Monday, December 21, 2009


I just got word this morning that my district is willing to pay my registration for NTPRS! I am so excited to immerse myself in the method surrounded by experts and supporters. Now I just have to figure out the money for the hotel, food, and transportation...and if I can bring my husband with me!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Super-fun interaction

I just had to share something that I did with my superstar class today. I have a question of the day each day to practice common phrases or current vocabulary. It's my way of taking attendance and makes the kids talk at least once a day. I know there is a lot of debate about making kids talk, but I've had great results so far...

Anyway, today, my question of the day was "What did you buy Mme Hayles for Christmas?" If they said "nothing," I said that was impossible and made them come up with something else. These kids, who know how to play the game, came up with crazy answers from past stories or competed with others to come up with the best gift. At the end, I received chocolate, a hippopatamus, a car, a round-trip ticket to Paris, yellow snow, and vanilla ice cream. Sometimes I acted disgusted at their "gift" and berated them while they laughed...other times I said they were my favorite student and "gave" them an A+. We were all laughing while I essentially took attendance and talked to them in French! Good times....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Loving kids makes my life harder...

Here is my predicament for today: I have some students who are making my life a living hell. I hate planning for their class because they are negative, disruptive, etc. I have been working with them on their behavior, but I really feel at this point that it would be better to kick them out of the class altogether. They are not showing enough improvement to show me that they really care about being in my class. Here's the rub. After almost a year and a half teaching these kids, I care about them. I don't want to give up on them, but I'm beginning to think it is a lost cause. I'd much rather take that love and give it to the rest of the class by creating a fun, positive environment instead of the angry place that that class is right now. How do I feel good about either choice? What would you all do or have you done? I have to decide soon because 2nd semester starts soon.

NPR talks about education

On my way to work this morning, I heard an NPR report on the sad state of teacher certification programs. Well, it might not have been entirely about that...but that's what I heard. The part that made me say "Amen!" was when they were talking to an "effective" teacher in rural North Carolina. I wanted to quote him perfectly, but NPR does not have a transcript of the interview yet. He said something along the lines of, "When visitors walk into my class, they might see chaos, but I call that engagement." How true it is!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow day!

Yesterday, it was snowing. For my students, that means lots of craziness as they think about having a snow day. I was considering showing a video or some other cop-out because I didn't want to deal with their insanity. Instead, I stayed with my original plan of doing re-tells and a quiz. Because of the nature of TPRS, I can use their excitement in my classroom. Instead of driving me crazy, it drives the craziness of the story. Hooray!

And, we did get our snow day today...yet another reason to love teaching as I sit with my coffee and laptop and look forward to making Christmas cookies with my own 4 crazy kids...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

THAT student

I have a student...we'll call her Sally. She is a case and a half, I tell you. I don't know fully what's going on at home, but I know that she doesn't like it there and she brings her anger and bad attitude to my class quite often. She lashes out at classmates and me at times. But when she's not having a bad day, she's the most inquisitive, lovely girl you'd ever like to have in class.

Last week, on one of her bad days, she used her free-write time to write to me in English about how much she hates my class. She doesn't understand why I won't let the other students help her (read: translate what we're saying to English). She doesn't understand how she's supposed to learn French if I won't allow her to speak English. She went on and on about how unfair my class was and how much she hates it. All of her points have been addressed in class and the rules have been agreed on as a whole. I tried not to take it too personally, because I knew that she was not angry at me, but at someone or something else.

Today, she came into class and wrote on the board, underneath my "agenda" for the day (an administrative requirement that I find tedious most days) 5. Story time. She asked several times before class started if we were going to have story time today. At the end of the hour, somone else asked her why she like that so much and she said, "I like sitting on the floor like it's kindergarten and just listening." Aha! my inner voice said...she DOES like my class, or at least she should like it, because that is essentially all we are asking our students to do...sit and listen. I can imagine how my class should be a wonderful place to come at the end of the semester when so many other classes are cramming curriculum down the students' throats to try and get everything covered before the final exam. And we allow them to just sit and relax and listen...

So overwhelmed...

I have been feeling really overwhelmed these past couple of weeks. I feel like I'm never going to get caught up! Even with as little written work as I assign, I'm behind in grading. I don't have to "plan" for my class if I don't really want to, but that makes me feel like I'm not accomplishing much. It's strange. I've read and I've heard and I know that the most important thing in my class is to speak French so that the kids can understand. I'm having a really hard time feeling like I'm teaching them anything that way. There are days when I see it and I go, "Gosh! I'm teaching these kids WAY more this year than I ever did last year!" There are days when my colleagues (non-TPRSers) praise my work and ask me questions about what I'm doing. But those days are in the minority. I need to embrace the good days and focus on increasing them instead of focusing on the bad days and thinking about how much better I could be. Rationally, I know that I'll get there. I know that I will be an exceptional teacher one of these days with wonderful, loving relationships with my students...with great classroom management... I'm just impatient to get there. And in the meantime, I read all the blogs and I watch the videos and I research as much as I can about this wonderful teaching strategy that I'm so stinking excited about. And my grades are a little late...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book talks in the TL

Every day, I have the students answer some question of the day and I count that as their participation for the day. It's a great way for me to take attendance, get to know them a little better, and reinforce whatever vocab we're working on (or review old stuff too). On Mondays, I ask about their weekends and on Friday we always talk about what they are going to do. I get lots of reps in on the past and future before the other teachers are teaching those tenses...

Anyway, yesterday my question of the day was: What do you like to read? It took much longer than I thought because we got to talk about the main characters of the books, what they liked about them, what type of book it they like to read magazines, etc. Essentially, we had a book talk in French (something my district is heavily pushing). Reading is something I really enjoy, so it was fun for me and for those kids who enjoy reading as well. The ones who don't like to least they were listening to French!

