Posted by: Michel Baker | July 19, 2015

Gentle Coaching

The 2015 NTPRS Conference gets underway tomorrow morning in Washington, D.C.  Today, I also attended the Coaching for Coaches Workshop, led by Teri Wiechert.  My small group facilitator was Laurie Clarcq of .   Lizette Liebold and a plethora of other coaches were also available.  Turnout was great, and with a very small Coach/Attendee ratio.

They taught us that there is a new way of coaching teachers that has proven much more effective for the affective needs of Teachers who want to get coached in front of others in using their TPRS skills.  The Coach sits near the Teacher and interviews him/her beforehand, lowering the Teacher’s affective filter by asking him/her several preference questions, peppered with nods, smiles, encouraging tones and gestures, establishing to the Observers, Students and “Coaches on Deck” (Coaches who will later praise the practicing Coach for things done well) what level, language and TPRS skill will be targeted.

Ground rules are also established before beginning, including the fact that there will only be one Coach.  If anyone else has anything they wish to see the Teacher do differently, s/he must refrain from saying so, but rather simply demonstrate it the next time there comes an opportunity for them to play Teacher.  Everyone takes turns playing Coach, Coaches on Deck, Teacher, Students and Observers.

Many practitioners learn most while playing Observer because it is our luxury to view what we liked and didn’t like.  When a Teacher “gets stuck” because s/he doesn’t know what to do next, Observers can imagine what they would do; if the Teacher needs help, the Coach always offers more than one option, maintaining the Teacher in charge of what s/he is doing.

By keeping negative redirections off limits for everyone else, the Teacher, who likely was nervous while up teaching, is the only one allowed to bring up the flaws afterwards, if self-noted;  if the Teacher did not recognize the imperfections, that is okay because there will be more “Comprehensible Input” of more effective teaching delivered by other, more experienced Teachers, as we go along.  If none of the Teachers appears to be proficient in skills, it may surely be time to return to presenting to them.  If only one Teacher, or so, seems to be lurking “off skill” or is not very interested in receiving feedback, you might limit their time and move on to the next Teacher.

This type of coaching keeps us Type A Coaches and Observers from becoming overbearing and helps us to be validating, while also allowing the Teacher to learn through messing up.  Most of us who want coaching already know the skills information, anyway…it’s getting up there and doing it that is an entirely different matter.

Posted by: Michel Baker | May 21, 2015

Recent Observations

Here are some more things that I have observed lately in my practice.  When conducting Directed Draw with elementary school students, it is most helpful to draw the pictures with them underneath the text, at first, in order to train them how to draw what things mean, especially if they are low level readers.

I have some classes who come in needing or wanting things or attention.  We have two signs up front in order to keep in TL:  ¿Es una emergencia?  Is it an emergency?  and ¿Puede esperar?  Can it wait?  By responding to them in this way, attention seekers get their attention, and TL communication is maintained.

Students sometimes need to be taught not to talk over my voice.  They are, therefore, instructed to check for meaning after I have finished speaking.

Another rationale for running Comprehension Checks came on the day a student saw me gesturing a nametag on my sweater for “Me llamo” and thought I was saying “heart” instead of “My name is.”

The beauty of Storyasking is that although a slow processing class may not finish the story, they get the needed reps of the targeted structures anyway…over and over and over.

Comprehensible Input based instruction is definitely the way to reach all students.

Posted by: Michel Baker | April 1, 2015

Recent Observations

Sometimes, elementary school students like to raise their hands to ask or tell me things that have nothing to do with class at the moment, and it can be excessive, at times.  I want to talk with them, but I reserve that time for after class on their way out of the room.  In order to protect instructional time, I seek to filter out the non-emergent questions in favor of emergencies.  Therefore, when a hand goes up, I hold up a sentence strip that says in L2, “¿Es una emergencia?” and has a red cross underneath.  I conduct a Comprehension Check.  Then, I follow that question with “¿Puede esperar?” which is translated underneath in a different color in L1, “Can it wait?”  Another Comprehension Check.  Usually, this takes care of non-emergent questions for the moment, and I get to provide contextualized L2.

