What has Changed In My Classroom Since Agen?

Anne asked me this morning this question! It’s a good one because so much has changed as a result of my week in Agen and yet it is hard to pinpoint exactly.

Spending a week in Daniel’s Breton class is one of the major reasons why I’ve adapted various changes into my teaching. Becoming a learner of a language as a beginner is something I urge all language teachers to try because if you are like me, I can’t remember what it was like anymore. Experiencing the importance of repetitions and needing EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. I no longer begrudge saying words over and over again anymore. I am no longer concerned about a repetition being boring. I know that each and every time I speak, there is someone in my room who needs to hear that word once again.

One more change I am working on is speaking slowly. I am now even more aware of the importance of this. While I really like Robbert Harrell’s tip of tapping slowly on your leg,  like a metronome, I have yet to try it in class. One day, I’ll remember! As a learner, I really needed Daniel’s slow pace. It was vital for comprehension, it kept the affective filter low and also gave me enough time to scan the word wall when necessary.  While on the topic of slow, I also would like to mention how Daniel would occasionally challenge the fast processors by speaking directly to them at a slightly faster pace and then turn to us slower processors and repeat it slowly! Repetition followed by slow! We lapped it up!

Daniel would ask students for suggestions while story asking and each one was written up on the board if necessary. This practise differentiated and valued each and every suggestion. My suggestion of a kangaroo was a cognate and did not ever need to be written up on the board but dianvasou (stranger) definitely went up! I now do this too! Through this practise, I can point and pause which is a useful tool that helps to slow my speech down! Previously, in avoiding going out of bounds, I avoided incorporating new words into our story asking/ kursi luar biasa, but now I embrace it and have started collecting words that appear frequently and/or are useful for student engagement and would be great to incorporate into future stories!

Probably the biggest area of change is that I am incredibly more relaxed about my lessons. After watching Daniel, I have more confidence now following student led directions in lessons. With my older classes, since my return, I now spend each lesson focused on kursi luar biasa. One student sits in the kursi luar biasa (the awesome chair) and I interview them. I make it clear before we start that the student may choose to tell the truth or lie! As soon as that is established, you can feel the ripple in the air of engagement and immediately the rest of the class are on board. We start off with nicknames. I ask the student seated in the kursi luar biasa if he/she has a nick name and then ask the class what they are, checking after each if it is one of their nicknames. It’s hilarious! One class came up with 12 nicknames for Shaun – one of which was Sunday! It was so left field we all collapsed on the floor laughing! It is so exhilarating teaching like this! We incorporate all sorts of things into the interviews including grammar, pronunciation, intercultural comparisons (ACARA requirements) – it is awesome. Once I’ve done a few more, I am going to create a reading using the sekretaris notes and maybe incorporate one of Laurie Clarq’s embedded reading ideas and finish with an uplifting clip from youtube. Cool hey?

Another thing that has changed for me is that in meeting such an amazing bunch of people, I know there are many people in this world who have my back. It is the most amazing feeling being in and amongst CI/TPRS colleagues and feeling that sense of support and community. I definitely felt it with our PLC and online before Agen, but to feel it in another country was truly incredible. Knowing that I am a member of such a warm global community gives me the confidence that supports me each and every day before I step into my classroom! When you are amongst TCI legends who validate and encourage, you feel invincible. This is what gives me the confidence to incorporate all of the above into my teaching.

Kursi Luar Biasa – Jawaban Benar atau Kreatif? (True or Creative Answers?)

Usually in Kursi Luar Biasa, (literally – the amazing chair [special student interviews]), I ask students personal questions about themselves (age, likes, pets etc) followed by a quiz. The quiz is a benar/salah style quiz. I began at first by asking students to stand if the statement I said about the ‘amazing student’ was true or sit if it was false, however I soon discovered that this became a sheep following exercise; if one stood/ sat then the majority followed suit without any thought. So the quiz became, stand if it is true for you and sit if it is false for you – as this requires greater focused listening & personal accountability. So if I say, ‘Susan tinggal di Victor Harbor’ (repeating one fact that Susan had told us about herself), the students who also live in Victor, stand. If I say, ‘Susan tidak tinggal di Mount Compass’, then all the students who don’t live in Mount Compass would stand, while those who do, sit!

As Kursi Luar Biasa (KLB) is largely a short one on one conversation with just the occasional questions addressing or about other students (to ensure comprehensibility and/or to encourage listening), engagement levels from the older students have decreased noticeably this semester. I have racked my brain for ways to ramp it up. I scoured Bryce Hedstrom’s Persona Especial posts for suggestions appropriate for this age level as well as being suitable for Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language) and tried those that had potential (see past posts) but there were still students using this session as a zone out time. As they are generally quiet, I’ve accepted it because it has allowed me to focus on the ‘awesome’ person and to keep the spotlight right on the student who chose to sit in the chair! I also justify it to myself with the thought that while they are not listening with the intent to understand, they are still being exposed to Indonesian.

