CI Challenges Archived Post 6.12.12

How do we deal with using CI when some days it is so challenging?!!

Those of you who know me, are aware that getting to, and maintaining a healthy body weight are a challenge for me. I keep seeing all of these parallels between my challenges and the difficulties that exist when a teacher attempts to incorporate a Comprehensible Input approach to his or her teaching.

Several people have mentioned that no one really knows EXACTLY how humans acquire, maintain and develop language, but at this time, we believe that certain things do contribute: sheltering vocabulary, a variety of high-frequency structures,interaction with that language, repeated comprehensible input,encouragement of one form or another,and success in conjunction the brain’s natural “wiring”. Yet, each human being may develop language and language skills in a unique fashion based on his/her brain, body and life experiences.

Isn’t that the same with getting to and maintaining a healthy weight? Obviously there is no “magic pill” or no one would have this struggle. There are, however, a collection of things that we believe contribute to a healthy weight: limiting calories, a variety of nutrient-dense foods eaten in small frequent meals, a constant intake of water, steady activity, encouragement and success in conjunction with the body’s natural functions.

The challenge to “do what works” in both circumstances can be extreme, EVEN WHEN WE ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE, MOTIVATED AND WELL-INFORMED. Pat may have a much better read on this, but this is what I see….

Challenge #1: Dealing with discomfort

Human beings are not good with this. We do everything possible to avoid it. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of little tricks in our repertoire to make sure that we avoid and/or eliminate discomfort. Changing from the comfortable is even more uncomfortable!! And scary. People who are physically or emotionally sensitive find discomfort even more difficult.

Things that we do to avoid/eliminate discomfort get in the way of our change and growth. Why? We have well-developed skills and entire skill sets of unhealthy ways to deal with discomfort. We call them habits. :o)

Challenge #2: Measuring our self-worth instead of believing in our self-worth

People who believe that they are inherently valuable because they live and breathe don’t get as uncomfortable as those who don’t. People who don’t believe that they have intrinsic value have, as I said before, a highly-developed set of skills that they use to a) determine value and b) measure their own value. Because we don’t like to be uncomfortable, from childhood we hone those skills that make us ‘measure up” well on our own scales. (pun intended) Because of the insecurities that haunt and stalk us, we measure everyone and everything. Because not measuring up is exhausting and painful, we stick to the things that we are good at and give them a much higher value than other skills.

Challenge #3: Lack of Trust

Changing a paradigm requires a leap of faith. It might be taken in baby steps or one giant bungee jump, but it requires rejecting the known for the unknown. That takes trust. Both improving TPRS skills and losing weight are easier and more enjoyable with caring support team. However, people who have been burned in the past by friends and colleagues who should have encouraged them but didn’t will find it hard to reach out and share this journey. When a journey gets tough, it helps so much to turn to someone for help. Without that support, it’s easy to turn around and go back. If our sense of self-worth is measured on our ability to work independently and/or if it is new and uncomfortable for us to rely on the assistance of others, these changes are going to be difficult.

Challenge #4: Not Putting First Things First

This is about being able to take the “long view” and see ourselves, our actions and our choices with a judicious eye. Over and over and over again, for any number of reasons, we put other things in front of what is truly important.

In the case of weight loss, my list is a mile long and I have conveniently convinced myself that other things should come first. I’m dead wrong, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking this way.

In the case of using Comprehensible Input, the same darn thing occurs. Any teacher who isn’t using it has a list of “good” reasons that they are convinced are more important.

Some people can overcome all of these issues lickety-split (thanks Susie!) They jump in feet first without worrying, overthinking, balking or obsessing. Others take things cautiously, carefully, one step at a time. They analyze and adapt. Neither approach is better or worse than the other. In the areas of weight-loss and TPRS I’ve met both kinds of folks who have been successful.

I’ve also met people who follow a strict regimen. So follow the guidelines and never stray because they believe so strongly in “what works”. Others do so because they have a hard time “marrying” diverse trains of thought. Whatever the reason, the strict regimen works for them.

I’ve met others who would lose their mind without forays outside of the box. People who need a dictation, a project or a double-circle activity the way some folks need an occasional pizza, beer and chocolate chip cookie in order to keep their lives in balance. These steps off of the path do not actually add to language acquisition nor to weight loss, but they have other positive effects that make them valuable, at the right time in the right amounts.

Can “anyone” be a CI teacher? Yes. Can “anyone” get to and maintain a healthy weight? Yes. But there will always be challenges. It will never be simple. It may never be easy. Some people will find the challenges greater than others. Some will be able to do it quickly and others will take a lifetime to get there. It can NOT be done in total isolation, without the ability to self-soothe, without a belief in the inherent value of the human soul nor without the ability to let go of the old and make room for the new. But, when we look at the gifts we receive in return (as well as our students, families,etc.)both changes are inherently and unarguably valuable.

If we have already “crossed over” on the journey, we need to remember to honor the journey of others rather than judge it, or our own journey loses it’s validity.

with love,

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TPRS for IB? Archived Post 6.16.12

(Originally posted 6/16/12)

I’m not as familiar with the IB exam as others, but I can tell you about the kinds of reading,speaking and writing that you referred to.

Embedding reading has been our number one ally in the transition from reading totally comprehensible stories to deciphering articles and literature beyond their comfort zone. I hope to get out a number of posts about that on my blog during August.

PQA is the key to conversational ability about a number of topics. By carefully choosing topics, questions and focus structures,and incorporating regular PQA provides them with the skills and practice to hold their own in any situation.

We have a debate element in the Level 4 program where we start by defending “favorite things”. (thanks to an idea from another TPRSer!!) We build skills and then utilize them to have debates on a variety of topics. Building debates or arguments into conversations in stories is an easy thing to do as well.

Our juniors and seniors do very little “story “writing compared to our 8th-10th graders. Here are examples of what they have done this last marking period:

* Read this article about “the monolith on Mars” and summarize. Then add a paragraph stating your opinion. Is it natural or manmade? Substantiate your belief.

* Now that we have seen the movie Vantage Point, and you have read the accompanying Embedded Reading, tell me which character was the most naive and how his/her behavior reflected that.

* In the movie, the Secret Service used a body double for the president. Do you think that in real life body doubles are used? What are your thoughts/opinions on this?

As for writing using a variety of documents, it is not a problem. They have been writing DBQ’s in Social Studies for years. Spend some time with a SS teacher reviewing how they teach students to do that. Then, what the students need, is the vocabulary necessary to write. This vocabulary is usually an active part of a TPRS curriculum ( while, since, although, according to, despite, next,etc.) These can be developed via storytelling.

Storytelling does NOT have to be silly or goofy all of the time. The silly and goofy obviously has educational benefits for the brain to help build acquisition, however, it is important at the upper levels to have stories that appeal to their growing maturity and natural cynicism. Incorporate characters that don’t believe anything and always need to be convinced. Characters that learn a valuable lesson. Use fables and fairy tales with a moral for reading or as a basis for storyasking.

The ability to think critically was so obvious to me this year in their final exam writing. The juniors had two pieces to write about: The Perfect Vacation and a “story” from a picture. I anticipated that many of them would write “fluffy” pieces, but I was very wrong. The vacation pieces were very personal, describing a past vacation that was important to them. They nearly all wrote about WHY the vacation meant a lot: the connection with family/friends, the break from stress, the appreciation of a new place, etc. A number of them compared a good vacation with a bad one. The interesting thing? I gave them no prompts…just the title.

The pictures were even more interesting. The pictures were faces of people expressing different emotions. I read about recovering from a death in the family, achieving goals, being lonely, learning how to lose a friend, being afraid to be a senior, a family’s reaction to a gay marriage. Very eye-opening.

Lastly, a junior brought in the movie “The Way” and asked if we could watch it. It is in English so I really hesitated. But this student rarely offers this kind of input, the setting is real, the background and history are compelling, and the message is powerful. So we watched it in English with Spanish subtitles.

As a culminating assignment I gave the students the lyrics to four songs that we had done and asked them to pick two that had lyrics that connected to the things that characters in the movie might say or do. Then they had to choose one of the four main characters and write a letter,in Spanish, as if they were that character. (see the PS if you are familiar with the movie) I WAS BLOWN AWAY by the insight of these pieces. The students incorporated many details from the film, and were deeply perceptive. Imagine a letter from a dead son to his father (and vice versa)….I needed a box of kleenex to get through them.

