Sunday, August 21, 2016

How to start the year with TPRS (part 2) - PQA - day 1

*I meant to post this a long time ago. It is part two of this post*

So if you saw my part one post with TPR, then you should have an idea of what TPRS originally suggested teachers do to get the students familiar with action verbs and commands that could later be worked seamlessly into stories and help students to express themselves a little bit more in the storytelling phase.

Something I had the opportunity to play around with in my 8th grade exploratory classes the past two years was the idea of PQA.

PQA stands for Personalized Questions and Answers.  If you get a chance, I think Ben Slavic explains this the best in his blog or in any of his books!

This is how I do it:

The first day of class, I have my students draw a picture of what they like to do and then write their name in the top corner. They can write what it is in English underneath if they think I won't know what it is.

After I get attendance figured out, I start walking around and looking around.  I am developing ideas of where I can go that day in Spanish.  If I have two basketball players, I could talk about them on the same day and compare and contrast them.  Or I could talk about one on one day and the other on a different day to review the structures: "s/he plays" and "basketball".

Once I'm ready to start, I go over to the board and I write (Spanish in black and English in blue):
    el profesor toca la guitarra.
      the teacher plays the guitar.

Then I say this slowly while pointing to each word.  I move my arms down from above my head to down to my sides (this is my signal for new information).

Once my students look at me like I am crazy I tell them in English:
Me: Oh, right.  This is your first day.  Whenever I say something like this new in Spanish, you are going to pretend like it's the most interesting thing in your whole life.  To do that you'll say, "Ooooooh."
Let's try that again.  El profesor toca la guitarra.  

Then I keep talking about myself by circling the information until students get it easily and we can add more information.  Usually at that point I start talking about another student.  Maybe another student plays an instrument.  Maybe they play a sport.  I will write on the board what they do in black and the English translation underneath in blue/green.

Then I compare/contrast myself with someone else. The first day I stick to a lot of yes/no questions and occasionally a who/what question.

The first day or two I don't do a whole lot with multiple verb forms. As I go with the PQA, I might slowly let it trickle in that if a person wants to say "I [..]", that the action will end in an "o" instead.

It has only gotten better and sweeter each year. I have found more ways to get the kids exposed to the "you" and "i" forms. I should still try to add in the "they" forms a little when more than one does something. But it's really about the kids and not about the grammar, or else it wouldn't be successful.  Sometimes though, it can be hard when the kids almost have to be trained to be interested in each other's lives.

NTPRS - my own private conference with Bryce Hedstrom!

So I lucked out in leaving the hotel super early that morning.  Some strange antics ensued at the airport as my socially awkward self tried to get through security:

And it turned out Bryce Hedstrom and I were on the same flight!  

I had missed all of his sessions unfortunately, since I was on the beginner’s track. 

But I’ve been implementing some of his stuff for years and really had wanted a chance to talk to him and pick his brain. We had already met earlier in the week when we ate BBQ with Señor Wooly and Mike Coxon.  And we had also corresponded via email once in awhile over the years.  But while emailing back and forth can be great, I find that I also prefer face-to-face interaction and to hear something.

So here’s my conclusion about Bryce: he is an awesome listener and I can see how he is so successful in his teaching. He radiates positivity, thoughtfulness, compassion, empathy, & of course Spanish.

The conversation jumped all over the place, but here were some of the big ideas:

1. I had heard how we can play around with genre during the week and something we often do (which gets old quickly) in storytelling is the idea of someone wants something and they go and get it.  But how about maybe they have something they DON’T want!  Bryce pointed out that is the entire premise of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  I hadn’t even thought of that.  They are getting RID of the ring. Interesting. 

2. Something else that we talked about was killing off bad actors. If a student is a terrible actor, add into the storyline that they die suddenly, and get someone else

3. We talked about creativity.  Bryce told me that “creativity comes from constantly trying even if idea fails”.  I concur that creativity is something we have to work at constantly

4. A big chunk of time was spent talking about an activity I had been wanting to try because I see that Bryce and I are so similar in various areas of our classroom management, that I thought his “persona especial” activity would be great to try sometime. But I still needed to hear it explained in a way that convinced me.
    • He told me that the task is to learn about each other
    • He only asks questions as long as the students want to talk
    • he only interviews as long as it is interesting
    • Follow-up questions are crucial
    • He’s not focused on an agenda
    • When he needs to add more words, he says, “Oh thanks for helping me do my job better. I can’t believe I haven’t done that yet.”
    • By the end of the semester, get through everyone
    • Don’t force kids to talk
    • “Tells them, “Make sure you don’t share something we shouldn’t know. Just stuff you’re comfortable with us knowing”. Because some kids might not think about consequences of airing dirty laundry. (NO FAMILY SECRETS)
    • Dunbar’s Number is the idea that we can remember about 150 people. This is something I hadn’t heard of, so I’ll have to look into it.
    • If the class loses Mojo, go to story or TPR.

