Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Big Payoff-Literally

Okay, this is going to sound bad in the beginning, but hear me out! Yesterday, I got physical proof that my love for my students is evident and that they are reciprocating. Three of my students brought me a gift yesterday. I've gotten Christmas gifts from students before, but they have always been the very generic, my mom bought this and made me bring it to you, kind. These three students went together and found me a necklace with different charms, including the Eiffel Tower! This is the first time that a student has actually bought me a personal gift, using what they know about my style and likes to buy me something! I was super excited not for the gift, but for the feelings behind the gesture. Call me naive, but I feel like I'm succeeding in creating a classroom where students feel loved and validated.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Getting the hang of expanding a story

Finally today I feel like I have a feel for expanding a story. I took a story from chapter 2 of Look I Can Talk about a rich fat cow and a poor monkey. I started off trying to review some vocab that I knew that they already knew, so we talked a ton about the cow. Why was she rich? What color was she? Why was she fat? My students really added some amazing details to this puny little story about a cow and a monkey. In 40 minutes, we just created a back-story for the cow. Now tomorrow we'll introduce the second character and build his back-story...and finally we'll try to get around to the plot.

I honestly feel like I get better at TPRS every day. I'm learning more, getting more comfortable...and I don't dread a class or going to school ever. Even now that we are winding down for Christmas...I've got something that I can do and teach my kids and entertain them!

Oh, and I haven't even talked about Susie Gross's ideas to stick in culture. So far, we've done a story that takes place at the Louvre...so I took a quick break and showed some pictures of the museum and we talked (in English) about why the Mona Lisa is so famous...which really helped the story along. Tomorrow maybe we'll get to the Moulin Rouge and the can-can!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Results of speaking test-Warning...Emotional!

I am sitting here trying not to cry in front of my students. (Yes, I'm blogging during class while the students play on freerice.com to practice French vocab and donate rice to poor countries!) I just had a student come to take his speaking test. Background: This kid is "trouble." He walked in the first day with an "I dare you to make me learn" look in his eyes. After talking to his teacher/mentor from last year, I learned a lot of information about his heart. He hung out with some bad kids before and was trying to re-create himself...but he didn't have any other friends to support him in that. So, needless to say, I have quite the heart for this student. Today, he wasn't going to try to take his speaking test. Another student said, Just try...it's easy. So he came to me reluctantly and tried to work out some activities that his classmates do. I also want to say that this student missed more than half of my classes due to behavior issues. He gave me 4 of the 5 and then hesitated on "Brenda sings" I could hear him starting the ch sound that starts chante(sings). He stopped and said, "I can't remember." I said, "Yes, you do, just say it." He said, "Brenda chante." Then, I went on with my "above and beyond" questions, asking him where Brenda sings in French. He answered the question as well as another one...in French!!! When I told him that he got 100%, he shyly smiled and walked away. Can you imagine what his life might be like in a class where a teacher dismisses him as a problem child? It breaks my heart.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Results of Std-based assessments

It's been a couple of days since I posted last, so please excuse me if I repeat anything said in the last post....

Last week, I gave my comprehension assessment, as outlined in the last post. Then, I got them back and I was confused again...How in the world do I grade this?? Here is what I did:

I looked at the matching section and I graded that and wrote a number correct. If they got 20 or more, I wrote a star, because I knew that they had met my goal for that section and received at least a 2 on the assessment.

On the back, I realized that some of the students were able to answer quite a few questions from section 3 without doing so well on the 2 (matching) section. I realized that some of my questions were too easy. Questions where they have to know a single vocab word to get it correct do not work...that's what the matching section is for! So, I threw those questions out and focused my attention on the questions that required actual comprehension of the reading. Questions like Why? How? Describe? really seemed to show me how much my students were understanding.

For section 4, I wrote questions that really tested whether or not my students were super-stars. I embedded some new vocabulary and asked them to define the words, using context clues and prior knowledge. I also asked some grammar questions...but I think those might have been too easy. So when I graded this section, I used my gut. If a student really impressed me with their insightfullness, I gave them a 4...and thus a 100%. If they were almost there, they got a 3.5.

So a 4 is 100%, 3.5 is 96%, 3 is 92%, 2.5 is 84%, 2 is 76%, 1.5 is 70%, 1 is 60%, .5 is 50% and a zero is 40%.

What this grading scale does is it allows you to give lots of credit to those students who are trying, but just haven't gotten it...yet. They can re-take the test as many times as they need to once they "get" the information (I'll probably write another story...) Another thing that I loved/hated is that it really showed me where my students really are. Sometimes in class, they can pass my comprehension quizzes (because there is so much English on the board)...but they haven't internalized the words yet. This is a great communication tool because they are telling me what they're not getting and I can then pass that on to parents. It's a bummer because students who were feeling very successful might now have a B or a C. But I bet if I gave them the same assessment in a month, they would do much better. But they are SO freaked out because their grades might be "tanked" for a few weeks.

All-in-all, I LOVED this process. I am going to do a speaking assessment tomorrow where the objective is to talk about 5 friends preferred activities. A two will be if they struggle or miss one or two. A 3 will be that they gave me 5 activities, but didn't really expand much. A 3.5 will be if they can answer English questions in French about where they do the activity or when and a 4 will be if we can talk back and forth in the TL about the activities. We'll see!!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Standards-based Assessments

As a district, we are moving towards std-based assessments, as are a lot of districts... This month, I have been working really hard on trying to create an assessment to prove that my kids are learning. I think that we, as TPRS teachers, really feel a lot of pressure prove that we're not just singing and telling silly stories, but preparing our students to communicate in the TL. I know that I have felt that pressure lately, times one hundred, due to some teachers in the upper levels who haven't been the most supportive of me.

With that in mind, I set out to prove that my students can meet our district French standards. The first problem? We don't really have any district standards for French. When we got together to write them a few years back, we were told to use the National and State standards as our guide. So our standards look really, really vague. So I thought...and I thought...and I thought. What have I been teaching my students these last 3 months? What should they know after sitting in my class all those hours? Well, for my first years, that was pretty easy, I guess. We've been circling with their cards, so they have a TON of vocabulary dealing with activities. So I made a sort of list of the vocab I think they should know at this point. They all fit into the category of discussing activities, so I made that my "theme" under the standard of comprehension.

The next step was to create an assessment that would easily tell me if students are meeting my objective, falling below it, or going way beyond what I've taught or expect them to know. So I took 25 of the vocab words from my list and made a matching section, asking them to match the French to the English. I called this my basic knowledge level. If they can do this, I know they've "got" the information. Next, I asked them to apply this knowledge by reading a short story I wrote, using the words, and answering English questions in English about the story. I had some trouble when grading this part, because I realized that some of the questions were way to easy. Asking if science class was fun or boring really only required them to recognize the word for boring...which they already did if they completed the first section correctly. So I had to throw some questions out and stick with questions like "Why?" "How?" and such. In the last section, the above and beyond section, I had my students translate some new words, using context clues, background knowledge, and what they know about French. I had never taught these words and the students had never seen them before. I also asked them to make inferences about the characters and pick up grammar points, such as why there is an -e at the end of this particular word...etc. Things that I consider nice to know but not essential at this point in the year.

I've run out of time, so I'll have to blog later about giving the test and seeing the results!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fun conversation

Yesterday I wasn't really sure what to do with my second year students. I thought they were going to do a project on French castles, but then I decided against it. So I thought that we should practice "peut" (can) because it is a very high frequency word. But how to do it?? I had a moment of genius and decided to talk about whether or not my students had superpowers (I just used English for superpower). Then, when they said yes, we talked about what they can do. Can you swim like a fish? Can you lift the entire school? Can you run super-fast? It ended up being really funny. In one class, they loved it and tried to come up with hilarious superpowers. In the other class, the boys decided that none of them had superpowers...but my girls came alive with it! It became a funny moment every time I asked another student if they had a superpower. When a boy said no, the boys cheered...and when a girl said yes, the boys got "mad" and the girls cheered. All in all, a great day out of a strange, last-minute idea.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Taking a break

This morning, I was exhausted. My eyes were closing as I drove the 45 minutes to school... The thought of hyping myself up for TPRS was horrific. So, I thought of what I could do that would meet my objectives while giving me a break.

Today, we're taking a break from stories and doing a cultural project on the monuments of Paris. It's a nice break. I hope they'll be reinvigorated for stories next week...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Curriculum maps

This week, I got an email from Nathan on the moretprs list. He had tried to post his curriculum maps to the list, but it won't allow attachments, so I asked him to send it directly to me.

When I finally got around to opening it, it was amazing! Our district is REALLY pushing common formative assessments and GLEs and powered standards, etc. I was having a really hard time figuring out how to take what I do in the classroom and making that fit into these little boxes where traditional teachers write -ir verbs. He did an extraordinary job of making that fit. I feel good about it and hope to take what he has done and make it fit with my curriculum. It will also really really really help me to have something to give to the high school teachers who are not very excited about my TPRS "experiment"

After years of requests for this, I am going to share them here.  If you are the owner of this information and want me to take it down, please let me know!

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Gathering steam...