Finally, several of our highest achieving students wrote fictional pieces that are highly publishable. These are students who obviously read a lot in English on their own time. They also take full advantage of free reading opportunities in Spanish class, and are very creative souls. But their level of skill was mind-blowing. and their writing was BEAUTIFUL. Publishable, really.

I’ll let you know one other thing…we didn’t have time to give them to go back and edit anything. This was writing that they just sat down, thought for a minute, put pen to paper and let it spill out. Because we had to give our final during class time, they only had 20 minutes to write per piece…and still, the quality was astounding.

I haven’t yet sat down to analyze exactly what might have helped these kids get to this point, but, since the ONLY WAY they have ever been taught is through TPRS, I can tell you that yes, by all means, TPRS will prepare students for the types of tasks you are talking about.

with love,

P.S. Students wrote letters from the following perspectives to the following recipients (on their own, I made no suggestions)

Joost to Tom
Joost to Sarah
Joost to his wife
Sarah to Tom
Jack to Tom
Jack to his publisher
Tom to Sarah
Tom to Joost
Tom to Daniel
Daniel to Tom

If I get to it, I will post a few to my blog this summer, they were so beautiful….

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INcomprehensible Input Archived Post 3.11.12

(Originally posted 3/11/12)
We all use incomprehensible language in class. I do it all the time. Sometimes because what I think is comprehensible and what is comprehensible to my students are two different things. Sometimes because, as Susie pointed out, I am thinking like a teacher rather than like a student. Sometimes because I just so love a word, phrase, song, story that I ignore that little “voice” in my head and turn it into a lesson. Sometimes, and yes, I admit it, I am thinking only of myself and I want to be a little tougher or a little bit more impressive (“Wow” my ego says to me,” Look at the level of language that you can teach!”)Sometimes I just end up wanting to hang out with the 4%ers for a moment and roll around in a little grammar ecstasy. Sometimes the 11 years that I was in a student and the 14 years that I was a teacher in a non-CI classroom suck me back in.

Here is what I have observed in the 15 years that I have tried to wrap my mind around the CI based classroom:

1. Language acquisition occurs in the brain of the student.
2. I cannot control the brain of the student. Ever.
3. I can do my best to control the environment that the student is in, and therefore the environment in which the language is delivered to the student.
4. The best environment that I know of is:
a. focused on a storyline (a story, a reading, a conversation, a compelling visual etc.)
b. encourages every student to participate.
c. clearly allows every student to feel welcome and capable.
d. filled with repeated, interesting, comprehensible, heart-connected, compelling input in the T.L.
e. eliminates ever other distraction possible.
f. relies on continues student -teacher feedback and response.

Each level, each class will require different things to make 1-4 happen. It is an incredible challenge some days to make that happen. But teachers who love teaching and who love students and who love languages love that challenge. And there is a very strong, supportive group of colleagues out there to help. COLLEAGUES…not ancillary materials. :o) Wonderful, capable,caring people who have been more help than an materials I’ve ever come across.

Lastly…(if you’ve made it this far) is a story that,for me, brings this point about comprehensibility home. Over 10 years ago, at my first Susan Gross workshop, Susie taught over 50 teachers French. A room full of interested, motivated, language-skilled, language-experienced teachers. After TWO DAYS of instruction, the group could not yet recall the phrase “a glass of water” We could recognize “glass”. We could recognize “water”. But we could not recognize “glass of water.” She did not get angry. She did not get frustrated. She spent over AN HOUR interacting with us, and “a glass of water”. At the end of the hour, we could clearly hear, and recognize the phrase. We went on. Then, about an hour later, she asked us to produce it. Silence. Nothing. We got as far as the initial “l” sound. (and she had used the phrase intermittently) in that hour! As a group, we were depressed at our lack of ability. Then she pointed out to us that if we, a group of motivated, talented professionals needed HOURS more of CI with this phrase, that our students would certainly benefit from the same. She told us that the fact that we didn’t yet “own’ this phrase did not make her a terrible teacher, or make us horrible learners. She said that it was now clear indicator that our brains needed more clear, comprehensible input and time with this phrase before it was ACQUIRED. THEN ,she said that it was her job to remember that AND to make that exposure as stress-free as possible, because if she freaked out about it and hyper-focused on it that our affective filter would go up and it would take us even longer to acquire it. THEN, she purposely involved us in a story w/conversations that was hysterically funny. By the end of day three we had, as a group, a much better hold on the phrase and a much better perspective on how TPRS works.

