The longer I teach, the more I pull back the curtain, becoming more transparent with students in the room, and better-aligning my practices with core principles. An understanding of communicative purpose has really helped me eliminate some of the charades you tend to see everywhere. For example, what once began as reading textbook passages designed to teach a specific grammar point has now become me outright saying “today, we’re gonna learn about some grammar” (i.e. learning). No veil. Texts are now read for enjoyment (i.e. entertainment), or learning about the target culture (i.e. learning). Any collaborative storytelling or Write & Discuss (Type & Talk) results in texts (i.e. creating), though the process is often enjoyable (i.e. entertainment), and focuses on some topic (i.e. learning). Those three classroom communicative purposes: entertainment, learning, and creating, have all led to great buy-in and trust. The longer I teach, there’s just no need for any of the role-play and ruse within the classroom reality.
Well, it’s that time of the year when I get ideas on what to improve upon or do differently next fall. In particular, I’ve got my eye on a couple new transparent routines that are best established right from the start…
I agree with Justin Slocum Bailey that something great can come from nothing. Most teachers fall into the habit of planning waaaay too much. Even if all that planning is enjoyable, somehow, it often results in insignificant gains in student happiness and/or proficiency. In the spirit of “no fail no burnout,” then, plan whatever you have to in order to sleep well at night, but begin class ready for any compelling diversion to take you away from those plans! Sometimes a sentence is all you need, and depending on the content, a single word (e.g. One Word Image, or One Word Drawing).
Adriana Ramirez shared videos of her and her students doing Picture Talk on Facebook. I apologize if you can’t see them, but the reality is that most of my professional groups have now migrated to FB, which is becoming THE way to remain current in the field, apparently.
Adriana used old family photos for Picture Talk topics of conversation (keeping in mind “conversations” with Novice language learners are interactive, yet require just a few words from students. The teacher—to the dismay of evaluators in the dark—SHOULD be doing most of the talking, here). Once her students developed a higher proficiency level by the end of the second year, she had them bring in their own pictures to talk about. I find it amazing that Adriana continued to provide input, and encourage interaction all throughout the “presentation” of the main student by engaging the class with questions, and checking back in with the main student—basically using Storyasking actor questioning techniques. In a more conventional rule-based language classroom, the teacher would be hands-off, and other students likely bored after 5 or 6 presentations. Not in Adriana’s class.
I instantly thought of how this could follow up Discipulus Illustris (one of 7 language versions of La Persona Especial). Although Adriana had second year students do the presenting, you could do this early on with students of lower proficiency—just be the one providing input and encouraging interaction. To do this, a student emails you a pic to use as a prop. Yes, students are great props, but something novel to look at should grab the attention of others just because it’s different, and fools the mind into thinking the activity is completely different while you could be asking the very same Discipulus Illustris questions about the picture!
I love how it’s no-prep. Actually, it’s can’t-prep, which is exciting on its own. Sure, you could preview the pic (especially if you have students engaging in tomfoolery often), but part of the fun is keeping it lively with unexpected, compelling diversions from what is likely a boring school day. Teachers need to feel energized as well, so try something new.
OK, so you’ve taken the first step of switching gears because NO ONE wants to suffer through a stale story retell between storyasking days or between brain breaks, but what if that story was pretty good? Should you scrap it and move on? Here’s one strategy to save a stale story retell…
We started a story towards the end of class on Friday because, well, because it was Friday and compelling diversions can often be better than anything we had planned. Monday arrived. Unsurprisingly, the class was a bit hazy on details over the weekend. N.B. no, it doesn’t matter that one or two kids remembered every little thing—teaching with CI is about including ALL students. After a retell that produced even better details (as well as a longer-than-usual brain break), we ran out of time to finish the story, which was nowhere close to being done. I don’t blame anything—it was only the second class story of the year so students have been in that phase of getting comfortable with what nearly complete control over co-creating a story feels like. In addition to being heavy on details, and light on plot with virtually no time left to class, 5 students were absent. Was I really going to start the next class by retelling, or having students retell what we had so far? Nope.
Class Story Intro/Background Info
I’ve written about the importance of parallel stories, but we can get some mileage out of reading the actual class story provided that we don’t beat it to death by reading the whole thing. Reports from the field suggest that stories start to wane, and a big reason is because things start to feel routine right down to reading the same story (which is where most of our power comes from).
Instead of asking/telling a story and then reading all of it verbatim, I pre-loaded my retell by typing up the beginning details and background information, but that’s it. We began class with a choral translation before finishing the story during the rest of class. You could bet that there were questions from the absent kids (which is great because that means they’re buying into DEA), and that meant even more input for the other students.
This was enough of a change up to not feel like the “same old same old” we had been doing for three days, and allowed me the opportunity to assist those absent students a little more directly while keeping the interest of the others who had been there all three days. Give it a try!