I use the Question Word posters with the colorful, cartoon drawings, adding the typed word in a large, white rectangle to be most legible from afar.  When I introduce a Question Word, I explain the picture that is shown on the poster.  I have begun using a different pointer style for each of the different question words.  I use my hand to ruffle the “¿Quién? Who” poster, use a pointer to Point and Pause with a loud hit noise on the first syllable the “¿Dónde? Where” poster, throw my hands out in opposite directions with palms facing up, shoulders up and a “middle school face of protest” for “¿Por qué? Why,” hands and voice a little lower to kind of ask the students for help for “¿Cómo? How,” a face of doubt and need of help for “¿Qué? What.”

One other beauty of TPRS that I have noticed lately is that even with a class of slow processors, if you don’t get far enough into the story in order to finish it, you have still provided tons of the reps that they need by keeping it totally comprehensible to them.  I have had to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it for them until they still have gained fluency, they just did not get through the whole story.  The story can be the reading!

Posted by: Michel Baker | February 27, 2015

Using L1 to Establish and Clarify Meaning

We simply must establish, check for and clarify meaning by using the students’ own native language.  We do it briefly, out of need, and swiftly return to L2.  If we never tell them what it means, they can spend a lifetime guessing and not knowing for sure.

I will never forget the first time that I realized this, without TPRS in my life.  Somehow, I found out that a student thought that “siéntate bien [sit down well]” means “beat your legs;”  this was obviously due to the fact that the action we were doing over and over while we chanted over and over was that of beating our legs to the rhythm of our repetitive chant, “siéntate bien.”  I felt quite embarrassed and had never been instructed on what to do about such confusion.

Years later, as TPRS has found its way into my life for the last 8 years, I continue to find times when students are confused about meaning because of the gestures that we are doing.  This time, it was the action for “Me llamo [My name is],” and someone thought it meant “Heart” because we were using our hands to place a pretend nametag at the top of the chest area above the human heart.  I laughed inside when I noted the obvious logic of the student, and this time, we caught it quickly through a Comprehension Check.

I will never forget Liz Hughes Waddick’s question to our graduate class a few years ago, “Why don’t you want them to know what it means?  [Pause]  I want my students to know.”

I once met someone who spent many years studying a second language, never feeling sure of what things meant, making the learning experience, and therefore the language itself, very stressful and uncertain for that person.

I want my students to know, and L1 is one way to make meaning absolutely and instantly clear.  It is not that we go into L1 constantly, we use L1 to quickly give meaning in order that we may continue onward in L2, thus maintaining the low affective filter and establishing and confirming clear meaning in the acquirer’s mind.

Posted by: Michel Baker | February 7, 2015

To my SCFLTA Buddies

Hi Everyone,  hope you are well.  I am very happy living here in Greenville.  Late Thursday evening, I was sitting at a stoplight, and a car crashed into mine from behind.  I have had major problems with my jaw, but finally this afternoon, it has shown improvement, so thank the LORD, and I pray that it stays this way!  I did not get to present at SCFLTA today, and my apologies to anyone who may have come to see the presentation.  I miss my SCFLTA family and had been so excited about coming.  God had other plans, I guess, and I know not to question them.  See you again next year, if not sooner.  With love, Michel Baker  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Posted by: Michel Baker | January 31, 2015

Tiene v. Quiere: Helping Students Differentiate

“Tiene” [has] and “quiere” [wants] often sound identical to my students.  I do several things to help them acquire both.

First, I never target them at the same time as each other.  Acquiring them separately affords students the time and space to acquire each within its own, special context.  I also never pair either one with necesita [needs]  because all three are so similar in both meaning and ambiguity to an elementary aged student.

Second,Tengo,” “tienes” and “tiene” [I have, you have, s/he it you formal have] always seem to come up first, so that is what we get first.  I have both “tengo” and “tienes” posted in context on a numbers bulletin board, one sentence strip saying in black “¿Cuántos años tienes?”  [How old are you?] and is translated beneath in red.  A subsequent sentence strip has “Tengo __ años” [I have __ years.], followed by another one that reads ”Tengo que abrir/cerrar la puerta” in black, translated underneath in red: I have to open/close and then a picture of a door.  The saying about the door made its way up there because the teachers at my school are the only ones who are allowed to open our locked classroom doors, and like anywhere else, we often have someone knocking to come in from other classes, the nurse or the office.