And I don’t know about the others, but I still can produce the phrase with ease. :o)

with love,

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Pop-Up Grammar SWIFTLY Archived Post 8.13.11

Originally posted 8/13/11)

Think of the acronym SWIFTLY for identifying the different kinds of “pop-up” grammar statements/questions we can use with our students:

See/Hear Pop-ups

These are the first pop-ups I heard….and in the early stages storytelling. the most frequent.

(do you) See the English word in the French word?
(do you) See the “r” on the end of bailar? That makes it “to dance”.
(do you) Hear the English word in that?
(do you) Hear the “o” on the end?

These “pop-up-points” that will help students better comprehend what they see and hear as well as introduce them to, and give them practice in identifying and understanding cognates.
What if ? Pop-ups

This was the second group I noticed. These were based on the fact that the students were “getting” the See/Hear pop-up questions right.

What if I added an “r” to baila? What would it mean?
What if I wanted to say he dances instead of I dance?

These moved the students up “Bloom’s taxonomy”, required students to be familiar with a “pop-up-point” and required them to manipulate the language in order to change the meaning of the word/phrase.
Individual Pop-ups

This is when we ask an individual a pop-up question rather than the group. This is ideal for checking in with barometers, pulling in a daydreamer, challenging a “superstar” or giving a little extra love to anyone.
Find the word/phrase that says… French

I identified these when Susie was reading with the students. Susie read a sentence or two aloud in French and then asked them to
Find a certain word/phrase.
Sometimes it is a familiar word/structure….but often this was aimed at the “superstars”….chose a phrase that they are able to find using their upper level abilities or more expansive vocabularies. The barometers can not always identify it on their own, but they are able to recognize once it is pointed out.
Timing Pop-Ups

Obviously when and how often to do pop-ups is a tough skill to master….and if you are a master…please share your pointers with us!!

This is what I have observed/experimented with that seem to work:

*no more than one pop-up per sentence when reading
*no fewer than every 5 sentences when reading
*more frequently when a “pop-up point” is being introduced.
*fewer when we are reading a story for the joy and excitement of it (like the choking scene in casi se muere!)
*focus on only one or two “pop-up-points” per class period for best results …especially with beginners!
Love Pop-ups

These are done purely to connect with a student. If a barometer suddenly “gets it”…and you see the eyes light up…it is time for a Love pop-up.
Hey Martin….I saw that sentence show right up on your face …tell us what it means!

A student comes in after school for help and you work ahead on the next day’s phrase. Call on him early on in class for a pop-up!
A student “owns” a particular word or phrase…
You Still Got It Baby!! Pop-ups

These are when we go back and pop up a point we know.,…or we hope…that they have already mastered…just for the confirmation (hey…maybe they still need it!!) or the sheer joy (ours and theirs!) of it.

with love,

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Grading Notebooks Yes or No? Archived Post 8,5.11

(Originally posted 8/5/11)
Ay….the debate over notebooks and binders is about as long-winded as the debate over grading participation!!

In the last (almost) 30 years, I have tried it all..from detailed checks, grades and checklists, to nothing. My observation is this:

1. Think of your instruction first. What do students need to have their hands on IN CLASS and how do they get access to it?

Truth is…in most TPRS classrooms, there is very little need to refer to a notebook for most of the class.

2. Think of homework next. What do students need to have their hands on in order to do the homework and how do they get access to it?

That will depend on how you approach homework.

Other than those two questions, the binder has nothing to do with language acquisition.

Now….if you believe that is a teacher’s responsibility to help them with organization etc…then you have the professional freedom to incorporate that into your program!

What I am learning is this: It’s easy to be out of touch with how kids organize these days if you are not of the techie generation. (You are!! I’m not!!) Students keep track of things on Iphones and Blackberries, not the little books schools have been handing out for decades. Students and parents are always checking online to find out what assignments are and looking for papers that the kids didn’t bring home.

It might be a better use of teacher time (depending on your students) to post papers and assignments on line than to check and grade binders.

Truth be told…very little is kept in a “hard copy” anywhere these days so it’s possible that the keeping and grading of binders will soon be (if it isn’t already) ridiculously obsolete.