Kids say the darndest things!

In our school, we have a class before school officially starts one day a week that is supposed to be all touchy feely. It's the class where we talk about bullying and feelings... I have a group of girls that I don't teach and only see for 15 minutes maybe once a week. Hard to get really close to them under those circumstances, but I digress...

Today, we were having a book talk and a girl who is taking French from another teacher asked me for help. She said that she's just not getting it and her word order is always messed up and she just feels like a failure because she has an 80%. I can certainly feel for her! I was exactly that way in high school. French was my favorite class, but my lowest grade.

Our conversation spread throughout the room as other students joined in in their hatred of language. It made me so sad. I tried to tell them that they've only had the language for maybe 2 years. And of those two years, they were only exposed to the language for maybe 50 minutes a day. I tried to tell them that there's no way they can be fluent at this point and the best they can do is communicate using whatever vocabulary they have and using gestures to help them get their point across. They are so afraid! Especially those Type A students who are used to being perfect. I really think that this is where TPRS comes in. We don't expect them to be perfect. We don't grade them on being perfect. We focus on how much they DO know instead of what they don't. How do I share my feelings with these students or my colleagues without alienating them? It all goes back to the standards we're trying to teach. Are we teaching for grammar or are we teaching for communication? If we're teaching for communication...should we count them off if they make a mistake, but they were able to communicate their thoughts and feelings?? It's a whole can of worms... and I don't have the balls that Ben Slavic does (literally and figuratively) to step out in front of the firing squad.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writing writing writing

I hope I haven't already blogged about this, but I tried something recently and it worked pretty well. I asked a story in two classes, obviously getting two very different stories using the key vocab. I then had the students draw pictures of each scene, so that we large pictures of the action. We used these for retells and to give the artists an outlet for a day. The next day, I took the pictures from the other class and posted them in the room. I asked the students to look at the pictures and draw the story that they thought the other class wrote. I had them write a story by themselves and then pair with another student to combine their ideas into a better story. Then that pair paired with another pair (for a group of 4) and combined all the stories into the best story. I had them share their stories and then the students voted on which story they thought was the best. It got my students writing, thinking and producing the language. And, it was a pretty easy day for me and my voice!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tutoring TPRS?

I have a tutor that comes during one of my hours for one-on-one help for my kids. I've never had a tutor before, so I haven't really been sure what to do with her...especially now that I'm using TPRS. I've had her do test re-takes and stuff, but I'm at a loss for uses beyond that. Does anyone have any ideas for how I can utilize this great resource??

Reading success!

Today, I didn't really know what I was going to do with my 2nd year kids and didn't have a whole lot of time to plan since I was working on details of our upcoming trip to Quebec (yeah!). I decided to do my first dictee with the kids and started writing up my little story. Well, I got way too into it and added a few new things, so I decided to make it a reading instead. I handed it out and then read aloud, asking them to follow me with their fingers. Most of the students actually laughed at the right parts, even without translation! They were enjoying a joke IN FRENCH! I almost peed my pants, I was so excited. Then, we translated chorally and it worked very well too. The few slower kids finally got the joke and we were all able to laugh together. Since it worked so well (and I find it hilarious), I'll put the story here, in case anyone else thinks they could use it or it could jump start another idea (sorry for the non-accents...) I put the new words in English behind the French so they could read it easily:

Il y a une fille. Elle s'appelle Lady Gaga. Elle est grande, blonde, et tres stupide. Elle a les yeux rouges et les grands pieds. Ses pieds sont grands comme un arbre (tree). Elle chante bien. Un jour, elle voudrait acheter un nouveau pantalon vert et orange. Elle va a Zona Rosa, a Forever 21. La vendeuse (saleslady) s'appelle Tyra Banks. Lady Gaga lui dit (tells her) "Je voudrais un pantalon vert et orange." Tyra crie "Un pantalon vert et orange??? Tu es laide. Tu as besoin d'etre "fierce" Un pantalon vert et orange?? C'est stupide!" Lady Gaga est fachee. Elle lui dit "Tu es grosse, Tyra!" Tyra crie "Donnez un baiser a ma grosse derriere!" Lady Gaga va a Aeropostale. Le vendeur (salesman) s'appelle Taylor Lautner. Il est grand, brun, et tres beau. Il regarde Lady Gaga est il tombe amoureux d'elle. Lady Gaga lui dit "Je voudrais un pantalon vert et orange." Taylor dit "Oui, ma cherie. Voila un pantalon vert et orange." Il lui donne (gives her) un pantalon bleu et violet. Lady Gaga est fachee. Elle crie "Tu est stupide! Je veux un pantalon vert et orange...pas un pantalon bleu et violet!" Taylor est fache et il devient (becomes) un loup. Il mange Lady Gaga et il est content.

There is a girl. Her name is Lady Gaga. She is tall, blonde and very stupid. She has red eyes and big feet. Her feet are as big as a tree. She sings well. One day, she would like to buy new green and orange pants. She goes to Zona Rosa, to Forever 21. The saleslady's name is Tyra Banks. Lady Gaga tells her "I would like green and orange pants." Tyra yells "Green and orange pants? You are ugly! You need to be fierce. Green and orange pants?? That's stupid!" Lady Gaga is mad. She tells her "You're fat, Tyra!" Tyra yells, "Kiss my fat butt!" Lady Gaga goes to Aeropostale. The salesman's name is Taylor Lautner. He is tall, brunette, and very handsome. He looks at Lady Gaga and falls in love with her. Lady Gaga tells him "I would like green and orange pants." Taylor says "Yes, my dear. Here are some green and orange pants." He gives her blue and purple pants. Lady Gaga is mad. She yells "You are stupid! I want green and orange pants, not blue and purple pants." Taylor is mad and becomes a wolf. He eats Lady Gaga and he is happy.


