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.

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15 Comments

Filed under PQA, Storytelling tips

15 responses to “Questionnaires and Backward Planning

  1. Jim Tripp

    Nice! I look forward to hearing how it goes.

    How are your reading days going? I would like to hear how you are keeping the interest after students read the 10-15 minutes?

    What happened to the site? I can only view it in what seems a much simpler format that usual. ???

    • thomasyoung

      Thanks! Reading is going good. The kids don’t beg for it, but it is the best it is ever been. I am okay with that for now. It keeps getting better and as the students understand more we have more time for parallel stories. We keep the interest for 15 min. It could go 20, but I don’t push it.

      Maybe they were doing construction on the site. Does it still look basic?

  2. Keep going! This is wonderful to read. Thanks so much for blogging!!

    with love,
    Laurie

    • thomasyoung

      Thanks! It means a lot that you say that and I am glad it is helpful. I have checked out your blog, too. I am glad that other teachers are starting to journal about their experiences. We can learn a lot from others experiences. Thanks again for the comment.

  3. Lee Ann Salkowitz

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for the tips on backwards planning. This year my storyasking has been horrendous. I can’t put my finger on it and I have tried to be free with my script and also have tried to work with a script that is more structured. Both have valiantly failed. I have been studying my student “cuestionarios” and we are going to be starting our first novel in levels 2 and 3. If I could use PQA and extracted vocab from the novel then the Blaine Ray stories could really take a back seat. I love your idea of having a problem be that someone who likes to talk or sing wakes up and doesn’t have a voice. Do you have any more suggestions that have worked well in your classroom?

    Thanks again for the blog and I have learned that even on bad days with TPRS I am still in the TL 90% of the time and it is awesome.

    Lee

    • thomasyoung

      Hi Lee,

      Thanks for the comment. Always remember that storytelling is a process and that the hard days produce fruit in the future. The thing that has worked best for me is to really let the students have a say in the story. Of course I maintain control of the direction, but most of the places and answers come from them. This helps to keep it interesting. I have also found that students care a lot more about our class when I care about their them. I shake their hands when they enter, when they give a detail I am interested in it, and I try to involve the class around the stuff they like. There is a lot of acting in class and drama. This excitement really helps to take the storytelling to another level. Also, it is important to remember the basics. For example, kids will start to check out if they don’t understand it. I am always trying to remember to circle as I go, to pause and point at new words, and to go SLOW. These are the basics that make class understandable.

      Another that has helped me has been to watch other teachers that are really good at tprs. Since there are not of lot of options in my area, I purchased the Fluency Fast DVDs to get me started. That was enough to keep occupied for a while. The first DVD is Von Ray and the second is Blaine Ray. Eventually, I was able to see others and observe their styles. I have slowly started to find my own style, but I would not consider myself an expert. I just try to get a little better everyday at something. This blog has really helped to think about my teaching and what is happening in the classroom.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions. Thanks, again, for the comment. Let me know how it goes!

      Thomas

  4. Ben

    Very useful post. I backwards plan also, but not as precisely and personally. This is gonig to help me/my kids.

    Okay, so when you’re done with the oral story, what is your source of the written story? Maybe I missed something in your post.
    Thanks, Ben in California

    • thomasyoung

      Thanks for the post, Ben. My source of the written story is the current novel we are reading, like Pobre Ana. Once the students have had some time playing with the words in an oral story, we read that part of the part of the novel with those words.

      Thomas

      • Carolina

        Thanks for all of this info! Now…what if you don’t have access to any “pre-written TPRS” reading material like Pobre Ana??? I’m in Egypt and my school has nothing! What would you recommend I use as a source for reading after doing a story. This is my first year TPRSing full-time and so far so good I think…but we have nothing to read!

        If you have any advice that would be great!

        Carolina

      • thomasyoung

        You’re welcome. Let me know if you need anything else. I have found that the best readings are similar to the stories that we tell in class. So here is basically what I do. I decide what structures I want to use, then I write a short story with those words, 100-150 words depending on their level. Then in class we do some PQA with some words that will be in the story. The PQA can be TPR, little scenes that provide a lot of Comprehensible Input, or just a conversation with the class. After the PQA, we then bridge into a story. The story we tell in class is basically the same as what they will read only a little different. We change a lot of the details, but the main structures and storyline is still there. Then after we tell the story and maybe some retells, we do the short reading which is really easy for the students because we already spent time in PQA and telling a story with the same words. The key is to get meaningful repetition on the structures that you are focusing on.

        I think this will help you to come up with materials that are interesting to you students. It will take a little more work, but you will have the reading material. There are also other activities to get reading in without reading a story. For example, the students can write out the story you told, which is reading, and you can also number the events of the story and put them in random order, then they put the events of the story in the correct order. It’s all reading, but done a little differently. Let me know if this helps.

        Thomas

  5. Toni

    I am so thankful that Ben Slavic makes it a point to mention other TPRS blogs on the web – I have learned so much from him, and more recently from Laurie Clarcq, Elizabeth Hayles, and YOU!

    Since I started TPRS I have been hearing “Use questionnaires, use questionnaires.” So, I always have my students fill them out, and then I never go anywhere with them. I just don’t know how to use them. I try circling some of the information at the beginning of the year, but I just can’t PQA on that stuff for an entire quarter like Ben says he does – it just falls flat after a couple of days. Then I come to your blog, and I see:

    “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.”