Yesterday, a year 7 boy, J, changed all that! He had us all following closely his hilarious answers and the entire class was 100% engaged and following the discussion closely! After The interview  had finished (stopped by the recess bell), I asked the class for a rating out of 5 (using their fingers) and 98%  rated it 5/5 while 2-3 rated it 4/5. I got exactly the same score for overall comprehension of the entire conversation!  J began by telling us where he lived and about the people in his family (great opportunity to revise one of the new target structures from the story that lesson) and then when I asked him about the sport he plays, we learned that he plays centre forward for Goolwa Hockey Club and is the leading goal scorer (dua juta gol!). A student who actually does play for Goolwa, was shaking her head and making it clear with body language that J does NOT play hockey for Goolwa!!  He started wildly embellishing (when asked what team he plays in, he stated the under 18’s – a grade that doesn’t exist in our local association), he had everyone’s attention.  We also learned that he plays in the AFL for Port Power and after pulang sekolah (another target structure from the earlier story – go home from school), he eats and then goes to Adelaide to train! He also claimed that he was a talented surfer, almost as good as Mal (a fellow student who is an extremely talented surfer and has participated at the national level). This last claim had his friends rolling on the floor with laughter!! He also made ridiculous claims about playing in the NBL! It was the most enjoyable KLB interview I’ve had in a long time and one I encouraged the students in that class try again!

Previously, I have discouraged students from stating fictitious information about themselves because I’ve always considered this part of the lesson as an awesome way for me to get to know my students better. However, my brain is generally on overload and I am finding, I’m embarrassed to admit, that unless a student tells me something really unusual or moving, my back to back lessons all merge into a vague hodgepopdge and I forget who said what. Yet I still see a value in beginning this way, especially with the middle primary year levels. It is a safe way in which to support students with repetitions of the vocabulary and language structures needed to answer personal questions or to talk about themselves to others. It provides them with a solid foundation upon which, when they are older, they can start being creative and quirky!!

I am so looking forward to next week when I can encourage the other year 67 classes to be wild and wacky.

Kursi Luar Biasa Update…

A few posts ago, I shared with you my adaptation of Bryce Hedstroms special person idea. Here is an update on how this has been going so far this term:

The kursi luar biasa (special chair) is definitely the most popular chair in my room! Students make a bee line to it when they arrive. They sit their expectantly, waiting for the spot light to shine on them and the 2 times I got carried away with other things and didn’t get around to interviewing them, they were soooo disappointed! However their frowns turned upside down when I promised them in front of the class that they would have first choice of sitting in the kursi next lesson!  

This week my questions finally began to gell and my peseverence is beginning to pay off. While the students in the kursi luar biasa love the attention, it remains tricky trying to keep the others engaged. Occasionally we get a student who has quirky answers to which we all listen avidly and intently but this doesn’t happen often mainly because I am still learning how to ask the right questions in the way that facilitates this! Then this week, I discovered that asking students to raise their arm instead of stand up keeps the discussion moving a lot smoother. Some students enjoy zoning out and regard it as passive defiance when I ask a question like, berdiri kalau tinggal di Port Elliot (stand if you live in PE) and then remain seated enjoying the quizzical looks of classmates. However asking questions like; angkat tangan kalau tinggal di Port Elliot, angkat tangan kalau tinggal di Goolwa etc (raaise your hand if you live in PE), has increased student focus while getting in multiple repetitions on key structures and has more students responding. Is this because I am trying something different or is it because it requires less effort from the students? For me too, it just flows so much better.  Try it!! 

Another positive has come with the introduction of the word ‘tahun’. This week I decided to have a subtle focus on the word tahun during kursi luar biasa when asking the student how old they were. I put it up on the board, and after asking the question, berapa umur? (How old are you) I repeated what the student said adding the word tahun. Using ‘tahun’ wasn’t a requirement for the student, I just wanted to put the word out there in case it came up in future coversations with Indonesian  (native speaker) visitors. Then I had a brain wave! With the word tahun, I could ask students a follow up question to tinggal dimana? (Where do you live?) with “Sudah berapa tahun tinggal di _______?” (How many years have you lived in ____)  With the older students, these questions that are a bit more challenging really keep them all focused. You  can almost hear the cogs turning in their heads and the satisfaction that comes with comprehension. 

I just love the way that kursi luar biasa covers so much of the Australian Curriulum requirements regarding student interests, family, pets, hobbies, etc.  It is such a great way to cover those topics in a personlised and meaningful way for students and also in a way that is narrow and deep! When I think of all the years I used to teach “kenalkan” (let me introduce myself) as my term 1 theme and then feel disheartened with how little my students retained from year to year,  it confirms for me the benefits made from making the switch to TPRS in my classroom.