Monthly Archives: September 2009

Students Taking the First Step

Lately, I have been noticing that some of my quieter students have been putting themselves out there and making suggestions. When I see this, I almost always choose the answer and I do this with a lot of enthusiasm.The reason I get so excited is because they are expressing trust in what we are doing and I want to let them know that it’s okay to trust our class. I want to make sure that our class is a place where students can offer up details without feeling ridiculed. I am always ready to go to bat for a student that has enough courage to suggest a detail. I feel it is my job to do so. If I don’t, who will?

When these students take a step and trust our class, it really makes the class a lot closer. I have observed that I am not the only one who notices this step. The students notice, too, and accept them into the club of creative people facing the same direction.


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Filed under PQA, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

We Have Such an Opportunity

I have a student named “Larry.”  One great thing about Larry is that he is my best actor and never fails to have enthusiasm when performing for others. However, Larry is a different kind of student and not every teacher understands him. The truth about Larry is that he can be directed to do amazing things if you go about it the right way, but if you go about it the wrong way you may have a lot of problems. Larry is not a bad kid, a bully, or unintelligent. He is actually quite smart and creative, but different than most kids.

The other day, Larry walked into our class pretty upset. He had just come from the principal’s office because the teacher of the previous class doesn’t really understand Larry. Since it is gym class, Larry has to run a lot of laps because of his behavior. Now, I am not defending Larry’s behavior in gym. It’s true that he kind of runs his mouth a little too much. What I am addressing is how Larry is dealt with so that he can be as successful as possible.

As Larry entered the room it was clear that he was upset. He had been sent to the prinicipal’s office again and this time I think that Mr. Baker really laid into him. I knew Larry’s situation and I saw it as an opportunity to take Larry to a new level.

That day we were telling a story about a girl that couldn’t talk. She went to Anchorage, AK to Santa’s elves in order to get the secret medicine. As the girl travelled to different elves, none of them had the secret medicine and they kept telling her that different elves had it. It was during the storytelling process that I saw a window for Larry. The students kept suggesting names for the different elves. All quarter long, Larry had tried to suggest Peter Potter for every character, but I refused it. I was waiting for the perfect time for Peter Potter to enter one of our stories. As we were getting the names of the elves, I knew that Larry would suggest Peter Potter and I knew that this was the perfect day.

Well, the girl in the story finally went to the last elf. What was his name? Peter Potter, the most intelligent, wise, rich, and good looking elf of all. You should have seen Larry glow with pride that his answer was chosen and that he would get to act as Peter Potter. It was quite the performance!

It was at that moment that I realized what an opportunity we have. We  can change a person’s day in an instant with our stories. It is hard to deny that children of all ages have memories from their school days. Children will remember the good and the bad. Of course, they may not remember certain teachers at all. I am not sure which is worse, the bad or not being remembered at all. If we can sieze the moments of students like Larry, we don’t need to worry about making bad memories or being forgotten. We will be a part of countless good memories with our students. I can’t think of a better way to spend a career.


Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

Questionnaires and Backward Planning

Starting last week I took a new direction with Backward Planning. I decided to pair them with the questionnaires that the students filled out at the beginning of the year. The results have been wonderful. Of course they will pay more attention when the class is completely about them. I already knew this, but some how missed the connection when I was first thinking about it.

At first we were making the stories about  stories about fictional characters. For example, There is a boy. His name is ____ and the students would make up some name. The students had a fun time coming up with names and I would get some of the most ridiculously funny names like Hillbilly Joe Bob IV. This is really funny, but in my opinion misplaced. My students helped me to realize that it is better if our students are the star of the show and more funny if they meet characters named Hillbilly Joe Bob IV.

The questionnaires that Anne Lambert developed are tremendous for PQA. The nice thing is that they open the window to so many story/ PQA possibilities.  Here are some things that Anne does:

Anne spends the first several weeks laying a foundation of CI to prepare them for the stories that they will tell and read later. Later, the foundation that was laid will help her students to know most of the words in the stories that they will tell and provide a way for her to introduce new vocabulary without overwhelming the students.

After the foundation is laid, she initiates the next phase where she begins her backward planning. She first chooses a text that she wants to read in her class. Then, she bases her story scripts completely off of the fluency structures [ex. goes to, laughs, takes, etc.] in the reading that they will do during as well as later in the week. The result is that the students understand the reading with 90 – 95% comprehension and their confidence is increased.

What I have started to do is to pair my Backward Planning Template with the Questionnaires. I have basically been doing the same thing without the scripts and putting the backward planning into the questionnaires. This has allowed me to start reading earlier with the hope that we will read more in class and be exposed to more novels. Since the novels have a lot of repetition, the students will continually be exposed to the same words while slowly gaining new vocabulary. Also, this provides reading for the students and we know that reading will allow them acquire the vocabulary at a quicker pace than any other form of teaching.

Here has been the plan:

1. I look at my backward planning words for the day.

2. I look at my questionnaires to see if there is something that will spark a story.

  • A good story has a good problem.
  • Example: If a girl says on her questionnaire that she likes to talk, then a good problem would be that one day she wakes up and lost her voice.
  • Also I choose a student that has not been personalized very much
  • The student is maybe some one who has fallen through the cracks, but also has the potential to be positive.
  • These students will become the star of the story and will be mixed with the students who want to act, which will add an extra positive vibe to the story.

3. I choose a Questionnaire that looks like it has a good problem and put it on top of the stack of Questionnaires.

4. I go into class with my Backward Planning list, Questionnaire, and a good problem with a few details.

You may be thinking, “Why don’t you just write a script?” Well, if I write a script, it takes way more time. Also this frees me to ask questions as we create different stories in the classes, rather than being tied to a script. In each class, all of the stories have similar problems, but different outcomes and details.

