Category Archives: Coaching

MovieTalk really works!

I’m going to be very honest right now. I have been loving MovieTalk in my classroom this year. But sometimes, I have wondered whether it truly “works.” That’s because I’ve only heard myself do it, and then I’ve read scripts in English. I haven’t been able to feel it the way that we get to feel TPRS work when we go learn bits of other languages or attend workshops that give us days of Chinese or Spanish.

Today I can tell you for sure: MovieTalk works. Our First Friday bunch got together with the goal of coaching one another through some MovieTalk. A student teacher was up first with a funny little video. She used French to tell us what was going on in the movie. I had to interrupt her right away. “I understand everything!” I was so excited! And she’s a student teacher…one who walks on water, obviously, but we don’t always expect stellar teaching in the first year. Then we watched a Water Boy movie in Japanese for a while. Again, we understood everything. Then it was Russian, then German. In German, where I have acquired more of the nouns, I found myself picking up verbs.

I can almost not believe this. I can understand how my kids picked up words after hearing them one time now. I can’t remember the French for “leg,” but I can remember these: cook, dog, woman, man, cake… and I can say them! I can understand a whole bunch of verbs and a few adjectives, but at this basic level, acquiring a few nouns is probably where I’m best, because I am a true beginner. (I won’t let myself go off on a tangent here about order of acquisition, that maybe we acquire nouns we’re interested in first, and more slowly verbs…)

The second most interesting thing about this experience is that I should have been dead tired (after a day of state Russian competition; I organized the judges and ran the competition room. It’s hectic). I was thinking I was crazy to have scheduled this meeting on the same day. But once the movies started and I was understanding everything, I was alive and energized.

It’s going to be a while before any of us knows enough about MT to know how to coach it. That will take a different kind of mind, but then we’ll be able to take off running!

My colleagues in the ASD rock. I am incredibly lucky to know these teachers who care enough to turn out on a Friday for a couple of hours and practice our craft. And the geniuses of the CI world also rock. They have been giving us the tools to help people acquire languages…for real…at last.


First Friday

Just a little report on our first TPRS/CI meeting of the year in Anchorage here! It was raining furiously, reminding us of how most meetings last year took place during huge snowstorms. But inside Betsy’s house, we happily attacked wonderful food and enjoyed great connections with one another.

I’d set out the plan of watching a Scott Benedict webinar on Power Grading, doing some coaching, and sharing Blaine’s new tweak on story-building with a student. One group sat down to watch the video, and then they had an intense conversation part-way through about grading practices. The other group learned some French with Kristin, who did a fabulous story. Betsy set her up with a bunch of ideas of the sorts of things that we can practice when we’re doing coaching. The list was pretty long, as it turned out! It included circling, personalization, embedded reading, comprehension checks, starting a story, using advanced structures, point-and-pause, and going slowly. (There were some other suggestions too, but I can’t remember them.) Kristin choose personalization.

Two beautiful babies attended the meeting, so I was a little distracted by their cuteness and didn’t pay as much attention to what was going on as I might have.

Diana and I demonstrated the new Blaine technique, which seemed to segue nicely from what Kristin was doing in personalization. Something that I hadn’t really gotten until she was moving from the student to the class was that proximity is crucial in setting up the time difference. When the teacher is talking to the individual student, it’s present tense. Then the teacher moves away from that student and toward the class and speaks in past tense. I understood about the tenses, but until I watched Diana move, I didn’t really get how that movement in effect leaves the action in the past. Very subtle, but much more clear than how I’ve been doing it.

The other thing that I didn’t “hear” until yesterday was that the teacher picks a superstar kid to be in the front of the room because that kid is going to have to be doing output. I’ve lucked out a couple of times and picked superstar kids, but I’ve also picked some barometer kids, and it’s asking too much for them to have to understand and do output at the same time.

I’m feeling very lucky as usual to have such an awesome group of fellow teachers who work together. Martina and I talked a little bit about how safe and yet inspiring it is to have this group that does positive teacher talk and shares ideas to get better. Where else can we practice teaching without fear? In fact, is there any other forum in which teachers practice teaching or share their methods when they’re not either presenting, doing student teaching, or doing an interview?

