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Start With Simple … Archived Post 3.23.10

(Originally posted 3/23/10)

Many people wonder and worry about how to choose the best structures to focus on IN STORY-ASKING OR READING.    As usual there is no one “right” answer.   I think the easiest route is to first eliminate what DOES NOT need to be a focus structure.

We DO NOT NEED TO CREATE A FOCUS STRUCTURE from:

  1.        Cognates

We want to USE a ton of cognates in our listening and reading activities….but we do not want them to be the focus phrases.   We want to build stories around other structures.

  1.        Things you have only seen in textbooks

This is just a waste of everyone’s time.   Choose  words/phrases that students are likely to come across over and over again.

  1.       Words/phrases that can be “TPRed “in a VERY clear way.

Save these words for TPR!!!

What does that leave us?  At the beginning levels we need structures that will allow for stories to take place.     If we combine the words below with other key words we can create nearly every story we need at the beginning level.   How?

Pick a phrase.   Add a word or two.   (ie  goes to the new supermarket)  Add cognates.  Add TPRables.    Add emotion (see next post) Done.

is + adjective (physical, personal, possessive…however your target language is structured.

is named                                    Lives in

Has     (to)                                  Needs (to)

Wants( to)                                 Should

Goes (to/towards)                    Leaves (from/for/towards)

Looks (for)                                  Finds

Says (to)                                     Asks (for)

Answers                                      Responds

Receives                                     Respects

Likes                                            Knows   (that/how)

Understands   (that)                 Thinks    (that)

I realize that it seems like it couldn’t be that simple.  But it is.  Start with simple.

With love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

A Chrysalis…Archived Post 3.17.10

(Originally posted 3./17/10)

Ok…Let’s face it.  Some folks don’t like caterpillars very much.   They are very wormy-looking.  They might look a little slimy or hairy.  But for the most part, lots of people think that they are cute little critters.  They appear to be curious, lifting up their little antennae-decked heads to sniff around.   Their colors are often beautiful.  And as we all know…they are hungry.  :o)

Children have been compared to caterpillars before.    Yes, I know…they often run around in a way caterpillars never do.  But……when it’s time to get ready to go to school?  Put on their pajamas?  Yup.  Caterpillars.

They are curious.  They can be fuzzy.  They can be adorable.  They can also be hairy, slimy and wormy.  And boy oh boy can they eat!!

If children are caterpillars, then adolescents must living in a chrysalis.  How perfect is that? They create a tough, ugly, protective coat of armor.  Underneath it they look as if they are sleeping…if you can see them at all.  There is little visible movement, although, over time, a great deal of change.     The shell keeps the world at bay until those changes take place.

Now caterpillars are a little luckier.  They can plant themselves on a tree branch and hang out.   No one is making them get up, get dressed, get to class, get a job and get moving while they get their act together.  Teens are not as lucky.  It’s no wonder then that they look for ways to pull the armor (hoodie, hair, shades) over their eyes and withdraw.  They need that withdrawal in order to work on their metamorphosis.

In our society, we have pushed adolescents to come so far out of their shells that it is inevitable that they find ways to crawl back in.   Society says “Get good grades, take as many classes as you can, get a part-time job, play a sport, play an instrument, go to church, have friends, have a boy/girlfriend, help around the house, volunteer, demonstrate leadership….. or you will not be successful.”

Is it any wonder that our students end up using chemicals, over-involved in sex or participating in self-injury?    That shell is there for a reason.  The evolving creature is very very vulnerable.  Yet, this is the time that we push the hardest for young people to get out and expose themselves to the world.

I’m not advocating that we lock our teens up in a protective fortress.  They are, after all, NOT caterpillars.   However, I do think that we occasionally owe them time, space, activities, and permission to withdraw…just a bit….from the childhood and adult activities going on all around them…in order to find a little peace.  They have enough going on inside to keep them busy.   Maybe if we did that, we wouldn’t find them going so far off of the deep end to do it for themselves.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

They Really Need Us…Archived Post 3.13.10

(Originally posted 3/13/10)

Warning:  My personal opinion only.  I know that some people will see this differently.   That’s ok with me.  :o)  (I sent a version of this to the moretprs listserv in addition to posting it here.)

