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Watching other teachers in class

Bring more CI voices into your classroom

I love watching other teachers teach. An absolutely-no-prep end-of-the-year activity that I enjoy is finding videos of other teachers and spending ten minutes watching and commenting on it with my students. I was telling my students, “es como el Matrix donde podemos entrar en (mimic opening a door) otra realidad“. One corrected me, saying, “actually Mr Peto it is more like Inception where 20 seconds of their time stretches into 10 minutes in our world”. I love how everyone gets a little punchy in the last month of school.

It all started one day with a video of Eric Herman doing a movie talk of a Volkswagen commercial. Unfortunately I cannot find the clip, but we got hung up on a portion in which Eric is asking one of his students if she has pets and she says no, so he starts listing the pets that she might want but does not have. I found this hilarious and, since only a few of my students agreed, I decided to pull one up to act out the ludicrous scene with dramatic relish.

Thus was born a segment that I call, “¡¿Qué está pasando en otras clases?!“.

Click on photo to see Alina’s video
At the beginning of the year my students are assigned seats which are placed within taped boxes, but by the end of the year kids are grabbing pillows and sprawling out on the floor. As long as they are paying attention, they own the classroom. So I thought it would be fun to watch one of Alina Filipescu’s videos that highlight her amazing classroom management skills. It took us seven minutes to watch about 30 seconds of video as I described the various gestos that her students were making, all in unison. The interesting thing for me was that I do not normally ask students to do gestures… okay, I never ask for gestures. Bringing Alina in through video taught my class the entonces gesture. Nice!

Click on photo to see the video of Jason
A few days later I pulled up a clip of Jason Fritze teaching younger kids using TPR. This was fun because not only did my students have to adjust to hearing a different voice, but they had to react quickly to the video. I told my students, “es un baile moderno…un baile supermoderno… y el coreógrafo es el señor Fritze… tenemos que hacerlo perfectamente“. Half of my late-May-fried-teaching-brain was freed up as I sat in the back with my students and simply obeyed his instructions, raising my hand whenever I observed students off-track. One of my students sitting at the computer rewound the video (at times cruelly to the beginning) so that we could perfect our performance.

Click on the photo to visit Pablo’s Youtube channel

A few days later we watched a video made by Pablo Pankun Román on his youtube channel “Dreaming Spanish”. This is a great end of the year activity because it moves students in the direction of finding their own comprehensible input. It is very much scaffolded by a native speaker, but it was almost entirely comprehensible to my students.

Cameron Taylor
I have also released several videos of myself doing story listening lessons. Last January on Tea with BVP Bill Van Patten suggested that hearing good comprehensible input on video can be as effective as live interaction. Cynthia Hitz wrote a blog post detailing how she uses these videos for substitute lesson plans (which in fact was the reason that I made several of those videos). Ironically, while I was absent, I had lunch with Cameron Taylor in Tokyo, one of the other teachers that Cynthia highlights in her blog post. It is a very small CI world! I definitely recommend that you check out both Cynthia´s blog as well as Cameron´s youtube channel and his blog where he explores teaching Spanish and also his experiences acquiring Japanese.

Here are links to several videos of me telling stories that I have on my vimeo site. There are also more, including longer ones when I am teaching with a class. Click on any of the images and you will be brought to the video:

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Where will the CI community be in 100 years?

Will we be playing a 22nd century version of online games with our students, or will we have learned to have deeper, more humane face-to-face conversations with students?

So much about my teaching has changed since I started writing this blog. When I first started TPRS I felt like my biggest weakness was a lack of resources, above all a lack of interesting stories. The blog was a place to share those lessons with other new teachers. Nowadays the Invisibles have led me to tap deeply into my students´ imaginations and I barely ever use pre-made stories. Almost everything (in beginner as well as advanced levels) is generated from what the students indicate that they want to say, so a huge portion of my blog is simply a relic of how I used to teach. It is not a bad way of teaching… it is just not where I am currently at. I have been trying to write a post about this, but it is so big that every time I get started I see that I need to grow just a little more to really describe how my teaching is changing.

Teaching in a high-poverty district, I understand the desire to impose some structure. Especially with students who appear to be dangerously lacking structure in other parts of their lives (whether it be due to poverty or absent parenting or whatever), but I am trying to move away from the impression that language class is any work at all. For me it started with FVR and Krashen pointing out that any sense of accountability will ruin the experience of pleasure reading. It took a while to fully assimilate that insight into my real classroom practices, but now I am finally at the point that my kids come to class and curl up with a novel before any talking begins and I think that is just so cool. I finally got the heritage speaker girl who always used to skip my last period class to come and I don´t want her to regret it. I want kids to bring that perspective to every part of my class, just curl up and enjoy the experience.

I have not even been pushing the self-assessments based on the interpersonal skills rubric. I abandoned it because I hated going through them and having to figure out which students are “playing the game”, which students are being honest, which students “deserve” to earn a low grade. To my thinking there are less coercive ways that take longer, because they require me to deepen my relationship with some kid who has adopted a deeply hostile posture towards schooling. I just want to suspend it all, all of the grading and monitoring, even the self-assessments, and take one of the comfy chairs myself and enjoy chatting in Spanish with them.

