R and E: Transitions and Signals 3.19.12

(Originally posted 3/19/12)

Smooth transitions are a key piece to successful classroom management. But getting a class to make smooth transitions is a bit like grocery shopping with a hungry toddler!

Most of us do not start out using TPRS in the classroom for an entire class period. Even when we get to that point on some days, we rarely do just one CI-based activity (ie PQA or storyasking) for an entire class period..especially if our students are young, novices or we teach on the block!!!!!

We can make our world, and our students, much happier if we delineate when an activity, and the expected behaviors that go with it, start and end.

To do that, we first need a clearly taught, practiced and incorporated way to get out students’ attention. The truth is…we all have one. Maybe we didn’t mean to teach it or are even aware that we did, but our behavior did.

Kids do have instincts..very good ones. If we haven’t taught them a specific signal and response to get attention, then they will just do what they want to until they sense that we are on the edge of ____(insert yelling, screaming, throwing something, using the evil eye etc. here) and then they will listen up. If we never get to that point and just teach on whether or not they are listening, then we have taught them that what we want and what we say shouldn’t matter to them. The question is…

Question #3: What is an EFFECTIVE way to get the attention of an entire group?

Choose/create a signal and response. Teach it, practice it, use it. Repeat.

Many of you know that I am a huge proponent of the signal. Just as Blaine utilized Págames, I could not teach without a signal. If you don’t know what I mean then here is an explanation.

The only way that you can truly run a classroom is to have a way to get students to be silent, stop all activities and listen to what you have to say.

You don’t have to use my idea of a signal. But you need something and you need to teach it, practice it, use it and never let your students forget how important it is. Not only for a lesson, but for safety, security and sanity.

Anything can happen in a classroom.

On any given day with a class of freshmen I can use a signal as many as 15 times in 40 minute period. Sometimes it is to refocus/make a transition. Sometimes it is to add humor. Sometimes it is just a brain break. Sometimes it is to restore order. The more mature/experience the students, the less often I need a signal…but I always need one.

The most powerful thing about teaching, practicing and utilizing a signal is that it is the CLEAREST example we can give of what INTERACTION should look like…..and our entire teaching method/approach/whatever is based on interaction. Teach/practice/use an attention signal and you have the basis of the classroom that you want.

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.

Rules and Expectations During a Lesson 3.18.12

(Originally posted 3/18/12)

Here are some interactions that you will see being used in TPRS. I’ll list them in “script” format..the way that we might say them to students.

For students who are NEW TO THE TL and/or NEW TO TPRS, the first explanations will probably be in L1. ONLY IF WE ARE POSITIVE THAT OUR

EXPLANATIONS WILL BE TOTALLY COMPREHENSIBLE IN L2 should we be explaining the expectations in L2. This will keep you sane, your students cooperative, and leave you time for acquisition activities in the classroom.

* “When I say CLASS, I expect that all of you will respond by (doing X or answering the question)”

* “I’m going to have my fist in the air, when my had opens, it’s time to respond.”

* “When I say one student’s name, that student will respond and everyone else will watch and listen.”

* “I am going to ask the same question, or a similar question several times…listen for it.”

* “I pause after statements so that you can hear the new information and picture it in your head.”

* “I may go too fast sometimes, or use a phrase you don’t know, stop me with the signal.”

* “This is fascinating information. When I give you the signal, you will respond by saying _______”etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

Each of these is a new skill for your students to acquire. They should be taught ONE AT A TIME. Then practiced. Then incorporated into lessons. Then retaught and re-practiced as needed and with love.

These are the BASIC statements. As teachers get more skilled, many add other components/ideas, all of which require the same teaching/explanation – practice – incorporation cycle.

More skilled components may include getting students to be actors, having students add sound effects, dialoguing with actors, retelling a story with errors that students identify, etc. etc. etc. Any time that a new skilled component is added, we must give our students the courtesy of teaching them what is expected, practicing the new behavior and repeatedly incorporating it into our lesson.