Friday, November 13, 2009

John Irving

John Irving is my favorite author, by far, and I had the pleasure of seeing him speak last night. His new book has an author as a central character, so he was explaining to us that he gave his character his process for writing and he explained to us how he writes his novels. It is amazing to me to hear authors talk about where their books and characters come from. Most often, the characters just ooze out of their minds or pop into their heads from nowhere. Mr. Irving said that he never starts a book until he has the last sentence in his mind...then he can go through and create the plot from there. He always waits until the end just pops into his head. From where?? Anyway, I could make the connection between Backwards Design and his writing process, but I don't really want to do that here. I think the connection is pretty obvious. I do want to share that, last night, I dreamt my lesson plan for today. It just popped into my head from nowhere. Really strange feeling to wake up in the morning and realize that your planning work was done while you slept. And I think the plan would have worked splendidly except we ran out of time. I"ll see on Monday, when I continue the lesson, if it was a success!

Excitement (like swine flu) is contagious

Yesterday I was in an action study team meeting (where we meet cross-curricularly and discuss different aspects of teaching) and it was my turn to share what I'm doing in regards to instructional design this year. I shared the Marcia Tate list of brain-based activities that I blogged about here a couple of weeks ago and then started in on what I'm doing with TPRS. I was the only language teacher there, but we had a really good discussion of what is working and why. At the end of my "presentation," one of the teachers looked at me and said "It sounds wonderful and you are obviously very excited about it." I AM! I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, there are still days where I sit there and think "What in the world am I doing?" But I am still just so excited on the days where everything falls in place. I want to share it with the world, but I don't want to cram it down anyone's throat. It's funny, but the teachers that I work with daily have caught some of my enthusiasm and have started asking me about what I'm I'm fixing this or that problem. While they might not be drinking the same Kool-Aid I am, I love sharing with them. I love the idea that they might try something...even one little their classes. It also makes it so much easier to ask for help in solving a problem if they know what's going on in my classes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Yikes, I don't think I'm very good at this. I read stories that other teachers have asked from their students and I have no idea how they got to that answer. I am pretty good at getting good characters and locations...but I struggle with bizarre descriptions and problems. How do I get my students to describe a character as having ears as big as a tortilla or a forehead as tall as two cell phones (I think I stole that description from Ben's blog)? What vocab has to be front-loaded to get to that? What primer questions? I saw on moretprs a list of potential problems the other day...I think that will help. I really like the idea of getting something to vomit or pee his pants. I think the kids would go crazy with that. Last week, I had a class go crazy because Chewbacca fell in love with Po (who was too fat and needed to lose weight) simply because he liked 'em big. They laughed about that for a long time. How do I facilitate more moments like that? They are what make me chuckle and enjoy walking into my classroom. I also have classes where the students are not willing to go there with me. Man, they are hard classes to teach...Ben says to wait in the moment and the cute answers will appear...but what if they aren't appearing?? I guess this goes back to the blog about sucking. It's okay to suck! I guess I should be thankful (it is November, after all, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner) that I am able to reach that one class. Especially since I have an administrator's child in there and he is gushing over what I've been able to about administrative support! My new mantra...focus on the good days...classes...minutes...seconds...whatever!


I'm just rambling here...trying to synthesize the "steps" to TPRS that Ben has written so fully and well about in his book TPRS in a Year ( He suggests that the first step to good TPRS is to sign and gesture the new vocabulary. I don't do this nearly as much as I should...with stories at least. It seems like some things just naturally lend themselves to gesturing. And then I get stuck with that. For example, my students in one class can't even say fachee (mad) without using a deep voice and doing the gesture that I have used. I know that it's stuck in their head for good, but is it harming them in any way? I'd like to think that it's really helping them because they will certainly never forget the meaning of fachee, but it doesn't sound very natural when we're talking in class. This is also my class that is obsessed with Muzzy (without even seeing it!) and uses a deep voice to say many things that they imagine Muzzy would say. That class is my main reason for teaching using TPRS. They really get it and are using what we are doing in class to have fun with the language. The affective filter that Krashen talks about is so low in that class that I had a student break-dance in front of the class while watching a Pigloo video. They (I really hope) are in love with French class. I hope that I can keep them excited for the rest of the year. And I also hope that they will adjust next year when I am no longer their teacher. Oh yikes...isn't that what we're all afraid of if we send our kids to other teachers?? What to do about it??

Back to gesturing. I really need to work with myself to do a better job at this. During our "TPR phase" at the beginning of the year, we gestured and played "Madame dit" all the time. I've seen what it can do for vocabulary why am I not doing it with all new vocab?? Laziness? Perhaps. I think it's probably plain old forgetfulness...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Classroom management

I have struggled and struggled and struggled with keeping my classes in control while allowing for them to talk. I've always thought that it was too hard to keep the talking on topic because I was afraid to discourage them to speak. But with TPRS, there is no other way. The class has to be under control or the method will not work. So this week, my only goal was to work on the classroom management. I printed off the rules (available at and took an entire class period (well, almost) talking to the students about the rules, why they are there, what it looks like, what it doesn't look like, etc. Then we practiced while we talked about their weekends. The next day in class, we told a story, and I focused on the classroom management instead of spending all my time working on the story. If a student broke a rule, I would stand and point to the rule. Eventually, they understood and stopped the behavior. I still waited a few extra beats before continuing on with the story. If it was the whole class, I waited. If it was one person, I pointed to them and the rule at the same time. I don't want to say that it worked perfectly, but it worked wonders for me. I was so much happier at the end of the day and I feel like we accomplished just as much as we would have if I hadn't taken the time to control my class before teaching them. Everyone always says that, but I'm really seeing it in action for the first time. It's awesome. I think the switch is that I decided I would focus on it...head-on for a full week. I will nit-pick every utterance until the students understand what is appropriate in class. Now I just have to keep on them and follow-through every class. Hopefully they will get used to it quickly so I won't have to remind them so often.