Teachers new to TPRS/CI often ask about testing (not to be confused with the formative assessments that we do every 20 seconds while interacting with students). “What is in your grade book?”, they ask me. Ironically if you ask the people who are conducting CI workshops around the country, many will privately admit that they do not really spend time on testing. At all. Replace all of your testing time with more comprehensible input and you will be amazed at the gains your students will achieve. That is not just the result of more time being exposed to comprehensible input; that is also the result of a more playful, less judgmental classroom.

I am not alone here either… last summer on a CI teacher Facebook group someone posed the question about what you would like to change in your class, if you could. Overwhelmingly all sorts of teachers, from those that meticulously backward plan their lessons to people like me who let it emerge without planning, nearly everyone wanted to be rid of grading. Languages are acquired naturally in a low-stress environment; most of the assessment in my class is invisible to students, it is collected non-stop and used at the moment it is collected to shape my teaching in that moment. The district-required midterm exam for my classes is a class story that we create during the exam, and nobody even gets a paper until we have verified that everyone is ready. For day to day grades, I am feeling good with the One Word Images (OWIs) and stories created based on OWIs, followed by a simple exit quiz that is so easy that it is kind of a joke. Just enough to keep their attention in class, but also a kind of wink that tells them that I really don´t care about that grading crap.

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Nothing is a stretch for your students

I often read on Twitter and Facebook about teachers who are trying to decide if their students can handle a novela such as El Internado. The response is often that anything below level three cannot handle it, that it would be a stretch. Personally I think that is not helpful advice.

On one hand, it is so important to stress to all teachers considering using El Internado in any level that it is their responsibility to make the show comprehensible. We know that second language acquisition is driven by students understanding messages, not by being “challenged” to hear better. Planning on showing an authentic resource in class with the idea that the “challenge” is good for your students is misunderstanding how languages are acquired. Being challenged by incomprehensible noise does not lead to language acquisition, even if they enjoy the images flickering across the screen. We must step in and work to make it comprehensible. Certainly that is easier (and requires less interruptions) in upper level classes, but that same work of making the show comprehensible can be done in lower level classes.

On the other hand, I believe strongly that when I come across something that excites students, I should not save it for the exclusive enjoyment of upper level students. That is a delayed gratification mindset; knowing that in a few years they will actually watch a cool show does not develop intrinsic motivation in the same way that actually watching the cool show in level one does. When I developed the approach so that El Internado was comprehensible to my level 2 students we saw a huge increase in enrollments the following year. Now I teach it to level 1, hook them as early as possible, and it has paid off. Several years later we are the department with the strongest IB scores in the school. I credit it to placing our highest motivation activities in the first year of our language program.

Many teachers cannot conceive of teaching El Internado in level 1, so I have looked through my files and found a short clip of myself teaching El Internado to my level 1 students. This clip was filmed in late November after about three months of teaching. We started the year carefully focusing on the sweet sixteen verbs and, among other stories, we did a two week unit retelling the story Caperucita Roja, targeting many words used in El Internado. Here is the video:

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Béisbol, baseball

A little tweak that makes life easier for struggling beginners

béisbolMy Spanish 1 kids are at the point that they mostly understand many cognates when I say them in my wonderful Spanish accent, but there is always someone who cannot hear the elephant in elefante. And everyone, even my superstars, occasionally have their slow processing days when the word hospital sounds nothing like hospital.

We have come up with the perfect class routine to tune all ears to the cognates. When I say a cognate I pause, then say the word béisbol to which the entire class responds “baseball!!”. Now that they are alerted to the presence of a cognate I repeat the cognate and the students who understand (usually most of the class) shout out the word in English.

I love this little routine because students who did not instantly understand the cognate have a chance to process before I give them the answer, the students who did hear it are proud that they can demonstrate their mental agility, the quiet students who are not willing to admit that they did not hear the elephant in elefante are able to comprehend, and the entire routine is so quick that our class story is barely interrupted.

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TPRS and TCI with advanced students

Enough people come to this blog looking at my AP syllabus that I think it might be valuable to share how I move through that syllabus, maintaining a comprehensible classroom while tackling the content expected by AP. Terry Thatcher Waltz recently pointed out on the moretprs yahoo list that TPRS is best at fostering the acquisition of the basic grammatical structures of a language, while there are other TCI strategies that can develop breadth of vocabulary more efficiently.* That is what I would like to address in this post.

I still use TPRS in AP classes (for example, see this great lesson by Bryce Hedstrom that helped me understand how TPRS can be used effectively in upper levels). One of my great concerns for the AP class, however, is developing the listening abilities of my non-native students so that they can understand the authentic audio clips on the AP exam. My students need lots of listening practice.

