Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Other strategies with Lance P

Due to a schedule mix-up, I only got to see the last part of this session too.  Dang!  I missed out on soooo much!

Lance was talking about ways to infuse stories into the classroom in innovative ways.  He talked about using Rory's Story Cubes.  Either roll and brainstorm about a die (what does this make you think of?), then you can add dice or use the dice as a prompt for a timed writing.

Lance said that as teachers, we always worry about "but my kids don't know the word for ___"  Students will be creative to use the language they already know, especially if we teach circumlocution.  I found this in Alina's class.  I was trying my best to find clever ways to put the language I knew into the story.  If we can train our kids away from saying "But how do you say match stick/vacuum cleaner/badger?" we will be soooo much better off in our classes.

Lance created a Clue game in Latin and uses it to teach the common house in the Roman Empire, but you could adapt it for use in many ways.  In order to play you need

  • 1 location (rooms of a house, school, places in a city, etc)
  • 1 victim (could also be cultural like Marie Antoinette)
  • 9 rooms/areas in the location
  • 6 suspects (could be cultural or could be careers)
  • 6 weapons
You can have kids play in two teams as a whole class.  They choose a room they want to go to and you say "If you get above a 3, you're there, if not, you can't accuse"

He also showed us a magic trick using 25 words, but I was lost during that...  I think you can look up Story Card Magic on Youtube?  Anyone out there who could fill in this blank?

Keynote with BVP

I have listened to all of the episodes of Tea with BVP, have asked two questions, and have met Angelika, Walter and the rest of the crew.  I'm not as big a superfan as some others, I'm looking at you, Eric H, Lance, Lizette, and Mikey...  but I am a fan.  I tried to take notes as quickly as I could during his speech, but it might not make a ton of sense to those new to the ideas of BVP.  Here are the notes I wrote down (and then presented to my department today):


CI is the language that learners hear or see in a communicative context intended for native or 2nd language learners AND can be understood, even if they miss some details.


Our brains are wired to learn languages through input.  Think of a grocery scanner and bar code. If you take a can of soup, you can try to scan the Campbell's, the picture, the ingredients...but nothing happens until you scan the bar code. Our brains are like that. You can try to feed it conjugation charts and grammar rules, but it will only process when you provide it with input.


“Rules” are not rules.  They all have exceptions:  If you think that there is one TRUE grammar, answer this: which is correct, I ain’t got none or I ain’t have any.


The kids are not learning rules in input, they are just understanding and, as they hear more language, it evolves in the learner’s mind.


Communication is the expression, interpretation and sometimes negotiation of meaning with purpose in a given context. I think it's important here to point out that, at the novice level, communication can be a gesture or one word, as long as it is furthering the conversation.

Thus, in a communicative learning classroom, meaning is CENTRAL, and teachers and students are engaged in the expression and interpretation of language.

The three purposes of communication:

  1. Psycho-social: niceties (how are you today?)
  2. Cognitive-informational: used to learn something
  3. Entertainment: to have fun (stories, jokes, movies, etc)
As teachers, we are not talking at our students, we are talking with our students. He also said that there is nothing more interactive than co-constructing a story.

We shouldn't try to intellectualize language learning because that is the job for linguists.
Bill's website is inputandmore.com and his podcast (with Angelika and Walter) is Tea with BVP.


I am so glad that Dr. Krashen and BVP have chosen to spend their time supporting teachers in the classroom by breaking down the science and research to help us make acquisition happen in our classrooms.

My colleague, Julie Begnaud, is working her way through the podcast and made the following helpful synthesis of BVP's 6 Principles of language learning.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

NTPRS was a couple of weeks ago...

What's taking you so long, Bess?

-Summer vacations.  But I'm trying!!

PS-my husband took this picture and told me to post in on my blog.  I said "Isn't it kinda vulgar?" and he said "absolutely not, it's beautiful."  *sigh*

Advanced with Jason and Blaine Ray

Full disclosure: I missed almost all of this day :(  So here are the VERY few notes that I took.

Morning session: Jason talked about teaching kids how to read and how to use good reading strategies.

