I have been thinking about a recent blog post by Cynthia Hitz about the basics of story-asking. The first time I taught a TPRS lesson was a revelation: everyone had so much fun and learned so much. But try doing this every day, all year long, and the magic can fade. How devastating it is to be greeted by a class of moody teenagers groaning, “another story”, as if it were the worst thing to happen to them all day.
Carol Gaab points out that the brain craves novelty; switching things up, keeping it fresh, adding a dose of the unexpected will go a long way towards building a class that kids actually want to attend. There is another side to this, however, that has to do with consistency rather than novelty. When I watch this video of Alina Filipescu, for example, and I see her students´ synchronized responses I cannot help but admire the results of her clear expectations for students. The interpersonal skills rubric that came out of Ben Slavic´s group is what I use at the beginning of the school year to norm my class behaviors. At the beginning of the year I point and pause until I get the behavior I want. This can be excruciating, and I am not as consistent as I should be. At this point in the year, however, I simply need to restate the norms in a concise, “novel” format. Here is what I have written on the board:
I hate the way it is so tied to a grade, as if we cannot just hang out and have fun speaking Spanish. Yet I also feel like this is working better than anything else I have going on at the moment. Perhaps it is because I am so terribly bad at managing the bureaucracy, at keeping class jobs assigned and placing check marks on little lists, but this sign has saved me from the February blues that seems to weigh on many classes at this point of the year. It quickly, wordlessly redirects our attention so that we can get back into a delightful story, or a discussion about El Internado, or a discussion about the fictional life of a classmate. I like it.