Category Archives: Conference notes

Summer Conferences 2016

IMG_9529Travel is great, and hanging with my favorite colleagues is better, but I am ever so glad to be home where I can breathe Alaskan air and walk on the earth without having concrete in the way.

I feel about being home the same way I feel about teaching with TPRS-learned CI: there’s a direct connection between me and what’s important.

I always learn a lot from colleagues, and this time was no different, but for now I have one shout out of gratitude and three big takeaways from the last two weeks. The shout out is to those at NTPRS ’16 who fed me ideas, patiently listened to me practice, and then honed my language policy speech for the ACTFL ToY. Bryce, Betsy, Mike, Richard, Lizette, Lisa, and most of all Susie and Mira: I am a lucky woman to have you in my court.

Three takeaways: The first is from Keith Toda, who showed how to use Zaption as a follow-up to a beautifully-delivered MovieTalk at IFLT 2016. I’m going to be trying to copy your smooth operation! There were a number of MovieTalk adaptations that showed the power of using film as pictures, with actors, and in other very interesting ways. Keith was true to the original idea of MovieTalk, and then used technology as a perfect way to follow up. More on that later (in a different post).

The second was at both IFLT16 and NTPRS16: Justin Slocum-Bailey demonstrated using gestures to feed the needs in a classroom while honoring students. One gesture lets students point out something that is distracting them without distracting the class. Another helps them realize that sometimes we just have to rise above whatever is going on. A third symbolizes the opportunity we have in life to make lemonade of problems. These simple gestures offer profound lessons to students – and to their teachers.

Finally, I got another subtle tweak for using gestures that support comprehension. (These include ASL signs and gestures the class makes up to define structures.) Haiyun asked Susie Gross to observe her lesson for students of Chinese, and shared that Susie encouraged her to use gestures after saying the word. Haiyun is a highly accomplished teacher, so it would have been very hard to find anything to improve. Having Susie Gross return to NTPRS this year added grace and wisdom to the proceedings. And Haiyun is the example of how the best teachers are still anxious to learn.

Thanks all.

ps: if you Twitter, find the #IFLT16 and #NTPRS16 feeds. Lots of good stuff there. Look for Jeremy Jordan’s (Señor Jordan’s) video in which Dasani and Coke bottles interact. Señor Wooly taught us all how to use Adobe Premier Clip to make films!

pps: I am still walking on air after being recognized by Blaine Ray at NTPRS16. There are many who have contributed (much more) to TPRS. The fact that it exists and that teachers keep sharing and learning and creating is what makes our work great. To (sort of) quote Blaine, his TPRS has given all of us the permission and encouragement to do what is right for our kids.

Using the phone

ACTFL part 2

At ACTFL 2015 last weekend, I tried to attend every session with Bill Van Patten (I missed one because I was presenting, and hope someone will share their notes.) One of those sessions was “In-class testing versus online testing.” A large test group of students across multiple classes resulted in almost no statistical difference between the grades that students got last year on paper and pencil tests and this year on the identical tests, offered on computer. There are some caveats but this post is not about that.

Instead, I got sidetracked by what was for me more interesting: the use of the Can-do statements for in-class assessments. Walter Hopkins (of TeaWithBVP) promised to share the complete list of Can-Do statements that MSU is using with their Spanish classes, and he also explained how they use Google Voice to collect assessments.

I told students that at the end of class, they would share something about Shostakovich. Walter had said that students practice in class on the day of the assessment, and then the prompt is slightly tweaked. I didn’t tweak it on this first time out. We spent the entire hour talking about musicians in general, and Shostakovich in particular, and then I put up the number and asked students to call and tell me three things about the man. It took less than five minutes for the entire class to call in and report, whether they used their own phone, my phone, or someone else’s. Some personalized their information; others included something about yesterday’s concert (our excellent UAA Faculty Trio played Shostakovich). The MSU rubric worked well for me: “2” means “completed task with ease,” “1” means “struggled a bit,” and “0” means “didn’t complete the task.”

I have a clear idea about how much my students can fluently say about Shostakovich, and I know what structures they are acquiring. I can label most students’ level of proficiency for this task. In short, I’m pretty happy with this new toy of mine. It didn’t take up a lot of class time, but it gave me an easy way to collect speech samples.