I have to point out here that most of my notes from these sessions has been about Alina, and for very good reason.  Alina was the model for the strategies and Jason coached her and pointed out what she was doing to help us learn Romanian.  Jason is incredible and has been teaching with TPRS for much longer than I have.  He has a lot to show all of us, and if you want to read me gush about Jason, check out this blog post where I sat in awe of Jason and his vibe.

Jason, I think, posted this list of things to think about when picking out something to read.  I think I should project it every time before FVR.



He suggested that we teach kids what to do when they encounter a word that they don't know: skip it, guess, or look it up.

In the afternoon, Blaine was teaching how to take the principals of TPRS and adapt them for the upper levels.  It's still a conversation between us and the students.  Again, I came in late, so I was a bit lost about exactly what was going on, but Blaine was talking about how his parents wanted him to be a..., but he always wanted to be a...  Some structures that I wrote down to remember to use in the classroom: My mom wanted me to be....  My dad wanted me to be...  How would I feel if...  If you were my mom, would you make me...  Do you think I should have been...  Would I have been a good...?  Reinforcement that I need to work on coming up with this type of conversation starter.  I actually saw a set of Family Conversation Starter cards this weekend, but they wanted $26 for the set!  So I figured I'd just try to do a better job googling conversation starters.

Then, we watched a Movie Talk (Feel the Punch) with the directive "Think of something you want to know at the end" and after the movie, we talked about all the questions we had.  Then, we can come up with a prequel or sequel together as our "story" for the day.

That's it!  If you went to these sessions and have something to add, let me know or link to your blog post!

Tuesday Afternoon Advanced with Alina and Jason

I missed the first part of this because I was prepping for the TPRS books booth.  So I came at the end of a post-story re-tell.  Jason had a blank comic strip on the document camera and was writing as Alina re-told (with the class) our story.  She would let him know when she wanted him to write a sentence (very skeleton version of the story...I think like 9-12 sentences?) and then EVERY student wrote that sentence (I think Alina said she would never ask a student to do this because accuracy is so important in this step...if the kids are copying, that is) and sketched a little visual of the sentence.  She could still do PQA, comprehension checks, and look at papers to make sure that everyone was on the same page.  I love this idea because the kids are reading and writing and thinking and listening all at the same time.  Sometimes, to add novelty, Alina will add in details or change the ending of the story during this time.

Then, when everyone has their paper finished, you can project a few for REPETITION, but the kids don't realize how much repetition they're getting because they are focused on the work of their classmates and friends.  LOVE IT!  At this point, Alina will take pictures of a couple of them and post them to the class website for students who were absent.

Then, kids read a fuller version of their story.  Alina has a trick for this so that she's not typing up 6 versions of the story to go with each class.  Type up your skeleton story, but use a random name and object to fill in the skeleton.  For example, for our story (Lance wants to drink vodka at the castle with Dracula), she would type up "Johnny wants to drink water at the beach with Stephanie."  She can then change the story easily by using Find and Replace to substitute Lance for each time Johnny is used in the story.  She can change the rest of the details to reflect the class story or leave the differences and have students "spot the differences".  She says that she always prints off a copy for each student to give them ownership of the story.  I like this idea...

The purpose of this afternoon session was to get us away from choral translation or volleyball reading and into activities that make reading more pleasurable for kids.

I have a note for Active Inspire....but I honestly don't remember what that means.  Feel free to fill in my blank if you know what that is...

Alina said that she uses Gesture Reading (and has even before TPRS).  Here's a video of Alina doing this in class.

The key to getting kids to pay attention is to make sure that they always know your expectations.  In my class, I do this by saying EVERY TIME "As I read aloud, I want you to follow along with your eyes like you did back in kindergarten.  That way, your brain is making the connection between the way the words sound and the way they work, which is important for French."  Alina has a poster with 3 visual representations of her expectations.  1. (an eye) LOOK 2. (a pointer finger) FOLLOW 3. (a question mark) RESPOND

Some options for reading (students should do more than one per reading, IMO, and I think that's what Alina and Jason would recommend as well): read it alone silently, read it aloud with a partner, popcorn reading (students pick on each other to read the next sentence), read silently and draw two pictures (one true, one false) and then it becomes a game to pick which one is true and false.