Professional Development

I got a handout at a professional development workshop last week. It's from M. Tate, an author and lecturer who talks about brain-based learning. I did not see her speak, but was given a handout of the top 20 strategies to take advantage of how the brain learns best. Let's see...
1. writing
2. storytelling
3. mnemonic devices
4. visuals
5. movement
6. role play
7. visualization
8. metaphor, analogy
9. reciprocal teaching
10. music
11. graphic organizers
12. drawing
13. humor
14. discussion
15. games
16. project-based instruction
17. field trips
18. work-study
19. technology
20. manipulatives

I was blown away by how many of these are used in a TPRS based classroom and how few are used in other classes. Where are worksheets in this? Hmmm...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Absences make the heart grow fonder

I've been sick. Yuck. Missed three days of school. It was really nice to get back into the classroom and back into the swing of things. My kids were (mostly) excited to see me back. I had kids asking "Are we telling a story today???? Can I be in it?????" Seriously? However, all their enthusiasm didn't make my classroom any quieter today. I keep experimenting, and maybe that is the problem. I need to figure out what I'm going to make work and stick with it. Byron recently posted something on FLTeach about the way he makes his class work and I think I'm going to take a little of that...a little of the rules on the wall...and a few days and get this back in shape. Next week is our first full week in a long while, so I'll get something together and I'll see how it goes!

Today I tried something that I thought would work really well. For my beginners, it was a little tough, but I bet it would be a riot for some more advanced classes or classes who've had more than a couple months of novice TPRS instruction. Last week, we really worked a story. Re-tells, picture drawing, reading, etc. I have two classes of that level, so I thought it would be fun to take their drawings (I had groups draw one scene from the story) and have the other class write stories about the drawings. The set-up was similar and the key phrases were there, so they had some idea of what was going on. I started with individual re-writes and then had them work in groups of 2 or 3 to combine to make the best possible story. We shared with the class and then I had them vote on which story they thought was the best. The winners got a free homework pass for my class (kind of silly since there really isn't a whole lot of HW in my class, but they were excited!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Early writing

How do I get my first years to write more? And more correctly? They don't have a lot of practice and I'm not sure how to make the transition from listening and understanding to writing. So far, I've had them write stories on their own, using a story I wrote as a pattern. We've also written a story as a class...and they've started doing 5-minute free writes. That's when I noticed that they have almost no writing skills at all. How can I improve this?

Reflections on the meaning of life...

...or this last week of TPRS. I said earlier that I was having a hard time staying jazzed about TPRS. This week I tried some new things and got my mojo back. It feels so good to be able to laugh again. I think I just got bogged down with classroom management and was so down on myself for not being better at it that I spent most of the hour being mad at the kids.

This week, I used Michele's suggestion (I think it was Michele) that I use Monday to talk about the weekend. I was wondering how I could find enough words to be able to talk to my first years for an entire class period... I tried with my "experimental" class and it went really well! We were able to fill the 45 minutes and the kids really enjoyed talking about themselves. The next day, we stretched our question of the day to 45 minutes as well...or almost 45 minutes. On Monday, I was having trouble with kids wanting to translate out loud and answer me back in English instead of trying to use French. So yesterday I started class and said, "You guys have 3 minutes to speak all the English you can. After that, class will be in French. You may use up to 3 English words in a row, if you have to." I timed them for the 3 minutes and then we started with our question: What do you like to do? The first girl who answered started off "J'aime...I don't know what I like to do." So I kindly smiled and pointed to the door and asked her to wait in the hallway. After the next student answered in French, I let that student come back each time a student spoke too much English, they were only out in the hallway for maybe 5 minutes at most. The door was open, so they could still hear what was going on in class. It was a miracle!! The students all spoke French for the entire time...they were engaged in listening to the others because if I caught them whispering or chatting in English, they'd be out! When every student had finished, there were still 2 minutes left in class. I asked the class if it was worth it to have the extra time to be social and then really speak French. They were all very positive. I'll definitely start this in all my classes because it's very easy for me to be fair about it. If I hear more than 3 words of English, they are out in the hall. They understand that they're not in trouble because I'm smiling and yet they are still sort of part of the class. Very effective.

I'm also really enjoying the re-tells that my students are doing. They are able to speak French for up to 5 minutes at a time without resorting to English! Some are (of course) better than others, but it's so awesome. I just can't wait for some of my barometer students to attempt the re-tell. That will be a happy day, for sure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Free write

Today I tried the free write portion of TPRS. I was AMAZED at how well it went. Even my chatty chatty class that questions everything I do was quiet and engaged with the activity. I explained that we were going to be slowly working towards a goal of writing a 100 word story in 10 minutes. I used running as a metaphor to explain that I wasn't asking them to start off running a marathon, but rather they would start by just running around the block. I had students write anywhere from 12 words to 118 words. So there's a lot of different ability levels in my second year students. For my 1st year students, I had them write for 5 minutes. The highest word count was 38 in that class. I'm still impressed because we haven't spent a lot of time writing yet.

My question is this: My second year students, who learned through the "old method" had much MUCH better spelling and conjugation than my 1st year students who have only learned through TPRS. I know that it is very early and that they are still doing a great job, but I worry that their spelling will never get any better. Any tips for how to encourage correct spelling without requiring it??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I suck

Man, it's hard not to think like a student some days. I make a mistake and my affective filter goes way up and I'm terrified that someone will see me teaching. I don't know exactly where these feelings of panic come from. I only know that it makes my heart beat faster when the bell rings and my kids are sitting there, quietly waiting for me to begin the lesson. Okay, so that never happens. I have to orally cue them that class is ready to begin. But it does make me nervous to teach on days when I don't have a homerun lesson. This week, I've been panicked that I don't have the exact route paved for my PQA or PMS. Last week, I was pretty okay with it. The week before, I was relishing the fact that I didn't really have to have anything planned, per se.

