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Some End Of Year Thoughts

by Ben Slavic on May 1, 2009
This is the time of year when many of us start to draw conclusions about things we have experienced in our classro0ms this year. Here are just a few of mine as I begin to wrap up another year of teaching:
1. There is a lot of talk about Dufour and Fullan and best practices in my building. But no action. Literally none.
2. Accordingly, the school culture hasn’t changed. The conflicts all get shoved under the rug, and there is not a shred of lively diaologue or pedagogical confrontation. The kids feel that as a kind of oppression.
3. That sucks, because our students are exhibiting a strong pushback right now, as they do this time of year every year. I have always thought that strong student pushback was a chance to learn more what they need in our classrooms - it is their way of trying to push for change. But we largely ignore their attempts to get our attention.
4. That is because we are too busy upholding the status quo so that we can keep the waters smooth because we are all so afraid of putting our jobs in jeapardy or pissing someone off. How sad for the kids.
Here are a few TPRS conclusions, connected to recent blog comments here:
1. Susie has addressed the difficulty of stories for shallow end swimmers. But what about we who do know the language and are still afraid of stories? Is reading first an option for us?
2. For now, as stated in another blog, I am going to just respect my students’ wishes to hear the stories first. It was an overwhelming vote.
3. Wherever in the week we place reading, I have learned two very major things about reading in the past few months:
First, that readings must, absolutely must, be personalized by the teacher. It means more work for us, but, whenever I do that work or writing a personalized reading text instead of picking up a novel, my classes are ten times better. The teachers that I know, the experts at personalization like Lambert and Michele Whaley and them all, are clearly sending me the message, mainly in recent private emails, that when you personalize readings, it is like finding a vein of gold inside a mountain. (I think the mad lib readings is possible, but improbable for real success. I will wait until somebody comes out with some mad lib reading materials for sale and try them, but I feel that to really hit the ball hard in reading classes I have to suck it up and write the personalized readings. The rewards far outweigh the hassle.)
The second major learning about reading I learned from editing a videotaped class when Bonnie and Eugene from Boulder sat in about three weeks ago. I went to edit that 50 minute class and ended up with less than 18 minutes of actual reading as per the way Susie says to do it ( Yes, that’s right. I identified over a half hour of useless digressions into grammar, into erudition that had primarily one purpose, were I to be honest, and that was to make me look smart. The stuff I edited out did not reach the kids. It didn’t. This is an area I think that most foreign language teachers just don’t look at - am I actually reaching the kids or not? I sure wasn’t reaching them in that class, except for 18 minutes, and now, when I do a reading class, which better be more than 50% of time next year, I better cut out the fat.
Off to work. Free writes, basketball, and music. But those are just some thoughts to help tie the year off. I would love to hear other conclusions from y’all, what you are coming up with as well as we all end another year together, in the strange internet way. Hey, I’ll take it. Inga, Jeff, Bernie, thanks for keeping things plugged in. You rock.
Tagged as: TPRS Reading
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Correction | Ben Slavic's TPRS Training Blog05.11.09 at 2:34 AM
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Inga Zuniga 05.01.09 at 7:51 AM
My conclusions:
*Bios are a powerful source of P for me. Stories always emerge naturally from them. It’s what works for me.
*There is definitely a place for oral stories. I tend to the true stories we hear in the media about how my husband was talking to his brother in Mexico City about the flu outbreak on Monday and their conversation was cut short due to an earthquake. This is the stuff that GRIPS the kids. True stories like pouring oj into my coffee one especially sleepy Monday morning.
*The oral stories that work for me and my classes are the unplanned, unscripted ones without three planned structures. A kid walks in on crutches. I know it’s the perfect opportunity to teach “tuvo un accidente” (had an accident). Bam. There’s our story. It can be reenacted. We can make up a better story for the kid so that he has a more exciting story to tell. Kids love this stuff.
*But one thing I won’t do is get stressed out about doing an oral story before its corresponding reading. It doesn’t work for me. If the day lends itself to an oral story I do it.
*I suppose we all ultimately go with what has brought us into what you’ve referred to, Ben, as the “pure land” of CI.
Ruminations about next year:
*I plan to create a series of questionnaires about typical beginner to intermediate topics. I plan to have my kids fill one out per day during the first few weeks of class (in English).
