Category Archives: PDL

Starting the year with jobs and PDL

Whoo hoo! I am having some fun with two activities.

First, I am using the “name game circle” warm-up that we learned from Dufeu’s book on PDL. It’s in three sections, all done from a circle. First pairs change places when they make eye contact. Once that’s comfortable, the pairs say their names to each other as they pass in the middle to trade places. After a while, the pairs make eye contact and try to say the other’s name as they’re trading places.

This was so much better than starting out by making people learn names around a circle. Kids “met” on an individual basis. We added some pieces to it in some classes, putting in time limits, or requiring everyone to trade at least three times, and so on. Doing it with just eye contact the first time made everyone much more confident in their interactions.

The next moment was the assigning of jobs. I have a timer and two counters on hangers next to my desk. I have a squeaky hedgehog on my desk too. Kids are now responsible for counting structures, writing quizzes and class information (separate), timing how long we spend in Russian, throwing the hedgehog at my feet if I spend more than 15 seconds on grammar or use up my three time-outs for extended English. Kids will take care of my desk, put up chairs, greet one another at the door if I’m not there, welcome visitors, keep the calendar, and manage the technology. Ben Slavic’s newest book (coming out again soon) has a list of some 60 jobs that kids can do in the classroom. He says that every kid should have a job. Some are very popular and need tryouts (throwing was key today), and others just fit kids perfectly.

A couple of less-than-enthusiastic kids became enthusiastic when jobs they liked opened up, and everyone thought it was really funny that someone gets to throw the hedgehog (at my feet/legs) if need be.

In my Russian 1 class, I channeled Katya, and stayed on “This is” most of the period. She went so slowly for the beginners in Chicago this summer that they all got it! I want to keep everyone on board for the whole year.


Teaching Myself

I’m re-reading Bernard Dufeu’s Teaching Myself (Oxford University Press, 1994), about PDL, or Psychodramaturgy for Language Acquisition. My copy is a translation from the French; there is a recent second edition but it is only in German so far.

The first time I read Teaching Myself, I was anxious to learn about PDL, and skimmed the first chapters. Now that I’m looking closely at the introduction and first chapter, I am finding many ways that Dufeu’s approach to language acquisition mirrors that of Blaine Ray’s TPR Storytelling.

I’m going to type out some of the lines in the Introduction and Part One of the book so that others might become equally curious. As impertinent as it feels, I will be presenting what I know about PDL next Monday in Chicago at NTPRS 2014. I’m hoping that I will encourage other people to study and then discuss what parts of PDL philosophy and method can join TPRS and other comprehensible input methods.

Dufeu starts the book by explaining that this book is about his journey, and that “it cannot be a complete prescription for other people because every pedagogical choice is first and foremost a personal one.” He then quotes Henry Miller: “To be yourself, just yourself, is a great thing. And how does one do it, how does one bring it about? Ah, that’s the most difficult trick of all. It’s difficult just because it involves no effort.”

That quote alone could stand for everything TPRS practitioners believe. We belong in the moment; language acquisition itself should seem effortless. Dufeu compares the “pedagogy of being” with the “pedagogy of having.” The latter is what learners and teachers experience in traditional classes.

Before going any further, I must say that I hope not to be misrepresenting or misinterpreting Dufeu, but I’m sure that I will be doing so in some way.

The following quotes are pulled from the first chapter. “The learners [in traditional, textbook-based language classes] …  experience a twofold alienation: the language they are learning is not their own mother tongue, and what they say in it is not in their own words.”

Dufeu then talks about teachers who have tried to turn aside from traditional teaching to the communicative approach. “Creativity is often confused with absence of discipline [of the teacher], resulting in unprincipled eclecticism…Some activities are based on mutually incompatible views of learning…” That was unfortunately completely true of my teaching for my first 23 years. I wish it were different. I was trying so hard!

Next, Dufeu gives an example of the sort of exercise one could do in a PDL classroom, showing how it allows creativity and individual response. “Rather than being identified as the objective of teaching, language thus becomes a medium of expression and communication.” That is what we are aiming for as we ask stories or set up parallels, or do Ben Slavic’s Circling with Balls. We are using the language to get to know our students better and to encourage them to share their creative ideas.

Another point is that language is not just words; it is heavily dependent on context. “Comprehension is conveyed more forcibly through the meaning of the message than the sense of the words.” An example is “It’s ten o’clock.” Telling someone the time could mean that she is late again, has overslept, that the speaker is worried, that something exciting is about to happen, or any one of many other expressions. It’s not just the words. Now I understand one of the warm-up exercises, which has the learners walking around the classroom and saying “Yes/no, me/you,” in different voices and intents.

