If anyone has ever spent time teaching in a middle school and high school, they know that they are two different worlds. It still amazes me how much changes between those years and what a teacher needs to do differently in order to be successful in each world.
I was chatting with Ben Slavic the other day and this year he has made the switch from one world to the other, from middle school to high school. As we were chatting he asked me the question, Are 8th graders still more creative than ninth graders? It made me smile because I knew exactly what he was talking about. The jump between 8th grade and 9th grade is huge! I responded:
8th graders are very creative, but so are are the 9th graders. It just happens in a different way. They don’t explode with ideas like the 8th graders. They still have the creative ideas, but it needs to be drawn out of them more with questions. They like being more clever and sneaky. I am learning more and more that your success with tprs in high school is dependent on how well you play the game at the high school level. In middle school, they will do anything for you. In 7th and 8th grade almost every story is a home run. In high school I have to work for it a little more and relationships take more time to establish, but it’s still there if I get them to play the game.
It’s funny, at the high school I am way more crazy. At the middle school, I don’t need to be crazy because they have so much energy. Here’s a good analogy. At the high school I spray them with water for fun and it makes the classroom alive, although they pretend not to like it. The look in their eyes and the smile on their face can’t hide their enjoyment. I can’t do this every day because it would lose it’s novelty. In the middle school, they ask me if I have my water sprayer every day. Kids run up to me and open their mouth because they want to be sprayed. I have to put the water away so that they are always wanting more. It’s a different world and there are different rules to playing the game in each world.
If we can learn the game rules for the world in which we teach, our students will acquire vast amounts of the target language, tprs will become much more easy, and we will make meaningful connections with our students. I have begun my study on how to play the game in previous blogs and there is more coming. As I learn more, I will continue to post.
Here is a short animation that I made online. I think this took me 10 min. Take a look when you get a chance. It is a good way for students to show off what they have been acquiring lately.
There is a sense of connection in PQA that is hard to achieve with other components of tprs. I have seen that PQA is a time when you get inside the hearts of the kids and talk about what they really like in the target language. PQA is not about us and what we like, it’s totally about them. We interact with them and ask them questions as well as look fascinated. I am still amazed that they let me in and allow me to learn so much about them. It’s a pretty cool thing.
There are lots of ways to assess our students, but eventually we need to have a test in the grade book to establish some credibility. I wish that I didn’t even have to give grades, but it is apart of the educational system and in order to keep my job I must.
Today, I decided to give my students a test today. I don’t know what to call it, so I am going to call it a Living Test. Basically, it is like storytelling only they are taking a test. Here is what I did.
- Students get out a piece of paper and a pencil.
- I grab the last few stories that I have been working on with my students.
- I look at the stories and on the spot I write a sentence from the story or similar words in Spanish on my laptop. [I let the class choose what font and color they want] This appears on my smartboard [or is projected from an LCD]
- The students then a) Write the sentence in Spanish on the first line, b) Write the English translation on the second line, c) leave a space on the third line. We could also have the students draw a picture of the sentence I wrote, with captions.
- We repeat number 3 as I continue to add sentences to the test. I try to keep the sentences of the test close to an interesting storyline.
- During the test as I am writing the examples, I ask the students for details. This makes them apart of the test and changes the test from strictly being regurgitation to a creative process.
- We go over it together and they grade their own paper with a blue pen. [If they “forget” the mark one wrong, it’s double off]
- It requires no prep time.
- Each test is customized to each class, making the process more fun.
- Involves meaningful reading and writing in the target language.
- I have a copy saved for any students that were absent.
- It is a test that gives them choices in the details.
- They grade them.
- I am still giving the authorities what they want without sacrificing my personal time and creative energy.
- It makes test taking a whole lot more fun, which is the bottom line.
I wish that we could get to a point where tests are celebrations of acquisition and knowledge rather than something that students dread. Maybe this will help students to get to this point.
This next bit of advice comes from Susie Gross. She offers a whole new perspective on playing the game that I had not considered, but it is very much part of “playing the game.”
