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.

An Overview of the 2017 Agen Conference

Here I sit on the plane heading back to Australia after the amazing Agen TPRS conference. While I have been away for almost a month and I’ve seen and done a million things, the conference has definitely been the highlight of the entire trip. Can you imagine 6 and a half days of meeting and chatting and learning from a broad group of TPRS/CI experts? I hardly know how I can possibly give you a complete picture of the week and then do it justice!

I arrived into Agen by train a week before the conference began with the idea that I could enjoy familiarising myself with Agen at a relaxed pace before the conference which, I rightly guessed, would be full on and exhausting. Several times during this week, I met up with Judy Dubois, the conference convenor, which I truly appreciated as I was quite nervous. Even though I knew Annie was soon joining me, I was incredibly apprehensive with the realisation that I was on the threshold of actually meeting face to face TPRS people I had only ever ‘talked’ with online. Having this time with Judy beforehand was wonderful because she is so down to earth and calm. I am in awe of her calmness! Now that the conference is over, I can only guess at the million thoughts that must have been going through her mind during this week, yet she still found time to meet me for lunch, give me snippets of Agen history while walking through the streets and showed me several places that provide a decent cuppa!  It was truly wonderful. I was even invited to sit in on her interview with a young newspaper journalist about the conference and then had my name mentioned in the article!


Two days before the conference began, I moved from my Airbnb accomodation to the Stim’Otel where many conference attendees and presenters would also be staying. While this totally blew my budget, the early morning breakfast chats with Teri Wiechart, the freedom of having my own space (where I could follow my own body clock without bothering a room mate who would no doubt go to bed later than me and wake later than me – ie., most of the human race) as well as having my own private bubble where I could regroup when needed and also having the privacy to hang my laundry up anywhere and everywhere, was worth every cent.

On the Saturday afternoon before the Coaching for Coaches workshop, Annie & I walked together to the train station to meet and greet our wonderful mentor from New Jersey, Catharina. Catharina had decided at the very last minute to join us in Agen as she was going to be in Europe for summer anyway, visiting family, which for us both was simply the icing on the big TPRS cake for us both. After 3 years of speaking and listening to Catharina on Skype, it was brilliant to meet her face to face at last. If you have ever joined us for a Skype session with Catharina, I can assure you that she is just as bubbly and passionate face to face as she is online! It was so great that she was at the conference for so many reasons. Catharina has been to many more TPRS conferences than we could ever dream of getting to and it was invaluable being able to chat with her throughout the day about the sessions we attended from a junior primary aspect. Catharina saw everything in perspective and could align the pieces together perfectly smoothly whereas I was madly scrambling to process a ton of information in a short amount of time and throughly appreciated having my own personal guide who explained patiently how everything meshed together with what I know and do in my classroom. Thank you so much Catharina!

For about 20 of us, the conference began a day earlier on the Sunday with the Coaching for Coaches (C4C) workshop. This was the first time that the C4C workshop had been held at the Agen conference and I am so grateful that I could participate. It also provided us with a bonus gift in that it gave us all a useful pair of ‘glassses’ (lens) that enhanced our attendance and uptake over the next 5 days at the conference. The C4C workshop was held in the building where Judy teaches English in Agen which in itself I loved because now when I read her posts or tweets about teaching, I can picture her classroom! We were led by a fantastic group of experienced coaches including Kristin Plante, Teri Wiechet, Robert Harrell, Carol Hill, Laurie Clarq and Paul who gently guided us by consistently demonstrating how important kindness and a low effective filter is for both the coaches and the teachers. The morning session included a Krashen refresher, which was an excellent place to start. We were each given 5 post it notes and on each wrote a sentence regarding one of the hypotheses. When we had finished, we stuck each on the wall around the pertinent hypothesis poster before walking around and reading everyone else’s to clarify our understandings. This was  such a terrific idea because I realised that I did not fully understand the monitor hypothesis and so I had the opportunity to ask Catharina for clarification before going over to that poster and reading what everyone else had written to clarify my understanding before writing my own!

Krashen’s 5 hypotheses:

  1. The Acquisition Learning hypothesis – there are two ways of developing language ability: by learning (conscious) or by acquisition (sub-conscious).
  2. The Input hypothesis – We acquire language in one way only; when we are exposed to input (written or spoken) that is comprehensible to us.
  3. The Monitor hypothesis – We are able to use what we have learned about language rules to self correct language output.
  4. The Natural Order hypothesis – Language is acquired in a predictable order by all learners.
  5. The Affective Filter hypothesis – the variables that interfere with language acquisition and they include anxiety, self confidence and motivation.