*My bios will focus on one major topic at a time, but there will be a lot of overlap. For example, if the focus is “friends”, tech jargon will almost certainly come into play. Texting, email, instant messaging, etc.
*I will not be doing the stories I had to do this year to fulfill district obligations. There wasn’t nearly enough P and far too much vocabulary. Looks like our district will be revising curriculum once again. The focus will be on themes rather than the text being the driving force. I will still have to find ways to infuse much of the vocabulary, but not so rigidly. At least not the way it looks right now.
*I plan to go back to doing FVR for the first 5 minutes of class (if I am back to having one or two classrooms). I can see the benefit of doing this. The kids really enjoy it for the most part.
*I will be reading at least one novel with the kids if not two.
*Still plan to alternate between dictations one week and timed writings the next.
*Still plan to do an unannounced weekly quiz. I plan to experiment more with quiz formats such as giving kids a reading and asking them to draw what they read.
*Still plan to do class levels. This works really well. Level A: Beginner, Level B: Intermediate, Level C: Advanced. For homework: Beginners focus on input through reading only. Individual readings more simplified. Intermediates: More advanced reading material. Start with a little output: answering questions and writing endings to stories they read,etc. Advanced: Yet more advanced reading. More and greater quality output expected. For quizzes: Beginners get a freebie or two on quizzes. Intermediates: Either get one freebie, or can give ballpark answers on translation quizzes. Advanced: Exact answers on quizzes. All answers must be correct to receive 100.
*May rethink my take on “pay me” system. This year English without permission was not supposed to be tolerated. It was supposed to be an automatic pay me. I think I may do this in levels as well. Beginners may revert to English without permission. Intermediates may get one freebie per class. Advanced would have to ask permission. I’m still mulling this one over though.
I’m also interested in hearing what others have to say! Thanks for getting this thread going, Ben!
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Jeff Klamka 05.01.09 at 10:44 AM
Inga, could you please describe how you do FVR for the first five minutes of class (I’m interested in logistics, like… Is there a related discussion or some writing assignment to hold the kids accountable?…What are they reading and where do you get it?…Are they responsible for taking a book immediately when the enter class…etc)?
I’m trying your topic questionnaire for the first time today. I guess I’ll be busy typing some bios this weekend, and I’m really interested to see what happens.
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Inga Zuniga 05.01.09 at 11:23 AM
Hi Jeff!
I got a grant for an FVR library (you should look into it). Bought a whole bunch of books through Scholastic. Some are great while most are so-so. Yes, I train the kids to come in and grab a book. Simple as that! No writing assignments. No accountability. We may occasionally discuss whether they like a particular book or talk about some new words they learned, but not much more.
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Ben Slavic 05.01.09 at 3:50 PM
Re: bios, I know that what you describe up there, Inga, is exactly what Anne Lambert is all about. The Biddley thing. Her personalization of all readings. She bases her classes on a desire, a joy, to just know more about her students.
Anne sent me a story script the other day. She said that that particular script created such laughter in her when her class brought it to life that she saw no reason but do anything else than laugh in her class. A teacher who laughs out of joy at how cool kids are is a teacher whose kids will learn the language as a byproduct of just being in the personalized sharing going on in the classroom. Clearly, Inga, you are all about that, too. Your priority is the kids, the kids, the kids, and I think it is just fantastic.
Thank you also, Inga, for writing this sentence: “*The oral stories that work for me and my classes are the unplanned, unscripted ones without three planned structures.” I have always felt that I was doing something wrong whenever I did that (I once spent a year in the Realm not even using the three steps). But, I knew in my heart that the freer I am to the spontaneous things that can arise in a TPRS class, the better.
That said, I am not advocating ignoring the mega-powerful three steps. I have no problem in doing a free Realm type of thing as you describe above on one day and a story on another. I can do both, and the two approaches to CI need not exclude each other in the same way that I can love the French culture and still be an American patriot at the same time.
I suppose that it is possible to move toward the Pure Land via stories, but the Realm and One Word Images work best for me in that regard. The one word stories really kick butt, because you have an image, just one word, and suddenly you and the class are making up this crazy image and it just keeps expanding like a supernova. Building these images with your kids only sounds hard to do - they are much easier than stories! Inga you also said: “I suppose we all ultimately go with what has brought us into what you’ve referred to, Ben, as the “pure land” of CI.” Note: I myself capitalize Pure Land because it is a sacred word in Vietnamese - the word for heaven. For me that is the One Word Activities (
Your comments, Inga, like Bernie’s, require reading and rereading. Thank you.
