Monthly Archives: July 2008

Extending PQA

I was doing some reading in PQA in a Wink and I think that I started to finally understand what Extended PQA means. It is basically when we take the information gathered from the PQA [Circling w/ balls, Questionnaires, or just talking to the kids in the target structures of the day] and we spin it into action. More simply, we use it to create action.

The action can take several forms. It can be a story, a scenario, a dialogue, etc. The students can be in their seats or not in their seats. It can just be a continued conversation. The point is that it is interesting CI. This involves the teacher taking a risk and being willing to enter the unknown.

It is like jumping off the diving board for the first time, you aren’t really sure what will happen and you are kind of scared. Once you do it more, though, it becomes less intimidating and you start to experience the thrill of flying several feet in the air and entering the refreshing medium of cool water.

When I realized that Extended PQA does not have to be a story every single time, that was huge. It allows for so much more creativity in the classroom. It also allows for each class to go in the direction that they wish instead of every class being the same. The great thing is that all of the classes are acquiring the same structures, but they are each experiencing it in ways that are spontaneous and living. Classes are created that could have never been planned or imagined by the teacher. Another great part is that the teacher is not spending hours creating materials and planning, yet the students acquire the language with greater success. What a great idea!


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Filed under PQA, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

Creativity in Schools

Someone told me about this video and Sir Ken Robinson has a lot of great things to say. One thing I love about about TPRS is that it brings creativity back into the cold, stale classroom. Students start to think of school outside the book in a real way. If we start to bring creativity into the classroom, I think we will see gains in L2 that could not have been predicted. We do this by relaxing, letting the students give their clever answers, and by creating an environment where they feel comfortable as well as appreciated.

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TPRS and Veggies

Do you ever get the feeling that TPRS is kind of like eating raw vegetables. What I mean is that there is a whole slew of people out there who consume raw vegetables as apart of their daily diet because, well, the body reacts to it better and a person can have an energy that they have never known. [I confess, I do it] But, you see, most of the American public does not eat raw vegetables. In fact, if you were to tell people that you had a steady diet of raw vegetables they would think that you are strange, but really for most people it is a better way to live. Especially when all they eat is corn syrup and hydrogenated soy products. In fact, I would say that most Americans do not know how to feed themselves, according to their bodily needs.

Where am I going with this? The TPRS teachers are the raw vegetable crazies. We have a better way to teach that actually leads to acquisition, but we are surrounded by the average consumer who does not really know what they are teaching. They are just buying what is being advertised to them and following what everyone else is doing, just like the food market. Will this ever change? I feel it welling up in me to take a stand for all of this and at the same time hoping that all my efforts will be fruitful this upcoming year in the classroom. It has been a crazy ride so far.

Did you see The Bucket List? Jack Nicholson has line, “90% of people in this world do not know the best way to do things.” I am starting to discover that there is some truth to that, especially in our field.

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Just try to enjoy yourself

I was watching a movie the other day and there was a scene where two guys were playing golf. The first guy was having a really hard time and was not placing the ball where he wanted. The second guy had no trouble and was putting the ball exactly where he wanted. The scene ended with the first guy shaking his head and saying, “Man, I gotta work on my game.” To which the second responded, “Don’t think of it as work, just try to enjoy yourself.”

This really spoke to me about teaching and how I worry about the lesson or the story or personalizing. I think about getting it right. Now, the truth is that there is some foundational work to be done, but if I think of it as work, or if I am trying too hard next fall, things will not go where I want them to.

Somehow I feel that if I don’t think of it as work and just try to enjoy myself, all the preparation that I have done will fall into place and the students will acquire the language.

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Filed under Classroom Management, PQA, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

False Beginners

When teaching a language like Spanish I am bound to run into the idea of false beginners. There will be so many different levels of Spanish with my students when they enter the classroom. A false beginner is a student who has prior knowledge of Spanish, but is in a class with true beginners, who are learning for the first time.

When a false beginner is calling out the answers feeling good about life, we really need to take notice of this. The reason is that all of the true beginners become demoralized and start to think that they are stupid when this is not the case at all. It is our responsibility to make sure that the true beginners do not get left in dust! We must make sure that everyone understands before we move on.