And then I was off again!  I'm bummed I missed a lot of these sessions, but I got so much from what I did see.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tuesday morning Advanced with Jason and Alina

We started the day talking about FVR libraries.  Alina puts her books out on the table from easiest to hardest and then puts a NOW sticker on the novel that she feels the students should be comfortable with.  Students are able to pick out any book they choose, but this gives them an idea of what the teacher's expectations are.  When a student has finished a novel, they put a sticky note with their names, number of stars, and a quick word (like facile or difficile).  Alina also doesn't put children't lit in her library...something I'm going to think about doing next year.  I found that my students would pick things and just look at them, not trying to understand, since the books were too hard for them.  I might let kids check those kids' books out, but I'm going to try and stick to the TPRS novels for levels 1 and 2.

Alina also keeps a log of which books kids are reading and when they finish them or check them out.  I'll have to think about this idea because it seems like a lot of paperwork...

This year, I may hold off on FVR with my level 1s and really focus on teaching my kids how to pick a just right book.  Alina used a powerpoint she found online that shows what it looks like if you understand 98% of the text, 95%, 90% and 85%.  Powerful.

Then, we went back to storytime and we continued learning Romanian.  Some things that I noticed this time is that when we got to the problem, Alina just asked "What was Lance's problem?"  She then asked us to turn to our partner and whisper the problem to our partner.  This gives process time and allows shyer students to contribute because the people around them hear the good ideas and volunteer them.  AND!  It takes the pressure off the teacher to think of all the good ideas.  She also listened to several different ideas and then chose the one she liked the best.  Or, let the kids vote on it.  I loved the way that this allowed every student to contribute and takes pressure off me.

Also, Jason and Alina used their "remote control" to rewind and replay fun moments...make it go in slow motion...and the kids are still gesturing and getting those brain breaks.

As the actors were acting it out, they are a visual representation and NOT participating students in the class.  I loved that Alina got extra students involved by using dialogue bubbles (here's me acting as Lance's dialogue as he says "I want...")

I saw again how important it is to coach our actors to do what we want them to do and that they can be replaced at any time.  Jason replaces his actors by saying "And then Johnny fell and he died" and then finds a new Johnny.

We finished our story by brainstorming possible endings for the story.  MORE REPS and it validates our students and their ideas.  Loved it!

And that was our morning!

Afternoon Advanced track with Jason and Alina

We started the afternoon by looking at pictures of Jason's classroom.  He recommended keeping the word walls for different levels on different walls (French 1 on the right side of the room, French 4 in the back or something like that).  He also keeps his recent vocabulary on papers underneath the question words they go with (under where: beach, church, mall, etc, how many: numbers, who: professor, student)  I think that would help me remember to use more of those type words because we tend to get stuck on proper nouns and never get to the general location terms.

Jason has a WONDERFUL idea for quickly changing your word walls for different classes/levels.  He takes thick presentation board and cuts it in half.  He glues a hair band to the top of it and then hangs that from a nail.  Use butcher paper and tape a sheet on both sides and then you can easily Vanna White the words to change a word wall in five seconds!

While Alina leans forward to show that she wants an answer, Jason snaps to signal that he's ready for everyone to answer.

We did a lot of small group work in the afternoon, so my notes aren't as long...sorry!

Jason talked about some of his conversations that he uses to ignite learning in upper levels.  I NEED THESE ideas!!!!  An example of what Jason uses: What memories do you have that you want to forget?  What memory do you never want to forget?  I think I could find good ideas for this by looking up conversation starters online.  Any other ideas??

Jason left us with this thought: Who is the real story in our classroom?  The movie talk, the novel, our silly characters?  NO!  The students are the real story...  We need to be asking them to share.

Who has a younger brother?
Who has been on vacation?
Who has a pet dragon?
Who wants a pet dragon?
How many of you would like to be an attorney?
Would you like to earn more money?

And you can see that all of these questions lend themselves to follow-up questions.  Good stuff.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Advanced track with Jason Fritze and Alina Filipescu

Jason and Alina set this up that Alina taught us in Romanian and Jason would stop her every so often to de-brief what we had just witnessed.

Jason started class with an upbeat awesome song with beach balls bouncing through the room.  It really set the mood for our week and was welcome in the early morning.

