Von Ray on Circling & MovieTalk

I was just with Von Ray—the man, the myth, the legend—at a TPRS workshop in Manchester, NH. It’s been several years since I’ve seen anyone do the 2-day workshop, and I was impressed with the updates. I was also impressed with how magical the experience still was, given my familiarity with all the strategies and techniques of a basic skills workshop, while observing first-time TPRS participants in the room simply dazzled by the experience.

Experiencing Storyasking is really the only way to sell anyone on the idea. Honestly, if I had to work in any of my previous teaching positions—the ones in which pure adversary to new ideas was omnipresent—I’d put away the research, leave student results behind, and instead set up a meeting to demo a language the adversaries didn’t know. If they still weren’t convinced that TPRS were the best method to acquire language, feel included in class, and be excited to return the next day and continue with the language, well, they would be the kind of people I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by anyway, and would stand by my decision to work for those who value what we do.

Here are a couple highlights from Von’s workshop…

No Breakdown, No Circle
A recent discussion about Circling on moreTPRS, which recurs every few months, included the usual warnings about “over-circling.” Von Ray presented the most succinct way of expressing circling too much that I’ve heard yet. If there’s no breakdown (in processing the language), we don’t circle. This explains why students feel patronized when teachers abuse Circling—the students literally don’t need it. Circling, then, becomes language for language’s sake, and bores students. We have no evidence that bored humans have ever acquired language. So, during the Circling segment of Von’s workshop, I was reminded that there are always 3 options to basic Storyasking:

  1. Circle most recent detail (if that new detail was processed quickly, without breakdown, move onto #2 or #3)
  2. Add a detail (by asking open-ended question).
  3. Add a parallel character.

These options represent the type of “basic CI” strategies Keith Toda just wrote about. I recommend revisiting those basics from time to time.

MovieTalk as Transition to Storyasking
The MovieTalk segment highlights the new product, but my mind was blown when Von said that for anyone interested in TPRS, MovieTalk is the easiest first step.

He’s right.

Instead of co-creating a story in what is likely the first time teachers actually pay attention to students during the act of communicating with purposeful intent, the clip used during a MovieTalk has it all! This leaves [cognitive] room for the teacher to work on questioning skills and making sure students comprehend—the crucial elements rather than a series of steps to carry out while, sadly, sometimes ignoring the students in an effort just to finish “practicing” this new Storyasking thing!

But MovieTalk doesn’t restrict everything to just the plot contained in the clip! Adding yourself as a parallel character during the dramatization not only increases exposure to the language, but also gives you the opportunity to build your Storyasking skills without the pressure of a whole story. You can still direct a student-centered task of telling, and co-creating a story for the purpose of entertainment! Adding a parallel character to a MovieTalk clip is simple, just think of someone/something unseen, but who/that believably is in the world of that clip—or not—if you have a zany class. The result is actually a mini-Storyasking moment that you can ditch whenever you run out of ideas (and you’ll run out of ideas) and then be saved by the visually-stimulating MovieTalk clip as you regain your wits—or not—in which case you just continue to talk about what you see while asking questions to actors and students.

In other words, your parallel character is a tiny sandbox, but the MovieTalk clip is the train on the rails. At any time, you can let go of that sandbox, and ride the train to CI bliss.

4 thoughts on “Von Ray on Circling & MovieTalk

  1. “No breakdown, no circle” sounds great, but in a multi-level class, or any class with a wide spectrum of students, there will be groups of kids who are still experiencing breakdown while others are itching to move on. I’ve never found there to be a common breakdown point for a group. Maybe that has to do with my skills at CI.

    • But this still applies! Any breakdown is first seen in your barometer students, so they will need some questions circled. You can still differentiate with some direct “why” questions, or assign jobs if you seem to be losing the fast processors, right?

      I think this mostly concerns those who don’t even consider breakdown, and instead circle like crazy as a separate “activity,” or in order to practice their own teacher skills.

      • I was just at a workshop with Laurie Clarcq, and it was amazing to see how she focused on the barometers, never leaving them behind, and used the faster processors to create output, which keot them engaged at their level, and was actually giving additional input to those beginners. Stolz has a few great postings on his multi level classes, which brings us back to the fact that all classes are multi level. Any given class contains students who are reading as much as 5 grade levels above or below each other in English. This is the norm, but many teachers do not acknowledge this.

  2. Pingback: The No-Travel Story Script | Magister P.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.