This is the time of year when some kids just push us over the edge.  Maybe they are mouthy.   Maybe they are combative.  Maybe they are passive-aggressive.  Maybe they try to be solid lumps of stone covered by a hoodie.    On the listserv, in emails, on Facebook, in the faculty room….teachers are letting out their frustrations.  I know that sometimes these kids seem incomprehensible….especially since many of us really enjoyed classes in high school. There may be a lot of reasons why they are in our classrooms and why it appears that they have no good reason to be there. Here are some possibilities…(warning…maybe too many of them!!):

* They did not choose their schedules. A parent, counselor, former teacher, administrator thought they should be in there…or even more likely has no idea that they are, much less whether or not they should be.

* Students often “get” that they have to “take” a class. They don’t always “get” that that means participating in and passing a class. Oh yes, I”m serious. What they are told is: You have to take such and such. Imagine that you have a very literal mind. What would that mean to you?

* Many of them have experienced classes where they COULD sit, not participate, and pass. Who knows how or why…but I’ve seen it happen. If they got through one, they may be fairly certain that they cdan do it in your room.

* Many of them are very very bright. They are used to absorbing enough material to get by without doing much else.

* They really don’t care if they get anything out of it. School is a place to escape home. That’s all that matters.

* They are suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Just being there takes all the effort they have. Participating is, truly, too much to expect.

* They are hurting. Bruised inside by someone’s abuse or a situation beyond their control. Their coping mechanism is an ugly whiplash response to anyone and anything.

* They feel inadequate. (even, well…especially…if they are very smart) This is a new venue, or one in which they feel smart enough in. They feel lost and respond by striking out or hiding.

* They are very intuitive. They recognize when we need to be liked and find it distasteful. (perhaps because that need is so great within themselves) So they throw it back in our faces by rejecting us and our class.

* They are over-exercising their newly-developed skills of analysis don’t know it. They have analyzed us and found us lacking. it’s a natural part of growing up and yes…it can be annoying and irritating and frankly, rude.

* They don’t know how to deal with us. We may be too loud or too silly or too whatever for their taste and comfort level. Language teachers are NOT like other teachers and while they have had many math and English teachers over the years, they haven’t had many of us to deal with….and especially not CI based language folks. We don’t stand up in the front and speak at them while they sit there and absorb it. Remember, kids are HIGHLY REWARDED for being silent in other classes.

* We are women. Sorry to say it, but it is true of many teachers in the profession. Many teens are reworking their relationships with the opposite sex. Or the same sex. Or someone who is parent-like.

* They trust us enough to not behave well. They know that we are not going to swear at them, write them up every day, call  their parents and rant, be sarcastic in front of the entire class.

* They have an undiagnosed, or unaddressed learning issue. Many times they have learned how to fade into the background in other subjects. They haven’t figured out how to do it in a language. Every year we seem to uncover students with unrecognized issues.

It is probably very complicated. That is why we can rarely solve it. We can only do what we can. The hardest thing to do is to not take it personally. As I said before, when we were students, most of us would have done anything and everything necessary to do well and to learn the material.

THEY ARE NOT US. We cannot try to understand them from our own perspective. If we really want to understand them, we have to look at their world from their perspective.

If we want them to be us, well, frankly that ain’t gonna happen.

If we want to survive them, then we need to register them on our radar, but refrain from locking in on them as a target.

If we want to help them, then we need to first accept them as they are. We don’t have to like all of their behaviors, or even tolerate those behaviors in our classroom. But we do have to accept that they are their own quirky, complicated, adolescent beings. And that they have the right to be a student in our classroom….even if they don’t always act that way.

We will also have to bring in a support system. For us as much as for them.

This may seem very difficult. But I promise you…this is REAL teaching. The kids that smile and do all of their work and raise their hands and try really hard. They don’t need you. They will flourish with any teacher. But the tough nuts? They need you the most.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Personalization and Star Wars … Archived Post 3.12.10

(Originally posted 3/12/10)

One of the things that we try to do is to get to know our students.  Ben Slavic has been posting some great pieces written by Bryce Hedstrom.    Bryce writes about talking with kids in the TL in class.

