Wednesday, August 19, 2009

French 2 - Day 1

So, I'm a little apprehensive beginning a new year with my advanced students. Truth be told, I'm not a hard core disciplinarian and that spells disaster for TPRS. I think students are still learning more than with the book approach, but how much more can they do if I do a better job of having a controlled environment, so a few changes I am planning on implementing this year.

Seating charts from the first week. This is hard. They are a tedious thing for me to make and I don't like doing them at all. Kids hate them, but they do usually work . . . for a while. Then, they need to be done again, which is my biggest gripe.

More important, I'm going to have a brief but serious discussion in L1 with my students on the first day of class about expectations. I'm going to have a scribe write down some ideas of what expectations the students have of me and what expectations I have of them and some potential consequences. Ben Slavic is a strong advocate of Reaching for the phone and it sounds like a great tool, but I hate calling parents. Probably the best reason I should . . .

Finally, I'm going to devote some time each day to read what others are doing. Ben's blog has a lot of good stuff and he's made classroom management a focus this year which is just what I need. Too bad I couldn't make it to NTPRS this year. Last year it was great, but sounds like this year, classroom mgmt was a focal point and I would have done well to have experienced it.

Well, off I go . . . I'll have to blog about how things went after "the talk" tomorrow.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thanks to all you invisible mentors

Ben Slavic posted yesterday on his blog about the need for intuition in teaching with TPRS

One part of his posting that he simultaneously posted to the TPRS Listserv sparked a response by Meg Villanueva (post# 91152) about the need for mentor groups to spring up. Ben said:

We in TPRS are largely not even competent. Teachers who first see the beauty of the method soon wander away from it. . . . Many teachers stop using it, not because of any insights they have that it is a “bad method”, but rather because they are incompetent at it. They can’t do it.

Ben's posting made me think, but Meg's response made me want to join the dialog.

Meg said in part:

The other thing, I think, that makes teachers fall away, is the first, second and third year of teaching TPRS. The first rush of understanding the method is wonderful. You come away from a workshop fired up and excited, and you can't wait to start. Some teachers never make it through that first rush, because they try it and it doesn't work immediately, and so they figure it's not for them. They figure that they don't have whatever it is that they feel it takes to do well. Simply put, they want immediate success and aren't willing to work.

Others get through the first year on the cloud of happiness at seeing the effects of the method. Then, in the second or third year, reality sets in. The students might feel bored because the teacher's technique isn't polished yet. The drag of doing others' stories or the effort in making their own stories wears them down. They haven't yet figured out that the students love to make the stories. Their circling technique isn't good enough yet, and they feel bored themselves. After a while, they begin to think about that textbook. It would be sooo much easier just to assign work.

This prompted me to reflect on my own journey:

I am that teacher in my first year of TPRS. It's not easy and I say now that I can't ever go back, but I see some signs of what you say. I know my technique isn't polished and I know I am doing things wrong, but I just have to remind myself that it does take time. I appreciate you guys who must spend a good half an hour on a post like this because I am that TPRS teacher who needs the encouragement; the only one in a building (actually, the only one in the district that I am
aware of).

I would love to be able to observe someone else doing TPRS and to have one of you experts come and observe me and although there are others in my state, they're all relatively far from me and time is always that precious commodity.

At least I have the listserv and Ben's books and blog. I don't always have time to respond and I am trying to blog a little on my own just to, in a way, force myself to deal with these issues of being on my own. I know it's what's best for kids and with some more training and practice, I will get where I need to be. The time in between, though, is a challenge.

I am excited that the President of UFLA (Utah Foreign Language Association) this year is a big believer of Comprehensible Input. He's even a college professor. I don't know how he teaches in his classroom, but he came and keynoted a district language teacher conference back in September all about CI. That led me to attend a workshop with Blaine when it came here a few weeks later. That led to me KNOWING that this is what I have been looking for for years. It
all came full circle when I applied for a grant with the UFLA to attend the National TPRS conference in Minnesota this summer and received it. I am so excited to be able to go and spend a week on preparation. I am hoping that will give me a similar experience as those of you who have the experts nearby.

Still, like you say, the initial euphoria I got from attending Blaine's conference fades a little over time and turns into work and although I am willing, it is hard to stand in front of my classroom
all day every day. I am glad I teach business as well. It gives me a "break" from talking and some "technology" to feed my inner geek. But, for better or worse, my enrollment is higher next year. I know it's in part because of the switch to TPRS. At this rate, my business classes will evaporate in a few years and I'll need to be ready to do this every day all day.