I feel like the year is finally getting into a groove for me. I have a pseudo-schedule that I'm pretty much following for every week. On Monday and Tuesday, I have story time. For now, that means circling with balls. I write everything down on white bulletin board paper stuck to my white board with magnets. If I fill up a sheet, I write it on the board and copy it down later. I keep two sheets of words up at a time...after that, I write them down and give the kids a non-scored quiz to see which words they've internalized. I tally the score and if more than 15-20% don't know a word, I recognize that they need more time and I try to recycle it as much as possible. The words that they do know, I write down in a spiral (keeping one list for each hour). I think what I'm going to do is have the students copy down the list every time we reach 20 words. Then, those become no-excuse words that they should know. I can quiz and test them on these words at any time. That way, there should only be a couple of students in each class who need to study the words...everyone else has internalized them. It's a lot of paperwork and recycled paper, but I figure it's less than if I handed them all workbooks and worksheets throughout the year, right?

Okay, so that's what I've been doing on Monday and Tuesdays. With my first year kids, on Wednesday and Thursday (we have blocks those days), we do a little reading. I write up a story based on the vocab we've been working on and adding a few new words that I know they don't know. I read it in French, then they tell me what words they didn't understand. I write them on the board and then we read it chorally in English. After that, I ask a bunch of questions about the story in French. We are also learning basic introductory vocabulary that doesn't fit well into a story. The first week, we went over What's your name and responses and how do you spell that? The second week, we added How old are you? The third week, How are you? The fourth week, Where do you live? and Describing people for this week. I think that's going pretty well. They have a hard time switching gears when we go into this because it's vocabulary that we mainly use on block days and not during story-telling (except for I usually ask my actors what their names are when they are acting). We are also working on the alphabet and counting during these days. The last thing I do on block days is the TPR commands. I don't know why, but I HATE teaching this way. I can never think of what to tell them to do and it just doesn't feel good to me. Does anyone have any helpful hints for making this better?

On Fridays, we do our PAT. So far, we've watched Telefrancais and French music videos, played Boules, played vocab games, and eaten French food. It's worked out really well and the kids really look forward to it.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot, we also sing on the block days. We sing some authentic songs like Alouette and some silly songs like If you're happy and you know it (in French)

I'm feeling really good right now. I just wish I had some help coming up with stories and song activities...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Excited to talk

With my first year students, I haven't really encouraged them to talk or make any sentences yet. Today, I was teaching them some basic introductory vocab like "How old are you?" Then, I left the room and came back in so that they could ask me those easy questions.

First question from a student: What's your name? (Great! We learned that three weeks ago and have been reviewing it a little bit)
Second question: How old are you? (Good, we're practicing that today)
Third question: Do you play football? (Wow! We hadn't practiced this at all as a question for a stranger...only in context when circling with balls)
Fourth Question: Do you dance like Beyonce? (Umm....awesome. Where did that come from??)

My kids were really excited to be given the opportunity to blurt out anything they could in French. A couple of times during this activity, I had a girl raise her hand, and instead of asking me a question, she told me part of a story that we had told in class while circling with balls. An example: Madame Hayles loves Johnny because Johnny plays basketball better than Lebron James. I was floored!

Then, we were doing some easy TPR stuff and I was ordering the kids around and playing Madame dit with them...and one student asked if they could order me around! Of course, I said yes. So they were telling me to sing slowly like Justin Bieber. And sit down slowly and dance and sing! It was fun. And it was great because instead of being intimidated by speaking FRench, they were SUPER excited about it. They couldn't WAIT to show me what they could do.

What a wonderful reminder of why I'm doing this!!

Hitting the wall...and getting back up

It's not just me, because I've read other posts from people who are hitting the wall... I'm getting worn out. I'm not as excited as I was on the first day, when I was super-emotive. I had a couple of blah days, but I feel like I'm getting back into it.

Today, with my first years, I abandoned circling with balls and instead started with a basic story using some TPR verbs. So, I had a boy who wanted something and he went somewhere and there were multiple things there to choose from. Okay, that sounds confusing, so I'll just tell my story from 3rd hour. There was a boy. His name was Barcon le garcon. He was 6013 years old. He walked quickly, backwards to the circus because he wanted a tiger. He wanted a yellow tiger with red stripes. There were three tigers at the circus. He looked at tiger number 1, but tiger number 1 was really a bear! He looked at tiger number 2, but tiger number 2 was blue with green stripes. He looked at tiger number 3, and tiger number 3 was yellow with red stripes! But, tiger number 3 had 7 heads. Barcon wanted a yellow and red-striped tiger with only one head. He was sad.

One of my students said on the way out, "That was my favorite story so far!" It was really stupid and didn't take long at all. Not a lot of new vocab (except there is and wants...) and zero preparation from me!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two weeks in...

So many things are going so well so far... Friday, I went to one of my administrators, who I've worked closely with in the past on some problem students. I said to him, "I don't think I'll be needing your help this year...I really feel pretty comfortable with classroom management and how my classes are acting this year." He asked me to elaborate and said, "I'm glad to hear you say that. I've noticed a difference just in the way you carry yourself this year." He then asked me to send a staff-wide email on what has been working for me this year in the classroom. I haven't done that yet...not sure I have the balls to pat myself on the back in front of the whole staff.

Here's something that hasn't been going so well. Maybe we can work together to find a solution... Today, after the lovely three-day weekend, my fire wasn't there. I was talking about my students and what they like to do, but I wasn't really excited about it. I think I've been so worried about the kids getting bored that I'm projecting that to the kids. I'm worried about it, so it's becoming boring. I have to sell it more...

My other problem is that my second year kids, who went wild last year, are getting fidgety sitting all day. I've tried to mix it up by singing active songs and having a couple of students act...but I'm still telling one story (one really really long story) and they all want to be part of it. Thoughts?

Thursday, August 26, 2010


For those of you who are not familiar with blurters, they are students that you pick to help you out by shouting out the English when you say a particular word in the TL. Usually, these are tough words that need a TON of repetition to stick.

So yesterday, I had a kid who was falling asleep in class. I noticed that my kids were having a really hard time with where, so I asked him to shout it out everytime I said Ou. He did, stayed awake, and wrote on his evaluation that he enjoyed being part of the class that day. What a boost for that kid! My colleague said that she wondered what life was for him in other classes, where teachers don't engage him to be part of the class?

Today, I used this technique again with a kid with severe ADHD and Asperger's. I had him shout out "has" every time I said a. It helped him focus and I think it helped the rest of the class remember what a means. AND, at the end of the class, I was able to thank him for helping me out today.

I think I've said it before on here, but it is such a different experience teaching when I'm more interested in my kids and their understanding than I am about curriculum. I've picked out what's important. If a single student doesn't get it, we'll keep working on it. No big deal. I won't "move on" (which is silly in TPRS, where everything recycles all the time) until we're all understanding!!

First block days

Sooooo, ninety minutes is a little much for storytelling this early in the year. Even with interesting details, lots of comprehension checks, and individual questioning, my kids are getting bored. So I threw in some TPR commands and singing to break up the class and then went back to it. It seemed to work, but I think I'll work in some reading on block days in the future.

Today and yesterday, I asked my kids to do a written comprehension check of the 12 or 14 words we'd been working on at the beginning of the year. After only 3 days, all my kids got two words right and only one or two missed a couple more. Everyone was pretty successful, even though I'm not grading it or anything. I feel good! I've never had this many SPED kids, and they are doing great as well. It is so rewarding.

At the bottom of my comprehension check, I had the students write what was working and what could be better. Amazing to me that most of the students said that I could go slower. I know that I need to go slow...even slower. I get it! Now I just have to train myself to do it. All the time, not just the first time through a structure. It was also an ego boost because the kids said that they really enjoyed the class, even the kid who sits in the back and "dares" me with his eyes to make him do something. He likes the class because he can just sit (even though I check in with him every so often to make sure he's paying attention).

Woo hoo! Is it perfect? Of course not! But I'm improving so much!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Actual TPRS

So far, I've only blogged about my experiences with classroom management this year, which is still going swimmingly! But on Friday, I started circling with balls (or guitar, in this case), with my students.

In first hour, I picked a student who drew a rock band, knowing that I had a toy guitar for a prop. We talked about how he plays guitar (not baseball!) with his feet (never his hands!) better than Jimi Hendrix. That's all we got to on Friday, so today I picked up where we left off, fully intending to review the story and move on to someone else. It was not to be, because it turns out that little Johnny plays guitar at the library. And there is a girl there! What was her name? Well, of course, it was Betty White. (The kids went wild with this detail...they were very worried that Robbie was going to fall in love with Betty) Betty is Johnny's g-ma and she plays the accordian. Anyway, the story went on until 5 minutes before the bell, when I stopped it to do a quick comprehension quiz. It's amazing to me what I learned through osmosis at NTPRS. I think that once your brain starts going, those funky details emerge naturally. Last year, I struggled so much with trying to think of funny details and trying to figure out where the story was going. This year, after watching Blaine and Von and everyone else, it just pops into my head and I think, "Of COURSE that's what happened!"

This continued with other crazy kids in my other two hours. We are still on the first student! The other students really want a chance to get in there and talk about themselves, but I have my stars for right now! I'm so excited to see what happens with Betty and Johnny tomorrow...

Another bonus for me and TPRS: today, I asked my second year students what they did this weekend and they remembered how to answer, using "Je suis alle" (excuse the lack of accent) and J'ai regarde! Woo hoo!!!