AFLA 2015

I am just home from AFLA 2015. I can honestly say that you should have been here. We had impressive local speakers and incredible guests. For the first of my tweeting sessions for the year, I jockeyed with Martina Bex to share key points on the conference (if you have Twitter, check out #afla15). And on top of that, our weather cleared up for gorgeous fall colors and a fresh coat of snow on the mountains, followed by the best display of northern lights anyone can remember.

I had to take myself off Twitter since the day that six hours went by in about ten minutes, but when I’m at a conference, it’s just too much fun not to share, and there were some truly mind-blowing moments.

Scott Benedict ( and Bill Van Patten honored us with their presence. I have been to Scott’s Power Grading workshop three times already, not counting watching his videos with our PLC. I always get something new, and this time was no exception (except there was even more). I’m going to rearrange my grading system tomorrow, basing it not on my divisions of Interpretive, Interpersonal, and Presentational but Scott’s Speaking, Reading, Writing, Listening, and College Readiness Skills. (The last one will be weighted very low but is for all the participation, homework, pair work kinds of points that I would put into a Citizenship grade if only we had one.) And I’m going to copy some rubles to hand out for every positive behavior so that the kids can buy such things as a good phone call home, the right to eat or drink, a bathroom pass, etc. Scott’s kids have a list of these options. He says that some kids time their “good phone call home” so that it will have a positive benefit on something they want: permission to go to a concert, to buy something special, or just to get off detention at home.

Bill Van Patten blew all of us away. First, he explained the underlying phrase structure of languages, and started to prove his contention that language is too complex to teach. Instead we have to flood students with input that they understand within the classroom context. I almost thought I heard wrong when he said that TPRS is an appropriate methodology for the context of the classroom. Believe me, Martina and I were tweeting as fast as we could. After the lecture, I asked Bill whether he’d seen any TPRS classrooms, and he said that while he hadn’t, he has a colleague who uses the method, and he’s been to several demo workshops. He knows what he’s talking about.

Honestly, I could have gone home happy after the opening keynote with Bill Van Patten. Indeed, I feel I have been drunk on positive input all weekend. From Betsy Paskvan’s Godzilla story in Japanese and her effortless weaving of CI techniques with beautiful classroom management (I was unintentionally being a bad kid, working on a presentation for the next session, but she saved face for me), to the giddiness of those exiting Victoria Gellert and Martina Bex’s impromptu intro to TPRS, to the awesome perfection of working with songs in Victoria’s session and the ongoing “ah hah” with Scott’s workshop, it was just a float from one high to another. I still missed about nine sessions (creating mini circuits for storytelling, for instance, and learning to dance in German from Matt Spence), and I’m hoping to bring some to our PLC Fridays. Luckily anyone reading this is also going to be as geeky as I am about this stuff, and you understand why it’s okay to spend a year putting a conference together and to spend an entire weekend with colleagues.

I want to thank the crazy conference team who arranged the food, the great setting, the signups, and every other little detail that made this weekend perfect.

I strongly recommend attending the AFLA 2016 conference. Some of you have heard of our incoming president: Martina Bex.

Lessons from Celebrating Salish

I left the Celebrating Salish conference two days early to be able to spend family time this spring break. I still got to attend three workshops that made a deep impression on me, even beyond the inspiring keynotes and cultural evening sessions.

The first of those workshops was an introduction to weaving TPRS into Salish storytelling, presented by Janice Billy and Kathryn Michel. I felt very much at home in a room where we learned an elementary-level mini-story that would lead to a a longer cultural story. So many elements of the workshop were those that TPRS beginners need to hear, and experienced folks must repeat: the need to limit vocabulary, to focus on meaning rather than grammar, and to use repetition as a key piece of compelling, comprehensible input. Kathryn gave a beautifully concise overview of TPRS in her limited time.