One thing that Jason would do throughout is ask "How much time do we need?" before breaking us out into groups or breaks.  Then, he would GONG us back to whole group instruction.  It was a great attention grabber (I bought the most obnoxious noise maker at the Mercado in San Antonio...Mira Canion literally begged the saleswoman not to sell it to me) and I will be using this more in class.

The purpose of our track was to show how to seamlessly weave TPR, PQA, Storyasking, re-tells, and reading together so that it seems absolutely effortless.  Alina does a fabulous job of embedding TPR.  She uses the word a few times in context (with PQA) before she asks us to gesture.  Then, she has the room divided into Transylvania and Moldova for TPR purposes (ie Transylvania drinks.  Moldova wants.  Romania laughs.)  It's a great way to break up the room, make sure kids are listening and teach a bit of geography at the same time.  Also, it leads to kids guiding the story to take place in one of those places, allowing for more in depth culture discussions in a way that seems very natural.

PAUSE: I have to tell you here that I am ONLY blogging what hit me as new information this year.  I have blogged about Jason and Alina before, so I will not talk to you about how amazing Alina's classroom management is...because you can just go here to read my post from last year.

RESUME: Alina also conducted the class to laugh louder, longer, faster, etc by changing the way she said the command and by gesturing as a conductor of a symphony would.  It was great...and she only sprinkled it throughout the day when we needed something more.

Something that I really noticed this year is how Alina sprinkles numbers throughout the day.  One way she does that is when she is happy with a student.  She says (in Spanish) "Give me five # times" and then everyone in the class claps their hands as she gives that student their high fives (and she makes sure that everyone does it in unison to ensure that everyone is paying attention).  So much of what Alina does it to make sure that it feels like we are all in this (class) together and that it requires ALL of us to make class work.  I would come back from the bathroom or from tweeting and feel like I had to "catch up" so I didn't let anyone down.  Brilliant.  I've said it before and I'll say it again...I want to be Alina when I grow up.

I'm sure that this was in my last blog post, but I forgot to do it last year, so I'll blog it again.  Alina will ask a question for the whole class and then hold up her hands to indicate that she wants you to wait before answering.  When she's ready for a choral answer, she will lean forward and listen to the answers.  What a great way to allow for processing time and make sure that EVERYONE understands and not just the quickest or loudest students.

I also love how she uses her students to create dialogue with the class.  That's not a great explanation, so I'll offer an example.  Throughout the day, Alina would be on one side of the class and a student would blurt something out in Romanian.  She would then laugh and turn to the whole class and say "Class, Andrea says How Romantic!"  And how did Andrea know how to say How romantic in Romanian???? Because they are on little posters that Alina gives to students to hold up throughout the class.  Love it!  (Some ideas for posters are: It's ridiculous, I can't believe it, How sad, How romantic, Of course)

And now is when I come to the part in my notes where I remind myself of the power of gestures.  I haven't used gestured because I am not "good" at the traditional TPR commands (Stand up, jump, sit down, throw, laugh...and on and on until I and my kids are bored to death).  But Alina is truly a master.  As I said before, she doesn't give you the gesture until you have already heard the word in context, she's pointed and paused several times, and THEN she asks you to do the gesture with her.  The next time she says the word, she finds a kid that is gesturing and she says "Thank you so much, Eric, for doing the gestures with me.  It really shows me that you understand and that makes me a better teacher."  The student who wasn't gesturing (usually me) jumps to attention and next time, makes sure to gesture.  But this NEVER becomes a classroom management issue because if a kid chooses not to do the gesture, it is not a do or die event.  I really liked that because I can see myself forcing every student to gesture and having conflict in the classroom.

Alina asks her comprehension checks so that her kids answer in English (if necessary) and she stays in the TL by asking "How do you say _ in English?"  It just prevents the teacher from getting used to speaking in English in the classroom.

I noted that I need to use butcher paper in class instead of the white board so that I will be able to have the same structures up day after day.  Jason uses King Markers from Sharpie because they are THICK and easy to see.  He underlines the TL to make it easier to focus on when kids are bouncing around the posters finding meaning.

Jason uses a document camera to allow him to show kids' work, use books, etc without typing or writing things on the board.  LOVE IT

Some brain breaks we used this morning:
tap your breastbone because there is a gland behind your breastbone that will give you energy
Put your thumb in front of you and watch it as you move it in an infinity symbol for creativity
Hold your ear with the opposite hand and then do # squats (another way to practice numbers)

LOVED IT!  Four hours flew by and I did not zone out.