    WOW – When I have students to do free writes, I say, “If your story isn’t going anywhere, add a problem.” – so how did I miss this when it came to personalizing and using questionnaires? That’s been my missing link! Yay!!! That very small statement is HUGE and is going to help me personalize my classroom so much more!! I’m re-looking at student questionnaires, and my head is swimming with all kinds of potential problems! Thank you! Inserting students in the story from the very beginning and then having them meet up with fictional characters also is a great idea. I struggle with including the wall flowers in class – I’m always afraid they will drag the story down with lame acting or that I or the class will embarrass them somehow. I think it is a great idea to “script” them into the story from the get-go, but to give them a more passive role, with more out-going students to balance things out – awesome!

    I also think your backward planning template is excellent, and combined with your ideas for personalization, I think it is dynamite! I am planning to use your ideas and backward planning template to start scripting some story skeletons. Can you give me just a bit more guidance as to how to incorporate the reading structures into the storytelling phase? I guess I’m assuming that you pick out the more “important”structures and build a problem from that based on your student questionnaries. Then, some less important phrases, you just try to work in so that students are familiar with them – la chica es alta o baja? la chica tiene pelo rizado? … ???

    Again, thank you so much for blogging your classroom experiences and ideas – I have been gaining a lot of new insights by reading through your posts.

    And just a note about reading comprehensibility that I learned at inservices this year – researchers are now finding that readers must understand 95%+ to truly “understand” what they are reading and to give them enough incentive to continue with a given reading – and that’s in L1! We’ve been shooting way too low on reading comprehensibility levels for way too long! Thanks for moving toward higher comprehensibility in your own classroom and encoouraging us to do the same!

    • thomasyoung

      Wow, Toni! Thanks for the encouragement. I am glad to hear that these posts have helped. Let me know if there is more I can do. You’re absolutely right about the wall flowers. A small role, with maybe one line to give them and the class a positive experience. I have been through a bit of an evolution with the backward planning. At first I was doing it around the novels and the questionnaires simultaneously. It worked pretty well and the class was acquiring, so I definitely recommend it. Then I went to Tucson, AZ to observe Joe Neilson and he really had an impact on my thoughts on backward planning. Here is basically what I do now:
      I decide what structures I want to use, then I write a short story with those words, 100-150 words depending on their level. Then in class we do some PQA with some words that will be in the story. The PQA can be TPR, little scenes that provide a lot of Comprehensible Input, or just a conversation with the class. After the PQA, we then bridge into a story. The story we tell in class is basically the same as what they will read only a little different. We change a lot of the details, but the main structures and storyline is still there. Then after we tell the story and maybe some retells, we do the short reading which is really easy for the students because we already spent time in PQA and telling a story with the same words. The key is to get meaningful repetition on the structures that you are focusing on.

      I posted a link on this blog with a document that Joe made on some helpful hints in TPRS. It is one of the best things I have ever read and really gave me a lot of ideas. Here is the link http://docs.google.com/View?id=dd5rnpcc_180fg5xp3db

      Let me know if you need anything else.

      Thomas

  6. Luz Sawdon

    I am wondering if the questionnares are available online? I would really like to see what questions are on it, and give it a try!

    • thomasyoung

      Hello! Here is a pasted copy of the questionnaire that I use.
      ¡Bienvenidos!
      In order to tell and write interesting stories that involve you, I need some information about each of you. Please fill out as much of this as applies. You can make up answers if you want to in order to make it more interesting. Be aware that anything you tell me may show up in a story some day! Thank you very much.

      Name: ____________________________________________________

      Nickname: __________________________________________________

      Birthday: __________________________________________________

      Names and ages of siblings: _____________________________________________

      ______________________________________________________________________

      Town you live in: ______________________________________________________

      Pets and their names: _____________________________________________________

      Your favorite things to do: _________________________________________________

      _______________________________________________________________________

      Your job (If you don’t have one make it up): _____________________________________________

      Instruments, sports, or games that you play: ______________________________________________

      __________________________________________________________________________________

      Sports players, artists, or musicians whom you admire:

      __________________________________________________________________________

      ____________________________________________________________________________

      A celebrity whom you find attractive: _____________________________________________

      Your favorite music groups/singers: _______________________________________________

      ____________________________________________________________________________

      What you like to eat and drink: __________________________________________________

      ___________________________________________________________________________

      Some things you REALLY don’t like: ______________________________________________

      ______________________________________________________________________________

      A place or places that you sometimes go and why (example: I visit my grandmother in Colorado): ___________________________________________________________________________

      ____________________________________________________________________________

      Chores you have to do around the house: __________________________________________

      ___________________________________________________________________________

      Your favorite item(s) of clothing: _______________________________________________

      ___________________________________________________________________________

      Any abilities or talents you have, however unusual: _________________________________

      ___________________________________________________________________________

      Something you have that is unusual: ______________________________________________

      Something you don’t have that you really want: _______________________________________

      Any interesting or unusual facts about you: _________________________________________

      ____________________________________________________________________________

      Name of your best friend(s): ____________________________________________________

      Your favorite store: ___________________________________________________________

      Something you fear: ___________________________________________________________

      Someone you admire: _________________________________________________________

      Your favorite movie(s): ______________________________________________________________________________

      ______________________________________________________________________________

      Would you be willing to act in class: yes no

      Would you be willing to draw in front of the class: yes no

      Would you be willing to draw something for the class at home: yes no

      Would you be willing to donate a prop to the class for our stories: yes no

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