Here are two gold nuggets (terminology credit Teri) from this day:

  • TPRS teachers accept that the above 5 hypotheses are essential for language acquisition.
  • If you are connecting with your students and making your language 100% comprehensible, TPRS/CI will follow.

After lunch we were divided into 2 groups and given the opportunity to practise coaching, but in order to practise coaching, we needed teachers. This will continue to be important for Annie and myself once back in Australia. If you are willing to help us practise and develop our coaching skills we will be incredibly grateful and can guarantee that you too will gain from the teaching experience!

The Agen TPRS Conference did not officially start until after lunch on Monday, however I headed over to the Lycée at 8:30am because I wanted to watch how Daniel Dubois connected with his students during their very first lesson. The morning block on each day of the conference was an opportunity for us to observe TPRS teachers in action with their students. In total there were 5 language labs:

  • Daniel Dubois teaching Breton
  • Rosanna teaching Spanish
  • Judith teaching English
  • Paul teaching French
  • Diane Nuebauer teaching Mandarin
  • Charlotte teaching English

Mandarin and Breton were the only 2 options for beginners, so Annie joined Diane Nuebauer’s classes and I joined Daniel Dubois’.

Breton is the language spoken in Brittany, France and Daniel often began his morning classes with a brief introduction to the language and/or its history. Apparently the Breton in the north differs from that spoken in the south yet being of Celtic origin, both have quite a lot in common with the Celtic languages of the UK. At various times over the week we were joined by those familiar with Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Welsh and all 3 people enjoyed recognising familiar words in the Breton language. The history of  Breton dates back to the invasion of the Anglo Saxons into Britain. Speakers of Gaelic either fled west to Ireland and Wales, north to Scotland or East to France. Daniel also talked about languages with ‘consonant mutation’. Have you ever heard of that before? The Celtic languages, including Cornish, are languages with consonant mutation because the initial consonant often changes depending on the grammatical context of the sentence. Is this ringing bells for those familiar with Indonesian? That evening I did some research on this concept and discovered that there are 2 other languages alongside the Celtic languages that incorporate consonant mutation and I bet you can now guess what they are! Indonesian and Malay! How about that?

After my first morning of watching (in awe) Daniel teaching, IMG_4453I deliberated about what I was going to do the rest of the week. I was torn between the opportunity to watch Daniel for the entire week or to take the opportunity to spend time in a variety of classes. I was worried about what I could be missing. Later that evening at dinner, I asked Carol Hill for her advice. She reminded me of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – and asked me to think about what I needed rather than worrying about what I would miss out on! After some thought, I realised there was a greater value for me observing one teacher – to see how he manages the day to day realities of teaching; e.g..

  • bringing new students and absent students up to date with all that they had missed,
  • differentiating where necessary for:
    • the fast processors,
    • those with previous Breton knowledge/experience,
    • the slow processors.
    • different learning styles,
    • students with no French (me) or no English (Evelyn).
  • Techniques to keep lessons in the target language
  • Ensuring all students feel valued and that their contribution is important.

The list goes on to include the many juggling balls (credit Terry Waltz) that Daniel successfully kept up in the air and I am incredibly grateful to Carol for her advice. My week with Daniel was amazing – he is a brilliant and talented TPRS teacher and staying with him for the entire week was undoubtedly the best decision.

The Language Labs were followed by a 2 hour lunch. Most people gathered in the courtyard and then went off in varying sized groups to a nearby restaurant or cafe for lunch. IMG_4419While 2 hours sounds like plenty of time, it actually went very quickly and we often were scrambling to get back in time for the afternoon sessions.

The first session back was always a plenary led by a different yet amazing and brilliant person each day. We heard Blaine Ray, Stephen Krashen, Beniko Mason, Robert Harrell/Dianne Nuebaeur, Teri Wiechart and Laurie Clarq speak about a variety of significant TPRS/CI topics.

Blaine Ray led the first plenary for the conference and it was great listening to him again. I will never forget meeting him earlier this year when he so generously gave Annie & I our own personal workshop while touring around Sydney by ferry! Much of what he said in Agen was a refresher for what he had shared with us in Sydney but I still took pages and pages of notes. Probably the most exciting thing I watched Blaine do was a choral circling exercise with everyone! IMG_4328He gave us all a sentence then did a brief demo of the circling basics and then we all stood up and together chanted the yes, no, either/or circling teacher options and the student responses for that English sentence. It sounds slightly bizarre but I actually loved it. There was a sense of connection and support amongst all those chanting and gesturing the ‘ahhhh’ and while it was definitely output, it was so heavily scaffolded that I felt very comfortable joining in. I can definitely see how this could be incorporated into upcoming TPRS workshops in Australia.