Dufeu explains that we have to work with the whole person, who is acquiring the language and therefore must be able to make mistakes, must have the process individualized. “What we teach is not limited to content: we also teach communication and therefore human relations.”

I can’t recall seeing that sentiment in any other text on teaching language. I’ve seen it in TPRS blogs and papers, however. The way it usually comes across is “I’m teaching children, not content.” Dufeu follows with questions the teacher should be asking:

“–How do I create the necessary conditions for acquiring a language?

–How can I facilitate the development of each participant’s receptiveness and capacity of expression in order that they can acquire the foreign language?”

I want to cheer, reading those questions, which are so different from asking, “How can I set up an activity to…” They might seem the same, but the motivation is very different.

Later, this: “Wanting to avoid error can interrupt acquisition and can even prevent it. This is why we try to create an atmosphere … in which error is valued…” and

“…during the great adventure of discovering foreign language, participants also work together on relationships and the kinds of communication they have with each other. Sometimes this gives them a different and broader view of life, or a more accurate and at times transformed perception of themselves, other people, and their environment…”

The last quote resonates with me because I found true what Susie Gross told me early into my journey with Storytelling. She said it would improve my life in the classroom and beyond. She was right; I listen better, know better how to show that I care, and even my children noticed immediately that I was happier and more at ease with myself in the world. I find these overlaps to be too striking to ignore them. As I’ve said before here, it seems to me that the best teaching methods have all the same concern for the individual and desire for the most elegant way to help acquisition happen.

PDL and this book are still too new for me to be able to distill the entire book into a coherent review. These quotes were a tiny part of the beginning. In the NTPRS session next week, I will be demonstrating some PDL activities and sharing the specifics that I’ve researched and practiced in my own classes. I will not be a “sage on stage.” Rather I will hope to start a study community.

I’m also hoping to attend a PDL language course sometime soon. It took taking a TPR Storytelling class and then being able to truly communicate in Spanish to convince me of TPRS’ power. I believe in PDL’s power, but I know that to be able to actually use the techniques effectively in my own classroom, I will need experience and training. I’m excited to realize that there is more to add to the CI bag!


PDL combined

I decided to put all my PDL information in one place, since I couldn’t even find it all myself. This post is very long and full of information; it circles back on itself and has too many sources for anything but a workshop. My apologies!

Here’s the first writeup, after the 2013 ACTFL conference, when I tried some things with kids. There’s a comment with follow-up.

Here’s another post that includes info on PDL and has a comment (but it starts with info on Michael Miller).

A post about PDL with beginners, and a step-by-step addition in the comments.

Here are the answers that Eugene Schaefer, the PDL presenter at ACTFL 2013 sent to my questions about PDL activities and how to follow up with writing. He explained that for a role play, we need polarity, or there isn’t any story. That seems obvious now that I think about it, but wasn’t clear to me at first.

The second email is just recent, with more on my specific questions on what to do with writing, and gives permission to post these answers.

***The way of dealing with writing is another twist on the way that Ashley Hastings does re-writes with students. I like it!