I think it's because I'm trying to take our district French curriculum and mold it into a TPRS classroom. Writing down what they are supposed to know takes me away from the spontanaiety of good TPRS because I'm constantly trying to force words into the situations. Today, though, it worked pretty well because I took some of the action verbs that my kids need to know for stellar stories and worked it into a 3-ring circus. I skipped the verbs they already have down by heart and worked with the more difficult ones. I was also able to throw in some prepositions by asking where in the classroom they were doing these actions.

However, I'm still in a panic. I think it also has a lot to do with my terror of classroom management. It's SO hard for me to send kids out of the classroom. It's SO hard for me to pull them out of the classroom. I really need to be on top of it and stop worrying so much about teaching and focus on management first. I can't remember where I read it recently, but control of the classroom has to precede instruction. I have to remember that and take that to heart. I also read Bryce's "Alternative Activity" sheet that he gives to disruptive kids. It made me laugh and I wish we had the support in our district to do something like that, but I don't think we do. I just keep hoping I'll get the hang of it...that the good days will outnumber the bad. It's just so hard when kids see your class as the "fun" class and they try to take that and run with it. Yes, my class is fun because we get to speak French and talk about weird things. Sometimes Joey will dance under the table...but that doesn't mean that you can randomly yell out inappropriate comments about the race of a classmate. I mean...really!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yucky Mondays

I have the hardest time "playing the game" on Mondays. I have no idea why this is, since I usually spend my weekends catching up on sleep. I'm cranky on Mondays, have no energy, and generally don't want to be here. So far, I've been planning for this lack of energy and having a reading or writing day on Mondays. That way, my students are still making progress, but I'm not required to entertain them. Are there any other suggestions for ways to make it through Mondays? It's also super hard right now because it's dark when I get to school and wicked cold. We've been sitting at about 20 degrees below normal temps for the last two weeks. Yikes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

First "story"

Yesterday was a "blah" day. I was tired from working my second job this weekend and feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work I need to do to get myself more ready to teach with TPRS. So I planned a reading/writing day. It I guess I'm feeling like if my lesson plans say "story time" every day...I'm not working hard enough. I need to get over that. Today, I watched Ben's DVD segment where he shows off his room and talks about lesson plans. It made me feel much better. I need to remember that I am doing a lot of work; it just looks different.

And then there was today. Yahoo for today! I did my first official story today in that I had three phrases I was focusing on...reviewing the rest. I had a general idea of where the story was going to go, but I let the kids add the details. It worked in both of my classes. I'm still getting them trained on how to act during story time, but I'm getting more and more students on board with me. At least that's how I see it today; tomorrow I may feel like I'm drowning again. My question now is: What do I do with those three phrases? I know they didn't get the needed amount of reps. I'm planning on reviewing the story tomorrow and giving a quick comprehension quiz. Then what? I'm not really sure if the kids are ready for re-tells. I also have a learning objective for the week that is not matching fully what has been happening in the class. choices are: force a re-tell and be happy no matter the results, have students create a mini-book based on the learning objectives (reviewing the school day), or some other melange of ideas that sound good tomorrow morning. Hmm...

Monday, October 5, 2009


My assistant principal sends us funny or inspiring quotes every day. The other day, he sent this one, and I couldn't help but think of TPRS:

Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand.--Native American Proverb

Through the PQA and asking the story, we really do involve our students in the learning. It also (some days) lets our students pick what vocabulary is important to them. I have a class that is in love with the word "malin" and we use it every chance we get. I love the idea of having private jokes with my classes because it makes the participants feel included and it makes those snoozing through class feel like they're missing something by being a jerk. I really need to play up to those students who are swallowing what I'm feeding them and try to ignore or find a solution for those who aren't. I love what Ben said about having those kids sit in the back of the room with a workbook until they are ready to play the game. Awesome!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Word Chunk

Well, I tried the Word Chunk game this week with both levels of my students. I have one class that I really consider to be a superstar class. I think I've made reference to them before because they really embody and embrace the "game" of TPRS. That class adored the game and the prize (picking the French video to watch at the end of the hour). I found a snag with my other classes. While most students loved the game and it really engaged all students, I had one team in each of the other classes where none of the players was interested in playing the game. I could have assigned them to teams, but I feel like that takes away the reward of the game. Especially if they are going to be in these teams for a while. Any thoughts?

Also, I had some students who were very concerned with "fairness" in the game. They would cry foul if I called on a team with no points when they obviously had their hands up first! I found that my other classes did better with that when I explained that as part of the rules. "I might not call on the team with their hand up first because I want to give everyone a chance." They seemed to accept that pretty well.

I had a day yesterday that had me shaking my head. I had a total Negative Ned who was being completely inappropriate. It really made me question my sanity, but it was just a bad day. Today, we were back on track. I think if I just let it slide off my back and go back into the classroom full of love for the students, I feel better about it and they respond in kind. I'm still trying to figure out how to prove to my students that I'm not out to get them, but I do need some order and respect in the classroom.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Loving kids

As I've said before, I am just a 3rd year teacher. Teaching is actually my second career (or maybe 3rd or 4th if you count retail and restaurants as careers). My goal when graduating from college was to work in international business...travelling the world and being a liaison between cultures and countries. Well, graduating in December of 2001, post-9/11 by 3 months was a disaster. There were no international jobs...there were hardly any jobs at all. So I went to my back-up business career: human resources. I'm a bit of a bleeding heart, and my hope was that I could be the voice for the little guy. After surviving lay-offs and dealing with the heartlessness of corporate America, I decided that I needed a new life. Teaching seemed like a great way to combine my love of French with my love of people. (if only I could throw in an accounting class to my would be perfect). So I went back to school and got a Masters and my teaching certificate at the same time. Man, I thought, I love kids and I love will be great!

