Monthly Archives: January 2009

Free writes

I have been doing more experimenting with the free writes this semester. My first thought was to go paperless. I had the students set up a free blog on the web through tumblr.com. This has worked pretty well and the students like typing in Spanish.

Sometimes, though, the computers are checked out and I do it on paper. At this point I think I like doing it both ways. The computers are a little more fuss, but the students have been getting faster at getting them going. Plus, I do them on Fridays, which has a little more flexibility. At my school we have a shortened day on Friday so we can do our faculty meetings. We are doing the WFSG, which is similar to the PLC.

The students were a little nervous to write at first, but they did really well. It is interesting to see the differences in the classes. First hour is not as competant as 5th hour. I think this is partially because I realize what needs to improve throughout the day. It will be interesting to see where the students are after the semester.

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Creating a Story with the class

Today I decided to experiment with creating a story on a word document with the class. They really enjoyed seeing their details on the screen and it was a change in pace from just listening.

I also had them write out the story on a piece of paper. This was good for accountability and helped the students to focus. I think that this will help the students to come out of their shell a little when I ask for suggestions in the story. They sure can be funny.

One thing I have to remember though is that all I do is ask questions. It is important that I don’t dictate the story too much. This is a delicate balance to learn that either keeps the story afloat or sinks it.

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Actors are instant success

I discovered the power of actors today. We were going along telling the story and the students were on the acquisition train. Then all of a sudden I brought actors into the story. It is amazing what visualization can do for the kids. They had all acquired the target structures, but were lacking a total picture of the story.

In the story today the super duper popular boy, who was a differnt boy in each class, had two elephants. The class knew this, but when they saw two of their classmates on their hands and knees walking like elefants it added a new element to the story.

I find myself wondering when I should use actors. Is this something I use all of the time? Or is it something I pull out as an added visual to the story? I think some people have actors all the time, but I am not sure if that would get old. I guess I will just have to experiment and see what works.

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The importance of the retell

There are a couple of different opportunities for a retell. I used to think that it was something that only occurred during the story. This is incomplete.Another important place for retells is at the beginning of class; if you are continuing with a story from the day before.
The first two periods today, I was really sucking wind. My students were lost and I knew it. It is important to catch the signs of students who are slowly drifting away. Then the class becomes flat and nobody wants that.

Well, I realized that the students needed more of a retell in the beginning and not just circling questions about the story. This helped to slowly bring the story afloat and the students were more prepared to take on the voyage of the day.

I have to be careful how I bring students back to the story. It must be done in a safe way that slowly illuminates the path, rather than just turn on the flood lights. This gives the students the opportunity to respond positively, rather than retreat.

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Students need to think for themselves

There is a Love and Logic principle that I have been trying lately. It mostly comes up when students ask me a question about Spanish outside of class or during brief independent work. When they ask me a question about what something means, I usually respond with, “What do you think?” I don’t say this in a sarcastic tone, but a friendly tone that encourages them to really think about it again.

I would say that 8 out of 10 times the students know the answer already, they just need a little push to think on their own. This is such an important skill that leads to deeper processing of the language. It causes them to dig deep into what has been acquired and draw it out of the well. I wonder what kind of meaning is being established during this time? Maybe more than we know.

This should not be confused with giving translations for words during storytelling. This is the quickest and easiest way to define new words and is necessary for the sake of time. We challenge students to think for themselves in times of independent work, whether it is inside or outside of the classroom.

I find that when I give my students the answers all the time, they become handicapped. Enabling students to think for themselves is something that needs to be encouraged in our schools today. We are not there to give all the answers, but to encourage students to develop their own process of thinking. In terms of teaching a World Language, this is also important because we are teaching students to go through their index of words. It is a way of empowering them to be active agents in their own learning.

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To defend or not defend

There seems to be a lot of TPRS teachers who have to defend what they do. In some ways, every teacher is accountable for what they do and should be ready to give a well grounded answer at any time. What concerns me is that the teachers who are really teaching, or rather at least trying to teach, are the ones who have to defend themselves.

I find myself asking the question, “What about the naysayers?” If they are going to criticize TPRS, then they need to defend what they do as teachers, too. What are they doing that leads to fluency in the classroom? Some toolbox teachers even say that fluency is impossible in the classroom. Where is their research? Is it valid? Can the students communicate?

TPRS has been scrutinized so much and I have no idea why. Is it because people in education do not like to change? Is it because people are prideful and do not want to change what they have built their professional life on? I can admit that it would be hard to change. It would be hard to accept a new paradigm when one has spent the last 15-20 years in the old paradigm. Not to mention they probably learned the language in the old paradigm, which explains why they are still not fluent, speak like a gringo, and are nervous when they speak to natives.

All I have to do is look at guy like Ben Slavic. The man taught out of a book for 24 years. He didn’t teach at some rural school in the middle of nowhere. He taught at schools that pumped out AP students. Places that were at the pinacle of juvenile academia. He is a man who can fully appreciate the new paradigm because he will blatenly say that he wasted 24 years of his life. That was enough for me to realize that TPRS is worth it.

Not only that, but do you know how wonderful it is when you hear your students speak fluenty with an accent? It is music to a world language teacher’s ears. It is something that will eventually become the norm in public education, as long as we are progressing toward teaching language in a communicative way, rather than from an academic perspective.

When I look at all these factors, I find myself thinking that I do not have to defend what I do. I know that what I do is right and it directs students to acquire L2. If anyone really wants to know, than I would be happy to tell them about my experiences as well as some of the theory. But I am not going to be ashamed or feel weird for being a TPRS teacher. There is  no valid reason to feel this way.

Perhaps these teachers are not really attacking TPRS. They are dealing with an insecurity that stems from their inability to cope with their results as teachers. Maybe the battle in TPRS has nothing to do with TPRS at all. It is possible that the battle to be won in TPRS is  something that we cannot fight, but requires the inward deliverance of the old paradigm.

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A TPRS friendly environment in Holdrege

When I first accepted the job here at Holdrege, there were a lot of uncertainties. The biggest one was whether or not it would be a TPRS friendly environment. I knew that there were a lot of teachers out there battling on the front lines of TPRS and I was ready to be one of them. Not in a militant way; which is definitely not the way to work with school districts. My personality is more conversational and relaxed. Anyway, I was ready.

Well, the good news is that I never had to do anything. My district welcomed TPRS with open arms. When the Spanish teachers learned that I taught with TPRS, they were actually happy. I must admit that I was pretty surprised. The teachers told me that they felt that this was next step for the program and that I was going to help them get there.

Once I heard all of these things, I felt so blessed. There are probably not a whole lot of teachers that are welcomed as TPRS teachers. I didn’t need to present any research or try to sell them on it. They were ready with open minds. It doesn’t get any better than that in TPRS.

Next year, we will have a new Spanish teacher. Let me clarify. There are only two Spanish teachers: me and the other teacher. Fortunately, the new teacher for next just went to a Susan Gross workshop and is totally fired up for TPRS. This makes me excited for the future of this school. It also makes me excited for me, professionally, that I won’t have to defend what I do. I will actually get to collaborate with another teacher and form a unified program. Once I realized this, I felt really blessed!

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