time talking in present tense with the informant though when he was talking about where the person lived, that was past tense. When he talked to the class, it was all past tense. There was a boy named Gary (your name is Gary right?). He lived in Denver (you are from Denver correct?). He went to . . . (did you go to ____ or to ____?)
    He went to ____. Where did he go? Right, he went to ____.

    Blaine had about equal time going with both the informant and the class so that no one felt left out of his natural conversation. We are always conversing in present and past tense. This skill is excellent for helping students to let it fall out of their mouths and hands (writing) naturally. And my suggestion–practice it in front of a mirror several times before you do it. Script it out if you need to. This is too important a skill to blow in front of a class. And it is easy to confuse as you get caught up in the conversation. Just like in real life.



    • Kate,
      I really agree with you about the value of hearing things more than once and being ready for information at different times. It is so true for me! Seeing other people at work or in a workshop is invaluable! It is also interesting that even people that went to the same session at the same time may get different things from that session!

      It was nice to meet you in Breckenridge and have a face and a spirit to go with the name. I am going to try to jump into the present and past CI with my first year students this year. There’s always more to learn and always ways we can improve. That’s part of what makes what we do so interesting and so much fun!


  3. I agree with everything you and Kate said. I had a lot of aha or, as Ben Slavic calls them, kathunk moments. There were things I understood intellectually, but finally felt them in a deeper level. After being your “student” in Gary’s coaching session, I could not wait to go to Blaine’s session and try it myself. On the surface it seemed like the same old thing, but it was so powerful and simple. I got to practice it with Blaine and in two more coaching sessions with Janet and Teri. I feel confident that I will be able to do this.

    I know it’s not the same, but in a way I feel that much like Krashen’s Net Hypothesis, where the unconscious brain sifts through the information and keeps some words/structures and lets others go, my brain/heart let through only what I could manage in the other years of NTPRS. This year I had a deeper feeling in my body, an “embedded” understanding/knowing of different skills.


    • EXACTLY!!! I learn the top layer of TPRS, and then I learn the next layer and the next. (Unfortunately, I also forget parts of each layer, so getting reminders is very helpful…) Thank you for putting words to this experience.


      • Even now…reading these a week later, I am feeling things “fall” into place! Love to all of you ladies…Thank you for moments of friendship and wonder.

        with love,


  4. Clarice said it.
    We cast our nets and certain things come into it. Some we toss as not usable at this time, some we eat hungerily from because that was exactly the food for thougnt needed for now, and some we watch swim away from our net and know another time this will willingly come into our net and we will understand.
    Thank all of you for supporting me and encouraging me on this journey and practice. I am renewed.


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