I am having more discipline issues with my second year students. I have one class that is really pushing it because they aren't used to me cracking down. It will take a little while for them to calm down, I think. But, I have decided that they will not ruin my class for the other students. If it comes to an issue where they are losing PAT time consistently...I will take those talkers and give them a textbook and a nice quiet room to do the book work.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First day/second half

Well, my second year students were a little surprised when I said that they couldn't socialize in the classroom. But I think they figured it out pretty quick. I only really had one or two students who couldn't control themselves. I'll have to see how the year progresses with them.

I was really excited to see my students again this year. It's surprising to me what a difference it makes teaching from a loving spot instead of a curriculum spot. I smiled a lot more and joked a lot more and touched a lot more (not in a gross way). I really feel like I connected with the kids. I hope that I can continue down that path and not get bogged down with what I "have to teach."

I used Dale's hand signal and counting down from 5 with my loudest class when they got crazy talking about their summers. We hadn't practiced it and I spoke quietly, and it worked! I felt like doing a cheer, but of course I just acted like I would accept/expect nothing less.

I think the main difference in my feelings on classroom management is that my expectations are so much higher. And I am going to respect myself and the other students in my class enough to not lower those standards for one or two loudmouths. I can't wait to see what this year brings! And I can't wait until NTPRS 2011 to learn more!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First day!!

I just finished the first half of my first day back at school, and I really think that all the reflection over the summer has made me a better teacher this year. I read Fred Jones: Tools for Teaching and saw Dale Crum at NTPRS, so I had my desks labelled with numbers and handed each student a card with a number on it. My "assignment" was on the board, so they could get right to work if they wanted to. If they wanted to chat, I asked them to go out into the hall and told them how much time was left in the passing period. I had a class of 30 (my largest class ever), and they tried to chat a little bit, but I gave them "the look" and moved in...it worked!

I was amazed at how hesitant the students were to shake my hand at the door. I had to chase some down...

After class, I took the index cards, made my seating chart, and jotted down anything I could remember about the student on the back of the card. I feel like I'm coming from such a strong, caring place this year. Starting off in English was great because I could joke and be myself right off the bat.

Now I'm preparing for my last two classes...and I had them last year. It will be a little different because I had these kids last year when I was a weenie...BE STRONG, BESS!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Culture in the classroom-Phrase of the week

One of the things that I am going to make darn sure I do this year is be consistent with my phrase of the week. Last year, it was something that worked really well. I spent maybe a minute once a week on it, and it magically appeared in my students' vocabularies.

My sister is home from a year abroad to renew her Visa, so I was asking her for some common phrases that are being used in France right now. Here are some phrases that she told me that you might want to use in your classroom (if you teach French, that is) I don't have accents on this computer, so you'll have to add your own...

fais gaffe: watch yourself
tu pues comme un ours: you smell like a bear (my kids LOVE this one)
Ca m'est egal: I don't care
fais attention: pay attention
franchement/vachement: frankly/really really
c'est chaud: that's rough, that sucks
tant pis: too bad
et alors...: so?
Ca tue/c'est mortelle: that's killer, that rocks
Tu es tres charmant(e): a compliment for the opposite sex, usually used for the ladies
supercanon: hot lady/bombshell
je suis a fond: I'm excited
j'ai le beguin pour: I have a crush on
degun: personne
se bouffer: to eat
un gar/un mec: dude
une nana: a chick
ca craint: that sucks
t'es nul: you suck (of course, you would use this with caution...)
a plus dans le bus: see you later alligator
a la prochaine dans le train: after a while crocodile
il est a fond la caisse: he's into that
cingle (accent aigu) d'elle: crazy about her
fetard: partyer
bosseur: worker

I'm also going to try to come up with some natural subjunctive phrases to use in my stories. So far, I have (of course I can change the subject):

Il faut qu'on fasse
Il faut que j'aille

If you have any that you think are pretty common, let me know! I haven't taught subjunctive ever and haven't really used it since college, since I only teach first year. Help a sister out!

The week before school

I have been getting ready in my head. I'm planning out what the first day of school is going to look like. I am reading Tools For Teaching and figuring out what systems I will need to have ready in order to change the atmosphere in my classroom. My second year students are going to be in for a rude awakening...

First, I am going to change the setup of my classroom at one school (where I have my own classroom) to make life easiest. Then , each desk will have a number taped to it to facilitate seating charts.

I want to make a large, color sign for my door that says something like "Caution: Entering Work Area" to create a distinction between the social hallway and my quiet classroom.

I need to check on my question signs and see if I need to change/add any questions there.

I want to take some white bulletin board paper and tape it up around my room for writing structures. One of the things I learned by being a student in Blaine's classroom is how important these visuals are. I knew exactly where to look if a word/structure hadn't stuck in my head yet. And even now, when I think back to our story, my mind visualizes the word paper and I can remember what the structures mean...

That's all I can think of for now. I'm sure I'll be adding once I read more of Tools for Teaching and actually get into my classroom

Day 5-Classroom management-Motivation

Must have classroom arrangement and meaning business first! You can not rely on motivation if you have no control over your class to begin with. You have to have control and then use motivation to encourage responsibility

Build cooperation
· Teachers need cooperation from students

Rules that work:
o Show up on time
o Walk as they enter the classroom
o Bring materials
o Be in their seats when the bell rings
o Be working when the bell rings

· Cooperation is voluntary-Why should I?
Creating motivation
· Incentive system must accomplish multiple objectives simultaneously, be cheap, represent a reduction of the teacher’s workload

Time allowance
· Students tend to waste time
· Students can’t learn to manage time until they have time to manage
· We have no intention of losing learning time as the price of supplying the students with incentives
· We are supplying time as an incentive in order to increase instructional time

Regaining time loss through PAT:
· An allowance of time (say 3 minutes per day)
· Teacher is giver of PAT (time, structure, bonus) and timekeeper
· Student choice (as a class) is to squander, be selfish or save and share
Nuts and bolts:
· Basic allowance (3 minutes a day per day so the week equals 15 minutes for a standard week)
· Bonus PAT:
o Automatic (if every kid is meeting your expectations-be in seat when bell rings, be quiet first 5 minutes of class, have materials, they get an extra minute for each for an opportunity for another 3 minutes per day)
o Hurry-up (for transitions-I expect that this should take 2 minutes, if you take less time than that, I will give you the extra time as PAT)
o Helping (for erasing board, picking up trash
o PAT contest (how can we get as many minutes as 1st hour??) set-up a goal (keep class all in French for 20 minutes and you’ll get an extra minute of PAT)
o Layering (kids can “earn” parts of your curriculum like movies)
o Time loss (when students take longer than allotted for an activity, if they are still talking when you reach zero on your hand gesture, when a student wants to tell a story. Kids don’t lose PAT time, they use PAT time)
· Spending PAT: Do activities you would do anyway (games, videos, reading time)
o Bingo
o Basketball
o Double diamond baseball-baseball with both teams playing at the same time
o Hollywood squares
o Concentration
o Cut throat-4 different boards, put up a picture that represents a story (1000 for first done, 900 for second, 800 for third…etc. Every mistake costs them 50 points and the students point out the mistakes)
o Around the world
o Musical chairs
o Give them candy or stickers for winning the game, not for good behavior

· Need a stopwatch

· Ways to destroy your system
o Take time off randomly for various offenses
o Change the rules to your advantage
o Use time to manage a behavior that you could have managed with your body
o Use PAT for something like a quiz: announce a quiz a week in advance and then “run out of time” for the quiz on Friday because it’s PAT time. This idea is something that proves to the kids that they are truly in charge of their PAT and that you will not mess with the time that they have earned.
o Only use PAT when stopping behavior doesn’t work
o Neglect to make PAT a priority
o Start with a certain amount of time and deduct for each offense-this is a punishment instead of a reward
o Fail to structure enjoyable PAT activities
· Beware of PAT abuse:
o When time loss becomes excessive, students become resentful and cooperation ceases.
o Give time in minutes and take off in seconds

My question is: how do you manage crazy behaviors during PAT? Do the kids automatically behave because it has become the norm in the classroom?

Day 5-The Power of Music with Lisa Reyes and Barb Watson

· Listening: natural speed, native accents
· Effortless reps on enriched phrasing-“I had that song stuck in my head all night long!”
· Full engagement for all students
· Confidence-concrete evidence over time
· Flexibility of mind: grammar and vocab
· Customized to your class-Beyoncé in Spanish for a black kid who said he couldn’t learn Spanish because he’s black
· iPods: I downloaded that last night!

· Success breed success
· Listening as CI-teach specific phrases. Not necessary to understand every word…just focus on your target structure
· Differentiation
· Full-engagement

Basic elements
· Daily listening
· Cloze challenge
· Daily sentence puzzle

Choosing music
· Pace/speed
· Popularity
· Timing (holidays, novels)
· Curriculum/culture
· Grammar
o Chosen by curriculum
o Obvious in lyrics
o High-frequency phrases
· Students’ requests

My (Lisa's) song prep
1. Prepare cloze activity with word bank
2. Select 10-15 familiar phrases (high frequency!)-context helps them to acquire the phrase (ex. En mi casa me dicen v. en mi casa)
3. Create 5 puzzle sentences (ex. En mi casa me dicen….In my house, they tell you) Puzzle sentences are sentences with blank spaces to help students focus on grammar points without getting drilled

Weekly plan
· Day 1-Translate high frequency phrases, listen one time each day(cloze)
· Day 2-6-Listen (cloze), 1 sentence puzzle per day-go over as a class
· Day 3-6-star easy phrases (set goals)-the quiz is to translate the high frequency phrases “Pick 4 that are easy and you know and star them)
· Day 6-show video
o Give participation grade (both sides)-Go around while the song is playing
o 2 minutes for review
o Quiz is 15 sentences…count out of 10 and allow for extra credit
o Correct together; be generous
o Collect for grade (# correct)

· Strong students fill in everything and can’t wait to share-You could also encourage stronger students to fill it out without looking at the word bank later in the semester.
· Regular students fill in some of the words and wait
· Weak students fill in a few, and wait to write in most answers with you-Make sure that they aren't just waiting by walking around and encouraging them. Also, there is a word bank, broken up by stanza to help the weaker students.