Whenever someone knocks, the students have been trained to remain silent while I walk to the door, announcing “Tengo que abrir la puerta.”  I open the door, let the person inside and then say, “Tengo que cerrar la puerta,” while closing the door.  The student who sits in the chair closest to the word is in charge of grabbing the nearby pointer and hitting the phrase. The student hits it hard enough to make a noise and keeps it pointing for a few extra seconds while the class gestures and turns to look at it. When it is over, the student places the pointer back across a line, where it must always be kept, just out of immediate reach to prevent playing with it during class.  That same student is in charge of hitting “tienes” or “tengo” whenever any conjugational variant of “tener” comes up at any time, and we all gesture and look.  As you can imagine, variants of “tener” [to have] come up quite frequently in innumerable contexts during any one class period.

Last month, we added the structure “quiere comprar” [wants to buy], and I noticed that there were two things slowing student acquisition:

First, pairing “quiere” [wants] with a second, new verb while students are still trying to get “quiere” for the first time seemed to cancel out both, try though we might, and I suspect that neither is easily visualized by children.  Because of the delay and also out of real life necessity, I have started all students, including the first graders, off with “quiere” plus noun cognates of high, real life value, including Kleenex and my soft “chaquetas” that I keep on hand for students who feel chilly or sick.  I also keep a “sick pillow” in an exact location in my office with a fresh, clean pillow case on it for those who feel really badly.  Even though “almohada [pillow]” is not a cognate, it is in high enough demand that kids eventually get it.

Second, because “quiere” and “tiene” are sounding alike to them, we have posted “quieres” [you want] in black above our paper doll and clothes bulletin board, with red translation underneath.  I have velcroed a pointer stick that hangs next to the word.  The student who sits nearest the pointer has the job of getting up, grabbing the pointer, pointing and pausing with pointer noise at “quieres,” rehanging the pointer and sitting back down.  The rest of the students and I make the agreed upon gesture for all conjugational variations of “querer” [to want].  I make it a point to sandwich or check for meaning whenever we are saying any variation of what is actually posted.  It is amazing to see the two students, one in charge of hitting “tiene” and the other in charge of “quiere,” wobble a little before it is decided which one we are actually hearing and the appropriate student gets up.  We fixed this by having me stop whatever I am doing when the word quiere comes up, and I stand there, gesture and beep “qui, qui, qui, qui, qui, qui…” as many times as it takes for them to realize that I want the “quiere” student to point at “quiere.”  I has really helped differentiate between the two.

All of this is really helping us.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes before the class can tell the differences automatically.

Posted by: Michel Baker | December 5, 2014

Ways to Increase Student Engagement in Storyasking, Part 2

According to the teachings of elementary TPRS guru Carol Gaab, one can engage a whole class during Storytelling by conducting things in this order:  Individual, Quiz, Relational.

In her dvd set on TPR Storytelling with “pretend Kindergarteners” at NTPRS 2006, Carol explains that in order to engage all students in the Storytelling, a teacher must ask the Individual actor a question, then turn and Quiz the class on the question s/he just asked the individual actor and then finally ask the whole class Relational questioning, or asking the same types of things of students in the room.

For example, a set of these questions might go like this:

  1. Individual:  Baby, do you live with your grandmother?
  2. Quiz:  Class, does the baby live with its grandmother?
  3. Relational:  [Student], do you live with your grandmother?

In the past, I have seen some dejected faces when students were not chosen to be actors in a story. Nevertheless, if I do things the way Carol describes, student engagement will magically go up because they all know that they all matter in the story creation.

Recently, I had a particularly noisy group of actors that had to be muted concretely and often, as no one is permitted to talk while I am talking.  I did start by talking with these individual actors, but they then had to be muted several times while I spoke with the rest of the class.  This really helped the rest of the class to understand that they matter, almost giving them the feel of being the directors.