Day 1 NTPRS 2017 (Sunday arrival)

I always blog every session I go to at NTPRS...just to help me synthesize the information for myself and also hopefully to have something to look back to during the year when I get tired (of course, at that point in the year, I'm in survival mode and I forget to do that-HELP ME REMEMBER TO DO THIS IN JANUARY).

This year, I was not able to go to as many sessions as normal because I was helping out in the TPRS Books booth, answering questions about novels and ringing people up.

Anyway, I got to the hotel and checked into my room that I shared with Andrea Schweitzer (I think this was our 4th time rooming together...she's the yin to my yang...the wind beneath my wings....and an awesome Spanish teacher from Dallas, TX) and Cecilia, another Dallas Spanish teacher who agreed to join in on our insanity.  I felt really bad for Cecilia because I could NOT stop singing Simon and Garfunkel to her the entire week.

L-R (Emma?, Cecilia, me, Andrea)

For those of you who have never been to NTPRS, I offer you the following story to give you a sense of the atmosphere.  We (the roomies) walked to dinner at a Cuban restaurant with a German teacher, Eric Spindler.  We sat, ordered, and as we were waiting for our food, Anna Gilcher and Rachelle Adams Jackson came in and joined our table.  Then, Jason Fritze and Alina Filipescu came and ate at the table next to us.  A few minutes later, Lance P. came in and sat for a while.  It is just people coming and going and sharing and laughing and talking and hugging and loving and...  bliss.  It's bliss.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Student evaluations

Every year I have my students evaluate me after they have taken their finals.  Here are some of the most common responses this year.

1. Did you feel that I cared about you and your success?  Overwhelmingly, the answer was yes.  There were a very few students that hesitated or said that they weren't sure.

2. If yes, what did I do to show you that I cared?  If no, what could I have done? The answers on this were mainly: you let us know when we had a bad grade and let us turn stuff in late, you asked us about our weekends and seemed interested, you told us about your life.

3. What is the best thing I did in the classroom? This one had a ton of different answers.  But I got a lot of The Stories with Repetition, the Gestures to show when we needed help, The songs at the beginning of the hour...basically everything was said on someone's paper.

4. What is the worst thing I did in the class?  "pop" quizzes, not enough grammar, no vocab sheets.  I really don't know how to handle these because I don't really foresee me changing this next year.  Any thoughts?  I mean, I could poop out a vocab sheet and I have tried to flip the grammar for those students who want it, but it hasn't gone well...

5. What could I do next year to be a better teacher? More stories, teach grammar, more conversations, write words on the board in upper levels, units with specific vocab, more comprehension checks, more repetitions

And that's about it.  I did have like 3 semi-critical ones, but I think those had more to do with personality clashes than about actual pedagogy.  Overall, kids said that my classroom was a fun place where they didn't feel stressed out and they felt like, when they were feeling stressed out because of other classes, I gave them space to de-stress.

I did have one student who was the most complimentary.  This is a student who NEVER volunteered to speak and when she did speak, it was almost a whisper.  She wrote such wonderful things about how much she loved class, even if it didn't show on her face.  So remember, even the kids that you think are miserable could be loving what you're doing.  Don't count them out!

I really recommend doing this at the end of the year if your heart can handle it.  I'm not gonna lie, some of the responses hurt, but you'll never grow if you don't put yourself out there.  And every year, it's the most critical responses that I grow from.

Friday, May 19, 2017

End-of-year reflection

I have four more classes of finals to give, so I'm just sitting around waiting for them to show up.  Perfect time to sit and reflect on the year...

First, I have to admit that I haven't felt great about this second semester.  First semester, I had some crazy virus that made my iron levels go sky high...leading to an extreme exhaustion, which is not great for TPRS.  Second semester, I fell into a depression probably caused by lack of sunshine and  finding out some information about terrible bullying going on between two of my students and I disengaged from my classes for a while.  Then, just when I'm starting to get back into the groove, I had hernia surgery to repair an umbilical hernia from having so many stinking babies.  I tell you all of this because I am a sharer and also to give you hope that it's really true that even bad TPRS is better than no TPRS.

