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Posted By Chalkbrd

Today I attended a bridal shower for my nephew's soon-to-be bride. As most showers go, there were several different games having to do with marriage. Although I'm not much for this kind of shower, I am rather competitive and so are the other females of my family, who all sat at the same table with me. When my niece and great-niece bested me, I determined to win the final game.

The hostess brought out a basket that contained 26 items. Our table was first to rummage around in it and try to memorize the items. Yep, out came my TPRS® training!  I started to tell a story about a girl who was hungry.

She ate an

  1. apple, which she sprinkled with salt from the
  2. rooster salt shaker.  Then she decided she wanted some
  3. pudding so she used the
  4. measuring spoons and
  5. measuring cup to add all the ingredients in the
  6. recipe, then mixed them together with her
  7. wooden spoon. She poured it into the
  8. cupcake liners and scraped the bowl with a
  9. plastic spatula. Since she used all the eggs, she put up a
  10. refrigerator magnet to hold a note to buy more. While she was waiting for the cupcakes, she used the
  11. plastic scrubber to wash the dishes and dried them with the
  12. dishtowel. When the cupcakes were done, she used the
  13. hot pad to remove them from the oven. She didn't have any icing so she sprinkled them with
  14. poppy seeds, then cut them in half with the
  15. cake server. She ate the cupcake with the
  16. baby fork. This made her thirsty so she made some
  17. hot chocolate in her
  18. cup. At first, she couldn't find the
  19. scissors and she tried to use the
  20. cork screw, but it didn't work very well. Finally she opened it and stirred it with her
  21. baby spoon.

They called time on us before we could finish forming the story so it ended there.  Almost everyone at our table had more on our list than anyone else in the whole room. Oh, yes, and yours truly was the winner. :o)

Was it due to my wonderful memory? Hardly!  It was due to us all coming together and adding elements of the story. Whenever someone got stuck, you saw them close their eyes and go back over the story in their minds.

In my victory "speech"  I credited the power of the story. It's great that we as language teachers have the opportunity to use the power of the story in our classrooms! Here's hoping you have a fun time with TPRS® and may all your stories be creative!

By the way, in order to foster more creative stories, Chalkboard Productions is sponsoring some creative story writing contests for students. March will be for regular Spanish students, April is for both French and German students, and then in May we'll have two more Spanish contests. I hope this will be a good challenge for your students and an incentive for them to write more in the target language!

Posted By Chalkbrd

"What do you want the principal to do, follow you around all day patting you on the back and telling you what a great job you're doing?"

I don't think any teacher would consider this a realistic expectation for an administrator, but I think my colleague who said this to me once missed the entire point I was making.  I was trying to tell her that one three-sentence note of praise to the entire English department in six years of working with this particular principal was not exactly my idea of creating an encouraging environment.

What if his focus had been different?  How many teachers in our small school would have been empowered to be better teachers if instead of standing by silently, waiting for us to make a mistake so he could reprimand us, this administrator would have focused more on the things we did right?

As frustrated as I got with this particular principal, I learned something very valuable from him.  I'd trained myself over the years to be particularly good at seeing what my students failed at, but I'd forgotten to balance that out with encouragement.

I've never been one for handing out empty platitudes, and that's not what I'm suggesting here, but there is something that happens to people when they receive genuine praise for their accomplishments.  They blossom and become so much more than they were before.  It gives them confidence to try something a little bit more dificult, something that stretches them and requires them to grow.

Unfortunately, there was no way I could ever coerce that administrator into handing out compliments to his staff, and even if I could, they would have lost their power because they were not sincere.  All I could do was make sure that I didn't follow his example.

That flaw-finding training is pretty ingrained in me so it's been a challenge to look at people otherwise, but the more encouragement I give others, the more encouragement I get back from them.  It ends up being a win-win situation, and it fuels us all to achieve more.

Posted By Chalkbrd

If you know me, you know that I am a firm believer that comprehensible input is the key to acquiring another language.  But you also know that I've always been a bit of a rebel.  LOL

When I first started using TPRS®, I gave my students an end of the year survey where they could rate their own opinions of their skills in their new language.  The first year I used TPRS®, the method was beginning the transition from seven steps to three.  I'd participated in a summer week of a TPRS® class and observed student retells as part of the process.  They became part of my process that year as well, even though they were more of the seven step than the three step version.

The next year many on the MoreTPRS Yahoo list were discussing how they had taken the retells out of their time because the retells were output instead of input.  I decided in that second year to try doing that, replacing the retells with more input.  At the end of that year I gave the same survey to my students.