Dear Michele,
Thanks for giving me more time for an answer.  This has given me the chance to work on an answer while riding in trains to and from Berlin and wrapping it all up now at home.
You touched on a number of questions, so I hope you don’t mind if I jump from one to the other in free association.
I read with great interest the description in your blog of your very successful implementation of “The Chairs” in your classroom.   Maybe I’m starting at the end, but you were wondering how writing exercises could be integrated into  that and other PDL activities.
The answer is not black and white.  Any writing activity integrated into a role play would have to grow out of the role play itself.  As role-playing in PDL is unpredictable, so too is any writing task.  Spontaneous creativity is needed on the part of the teacher.  In the case of couples therapy / marriage counseling, there are a number of possibilities.  Either as support group work or individually, the therapist can write up a report, the counseled can write each other (or the therapist) letters clarifying their standpoints, offering reconciliation, stating demands, or they can each write letters to a divorce lawyer.  If written replies fit in with the task, then the activity can easily be extended as homework for as long as interest can be maintained.    The letters can also lead to further encounters, depending.
Another possibility would be to have the students write up a neutral – or biased! – report for a local newspaper, be it a daily yellow rag, a respectable local paper, or even a professional journal.
The couples therapy situation clearly has one element fundamental to PDL role playing –  polarity.  This doesn’t mean a simple yes-no argument, though such can be used as a warm-up activity.  There needs to be something to be discussed and resolved involving negotiating, compromising, problem solving, reaching mutual agreement, achieving mutually beneficial results while having diverging goals.  While achieving agreement is not mandatory, reaching a consensus of some sort should be encouraged.
It was interesting to hear that the two who took the seats as the couple were, if I understood correctly, a couple in real life as well.  I’m usually leery of situations where fact and fiction might become difficult to differentiate, endangering the “play” in role play, but you seem to have had the situation well under control.  There are of course always elements of oneself in any fictive role one plays, but one is freer to “play” with a role if it is not identical with the player.
The three-people-on-a-bus situation can pose problems, as there is not automatically any sort of conflict to be resolved or problem to be dealt with.  However, your students mastered that problem well with the unhappy Russian grandmother and a potentially romantic encounter with complications.  A possible written exercise here could be writing a letter full of advice for the grandmother – how to deal with her family here, how to better adapt to life in Alaska – , a letter to the son suggesting changes in his treatment of his mother, the grandmother giving advise to the young people, a cautious or not-so-cautious letter of interest between them, a written rebuke of undue advances, etc.   Of course, you would be the best judge of what could fit your class’s needs.
Recirculating situations and language is exactly what needs to be done.  I’m always on the lookout for an element I can alter.  There’s no simple recipe for doing this, just a good sense of dramatic tension and classroom management.
Rephrasing, reformulating, offering alternative ways of expressing something – this too is fundamental to PDL.  To students weaned on PDL as beginners, being “doubled” and “mirrored” by the teacher will be second nature.  It’s a great way for the teacher to intervene when lack of language gets in the way of events.  The teacher speaks as the student being doubled or mirrored, allowing him or her to repeat after each short chunk.  The language being offered is occurring spontaneously, though of course the teacher has put some thought into what is needed – vocabulary, grammar, content.   This short barrage of language should be repeated two or three times, depending.
This sort of intervention can be done as a sort of intermission from the role play, a break or cut in the action before resuming where the cut was made or a bit before that.  It can also be done while the players are in their support group strategy sessions.
From what I read of your use of The Chairs, you are well in alignment with the ideas behind PDL.
I am not sure I understood your comments on the value of learning by talking.  Perhaps you could fill me in briefly on the place of talk time in TPR classes.  I have to admit I am not well acquainted with TPR, but was impressed by the ability of your TPR classes to adapt to PDL.  While PDL was originally conceived as an all-encompassing method, classroom reality has let it find its place as a supplemental method as well.
As to the structure of PDL:  PDL for intermediate and advanced follows no strict sequence of activities.  What Bernard’s book should illuminate is the specific selection of warm-up  and energizing activities leading up to different types of role plays.  At the advanced level, he advocates using myths and fairy tales as well as literary excerpts as lead-ins to creating freely associated role plays.  That in turn can be good in creating interest in the original texts being taught in a more traditional mode.
PDL 1 does follow a clear sequence.  The seven basic steps start with individual doubling  and end with the teacher assisting the learners with simple dialogues.  Again, variations of doubling and mirroring play a key role.   As the teacher is always present, learners receive the support they need as they need it.
PDL 1 is traditionally done either on two weekends or on five or six consecutive days. Aside from the core activities of doubling and mirroring, there are numerous warm-up and interlude activities tailored to the core.  Poems are also orally introduced, with the learners repeating the words and the accompanying movements of the teacher.
PDL 1 can be repeated as often as the learner needs before moving on to PDL 2.  Two or three times may be enough for some, especially if another language in the same family of languages has already been mastered.  As PDL is most strongly represented in the teaching of Romance languages, we have seen this in the teaching of Italian, French and Spanish.  However, experience has shown that those with no previous experience with a Romance language may need to repeat PDL 1 up to six or seven times.  I would assume the same of Slavic languages.  My own experience in teaching English as a foreign language in Germany is more atypical, as it is rare to encounter adult learners of English who are absolute beginners.  I can usually send any PDL 1 students straight on to a PDL 2 level class after only one week of PDL 1.  PDL is designed for classes of mixed abilities, so it can prove beneficial to have “true” beginners together with “false” beginners.
So, enough for now.  If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
For a bit about the ideas behind PDL, I refer to Bernard Dufeu’s “Hypotheses” as translated at the following link :
By the way, there is only one PDL teacher of Russian that I know of, Natascha Margulis in Fribourg, Switzerland, .  Her students are, I believe, mostly intermediate and advanced.  If you ever film and post on youtube The Chairs or some other PDL role play in Russian, she would be more qualified to comment than I.