5. Bryce also does Free Voluntary Reading from day 1! I loved this idea. I went ahead and purchased some super low readers from in Spanish at the kindergarten and first grade level. These are so simple and repetitive. They are better than a lot of children’s books that I have purchased over the years because they are simpler. Children’s books typically are for children after they have already had thousands of hours of their first language to read it in. So if I want to get kids reading on day 1 in Spanish 1, then I have to find super simple books. Maybe I’ll buy some Pre-K books at some point too that just deal with the word level. He trains them from day 1 that they are going to read in class for 3-5 minutes quietly. I loved this. I need to do this more. I also have tried to build up the classroom library a little bit with 4-5 copies of various TPRS novels. The ultimate goal is to get them reading at home.

6. All in all, a great conversation with Bryce that really made the plane ride very enjoyable. Time sure flew in that plane!

And I really want to take the plunge this year and try “La persona especial” in my classes even if I fall flat on my face.  I guess I just have to do it.

To see Bryce's site, go here:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

NTPRS - day 5 - Embedded Reading, Closing Ceremony, Tahoe, In & Out, & Videogames,

*this is my attempt to keep track of what happened while I was at my very first NTPRS in Reno, Nevada 

Embedded reading presentation
In the morning I went to Michele Whaley's presentation on "Embedded reading: A Literacy Tool".

It was really neat to see! I have been using embedded reading now (or trying) for three years.

If you aren't familiar with it, it's simply creating a simple version of a text and then a harder (bottom-up) or using a hard version of a reading and making it more accessible in different versions (top-down).

Michele Whaley did a good job breaking it down and I could see how important it really can be to help kids be successful. So thankfully it reinforced what I did for my classes.

NTPRS - Day 4 - Movietalk in Russian, culture in reading, Open mic

*this is my attempt to keep track of what happened while I was at my very first NTPRS in Reno, Nevada 

I think I woke up kind of late. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was starting to drag as my lack of sleep caught up to me!

Movietalk in Russian:
I missed the first part of the Russian class and either we did the embedded reading during this day or we did it the previous day as mentioned.  I went to the part where Katya did a Movietalk in Russian and I think the best part about Katya, that I want to start paying attention to, is her intentional inflection to sound really interested in what she is saying.

That is something that so many of us, as we start out in TPRS (or get bogged down in what we have to accomplish in class), forget to be intentional with.  But when she would sound really interested in what she was saying, it just drew us more into the fantasy of the class.  She just described a video about a little puppy that got lost from his owner and eventually found him.

Something that I forgot to blog about that I really enjoyed seeing was how quickly she introduced the phrase "s/he thinks" into the class so that she could ask higher level thinking questions while we read in Russian such as "what is the character thinking here?"

NTPRS day 3 - More Russian, Acting, Being quiet, Reading, Making a Movietalk & Russian Mafia

*this is my attempt to keep track of what happened while I was at my very first NTPRS in Reno, Nevada 

Russian - day 3
So day 3 of the conference and Russian. I think by this point, I was going in whenever possible for the Russian, but was trying to discreetly leave when it was time for coaching practice. This is nothing against the coaches or groups. I just realized that I could be doing other things (talking to other educators, just taking a break to think about my coming year and the vocab lists, etc).

So anyway, I was starting to drag by this time in the week. My roomie and I weren't averaging much of sleep a night. I was probably getting 4-5 hours a night and it was wearing on me. On breaks I was calling my family because I missed them dearly so I wasn't really getting a lot of sleep and I could slowly feel it more and more each day.

I walk into the class and Katya had chosen me the day before for acting, and I had really wanted to act on previous days because I have never been the main character in a story during a TPRS training workshop thus far.  But I figured that I had been chosen to be Lady Gaga the day before and I could just relax in the back.  For whatever reason, Katya just asks me to go up immediately and act out a story.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

NTPRS - day 2 - Breakfast, reading Russian, & Mafia

*this is my attempt to keep track of what happened while I was at my very first NTPRS in Reno, Nevada 

So I get up Tuesday morning and Mike had told me the night before that we were going to eat breakfast with Blaine Ray and Von Ray! I was really excited. Unfortunately I woke up incredibly late and probably made a terrible first impression on Blaine because I was still groggy from the lack of sleep and wasn’t very good about making much conversation.

Regardless I think I held my own ok. We talked about TPRS, my new school and I thanked him for helping bring the method to the light so so many of us could use it and find such amazing results in our classrooms too.  He is an incredibly nice guy. I am surprised just how fun he is and how he is not afraid to be goofy.