Madame, I’m done with my song! This is what you can have students do after the song is filled.
· The cloze activity
· Read and follow along
· Sing along
· Sing without looking
· Completion of all steps is not required

· I can’t get that song out of my head!
· I put it on my iPod!
· Can I pick a song for class?
· We get a new song today, right?
· What’s the next song?
· Can I burn a CD of our songs?
· YouTube, with caution, of course
· Quiet time for teacher to check homework. Start the music and they happily settle down

I love this idea!! I usually try to use music in the classroom, but this is a great classroom routine that allows me to use music every day. If you want to share songs that have worked well in your classroom, please post!

I have used Chanson pour Marie during domestic abuse awareness week. It's really cheesy, but I had a group of boys who LOVED it and begged for it every Friday.

Of course, Sympathique by Pink Martini is AMAZING. It goes so slowly that I could use it in the first couple of weeks with my beginners.

Parlez-vous Freezepop by Freezepop offers great practice for "Nous Sommes..." and is a really catchy dance number

Any additions??

Day 4-Classroom management with Dale Crum

This was a quicky version of a 3-day workshop on Fred Jones Tools for Teaching. I went home and bought the book, so I might add some further thoughts here, or in a future blog...

Book recommendation: Reluctant Disciplinarian by Gary Rubinstein: Advice on classroom management from a softy who became a disciplinarian

Teaching is harder than parenting because you have other people’s kids and there is a variation of personality types.

3 pieces of classroom mgt:
1. Discipline
2. Instruction-TPRS
3. Motivation

This first post deals with the discipline portion of the 3 pieces:

There are 2 things you can do with behavior: increase and decrease. You need to consistently increase behaviors you want and decrease behaviors you don’t want. Must STOP bad behavior and START doing what they should be doing.

Classroom setup
· Room arrangement: 3 zones of proximity surrounding teacher’s body in concentric circles. Red (closest-students don’t act up), yellow (middle-kids check to see if teacher is paying attention), green (farthest-will act out)
· Classroom management expert works the room-walking around and looking at kids
o Walk the room to constantly change the zones of proximity
o Allows camouflage when you have to correct a misbehaving student. Simply walk over and prompt the student for what you want them to do…
o The natural enemy of working the crowd is the helpless hand-raiser (I don’t get it!): TPRS helps us with this kid because he is usually our barometer student. If it’s something complicated, model it and put directions on the board that are clear. Check in with your students when you are walking around and keep them on task, pointing to the direction that they should be working on.

· Try to create an inner loop that you can walk in order to keep the proximity changing
· When you ignore an issue, the other students assume that it is okay to exhibit that behavior
· The first assignment is I want you to talk! I’m not just going to cut you off, but I’ll count slowly to let you finish up. Count down with fingers from 5 to 0. Then stand there for about 5-10 seconds to allow the silence to settle. If anyone is still talking, move in and make eye contact. Nothing mean, no glares…

Reality is law: The standards in any classroom are defined by whatever the kids can get away with
· Succeeding from day one
o Rearrange your room to make it the best you can
o Desk creep: make marks on the floor where the front of the desk goes. Have students make sure that their desks lined up correctly
o Decide how you want students to enter the classroom
o Greet them and put them to work
§ Stand in the doorway
§ Give them something to do
§ If someone is talking, walk over and say “This is a no talking time, go ahead and get to the assignment”
§ By doing so, you define the entrance to your classroom as a doorway between two different worlds. This defines the classroom as a work environment.
§ Bell work (On y va!) continues until 5 minutes after the bell rings. Useful learning activity while you look after those organizational chores.
§ Grade bell work for the first couple of weeks, make marks and give it back. After that, you don’t have to…just collect it on Fridays and then throw them away.

o Introduce yourself-students don’t do well in an impersonal environment
o Establish rules-general rules are the wish list, specific procedures and spell out exactly “how to do this and that”
o Routines:
§ Practice quieting down
§ Partner work
§ Moving desks
§ Storytelling
§ Etc

o Go over few rules on the first day, make sure they are rules you are willing to enforce at any time, simple and clear, post rules
o Teach specific procedures and routines
§ Practice until it gets under 1 minute and there is no wasted time
§ Jokesters get old after a while.
§ Spend the first 2 weeks teaching the rules and procedures and practice them
§ Pay me now or pay me later. Do it right first and do it well all year long
§ Harry Wong www.firstdaysofschool.com

o Book suggestion: Setting Limits in the Classroom by Robert J. MacKenzie
§ Soft limits are rules in theory, not in practice
§ They invite testing because they carry a mixed message
§ The verbal message seems to say stop, but the action message says that stopping is neither expected nor required.
o Being Clear with your words
§ Keep the focus of your message on behavior.
§ Be direct and specific
§ Use your normal voice
§ Specify the consequences for noncompliance
§ Support your words with effective actions.
§ If student refuses your punishment, there are steps in Fred Jones for how to handle it
§ In the final analysis, the price you pay for inconsistency is a lesser ability to nurture.
§ No has to mean no every time
o Calm is strength, upset is weakness: when you get upset, you start losing part of your brain (The Triune Brain Theory)
o Learning to relax is an indispensable survival skill for anyone who works in a stressful environment
o Emotions are contagious
· Body language alone can keep the class in line
o Our actions: the turn (the slower the better to show them that it’s worth it to you to deal with the behavior), never use your mouth to take care of what proximity should take care of
· Backtalk is students trying to get out of something-blame it on anything or anyone to get out of discipline

Day 4-Last day of Intermediate with Von Ray

This session was for working with a written story.

Steps for Reading and Discussing a Story
1. Teacher reads a sentence in TL
2. Class chorally translates the sentence.
3. Translate one paragraph (or less) at a time. This should not take very long
4. Ask the facts. Circle structures that are high frequency, still to be acquired, or new structures.
5. The facts can’t change.
6. Students respond as a chorus
7. Add details to the reading by asking additional questions about the paragraph, remembering that the facts can't change.
8. Students guess the answers and you're off with adding to the story!
9. Parallel story about one of the students: similar story with details about your student using the student as actor with props.
10. PQA works well also. “BS” is something I have done with the readings (read my session with Michael Miller to learn more about BS)
11. Continue on once interest wanes or once the parallel problem is resolved.

Remember that the focus is to offer CI, not to get to the end of the story or to the end of a chapter or page. This could take a LONG time.

After some peer coaching, we returned to the large group to see some peer teaching. This was done by Liesje (pronounced Leesha) Konyndyk from Kalazmazoo, Michigan:

Her structures were:
Il devait apprendre à: he had to learn how to and il savait: he knew

Ideas I picked up from this session:
Tell story in the past and then have One day…to integrate imparfait and PC
Story idea: Lindsey Lohan needs to learn to do 3 things for a movie role

This worked really well and had a lot of interaction and interest from the "students." Imagine how much fun you can have with students acting how to dance well and dance poorly. We also had Von Ray teaching Lindsay (aka me) to speak Keebler Elf. Hilarity!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Final thoughts on NTPRS

I promise I will finish blogging on day 4 and 5, but I'm just so exhausted right now, it will have to wait a couple of days.

