Category Archives: Encouragement for hard days

Lomb Kató

One of the greatest DVD’s I ever saw on second language acquisition was the Krashen Seminar. It was produced by Blaine Ray in the late 90’s and on the DVD Krashen, in a very light and informative manner, outlines how we learn languages. If you want a copy of the DVD let me know and I’ll get one to you.

Anyway, on the DVD Krashen mentions a woman from Hungary by the name of Lomb Kató. [In English her name would be Katherine Lomb] She was a woman that learned 16 languages, mostly by self effort. I find myself asking the question, “What can I learn from Lomb Kató?”

Well, here are a few things that I gathered. She mentions that she drove three autos in World Languages: autolexia [reading for myself], autographia [writing for myself], and autologia [speaking with myself]. When thinking about my own language learning , it makes me feel better to know that she mentioned these three tools because I wasn’t sure if I was normal.

I also think about whether I am providing this for my students. Do we have a time where they can read what they want? This is basically FVR. I wish I did it more often and I think it would be good for the students. I am still getting my act together for a grant for some money.

Do we also have a time where the students have a time where they write for themselves? The closest I come to this is freewrites. I wish that they could do more free journaling in L2 and I wonder if my students are at a level where they can express themselves this way. It is a good thing to think about.

While I am not sure that autologia leads to acquisition, I do think that it leads to feeling like you are part of a club of language learners, which is very important. This is especially important for teenagers who are so locked into social approval. This happens in my room when I give a brain break and have them do mini-retells with each other. To be honest, it could happen more. I also think that this is something that can be encouraged to do on their own.

Other comments that she made was that when learning a language, we focus on the essence of the grammar and the important words. How true this is! I don’t know why so many programs use grammar to teach the language. Grammar will not win over the majority and will deprive the learner of the joy of natural language.

She also mentions that we need to cling to the enjoyable side of language study. Am I really providing this for my students? I really think so because we have stories that are all about their life and we are reading things that bring up real life situations. Reading can be a very enjoyable side of language study if we get kids into good stories and books!

These are just a few things that I learned from Lomb Kató. I find myself asking the question, “What good does all the Spanish I am teaching the students do if they never take charge of their own language learning?” I think that we need to help our students to acquire the language, but also to know how to acquire a language so that when they leave they can continue this language acquisition journey.

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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Reading, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, teaching grammar

I am Blessed!

I have been reflecting on the journeys of other teachers.  After realizing that I am only in my second year of teaching I have observed something. I am really blessed! Professionally and personally. I have a great wife and family. I could talk about the personal stuff forever, but here I am going to talk about how I am professionally blessed.

My first year of teaching was also my first year of tprs. Man, was it hard! I was dealing with so much and people kept telling me I was doing great, but inside I felt like a mess –which is normal! I knew that at the time, but it really was hard to believe and I felt like a failure many times. Anne Matava told me during my first semester of my first year teaching that I just needed to get though the year and realize that it will never be remotely as hard as it is your first year. I held on to that like a life preserver and it got me through –along with a lot of praying and the support of my wife as well as friends. The good news is that I didn’t give up and I am still getting on the horse every day. I am starting in a very small way to reap the benefits.

I started my second year of teaching ready for the pain of teaching only to find that I was magically stronger and it was so much easier. Part of it was that the students knew me, but also I had grown from observing other tprs teachers and  from slugging it out every day.

It seems strange to confess, but  I actually don’t even remember what the old way feels like. I don’t remember what it feels like to use activities and textbooks. I expect teaching to have minimal preparation, the periods to go fast, and a majority of the students to willingly and enjoy acquiring the target language. These are only a small number of things that I have come to expect with teaching. I almost feel like I am spoiled. I don’t feel like a “real” teacher that is burned out and hates their job. Who is weighed down by tons of grading or worse, students who really do not care about what we do. That’s awesome!

In reality, however, I am a real teacher because my students are acquiring the language and they seem to enjoy it –especially as my skills become more refined and I learn how to relate to them. It makes me feel blessed that I found this way of teaching and I can enjoy my family as well as do stuff that I want to do. I thank God for that!

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Krashen Lights a Fire on Reading

Every time I read Krashen or watch an excerpt of a seminar he has given, I just get so excited about the posibilities of reading and its impact on language acquisition. I keep asking, “How can we get interesting meaningful reading to our students?” Well, I don’t have all the answers or even the money, but it makes me get excited about intermediate instruction and what can be done. I don’t think that we fully realize what we have here. That if we move forward with a lot of these ideas, students will begin to acquire a language and actually like it! It seems like a dream, but it is within reach. I don’t care that most of the United States or even the world is stuck on other methods that don’t really work. I will do my thing in Holdrege and be happy about it. It certainly does feed my idealistic side and make me excited about what I do! We all need the fire to be lit every now and then to remind us of where we need to go with acquisition.

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Engulfed in the Tide

I have been engulfed in the tide of school lately. Has that ever happened to you before? The great thing is that a lot of cool things have been happening in class. I have countless blogs to enter, just not the time to get in here and do it right. I hope that they get here.

I visited Joe Neilson in Tuscon, Arizona and it was such a great trip. What he does is phenomenal and I really wish that more teachers knew about it. I am going to write what I can, when I can, but I must say that what I learned from Joe was enough to completely change how I approach the input of tprs. This is huge because most of what we do centers around the type of input we chose to expose our spongy students.

There will be more to come, but I am not going to stress out about it. I am sure that you understand because you are probably a teacher, too, and you know what it is like to be engulfed in the tide. I only hope that the tide will rest enough to let me express some of these cool things. I think it will…

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The Sigmoid Curve of tprs

At times I have often wondered, “How far am I in the process of learning tprs?” and “How much further do I have to go?” Well, after asking several teachers I have come to find that there are no real concrete answers to these questions and everyone has their own take on it. One teacher states:

The learning process for TPRS is similar to that for other skills:  a sigmoid curve.   That is, you start off learning slowly and deliberately and keep practicing, then your skills take off after a short period of time, eventually you level off and slowly improve over time.  To get good, some teachers take 5 years, but I think you can do it faster if you are fluent and if you observe others and mimic their technique.

The first thing I wondered was, “What is a sigmoid curve?” and then “Should I feel guilty for not knowing that?” Well, either way I did what any other other self respecting American would do and looked it up on wikipedia.

veld_pic_7This is a picture of a sigmoid curve. It basically looks like an S. It fits exactly the explanation that the teacher gave on tprs development. I don’t know where I am in the curve and it really is not something I should worry about. I will know when I level out. What I do know is that I am in the growth period because I feel like I am changing so much and I am continually finding new ways to improve how I reach kids. Maybe it will always be this way, but for now it feels like a roller coaster and it can get pretty exciting. I am glad that I have chosen this for my career because every day has something new for me.

Another teacher also commented on tprs development and he said:

Don’t worry about where you are in tprs. Remeber that it is a process  that you refine as go along. It is something that you learn to do by doing, practicing, being coached, and experiencing as a student. Basically, don’t worry about where you are. You are where you are and as long as you continue to refine you will be just fine.

I found these words to be very encouraging, too. I come from a musical background and constantly expect perfection of myself. I just need to take it one step at a time. It is just like taking a walk through a garden and removing the pedals from a rose. If you try to remove a pedal from a rose before it is ready, the pedal will tear. You cannot speed up the process, you just have to let the weather elements allow it bloom. So it is with tprs. We can subject ourselves to elements of experiences, but ultimately it is something that happens over time. I am excited to see what happens and to experience the blooming process.


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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.

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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Storytelling tips, 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