During the summer I looked over their responses, expecting to see a better result from my students' feelings about their skills because I'd been working on my TPRS® skills, but I was disappointed.  The data indicated my students felt much less confident about their language abilities, even though I'd increased the input I'd been giving them (and I knew they were actually better at everything because of it).  What was going on?

It took me a few years to understand, but it boiled down to their perception of what they could do.  While I'd increased the input and decreased the opportunities for output, from my point of view the students were much more capable of using the language.  But from their point of view, they were less capable.  Why the difference?

Think about a language like a team playing football.  As long as the team is merely scrimmaging against their own members, it's hard to know just how good they are.  Sure, the coach might see the talent they have, but until they've faced another team, the kids won't know for sure how well they play.

Output is all about that.  It's the opportunity for the kids to take what they've been learning and put it to real use.  When we give our students opportunities to use what they've been learning, they feel more confident because it's something they have accomplished on their own.  They had to make the choices of how to put the language together so they could be understood.

Of course, I believe the majority of our time in the classroom should be spent giving students comprehensible input, but adding frequent opportunities for short bursts of output will add a confidence in our students.

And, if you're looking for a great opportunity for student output, I've started a Student Creative Story Contest to give students a chance to see how their story-writing skills in the target language will match up to other students across the nation.

Posted By Chalkbrd

The alarm rings.  You roll over and turn it off, and before your feet hit the floor, your brain starts running through the new day's events.

Let's see, is everything ready for your first hour class?  Did you copy that quiz they are having today?  What about that draft story for your last hour class?  Is it ready to go yet?

Sometimes it's hard as a teacher to keep in mind everything you have to do for the day.  It almost seems like our feet are on the run before they even touch the floor.  Add to that a family or church responsibilities or other activities you're involved in and a teacher's life can sometimes seem almost too busy to breathe.

But if we can take a moment to step back and look at our tasks for the day, we might see something we haven't noticed before.  All those little "must-do" items we have on our list are not really the goals we have.  They are merely tools we'll use to reach our goals, steps as it were along the daily path to making our goals a reality.

Take a moment or two and remember your goals: to move your students closer to the goal of fluency in another language.  Few goals worthwhile are achieved in one day.  Most goals are the result of long-term hard work and perseverance, and fluency is certainly one of them.

So as you face today's challenges, remember that you're not in this for a short sprint, but a long term marathon.  Pace yourself and keep your focus, and you'll be a winner in the end, even if you're not the first to cross the line.  Don't let the flurry of activity around you push you faster than you know is wise.  When it comes to acquiring another language, repetition and comprehension are the keys -- and it takes a good deal of patience to accomplish either of those well.

Consider each repetition and each glint of comprehension in their eyes as a cheer from the sidelines to keep focusing on your goal, one step at a time.

Posted By Chalkbrd

I wonder.  When my teachers looked at me sitting at my desk in class, what did they see in me?  Did any of them see in me the person I've become?  I can't help but wonder how the student me appeared to my teachers back then.

Now that I'm no longer teaching, several of my former students have friended me on Facebook.  They're getting married, having babies, shipping out to Afghanistan, taking on managerial roles, and beginning to make their marks in the working world.  While many are living up to a potential I saw in them, I have to admit that there are some who are becoming much more than I ever suspected they were capable of when I had them in class.  And, unfortunately, some have taken a much darker path.

Oh, I know we teachers can't see the future, but I wonder how I might have treated them differently if I'd have known the futures of some of my students.  What if I'd known that at barely 23 years old this boy who loved to write stories (with handwriting that was almost illegible) would be shipped off to Afghanistan, only to have his tour of duty cut short so he could accompany his father's body back from his own tour in that country?  What if I'd known that the boy who always took the back desk in class and made it his good-natured goal to never bring his notebook to Spanish class would take his own life a couple of weeks before his younger brother graduated from high school?  What if I could have seen that this girl who was too grown up to play with the language or do stories with us would smile so brightly as she pointed to the pictures of her young son and told me how much she loved playing with him?

What might I have done differently if I'd known their futures?  Maybe I'd have had more patience with them.  Maybe I'd have given them more encouragement.  Maybe I could have looked past the what is and could have seen the what might be.

But unless someone is going to build a time machine, I can't change what was.  I can only take the what is now and try to imagine the what might be.  I can treat each person in the now as if they will develop that potential within.  And who knows?  Maybe somewhere along the line one of those who spent time in my class will fondly remember Miss Read for her encouraging words and pass their own on to someone else.