My final thoughts on this weekend:
Laurie and I were talking at the end of the conference (sadly, the only time we really got to talk to each other) and we were talking about goosebump moments. Laurie, who was coaching during the conference, said that her goosebump moment came with watching teachers who were petrified to teach at the beginning of the week becoming confident and seeing them teach again at the end of the week. I can only imagine what she witnessed as a coach, because I saw the same thing happen as just an attendee.
My goosebump moments came about every day, but always for the same reason. Beyond the learning…beyond the networking….beyond the fun of being around other language teachers, there was this feeling that pervaded the entire conference. It was a feeling of genuine love and concern for others. I have never been hugged or touched by so many “strangers” in my whole life. I heard grown men saying “I love you” to each other and really meaning it. It wasn’t as cheesy as it sounded, because it came so naturally to them. I don’t know if this is because we are all a part of a language revolution that we have to fight so hard for or what… But I have a feeling that it goes back to the reasons that we all decided to take the TPRS route in teaching. We love kids. We want to do what is best for them. We really believe that Beth is the most beautiful girl in the entire universe. We want to validate these students and give them the attention that they so desperately desire. And that is why we came to TPRS….it’s not that TPRS makes us all gushy lovey dovey fools, it’s that we were always like that and TPRS lets us be effective teachers without squashing that love. In fact, it allows us to develop that love and show it to the kids in a way that is not going to get us on the evening news. Powerful stuff…
One of the most magical things that happened to me this week was the chance to meet Blaine and Von (especially Blaine because he is the master and the Spanish class that he taught was small enough that we got a ton of interaction). I’ve talked a little bit about Blaine in my Spanish blogs, but I want to think a little more about what happened outside of the Spanish class. When we passed each other in the hotel lobby (Blaine or Von), they never passed me without complimenting me somehow. Blaine would say, “There’s my little mosquito…” Von would say, “Man, you were an amazing elephant. You really are a great little actress.” As their student, I got to feel how it felt to be praised by my teacher. Or even noticed by them outside of the classroom. I feel like I’m being unfair to the other teachers, because they were the same way. Barb made a point of smiling at me and connecting with me, even though she was only my teacher for a couple of hours (she even bought me Pirates for saying something nice about her on moretprs J). Dale Crum talked to me the day after I had him for classroom management and said that he appreciated how positive and enthusiastic my face was during his presentation. I’m imagining what my kids will feel like if I can remember this skill in and out of my classroom.
Today, we had our farewell luncheon, which was really sad and wonderful. We had Michael Miller singing a song that he wrote about TPRS (the best line: I’ve been Blainewashed), Bryce singing a sweet, sad song in Spanish that he sings every year to his seniors, Susie Gross sharing a poem about being a great language teacher…and then, I guess, we had me! Blaine surprised me by asking me to tell the story that I learned in Spanish class for the room. I was a little nervous because it was so spur-of-the-moment and I hadn’t had any Spanish since Wednesday, but I did it anyway. As I was telling my story, I could hear the gasps from the audience when I would say something like “le dijo” or “queria ser” I thought to myself, “Wow! I must be doing something really impressive right now!,” but I couldn’t tell you what it was or why it was so impressive. I was just telling the story. THIS STUFF WORKS. Now, to be fair, I do speak French, so some of the structures are similar and I am a very motivated learner…but I also only had 8 hours of instruction.
I’m almost done reflecting, but the funniest thing that happened this week was how every teacher started talking differently. I guess I shouldn’t say talking, because it was really the reactions that changed. There were lots of “oooooohhhhhs” in everyday conversation. Lots of “oh no oh no” crept into our lingo. Something that only we can appreciate, I guess.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 3-Parking in First Gear with Michael Miller

In this session, Michael talks about how to extend establishing meaning by creating conversation between teacher and students. Here are the notes I took:

Step one: establishing meaning
Tell the word, show a picture, give a gesture and a translation…start to BS (blabber to students)
Talks about what is in his classroom…what color, what number

Trick: have gestures for certain words and get participation points…extra for the first one For example, every time Michael says the word for man, they slap the desk for participation points.

When students insist on speaking English, say if you want to use English, let me give you this book and you can translate it to English.

Tricks for staying in step one and conversing with kids:
· Still use your vocab structures
· Break them down if they are too long
· In advance, think of typical questions you could ask about those structures
· Beginners: Who, what, when, where, how many, what color
· Advanced: how, why, did you (verb) too? (past tense), will you (verb), would you (subjunctive)
· 3-ring circus: present when they do it and past when they sit down
· Set up class for BS: I expect a reaction: Wow!, how sad! I can’t believe it! That’s not right! Obviously!
· Be interesting and interested*** Care about your kids
· Gesture with translation (un plato…un plato means plate)
· Imagine that you have a plate (subjunctive!!)
· Dirty (Who has dirty socks? Hand check! Who has dirty hands? Why are your hands dirty?)

Day 3-Intermediate with Von

Today's class was about getting away from the scripted story

Abandon the script when the class is creative enough to make a funnier story. Otherwise, keep with the script “C’est mon histoire!”

Use scripted stories for ideas and adapt to the vocabulary level of the class**

The goal is not the story, the goal is comprehension. Get every student to a 10 by circling and re-telling the story, adding details for the advanced students

Here are two things that I noticed from this week that I want to put into my stories: “How did he react?” and the students are allowed to make noises. Adds interest to the class. Blaine used “Three requirements” with a story in Spanish class. This is great because it gives us extra locations, problems and characters to expand on.

Parallel characters allow us to compare and contrast, which is a skill that students need for the AP test or in advanced classes in college.

When in doubt, turn to the actor and ask them in the second person.

Another teacher modelled this and asked us what a character wanted. We guessed and she said "no, it's obvious, he wants a wig!" And she whipped a wig out of her purse. Oh my gosh! It was like magic! I need to do more of this with wigs and fake mustaches.

Use your discipline problem students to make noises or actions for difficult words (vacuum)
When using cognates, still check for comprehension because not all students are “listening in French”
Individual comprehension checks. If they are slow, give them two options to choose from where they can’t screw up. If they do screw up, play it off as if they answered correctly.

Day 2-Musical Echoing

I attended this session because I love music and want to know how to use it more in my classroom. I personally was not interested in the method that the presenter used, but I'll post my notes in case anyone else is interested. She has books and music that you can buy...I'm assuming they are available from Teacher's Discovery?

She makes up a story of 6-8 stanzas or lines. Each stanza or line is subdivided into 3 segments of about 5-8 syllables or beats. Each segment needs a picture to represent the story.

Then she takes these and makes them into a song. She plays the song for the students one time, with the pictures and then circles the meaning.

If anyone is interested in this, I'd be happy to expand more, but I wasn't really interested, so I just stayed to get the idea of the process and then left when they started practicing.

Day 2-Spanish with Blaine

Today in Spanish class, we had some teacher questions about discipline. I agreed to be the obnoxious student so that Blaine could model discipline for us. The thing that that taught me is the dynamic pesonality that Blaine has is truly magical. I really really really didn't want him to be mad at me. I'm not sure if that's a representation of Blaine or of my people-pleasing nature... He reacted to everything with love. He turned to me when I was talking and said with a smile, "Hey kiddo, this is not going to work if you are talking. For this to work, you can't talk, write or sleep. That's a pagame" He explained that pagame are worth 5 points of participation points per grading period (100 total possible). They can earn these points back by making a nice card for him, shaking his hand to have a genuine bonding moment or writing a 100 word essay. He validated me so much during that "class period" and said at the end that those kids who are attention seekers or having a bad day are the ones that his heart goes out to. Those are the kids that he really wants to reach. People pleaser? Maybe this will work for me.

On to the notes!

Whenever there is a choral response to an info-seeking question, don’t take that answer so that they are shocked! I love this idea. As a student, it really made me sit up and take notice. I think I blogged about this already, but if I didn't...I'd be happy to re-explain in the comments section.

Add extra details that you “forgot” the first time through the story. Blaine would go to re-tell the story and then get "stuck" on some tiny bit of information that he forgot to create interest and extra reps. For example, we were continuing with a story that we had been working on for 3 hours. In this story, there was an elephant in an internet cafe in New Zealand who saw the facebook of the most beautiful girl in the world... There's a ton more to the story, but this was all basic information established very early. He came back to it. Class, there is an elephant...where is the elephant...was he alone? (new information) No! He wasn't alone! I forgot to tell you! He was there with his mom and his dad! Then we talked about them. They were divorced. The mom lived in Minneapolis and was friends with the mosquito we had been talking about...it went on and on describing these two super-minor characters that he had "forgotten" to tell us about the first time through the story.

Basic structure of story-telling
1. Establish problem 2. Character development 3. Go somewhere and try to solve problem/doesn’t work 4. Resolution

When Blaine is "lesson planning," he starts with a couple of sentences and he knows the resolution before he begins. The middle can go anywhere.

More on discipline: We talked about rudeness rom students. He gave the example of using a student and asking: Is there a girl or an elephant? A student yells out "Elephant!" Blaine goes to the student and says: This does not work if you do that. You cannot say that she’s an elephant. She’s not, she’s a girl. What we’re doing does not work if you’re doing that. –Blaine
Take care of discipline problems in English.

One of the greatest tips that I saw was to use the actors to verify information, using you and I… This adds a ton of interest for the students, increases reps, and introduces 1st and 2nd person.

Part of my "acting out" was begging to be in the story. When I asked to be the elephant, he came, hugged me, and said “Honey, I love you, but this is my story…we’ll get to you another time” That hug shut me up. I think I've always been afraid to touch my students because of the fear of being sued or something. I'm going to get over that. Seriously.

This is a quote from one of the teachers in our class. Her name is Jammie and she was trying to explain why you don't correct speaking when a student makes a mistake:
"When you correct a child learning a language, they are not developmentally ready for the correction. When you say “no” to form, they think you are correcting the content. No, you don’t say I goed to the store, you say I went to the store…That’s what I said! "

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 2-Intermediate class with Von Ray

Here are some notes that I took from the presentation. They don't follow a narrative, so please excuse!

Students pass through 5 phases :
1. There are slow processors who can’t produce. (These would be your focus students)
2. There are fast processors who can produce very little.
3. There are fast processors who can produce with hesitation and errors.
4. There are fast processors who produce with accuracy and hesitation.
5. There are speakers with fluency or ease of expression.
Until the students reach level 5, they need repetition and circling. More time with the structure until it becomes natural.

During a story, you only have 3 options: Go back and add novel information, circle, go forward.