So, while I am asking the Quizzes and Relational questions to the class, the actors are clearly told that they may not answer.  I turn to the actors and tell them, “Los actores no hablan, los actores no hablan…la clase habla.”  Then, I turn again to the class and say the same to them.  Once the class knows that it is all about their answers, and not those of the actors, I think the relational part of this really takes us home in that what the class says matters, not the actors, and all are engaged.  Adding this skill really can help in the future when I am selecting actors because the rest of the class will know that if they are not chosen as actors, it means they will get to serve as “directors.”

Posted by: Michel Baker | November 29, 2014

Ways to Increase Student Engagement in Storyasking, Part 1

Lately, I have been trying to increase engagement in Storyasking by working in more TPR breaks, stopping to do meaningful chants, making some actors inanimate until we are able to have them go live, taking “Secret” to a new, elementary level, and involving every single elementary student in the story, as opposed to a few star actors, as you know how elementary schoolers all want to be the center or else it does not mean as much to them.

So, we will stop and do a TPR break at any given time when attention seems to lull, getting everyone up moving, as we review a few of the latest commands that are pertinent to this particular Storyasking. Then, we return to the place where we left off in the Storyasking, with targeted language activated even more, and continue onward.

Later, if another lull occurs, or simply to prevent one, we can stop when there is a key question and just chant it over and over with anticipation before the crowd selects an answer.  An example is “¿Cuánto cuesta? [How much does it cost?]” from one of our recent stories about going to the Mercado [market].  We stopped and chanted “¿Cuánto cuesta?” to the beat of “Cuenta [Count]” by Barbara MacArthur one day while bouncing to it, just for fun, and it was so fun!  It also drilled home the new question into their brains without them even knowing it, in such a way that Circling it became so much easier afterwards.

With groups who are harder to keep engaged, such as first grade and groups who are just needier, I do as much inanimately as I possibly can before adding in the live actors who may or may not be able to sit still and/or follow stage directions while I Teach to the Eyes of the class.  I do this by pretending that masks and inanimate objects are doing the talking, with my voice, of course.  If there are three parts to the story, we may use masks for the first two and then bring in an actor on the third part, since we have now made it this far into the story.

Ben Slavic has taught us to do the skill “Secret,” whenever there is a need for students to move or for the teacher to buy some time to think.  I have found it to work well in elementary, after teaching them to stay glued to their seats, instead of getting up to come close to me rather than leaning in.  Something else that I have found that works to serve the very same purpose in my classroom is also to ask for a volunteer.  Whenever their attention is dissipating, all I have to do is to stand there, look at them with a playful smile, raise my hand and say “¿Voluntario?” Gets them all engaged every time.  Then, if I don’t really need one volunteer, I can simply say to them, “La clase.  La clase.”  And we keep right on going!  I am so grateful to Ben for helping me to think this way.

Finally, I am now trying to include every single elementary student in the Storyasking by talking to them in small groups.  For example, instead of one student wanting to buy someone’s jacket, it is one student and his whole color group who wants to buy the jacket that belongs to another student and his whole color group.  I then ask the third, and final, color group what they think we should do about it when the seller group refuses to sell or charges more money than the buyer group could possibly pay.  If a few stragglers don’t engage, we really just camp out with them to get group agreement until they finally do engage.  It has worked nicely to get the whole group’s wholehearted participation.

These are some attempts that I have made in order to increase student engagement during Storyasking in the elementary classroom.  I look forward to seeing how this works over the long term, both in my practice and in the students’ second language acquisition.

Posted by: Michel Baker | October 30, 2014

Circling Numbers and Math into Storyasking

Lately, I have been working on Circling more numbers into Storyasking, and here are a few turnkey techniques to make it easy.  With the students totally focused on message, they have no idea that they are actually “getting” the numbers.

All of my numbers are posted on the wall already, both digit and word, under the matching question word question “Cuántos.”  Sometimes, I even Velcro a pointer to the poster itself in order to keep one handy, always.  Since we are currently working on 0-20, and in order not to overload students, the rest of the numbers remain located on the bulletin board in the back of the room.