The following day’s plenary was titled How to Talk About TPRS and Comprehensible Input with your administration, your colleagues and the parents of your students and was led by Robert Harrel and Diane Neubauer. While I am incredibly fortunate to work at a site where leadership, colleagues and parents are 100% supportive of TPRS/CI, I still found this session incredibly valuable. I realised that I take my school community’s support and encouragement for granted and that I should demonstrate my appreciation more often! Robert & Diane gave us some tips on how to do this and I have every intention of trialling some of their suggestions. Robert and Diane also talked about the value of observations and the value of meeting before and after observations. These meetings provide teachers with the opportunity to briefly explain the philosophy of second language acquisition, backing it up with relevant research if necessary. These meetings also provide the teacher being observed to provide the observer with a checklist of skills to specifically look for. Bryce Hedstrom has a checklist on his website that is a good one to start with. Specific skills you could ask the observer to look for could include:

  • What percentage of the lesson did the teacher stay in the target language?
  • How did I check for understanding?
  • What were the target structures focused on in the lesson?
  • How did the students show that they were engaged?
  • What classroom procedures helped with behaviour management?
  • Comment on the relationship between students and the teacher.

NB A greeter would be a great student job to support the observer during the lesson, especially if not fluent in the language of instruction.

With parents, Robert and Diane recommended informing them that our goal is for students to be able to communicate in the target language and clarify the similarity between learning our first language and then our second language. IMG_4359Specifically that in order to communicate, students have to firstly  listen to large amounts of input and only then will they be able to speak (initially with single words, then phrases and finally sentences), read and then write in that order. If given the opportunity and have the time, a good demo for parents would be one based on the target structure ‘to drink’ with the options including cognates (coffee & beer if doing Indonesian). We also need to ensure that parents feel comfortable to visit out classrooms at any time!

Laurie Clarq’s plenary session was about her passion: Embedded Reading. I was thrilled to hear her talk about this as it is something I have tried unsuccessfully in my classroom and was very keen to hear about it from the master. Laurie expertly wove a true story about someone who could dance one dance very well and how they learned several other dances. I will save the details of this session for another post because it had so many facets to it and it would be impossible to do it justice with a brief synopsis.

Thursday’s plenary was with the indomitable Dr Stephen Krashen. IMG_4545Unfortunately the weather was getting warmer and maybe also because he was wearing several layers of black, Dr Krashen began to melt in front of our eyes. He was a total professional though and continued speaking about The Theories of Second Language Acquisition while mopping up the sweat dripping down his face and neck. Considering too that he only flown in from the US the day before, the heat must have been quite a shock to his system. Thankfully the following day he looked significantly  healthier! His plenary began with an explanation on the 40 year war! The war between the following two hypotheses;

  1. Comprehension Hypothesis – input and unconscious skill acquisition
  2. Skill Building Hypothesis – conscious learning and practise via output

Dr Krashen then provided many case studies that support his hypothesis. A story he shared with us was about Armando, a man who acquired Hebrew while working with Hebrew native speakers in an Israeli restaurant. For 2-3 years, he simply listened to his colleagues chatting to each other in Hebrew. He was never forced to speak in Hebrew and developed a friendly rapport with the staff, owners and Hebrew speaking customers. He not once in this time studied Hebrew grammar nor read any Hebrew. Once he began speaking Hebrew, his vocabulary was corrected occasionally but his grammar was never corrected. Dr Krashen recorded him speaking Hebrew and then played it to other fluent Hebrew speakers asking their opinion of his speech. All were highly impressed with his Hebrew and one even thought he was a native speaker! However the true difference in the hypotheses is summarised by Hemingway in the book “In Another Country”

The major… did not believe in bravery and spent much time while we same in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. “Why, them, do you not take up the use of grammar?” So we took up the use of grammar and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind.