Enter reality: I was told by many language teachers that you should teach most, if not all, of the class in the target language. Speak to your students in the hallway in the target language! Create an environment of language! Okay, I can try to do that...but what suffered was my relationship with the students. I would smile at them in the hall and say "Bonjour!" and they would clam up. "OMG...that teacher is trying to talk to FRENCH..." I never felt more like a dork than I did my first year. I wondered about the Spanish teacher who always had kids in her room after school...talking about music and books and movies. I thought, "I'm cool. I've seen Blink 182 in concert many times. I've read Twilight...Why aren't these kids connecting to me??" I chalked it up to leftover nerdiness in high school. Maybe I was just super sensitive to it because I was so dorky in high school...

Not this year!!!!!! (I'm excited...) Through the questionning and making kids the stars of my class, I've opened that door for conversation. I have students smiling at me in the hallway because we have an inside joke from yesterday's story. I have students coming into class early to tell me about the shirt that they bought yesterday. Today, I had a student (VERY quiet student) come to the front of the class and BREAKDANCE during a French video. I'm just amazed and awed by these kids. I smile just thinking about what we did in class today. How many teachers can say that?


Wow! The pressure's on today! Not only was Ben Slavic nice enough to make reference to my blog in his blog, but I'm getting pressure from the other French teachers in the district to prove myself.

So far, I've written this blog to myself as a way to process my thoughts after trying something...with no real audience in mind. Now, I have a couple of people who might read this! I hope I can write something that people want to read!

The second pressure is more pressing. I went yesterday to talk to the high school teacher who will eventually teach the students I am teaching now (if I do my job and they continue on with the language). I wanted to ask her what the expectations were for the second year students who come from the junior high. I wanted to know what she expected them to be able to do and, more importantly, if they still forget everything over the summer. I think I might have spoken to this in an earlier blog, but I feel like, if they forget everything over the summer, why am I required to teach them a verb chart when I could be teaching them to speak? My hope in this experiment is that my students will retain what they learn this year because I am using CI and repetition to make sure it gets stuck in their brains.'s not going to be "Je suis, Tu es, Il/Elle est, Nous sommes...." Instead, I'm hoping they would be able to say "Barney est un gros dinosaure violet." Doesn't that make more sense anyway? It goes back to how children learn their first language...I'm not talking to my 6 month old baby about indefinite articles.

From my personal experience, I wish I had learned the grammar rules AFTER I learned how to speak or write French. I don't feel I was intellectually ready for the rules until college or maybe even after my year abroad. I really wish now that I could take a French composition or conversation class where the teacher re-explains the rules of subjonctif as I'm using it. In context. I'm ready for it now. I ready to understand my grammatical mistakes. Shoot, I just learned about good v. well about ten years ago...after high school. And I was not a stupid kid. I took college level classes and was in the top of my class. I just wasn't ready for it.

Wow, that was quite a brain bounce. I'm feeling all this pressure to prove that TPRS is more than just telling silly stories. I need to find the balance between no grammar v. rote memorization of grammar rules with no context. I know it exists and I believe that Pop-Up Grammar and "It just sounds right" will work...but how to convince the non-believers??

Monday, September 28, 2009

Classroom Management

I've been watching Ben Slavic's DVDs showing him in his classroom and I'm envying his classroom management. I have a hard time keeping kids engaged in the class and quiet at the same time. I want them to participate, so I encourage them to yell out their answers...but then I have kids that aren't yelling out answers....aren't paying attention...but are talking to their friends instead. I have such a hard time trying to control the chaos. The students who are talking to their friends are also the ones who get discouraged when they are paying attention and are vocal about "not getting it". It drives me crazy because, in my mind, if you are opening your mouth to say "I don't get it," your ears are filled with the sound of your own voice and there's no room for the French that I'm speaking to get in there. Am I wrong on this?? I guess I need to just be honest with the class and explain to them why it disturbs me so much. Maybe appealing to their logical, mature side will help. We'll see...

Friday, September 25, 2009


Okay, so we've been working on commands for a couple of weeks now, and I still have those students who have no clue what's going on. We've done TPR, Madame says, translations, etc...I've had them written on the board, in their notes...but I still have kids failing quizzes. What is the solution? For the students that I'm reaching, they are doing SO WELL, but I still have those kids that I can't get to. I'll be working really hard the next couple of weeks to fix that problem.

Today, as I was walking down the hall after teaching for the first half of the day, it struck me how happy TPRS makes me. It's so much FUN to teach the class and be able to laugh and make jokes...sing and dance and BE MYSELF. This is really the only method for me, I think. I don't know if I could really keep 16-18 year olds interested, but it would be a fun challenge! Thank God I starts TPRS when I did. I was feeling burnt out after only 2 years! With this, the only thing that feels burnt out is my voice and my body...but I can handle that if my mind is sharp.