So...really bad year on my part.  BUT, I'm getting some of the best results of my career.  Because I spent almost an entire semester on Personne Spéciale, the kids had a TON of compelling input as they learned about every one of their classmates.  Next year, I'm going to cut out some of the questions from Bryce Hedstrom that didn't work for my classes and am adding a couple of new ones like What is your spirit animal? and What do you want to do before you die?

I may not have done a ton of stories with my classes, but the ones we did do were super interesting.  I had one story that was truly Blaine Ray magic.  We spent so much time building up a back story that we never finished the actual story.  But the kids LOVED it.

Also, having the structures on the Powerpoint and projected each day as we talked about the kids really helped with pronunciation and spelling.  By doing that, I'm seeing almost no Juh swee.  They still make some errors, but way fewer.

I'm not sure why this is, but my Free Write word counts went up this year over-all.  Even kids who have had me for the last four years were writing more and writing better.  I'm not sure why that is except that I started giving them a small grade for making progress on word counts...so maybe they had more incentive to try? (and yes, I realize that grades should not be used as the carrot and the stick, but I feel like until our society changes, this is the way it is).

What else?  I won't know everything until I get all of my student evaluations back.  I know that at NTPRS this summer, I need to focus on meeting the needs of my upper level students.  I am finishing my tenth year of teaching levels one and two...my 8th using TPRS exclusively.  So I feel like I do a pretty good job with those students.  Now it's time to figure out how to take that energy and excitement and transfer it to the upper levels where I am supposed to make sure they are prepared for the IB exam and college.  Yuck!

How about you guys?  What's the one thing that you're going to change for next year??

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

FVR: Best thing I did for my own French

I started doing FVR (free voluntary reading) a couple of years ago after finally finding enough books to feel comfortable doing it and after spending what seems like several hours picking Bryce Hedstrom's brain about how he's done it so successfully.  If you are brand new to this idea, I highly recommend going to Bryce's website and reading all you can about what he does in his classroom.

Here are the keys (in my opinion) to making this work (and I'm sure Bryce would agree since I got my ideas from him):

1. You have to start early.  I have enough baby picture books that even my French 1 students are able to "read" for five minutes the first week of school.  I don't know how beneficial reading is at this point in their acquisition, but at this point in the school year, they are super compliant and so I am training them that this is the way things are going to happen for the rest of the school year.

2.  You have to read with them.  When it's reading time, I get out my book, get in my comfy chair, and read with them.

3.  No evaluation: I do not give the students anything to turn in for this time.  I've read other books (such as Book Love) that say that keeping a log is a good way for the students to self-reflect and can help the teacher guide them to great books, but I just can't figure out a way to do it that doesn't seem like paperwork.  I want them to enjoy reading in a low-stress environment.

4.  Tell them why: Before we read for the first time, I tell them of all the research showing how wonderful reading is for acquisition and we revisit these throughout the year.  I also don't assign homework, so I tell them that these 5 minutes are their way to pay me back for that.

5.  This time is sacred: No bathroom breaks, no talking...just silence.  Which is super powerful when I read something funny and start chuckling to myself.  "Man, I wonder what is so funny in that book??  Maybe someday I'll read it."

But this blog post wasn't supposed to be a re-phrasing of Bryce's work...  I wanted to say that I have been AMAZED at my own progress in French through reading 30 minutes a day for 2-3 days a week this year.  (five minutes for six hours)  For me, reading in French has always been awful because at university, we had to read 18th century novels written in a French that isn't spoken today and with tons of junk hidden in the words.  I hated it.  I hated reading and I hated that all the grad classes offered at the local university were all literature classes.  Where's the enjoyment in that?!  Luckily, I found the Nicolas Sparks of France, ,Marc Levy.  His books are not earth-shattering, but they are written in a French  full of daily language and with gripping plot points.  Sure, the guy and girl end up together in the end, but I'm hooked!  There are times when I am reading almost as if I were reading in English.  I forget that it's in French and am able to just enjoy the plot.

So, if you are like me and struggling with how to get better at a language without being immersed in the language 24/7, please please please get your kids reading in class.  They also benefit, but that has been well-documented elsewhere.  If you need some book recommendations, let me know!!