Circling & Scripts: Back To Them Roots (+ 59 Simple Story Starters)

Imma take a break from playing Root and get back to my teaching roots. Several recent experiences have reminded me that the most effective teaching practices are the basics, hands down. Obviously, COVID messed with us big time, but I’m afraid some of us have done a little too much adjusting that might result in lingering bad habits. Let’s face it, we pulled out all the stops on that beastly concert organ that was remote learning, and not all of what we did to make it happen could be considered even OK practices. We want good practices, and best ones whenever possible. Oh, and it’s been a while. Consider this: it will have been over two years since starting the school year with tried and true practices you’ve known to be effective. Yeah, that’s right. No one really did that in 2020, so it was August or September of 2019 when you last began the school year how you wanted. Will you remember what all those practices were? I’m not confident I will, so I’m writing this post to remind myself about them roots. Feel free to follow along…

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Collaborative Storytelling: Whole-Class Writing

Back in June, I did this test of what collaborative storytelling could look like for asynchronous learning. However, the process can be used during class for even more interaction, and more story variations. This format also has the benefit of modeling writing, which can become new sources of input with timed writes typed up, edited, and read in class. This is not innovative. I’ve seen teachers do this live in the classroom. However, you might have stepped away from collaborative storytelling for a bit, or just forgotten how easy and enjoyable it can be. I’d recommend getting back into it, keeping it a regular activity throughout the year. Here are my current favorite collaborative storytelling formats for live remote learning:

Whole-Class Writing
Using the super simple story script sequence, write a story by providing either/or details for students to choose, or blank spaces for students to fill-in their own. Share out, step-by-step as teacher restates in target language, and/or submit so teacher can edit, type up, and share back to whole class. You get up to as many new stories as you have students, although I found success projecting just 2 stories; one from the class, and one from another class.

Slide Talk Stories
Screenshare/project the Slides, and scroll through to inspire story detail options. If you want students to compete over details a little more, choose two options from the Slides (e.g. “H.E.R. or Brent Faiyaz?”). Otherwise, choose one detail from the Slides, then whatever other shadow comes to mind. Use the script below for a home-run story.

WOWATS (Whole-class One Word At a Time Stories)
Generate a list of words (e.g. from most recent text, high frequency, all words students know, etc.), randomly choose one, collaborate to use the word in a story, and continue. Consider following Mike Peto’s story structure of limiting each story part to 5 minutes so ideas don’t go off the rails and it takes the whole class.

1) Who? Where? With Whom?
2) Problem
3) Fail to Solve
4) Solution

Slide Talk Stories & Super Simple Story Script Sequence

After looking at all the collaborative storytelling options for our first class story, we decided Mike Peto’s simple structure of a 20min story—tops—was exactly what we were looking for. In preparation, I suggested that we script out some basic either/or detail options, one of which being a “shadow” (i.e. non-option), and the other what we think they’d likely choose. Student teacher Magister K suggested that we look to each class’ Slide Talk slides to find something they already liked…

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CI, Equity, User-Error & Inequitable Practices

I don’t agree that the statement “CI is equitable” is harmful. Yet, I also don’t think the message behind “CI isn’t inherently equitable” is wrong, either. John Bracey said one can still “do racist stuff” while teaching with CI principles. Of course, we both know that’s an issue with content, not CI. Still, I get the idea behind that word “inherent.” In case you missed the Twitter hub bub, let me fill you in: People disagree with a claim that CI is “inherently equitable,” worried that such a message would lead teachers to say “well, I’m providing CI, so I guess I’m done.” I don’t think anyone’s actually saying that, but still, I understand that position to take.