If I have a script, I am not as free to go with a completely different story. For example, if the problem is that a student can’t talk in one class a girl looses her voice because she is sick, while in another class the girl can’t talk because her wisdom teeth were pulled out.  Both have the same fluency structures [ex. she can’t talk] with different outcomes.

Also, it is more believable because I am able to go with the current climate and situation of my students that day, which is something that can’t be planned. And we all know how our students can change from day to day. Who can predict how our students will feel? For example, I didn’t know that one of my students was going to have her wisdom teeth pulled, but I was able to identify that and make it the centerpiece of the story.

I was free because I went into the story with a few details and a good problem. The backward planning helps to keep me focused so that I can make the reading we do later 90 – 95% comprehensible and also give the students the repetition that they need. Without the backward planning template, I may go way off and it will be CI, but my students won’t understand the reading we do later. I don’t have time for that and it also decreases the confidence of the students when they read. Let’s be honest, students need all the motivation they can get with reading these days.

It has been working better so far and I am curious to see where it goes. I am glad that it continues to evolve and that it is getting better than worse.


Filed under PQA, Storytelling tips


Most people who know me would say that I have energy in class. Outside of class I am a pretty calm person and you wouldn’t know it other than seeing me in class. I guess I really turn it on because  I know that it makes the language learning more meaningful and fun. In the past I thought I had energy, but then I saw Jason Fritze and I realized that I was mediocre. Well, this year I have turned the energy dial to 11. [Reference to This is Spinal Tap] Some days the students aren’t ready for it, but most days it keeps the class going. Last week, I was a little ill and the energy was really lacking. Consequently, so were the stories.

Well, I got more rest this weekend and now the energy is borderline psycho and I may need to calm down. I actually broke my foam sword today when I was coaching a student to during Pobre Ana. I know for some teachers the intense energy is not their thing and that is okay. I think a lot of teachers really feel that they have to be a nut in order to do tprs. This is simply not true. We can have energy in different ways and we simply need to find our own style. I would say that the majority of tprs teachers are not energy fountains.  When I saw Jason teach I really identified with his style and ended up copying some things. Actually, a lot of things. It works for me as long as I don’t loose my voice…

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Filed under Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

A Surprising PAT

My two PAT choices for today were “mono loco” and “movie day.” It was a big step for me to do the “movie day” because last year I really minimized how often I played movies in my lower level classes. I never saw a huge benefit from movies because I teach lower level class and often the movie was like i + 50. I decided to throw it in as a choice today because I thought it would be good motivation for PAT, but the students really surprised me.

Of all my classes today only two of them chose “movie day.” The other 5 classes all chose “mono loco.” I was surprised by this because I thought that students would just want to relax, but they didn’t. They actually wanted the community time of interacting with others. This tell me a lot about my students. It lets me know that the power of community and mixed is what people desire and not always being entertained by pop culture. Perhaps it was just today, but my students really showed me a lot today.


Filed under PAT, Teaching Discoveries

When In Doubt Personalize

These last few days have gone so-s0. Today, I really decided to go after it with some of my classes. Last night, I took a look at Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and I was reminded again of how much people really like to talk about what they like. They don’t care about what I think is funny, they care about what they think is funny. Well, I decided to take my questionnaires to the battlefield with my backward planning sheets and it really worked. The combination of the two really helped to pull this week out of the ditch. But the whole reason why I did it was because of one kid I have in my afternoon class.

“J” is an interesting student. He is very capable and also very creative. Most of the time”J” uses his creativity to put down others. He does this because he is very self-conscious and has low self-esteem. He covers up for it by putting on an image that promotes being tough. He is an interesting case because he doesn’t like getting positive attention. He thrives on negative attention because that is the image he has created for school. At least, that is my analysis. I have found that it is important to try and see things from the student’s perspective rather than just label them as a problem. I need to ask myself, “What is behind this problem and why do they feel a need to act this way?” Perhaps if we view our students in this light we will be able to reach them rather than despise them.

Well, I decided to personalize “J” today and see what would happen. With courage I took a step closer to him and constantly told myself, “Don’t be upset if it blows up in your face. Don’t worry about it.” This is not an easy thing  for a teacher to do because it requires that we see our problem students as people. It wasn’t perfect, but I think that we took a step closer to creating a different image for him in class. I could see that inside he really liked that he was the one we talked about all class long. Even the quiz had his name all over it and there is something powerful about kindly saying someone’s name — it’s the sweetest sound to that person.

Today was such a good reminder that ultimately students want to talk about things they like.  But more than that, they want to be successful and important. It was also a reminder that if I am ever in doubt about a class that is starting to sink, personalizing will keep it afloat and bring a vitality to your class that is uncommon in education today. If we can fuse this together with CI, we have an unbeatable combination for acquiring language.

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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries

Don’t Forget the Good Ones

Today, I had a mixed day. Some classes went better than yesterday and then I ended it all with a class that didn’t want to do anything. I am sure you know how the feels. It just ends the day on a sour note and you feel like you are terrible.

This year our school is taking a moment a couple times a semester to say, “Thank You” to people we are grateful for. I wasn’t expecting to get any from students, but I did. It is nice that students are happy to be in  Spanish class and they really feel like they are learning something. It reminded me that I didn’t want to forget about the good ones.

Sometimes I have a tendency to only focus on that small 5% of my classes that is probably negative about everything and I forget that the majority of my classes are full of students who enjoy coming and feel like they are learning something. It’s a good thing to remember for the hard days.

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