How do we do this? By going slow, teaching to the eyes, and paying close attention to the barometer students, the ones that are not getting as fast. If we do not do this it can have dramatic affects on a child and possibly turn them off to the language. We must keep this in mind at all times.

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Filed under Classroom Management, PQA, Reading, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, teaching grammar

What is your life work?

Today someone shared a poem with me that made me think about life on a deeper level. The poem is called ABC by Theo Weinbobst. It is a concrete poem where the author writes one word for each letter in the alphabet starting at A and going to Z. The poem is not just random words, but rather it tells the story of our life. It starts with the German word for infant [Anfang] and ends with Zentralfriedhof, which means central cemetery.

I had a moment where I starting thinking about my life and I realized that I was going to die one day. It may seem like a grim topic, but it is the truth. It is like this moment or date that is waiting for me and there is nothing that I can do about it.

As I was reading the poem I started to think about how many of us experience life in milestones. These could be graduations, marriage, breakup, loosing your job, promotions, etc. For some of us it really follows a similiar pattern. We go to school, get married, have kids, they grow up, we retire, get a summer home, get older, our friends start to pass, our body starts to go, then we are in a waiting period, and then finally our time comes and we go. This life, the only thing that we know ceases and we find out the truth of the after life.

Usually people do not write about things like these on educational blogs, but I started to think about what I could do with my short life. We all have a time here to do something before we go, what will it be? What will our life work be? How will we accomplish it?

They say that teaching is a very noble profession because we are investing in the lives of others. I think if I had to pick a way to spend my life work, I would agree with this statement. What a great way to spend your life work, helping others and supporting them. We should never underestimate the influence that we can have in our students lives. It should be something that we think about often because the rest of the world is not. The world wants to chew them up, but we can inspire. I know that it all sounds idealistic, but it is true, we really can inspire and make a difference in thousands of lives.

We should keep this in mind when we get down throughout the year and start to doubt our purpose.


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Tools in the toolbox

I feel like so many teachers out there are trying to gather as many tools as they can. They don’t want to use just one tool because then the kids get bored and learning becomes lethargic. My question is how much of their time is spent on the language versus distracting the kids to get their attention on the language? Will all of their tools lead to fluency?

I understand that there is more than one way to learn things and I am sure that we all learned our first language in different ways. But I am pretty sure that none of us learned our first language with the tools in the toolbox that many world language teachers have today. Yes, they are fun for the kids, but do they lead to fluency? What message does it send to the kids? I feel that it turns the language class into a memorization game rather than experiencing the language.

It is true that storytelling can be considered yet again another one of these tools in the toolbox and I know many teachers that see it as such. But perhaps we are not getting to the core of storytelling. If storytelling is done correctly I don’t believe that students will get tired of it. The reason is that when storytelling is done well it is alive and dances with the students.

The teachers who view storytelling as another tool are placing too much emphasis on the story events themselves. What I mean is that they are trying so hard to follow the little script that is front of them. When we tell stories we are not reading them a story. That is what FVR and Kindergarten Day is for. We are creating a story with them. In order for this to work there must be guidelines. They think that it is my story, but that is so that it doesn’t get out of hand. They play the storytelling game by offering up their cute answers to create the story. BUT as we look at the script we must keep the structure below in mind. It needs to be implanted and visualized in our minds as we tell the story.

1. Each sentence is a brick, a foundation to the story. This is the actual sentence we see on the page.

2. We look at our students and change what we see on the page to fit the classroom. This is personalization and can happen through us making it up based on our knowledge of the class or the cute answers we hear from our students.

3. We take this new personalized sentence, which is a foundation to the story, and we circle. This helps to lay the foundation. You can’t just put a brick in place and expect it to stay there. You need mortar to keep it together. The circling questions are where it becomes solid and where the sentence becomes Comprehensible Input.

4. We must remember to do this slowly because they are kids and we need to make sure that they are getting it. If we build too fast we get a poor structure that will fall down. If we take care in building the structure then it will stand firm and permanent.

These are the secrets to good storytelling that move it from a one-day activity to a way of life. If storytelling is done this way then teachers can stop the construction of shanties, throw away their plastic toolbox and begin to build, with power and confidence, a structure that is immovable.

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Filed under Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries