Category Archives: Culture

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.

Embedded Reading tweak

Yesterday in the first day of a workshop with the wonderful Cherise Montgomery, I watched a culturally-based power point that gave me yet another way to think about embedded readings.

Cherise started by telling the name of an artist and showing a picture of him. On the next slide, she showed a picture, asked his name, and added that he liked to paint. (All the words she used were also written on the slide.) 

In the next one, she asked his name, confirmed his name and what he liked to do, and explained that he liked to paint murals. And so on. The text kept growing.

Then she introduced a new artist and used the same kind of information, but added a painting of a girl. It turned out that the girl was sad. Why was she sad? We tried to figure it out. 

The next slide was another artist, who liked to paint yet other kinds of paintings, but it turned out that he was a friend of the girl in the picture, and she was no longer sad because she had a friend. 

This whole thing was beautifully thought out, and had lots of circling. The only thing it didn’t have was the TPRS personalization piece, but that would be easy to bring in, if you did comparisons.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t continue for the whole week with Cherise. Life sometimes interferes with plans. I’m just hoping that Betsy and Cara will take really good notes and share with me. Hey! Cara! If you get this, will you please let me post notes? 

Awesomeness Tournament

We’ve started the awesomeness tournament in two classes. Luckily, with duplicates, the numbers worked out exactly right so far(ended up with 16 in each class). I have one more class today and one on Wednesday that I forgot, so we’ll have the full 64 battles.

We’re just back from spring break. Having spent so much time on writing over the break, and cutting the word list to the bare minimum in the “novel,” I was amazed at how many of the words showed up in the Russian accounts of the earthquake! This high-frequency word list stuff really does work!

And I was also pleased, as always, by the way that CI/TPRS does not result in a lag of comprehension when we get back from a vacation. For some of these kids, it’s been two weeks, yet because they understood everything when they left, they had acquired it, and thus didn’t forget a lot. I used to hate coming back even from weekends in year one.

Japan links/Tournament of Awesomeness

Like MJ noted, I’m going to start off class tomorrow with some targeted discussion on what is going on in Japan.  Some resources I’ll show on the overhead include the following links:

I’ll start out with selected scenes from the Big Picture

Then I’ll move to the New York times first with an interactive before/after picture sequence:

And then follow with a quick animated sequence to explain the problem with the nuclear plants:

By that time everybody will be pretty bummed about everything, so I’ll shift gears dramatically and roll with an idea I stole off of Ben’s Blog last year, and which I expect to provide a much needed lightening of the tone.

Jeff Klamka sent this “Tournament of Awesomeness” idea into Ben last year to correspond with the NCAA Basketball tournament, and I really had a blast with it.  Basically your upper level students nominate the 32 or 64 most awesome things in the world, and you create a bracket which pairs them off against each other (the beach vs. mini corn dogs; snow day vs. Justin Bieber).  Your students debate the merits of each, you tally the votes, and then move onto the next round.  Full details are found here:

Last year we really had a lot of fun doing this, and we got some great debates going and had a lot of fun.  As it stands I am emphasizing the structures used to provide reasons (because/so that/in order to) with my upper level classes right now anyway, so this will dovetail with that perfectly.

Last year I only did 32 items, but this year I’ll do 64 spread out over two classes, so their respective brackets will go up against each other. When it gets down to the final eight, my upper level students will make PowerPoints to show to all of my classes, who will then all get to vote on the ultimate winner.

Also last year, I didn’t learn about this until the NCAA tournament was almost finished so I just did them a few days back to back.  This year I’ll do the voting to correspond with the actual tournament rounds (the rounds of 64 and 32 this week; the rounds or 16 and 8 next week; the final rounds the following week).  Actually we’ll have spring break during the finals week, so we’ll start making our PowerPoints by the end of next week.

Is this too much for one day?   Yeah, but I’ll deal with that when I get to it.  We’ll learn a bit, we’ll mourn a bit, we’ll have some fun.  I love how TPRS is flexible enough to provide a forum to process what is going on in the world–both the tragic as well as the fun– in a way that makes sense for our students.

Quia quiz

For my second cool trick of the day, I posted a quiz on — it was really a listening exercise for my level one and two kids, but I called it a quiz so that they’d take it seriously. I recorded myself reading a script about Lake Baikal. I pasted every statement into a question box and left out one word. The kids had to listen to the script to fill in the missing words. Of course, since I also pasted in the translation, I had a couple of kids decide that they would do it without the recording. That was okay. They were getting input.

Take a look and see what you think. In pre-TPRS days, I would never have approved of putting in the English. Some of these sentences are too complex for my level one kids, though, and so I wanted them to be able to feel comfortable.

I made a recording on Garage Band (PC users can use Accousticity) and uploaded the sound file to Quia. I gather I could do the same thing on Moodle but haven’t learned Moodle yet. Gotta do that–$50/year isn’t much but is something.

If you do go with Quia, put in the kids’ names yourself so that you have control.

Contest Prep

In my very self-directed period 5 class today, we started working on topics for our state language competition. I used to open the materials and tell kids which topics we would cover. Today I used a bunch of time in English to let them choose so that they would have buy-in. We started to learn about Stalin (huge topic). With TPRS, the way I approach this is way different than in the old days, when I’d hand the kids the materials and expect them to read, translate, answer the questions, and then regurgitate. Now I found the critical sentences, and we wrote and circled them. The first one was, “When Lenin died, Stalin took power into his own hands.” Who died, who took what, where did he take it (into his mouth?) and all such questions made it easy for kids to tell me that. The next one was, “This was a period of repression and terror.” Easy…all cognates. Then I asked the kids to ask questions, while I looked through the articles I would share with them. We found out where he went to school, where he was born, where he lived, what language he spoke first, how many kids were in his family. Turns out he was a bank robber as a member of the Bolshevik party!

We’ll end up learning a lot of the same material we would have if I’d picked this topic anyway, but this is a lot more interesting for the kids. It’s a little hairy for me, because I have to hope that I can quickly find the answers to their questions and be able to change them into simplified Russian. But so far it’s working. I think they like it because it’s real and because they feel as though they’re directing the class, which wasn’t the case when I was imposing the materials on them.

Besides learning the material that would have come out anyway, I just realized that we managed to cover a bit of history, a bit of geography, some grammar, and on top of all that, we’re still repeating the high-frequency words that come up all the time. So cool!

Soon I might be able to do an embedded reading with this–or the kids could do a movie about this guy–or at least an interview with him or his wife.

Holiday figures

I always intend to teach my students more about the Russian New Year heroes, and this year finally got it together a little bit. I gave advanced groups some texts about Baba Yaga, Father Frost and his granddaughter the Snow Maiden. They read the pieces as I circulated and helped. (They read three times: first just to silently hear the words, then to highlight what they understand, and then for meaning.) Following this, the plan was to use “first-year” vocabulary to write a story in which their character figures somehow. They have to include something of what they learned from the cultural reading. They spent so much more time reading than I’d expected that they didn’t end up writing yet, but that’s good…that’s tomorrow! They were pretty excited about their stories. I’ll give them more information on the same subjects tomorrow so that they can become expert on at least one figure.

PS: if you haven’t noticed the link to Martina’s page over on the sidebar, check it out. She’s beyond amazing. Wish I taught Spanish so that I could steal more from her!