We also talked about some ways for me to get more involved in the TPRS community (and more specifically NTPRS) in the future, which is exciting. I haven’t seen much value in what I do over the past few years. I know there is still so much I can learn. But I am glad that they see potential in me and we might be able to work together in the future!

After breakfast, I went back to the beginner’s TPRS class and learned more Russian! I also brought attention to myself and ended up having to act as Lady Gaga.  There are probably pictures and videos out there somewhere.  Again, I was amazed at Katya’s seemingly effortless way to tell a story to us and review prior information as well as introduce new information.

NTPRS - Day 1 - Confronting Discomfort, New People, and Russian

*this is my attempt to keep track of what happened while I was at my very first NTPRS in Reno, Nevada 

I wake up somewhat groggy due to staying up somewhat late with Mike, chatting about our lives, experiences in the summer, classroom, etc.

Mike has to take care of something and I decide to not be his shadow. So I go downstairs to the opening breakfast ceremony but become really uncomfortable really quickly.

If you are ever around me, you’ll find out very quickly how socially awkward I am.  At times, I even bring up in conversation how socially awkward I am at times to relieve the tension of social interactions. 

I walk into the giant room where everyone is going to eat breakfast and talking and I freeze. As I scan the room, it occurs to me that I don’t really know anyone in the mass of people to such an extent that I will feel comfortable inviting myself to sit at their tables. And there are no tables that are empty, which is the easy choice for me.

So as quickly as I walked into the giant banquet hall, I just as quickly turned around and walked out. If you were to see me I am sure that it would look humorous to see me walk in, take a look and walk right back out.

Thankfully a colleague at my new school and phenomenal French teacher, Bess Hayles saw me and comes out to ask me to sit at her table.

So I go serve myself (during which some teachers recognized me from my videos and I awkwardly waved to them) and sat down.  While seated I met everyone around the table and felt a lot more at ease, but still out of my element.

It got easier. Then the opening ceremony started.

Katy Paukova spoke about her life experiences (or her story) about being an immigrant and a teacher and how her journey led her to storytelling in Russian via TPRS. Regardless of language, she is a captivating speaker and wonderful storyteller. Of course, I would find that out later as I was going to be in her Russian class during the week.

Shortly thereafter I found myself in said class. I decided that while I had 6 years of TPRS under my belt, a majority of what I did was through reading blogs and trying things out in my classroom. So I didn’t actually know what TPRS looked like 6 years after being trained in it and therefore took the beginner’s track.

It was co-presented by Katya Paukova (who presented the keynote at the opening ceremony) and Donna Tatum-Johns (who I had already seen at workshops 2 times 5 and 6 years ago).

We pretty much jumped into Russian and I loved it!  While I seemed to have a hard time following at times (jet lag?), I found Katya to be a very warm, patient and skilled storyteller.  She told a very simple story in conjunction with comparing and contrasting other people in the crowd.

Something that really struck me in her presentation of beginner’s Russian was how compelling it was for me even if it wasn’t the funniest story in the world. She just told it as if it was interesting and it was interesting. Nevertheless, she did add surprise details that I didn’t expect, which added to the fun of the story.

I also noticed she used various cognates like the words for tarantula, coffee, ferrari, pink (sounded like rose), and some others.

This made it a lot easier for my brain.

It reminded me of the following for my classes:

  1. it doesn’t have to be crazy and silly to be interesting. Surprise details are good though
  2. cognates really are my friend. I need to come up with a list of go-to cognates this year while I do storytelling just in case
  3. using actors did make it more interesting
  4. talking about others in class did help with repetitions

There was lunch at some point in the day (but I can’t really remember it at this point) and I returned to my beginner’s class. A lot of the rest of the class that day was practicing skills that I actually felt like I had a grasp on and talking about the theory behind TPRS.

For dinner, Mike and I found out that Bryce Hedstrom and Jim Wooldridge (Señor Wooly) were going to go out to dinner so we tagged along. I couldn’t believe that I was getting to meet two Spanish teachers that I greatly admire at the same time and we were just going to eat Barbecue so nonchalantly. 

Dinner conversation revolved a lot around who we are, our particular projects to help learners and my just getting to know them and vice versa. It was a really nice time.

When we got back to the hotel, Mike was hosting something called the “War & Peace Room” which is a throwback to something that Ben Slavic started called, “The War Room”. The idea being people can just practice whatever skill they want and we’ll be encouraging while also learning. It was all about practicing TPRS in some way.  This was probably one of the highlights of my week as we simply played in the languages (German, Mandarin, French, etc).  

The War room reminded me how much fun learning can be when there isn’t necessarily much of a plan other than a few structures on the board, but a compelling story. It’s also neat to see so many different personalities and how they can all create a compelling experience with their respective languages.

Soon thereafter, I went to bed, exhausted! And if I remember correctly, Mike and I had breakfast plans for the next day with someone I wanted to meet!