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Michele 05.01.09 at 3:51 PM
I love this thread!
I’m still working on the class novel, but all of a sudden, AP and IB exams hit, and I have a feeling we aren’t going to get very much done for the next two weeks. But I did have an interesting experience. My first-year class wrote a chapter yesterday, but we were sitting outside today (and the LCD blew anyway), so we couldn’t read. Instead, I “asked” the new chapter. I did a lot of following their leads, and since we were outside, they were either drawing or acting what we said. Once we got to a good stopping point on something that had not really happened, I would tell them that wasn’t the way it was, and go back and review what really happened. That meant we were “out there,” following a line of interest to that class for at least a while, and then we’d go back to the story line from the “novel.” In a sense, it means we could cover the same area in two different stories, while prepping to read. It took a long time, but we were having fun sitting in the sun, and today for the very first time, every single kid in the afternoon mixed class got an A on the quiz. (I admit…it was an eyes-closed, hands up if true, hands-down if not quiz, because we didn’t have time to run in and get the writing supplies, but still!)
I was going super-slowly. But our chapters are pretty short, too.
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chill 05.02.09 at 7:18 PM
Where did I read this and who said it? “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it.”
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Ben Slavic 05.02.09 at 9:41 PM
That was on a blog about a week ago. It is a Chinese proverb. I think I was responding to something Terry said.
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Rita 05.03.09 at 9:16 AM
Here’s something I’ll definitely do again next year: use student-composed dictations. I started mid-year with my Spanish 2’s and now level 1 (didn’t do timed writings earlier in year). I choose one of the timed writings, select about 4 sentences, clean up any grammar or spelling errors, sometimes change or add a couple words and use that for the next week’s dictation. I read the entire piece and have the students applaud for the classmate whose writing was chosen before we start the dictation. I’ve also had them write a title and author at the top of the page. Kids are very proud to have their piece chosen. I use the same dictation for both of my same level classes. It makes it easier for grading and I’m in a small private school so everyone knows each other even if not in the same section.
Added benefits: that they get a second practice of whatever structure or vocab I gave as a starting place for the original timed writing, see what I want in timed writings, realize they are able to write in Spanish and it saves me thinking up a dictation!
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Dirk 05.04.09 at 1:26 PM
Here at the end of the year all I am left with are these ideas:
1. I started researching TPRS and exchanging emails with Ben in February of 2008 after attending someone else’s “buy my books” materials-based TRPS workshop. I have gone from intrigued to obsessed. I have three file cabinets full of materials I made and used in the old days and I have not pulled one single activity out since March of 2008. Then I was lucky enough to attend 2 days of a Susan Gross class last Summer. I read and re-read Ben and Blaine and Susie.
2. This marks the end of my first complete year of using CI + P (after 7 years teaching Spanish with monkey puppets and forced student presentations), reading, stories, vocab lists, etc. I am never going to do anything else as long as I teach Spanish or any other language. I am not sure yet what I think about the order of reading versus listening but it doesn’t matter. I know that students respond and engage when they know the meaning of words in L2 and when the stories are about them. CI + P and some kind of reading is all that one needs to add to their open mind for this to work. It looks like some form of the “Mad Libs” fill in the blanks reading template is emerging from the various minds who are into it - I am eager to see where that goes.
A big thank you to Ben and Susie and Blaine and Lambert and all the people who keep swirling all this stuff around and asking questions and pushing it to make it better. It has saved my career.
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Ben Slavic 05.04.09 at 5:59 PM
Dirk I got this from a contributor to this blog discussion yesterday and I just think that it rocks and captures the powerful spirit of your words there -
We are all pioneers. I saw a documentary last night about the group of wild teenagers out in Venice, CA who turned skateboarding into a national fad and a serious sport. (Yeah, this is what I’m doing these days when I’m supposed to be thinking about teaching.) None of them knew what they were doing, they would just try shit, watch each other, add to what the other guy was doing, try something new, cheer each other on. That’s what we’re doing here.
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Jim Tripp 05.04.09 at 8:40 PM
For me, finishing up my 3rd year teaching and my first with TPRS, I plan on really getting my stuff in order for next year. I want to get my year organized ahead of time, like giving students a calendar with important dates (vocab tests, free writes, novel week, etc.). I think this will give me and the students some wanted structure. As far as the class:
1. I may do novels as units that we rip through in a couple weeks, rather than over several weeks, a chapter a day or 1/2 chapter a day, so that we don’t lose the momentum of the story. Susie mentioned, I think, in her recent reading article that she used to read a novel this way.