He says:  “One important point here is that we are NOT talking about intimate secrets concerning the actual lives of our students. We are not intruding into their personal space. We are “personalizing.””One important point here is that we are NOT talking about intimate secrets concerning the actual lives of our students. We are not intruding into their personal space. We are “personalizing.”  He says more, so when you get a chance, check it out.  It’s extremely well-written and very important.

Getting to know our students allows us to personalize stories and connect the language to our students.    And vice versa!

Today we were working with a skeleton story written by students earlier in the day.  The focus structures were:  had the desire to, just about to start, and without rest ( the last two from songs we have been using this week….the first because it is a high, high, high frequency structure in Spanish).  The skeleton story was this:

Two characters had the desire to win a race.  They practiced for a long time without rest.  Suddenly they realized that the race was just about to start.  Oh no!  Would they get there in time?

We had just finished an activity that had gone really well with the other two level one classes this morning…but not with this one.   It went…..but not well.   When we started with the skeleton story, I wasn’t really expecting bells and whistles.  Oh my was I wrong!!

Our skeleton stories often use “characters” so that each class can choose their own.    I took suggestions….Pee Wee Herman (how do freshmen even know who he is?!!),  Barney,  Terrell Owens (we aren’t far from Buffalo)…nothing seemed to click.  Then someone suggested Obi Wan Kenobi.

BAM!!!!! The class popped out of their seats!!   All of a sudden they were suggesting names for the second character….each one calling out their favorite Star Wars character and  using Spanish to explain why that character was a better choice for the story.  Three boys who rarely get fired up were falling all over themselves to get involved.

Then one girl raised her hand and said, “Nunca miro Star Wars”.  A very quiet kid YELLED, “En serio?” (sorry…I’m on the laptop and cannot do the upside-down interrogative!) Now they wanted to start to tell the story of all seven (?) movies in Spanish lol.

I had absolutely no idea that so many of the kids in this group were Star Wars fans.   Had we not started this story, I’m not sure if I would have ever found that out.   Now I have a topic that has united about 10 students who have been stubbornly resisting any kind of unification.

Self-proclaimed geeks, jocks, troublemakers, and three Twilight groupies are now uniting to make sure that the rest of the class learns to appreciate the Star Wars saga in all its glory.

So far Obi Wan and Yoda are training without rest on Tatooine, so strong is their desire to participate in and win this race.    When they realize that the race is just about to start, and that it is on Coruscant they must use the Death Star 2 to get there in time.

But look at what else we were able to do with those phrases via Star Wars…..

Has the desire to….be a Jedi, help Luke, find his father, join the dark side ( I knew we’d find a good use for “lo mas oscuro” this week!!!!), kiss Leia, etc., etc,

without rest….train to be a Jedi, fight the dark side, protect Leia, etc.  etc.

was just about to start…..the war, the search, the battle,

And that was just in the last 10 minutes of class!!!!

I started the activity thinking that they would want to talk about themselves as runners, or their favorite athletes….hoping to use personalization to “hook’ them into the story.  Well…it did…just not in the way I anticipated.     Personalization leads to great stories….and vice versa!!

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Climbing the PQA Mountain Archived Post 3.2.10

(Originally posted 3/2/10)

I have to confess…..I really had trouble with PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers).    The idea behind PQA is to use a targeted, high-frequency phrase in conversation with students so that they hear (and comprehend it) many, many times.

At first, I didn’t spend a lot of time nor energy analyzing my PQA resistance….I just avoided it whenever possible.   (Fortunately now there is Ben Slavic’s PQA in a Wink!! …but pre-Ben all I could do was marvel at how Susie and others wove wonderful questions in workshops and wish that I could do the same.)

Then one day I had an epiphany!   PQA is NOT about the focus structure.  IT’S ABOUT THE STUDENTS!   So…..instead of asking myself, what questions can I create using this phrase, I began to ask myself…

Can I get to know my students better using this phrase?  If so, how?

This cleared away many of the thoughts and emotions that were holding me back.   First…I realized that not all phrases are good PQA material.    I was able to find other ways to get repetitions with those phrases.  (Work smarter not harder Laurie Ann!!)

Second…when I started to think of questions in light of getting to know my students better, the questions became more interesting!!!  I was more interested, the questions were more interesting, and so, of course, the students became more interested!!