I've started watching Ben Slavic's DVDs and they are absolutely amazing. What an inspiration that guy is!! I love how he has the words on the wall, and we are highly encouraged to have a word wall in our classes at my schools as well. My problem is that I travel between three classrooms and don't have the time, space, or ability to have word walls in all of my rooms. They suggested making something that I can project in all the rooms and take with we'll see if that works. My other problem is that my school suggests keeping word walls to no more than 30 words. It seems like I would have a lot more than that...maybe I'm wrong? I wish there was a mentor/coach for me here so I could ask him/her all these burning questions I have. But I also kinda dig being the resident "expert" on TPRS for my school. Hopefully I can get at least a few TPRS ideas in other classrooms in my district!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thoughts on TPRS so far

Okay, so I've been using TPRS for a couple of weeks now. I'm really not great at it....yet! I still feel like I'm reaching my students better with this method than with the old style teaching. Today was eye opening for me in one of my second-year classes. Those students are REALLY embracing this crazy new method. They were my super quiet...why am I here?...students before. But ever since the day we introduced Barney, the baby-eating big purple dinosaur (who is acted out by a boy in the class), they've blossomed. Today, they were so excited about what we were doing in class (reading a silly story about Barney and writing one of their own, following the pattern of the story I wrote) that they couldn't help coming up to me and bursting out in English about their stories. They were bubbly with excitement. This class has more kids who aren't really comfortable with each other, but the atmosphere that we are creating in class is giving them the confidence to talk to each other and the enthusiasm to WANT TO DO IT.

I told another French teacher when I began this process that I drank the Kool-Aid. I am ready to jump in the deep end with my students and throw direct grammar instruction out the window. And I got my book and DVD set from Ben Slavic today! I absolutely can't wait to watch him work his magic and read his tips to bring a bit of his skills into my classroom.

I'm in my third year teaching, but this is the first time I've actually felt really really really excited about what's going on in my classroom. I don't want to be the teacher who stands in front of the class and tells them to be quiet so I can explain indirect objects. Yuck! That may be perfect for other teachers, but it just doesn't work for me. Most of the time, I never knew what those words meant anyways...I just knew what they did. In fact, until two summers ago, I had no idea what a possessive adjective was. But I sure did know how to use them! Why is it so important for my kids to get all this book knowledge if they aren't going to be able to use it? My goal is for my kids to be able to communicate (no matter how basically they have to do it) with a native speaker and get their point across. The rest happens later, anyways. I had no idea how to speak French until I started living there...but I could conjugate verbs!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 5

I actually taught day 5 over two days, due to block scheduling.

With my second year students, we reviewed the gestures we created for the avoir phrases. I really think they have those phrases down. We'll see tomorrow when I ask them to translate them into English. Blaine Ray says that I should shoot for 90% of my students getting a 90% or greater on the test. I've got my fingers crossed for sure. We also started the questionnaire that I got from Ben Slavic's site that he got from someone else (I think). I had the students fill out the questions that had to do with things they have or want to have and what they are afraid of. That gave me an opportunity to get in some great repetitions. They also finished up their posters of the avoir phrases so that I can hang them up and they'll have a visual reminder of what they mean.

With my first year class, they also started filling out their questionnaire, but I just took Ben's advice and had them write their name and something they like. This introduced jouer, regarder, and aimer. I didn't get in as many repetitions as they needed because I'm always worried that they're getting bored and then they act out. Hopefully this will get better as I get better at the PQA.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague today about what I'm doing and why. I guess I've really bought into the theory... It's hit home lately as I've watched how I interact with my infant daughter. I really want to create an environment for my students that is like how we learn our first language. I really believe that students do not need to know how to fill out a verb chart in order to be successful with language. My only hesitation is that I'm not sure what the other teachers think. I want to prepare my students to do well in the higher level classes with another teacher... My hypothesis is that it is better for them to really know how to communicate over a few topics really well than it is for them to know how to conjugate a verb. PLUS, it has been my experience that second year students remember next-to-nothing that was learned in the first year. So...if I'm teaching them something...anything!...that will stick through the summe months, isn't that better than teaching to the curriculum map exactly and having them forget literally almost all of it before they get to the next teacher?? Is there a way to have both??

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 4

I didn't get a chance to blog at the end of the day yesterday, so I'm a bit foggy as to what I did or how it went...this will probably be a shorter blog.

I started off the day with my second year classes and decided that, rather than review avoir the usual way, I would use the avoir phrases unique to romance languages (I have hunger v. I am hungry). We took notes over the phrases and then I asked the students to come up with gestures so that we could associate a physical movement with the meanings for the various phrases. This went amazingly well. I drilled them on them, had them moving around, and laughing. It was really interesting to me to see two classes come up with the same, seemingly random, gesture for "I have luck..." (a sky rainbow from Spongebob??). I had a great time with the students and got some of those chatty Cathies back from the disaster of Monday.

With my first year kiddos, we continued to work on commands. I know that I'm not doing it "right" because I'm giving them the Vous commands instead of using the Il form. It was a mistake that I started on Monday and am not quite sure how to remedy at this point. We shall see... They are enjoying it and I upped the ante by asking for volunteers to act out my commands, giving those starved for attention a chance to shine. In one of my classes, we had some extra time, so I did a little story-telling with them and ended up with a baby-eating Hitler (I'm beginning to see a pattern) who ate Britney Spears' babies, because he was so evil. They really enjoyed using "malin" from the first Muzzy episode that we watched last week. I also found a great CI TV show on youtube that does a great job of explaining what is going on. I'm sure that a lot of French teachers already know about it, but it's called Telefrancais. So far, I've really enjoyed it because it's cheesy enough that it makes the kids laugh, unlike the Chez Mimi or Extra that is available on Those shows are okay, but they talk over the kids' heads and they try to hard to be funny and cool.

