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?

Monday, January 25, 2010


Yuck. I've been feeling my passion dwindle these past couple of weeks. Pretty strange since I haven't worked a full week since well before Christmas break. And it's all because of one class of do-nothings and another class of clowns. I love the clowns, don't get me wrong. They could rock my class if they could just shut their mouths for five seconds. I'm just not enough of a stickler to send out the entire class when they are all talking. Instead...I wait until it quiets down and just one person speaks out. Then I send that person out, but I don't feel good about it because it's not fair. Everyone else was talking too, they just happened to be the one who spoke last. I do much better with black or white rules. If I see a phone or an iPod, I take it. End of story. I don't care about excuses or sob stories. That's the way it goes. I feel justified in this because the office then punishes...it's a school rule...and it's not like a bathroom pass where emergencies happen.

What to do about the chatting?? I feel like I'm always facing a losing battle because, by now, the behaviors are already stuck in the kids. If I crack down now, they'll be so confused! I wanted to take a whole week and work on nothing but behavior, but with Christmas and the new semester, I haven't had a chance to do it. When will classroom managment get easier??

Amazing blog post-Thanks Ben!

I have to share this because I just love it so much. It really breaks down asking a story so that even a novice like me understands completely how it works. I can just see every step taking place in Ben's classroom. If you haven't already read it...do!


First impressions

I'm reading "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell (love his books!) and he is talking about malpractice and how the dr's who are most frequently sued are the ones who are seen as not caring. They took snippets of conversations between Dr and patient and muddled the words so all you could hear was tone. Then they had people listen to it and rate how caring the Dr seemed.

I would love to have someone do this to me as I'm teaching. I feel a lot of love (most of the time) and I hope that my students can feel that coming through...but what if it doesn't? What about those "uncaring" doctors? Are they really heartless or are they just ignorant of how they are perceived? I really hope that I'm not sending out bad vibes to my students.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weekend immersion

Well, we just got back from a weekend in Canada. I don't know exactly how I feel about what my students knew compared to the other, non-TPRS students. I'm really just at a loss. My second year students could order food, using Je voudrais. I felt pretty good about that, but that came about because I have "themes" that I try to teach from and make stories using those themes. The themes don't really go with pure TPRS, though. I'm just really struggling to figure out what works and what doesn't. I read Ben's blog and I read the research about the "quiet" period, but what has been working in my class doesn't fit with that research.

I'm about to go off on a tangent, but it's been bugging me recently...especially considering that I found out today that the high school teachers that I send my kids to are considered the "leaders" of the language department. And they don't like TPRS. So I feel like I have to find a way to prepare my kids to go there...but still enjoy my job and get the kids to learn as much as they possibly can about SPEAKING and UNDERSTANDING French.

Ben had a blog recently about the harmful effects of having kids speak too early. Rationally, I completely understand that and agree...but it's one of the things that I do that really works! From almost day one, I have kids answering a question of the day for participation points. I help them along if they get stuck, but I want them to practice using the language. Every Monday our question is What did you do this weekend? My kids love to talk about themselves and it gives us a TON of practice with the past tense...even after only 2 or 3 weeks of instruction. It really sticks with my kids. It's one thing they can do even after a long summer break.

Anyway, I guess the question that came up this weekend was how to get my students prepared to spend a weekend in Quebec while using TPRS. I think that I've done a great job teaching them things, but they aren't the things traditionally taught to beginning language students. So my kids end up looking stupid. Is that okay??

Indian Legend

I just got back from a weekend taking 30 kids to Quebec for a weekend experience. I'll post in a minute about that experience, but what I want to share here is an adapted Indian Legend that I wrote today to share with my second year students. I think it went really well and the students were able to understand the story...especially with my re-enacting and stupid charades. Anyway, feel free to use this if you can. I put non-important unknown words in parenthesis so they wouldn't impede the flow of comprehension. Also, I adapted this myself, so if you see any errors...let me know!!

Un jour, Gros Corbeau (crow) voudrait créer le monde.
Il a visité l’est, l’ouest, le nord, et le sud. Il a fini par arriver à l’endroit (place) où le ciel et la terre se rencontrent (meet) : l’horizon. Une tente était là. Il a regardé à l’intérieur de la tente. Dans la tente, il y avait un groupe d’hommes, qui parlaient ensemble.
Un homme a entendu (heard) les ailes (wings) de Gros Corbeau, et il est sorti la tente.
« Qui es-tu ? Qu’est-ce que tu veux ?? » l’homme a demandé.
« Je suis Gros Corbeau, le créateur. Et toi, qui es-tu ? »
« Je suis un homme. Nous sommes ici, à l’horizon, et nous n’avons pas de terre où nous pouvons (can) habiter. »
« Voilà ce que je veux vous offrir : un endroit où vivre » a dit Gros Corbeau. « Viens avec moi et dis-moi de quoi vous avez besoin. »
L’homme s’asseyait sur le dos de Gros Corbeau et les deux ont volé pour trouver quelque place pour habiter.
L’homme a vu (saw) un espace vide (empty). « Regarde ! Là-bas ! » l’homme lui a dit.
Gros Corbeau s’est arraché (tore out) quelques plumes qu’il a laissé tomber. En pénétrant l’espace vide, les plumes ont formé des continents. « Mais il n’y a ni rivières, ni montagnes, ni lacs » l’homme a dit. Gros Corbeau s’est arraché d’autres plumes. Quand les plumes ont touché la terre, des rivières a commencé à couler (run), des montagnes ont grandi, et des arbres ont poussé (grew).
L’homme aimait le magnifique paysage (countryside) que Gros Corbeau a crée. « Mais, qu’est-ce que nous pouvons manger ? » il a demandé.
Gros Corbeau a piqué (pinched) sur les montagnes et il a trouvé des copeaux des arbres (wood chips). Il a jeté les copeaux dans le vent. En touchant le sol, ils ont transformé. Ceux qui sont tombés sur la terre sont devenus des caribous, des ours, et des renards (foxes). Ceux qui sont tombés dans l’eau sont devenus des phoques, des morses (walruses), et des poissons. Ceux qui ont flotté dans les airs sont devenus des oiseaux.
« Voilà !, dit Gros Corbeau, tu as tout ce qu’il faut. »
L’homme est allé rejoindre (rejoin) les autres. Ils ont travaillé beaucoup…ils ont construit les maisons avec les bois des arbres, ils ont fait les vêtements avec la peau (skin) des animaux, ils ont chassé les cerfs et les ours, ils ont pêché (fished), et ils ont cueilli (gathered) de petits fruit. Mais ils voudraient quelque chose.
Encore, l’homme a trouvé Gros Corbeau.
« Nous voudrions autre chose, a dit l’homme. De la compagnie. »
« Mais…vous êtes déjà en compagnie, Gros Corbeau a répondu. Et les animaux et les oiseaux sont aussi vos compagnons. »
« Ça ne suffit pas. J’ai besoin de quelqu’un qui me ressemble, mais pas exactement. Quelqu’un qui peut avoir des bébés. »
« Je ne sais pas si je peux créer une personne comme ça. » Gros Corbeau a pensé et pensé. Femme Araignée (spider) a apparu.
« Je peux t’aider, elle a annoncé. Regarde. » Elle a tissé une toile (weaved a curtain) et la première femme a paru. L’homme était très content. Son dernier besoin était satisfait.
Femme Araignée a continué de tisser des femmes pour les hommes. Ensemble, hommes et femmes avaient beaucoup d’enfants.
Gros Corbeau est vraiment le créateur du monde. De temps en temps, il rentre pour voir le monde et sa création.

Friday, January 15, 2010


We have been leading up to Christmas, on Christmas break, and then on a snow week (never experienced that before!). So coming back has been a little...different. But Monday, on my first day back, I had a future teacher observe one of my first year students. These students had not been around French for about 3 weeks. I decided I'd start them off "slow" and just talk about what they did over the break. We talked for the hour about what they did, what they got, what color things were...what movies they saw, who went somewhere, etc. Sometimes they threw in silly little fictional details, like the girl who went to Vegas and got Cris Angel to fall in love with her. But it was a typical PQA kind of day.

At the end of the class, the future teacher said "Thank you so much. That was amazing!" It really made me feel good about what my students have been able to accomplish despite the lack of conjugation charts and worksheets!