Front, 0-20:

numbers 0-20

Back, 21-

numbers 21-1000000000

It is interesting to note how quickly they turn around to look to the rest of the numbers board, though, whenever they want a higher number.  But posting it back there keeps things simple and uncluttered up front, just for now, until we move it forward.

Whenever there is any form of transportation (rocket, car, bicycle, etc.) in the story, we count down from 10 to 0 before it “blasts off.”

Also, we use Ben Slavic’s door knocking technique, which brings in such vocabulary as “knock, table, door, we pretend, one time/how many times.”  The actor knocks “in the air,” while a student is given the job of coordinating a knock on the table, as a matching sound effect.  I love this strategy; you can see Ben demonstrate it here at this link:  What a laugh, it is so cute and effective!

I notice that no one counts the knocks aloud, and I think this helps to make the language heard by students more novel and cute, as each student will, most likely and naturally, translate along in his mind.  Not counting the knocks aloud also leaves room for student knocking error, allowing the teacher to playfully provide more reps of the numbers, and prevents rote counting from becoming excessive and dull.

In elementary, if a student knocks the incorrect amount of times, I am careful not to call them out on it directly, but instead just to ask the student if they knocked ____ times.  If they are not sure, I will ask them to do it again, and when they get it right, we then go forward.  I have to always think of sensitive feelings at this age, and with older folks, teachers can be a little bit more playful.

With elementary, they also often wish to disagree on the amount of times that the actor knocks on the door.  So, I try to choose the first, cutest answer, and sometimes we go onward from there.  But most of the time, someone else then challenges that number by emphatically saying a different amount.  Ben Slavic or Carol Gaab or both said that we can combine opposing student answers, in order that both students can be right.  So with the differing numbers, I just smile and nod my head at them, playfully into their eyes, while I write their preferred number onto the board, then subtract from it in order to get the number that has already been chosen by the first, most enthusiastic student.  It takes a little time for them to “get” what is going on; then, they come to realize that I am being playful with them in a validating way.  Here is what the board looked like yesterday when a student had already chosen 4, and then two more students adamantly insisted on 20 and 11:


Notice that I drew a circle around the correct number both times and later even put a check mark beside it both times, which represents the number of times that I restated to the students that they were right, 20 minus 16 equals 4.  And yes, 11 minus 7 equals 4.  I said, “Correcto!” and then looked playfully into their eyes.

Whenever there is any inanimate object in the story, we can ask how much it costs, but only when the students are ready.  I don’t spring this on them until after they are accustomed to the door knocking technique.

Likewise, whenever there is a person in the story, we can ask how old they are, again, after they have grown accustomed to the addition of the prior techniques.

These strategies can be introduced in any order during the school year, as long as I add only one of them at a time.  Although I have been practicing the door knocking now, in the future, for new/younger classes of students, I may save that one for springtime, as a way to really anchor their focus.  Returning students will already be accustomed to all of the techniques and will likely expect them right away.

Posted by: Michel Baker | September 15, 2014

Fabulous TPRS Demo Video

Lately, I have been surfing the internet for more demo videos about TPR, as I have seen so many of TPRS and  do it all of the time fairly comfortably, for the moment, although I still have much to learn.  In the meantime, I really want to make my TPR better this year in order to scaffold the TPRS, because I kind of dove into TPRS without ever really mastering TPR.  While searching, I found this wonderful video.

First, it mentions TPRS, but then it takes us on a visual trip to Costa Rica with a bunch of Spanish words on the screen!

“Oh,” I thought, “I hope they don’t just casually mention TPRS and then do something else with the video.”  Then all of a sudden, we wake up from our relaxing Latin American paradise with matching vocabulary words and are suddenly immersed in a TPRS classroom, at the college level.  With comic devotion and authenticity, the professor explains the TPRS process and demonstrates it from start to finish; college students are fully engaging in lessons that can be taught at all levels.   Input is Comprehensible, stories are meaningful and all about the students, and so acquisition is ensured.  At the end of the video, student output is happening naturally as a result of all of the Comprehensible Input administered.

There is one subtitle that I believe was meant to read, “Subject, Verb, Complement,” but other than that, the video represents exactly what I would love for so many to see in action.  Gracias, profe, for the memorable demonstration.

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