Just to answer your two questions posed in your email of 28 December(!):
For corrections on student papers, I usually don’t write on the papers themselves if I can avoid it.  If it is hand-written, I type into the computer, making corrections as I go along, but rarely highlighting them.  When I hand back both the original and the corrected copies, I give them the task of finding the corrections and having them ask me why the corrections were made if they are not clear.  As some mistakes are usually common to many in a particular class, I often do discuss those common problems right away.
If the students have used a computer, I correct using a highlight-the-changes-in-color function in Word and again request students to ask why I changed things.   What I hand back is a copy of their original text on one side of the page and the corrected version on the other.
I do admit to having small classes, so I don’t know how practical this is for larger classes.
Also, please feel free to quote any and all answers I have given you.

PDL, part 2

It turns out that I wrote most of what I would put here in a comment on day 1, so I’m going to just link to that comment from this post as soon as I can get back in to edit. 

Here’s another link to some more information on PDL. I woke up today all excited about going to school, forgetting that we don’t have the advanced class today. Darn! Still, when I got here, my beginners were eager to contribute an idea about who I’d be “talking to” in the imaginary circle part of the warmup, PDL level 1 style. I’m not sure I explained that. The group stands in a circle, and the teacher talks to a being of some sort in the middle of the circle. Kids whispered suggestions to me, and I chose a dog to talk to. The kids have to mimic words and gestures. Then they get to ask about anything they’d heard that they wanted to understand. I got two meaning questions and two grammar questions out of that group. Weird what they wanted to ask about…they say that as long as they get to ask, it’s okay that they don’t understand everything. They like trying to figure out whom I am talking with! I’m not sure that the gestures make sense, especially since I’m not a native speaker, but it helps for me to see in my peripheral vision who’s with me.


ACTFL Conference part 1: class outcome

I went to the ACTFL Conference in Orlando, Florida, this weekend. Needless to say (I hope), I’m a bit wiped out, even though I attended only four sessions. (The rest of the time I was having a blast teaching Russian.)

I can’t remember the exact title of the session I’d like to talk about, but I think it was something like “Student-Led Language Classes.” We got examples of lessons from two levels of courses taught in the PDL method. They were strange enough that many people actually walked out of the session. Still, I was fascinated, especially by the sample exercise for a level 2 class. I was pretty sure that I had not retained anything out of the level 1 class.

When I woke up this morning spouting some German phrases that I understood, I had to share the experience with my kids. I told them the setup would be unusual. We did the warm-ups I’d seen from the level 1 class, and then set up for a role play. I put out three chairs as our presenter had done, and the students suggested situations. Their voting led to our using “couple therapy.” Our St. Petersburg couple (the only couple) sat down next to each other and another student offered to be the counselor.

The presenter had told us that first he would ask general questions of the players in the drama: how old they were, where they lived, and so on. I asked the “counselor” how long she had been working in the clinic, and where the clinic was. She explained she’d been working there two years, and that the clinic was in a small house in a park. Then I asked the other two students questions.

The rest of the class was divided into support groups for the students in the role play. They sat behind the person they were supporting. If I asked a question that the players couldn’t answer or couldn’t think of an answer to give, the support groups helped. These kids, raised on a diet of TPRS, were ready to play the game, and it developed at about the same rate as a story and pretty much in the same way, except that the individuals in the game had to keep thinking and listening so as to adapt their own answers. (At one point, two of the support members literally ran across the room to grab books in which they’d seen useful retorts. I might have to outlaw that practice to make them use words they have acquired.)

We ran out of time before the counselor could ask more than one question. She came up afterward and said that she didn’t know many questions that she could ask. We agreed that the questions she’d like to be able to ask are questions that friends also often ask one another, and that they would be helpful for real connections with Russians. I started to see how this method is student-driven.

I wrote up a report of the situation to date for the class to read tomorrow. I think that’s what the presenter said they do. He had also said something about keeping a list of the vocabulary for students.

The next phase, once we play out the questions just a little more, is to turn the three groups into strategy sessions. The students are to plan out more what they will say (and how to say it). I am supposed to wander around the groups and help them as needed. Then I will write the whole thing up again for them to read.

I wish there was more information on the website than the brief examples that they give. As a program, PDL level 2 seems to be heavily based on output, but my advanced class had a lot of fun with my understanding of it today. I did do a lot of supporting during my questioning time, and I did some reporting back to the class as well as rephrasing. The time flew by, because all the kids were completely engaged in the developing story.

If anyone out there knows more about PDL, or has sites that explain it (for free!), I’d love to have the information.