As teachers (and former star students) we LOVE binders and notebooks and collecting lists and stories and keeping them for years and years. Because we love that, we mistakenly believe that that helped us to be language learners.

So in my long-winded way….here is my suggestion:

Before school really kicks off, ask yourself how important is it FOR ACQUISITION for your students to keep a beautiful (or not) binder? And follow that answer to it’s logical conclusion.

If you believe that it is important, but the kids rarely seem to pull it off…then maybe some out-of-the-box solutions are required:

*smaller composition books for “Do Nows”, Vocab, Freewrites etc. kept in plastic dishpans from the dollar store in the back of the room.

*a shelf set aside for binder storage for students who would be better off with a copy at home and at school.

* Buddy binders where students share. (I have kids every year who ask someone else to carry the important things for them)

Whew…ok…that got long but there it is! Enjoy the days you have left and I wish you a great beginning of the year!!!

with love,

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.

Thoughts On Sharing Archived Post 7.27.1..

(Originally posted 7/27/11 )

I am always gobsmacked by the willingness of TPRS/CI teachers to share information, ideas and materials. I’m thankful to all of you. The Pay It Forward principle is part of the success of this methodology. Ideas get put out there for others to chew on, digest and utilize….and in doing so we are constantly improving, not only our own techniques, but the “method” as well.

However, there are a number of teachers out there who react almost violently to this method. MANY of us have been accosted personally and professionally because we use Comprehensible Input methods in our teaching. Sometimes the reaction is simply disbelief and rejection…but other times it is confrontation, insults, nasty emails and more. Sad, but true.

OUR presentation of the concept, the method and the materials matters. Teachers can be proud and protective. We need to be especially gentle now, when all teachers are being attacked for things beyond their control and are feeling (justifiably) defensive.

Perspective is reality. What they hear affects their perspective. What we say affects what they hear.

When we say “This way is better”, they hear “Your way is bad.”
When we say “This method makes you a better teacher”, they hear “You are a bad teacher.”
When we say “Output activities don’t work”, they hear “Your lessons are useless.”

It really doesn’t matter what we think…we will never open eyes and hearts to a different way of seeing language and students if that is what they hear.

THE BEST WAY for teachers to believe in the power of CI is to experience success as a CI student. Barring that, we need to offer them changes that they can make in their program that are manageable. Once teachers have ‘flipped the banana”, so to speak, there is no stopping them…they are hungry for all there is to know about CI. But before they’ve actually bought in to the idea, we need to let them have the time they need to make the paradigm shift.

Others may have more advice for those of you overflowing with CI love and needing to share. Here are a few things that have helped me:

NUMBER ONE!!!! A quote from somewhere that I keep on my desk: “People can change. You can’t change people. People can only change themselves, when they want to or need to. Be willing to let them do it.”

#2: Show off your students, not yourself. Statements like “I’m so happy with what they have accomplished.”, “I’m blown away by the caliber of their writing.” , “It’s so exciting to see their confidence when watching a movie in the TL” “She was able to express the most beautiful thought in class today.”

#3: Invite people to observe. Seeing is believing.

#4: Offer the information as a gift, a way to use the talents and strengths that the teachers already have. Pop-up grammar is FUN! A knowledge of the culture can be incorporated in a beautiful way. A sense of humor is a gift.

#5: Roll out the numbers. Not yours first, but be ready to put your money where your mouth is. I’d like us to consider a place to collectively post results on AP (ie Michele Whaley’s third year students scoring 4s on the AP Russian test!!!) so we can show people the data that schools demand these days.

#6: Roll out the supporting research. Ask on the list if you need it. Get the names you need to throw around so that people see that this is legitimate.

#7. Learn to speak Krashen. Read Krashen. Visit his website. He’s got the research.

#8. Keep in touch with anyone who shows interest. Let them know that TPRS is a collaborative approach rather than competitive by your actions.

#9. Don’t take disbelief or rejection personally. Or at least try not to. If you have presented in a clear, kind manner, then the reaction is not about you at all.

