Category Archives: Evangelism

Surprises at school

I’m back to school at last. Better late than never!

The first thing I didn’t expect was the hugs I would get. High school was never like this, and it’s endearing to have elementary kids who actually know me this year.

The second surprise was the kind comments from teachers who said that their kids learned a whole lot of Spanish from me last year. Sometimes that feels as though they have to be kidding. I’m that person who didn’t know how to tell them to give me their papers, and I only recently realized that I somehow know all the days of the week now.

Next is my lack of fear, compared to last year. Having acquired at least another year of this language myself, I am much less prone to experiencing complete panic in the classroom. Now, if I don’t know a word, I just shrug. Sometimes I look it up, sometimes I don’t. We needed “cotton candy” yesterday, for instance. I looked it up. The State Fair is still going on, and kids need it.

And here is a real biggie. After using Terry Waltz’s Teacher’s Discovery skinny Super Seven posters in my Oregon classroom this summer, I now have my own to put up, take down, repeat, in every single room. (Thanks to Christy Lade, who shared her traveling classroom technique of putting pins in the wall and rings on posters, I transform each room into a Spanish class instantly.) And guess what: by having those Super Seven words on the wall, my fifth-graders wrote a range of 47-100 words in five-minute fast-writes. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I never had them do that last year, but I wanted a baseline this year. They were thrilled. So was I. Of course, it is also true that at least one of them earned 24 Wooly badges over the summer. But weirdly, none of them seemed to lose any Spanish over the summer.

I am still going to be taking Spanish lessons from the amazing Alice Ayel. I am still trying to limit the bulk of my book reading to Spanish (or Russian, of course). I have a very long way to go. But I’m thrilled to say that I can now have complete conversations with Spanish-speaking moms, instead of hiding out in the copy room when I see them coming. I was able to talk for three hours (!!) this summer with a Costa Rican Airbnb owner in Boston, and I understood 97% of a presentation that was in Spanish for Spanish teachers at iFLT this summer. I almost can’t believe it. This CI/ADI stuff truly works, for learners of any age.

Poems and connections

Another random ideas post here.

First, I wanted to share a “stand up and practice” activity. This is just getting kids moving with the side benefit that they will practice a poem and maybe learn most of it. It’s not CI! They should have already done prep stories or vocabulary and they should understand it well and be able to say the lines if you gesture them–in other words, they should be ready for output. This is not a beginning activity with a poem.

First, give the kids the text of the poem, either in a handout or (better in my case) on the projector or wall. Assign each student one line of the poem. It’s okay if more than one kid has the same line. The students write the lines legibly onto 3×5 cards. Run through the entire class for pronunciation checks. Then each student passes the card down two kids, and check again to make sure that the cards are legible and that a new kid can pronounce the lines. Rewrite if necessary.

The class stands in either inner/outer circles or facing lines. The complete poem is still accessible, on the board or projector. Half the kids read their lines to the other half. The opposite group tries to recite, but is allowed to look for, the following line (this teaches scanning). Then the second student reads his line and the first one says the following line. If a student has the last line, her partner responds with the first line in the poem.

The class rotates so they have new partners. After five or six rotations, everyone passes their cards to the right or left, and the class begins again.

This can be a two-minute activity, once the kids know the drill, or it can be a longer one, if you’re working on memorizing. Pretty quickly, students learn the line that follows, and you can challenge the group by turning off the projector. Kids can help their partners.

I haven’t tried, but it could possibly be used with pictures from a storyboard if you want kids to just tell one piece. Hmm…

In other thoughts…

This AP brief talks about how parents don’t need to limit their sentence length for young children. The idea that we talk comprehensibly, but above the level of the speaker, is exactly what should be happening in a world language class.

I thought about the idea of being ready for information while my book group discussed The Good Earth this morning. I read it in high school, taught it in my first years in high school, and yet found it to be a completely different book now that I’m an adult. The process of taking in as much as you are ready to comprehend is not limited to language, but to ideas and experience as well.