One of the points that resonated with me was that Kathryn was suggesting a form of what Laurie and I might label Embedded Readings, if they were written. (Blaine might refer to the continuing practice as “Digging Deeper.”) Kathryn said that sometimes elders grow impatient with the simplicity of stories she prepares for the youngest beginners, but she explains that this is just a first step. The original stories can last 45 minutes, and there’s no way a young beginner can listen that long, much less comprehend the level of language. Kathryn rewrites stories so as to use comprehensible language and to communicate just the most critical parts of the story. Even then, she might reduce the story to smaller chunks that might take weeks to teach. But she emphasizes that each story part still has to have a logical beginning, middle and end, because humans are hard-wired to understand narrative with this structure.

Over time, Kathryn introduces more and more details into the story. She pointed out what we all know about ourselves: we hear and tell a good story many times. We like that repetition. But Kathryn’s increasingly longer versions of the stories come to the students over a period of years! I absolutely loved hearing this concept, as it crystallized for me what some of us have been doing: using the same stories in all levels. The only difference is that Kathryn gives us permission here to keep using the same stories over years.

Laurie taught me to separate versions of Embedded Readings with activities; knowing that the story can potentially spread over years makes it much easier to spread out retellings or re-readings. I can relax, not worry about always “getting through” a certain number of story versions in a specific amount of time. If students like a story and enjoy the acting and telling, leaving it for a longer period might make it even more exciting to return to.

Besides introducing TPRS, a crucial point of Kathryn’s presentation was that we use cultural figures as heroes in our stories, and if we are adapting stories, not to change the underlying message. Children learning Salish find out that Coyote is a trickster, that Bear is kind, if not smart in the same way as Coyote. Over time, students can not only begin to predict how those characters will act in a story, but they can identify their own behavior and that of others in terms of the cultural figures. The reason not to change the message (but without having to state a moral) is that “children are smart. They absorb messages with stories.”

In TPRS classes, we often personalize our stories by using characters that students suggest from modern-day American culture. But when I introduce Russian cultural figures to my students, students start bringing those characters into the stories, and the heroes typically act within the confines of their stereotypes. What a wonderful way to easily address cultural concepts with storytelling! I had never thought about using the folk heroes on purpose in a story. As with my use of “accidental CI” in my years before TPRS training, I had never considered using those characters in stories on purpose.

It occurs to me that as the stories grow in length and detail, part of that detail will include comments about the folk heroes’ personalities. It will be a natural “aside” to add to the telling.

We often talk about bringing authentic resources into the classroom, and we don’t always don’t know how to bring TL culture into storytelling. Now I feel I have another intentional tool to add to my teaching. From now on, including Russian folk heroes as participants in stories is not going to be an accident in my classroom.

I can do it!

Thanks to Toni Thiesen and Christine Lanphere’s table talk at ACTFL, I have more ideas about how to use Can-Do statements as I teach.

Either Toni or Christine (sorry, can’t remember which) gives students a “can-do bubble sheet” to kids at the beginning of a unit. The kids pick three of the can-dos that they want to master. They write a reflection about how they plan to learn them, and at the end of the unit, they write up how successful they were.

I’ve been using the can-do statements in a much less structured way. But as I’m writing my finals, I figured out how to use a bubble sheet with the can-do statements to help kids prepare for the oral part of their semester final. I’ve put 15 can-do statements (with one blank one) on a page. My year one students are going to pick between 12 and 15 to demonstrate for their final. They get to organize them in whatever way they want: they can work them all into a story that they will tell, or they can put symbols onto a picture or presentation to guide them. Whatever they do, it will be scanned or turned in electronically to become a part of a class powerpoint for presentations.  Here’s a picture of their bubble sheet:

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 3.19.12 PMI will advise them that they can tell a story with a lot of dialogue, or they can just demonstrate each piece one at a time, whatever suits their style. Each day until we have our final, we’ll do five minutes’ worth of different activities for them to practice and feel secure about this final: inner/outer circles, highlighting the ones they have done; time in the lab to scan or send their pictures and practice with partners, volunteers coming to the front and showing their stuff. But I will also give input each day so that students hear all of these things from different points of view, with different pictures.

We’ll also have listening and reading sections for the final. I don’t assign writing on finals because we have to have our finals graded so quickly.