10. ENJOY THE SHARING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have been fed and filled by every conversation I’ve ever had about TPRS.

with love,

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Thinking About Themes Archived Post

(Originally posted 1/15/11)

So glad that this topic of discussion came up on the moretprs list !!!! First…I think what we are talking about (organizing by “Themes” such as Family, Work, Childhood etc.) is really TOPICAL teaching, rather than thematic.and I agree with several things already posted:

1. It provides a logical organizational sequence for whoever needs it (teacher, parent, student, district, state, etc.)
2. It provides a memory “link” for individual vocab…for people who are good learners (ie memorizers, “students”, left-brainers etc.)
3. It requires diligent recycling of vocabulary and…
4. Creativity and opportunity to do so.

For the last 5 years my freshmen classes drifted farther and farther away from the “traditional” NYS syllabus-directed topics (Personal ID, Family, Weather, Shopping, Sports, etc.) This year, for the first time in my 28 years of teaching, I am not teaching the freshmen…and I have been trying to explain to my wonderful new colleague, exactly how the curriculum we ended up with is organized!

What I have found out is this: We are organized by FUNCTION. We can use topics to provide a situation in which to use that function. Our Intro course is arranged in this way. The functions are:

Requesting/providing :

personal opinions/feelings

descriptions of or details about the above

This boils down to a fairly discrete number of phrases that students must be able to utilize. Our Intro teacher incorporates a limited number of typical “topics” in order to provide her students with opportunities to develop their abilities to function in Spanish in these ways. (Holidays, Family, Sports, Beach) Then…she utilizes fictional, actual, and personal stories (via story”asking” and reading) to put it all together. Pobre Ana is a pivotal part of the curriculum.

In our high school Level 1 (freshmen, second year of study) we have organized the entire year around a theme: POWER. Everything in that year comes back, in some way, to that idea.

The functions above still apply. To that we add:

Comparing and Contrasting
Starting and building relationships
Observing and responding to needs
Collecting and interpreting background information
Recognizing strengths and weaknesses
Choosing and implementing a course of action

Again…these functions lend themselves to a repeated “list” of functional structures. The curriculum itself revolves around several short readings, Casi Se Muere, several identified songs and movies that allow us to work with these functional skills and still incorporate the topical vocab required by NYS ( Food, Shopping, School, Daily activites etc.)

This year I am working on the Spanish 2/3 curriculum. I am creating a two-year cycle so that, ideally, students can be in a Spanish 2 or 3 class (this really helps with scheduling in a small school) and still get the instruction/practice needed to continue to acquire language and be successful on the NYS Regent exam. It is very much a work in progress…but so far so good. Our “theme” or organizational structure is the UN Declaration of Human Rights…and this actually also includes my Sp. 4 class.

Functions for 2/3:

Investigating a community
Investing (time, money, energy, emotion)
Evaluating risk
Initiating change
Exploring locations and opportunities
Getting others to adopt a course of action
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle/environment
Making choices
Getting others to adopt a course of action
Planning for the future
Reflecting on the past

So far we have read El Trabajo de Roberto and I’ll be picking a second book for this semester. The Amazing Race on Discovery Channel has provided an incredible number of amazing opportunities as well. I frequently peruse the Regents exams on line to make sure that I am including vocabulary that is Regents “high frequency”..which luckily pretty real-life high-frequency as well.

What has happened is that I have seen vocabulary recycle itself. For example lets take a simple word: tree. Without even trying we end up talking/reading about trees in so many situations: discussing people’s homes, favorite vacation spots, making plans for trips/picnics, discussing the weather, describing people (tall as, strong as), reading poetry,in songs, getting directions, discussing art/photos,talking about yard work and part-time jobs, reading about endangered species, sharing opinions about global warming.

And it works like that for more items than you can imagine!!

If you have gotten this far, I’ll share this with you….

When we ONLY organize by lists of items we deprive our students of the opportunity to develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. That is why using TPRS is so powerful. It is as if barriers begin to melt away. Things happen in the brains of our students that allow them to make almost unpredictable LEAPS in language acquisition. Their abilities do not follow a (test-friendly) linear progression….and this makes their language-growth and language-use incredibly gratifying to see.

with love,

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.

