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??