While I’m on the subject of Can-Do statements, I realized I’ve learned something. We’re learning a Russian New Year’s song, one we practice every year. We always talk about the story of the little tree, but because of the Can-Do statements, I decided to be more transparent about our goals with the song. The song starts with talking about where the tree was born. We’ve talked about where people were born in class, and this was a wonderful opportunity to connect that. Then it goes on to how she grew up in the forest, later how she slept in a snowstorm and finally how she got all dressed up to come to the party with children. A bunch of the Can-Do statements I have in the bubble sheet came out because of thinking about what students could do if they used vocabulary from the song, or if they told the story of the song. It has everything, from season, to holiday, to weather. It’s pretty cool! I don’t think of myself as “doing” units successfully, but by planning around this song, I realize that we are pulling a lot of pieces together here at the end of the semester.

After AFLA

Map for partners

This map idea comes from Bryce through Jenny. We were discussing our delayed attempts to pair kids. I didn’t assign partners last year at all, a practice that would have kept cliques from developing. How do I get partners for pair work and for seat mates? Two years ago, I just assigned everyone a new partner about every week and a half. That was a bit of a pain, because they would forget. Jenny reminded me of what we used to do with clock faces: kids would assign themselves different partners for each time slot.

Jenny said that Bryce assigns partners with a map, or maybe with Spanish-speaking countries. “Meet with Columbia now!” We have only one main Russian-speaking country, but I did have a convenient blank map with dots for cities. I had kids stand in order of family members, shoe size, a rainbow of what they’re wearing, hair length, etc. to get them next to new people. Then I had them fill in a line near that city with their partner. (In Russian 1, we’ll learn cities along with the partner assignments.) We did a “domino line” of pairs turning to each other from one end of the line so that we could switch kids around if they ended up next to a former partner.

I used a partner activity in the middle of class today so that everyone would have to stand up and find a new partner. One of our presenters today would tell us just to stand up to answer processing questions he would assign. Teachers groaned a bit, and my kids hate that. I have to give them a reason to move. Sometimes it’s still just for the sake of a brain break of course.

We sat down and started the “Persona Especial” interviews. Since many of the kids know one another, but we do have new kids in the class, I asked the class some of the basic questions first, and if they knew the answers, I circled with those. Bryce was right. A big question was age, because if the kids are 16, then we find out whether they have their license, and then we find out about cars.

I also found out that both the kids we interviewed in one class really want to be called by Russian names. They are going to go research names tonight. We can ask them tomorrow.

It seemed to me that this language would be too easy for level 3 and 4 kids. It turned out that I haven’t used a bunch of words, including “prefer” and “name.” (We use “is called,” as does Spanish.)

I’m always blown away by how interested kids are in one another and in getting time for all.

Oh, and we still had time to begin the next story in one class, but the second class took all the time possible to get “through” some simple information on two kids. Wow.


Random must-watch videos

I came home from our AFLA conference wanting to share first the Mindset information with the kids. Bryce reminded me of a couple of other people I admire, and then Michel Baker blogged a video. I can’t think of a better place for me to save this stuff!

Here’s Michel’s, sharing a video of a university TPRS class.

Here’s Daniel Coyle talking about learning more in less time with the right kind of repetition. Here is his original video; at the end of which is his successful golf hit. I was looking for the video of his start-to-finish progress, but this works.

And here’s Carol Dweck explaining why she set off on her research.

This isn’t a video; it’s a Prezi link explaining how to be successful in Ted Talks. It reminds us how to do what we do, linking to videos that demonstrate the ideas.

AFLA 2014

Most of us are home from the AFLA (Alaskans for Language Acquisition) Conference, which we held in stunning Seward, Alaska. Luckily, when we got caught up in after-conference collaborating in the sun on Zudy’s deck in Seward, Jenny Kelly decided that we wouldn’t make it back to Anchorage in time for her flight to Valdez. She’s going to take the morning flight home, meaning that we got to drive back in a leisurely way, re-planning our lessons for the week to match some of the big ideas we heard.

