Monthly Archives: April 2009

Trying to forget output

Some days the output just pours out of their mouths and other days the output is choppy or totally incorrect. It is hard for a teacher to move on from this. The bottom line is that it lets me know which structures need more repetition.

I teach lower levels and this means that they are still developmentally going through a lot of changes. I want so badly to sit them down and have a grammar lecture, but I know that this is mostly fruitless. The students just need more meaningful repetition of the structures and they also need to read more.

Above all, I can’t worry about it. Since I teach a lot of lower levels, I need to realize that I may not see the fruits of my labor. It may come after they have me and I am okay with that. I also need to remember that I am developing, too. I am learning better ways to deliver the CI. Hopefully, it will get better as new generations emerge.


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Catch their attention immediately

This week I learned that you have to catch their attention immediately. You can’t waste time with elephants or monkeys. They don’t care and they especially don’t care about what we like. These are the basics of human behavior. They only care about the stuff they like. Elephants and monkeys are effective in bizarre scenarios, but if they are the main characters you will lose the students — unless the monkey or elephant is named after someone they care about.

Anyway, the point is that we only have a small window to catch our students and if we do not, we lose them for the rest of the period. We can’t waste any time in the beginning of the story and must personalize.

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Bridging from TPR to stories

After taking a look at the Fluency Fast courses in the fall, I decided that this semester would start out with a TPR phase. Some say that it lacks personalization and I would agree that it can. However, there are strategies to make it personal and once you do, it is incredibly engaging for the students. They acquire a large quantity of language, but it lacks grammatical structures and holistic language development.

Well, I started out doing it in 3rd quarter with great results. In fact, the results were so great that I almost didn’t know what to do next. I considered just doing TPR for a while. But I decided against it because I knew that students would acquire more from the stories, if I could do it right. I mean, Blaine doesn’t really do TPR that much any more and the reason is that he knows that he can teach more language with stories rather than TPR. I am not at that level yet and I still have a lot of skills to learn.

I had success with TPR, but once I bridged into stories it has been fair. I think that I have lost some classes because I have not effectively personalized enough. I started doing this more and it has improved the stories drammatically. I keep thinking about why the TPR went so well. Why was it so engageing, but the stories are lacking? There are several answers to this. Some of them are: the stories were too long, not enough personalization, poor use of student actors, and telling the story rather than asking it.

I have a new chance with the 4th quarter group and I am interested to see where they go with it. So far, the bridge into stories has been great! I am hoping that I can keep it going. It seems to get stronger each time that I do it.


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Don’t worry about it

I was watching a video of Joe Neilson from the NTPRS 2004 conference. He was doing a section on dramatizing a reading. There was so much energy and so many good ideas. Of course I wrote them down and considered them, but I got something else out of it too.

I realized that Joe has been doing this since the mid 90s. That means that at the time of the video he had been doing TPRS for almost 10 years! Of course he knows what he is doing and has several ideas. He has sweated it out for almost 10 years. At that moment I began to relax.

I know I keep coming back to this, but I just need to relax. I have to remember this on a day when I feel like my students aren’t acquiring as well because I am not that great. This whole teaching thing, not just TPRS, is a process. It takes time and I can’t have unrealistic expectations for myself. I just need to relax and enjoy the process, as difficult as it may be. I have to realize that the experience will come and I have already made great strides this year. Life is to short to worry about all this. I need to enjoy it as it comes and be grateful that I am still here to do it.


Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Teaching Discoveries

What keeps us going?

I read this blog about a year ago and I understand more of what it says now. Talks about the process of learning TPRS. I have seen this process in different teachers, as well as myself. Blaine has a PP with the different stages of TPRS.

Anway, I thought I would add this to my notes on tprs thoughts.

This comes from Michael Wood’s blog, My TPRS Journey

Ben Slavic posted yesterday on his blog about the need for intuition in teaching with TPRS

One part of his posting that he simultaneously posted to the TPRS Listserv sparked a response by Meg Villanueva (post# 91152) about the need for mentor groups to spring up. Ben said:

We in TPRS are largely not even competent. Teachers who first see the beauty of the method soon wander away from it. . . . Many teachers stop using it, not because of any insights they have that it is a “bad method”, but rather because they are incompetent at it. They can’t do it.