CI teachers are AWESOME!!

On working with actors

Last week as part of the video study group I participate in Carla presented a video that featured some student generated stories.  The particular clip we saw was very well done and featured a mix between Carla’s expressive narration and some top-rate acting.

While watching I was extremely impressed with what Carla was doing with her actors, and want to share a couple of my notes along those lines of what I saw her doing.

  • Carla really came across more as a master of ceremonies than a teacher during this.  She had great voice expressions that tipped off the appropriate emotions and it was easy for her actors to follow her lead.
  • Carla circled well in asking various things (decorate the room for the birthday party or the dog?) The class off camera followed along very well.
  • Carla consciously used Jody’s idea of a “Special Chair” to great effect.   She had a nice high stool with a back that she plopped her main actor in before they got going.  As long as that actor sat in the chair, she co-negotiated the scene with Carla.  Carla allowed her to pick people who would work with her in the skit and interviewed the actor in character to set the stage for the actions.  As a result, the feeling wasn’t “Gee I got called up, now what should I do” (which I often get) but rather served as a nice warm up for the action that drew focus toward the character.

A lot of our conversation rotated around unpacking what Carla did to get such superb acting, and really it came down to Carla being very clear with expectations and really making it a negotiated interactive process with the actors.  In the course of our conversation we talked about various alternatives to actors, particularly with visuals.

In cases where actors aren’t working or not very practical (as with one teacher who teaches over iTV and has students at multiple sites) we talked about bringing in drawings and visuals to fill the void.  In such cases, having document cameras to show student drawings or live drawings in real time turn out to be huge life savers.  Afterwards I remembered somebody on Ben’s blog talking about having some posable action figures in his room that he let students draw backgrounds for; he used those action figures basically as his actors and got great student attention as a result.

One particular idea that Carla had that we’re going to investigate further is working together to create a group wiki on possible PQA for common phrases.  If several people work together on building a ready-access library of ways to really personalize and make meaning for basic words, that all-important step will get that much easier.

Five minutes of Russian

Maybe you’re thinking about taking Nathan up on his offer of video viewing/commenting. Maybe not. I’d like to urge you to do so, and I’m going way out on a limb here to let you see whether it would be helpful to you to be able to see five minutes of other people teaching.

Marcia pressed the “start” button on my video camera two weeks ago in class. It’s taken me sweat and tears because I am SO un-techie, but I uploaded five minutes yesterday. If you’d like to see it, say so in the comments below and I’ll send you the link.

Maybe this will help someone get some ideas. As I told Nathan, by the time I uploaded it, I was unable to figure out which five minutes finally made it in. If I can figure out how to do that, maybe I’ll try to do this again with embedded readings.

TPRS monthly meeting

I wrote this when I came back last night from our monthly meeting. Yum! TPRS teachers do the best food!

I do love our group for more than the food…we plunked a total newby in front of the group with Susie’s coaching template and made her go for it. She was quite brave and successful, especially given that she had just barely heard of TPRS and since she was facing a room full of nuts who spend three extra hours honing their teaching skills on a Friday.

We worked our way up the steps, and ended up coaching Marcia (who walks on water) through adding details, personalizing between one student and the class, reporting on dialogue, negative/positive assessment, and back-pedaling when someone gets lost…all in one coaching run. I think we broke several rules of coaching, but we were all very enthusiastic.

My major insights from the evening? First, proceed slowly, point and pause. Yeah, I’ve heard that before! And I’ve said that before. I can see where point and pause will help with spelling. And there are ways and ways of going slowly, and they don’t all require stolid repetition. Betsy showed us how we can slide up the speed dial within the period of a coaching session. She’s another water-walker.

Second, Diana passed on something she’d heard that we all liked (credit if you can): instead of asking kids to show a 10 for understanding everything, a 1 for nothing, ask them to show a 10 if I’m going slowly enough for them to understand everything.