Specifically, the word “inherent” seems to be the main issue. I can see how that could be seen as taking responsibility away from the teacher who should be actively balancing inequity and dismantling systemic racism. However, teachers haven’t been as disengaged from that equity work as the worry suggests. I’ve been hearing “CI levels the playing field” many times over the years from teachers reporting positive changes to their program’s demographics. What else could that mean if not equity? But OK, I get it. If “inherent” is the issue, maybe “CI is more-equitable” will do. If so, though, at what point does a teacher go from having a “more-equitable” classroom to an “equitable” one? And is there ever a “fully-equitable” classroom? I’m thinking no. So, if CI is central to equity—because you cannot do the work of bringing equity into the classroom if students aren’t understanding (i.e. step zero), and nothing has shown to be more equitable than CI, well then…

For fun, though, I’ll throw in a third perspective. Whereas you have “CI is equitable” and “nothing makes CI equitable per se,” how about “CI is the only equitable factor?” I’m sure that sounds nuts, but here it goes: Since CI is independent from all the content, methods, strategies, etc. that teachers choose, as a necessary ingredient for language acquisition, CI might be the only non-biased factor in the classroom. Trippy.

I don’t think that third perspective is really worth pursuing, though, so let’s get back to the main points. Again, I understand the message behind “CI isn’t inherently equitable” as a response to “CI is equitable.” However, I suspect the latter is said by a lot of people who aren’t actually referring to CI. Don’t get me wrong; some get it, and are definitely referring to how CI principles reshaped their language program to mirror demographics of the school. However, others are merely referring to practices they think is “CI teaching.” This will be addressed later with the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Otherwise, let’s talk equity…

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StoryGuessing

During collaborative storytelling, I’ve often told students that their job is to suggest and/or guess details in the story. That is, sometimes I know the story and they need to guess, and other times they get to influence it. StoryGuessing is a more structured version of this process.

StoryGuessing eliminates any voting, which means you can tell a short story quick, and I mean real quick, like in the first 5 minutes of class (e.g. Darvin is sad because he doesn’t have coffee. Darvin leaves class and gets coffee from Principal HD. Darvin is happy). When you get a particular detail—perhaps from something a student says as they enter the room, like what they want, or how they’re feeling (e.g. “Darvin is sad, but why?”)—ask students to guess on a piece of paper (Do Now/Weekly Sheet, notebook, etc.). Then, tell them what the detail is (e.g. “Darvin is sad because he doesn’t have coffee.“), ask who guessed correctly, then continue the story.

Here’s the rub…

Fish for a detail, asking a student or two what they guessed, and go with that (e.g. “yep, you got it!”). N.B. Be sure to limit the fishing to just once or twice! The point is for students to guess your story. If you keep asking students what their guesses were for each detail, that starts to become classic Storyasking, and will take much, much longer, and it will become obvious that you have absolutely no story in mind. StoryGuessing, then, could be one way to prepare students for Storyasking.

All you need is a simple 3-sentence script in mind, and go from there. End by typing story in a projected Google Doc as students copy (i.e. Write & Discuss). Here was my first script:

  • Mr P is sad because he has a bad tooth.
  • Mr P goes to Mr E (the Bio teacher), not the dentist.
  • Mr P doesn’t go to the dentist because he has bad insurance.
    (This was the one detail I fished for that a student provided.)
  • Mr E removes the tooth, but it’s the wrong tooth.

StoryGuessing. It’s just one more collaborative storytelling option. Try it!

WOWATS & Other Collaborative Storytelling Options

Last Wednesday, we did our first MovieTalk (yes, still calling it this because I have no intentions or expectations of students acquiring specific vocab, and that’s peachy according to Dr. Ashley Hastings’ 2018 note to teachers who were misinterpreting the method). Believe it or not, but Wednesday’s MovieTalk has been the *ONLY* story so far. Yep. Other than that, no stories. With student interviews (i.e. Discipulus Illustris/Special Person), discussions based on a simple prompt (i.e. Card Talk), and questions about the weekend and upcoming week (i.e. Weekend & Week Chat), class has been compelling enough without any narrative. But stories are awesome, and we have a ton of other MovieTalk texts already prepared for every other week, so I’m thinking now is a good time to get into collaborative storytelling…

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Most Vivid Scene (MVS)

MVS (mūs = mouse)

One thing that can bog down a great story is spending too long on many small details. At least that was my experience when taking 2-3 days to ask a story, finding that kids got bored with all that lack of action and stopped caring where the story went. Still, there’s something great about a vivid scene that’s often lost in otherwise simple, action-packed stories. Thus, I present Most Vivid Scene (MVS)…

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