The third piece that really helped me was incorporating other TPRS skills into my PQA forays.  Combining PQA with teaching to the eyes, using signals, choral responses, and circling helped me to focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses.

More later…

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Stopping For Signals…Archived Post 9.10.09

(This was originally posted 9/10/2009)

Today was the third day of classes.  This is the day that classroom management starts to kick into gear.  This is the day we start with the signal.  The first few weeks of class are designed with several purposes in mind:

  1. Interact with the students so that I can get to know them better as people and as students.
  2. Interact with the students in the target language so that they can acclimate to my voice and delivery of the language.
  3. Create a set of classroom routines that will make the entire year go more smoothly.
  4.  Model a number of behaviors so that the students will understand my expectations and begin to use those behaviors in class
  5.  Have students interact with each other in a variety of situations and activities so that they begin to be comfortable together as a group.
  6.  Incorporate as much of the target language into all of the above as possible!!!!!

The signal helps me with so many things, I cannot remember teaching without it!  The signal is basically an attention-getting device.  I use the term “signal” which I learned as part of a Madelaine Hunter training over 25 years ago!!  Elementary teachers, camp counselors, coaches, and scout troup leaders all use signals with their groups.  The key to a really effective signal is to make it interactive.

I start by teaching my students that when I (fake) sneeze that they need to say “Salud” AND THEN stop what they are doing and turn to face me in silence because I have something important to say.  We practice once and then I make sure that we use the signal several times that period.

It seems so simple.  You would be surprised how many students don’t get it at first.   High school students live in their own little bubbles of reality.  Sometimes it is hard to penetrate that bubble!  An entire class of 30 students can be sitting quietly, watching me, waiting for one student to realize that he/she is the only student talking (loudly!) in the room.  Even the friends he/she is talking to are ignoring him/her and looking at me and STILL the student remains oblivious.

The reality is that this particular group of students is not yet “tuned in” to my voice.  After a week, they are usually very responsive, but it takes the human brain some time to learn to connect with certain sounds, pitches and tones.    Developmentally I believe that adolescents are programmed to TUNE OUT ADULT VOICES.   I often think of the classic example of the voice of the teacher in the Charlie Brown movies.  No matter what is being said, all that the kids hear is WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH.

Using a signal to get students’ attention allows me to provide my students with a) a way to control sound and activity in the classroom b) interesting and useful phrases in the target language and c) extra opportunities to get “tuned in” to my voice.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

When We Are In It Together Archived Post 2.10.10

It Ain’t Easy…Bein’ Sick  (this post originally posted 2/10/10)

For the last week and a half I’ve been fighting mano a mano with a sinus/double ear infection.   Between the two days with subs and the fact that talking sends me into long-lasting coughing spasms, my students and I switched from our usual dose of verbal interaction to activities that are more reading-centered and group/pair-oriented.

I like all of the activities.  I think that they are educationally sound.  I think that my students are getting a lot of good, quality, written Comprehensible Input.  But I am astounded at the difference in the classes.

First of all, discipline is off.  I have to employ signals and silences more often.  I really don’t enjoy that.  Neither do the students.   It isn’t a lot of extra tension…but it is enough to change the classroom atmosphere.

What is REALLY missing, however, is the strong sense of “being in this together.”  When they work in pairs or groups, when they work at an individual pace, there is no sense of collegiality.  There are no group “inside” jokes.   The class feels very different without that!!!

When I am “conducting” the class, and everyone is working on the same story/idea/conversation/topic, it is like being on a family car trip.  Sure, there is a little bickering.  Yeah, it’s annoying when someone has to stop and go to the restroom.   No, everyone does not like the radio station.   But….. there are  shared moments of hilarity and common experience that create an atmosphere like no other I’ve taught in.

I can’t wait to get back after a week of vacation (next week).  Hopefully the coughing etc. will have subsided and we can get to work on using as much Spanish as possible hanging out together.   The story of Ana and her adventures in Casi Se Muere are just more interesting when we read it, and talk about it,  together.   Not just at the same time in the same room.   But really together.   It goes from being Ana’s story to our story that we read about Ana.

Oh we’ll still do activities that allow students to work ‘out of the group”……but not as often.   We need that together time.   It’s who we are.  We all miss it.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

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