The goal is to practice the language and make the story last as long as we can make it last. It is not to get to the climax!! (I think I need to focus on this more. Just parking with circling and adding more details. I think that's the biggest thing I've gotten this week)

Two reasons to circle: turn slow processors into fast processors, to practice new or difficult structures. Circling is boring when sentences are short or when the structures are not new or difficult
Faster processors: review the facts of the story, add details, start over, and keep asking known details. These students can always benefit from extra repetitions to get to ease of expression

Parallel character (this is what we focused on today): a student in the class or a celebrity who parallels the story of the main character to add more practice for the structures without getting tedious. Add details about the parallel character to extend the story. Then we talk about the problem with that parallel character and come up with the resolution. You have to decide if the parallel character is interesting enough to continue with the parallel story. If it’s not, talk about it for a minute and then continue with the main story. It can have a connection to the main story, but it doesn’t have to!

Quote from Von: We’re always looking for students who want to play by raising their hands and adding details. If no students want to play, you can pick a student or use a celebrity.

Big idea:Contradict what the students think is the correct answer to increase interest. I noticed that this really caught my attention when I was a student in the language classes. I was always really surprised and laughed at the answer. We would be following a story and the teacher would ask a question that we thought we knew the answer to through inference of the story. We would answer one way and the teacher would say, No! You're wrong, it's actually (something bizarre). AFter lots of circling, it's great to be surprised by some new bit of information that's a little shocking.

Try to stick to the same thread. Parallel story should have just one thread and one problem with a resolution. Just make sure that you keep to the main structures!! You can add details and characters as long as we’re working towards the resolution of the problem.

These are some notes from the coaching session with Michelle Kindt:

When a story crashes and burns, just abandon it. You can have them draw 6 boxes and have them draw the story as you re-tell. Or, you cannot finish it and have the students finish it as homework…

When a kid really talks a lot in the TL, give them praise, let them finish and then say “don’t be intimidated by _____, she’s special and this is coming really quickly to her.”

Michelle used index cards as circling cards for each statement. Character 1 wants to have dinner with character 2. Keep other ideas for the characters or verb written down there for circling. She has them numbered so she can go through the circling easier.

"We can get our kids to love French so much that they keep taking it or so much that they travel. This leads to world peace…" Michelle Kindt-French coach What a beautiful thought. I'm an optimist too! Wouldn't it be nice if we were making such a huge difference in our classrooms every day??

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 1-Cultural storytelling with Barb Cartford

I brought away a few things from my session with Barb. First, she loves children and she loves her languages. She also really loves all the things that make people people (art, family, values, etc). She told us that she was using the popularity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in her adult Swedish classes and that she would be wearing a costume to become here on Tuesday. Amazing.

Okay, here's what I took away from this session, my goals for infusing culture into my class:
  • use history and biographies as stories and reading
  • use French art to teach colors, body parts, family, etc
  • use children's tales and compare them to well-known American stories (ex. Asterix v. Mickey Mouse)
  • Use costumes!!

Barb told us about her Frida unit. This is how she works the biography of Frida into her lesson plans:

  1. Establish meaning of new vocabulary the first day
  2. 2-4th day: tell about the life of Frida using actors, visuals, and props. There should be at least 3 phases in her life (childhood, young adulthood, old age)
  3. Show the works on the 5th day, using a jigsaw activity. Each student gets a questionaire about art (What jumps out to you? What is the feeling of the painting? How do you think the artist felt when he/she was painting this? etc) with a color and a number on it. The colors group the students to a particular painting. The students get together and discuss the painting to become "experts" at that particular painting. Then, they are grouped by number so that each group has one "expert" for each painting. The number groups travel around the room and the expert tells what his/her group found out about the painting...more discussion.

I LOVE this idea and can't wait to steal it. I would also like to add a day where the students mimic the style of the artist.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 1-Spanish with Blaine

This was my first time meeting Blaine or seeing him teach. AMAZING! I also have to say that Sunday night, when we were checking in, I saw this adorable blonde woman catch sight of Blaine, say hi, and then beam like she had just met the president. I certainly understand her state of mind. It is pretty cool to be in a room with the creator of something so magical.

Here are some gems I got from the mouth of the guru:
  • As he was setting up the class, he said to all of us "I can't feel that this is hard. To me, speaking Spanish is as easy as speaking English. You have to help me. If you stop me, I appreciate it." He really created a climate of encouragement for all students, in my opinion. I feel like I ask students to stop me, but I don't make them understand how important it is or how much I want them to do it.
  • He also said that when he asked a question where he wanted us to guess, it had to be a proper noun or in Spanish, because this story is a Spanish story and it doesn't have any English in it. I really liked that. I have a hard time keeping my classes in French...but he does it in such a way that is really magical.
  • Finally (for today), we had a student who wanted to know why there are two ways to say "was." His answer, instead of going into rules and long explanations, was that there are two ways, he knows how to use them correctly, and we are just supposed to listen and try to absorb until we get the feeling for which one we're supposed to use. Brilliant! It's an easy way to explain our methodology to students without going into long pedagogy discussions.

More tomorrow (hopefully if my husband doesn't keep me out too long at the Cubs game!)

Day 1-Intermediate class

Von Ray was/is the teacher for this class. He had us laughing with stories about his struggles with traditional language learning (oh, can't we all relate!). Here are some gems that I gleaned from his presentation:
  • We can infuse interest in our stories by using famous people, exaggeration, and irony
  • In the beginning of TPRS, the students don't have the language to be able to answer open why questions. We have to work up to that to ensure that students are using the TL (or proper nouns) to respond to our questions.
  • We were talking a lot about how to keep interest high. Von taught us a story using German, to try and show us how many repetitions a new learner needs before feeling comfortable in the TL. It was quite a few. He used inflection, whispering, yelling, emotions, and random noises to keep us engaged in the simple story. Then, when we had that part down, he went back to the beginning and it wasn't boring! This was an eye-opener to me...to see just how much repetition is necessary to really get something stuck in my head (obviously the point of the exercise)
  • He did a pop-up grammar of the difference in the verbs for singular and plural subjects. The student didn't give him exactly the answer he was looking for, but he praised the student and moved on. He said that he would come back to it in about 5 minutes or so to see if he could get the answer he was looking for. If not, no big whoop!

After the brief presentation, we were broken into smaller groups for peer coaching. I was so scared of this! Especially after almost 2 months of no teaching. But I was the third volunteer to be coached on "advanced" circling (circling out of the traditional order). I got lots of praise, but was told that I need to focus energy on circling the stuff I want them to actually learn and not the stuff that they already know. That was a "Duh!" moment for me. I'm excited to go back tomorrow and see what else I can learn.

I have to say that everyone I have encountered has been so kind. I know that teachers have a special kind of heart, but I think that TPRS teachers go beyond that. We truly are a special little community of colleagues looking to better our craft and each other. And I don't think that it's too far of a stretch to say that we want to better the world too. I know that Ben Slavic talks a lot about decreasing the achievement gap among his students. I feel that power here with me in Chicago.

To go a little further on this tangent, I ate lunch today with an amazing woman named Dixie. We happened to be in the lobby together at the same time looking to eat, so we decided to go together. We talked about our experiences with TPRS (mine being pretty short and hers going back to the beginning!) in different school districts with different ages and different SES. We shared our hopes for the world and language learning. It was a great experience and I hope it was just one of many I'll have this week (which may be difficult since I have to spend some time with my husband!)

NTPRS-Initial observations

I got here last night and, I have to admit, I'm a little bummed that I brought my husband along. Yes, it's super nice to have a week's vacation with my hubby and no kids, but we've got plans in the evenings that don't always involve me getting to hang out with the other TPRSers.

I've already met Laurie Clarcq...so sweet. She actually spotted my nametag and called me out. I'll be excited to talk to her more about loving kids and embedded readings.

I'm hoping to add all of my notes on here as the week progresses...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Passe Compose

I haven't blogged lately because I have a bit of teacher-itis. I absolutely cannot WAIT for this year to be over. I have had some really bad days coupled with a super-long winter. I'm done!

Anyway, today something happened that merits blogging about. During state testing, there were a lot of days where I was supposed to be in two buildings at once because of overlapping schedules. (I travel, and my schedule is a bit strange) Because of that, I had to come up with lesson plans for my kids that they could do without me. I decided to give my second year students a huge packet of worksheets (yuck!) over the passe compose because I figured it couldn't possibly hurt them and they would get a little exposure to it before moving on to the next teacher at the high school. I didn't teach them anything over the passe compose outside of little pop-up grammar points about how to say We did this or They did that. They are really good at using first person past because we use it every Monday to talk about what they did over the weekend. Today, one of my students said that he went to a friend's house. I asked what he did there and he thought for a second and said "Nous avons mange de la pizza and nous avons joue des jeux videos." He is a smart kid, but not one to do homework or study at all. Is it a stretch to say that he picked that up from pop-up grammar and can now use it in authentic situations?? Is that real acquisition??

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

End of the year blahs

I haven't posted much or even read many TPRS blogs lately because it's that wonderful time of year when the kids are crazy and everyone is itching for summer. I know that this should be a perfect time for TPRS, but I did not do a good job of setting up my classroom management in the beginning of the year, and I am paying for it now!