And (after a too-long FB search to find the post), I am waiting to hear the “con” side of this story. I love this post! It’s a typical TPRS story, if that exists. I admit to being jealous of those who learned about TPRS before having taught 23 years, but am glad I did at that time. The correct link to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell’s blog is now on the right column, under Musicuentos.

Now I’m still trying to fit all the various CI pieces together. I’m realizing that different parts of CI work in different situations, for different purposes, and with different sets of kids. I was trying to force Movie Talk and TPR and Scaffolding Literacy and TPRS stories and Embedded Reading into every lesson. The down side to pure TPRS is that it can’t work for everything, with every kid, or in every situation.

Anyone who used to think I’m smart is probably dumbfounded by how obvious that statement is, but I’m a slow learner. CI is king. TPRS was the tool by which I learned (and keep learning) to do CI. TPRS is magical at the beginning levels, but isn’t necessarily the only way to teach the beginning levels.

The main “con” for me is that “TPRS” puts off so many language teachers. I’m sad that people are offended before they even hear the rest of the story, or before asking questions about how TPRS teachers address reading, writing, speaking, or the biggest target, grammar.

TPRS is what we do with our own kids. “Let’s tell Mommy where we went today! First we got into the …. CAR! Then we drove, and drove, and then we stopped at the…ZOO! And Katie made a…funny face…” Every time I think about how we retold our together time, either for someone else or at bedtime, I realize that we were telling stories.

Enough said. I could go on, but if you’ve read this far, you’re part of the choir. Happy belated Valentine’s Day. In Anchorage, we spent Valentine’s Day on three hours of Danielson training, first in a series of five. ‘Nuff said on that too.

2004 Melinda Heins: MAT in French

In searching for French TPRS lesson plans (which are out there in reasonable numbers), I ran across this journal that Melinda Heins submitted for her MAT. I haven’t finished reading the whole thing, but really appreciated her comparison of a successful teaching day with an unsuccessful day and her reflections on the reasons for those results.

Later in the paper, Heins talks about why TPRS is now her method of choice for teaching French. It is compelling enough that I may write to ask her whether I can use pieces for my parent newsletter. The one caveat is that she is discussing “old style” TPRS, with its increased number of steps and acronyms. Still, she is enthusiastic yet realistic in what she presents, and she makes me want to learn French from her!

AEIN network

On our Alaskan Education Innovation Network meeting today, we had quite the conversation about rubrics. One of the interesting points was trying to find ways to show that we are addressing the same standards as the English department is. A lot of us are suddenly under fire to prove that our classes are “worthy” members of the curriculum. At least one principal doesn’t believe that what we do shows up on state or national benchmark exams. I would beg to differ, and it would be really helpful to make sure that we are using the same language for at least part of our rubrics and the standards we say we are addressing. World Language standards in Alaska at least are very vague, but we can easily point out what we are doing to improve literacy in a host of ways.

Tomorrow I’ll come back and do some Laurie talk!

Carol Gaab article

Just got this article by Carol Gaab from Kristy Placido. It might be a nice one to have ready when a principal comes calling, or when you want something literate in writing for an interested parent.

It’s also a good reminder about basics. Last time I talked with Susie, she said that she tells people they need to go to a beginner’s workshop four times before heading to an advanced workshop, because there’s so much to TPRS. Even though it’s simple, it takes time to acquire.

Terry Thatcher Waltz

Terry is probably headed our way for a September conference (and any of you who have been dying to see Alaska in the fall and get in some TPRS are welcome to join us…we’re planning to be in Talkeetna, site of staging for Denali/Mt. McKinley expeditions).We’re also expecting Carol Gaab.

I love two of Terry’s recent blogs–one on why pair work is not worthy CI and the next on why a “family” unit can be problematic, so since I just spent my ten minutes of blog time oohing and ahhing over how much I agreed with her, I am going to suggest anyone looking for input read those. Click on her link to the right.

TPRS: making contests easy

For the past 23 years, I have run a state Russian competition. This year I turned it over to two other (younger!) teachers.