2. I may stick to the more personalized readings, maybe try some of Inga’s bio ideas, for my regular readings on T/Th. This one is still up in the air for me.
3. For me, starting off the week just in PQA mode with the class is good, occasionally throwing in some first person (class, guess what happened to me this weekend!!) story as Inga was describing. I enjoy doing that, it’s easy to talk about oneself, and I think the students enjoy hearing a little about their teacher’s lives. Right now I’m thinking I will continue doing scripted stories no more than once a week.
4. I want to experiment with and download more songs, and this summer I’m going to get my ass in gear (maybe) and pick out a cadre of killer songs that will mimic the season/holiday/level/event/etc. that arises throughout the year. I don’t know if I can pull off a Bernie and spin stories out of them yet. That sounds like a workshop to me Bernie. (OT: Bernie, I think you were in Diane Noonan’s French class at NTPRS last summer with me. I was the Expert de danze le poule (sp?). If so, cheers! If not, cheers!)
5. Dictados/Free Writes - Shorter and less often. I’m thinking a free write every 3-4 weeks after semester 1, and shortening it down from 10 minutes to 8 minutes. Same with Dictados, maybe every 2 weeks though.
6. I need an FVR library bad! Any ideas on grants, or was that just a local grant Inga?
Also, I might subscribe for a class set to one of those Spanish monthly pop mags like Que Tal or something. Any recommendations Spanish teachers?
7. I’m going to incorporate output projects (1 per semester or year) post Semester 1. I really want students to produce some CI for me, beings I don’t have a very stocked FVR library yet. I went to a digital storytelling workshop this winter, and you can do some pretty cool stuff. You can create comic strips, write and publish picture books, create animated movies, all pretty quickly and without much (if any) money. I would think that this would definitely be a hit, getting to read upperclass students’ (revised by me) work, and getting to have your creations read/watched as well. I didn’t do any projects this year with students, and I think students were yearning to create something tangible. Year’s not over yet though.
8. Sorry for the length. I’m glad you started this thread, as I may not have really written this down otherwise.
9. Definitely continue with Ben’s word list idea! I love the OWIs that can emerge from their use, and some students just suck all that vocab up like soda pop.
10. Lastly, I’m torn about the No English rule. In some classes, I really have to be a stickler, but in others the English (if a little comment arises out of the hilarity of the story) is not a problem and stops as soon as I make eye contact and start speaking again. I really want to talk more about this and see where other people stand on it.
Likewise, there was a thread on the MoreTPRS regarding student eye contact. I have always required eye contact from students, but I may have to re-evaluate that one. I don’t know though.
Hearing others’ thoughts on these topics is really helpful. Thanks!
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Dirk 05.05.09 at 9:53 AM
Jim: I like parts of what you say here and am also planning on doing some of these same things like reading novels in dedicated bursts of time rather than stretching them out over entire trimesters. The Monday PQA is always a good way to start the week as it lets them know each time that the class is about them and their lives (also ours) - you can make it as focused (around a single verb) or as open (around a rating or grade for the weekend and why) as you wish depending upon the moment. I also like the idea of students producing some kind of mini-library (there is a cool way out there to make little 8-10 page books from a single sheet of paper) at the end of the year for others to use down the road. Keep us posted on how things go next year. This site and all the contributors are the most valuable resource we have.
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Michele 05.05.09 at 4:26 PM
One time earlier this year, when I was still sort of organized, I threw all of our stories to date into one little booklet. I used the Word catalogue template to create an 8″ x 5.5″ folded booklet (but now there’s a PDF add-on that is much easier out there–ask your tech folks). I left space on every page for a picture, made several copies of the booklet, gave them to the artists in the room, and they illustrated the booklets. Kids love to read them. The only thing I did wrong was to make them eight-ten pages long. I should have made them four pages long (title page and three pages of stories). They’d be easy to laminate and just a little too long for five minutes of FVR.
I used the Word booklet function to put our entire novel to date into a booklet (it’s 20 pages). I had several copies sitting around for senior finals, and they’ve been disappearing into the hands of kids who want to read them to their families at home.