So, I'm "punishing" two of my classes with book work. It's not really a punishment because there are a few who enjoy the change of pace. The amazing thing that I've discovered is that I have taught my kids everything in the book (so far...). We started on page one and they are all rock-starring it. It's giving a great boost to those kids who feel like they aren't learning anything because they aren't the superstars of the class because they know the right answers. And, I'm still able to do the book work in French. We had a long discussion about Ile-de-France because that was highlighted at the beginning of the chapter. We even sang Aux Champs-Elysees together. It wasn't a homerun day, but it worked for now. I didn't have to constantly yell to have myself heard...I gave them time limits for completing the book work...and we made it through. I'm still hoping that they will get bored at the end of two weeks of this stuff and ask to go back to storytelling. We'll see...

My 9th graders/2nd years are already begging for more stories because they have had to do worksheets due to crazy schedule overlapping where I was supposed to be teaching in two buildings at the same time. I'm excited to give them something that they want and know that it's really good for them!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Defending TPRS

I guess another argument is raging on FLTeach about whether or not TPRS is a valid, successful teaching method. I happened to read a post from an insightful TPRS questioner that make me sit and reflect. It was bothering me so much that I decided to respond, even though his initial questions were not directed at me. I just thought I'd share my responses, because they made me think about TPRS...

I thought I'd jump in here because I am just beginning to use TPRS in my classroom this year. I am constantly reflecting and trying to decide if I'm doing the right thing for my students. Your email gave me more food for thought. I thought I'd try to answer your questions from my point of view.

Question 1 (dealing with the fact that immigrant Mexicans are surrounded by the language yet can't really speak it): I work in a restaurant and have a ton of interactions with immigrant Mexicans. In my experience (which may differ from your experiences with ESL students), these men and women are not really immersed in the language as our students are immersed in the language. They listen to Mexican radio stations, they watch Univision, they read Mexican newspapers, they work with other Mexicans with whom they can converse in Spanish... I had the same problem when I was living in France as an exchange student and that is why I am not as fluent as I could be. Our students are not fully immersed in the language, but they are experiencing it in a more academic setting. Instead of sitting and watching a TV show in French with no idea what is going on, they are listening to a teacher who is speaking slowly, ensuring comprehension at every turn. They are going to acquire the language faster this way than they would in a day of living on the streets of Paris (I think...) I'm not trying to make the argument that my classroom is a better place to learn a language than actually being in France, just trying to explain the differences between the students in my classroom and the immigrants in America.

Question 2 (dealing with the evaporation of knowledge): I can't really speak a whole lot to this question because I am only in my first year of teaching TPRS. I can tell you that I started teaching this way because I was SO frustrated in how little stuck with my students after a summer of not speaking or hearing French. What did stick, however, was the vocabulary used in actual conversations between my students and myself. Every Monday, we would talk about what happened over the weekend. My second year students, who had never been explicitly taught the past tense (because it is taught in our second year), remembered on day one of school how to say "I went to Florida," correctly using etre as a helping verb, but switching to avoir to say "I saw a film." That's what stuck with them because those conversations meant something to them. So I decided to try TPRS because no matter what I taught them, I figured I couldn't do any worse than I'd been doing in getting the language to stick. I'll be interested to see what my second year students remember next year! And as for reading, my kids read all the stinking time! They are shocked as to how much they can understand when they read.

I hope this helps answer your questions. It really helped me to think of the answers! I love reflecting and trying to figure out how to best prepare my students to become fluent in the language. That's my ultimate goal...I want students who can read, listen, write, and speak. Some skills just come later in the learning process...

Monday, March 29, 2010


Confession time. I am not a grammar lover. In fact, until two summers ago, when my department was writing curriculum, I didn't know what an interrogative adjective was. Or any of those other buzz words that come with language and grammar study. But guess what? I lived in France for a year and didn't starve. I even took university level classes with native French speakers. And yet I did all this without knowing what a possessive pronoun was. I used them...just didn't know what they were called. That's probably one of the reasons that TPRS is so attractive to me.

Another reason that TPRS is so attractive to me is that it is actually making me more fluent. Usually, only immersion weekends and travel can boost fluency, but I am learning so much! Structures that wouldn't normally flow off my tongue are becoming more natural because I am making a point of teaching them in context. Yet another bonus for TPRS!!

Free writes

I have my students do a free write every Friday. They moan and groan, but it's a great way for me to see their progress and have something in my hand to show other FL teachers. I was absent last Friday, but my sub gave them a free write assignment. I was looking over them this morning, trying to decide if I should enter a grade for them or not because most of my students weren't able to write very much. I was SHOCKED to see what one of my F students wrote. He wrote 110 words about baseball, his family, his friends, and how he doesn't like being alone. LOTS of spelling errors, but I was able to read it and get his feelings and purpose. This is the same student who told me at the end of last year that I couldn't make him drop my class when I asked if he really wanted to be here. How can I harness this intelligence that is there, inside him? He's so stubborn and will shut down at the slightest re-direct.

At the very least, his writing has given me hope and incentive to keep trying with him...hooray!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Second year

There is so much freedom with teaching kids for a second year. I love knowing what they should know, getting to know them better, and building on the basic vocabulary. It's so awesome to be able to see the differences in abilities between the first year students and the second year students and know that I did something to create that. This year is even more awesome because I'm not using a textbook. I know that everything that they know came directly from me and my choices in music, movies, and books. My pedagogy is working! How exciting is that! My students are learning and it's not just the perfect students who go home and study for hours. In fact, it's almost impossible for my students to study at home because they wouldn't know what to study (I wonder if that's a good thing...). Instead, I can tell a difference in my students' innate abilities through their output. Everyone can understand most of what I'm saying. Most, if not every student, can answer my questions with something...and then the top kids can really go to town talking to me. They can bring out a word that I've used just a couple of times and blast it in my face. Those kids are still awesome, but it's really great to see other kids succeed too.

At the coffeeshop yesterday, my colleague and I were discussing how to assess these kids. She said that she gives oral tests and is giving significant points (like a C) for simply understanding the questions and responding with yes/no. You know, that's really hard for these kids. Seriously, it's like we're speaking a foreign language or something! Shouldn't they be rewarded for making such a giant leap??! They have to be able to hear the words, attach meaning to those words (usually by switching them to English), sometimes they have to switch the word order around...and then they have to know how to respond. So what if they don't answer in a complete sentence?? That's for the top kids. I need to be happier with the level of my kids' comprehension. What they're doing in my class is huge. HUGE!


Yesterday, I was leaving school with a Spanish teacher and we ran into one of my students. This student has huge self-control issues, and I had been sending him out of class into the Spanish room. As the two of us walked by him and said hi, he said, "Mme, you should send me to the Spanish room again!" I answered in French, "Why?" He said, in French, "Canon's in there." Me: Canon? Who is Canon? Him: My boyfriend (petit ami) Me: Your boyfriend? You want to give him a kiss? Him: Eeeww, no! He's just a friend. (He then gestured that he was short) Me: Oh! It's your friend who is little, not your little friend/boyfriend (petit ami). My colleague and I continued to our cars and then to Starbucks for coffee. My colleague was amazed at how much my first year student was able to understand and respond to me in French after less than a year in class (and many of those first days spent in other classrooms because he was too disruptive). Ahhhhh...success.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Refreshed after Spring Break

I came back from a week off feeling pretty darn good about teaching. I was happy to see my students, and we started off on a great note. Well, at least it started off well with my second year students. They were really paying attention and enjoying talking about what they did over break. My first year students are just squirrelly. I love their energy, but I'm struggling so much to get them to shut up and play the game. They are really understanding a lot and I do have those exceptional students who are going above and beyond on production too. But I can't get the rest of the kids to be quiet. I fought it really hard for a while, but then I realized that the problem wasn't getting any better and I was sending out some really good students...who were missing the CI. Lately, I've been allowing a little more laissez-faire, but I can see it in their grades. When they're not paying attention, their grades tank. It's the same old thing...

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I was observed this week by a member of the PE department who knows nothing about FL beyond her experiences in high school. She came to see about my pacing and amount of time spent in the TL.

Today, we met in an interdisciplinary group and she shared her findings with me. She was very complimentary about the class...the gestures...the conversations, etc. She said that she saw a very high level of interest and could see how it would help the students learn.

It felt so good to be validated by other teachers in the building. I've been pretty down on myself about TPRS lately...I don't do enough circling, I'm not going Slowly enough, my stories are boring, I'm getting tired of the stories, my classroom management sucks. It was nice to remember that I am accomplishing something! If absolutely NOTHING else, at least my kids are excited about learning another language, right?? Right??

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Racism...what the heck?!

I have seen two articles lately about racist actions taking place on college campuses. One where a KKK hood was found on a college campus and the other about students putting cotton balls on the lawn in front of the black studies building at my alma mater. It makes me sick to think that there are college students who are so ignorant. How can a person go through over 12 years of education and be so dumb??

One of the reasons that I decided to choose French as my content area is that I hope to educate students to be somewhat worldly and not so sheltered. I hope that by teaching them about the differences in cultures, they might realize that just because it's different, doesn't mean it's wrong. Different is just different.

I've noticed a "new" trend with my students to make blatently racist remarks and think they are funny. I have a hispanic boy who is constantly referred to as "The Mexican" He laughs along, but doesn't realize that it's becoming a part of his identity. Instead of being Carlos (not his real name), he is the Mexican. They do this to all races. I have an African-American student who is constantly referring to black this and black that. Today, I asked what color his room was and he said it was black because he lives in The Black House. It's really sad when I can't even teach a color without someone making a racist comment about it... I try to teach them the difference between appropriate and inappropriate jokes...but it's so ingrained in their lives at this point. I just remind them every time they make a comment and then send them out if I think it was malicious. Same thing with gay jokes...and red heads! South Park has now made it common for me to hear "Gingers don't have souls..." And kids think it's SO funny.