It all comes down to the same thing: Relationship. The relationship between you and every individual in the room, the relationship between the kids in the room, and the relationship between you and the group.
When the relationship is healthy, learning is sturdy. When learning is sturdy and has a the obvious ability to do retells, to speak spontaneously, to write spontaneously, that provides motivation.
So your job is to promote a good sturdy relationship in the classroom. Your job is to create situations where everyone succeeds. Your job is to GUARANTEE success. Your job is to point out and celebrate that success. You job is to make sure that every celebrates everyone else’s success.
That’s it in a nutshell.
The moral of the story is that when your relationship with the class is healthy [whatever that may look like because we all have different personalities] the students will be more likely to play the game. When it is not healthy, the students are way less likely to play the game. If we do not have this relationship, than we can’t expect our students to play the game. If we do not have this relationship, than we need to do whatever we can to get this relationship with our kids. When we have this relationship it is so much easier to play the game and it almost just happens effortlessly because the students are willing to take chances. This was a good reminder. Thanks Susie.
Ben Slavic posted a question from Grant on his site today that really strikes a chord with me.
I need reminders that the best way to lead others to the light is through making my own teaching better and my own students outstanding rather than being evangelical, boisterous or confrontational. I battle with this on the inside. I know I can’t force boring teachers to change, but we can’t just keep being forced out of districts by thick-headed status quo mongers. A lot of TPRSers I know have this lonewolf facade that they’ve developed to counter the criticism and that seems to detract from TPRS’ credibility somehow. I think we need more Pams to help show beginning teachers the possibilities. Do you have any good anecdotes that will help me dissipate my frustrations during department meetings?
What Grant has written is so important because somewhere along the way we are going to have to work or visit with people that have: never heard of tprs, worked with tprs and don’t like it, may be open to tprs and need more information, have heard of tprs but don’t really know what it is, or any other combination of experiences that I haven’t mentioned. What do we do with people like this?
Well, how we work with these people may be a factor in the future and success of tprs. I was thinking today while I was I asking a story with my 7th graders that this is such a cool way to teach. I mean, how many teachers can successfully do what we do and have fun at the same time? Wouldn’t it be great if this was the way that languages were taught in our country? Could you imagine what the developments would be? That is why it is so important that we deal with our colleagues in a possitive way. Below is the response that I sent to Grant. It’s not the total answer, but it’s a start.
This is such a great question! People in the past have mentioned the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie as a good way to learn how to relate to the students. I know that this has worked for me in tremendous ways. But I think that the book can also be used to work with our colleagues, especially when they may be less than excited to hear about tprs. We don’t have to be a lone wolf and if we ever expect people to change, we definitely can’t afford to be a lone wolf. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Remember that it is impossible to defeat an ignorant person by an argument, so it is simply just best to avoid an argument.
2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions and never tell them that they are wrong.
3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
4. Begin in a friendly way.
5. Get the other person saying, “Yes.” immediately.
6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking and simply ask them questions.
7. Let the other person feel that the idea is theirs.
8. Try to honestly see things from the other person’s point of view.
9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
11. Dramatize your ideas.
12. Throw down a challenge to people who have spirit and desire to excel.
Some of this may seem kind of corny, but we are not going to win people over by constantly criticizing and picking at the flaws of them or the system they use. It doesn’t matter how right we are, we are not preparing them and making them want to search for other alternatives. If they feel that you respect them and are in working with them for increased acquisition, they will probably be a whole lot more likely to consider CI based teaching.
Some of the items from the list above will help with the smaller battles of tprs and others will be good things to keep in mind with the larger issues of tprs [ex. CI based teaching].
We need to become people that are respected in our schools for the amount of language that our excited/motivated students acquire, rather than teachers that just use weird stories to teach a language. This will help us to establish more credibility and once the ball starts rolling, we may be surprised what happens in our districts.
Here is a tip that Ben Slavic posted on his blog today that really relates to playing the game and storytelling.
Don’t forget this crucial part … – when the circling saturates on one idea, bring in a new event or character and see where that goes. It works. Try it.
A simple, yet effective way to keep the game afloat and the class engaged in the CI.