Third: Japanese is actually easy when Dimond High teachers are teaching it through TPRS. Miyuki, Atsuko, Victoria, Betsy…kids are lucky to learn from you every day.

Fourth: even a group of mostly “advanced TPRS” teachers benefits from going back to square one to practice.

Coaching group

I have just two gems from our coaching group the other day (in which we started by discussing assessment).

We were trying to figure out how to fairly assess structures in free writes. Victoria said that she’d asked Susie about this issue, and Susie said that if you want to assess something you’ve been practicing in class (third-person singular, use of subjunctive, case endings, etc), just tell the kids you’ll be looking for examples of that in their writing. Tell them about how many times they’ll need to show they can use it correctly to get an A.

Next, Victoria said a class management idea has been floating around the lists that helped her with pagames. When a kid is talk-y, put the class mascot or a stuffed animal on his desk. When another kid is disruptive or off task, move it to that desk. The kid who has the animal at the end of the class is the one who loses five points and can make it up with an essay.

Victoria says this is working like a charm. It’s fun, gets the message across, and there’s only one set of five points to record.

And the plus side is…now students are working that animal into stories!

Teaching readers

Today I had two new native speakers in one class and one in a second. We went over the rules for leading reading groups. I handed out a text, picked a leader, and coached that person who read with a group. What I forgot to do in the first group was coach one step at a time, as we do in adult coaching groups. I tried to get the first leader to do it all at once. The next thing I forgot was to give lots of praise to that first leader, and to the reader as well. In the second class, I gave huge praise to both the students who were demonstrating (the leader and the student who was volunteering to be the reader). I thought you’d like my “rules for reading,” though they may be here elsewhere.

1. Leader reads about one paragraph of the text slowly.

2. Student reads in English, but leader is ready to jump in to supply a word when the student hesitates.

3. If all the vocabulary is familiar, the leader will point out one or two samples of the focus grammar in terms of meaning.

4. If there was high-frequency vocabulary in the unknown words, the leader questions the students using it both to repeat it 4-10 times and to get to know the students better.

5. The leader may discuss the reading briefly in the TL.

6. The leader continues with the next paragraph.

It was really interesting to see how good my students are at demonstrating this tactic and how generous they were about volunteering to be the readers. I learned a lot about my kids in a short amount of time. I also realized how unfamiliar a skill this is for new people, especially students who have learned language in a different system. Finally, I could see how huge a difference there is when a student gets praise.

Coaching Works!

Coaching Works!
115 reps in 30 minutes

Beginning TPRS teacher — less than 1 year teaching

Prior workshops: 0

Coaching: 1 hour of individual or small-group coaching every other week

“I had the worst kid (behaviorally and linguistically) in every class count how
many times I said Qu. On Monday, my worst kid was shushing the class so that he
could hear all my Qu s. He counted 115 and knows the word Qu, by heart. “

What he didn’t realize when he wrote this was that HE is amazing — 115
repetitions of an item in a 30 minute session?!? Lots of experienced teachers
would be proud of that sort of number! This is a new teacher in an inner-city
school, and he’s doing that many repetitions and still keeping the students
engaged! Can you imagine what his kids will be able to do by the end of the


I found this note by visiting as Laurie recommended on her blog (see under TPRS blogs). Both the comment about handling a difficult kid as well as the response demonstrate what happens in coaching meetings: the teacher shares an idea everyone can benefit from, and the coach points out the gems that the teacher might not even recognize as genius.

I had been thinking about how to start back up again next week–mostly about discussing with kids that if they get an A on the (very small percentage of the grade) classroom participation by following Ben’s classroom rules every single day, I would consider that A to have a very heavy weight when time  comes to set semester grades. I don’t mark those participation grades too regularly, but I think I should be a little more consistent about them. Generally, if the kid is . . . looking me in the eyes, sitting up straight, volunteering with answers, responding to every question or statement, reading actively, and asking for clarification when needed, that kid has every chance of succeeding. It would be interesting classroom research (I know perfectly well that it would be totally biased, so don’t get me wrong) to be really tough on giving out A’s for that teeny “non-academic” grade and then comparing the rest of the standard areas. My hypothesis is that any kid who could get an A in participation would also get A’s everywhere else.