What can I do to combat 23 hours of racism/homophobia? They are surrounded by it on the TV, their friends, maybe their parents...

Brain-based learning and Marcia Tate

I went to a seminar yesterday by Marcia Tate on strategies that work with the brain to help kids learn. I've posted about her ideas before, but yesterday I got to see her in action! Afterwards, I went to say thank you for a seminar that was applicable to all content areas. I told her that I don't get many opportunities to go to these things because foreign language is kind of out there on its own. She said, "Well, with FL, you have TPRS!" I was so excited because I was thinking the whole time that TPRS goes right with her 20 strategies!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

PQA-I get it!

So, today, I was going to start a story from Anne Matava's scripts about dirty hotel rooms. So I put the words up on the board: (bed)room, travels, and dirty. In the past, I have written the words on the board, given the gestures, and jumped into the story. Today, I remembered that oh-so-important step of PQA. I have a class of 26 squirrely kids. They are really really excited about French, but they also get really really excited about anything anyone else says and go way off topic.

Today, I started out by asking a kid what color his bedroom is. This is a quieter boy who doesn't interact much with the class. He said his room is white. Boring! So I asked him if he has a lot of posters on his walls, thinking that maybe I could spice this up. Nope, no posters. So of course, I told the class that he had 27 posters of cute little kittens in his room. They loved it. We talked some more about his love of cats and I moved on to another student...ignoring the loudmouths who were begging for me to pick them. I asked a girl about her room and if she had any chairs in it. She said that she did, so I asked how many and what color. My goal was to have very distinct rooms for each student. I wanted one student to have posters, one to have a chair, and one to have a television...recycling vocab that they already know.

At the end of the hour, the kids started to get restless and goofy from all the hilarious CI I was giving them about their classmates...so I had them take a quick comprehension quiz and BINGO, class is over.

I finally understand when teachers say, "I could have hurried through the PQA and forced a story...but we were having so much fun with PQA!" Now, I have two more structures that I can PQA tomorrow during a block and then start the story.

Hooray PQA!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This is something I posted to the FLTeach listserv. It just really ticked me off that this woman was assuming that a native French speaker was ignorant because they made a grammatical mistake in a letter. Oooo, I'm mad about it. But I tried not to let that show in my response. Does anyone have any feelings about this?

Leigh said: "I see a ton of grammatical errors because one family is Armenian and another, just plain ignorant, which I don't tell the student because she's so proud of her French relatives."

I hate to jump in on this, but this phrase really struck me because I've been having similar conversations with my colleagues. Is it really that they are ignorant or is it that the academic French that we are taught and teaching in schools is too perfect? I had a home stay three summers ago with a brilliant, well-read French woman. I asked her to explain the difference between Il est and C'est to me. She said it was the same: that the two phrases were interchangeable. I know that it is not strictly true, but it is being used currently interchangeably in France.

I was also listening to Fresh Air on NPR yesterday and they had a quick blurb at the end about nit-picking the English language. For example, if we are following the strict rules of English, we should NEVER say that there were 5 people at dinner last night because you never use people with a specific number. Instead, you should say 5 persons.

So, are we teaching outdated grammar rules like this or are we teaching our students to sound educated?? I have no idea because I don't live in France and I'm not a native speaker. I don't want my students to go to France and use outdated language rules, though...they would sound too stilted. I also don't want them to spend a bunch of their time and brain space memorizing rules that are ancient.

Maybe someone on here with a finger on the pulse of the language can answer this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I absolutely can't wait to get to Chicago this summer. Perhaps I am romanticizing it a bit, but I feel like I will really know my ass from a hole in the ground at the end of an intense week of TPRS training.

Here are some things I hope to learn:

1-Reading strategies....is it all strict translation or are there other ways to check comprehension
2-Basic classroom setup...because I started TPRS after the beginning of the year, I feel like I'm always doing catch-up on the procedures of the classroom.
3-"Curriculum" creation...what "should" be taught first to ensure a successful year of reading and listening.
4-Other activities...what can I do with stories after I've told them?
5-Story ideas...I've been doing a "bad"job with this because I never have a plan beyond my three words. I have no structure in my head beyond the old "There is a _____. ____ has a problem so they go ____, etc."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ohhhh Frank McCourt

I try to read a lot. A lot of different things. I can do this because I drive 45 minutes to work every day (and then home), so I get books on tape (really CD) and listen as I make the mind-numbingly boring drive. This week I'm listening to Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. I highly recommend listening to his books instead of reading them because he is the narrator and you get his voice...accent, singing, etc. It's quite an experience.

Anyway, today's excerpt was about how self-denigrating he is. Is this a common problem amongst us teachers? I feel like I understand exactly what he's saying when he describes second-guessing every action he takes. "Oh no, Susie has her cell phone out. Should I say something to her? If I say something to her, she might get mad at me and the whole class will turn against me. What if she refuses? Then what will I do? What if I don't say anything and the other students see that she's using her cell phone and then I've lost all authority." Oh man, that's my plagiarized version of an experience he talks about. I'm obviously not alone...because he has/had the same problem...but I wonder if other teachers have the same thoughts? Does it ever end? Will there come a point, maybe ten years down the road, when I have enough confidence to walk into MY classroom and let the kids know that, like it or not, they're going to play my game or there's the door. That sounds really harsh, but I'm coming to discover that it doesn't have to be...right? I want every person in my class to enjoy coming to class. But right now, I have a student who is poisoning the experiences for the rest of the class. Instead of enjoying a story, they are waiting for me to do or say something "unfair" so they can pounce on it and mumble stuff under their breath about how horrible I am. In my mind, I'm being "unfair" because I'm handling the needs of all the students at that particular point in time. If I have a student who didn't sleep last night because she was physically fighting with her dad and got thrown out of class...I'm not going to nitpick on her for whispering to her neighbor. Sorry, but I'm just not heartless enough to do that. But, the student who constantly and LOUDLY berates me in front of the class? Hmmm...I might just be a little harsher on that student. (although usually I'm not because I try to outlast the behavior...classic error)

I guess what I'm rambling about is my insecurities in the classroom and how badly I want them to go away. I'm hoping that they will magically disapper in time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I want to cry

What a day!! I have a class that tore me to pieces today. My crime? Taking away a cell phone. Then I took away some kids Tech Deck that he was playing with. Then I said that if the students didn't want to participate in class today, they were more than welcome to go elsewhere. My class just wasn't having it today. I kept trying. But I have one student (okay, actually I have 3 or 4 in that class) who poisons the rest of the class.

We started our story today and when I asked for suggestions for names, someone yelled out Madame Hussein. I thought that was really clever, so I jumped on it. Little did I know that they were making reference to me (Madame) and how horrible I am. It became clearer as we described the character further. She was evil. Very very very stupid. Every time this student would make his suggestion, he would snicker. It finally dawned on me what was going on, but I tried to ignore it...thinking that I would rather look stupid as long as we were making progress in the story.

Long story short, I finally stopped and told the students that they are not being forced to be in my class. If it is so horrible and I'm so unfair, they can drop it. There is no FL requirement in our district. I tried to engage them in dialogue about what I do that is unfair...they wouldn't bite. I know that it's my fault because I shouldn't let it get to the point that it got to today. I should have sent the poisoners out of class much earlier...but I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if it makes me look like an idiot. But for some reason, that translates to me "having it out" for them. Like I come to school some days and say "Hmmm, how can I make Bobby's day horrible today?" Because my classes are so fun when everyone hates being there...(dripping sarcasm here). It honestly makes me want to cry and give up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two things I do that work (I hope)

When I did my student teaching, I was working with a TPRS teacher, so I had a pretty good idea of the theories before I began teaching myself. I've stolen (no such thing in teaching, right?) several ideas from her that I use in my own classroom. They work for me, when I remember to do them.

First, I try to have an animal of the week. I have a bunch of stupid stuffed animals given to me by friends who don't know what to do with the crazy amount of stuffed animals that we parents accumulate as our children grow. I pick out one and give the French translation. Then we talk about the animal. For example, this week, I had a monkey (un singe). We came up with 5 sentences to describe monkeys in general. They live in the jungle or the zoo. They eat bananas. They say "oo oo ah ah" They are brown, orange, etc. They throw poo. I try to always have at least one bizarre sentence to make them laugh. It works better with some animals than others. This gives the kids a chance to learn animal vocabulary that we can use in stories and it gives them a chance to practice the third person plural conjugation. Hooray! Success number one.

My second success that I try to do once a week is to have a phrase of the week. I was doing the animal on Friday and the phrase on Monday, but I've pushed it back to Monday and Tuesday now. I pick a colloquial phrase that they would otherwise not learn until a study abroad experience. Sometimes I ask my sister in France for a phrase that is branchee...today I went here: http://www.uqtr.ca/argot/frame.html. I put the phrase on the board with the translation and tell the students that we are going to try to use that phrase as many times as possible this week. I never bring it up and we don't do anything more with it. Sounds like a useless exercise, right? Except that kids really remember these phrases. Today I'm using J'en ai marre (I've had it/I'm fed up!). It is amazing to me how often these phrases show up in writing and stories.

Whatever works, right?