On Perfectionism Archived Post 1.9.11

(Pat Barret asked a question on perfectionism in January of 2011…and of course the post with that question has disappeared. The answer below can stand alone though I think. Originally posted 1/9/11)

Just my thoughts on this one Pat…

Perfectionism is the perfect mask (pun intended). It creates a wall between us and others that is nearly impossible to break down. If I am building the wall, I will choose to be a perfectionist about the things that I am best at. (and I learned to do this so that I would be loved, appreciated or at the very least not punished. I have built my entire sense of worth and self-worth around it. )

I can appear to be in control (and I think I am) I can be better than others. (because I learned early on to divide the world into two categories: those who are good enough and those who aren’t). I instantly know how to deal with others. ( see last parenthetical reference lol) If you are perfect also, then I am right. If you are not perfect then I am right. Life is perfect; I’m always right. I never have to deal with my fears and I never address any inadequacies I might have hidden deep inside.

Perfectionists are, at heart, scared to death. However, the longer you live as a perfectionist, the less you remember and deal with those fears. It is also a very lonely, lonely life. But for most perfectionists, it is a price that they are more than willing to pay. Their paradigm is self-fulfilling. If I have high standards, then that is why people don’t like me…because they don’t have high standards. If they don’t have high standards, I don’t want to be around them. I’d rather be alone….at least that is what their paradigm tells them…repeatedly.

Perfectionism is extremely hard to cure for that reason alone. I truly believe that most perfectionists are petrified and miserable, but living in a self-created world that controls not only their own lives but seeks to control the lives of others so that no one, ever, will put them (the perfectionists) in a position to have to address any of their fears. What they fear most is not being good enough.

Because they have put people into two distinct categories: good enough and not good enough; the perfectionists are completely alone. The other ‘good enough” people are not really, inside, like them at all….because perfectionists never ever let go of the inner realization that they are not perfect (have I said that this is primarily an affliction of folks who are intelligent by nature?) They will gravitate towards other perfectionists (hence the poisonous atmosphere at lunch in the faculty room…) but only long enough to remind each other that their way of life is the best.

Spending too much time with other perfectionists is dangerous…it makes people worry that they aren’t as good as other perfectionists. (perfectionists rank EVERYTHING. it is how their paradigm functions….hmmm life within a grading system no?) They will spend time with lesser mortals to remind themselves that the lesser folks are just that..somewhere underneath them in the ‘system” ….but extended time has negative consequences as well: a) they are reminded too often that imperfect people exist b) it tries their patience to have to deal with lesser/lazier/dumber/fatter/poorer etc. folks.

I humbly admit that I have my perfectionistic tendencies. :o) TPRS has been a saving grace for me (as has which is where I really started to understand perfectionism…) My heart goes out to perfectionists…and to those who have to survive living with them. :o)

Sadly, schools are a haven for them. Schools create, honor and perpetuate the myth and hand out masks as rewards.

with love,

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Thank You Mrs. Zengerle! Archived Post 5.7.13

(Originally posted 5/7/13)

Thank you Mrs. Zengerle…for accepting me…

Mrs. Zengerle was my first grade teacher and I have absolutely no idea what she looked like. All of my memories of her are of what she allowed me to do and who she allowed me to be.

Mrs. Zengerle let me help anyone in the class who wanted a partner instead of assigning me one.

She let me read whatever books I wanted instead of staying with the reading group. She let me create a four-box diorama when everyone else made a one box diorama. She didn’t make fun of me when I brought in clean underwear for my friend Deanna to wear because she didn’t have any.

Mrs. Zengerle let me climb on the top of the monkey bars even though I got too scared to come down and the principal had to come and get me.

Mrs. Zengerle had rules, don’t get me wrong. And there were consequences for students who didn’t follow them. But I was an obsessive rule-follower. I was a worrier and a classic over-achiever.

And Mrs. Zengerle “got” me. She saw the strengths and the weaknesses of a six-year old and honored them both.

I practiced saying her name for weeks before school started, and then, within minutes of the start of the school day I found out that I had been practicing it WRONG all along. I was in tears. I know…a bit silly from an adult perspective…but I had wanted her to like me, and so I was very careful to say

Hello Mrs. Zengerle (Zen-girl-y)!!! VERY LOUDLY when I came into the room. She came over and read my name tag and hugged me and told me how glad she was that I was in her class.

When she said, “Good morning class, I’m Mrs. Zengerle (Sang-earl) ” I cried silent tears of embarrassment for having mispronounced her name. I was sure that she must hate me. But of course, she did not. She didn’t even mention my mistake. It wasn’t long before I realized that in her room, mistakes were not a reason to feel humiliation. What a wonderful gift!