Anyway, I think my great experiment is going pretty well so far. I still haven't talked to the high school French teachers about what I'm doing to see if they are going to hate me for it or not. Maybe I'll set up a meeting next week...I just really feel like language at this stage should be about comprehension and communication...not grammar rules. No offense to my high school French teacher, who was wonderful, but I really don't remember a lot of the "grammar" stuff that we did in school. Instead, I remember the group of boys who always fit in something about a saucisson and a foque into each of their skits. If I can make some basic communicative phrases stick in their heads like that and give them the confidence to produce the language to native speakers and others...I feel like I've done my job. Whether or not the upper level teachers will agree with me, I'm not sure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day 3

Okay, so today didn't start off so great. I had in mind that I wanted to work with my second year students on avoir, recycling some vocab from last year over family, classroom objects and avoir phrases. My first class of the day is loud, rambunctious, and funny, so I thought TPRS would be perfect for them. Unfortunately, they didn't understand that we were working together to learn something, even though I was doing most of the talking. I had students having a full-blown conversation on the side...students zoned out or reading a book...and students who just blurted out totally random facts about what they did this weekend. It was mass chaos and I was completely overwhelmed. So I did the unthinkable! I stopped, told them to get out their workbooks, and assigned some stupid pencil and paper assignment that had NOTHING to do with what we were supposed to be learning. Yikes!! That absolutely goes against my teaching style and what I believe about teaching. Afterwards, I decided that maybe I could get that class on board if I started off with my own story and had them act it out or do a response to the story instead of guiding them in creating a story. So...I guess that's what I'm going to do tomorrow.

I thought of giving up for my second class of the day, but I decided to go through with my plans, after giving the students a caveat that we could learn through this fun new method or we could learn the boring way. They were a little hesitant at first, but then really warmed to it. By the end, one student was Barney, the fat purple dinosaur who eats children. Another student was Miley Cyrus and she and her dad own Barney...he eats Miley's stalker fans so that she can sleep. They were laughing and having a great time. They understood everything, which I guess is the I need to know where to go with that comprehension. I sure do wish my new tprs book and dvds would get here PRONTO!

This afternoon, with my first year students, I had them act out some different verbs with commands, such as stand up, sit down, jump, hit, turn around, touch this, etc. I think they enjoyed it, but we'll have to spend some more time working on that. Also, I found a great resource on youtube called Telefrancais. It was a show on public access in the 80's and does a really good job offering comprehensible input for beginning students. Plus, it's pretty cheesy, so I think the kids will really like it. No idea yet what I'll be doing!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Planning for day 2

We have a half day on Monday, so I think I'm going to start using some tprs principles in my second year class. They struggle with the most basic French concepts unless we "kill and drill" (something I absolutely HATE doing). I'm hoping that tprs will help them learn more naturally than mindlessly filling out worksheets. Fingers crossed. So Monday, I figure we'll work on J'ai and Il/Elle a with various family members and classroom objects (vocab they should already have bouncing around somewhere in their brains). I'm really hoping that this will be successful with my chatty hour...I'm really struggling with getting them focused and I hope that making the class more fun and interactive will give them a chance to get their wiggles out in a positive way instead of driving me crazy! We shall see.

For my first year students, who have already had one experience with circling, I am planning on beginning some tpr moves for basic action verbs to get them up and out of their seats. I've never actually seen this done, so it should be an interesting experiment.

Yesterday, I talked to my principal yesterday about tprs and my plans to start using it this year. He was amazingly supportive, which I think is a rarity in this grammar-based world. He really seems to understand that students sitting quietly, facing the teacher, is not necessarily the best way to teach a foreign language. I'm so excited to get going and have him come to observe me in the classroom and get his feedback. I feel really blessed to have an administrator who genuinely cares about my professional growth and will help me reach my goals.

More next week!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day one

I'm bursting at the seams with excitement about starting TPRS in my classroom! This is my third year teaching, and I've been absolutely frustrated with how little my second year students remember coming back from summer break. Getting J'ai and Je suis mixed up makes no sense to me... They are so different! I've never been a huge proponent of grammar-based teaching, but I wasn't sure how to meet my class objectives without somewhat focusing on verb charts and academic vocabulary. Enter TPRS:

I believe that this method of teaching replicates the language learning process experienced by infants and toddlers learning to speak. LOTS of input....little or no output for a LONG time. I've always considered myself a success if the students can conjugate verbs correctly and remember to add an e or an s to an adjective to make it match the subject. But how many students will spend their nights writing long pieces in French?? Not many. How many will travel to France or Quebec or any other francophone country for a week or two and need to remember how to find the bathroom? And how many of their listeners are going to care (or even know) if they don't add the e when spouting "La tour eiffel est tres jolie!" So I'm back to the drawing's how I started.

I've been reading, no, make that devouring, all the information on I'd already read the Blaine Ray book, but it was never clear to me how to jump in...what specific skills I needed to learn to make this a success. Ben Slavic has wonderful ideas and makes it easy to implement in my own classroom. I also watched a video of him on youtube that was very helpful. Now, I've ordered his book and video set to help me on my journey...but I'm way too impatient to wait for the books to try my hand at transforming my classroom.

Today, I had a block day with my 1st year class (one hour and 30 minutes with the same kids...yikes!). I have already taught them basic introduction vocabulary and lots of classroom objects. They are super involved in the class and excited to learn so far. I started the class today by explaining to them that we'll be trying something new in class from now on. I will write our target words/phrases on the board at the beginning of class and we will work together to come up with an easy way to remember it (Thanks to Mr. Slavic for the idea). This worked amazingly well. We laughed, sang, danced a little... Then, I started in on my circling. I was able to stretch this out to about 45 minutes before the kids started glazing over. A few pluses: the (aaahhhh) I required after the key statement woke up the kids who were beginning to stray, singling out one student to talk about made the other students jealous (and hopefully excited for next time), and when I asked them in English about the story at the end, they knew all the answers, so I know that they were able to comprehend my French! Now, the questions/problems... How do I keep my kids from getting bored with the circling in the beginning when they don't have very much vocab to make the stuff exciting? What other activities can I do to infuse variety in the classroom so we're not always circling?

All-in-all, I was very pleased with how things went today. It will take a while for me to feel comfortable, and I can't wait to get my book and DVDs so I can get more ideas. If anyone ever reads this...and really, who would??...feel free to comment and help me out!! It's all about helping each other, right??