So thanks for all of you who are mentors without knowing it to teachers like me who are trying our best to make it work. I hope to meet some of you personally in July and I really want to come out of the first three years and maybe even bring along some other teachers who are starting to take interest in my classroom. Keep on posting.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Things that keep you going

I was at a language teachers conference last week and left my kids a pop quiz and a reading assignment with 8 questions all in French. Today when we corrected them, the scores were about where they should be according to the 80/80 rule, but for me the payoff came from a comment from one of the kids. After we finished correcting the reading, I was thinking that a year ago, I could have never left a reading assignment with the questions all in French for my French 1 (or my French 2 classes). I made a comment to that effect and one of the kids said, "yeah, we actually get French."

That put enough gas in my tank for some time to come.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Southwest COLT

Ben Slavic commented recently on a tsunami of new young teachers. I just attended Southwest Colt in Utah where Jan Holter Kittok presented on her variety of TPRS and did a Swedish TPRS demo. It was my first chance to see things from the student point of view.

There were about 20 of us there with varying experience in both teaching and TPRS. Many were wanting to make the jump, but just didn't know how to start. I hope that session was beneficial to them. I was in the same boat a few months ago, but decided to just jump out of the boat because I couldn't keep up the same old routine and even though I wasn't and still am not a TPRS expert, the only way I will get there is just doing it and doing the best I can while I seek out better training.

Next door (unfortunately at the same time), Scott Benedict was presenting on proficiency based grading. I would have liked to attend his session as well. The 2nd half of the day, he came and joined us in the Swedish demo.

The funny thing was that throughout the three day conference, I saw a lot of the TPRS teachers in most of the same sessions I attended. It's pretty easy to see which sessions are for the grammarians and which ones lend themselves to TPRS.

I just got a grant to attend National in Minneapolis on the condition that I present on my experience at our State UFLA conference this fall. I was all too happy to do it. I didn't realize there were a lot of TPRSers in Utah and compared with Colorado, Minnesota, etc. there probably aren't, but change is on the way. There's a lot of teachers who see the benefits of TPRS, but still are afraid to take the first step. There are several other teachers I know who are watching my "experiment" and making plans to gradually start up TPRS. My only recommendation would be, don't dip your foot in the pool. Take the plunge; the water's nice.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Red Herring of Technology

I teach both French and business. Technology is one of my passions and at Business teacher conferences, I am a regular presenter. Before I learned about TPRS, I presented at all of our district language teacher conferences on technology and am the "go to guy" person with technology at my school. I have tried every new technology with my students from blogging to powerpoint to PhotoStory movies and audio portfolios. Kids like technology and quite frankly, they are better at it than most of their teachers.

However, despite my best efforts to integrate technology into the curriculum, I haven't been as successful at it as I would like to be. I think the problem is that when you put the technology into the hands of the kids, it takes time. In a 80 minute class, if we take the time to have the kids do a powerpoint, they will use all 80 minutes (and some of them more) to create a 10 sentence story that they can share with their fellow students. In that same 80 minute period of time, the amount of comprehensible input I can give them is enormous. The opportunity cost of putting the technology in their hands is just too large for me to do it as often as my techie side wants me to.

So, I use technology as a fill-in when I can't be there or as an occasional break. The kids get satisfaction knowing they can write a short story in French and then turn it into a product that they can "publish" for their friends and family, but they don't learn a ton of French doing it. I had a college methods teacher, Dr. Bush, who would regularly say "Technology will never be THE solution, but if properly used, it can always be a part of the solution."

I think I'm comfortable with that. I love my digital projector and I love using it for "kindergarten" storytelling hour and/or youtube videos that provide CI, but I used to spend a lot of time in class focusing on implementing technology into the curriculum and that was a red herring.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Journey Begins

I took a Blaine Ray workshop in October and starting after Thanksgiving, I jumped into the azure blue waters of TPRS. I told my students it was an experiment that we would do until Christmas, but I knew I we weren't going back . . . it was a long time in coming, but I only had to spend a half an hour in the workshop before I made the decision to ditch the grammar books; I haven't wavered from my decision since.

What was the allure? What enticed me to leave the "safety" of the shore? After all, I'm a 4%er and a grammar nerd . . . but now, I'm a recovering grammar nerd. I have always been smart enough to know that kids hate grammar, but for some time, I thought it was just one of those necessary evils.

The hook that convinced me of the methodology is comprehensible input. I think I first heard that expression as a grad school student 12 years ago, but even though I knew about CI and Krashen's work in language acquisition, the college professors I had couldn't really explain Comprehensible Input and especially what it would look like in a language classroom. I remember thinking at the time that CI would take the form of a teacher talking in the language every class period for a year or so while the students would just soak in the language. It seemed very teacher centered and my own experience told me kids just can't sit there and listen for that long. In short, it seemed like one of those theoretical pie in the sky ideals of a college professor who had no experience actually teaching kids. How wrong I was.

More later.