I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Zengerle made all of her first graders feel special and important. It just doesn’t get better than that. So thank you Mrs. Zengerle….so very much.

with love,

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Thank You Mrs. Root! Archived Post 5.6.13

(Originally posted 5/6/13)

Thank you Mrs. Root…for teaching me Perspective and so much more…

(FYI…I’m talking about the school year 1966-1967….it was a different world….)Mrs. Root was my very first school teacher. (We didn’t do pre-school or nursery school back then…)

She must have been incredible because I have incredibly clear memories of her and her class. And they are all good ones…

Kindergarten was held in a separate building and we rode our own bus…no big kids to help us or to intimidate us. (although maybe that would have kept Patrick from biting a big chunk out of my friend’s leg on the way home one day….but that is another story.)

It was only a half-day, maybe even only two hours, but it seems that we did a million things each day when we were there. To me, it was is was heaven. It was beautifully clean and organized, each area labeled and organized. We learned to take care of every pair of scissors, every paste jar, every circle-time mat. It meant that we were big enough to handle those jobs.

There was a glorious job chart that changed often so that we each had a chance to have the best jobs. (Actually, I don’t remember there being any really bad jobs, but some were more highly-coveted.) I loved being in charge of the scissors center….on those days it was my job to make sure that every pair was returned to it’s holder, always point down and the finger holes lined up like an army of keys ready and waiting to open any door. I had a hearty disdain for the pasting table where my male classmates were messy and smeared paste on the table like finger paint and dared each other to eat it in large quantities.

Of course the most-coveted job was line-leader and if you were lucky enough to have a birthday during the school year, you were guaranteed to be the line leader on your special day!! (On the other hand, I had an elementary school gym teacher who had the class line up in two straight lines on your birthday so that we could run through the line as quickly as we could so that the class could give us our birthday spankings!! Like I said, it was another era…)

Forty-five years later, I still have several momentos of kindergarten. The first is a hand print cast in Plaster of Paris and spray-painted gold with my name and 1966 scratched into the back with a pencil in five-year old sprawl. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill hand casting….it’s in reverse!! We made a cast first, and then a cast of the cast so that each line of my hand stands out in clear relief against the plaster. Mrs Root always went above and beyond…and she encouraged us to think outside of the box.

My most prized possession however is yellow and black. It is the cut-out of a yellow sneaker and it has my name on it. There are actual laces on the sneaker made from household string and I tied that bow myself. I was so proud!!! When we could tie a bow on our own shoes…the real way, not bunny ears, not in Mrs. Root’s class….she encouraged us and encouraged us until we could do it…she had us tie one on our school sneaker and she posted our sneakers for all to see. Every adult and child who came into the room checked to see who had a new sneaker on the board and found that child to shake hands with him or her. It was a proud, proud tradition.

I’m sure that there were many wonderful lessons in her classroom but I have a crystal clear memory of one particular day. It was circle time and we were all gathered at her feet to talk about the calendar and the weather and to hear a story.

Then, she asked one of the boys in the class to stand up. She asked us to look at him with one eye closed and then “measure” him with our thumb just under his feet and The pad of our forefinger on top of his head. We had to hold our hands in that position and compare them with our circle neighbor. Then she had us close our eyes (with our fingers still in the measured position) and she asked our classmate to go to the farthest corner of the room. On the count of three we were to open our eyes and check our finger measurements again. One, two, three……????????

I still remember the shock of seeing this little tiny person in front of me. How could that be?!! I knew that he wasn’t that small!! How did he get so small?!! The class exploded with questions.

“That,” explained the amazing Mrs. Root “is called Perspective.”


Can you imagine?!! She figured out how to teach that to kindergartners. Our minds blew up.

Every one of us wanted to be “measured” to see if it would happen to us too. She let each one of us be measured. One by one we came back from the other corner of the room, assuring the class, and ourselves, that we hadn’t shrunk and then grown back like Alice in Wonderland….even though in their eyes it appeared so.

I’ve never forgotten it. Still blows my mind.

Thank you Mrs. Root. You were an amazing teacher.

with love,

P.S. If you want a glimpse into what kindergarten was like then, I hope that you can find a copy of the children’s book, “I Like Kindergarten” written by Clara Cassidy and illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. (first published by Golden Book in 1965) It was one of my favorite books then, and still very special to me now.

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.