Ben’s posting made me think, but Meg’s response made me want to join the dialog.

Meg said in part:

The other thing, I think, that makes teachers fall away, is the first, second and third year of teaching TPRS. The first rush of understanding the method is wonderful. You come away from a workshop fired up and excited, and you can’t wait to start. Some teachers never make it through that first rush, because they try it and it doesn’t work immediately, and so they figure it’s not for them. They figure that they don’t have whatever it is that they feel it takes to do well. Simply put, they want immediate success and aren’t willing to work.

Others get through the first year on the cloud of happiness at seeing the effects of the method. Then, in the second or third year, reality sets in. The students might feel bored because the teacher’s technique isn’t polished yet. The drag of doing others’ stories or the effort in making their own stories wears them down. They haven’t yet figured out that the students love to make the stories. Their circling technique isn’t good enough yet, and they feel bored themselves. After a while, they begin to think about that textbook. It would be sooo much easier just to assign work.

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I feel growth

This week I started my new 7th graders on storytelling. We did about three weeks of straight TPR and it went really well. When I told the students that we were going to do stories now there were actually grumbles because they liked it so much. I will say, though, that TPR is most effective when it is personalized, otherwise it is just actions. The students need to be apart of it and be seen doing it. They need to be seen buying into what the class is doing. It creates this amazing positive environment.

I started out with a story that I got from the Fluency Fast series. It is a good introductory story that I did last quarter. Well, I have been able to see the fruits of my labor. I have been more loose with the stories and it has been way more believable. Then, today I had a breakthrough!

We were going in the story and the girl needed elephants  because Matthew McConaughey likes elephants and of course the girl likes elephants, too. Well she was looking for the elephants and she found a gorilla. At this point she was very excited and I picked up on the fact that she likes gorillas in real life. So, I asked her [in Spanish of course] which one she liked better gorillas or elephants and she said gorillas. I was not expecting this, but hey, this is what it is all about. So, I went home that day thinking of where I could take the story for tomorrows class to finish it.

I had a plan to make everything work out. Do you think it happened. Of course not. The kids had something better. We were going through the story today and I hit another glitch. In the town that she was in, Bliss [A total Blainism], there were three people: [as planned] the girl, Matthew M., and then someone said, Ryan. I don’t even remember Ryan’s last name, but all I know is that she liked him. So I went through the same process that I did with the gorillas. I came to find out that she actually liked Ryan more than Matthew M. Crazy, isn’t it? So, the wheels started turning in my head.

Basically, I took the story off the tracks and it forged new tracks. It was so liberating for me and the students. I kept it about them and took their ideas. I was finally at a point in storytelling where I could go offroading with the acquisition train and keep it going. I feel growth and I hope that it continues.

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Up until now I have been having inconsistent results with actors. Sometimes it goes great and it is hilarious and other times the actor is messing around or feels completely awkward.

I knew I was going wrong somewhere, but I didn’t know why or what to do about it. I was coresponding with another TPRS teacher and asked the question, “How do you make your students feel important without embarassing them.” The teacher responded by saying,

Dramatizing a story hopefully helps kids feel important. Some keys:

  1. The kid has to want to be there.
  2. I asked for volunteers the first day of class.  (Usually about half of the class volunteered to act in stories.)  I marked them down.
  3. I only choose from that list and I usually only had the best actors act.

The TPRS idea of positive exaggeration is crucial. Adding details about a student’s life to the story also helps students feel important. It is a complex thing and is something we are always working on.

This really magnified what I was doing wrong. Some of the students I thought wanted to act, didn’t want to and vica versa. Because of this some of the acting totally backfired and as a result students saw that it wasn’t fun to act.

Well, I tried something different for the fourth quarter and it was an experiement because I get a new batch of 4th quarter 7th and 8th graders. This time I told the students to write on their questionnaire whether they want to act or not. I have only picked from that list and the environment in my class has improved drammatically.

I am hoping that this will help to turn things around in my other classes where the acting has been weak. Hopefully the students will see the enthusiasm and want to join in. Whatever the case, I am sure that I will write about the results.

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