The way that I do not want to approach this problem is by forcing my students to listen to incomprehensible audio clips. Instead we do an activity that I call Radio Talk, following after Movie Talk and Picture Talk. The idea is to comment on and explain the radio program while we are listening to it. It is not about playing a 2 minute clip and then asking questions but rather listening to 5 seconds, explaining it and listening to it again. It can be incredibly slow, especially at first.

The great thing, however, is that when I am teaching well my students understand 100% of what they are hearing. In the long run everyone develops a great ear for authentic spoken language while also expanding their vocabulary tremendously. Here is a thirty minute video of me teaching an AP theme to a Spanish 3 class. I do not have an AP class this year, so the class seen in the video is not as advanced as I would normally have with this lesson. In a normal AP class we would do this activity for 10-15 minutes, nearly every day, following the themes of the AP unit.

Clicking here will bring you to my vimeo account where I upload my videos. The volume is horrible, you will probably have to plug in some headphones and turn the volume up as high as possible.
pic video lesson

* Let me be super clear: just because I mention the name of a TPRS practitioner that I admire does not mean that she endorses what I am presenting here. I do think that following the moretprs yahoo list is a tremendously useful way to develop a stronger understanding of TPRS in particular and TCI in general.

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My favorite blog post that I wrote in 2013

Here is my favorite post that I wrote in 2013. I had not been blogging for very long, so perhaps you haven´t seen it yet…  

yougetoutwhatyouputinIt is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but  HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.

(note added in December, 2013: you can see the entire whale lesson that Kylnn was writing about by clicking HERE )

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Koi-Zora (movie talk for Span 1)

A video suitable for movie talk and a follow-up reading with comprehension and creative response questions

Koi-Zora 2Coming back from Thanksgiving Break next Monday I am going to start using past tenses regularly with my Spanish 1 students. At the beginning of this school year I had not taught level 1 for a few years and I wanted to limit the amount of new structures. After observing Blaine Ray earlier this month and watching videos of other TPRS teachers I started integrating past tenses into my circling in class and realized that it is much more important that my students hear and comprehend a more natural speech rather than a forced version in the present tense. During the next two weeks between now and midterm exam week I am going to focus on circling the principal foundation verbs that I have posted on the wall of my classroom in both present and past tenses. I am going to maintain the focus on meaning and I will not go out of my way to use conjugations that are lesser frequency (i.e. yo quería is higher frequency than quise, and I am not going to bend stories for the purpose of contrasting preterite and imperfect usage).

Starting on Monday I am going to work through this short video called Koi-Zora , combining the movie talk technique of carefully planned narration with questioning student actors à la Blaine Ray. Today I prepared by pre-watching the video and I wrote a script, which served as the basis for the class reading that follows. Also I am going to explain the process to my students: when I speak to my student actors I will use the present tense ( ¿Quieres ir al campo? ), but then speaking to the class I will speak using past tenses ( Sí clase, ella quería ir al campo ). This is going to be a fun activity for the student actor who plays the role of the fish.

Wanting, having and putting are the main foundational verbs that will be used over and over. I will introduce parallel characters in the middle of the movie to emphasize these three verbs so that quería, tenía, ponía and also puso are circled effectively. I am going to use subió instead of fue when she goes to the roof, because it is more natural and they already know subir, and also because there will be better opportunities to really nail fue later. In fact I am going to avoid mentioning that she goes anywhere so that I can simply focus on the four verbs quería, tenía, ponía and puso.

The video clip is only a minute and a half long. Nonetheless, with all of the student actors, the parallel characters, the new verb tenses and slowly pointing and saying the verb each time we say the new tenses, I suspect I will just barely have enough time to complete viewing that clip with my classes on Monday (we have 55 minute classes). On Tuesday we will read the following reading and students will translate it in pairs before we go over it together. Only after that is done will students be allowed to turn the reading over and complete  the questions on their own (which should be easy at that point). Click here to download the .pdf of the reading or, if you want to change it for your class, click here to download the .docx version (which may be oddly formatted because I used text boxes to position the pictures).

If you look at the reading you´ll see that there is quite a bit of vocabulary that will come up in the video that my students don´t yet know. Without the movie I would rewrite the story to make it more comprehensible, but with the movie I have found that I can include a lot of details into my narration and remain comprehensible, as long as the narration clearly refers back to what is projected on the screen. My objective is to teach those four verbs, so I have provided footnotes and embedded photos for the out-of-bounds words contained in the reading.

Even if it is engaging, is this a good idea to include so many out-of-bounds words? Well, first let me clarify that it is always comprehensible (all out-of-bounds words are written on the side boards). My students also know that the target structures are on the center board, and those are the only ones that I want them to write down. Anything else they might acquire is frosting on the cake… but frosting in large quantities is not really that good for you! As I improve my teaching in the years to come I expect to pair down my stories to the essentials so that there will be less out-of-bounds vocabulary, while improving my storytelling skills so that it remains highly engaging.  

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You get out what you put in

yougetoutwhatyouputin It is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.