I used to spend most of the year on this contest. The materials became, in essence, my curriculum. It’s a good contest, as contests go. The kids have to memorize and present a poem. They also have to talk on three cultural and three personal topics. They tell the judges everything they know. The judges mark whether they address the content, are comprehensible, and so on. The judging ticket is pretty close to the holistic rubric, except of course for the poetry.

Before TPRS, I concentrated on getting kids to do output from the beginning. I knew that I’d want them to regurgitate long speeches. They learned a lot, but really all they could talk about or read was what was in the materials that we prepped with. It was kind of like a personalized version of ALM. If a Russian speaker fed them the right questions, they could answer at length about themselves.

The first year of doing TPRS, I set aside only three months to work on the contest, and ended up doing the preparation mostly through the lens of my new TPRS glasses. We told stories and embellished. The kids did great. The next year, I focused for two months, and my students actually did better. This year, the advanced kids are gasping because I told them on Thursday that we have a month.

Yet when I started the first-year kids on this, and asked them to be imaginary figures and talk about themselves, it was so easy! We’ve played Hurricane, in which they all tell about themselves (I think I have shared about that elsewhere here). They had a lot to say. We just finished a song about our mascot, in which he tells where he was born and that he didn’t go to school, so that transferred. Then all the stuff about family and what they love, where they live–all that is simple now that I’ve been following the Susie technique of retelling from perspective.

A week on a city, on a literary figure (Pushkin and Lermontov are great, since they killed themselves; Pushkin because he ran afoul of the tsar and got exiled), and one on something else like a movie or artwork will take care of timing–all of this fits perfectly into TPRS, especially when you use embedded readings and just a few props.

Each year, I’m amazed that it’s so much easier to do this than it was in the past. Talking about yourself shouldn’t be hard, after a year or two of TPRS. Yes, it’s output. I don’t like requiring it, but I do love the fact that kids can reach the same goals with seemingly far less effort from all of us.

Even the poem goes well…I spend a  couple of days treating all the different choices like new songs, talking about the story involved, using the new (high-frequency) words, and the kids learn the poems really fast. TPRS is close to magic.

TPRS gets results!

Virginie said I could post this e-mail:

Kids are doing fine. The Regional Declamation went very well on our end. Most of my kids won 1st and 2nd place for the poetry. French IV students placed 1.2.and 3. Only one of my students was interested in doing the impromptu and placed 1st. So, they are going to the State Competition on Feb 19.

It is my first time doing it and I am going to participate in the future doing all categories next time.

Also, French I’s are doing well. It seems like I can cover so much more material and they retain it much faster and much easier than past years. Students were also able to write their very first 400 word essay –assignment of their French I sem 1 final. They recorded it when we came back to school in January and we did the same this month (less intense essay…just 4 paragraphs on weather+ sports/activities, recycling info from last year (like/dislike +adverbs).

It seems like I might be done with the French I curriculum right after Spring Break, which we leave us plenty of time to cover “Pauvre Anne” in class and record their readings+ essays about it. I have never done it before AND I am very excited about it!!!!

What a difference doing TPRS! I am never going back… (also I am mostly doing CI than story telling–It is simply NOT me:)
Voila. Please say hi to everyone out there,

Culture of Yes

A superintendent was delighted when he visited a Spanish teacher’s classroom. You can probably guess that she uses TPRS! Read his blog here.

Unfair advantages

This is off the track of classroom glimpses. I’m going too far and will get back on topic soon.

“Here is one quantifiable measure of the advantage of being multilingual: imagine if other children were given twice as much time to prepare for a high-stakes exam as your own kid. You would scream unfair bias.  But that is exactly what is happening when young people around the world are studying foreign languages throughout their elementary and secondary education in preparation for future work and leisure, and U.S. schools’ emphasis on student language acquisition are statistically trailing far behind. Understanding one’s counterparts’ native tongue also draws tremendous confidence, regardless if the issue in question requires competition or cooperation.”

It’s from the Asia Society’s Jeff Wang on this web page: