Monday, July 25, 2011

Co-building a story-Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido

At this point, a lot of this session was synthesis of what we learned in the other sessions. The difference in this session was the focus on taking student suggestions. I STINK at this. And during the coaching portion of this session, I learned why. I'm too flippy floppy on it. I'm always waiting for the perfect answer, so I take way too many suggestions and then pick the best one. Instead, I should take a couple of suggestions and either take one, making a big deal about how great it is that the student "guessed" the answer, or I should give my own answer. Either way, it should seem as though I know the story by heart and they are just helping me re-tell it. With the way I do it, the students shout out too many answers and then argue with me when I finally pick an answer. My fault! I need to be more certain in my answers.

We also talked about creating a space for each location to give the students help in remembering the plot.

Personalization-Barb Watson and Michael Miller

I loved this session! Michael started off by talking about how he gets to know his students from the first day of class. It was reassuring, because I focused a lot on this last year. I even shook my kids hands the first week of school to build a connection. As the year went on, if I feel that connection breaking, I would just shake their hands for a few days and BOOM! the connection came back. It was really powerful.

I also loved this session because it gave more ways to embed advanced grammar structures into class so that they become natural.

In the video of Michael in his class, he started off by talking about famous people. Do you know anyone famous? Are you famous? Then, he switched to the future: Will you be famous? I believe that...will be famous. So much good stuff there all around one main word! The thing that stuck out to me about Michael's class is that it really felt like a conversation between him and his students. Really amazing stuff.


I am having a hard time responding to, to Piedad, you are so sweet and I uploaded a picture. I'm getting better at this technology stuff, but still not great!

To Alike: again, technology. Once I figure it out, I'll add a link to your blog. I saw you at NTPRS, but wasn't ever close enough to talk.

To Anny: I'd like to talk to you about your sabbatical. What were you working on? Is your blog up and running yet?

Props in the Classroom-Barb Watson

In this session, Barb talks about what works in her classroom with props. She uses them for interest value, to establish meaning, and as a classroom management tool. How in the world are they a classroom management tool? Students have their favorite props, and Barb will let them sit on desks as long as the student is behaving his/herself. If he/she acts out, the prop is removed. She also has a puppet who is a member of the class. If a student says something mean or out-of-bounds, the puppet gets very upset. Students respond to this more than if Barb just tells them to knock it off.

Barb also uses specific dolls as characters from the novel. This helps students keep characters straight and gives them a visual to go along with the reading.

I don't use props a ton in my class, except for when talking about my animal of the week or when a prop is just perfect for a story. Because I'll be trying to plan ahead more this year, I think I can use props a little more.

The Politics of Education-Dr. Stephen Krashen

First, I have to admit that I am a hippy (I try to use natural soaps, grow vegetables in my back-yard garden, cloth diaper my baby, and recycle like crazy...). I was so happy to go to this session and be surrounded by hippies. I consider a hippy to be anyone who believes that we can improve on the status quo, is willing to fight to make it happen, and will use their beliefs and anything else they have to speak up for the little guy who can't fight for himself.

I already said how much I loved listening to Krashen speak during the keynote address. He was just as engaging here, and he didn't talk about aliens. :)

Krashen started off by telling us that we are not the problem in education. In fact, he said that our educational system is not broken at all. If we look at our national test scores, but remove the scores of those living in poverty, we are very competitive with the other countries. Which is pretty amazing as some of the other countries have little or no poverty and some countries do not educate or test those of below-normal intelligence.

Whew! It's not us! We're not failing our kids! Okay, so what now? Krashen says that there are three main things that have a direct correlation with achievement levels. He says that good public libraries are huge...access to books is one of the biggest indicators of success in school. But most of the poorer schools and communities do not have great access to books. Sooo, pump money into the libraries. But we also need trained librarians who can help students find books that are interesting to them. They need to feel compelled to read. Librarians are number two. And third is a trained library staff to help. Amazing! Of course, he has the research to back this up.

The other thing that Krashen said that I found incredible is that SSR is as effective or MORE effective than direct instruction in reading. I am dumbfounded by this! I will definitely be taking this back to my administrators this fall...

Krashen also talked about curing poverty to make sure that our kids are well-fed with HEALTHY meals and have access to healthcare to help reduce the achievement gap. All-in-all...amazing stuff.

Action plans: follow and go to We need to convince politicians that TESTING is not the way to go. Spend those billions of dollars used currently for testing to get more books in schools, feed our kids, and offer them school nurses.

Contrastive Grammar-Susie Gross and Betsy Paskvan

Grammar in a TPRS classroom?! No way! Yes way!

I loved this because it gave us 3 basic skills to practice.

  1. For our low performers, we ask them to translate a piece or a phrase that it already written on the board. This is the same as in comprehension checks...

  2. For average students, we ask them to transfer the grammar rule we are practicing to another known phrase. For example, "If jouons means (we) play, what does chantons mean?" They should be able to figure that out...

  3. For superstars, we ask them to produce language. "How would I say We like?"

We got to practice this skill, alternating between circling questions and the different levels of grammar pop-ups. Great practice.

The other thing that I really got from this session is the idea of color-coding my board. French should be in one color, English in another, and the grammar point should be in a third color. That's hard to picture, but I'll try to explain it: In the above example, I would write jouons in black, (we) play in blue, and then I would put a red square around the "ons" and (we) so that students can begin to see the pattern.

Great session and my first time to see Miss Susie in action!! AND, I almost forgot that I got to learn some Japanese!! Really amazing... Betsy was so in love with the language and the was hard not to get sucked in!

Comprehension Checks-Barb Cartford and Leslie Davison

This session was a summary of a lot of things we had been seeing in our other sessions...well, as far as comprehension checks go. We have seen the instructors model these skills, and now we have a list of some to try.

We can do translation checks asking kids to translate what we just said (either the whole phrase or a portion) or even retell the story so far in English. Obviously, we need to choose the question based on the ability of the students.

We can also ask the students to tell us how much they are understanding through a finger check, answers to questions, or through a gesture to tell us we are going way too fast.

For us, we need to teach to the eyes...this will tell us quickly if a student is lost (unless they are faking it...).

The coolest things that I learned in this session is how to say "You are really good today" in Swedish...which sounds like Doo air duke diggy dog...or something like that. The other cool thing was how to have students text their level of understanding using I can't wait to use this in my classroom! I think my kids will pee their pants when I tell them to pull out their cell phones in class!

Skipped sessions...

I skipped the last session of the day because my brain needed a break and there wasn't anything I was crazy about. Instead, I talked to a bunch of people and checked out the exhibitors. Great stuff there. I bought three sub DVDs from Chalkboard Productions. I'm sure I'll blog later about how those worked in the classroom.

Power Grading part 1-Scott Benedict

In this session, Scott explained the "why" behind Standards-based grading and how he uses that in his own class.

Scott breaks down his grading into five sections that he weights based on Bloom's Taxonomy. Culture is worth 10% because this is mainly recall of information. Listening and Reading are worth 15% each because these require a little more thought. Writing and Speaking are worth 30% each because they require the highest level of thinking. I love this idea and will transfer my gradebook to this. Last year I had 95% assessments and 5% homework, but I had already planned on ditching my homework grades for the upcoming year anyway. I have had horrible luck with homework in my classes and HATE it as a parent.

Scott also talked about the difference between formative assessments (dipsticks for teachers to see how the students are doing so far...also to provide feedback for students to improve) and summative assessments (test of multiple learning goals).

My school has been working towards standards-based grading for a couple of years now, so I understood the why of this method of grading. There were quite a few people who were shocked by this idea, especially NO HOMEWORK and NO PARTICIPATION. I believe in it... Anyway, I decided to skip the second part, not because Scott isn't amazing as a presenter (as you'll see in later sessions), but because I was already sold on the idea and really wanted to hear Krashen talk about politics.

Building Dialogue through Actors-Scott Benedict and Carol Sutton

One of my favorite sessions because there was sooo much there. Variety, acting, humor, upper-level grammar, and useful phrases.

In this session, Scott and Carol taught us how to choose the right actor (not too crazy, not too shy...just right), how to use dialogue with different levels (low level are puppets, mid-level repeat the dialogue, superstars improvise), and how to vary the drama by having the audience repeat the words with different emotions.

When using dialogue, the teacher circles the dialogue, verifies the details with the actor, and gets advice from the audience. This is such a perfet way to include different subjects, tenses, etc. LOTS of practice. You can even go further by asking way advanced questions like "What did he want that she say? (subjunctive) or What would you like her to say (conditional)" Really really good stuff in this session that I can't wait to use.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Verifying details with Blaine and Von

I love Blaine. He has a way of making me feel like the best, most awesome, student in the class. There really is no way to explain the magic of Blaine until you have a chance to see him teach. And I don't mean teaching about TPRS, I mean teaching a language. He is magic...

This session was practicing the skill of verifying details with the actors and then the class to introduce the first and second person forms. We had a lively discussion about whether oral stories should be in the past or the present. Then Cheri asked if we should introduce both past tenses of a word at the same time. Blaine asked me what my experience was last year in Spanish class... Here is my answer: I learned from Blaine that tenia means wanted. So when I say He wanted...I know exactly what to say. If he had given me two words and tried to explain the difference, I would ALWAYS be asking myself to choose before producing that phrase. That slows down production and creates way more errors than just giving tenia means wanted. So I really believe in the power of just using the language in context and giving the students the meaning.

When verifying, you write the "you" form of the question on the board with the correct response. Then, you ask the actor a question that has already been established. Example: Nilsa, are you a girl? Nilsa answers-Yes, I am a girl. The class applauds Nilsa and the teacher VERIFIES the detail by answering, Yes! That is correct! You are a girl! Another repetition there. Then, turn to the class and verify the detail with them: Class, is/was Nilsa a girl? Yes! That's right! Nilsa is/was a girl. Just another way to increase reps.

I don't have notes from this, but I think that was about it. We had a lot of practice time with Blaine and Von coaching. Again, magic!!

More notes from Carol Gaab

I found my original notes from Carol's session Monday. I thought I would post them, because there are some really good things here...

Make sure that you display vocabulary through meanings or pictures. Pictures, props, gestures are more effective because we are visual creatures.

This is what Carol suggests saying when administrators ask "How do you differentiate": I tier my lesson based on cognitive ability…in other words, I have my core words for the day that EVERY student should internalize and then we have enrichment words (spontaneous) for the top half of the class.

Have some interesting dialogue in every story. Dialogue of the day (Do you want to go? Sure, I want to go!) Great time to use “advanced” dialogue that it high-frequency. Phrase of the week. I will have a lot more about how to embed dialogue into a story from a session on Tuesday.

Put question posters near appropriate items ("where" by map, "what time is it" by clock…) I really like this idea because it eliminates me looking around to point at the appropriate question word...

Partner work is not necessarily for production, it’s for teacher breaks, brain breaks, or a chance for them to think on their own. I do not do nearly enough of this because I'm always afraid that they will use the time to talk to their friend. I think if I give them a set amount of time and time it, they will be more likely to do what I want them to do. Also, it gives me a chance to hear them produce in a non-threatening way.

Use props sparingly and strategically…choose several for the week and then put them away. Emotional engagement increases because the props are always new! Favorite props (cereal boxes, hats, abnormal body parts, glasses, blow-up props, fake foods, empty containers, famous faces) Print off face on card stock and get popsicle sticks. I love the idea of famous faces. I can imagine how my kids would love to see a head of Snooki with her HUGE hair!

One individual question for every 4 group questions….say their name, pause, and then ask the question…offer a choice if they are stuck. This goes against the "old way" for teachers. Usually we are trying to "catch" our students to encourage them to pay attention. But that increases the affective filter. If we say their name, pause, and then ask the question, there is little chance they won't be able to answer. ESPECIALLY if we ask the question very slowly and point.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Improv with Von Ray

Woo hoo! After almost a day, I was reunited with the Ray boys. I doubted that they would remember me, but they did and they were even looking for me! Woot!

Anyway, on to the class. This class was a training to help us as teachers be in the moment of the story. We need to feel comfortable not knowing what is going to happen next. We talked a lot about what makes things funny in an improv situation and then we got to work!

Our first practice was an improv game called One Word Story. In this activity, each player stands in a circle. One person starts the story with one work (Once) and the next player adds another word (upon)...etc. The goal is to have a cohesive, smooth story. Wow! This was really freaking hard. But we all agreed that it is a great team-building activity for our students and would also teach them a lot about being respectful of others' answers in our TPRS classroom. With only one word, it was hard for us to actually create a story with a problem and solution. Instead, we just kept adding details and characters and locations. Hmmmm...sound familiar?

Our second practice was called Conducted Story (I think). One player sits in the middle of the circle and "conducts" the story by pointing to different players for differing amounts of time. This was much easier and we actually had some story lines that made us laugh quite a lot. One of the girls in my group had me on the floor with two words that were completely unexpected. It wasn't that what she said was necessarily that funny, but it was sooooo out of left field that I had to laugh and missed a key part of the story. Luckily, Cheri from Lee's Summit was there to get our story back on track.

The goal of this session was not to find activities to take back to our classrooms for students to do, but rather to start to feel more comfortable with the unknown. Very fun!!

Are we doing a story AGAIN-Carol Gaab

Another great session! This answered soooooo many problems I've had (real or imagined) with my classes. It also showed me, yet again, just how much I have to learn before I can be truly awesome and super effective.

The first point Carol made that I think I need to remind myself of 25 times a day is that the kids aren't (usually) the ones who are bored; it's us! We get so bored saying the same phrase fifty gajillion times that we assume we must be boring the students too. As I can assure you all after being in "classes" of Russian, Chinese and German this week so far, our students NEED that repetition. Most of them aren't bored, they are tuning out because we are going to fast and trying to further the story...

The next tip was to bring in props. But, like every tip that Carol gave us, it should be used sparingly for optimum response and excitement. Carol brings in a few props each week and rotates them so students are excited by the new props.

The next tip is to vary our techniques. Instead of having all choral responses, we should be calling on individuals, have them write it on their hand, bark for yes, etc. I really like this idea and hope to use it once the novelty starts to wear off.

The next tip is also a technique of our storytelling. It is using actors for dialogue. Right from day one! If they can't produce, speak for them and have them open their mouths as your puppets.

Use technology to excite students! No, that doesn't mean a snazzy PowerPoint (although it probably could...). Use Jibjab to explain a story point. Use blabberize. I had never heard of this service. Apparently, you can take a digital photo, center it over a mouth, and then record something for the mouth to say as it moves. Carol suggested using a celebrity crush and then record the story saying something romantic to a student!

We can also vary the types of stories we use. It doesn't always have to be based off PQA. It doesn't always have to come from asking a story. How about using a current event? I thought immediately of using Casey Anthony as a story starter. Carol also uses historical events to teach a story, but she often uses PQA situations the previous day to introduce vocabulary and increase interest in boring old history.

She suggest using music or TV theme songs or sound effects to create pizzazz in the classroom. Again, this is not something to be used every day.

Carol said again and again that not every story is going to be a homerun. We need to realize that our classroom is going to have some fizzles. We just have to learn how to deal with those in a positive matter and keep going in the future!

Krashen Keynote

I thought this was absolutely fascinating, though I guess there were some that found it a bit boring. Not this girl! I was amazed at the sheer genius of this man and the fact that he was in front of me! I have my photos of me and Blaine and Von and me on the bulletin board in my classroom and now I have another "celebrity" I want to add. (I also have a picture of me and Jason Sudeikis...number one on my "list")

Krashen presented 5 areas of discussion

  1. Krashen talked about a program called Reach out and Read where pediatric office workers, nurses, and doctors are briefly trained in how to teach parents how to read aloud to their children. During the wait time for the well-child check-up, the parents were talked to about read-alouds and GIVEN a free book. In this tiny way, research shows that the achievement gap can be reduced significantly. So, we should read to our children and our students to increase vocabulary development.

  2. Compelling input-Krashen proposes that compelling input (where the listener is transported to another world and forgets that the story is in the target language) can destroy the affective filter and eliminates the need for motivation. We provide this by talking about the most fascinating subject in the entire world to students...them!

  3. Next, Krashen talks about a study that shows how to delay dementia...good news for languages! Being bilingual is one way to delay dementia. The other two ways to help with dementia are to read fiction and non-fiction and to drink coffee!

  4. I had a hard time following his next point about Arnold Schwarzenegger...But I think he is making the point that immersion does not make for fluency alone. The input has to be comprehensible in order to be beneficial. This reminds me of why I don't teach 100% in the TL anymore. It was like a game of charades where the kids are frustrated, I'm frustrated and little progress is made.

  5. Okay, I'll admit that I got lost here as well, but it was at least entertaining. Krashen talked about aliens and if they have visited us and how they communicate. What I took from this point is that we have to be proactive in trying to change the way language instruction is seen in modern culture. Is it seen as "kill and drill"? Is it seen as memorized dialogues? If we see something that we don't agree with (as Krashen saw on Star Trek), we should be vocal and call or email the creators.

I was very impressed with Krashen's knowledge level and his wonderful sense of humor. Maybe I'll send him a pound of Kansas City's own Roasterie coffee.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Art of Going Slowly-Bryce Hedstrom and Linda Li

Wow! Chinese!!! This was so much fun. Linda is a true artist as she takes something as banal as "looks at" and makes it fascinating and challenging. Very fun session.

I think we all as TPRS teachers know that we HAVE to do a better job at going slowly, pausing and pointing, and teaching to the eyes. In fact, one of my biggest goals for next year is to make sure that I don't lose a single student. So this was a good reminder of how I can accomplish that goal.

I have to say that Bryce spoke directly to me when he started talking about forgetting all the intellectual stuff and really worrying about our hearts and what they are saying. In the last year, I have gone from having a job to having a job that I LOVE...that I'm excited about. For the first time in my life, people can ask me how work is going and I feel giddy. It is really because of the heart and love mindset that I feel that way. I have removed the pressure from myself to have students who can get an A on this textbook unit test or students who know how to say, "No, I don't have any." I really believe at this point (and I hope I don't get fired for saying this) that my job is less about curriculum and more about the kids. Of course, I try to cram as much French into my time with them...and I know that I am doing that successfully...but I'm also teaching them that it's okay to be a goofball. Or not. It's okay to like reading. Or not. Wow, that was a tangent.

Anyway, I loved this session. Some quick things that I took away for the classroom:

  • Don't allow students to repeat after teacher

  • Make sure to teach and re-teach the gestures for "slow down" and "I'm lost"

  • Remind students to do the gestures

Embedded Readings with Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley

First off, it is always awesome to put a face to a name, but then I always try to put more information with the face and the name and my head usually explodes. This is what happened when Laurie introduced me to Michele today. Of course I've seen the name a thousand times on the moreTPRS blog and Laurie's blog, but I knew I should know more about her. Is she a colleague of Laurie's? Is she the one (of many, I know) from Alaska? Cue head exploding. So if you happen to be a witness to one of these instances of social despair, I apologize in advance. Anyway, it turns out that Michele is indeed a Russian teacher from Alaska!

In this session, Laurie and Michele worked in Russian (well, Michele worked in Russian and Laurie explained the pedagogy behind the embedded readings) to show us how this is truly beneficial to beginning students. This was my first experience with TPRS in a language other than French or Spanish. It was AMAZING! I realized that TPRS really does work...even if it's not in a language extremely similar to my second language.

Michele spent time working on a few key structures with us. Then she added a parallel story (I am assuming here that most of my readers know these basic ideas. If not, please add a comment and I would be happy to expand) in which two new characters looked at each other and said or did not say hi to one another. By this time, we were fairly comfortable with recognizing and understanding the new structures. Then, Michele had us write down the core structures on a sticky note. Then, she asked us to work in pairs to create a story in English using those structures and whatever else we wanted to add. She later used these student stories to create an embedded reading.

Okay, so what is an embedded reading? I highly recommend that you check out for explanations and example stories. But I can summarize here by telling you the basic outline of an embedded reading. An ER is created to level instruction to meet the needs and abilities of all students. It starts with 4-5 core sentences that each student should have no trouble reading after circling and PQA. Then, in the next "story," those same core sentences are there, but we've added detail or a time stamp or a repetition of a sentence or a prepositional phrase or.... The teacher, or the class with teacher guidance, takes the second story, copies it, and continues to add. This can go on several times...usually 3 or 4 times.

Why in the world would we want to do this? Well, for repetitions sake. By the time the students have read all of the versions of the story, they have heard the core vocab in the prep circling and PQA and they have read the sentence (and understood it) at least 3 more times. Another reason is to scaffold for the slower processors. If you gave those students the final version at the beginning, they would look at the amount of words and give up. By giving it to them in this way, they don't even realize how awesomely they are able to read until the end. Ha ha! Teachers trick the students again!

Anyway, I am sold! I tried this a couple of times in the last year, but it seemed like a ton of work and it took so long to read that the students are bored. Seeing how it worked in this session with true beginners, I realize that my final versions were WAY too long to keep the interest of my students for that long. Plus, I was having them chorally translate each version. BORING! They could just as easily have translated to a partner or read silently and visualized. Things to do next year...

NTPRS-I'm here!

This year, my second, I brought a colleague with me who will be starting her career in my district with me as a mentor! On the almost 4 hour trip from KC to St. Louis, I tried to explain the week of love, support, and excitement that is NTPRS. I was a little hesitant in case I just had a really good year last year...I mean, could all of those people really be that nice ALL the time??

Well, I am happy to report that it is just as loving and welcoming for a second year as it was for a first year attendee. I think my colleague is having a good experience in the beginning sessions, and I will post entries about my sessions as I find time and brain function.

PS-Shout out to Liz Hughes who said she reads my blog! That is certainly NOT something that I'm used to hearing "Oh, I read your blog!" Wow. Really puts the pressure on me to put something worth reading here...