Some teachers will slide easily into being a TPRS lesson planner/instructor. Others will need to take it slowly, one step at a time. Being a fast or slow processor of this new approach is NOT an indication of how successful you and your students will be. Every single one of us who embraces this approach is working every day to be better at it. There is never a moment when we say “Whoooo hoooo!!!! I am THERE!!!! I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and I’m good.” Nope…every single one of us is continually on the journey…learning from each other and even more from our students. Don’t worry about “getting there”. Just settle in where you are…and be aware that there is always another beautiful place to get to tomorrow.

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.

Class Contract Archived Post 8.12.11

(Originally posted 8/12/11)

A reader asked a number of great questions on a post where I wrote about NOT using participation points. I will try to address some of them here.

How do you get there?
Which system do you have that replaces participation points that works?
How do you deal with discipline (attitude, absences, English)?
Which is the social contract you have with your students and parents?
How did you reach this social contract?
How do you enforce the rules that make daily living (la convivencia) possible?

Below is the contract that I created to address these issues. When I have an administration that requires a signature, I’ll collect that. Our Dean of Students and Principal have a copy. A copy is on my website and a copy is sent home to parents.

The key to this, however, is taking time the first week of school to address each point below:

Your Rights and Responsibilities

1. You have a right to be treated as an individual who interesting, capable, and important.
You have a responsibility to treat others the same way.

2. You have the right to a positive learning environment every day.
You have the responsibility to learn and accomplish something positive every day.

3. You have the right to be informed about the academic and personal goals of this course and your progress towards
those goals.
You have the responsibility to complete the class work and homework designed to help you achieve these goals and to monitor your progress.

4. You have the right to communicate with me in a respectful and appropriate manner about issues that affect you in class or in this building.
You have the responsibility to communicate with me whenever you have a problem, question, or concern about issues in this class, or your achievement in this class.
You have the responsibility to communicate if you, or anyone else, is in danger of physical or emotional harm.

These are posted in the room and referred to as necessary. We address them as “new information”, one per day the first week…IN ENGLISH…along with any number of team-building and get-to-know-you activities in Spanish.

I address infractions to the above immediately and directly…although not always publicly. A one-to-one conversation often goes a long way. The first two are the most important. As the teacher,

I have the final say if there is disagreement on what kind of behavior falls “outside of the lines”. I briefly mention and discuss “boundaries” so that students understand that there is a need to have lines drawn for appropriate/inappropriate behavior.

What we allow, we encourage.

The first few weeks with a new teacher, it is the students’ job to find out exactly what that teacher will allow. For example: talking when the teacher is talking, writing on other students and/or their belongings/desks etc., arriving late to class, not engaging in class activities, pretending to not know anything, sarcasm, mean remarks, making fun of others, inappropriate clothing, not doing homework, passing notes, texting, eating and drinking in class………………………………………..

I don’t take it personally when students test the boundaries. As adolescents, that is what they are wired to do. They want to know how I will handle trouble when it comes. They need to know that they can trust me to keep the classroom a safe place. Ironically, it is the “troublemakers” that need to know this the most. Many of them are extremely bright and knowing where the boundaries are is how they function. Many of them have learned survival skills outside of the classroom and want to know from the beginning which of those skills they will need to survive this venue. Some of them have a reputation to uphold. If I am consistent about the rules, their classmates will not look to them to act up. If I am NOT consistent, then it becomes their role to see what I’ll be like today. They learn by watching adults….and each other. Adults who are inconsistent become playthings and entertainment. I let them know up front that we have other things to do.

So…Step 1: The Rules and Responsibilities

Step 2: Identify the Boundaries and Stand Firm

Step 3: Offer the Better Option….Calmly.

Step 4: “Conduct” the Class

I tell students that this class is much like a band/chorus/orchestra and I’m the Maestro. I literally “conduct” the class. They need to follow my words, facial expressions, gesture etc. and respond appropriately. The first piece we learn is the “Signal” (check out the post below)


I take my job as Maestro seriously and choose my activities (pieces) carefully based upon the strengths, interests and abilities of the students. From Day 1, I make it clear that I have chosen everything for THEM. Not because it is next in the book, what the other classes are doing, I think it’s cool, it makes me look good or another group liked it. For THEM. I choose activities which I know that my students will enjoy and will be successful at.

Every day for the rest of the year, I keep those rules and responsibilities in mind. I know that we will need to review them regularly.

with love,

All content of this website ©Hearts For Teaching 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,

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.