But a number of kids who are in SpEd still struggle to maintain these classroom behaviors. I’m not sure, but I think it could be a chicken/egg situation–maybe they’re on an ASD spectrum, so they haven’t learned to look at a speaker, or they feel beaten down by school, so they haven’t developed the expectation that a class could be exciting, and their behavior leads to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s an uphill battle to get them to participate, but it turns out that SpEd program kids are the best Russian speakers, because they don’t have the perfection expectation shyness of some of the AP types. Still, getting them over that hump of learning to act like students is rough, and this idea of turning the count over to them is really an interesting one.

Well! I certainly went off on a tangent there. I meant to say that this quote captured the essence of coaching. I love coaching. I can’t wait ’till January 7, when Alaskan TPRSers are gathering again to discuss our grading systems and practice!!! Someone is going to have to channel Laurie. . .


I’m posting this so as not to lose it.Thanks for the suggestion, Jody!

Diana is going to sent out an e-mail of the ideas from yesterday, but I wanted to share this first. I’ll post any e-mail she sends in the comments.

It was fabulous to get together with a bunch of colleagues at this stress-filled time of the year. We spent time talking about frustrations and brainstorming ways to reel in the non-performers and to re-run all the structures that some kids hadn’t “got” yet. Then we talked about who’s doing what for finals. Finally, I threw myself into being coached and taught a song but forgot to do what I said I wanted to work on. That was dumb. Luckily Betsy was there and took over as a coach.

Anne talked about hearing a “chant and rhythm” group at ACTFL, so Yan got up to do a chant in Chinese with us. Wow! That was powerful! As Diana said, it was the clearest Chinese we’d ever heard! What was truly amazing about it was how Yan used her whole body to dance out the rhythm, and how much that helped us get the sounds. Then Betsy shared a grammar gesture “battle” she’d learned about, and we got those Japanese phrases down lickety split. I got inspired by all of this and practiced a chant to teach a difficult line from the Russian translation of “Jingle Bells.” When we sang it, the whole group boomed out that line. Again, I felt the power of the rhyme and chant combination. Yan had done it with snaps, and she changed the rhythm pattern up part-way through. I wasn’t having much success, at first, but then changed to fit the rhythm of the song, and that’s when it really clicked.

Anne shared a structured sharing that I thought would be good for Mondays. It went something like this: I was at (x) on (x) and guess who I saw! (Class says Who?) I saw (x). (Class says Ohhh.) S/he looked really (x). (Class says Why?) Sample: I was at Maxim’s on Saturday night. I saw Britney Spears. She looked really sad. She had just broken up with…

Then obviously a story could start–Anne suggested that it could be a way to start some gossip.

Coaching rules

Yesterday a colleague and I got a chance for a quick talk. We both mentioned that after our long Thanksgiving break, we felt that we were rusty on skills and we were glad we have a coaching session today!! (I realized that I have not been doing comprehension checks, for instance.)

Here are the rules for coaching, the steps, and a few extra skills to work on. We have posters of these for our coaching meetings. These come from Susie (with apologies for incorrect additions and changes).

When you begin teaching in a coaching session, tell the group what you want to practice, in terms of language, level, and skill.

Susie’s Coaching Rules:
Teacher stands
Students sit and respond
Only ONE coach
Please don’t correct the teacher
No discussions
Teacher chooses skill and level

Susie Gross’ critical skills (add one each time):
Read questions, listen for answers
Repeat answers every time
Comprehension checks
Three for one
Random order
3-4 questions, add a detail, 2-3 questions, another detail
affirmative/negative assessment

More possibilities:
slowing down
Point and pause
Using gestures
making a funny noise
twist to the story
introducing dialogue
contrastive grammar
parallel stories
one-word stories
using an actor
using a prop
reverse button
pause button