Bryce Hedstrom started us off with a fabulous talk on Mindset, by Carol Dweck. My advice? Hire Bryce to come tell your school about it and then have a set of the books ready for people to buy. He said that this book changed his life, and I can see how it’s going to change mine. It wouldn’t have if Bryce hadn’t shared it with us, because I might not have picked it up off the shelf.

I was presenting a few times myself, so got to hear only three speakers: Wendy Baker, who talked about her experience teaching in Namibia with World Teach, Bryce on personalizing the classroom (here’s what his presentation looked like, but you had to be there to get the full picture), and Paul Sandrock, ACTFL’s education director. Having listened to Wendy, I am trying to figure out how to tell my husband that I want us to go to Namibia after I retire.

Jenny and I are both going into school tomorrow with versions of the “Persona Especial” questions for upper levels, and we will yield to Paul’s encouragement to help students strive to ask follow-up questions. (Jenny and I are considering using some of the other ideas on cultural lessons to spring us into virtual moves with our classes. I think that’s a topic here under categories…scroll way down and keep looking on the right.)

Bryce visited a number of our classes on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, he did a demo in a Spanish class, observed and gave extensive feedback in German and French classes, and then he coached me in Russian so that I could do the joke he had told in the Spanish class. Check back for a video of what that looked like–I haven’t finished putting in subtitles for the Russian yet. It was lots of fun, and I learned a lot about pacing and directing actors! Bryce is a master of cool and unflappable, even when he hasn’t had any sleep after a flight that added four extra travel hours. I want to learn his ability to put the students in starring roles. I think I’m on stage too much.

On Friday, Bryce watched four Japanese classes with Betsy Paskvan and Victoria Gellert. Then he spent many hours debriefing with Betsy. Betsy will be sharing with her department, and we will all be communicating about what we learned, so the four and a half days Bryce devoted to us will yield many dividends over the next few months. We are hoping to lure him back with promises of Alaskan summer biking opportunities.

I will try to get that video done and posted soon, and I will look through my notes to share some other gems. In the meantime, check out the resources on Bryce’s home page, the Annenberg videos and the ACTFL website. And go to your local conference! Learning from presenters is one thing, gaining access to resources they mention is another, and finding opportunities to collaborate with colleagues nearby is priceless. (“Nearby” is somewhat relative: many of us in Alaska are as far from others within our state as Pennsylvania is from Maine. And there aren’t roads between those places; many people had to fly in and then drive for over two hours.)

Martina on using Authentic Resources

Martina Bex is one of the reasons I’m lucky to live in Anchorage. At yesterday’s First Friday TPRS/CI monthly meeting, she practiced the presentation she will make at ACTFL in just a couple of weeks. We were glued to her for over an hour, and would have been for any amount of time because her ideas about how to use authentic resources were creative, while she nailed down the teaching practices that we all need to remember.

Here are two:

-If it’s worth using, it’s worth talking about.

-If the Authentic Resource is for pushing acquisition, the teacher must talk about it in the TL and make the whole process comprehensible. (If the teacher is using the AR for assessment, the questions should be in English to stop false positives and to make sure that the kids understand the assignment.)

Martina shared five different ways to approach Authentic Resources with five different ways to do pre- and post-planning. I was thinking that was plenty to assure staying out of ruts. When Martina demonstrated creating a parallel story, we all came alive. She reminded me why those work in our classrooms. And, just like my kids, I was surprised when her parallel story matched the song that she moved into.

Martina’s handout is up on our AFLA 2013 conference page.

Anyone who wasn’t there…well, sorry. We had great food for our brains AND our stomachs: two kinds of Chinese noodles, halibut chowder, raspberry bread…

I shared a couple of brain break games from a site that I found because of Ben Slavic’s blog. You have to scroll through the entries that sell the book, but there are still plenty of activities. 


Four bloggers in one picture at NTPRS!!

I should have thought of this earlier and gathered others from the sidebar…Laurie was there, of course, and Bryce, Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth, Kristin Duncan, Scott Benedict, Sra Hitz (we’re taken for twins, so you don’t need a picture), Alike, and Mira (not a blogger but her site is here)!photo-21

Left to right: Bess Hayles, Chrystal Barragan, (MJ), and Haiyun.

Wonderful week. I’m up on a cloud and can’t get down!