The final plenary was co-presented by Dr Krashen & Dr Beniko Mason and was titled “The Importance of Reading”. This topic needs little explanation for TPRS teachers but I still took heaps of notes. IMG_4529Essentially no-one should underestimate the power of reading and Dr Mason provided us with her study based on a group of Japanese students. Through a comprehensive reading for pleasure program, she was able to match the English acquired by Japanese students living in America with Japanese students living in Japan! How impressive is that! Together also Krashen & Mason collaborated on a study that demonstrated that 5-8 hours of reading for pleasure in English over a year provided gains of up to 200 points for those taking the TOEIC test which far outstripped the gains acquired through conversing with native speakers.

On our final day, we all attended a bonus workshop to listen to Dr Beniko Mason talk about Story Listening, a technique she is famous for. I was very excited to have the opportunity to listen to Dher talk about this topic as there has been so much debate and discussion about Story Listening amongst TCI teachers recently. She explained the difference between story telling and story asking. IMG_4579While the difference is largely around the method, it also takes into account the purpose (in our case, it’s for language acquisition), and the audience. Dr Mason advises that fairytales and folktales are best because they have a universal interest, provide a rich compelling story and invoke emotion. Beniko then gave a demonstration using a totally unfamiliar (to me) Grimms fairytale about 2 dissimilar sisters. The version of the story that is told will vary according to the level of students (does that even need saying?) and incorporates labelled illustrations to assist with comprehension. fullsizeoutput_99bWhile her demonstration was in English, I’ve since watched other demonstrations in languages I don’t know and I was entranced! The power of illustration is extraordinary – especially considering how it slows the speaker down and supports comprehension. After a story listening, Dr Mason then asks her students to write a summary of the story in their first language using the illustrations and language structures on the board which provides a further opportunity for input!! More information about story listening can be found here on Dr Beniko Mason’s website.

Immediately after the plenary sessions were a selection of 3 workshops, one of which was generally a coaching session for teachers and coaches to practise a skill. IMG_4358

Annie and I got together before the conference and identified the sessions most relevant to us and then nominated which ones we would each go to. This way we covered most of the workshops but there were still a few that unfortunately we didn’t get to. Maybe next year?

I hope to post about the workshops I attended at a later date because they were each amazing and informative.

The workshops I attended were:

  • The Mafia Game – Diane Nuebauer
  • Creating a Positive Classroom Environment – Alina FilipescuIMG_4384
  • Using Film with CI – Judith Dubois
  • In Praise of Difference – Jayne Cook
  • Teaching a Text; Reading Activities – Robert HarrellIMG_4472
  • To Target or Not to Target – Dr Stephen KrashenIMG_4481
  • Fluency Writing – Judith Dubois
  • Improvising a Story with No Script – Tamara GalvanIMG_4553
  • Breaking Down the Barriers – Charlotte DincherIMG_4567


Which one would you like me to post about first?

Stay tuned….

Meeting Judith Dubois in Agen 

I’m sitting in a cobbled street at Quarts Coffee Kitchen enjoying the cool breeze blowing from behind me. It’s a very warm day today – probably around the mid thirties. The chair and table I’ve chosen is out of the sun and smaller than the others. I was offered the option of directors chairs with a larger table but because I am unsure which way the sun will move (nor how to ask the lovely waitress this question) I chose to sit here. I am waiting for Judith Dubois to join me. She is due any minute from the 12:30 train. This meeting is momentous for me because it marks my  unofficial beginning of the TPRS conference – the whole reason I am here in Agen. Judith will be the first of many TPRS legends whom I will meet face to face for the very first time, with the only exceptions being Stephen Krashen & Blaine Ray, who I very fortunately met during their recent visits to Australia. 
The next day……

Wow! Wow! Wow! Can’t believe how generous Judith is! With less than a week leading up to a major international conference with a million thoughts chasing around in her head and a list of jobs a mile long, she took time out to warmly (literally – both from her heart and on a 35+C day) welcome me to Agen and show me around while seemlessly ticking off a few of the jobs from her job list. 

After a delicious lunch with Judith at Quarts Coffee Kitchen, we met a journalist from a local paper who interviewed Judith (in French) about the upcoming conference. It was fascinating ‘listening’ to the conversation which included an explanation of TPRS. Listening to a conversation about a familiar topic in an unfamiliar language! I could pick out a few familiar words and draw some dots but it was hard work sitting there in the heat concentrating on a largely incomprehensible conversation. My experiences as a beginner language learner have definitely begun!! 

After the interview and a few other jobs, we enjoyed a cuppa (pot of earl grey tea) in an air conditioned cafe (boy was the air-conditioning welcome!) and a terrific conversation about several TPRS topics including teaching adults (4-6 is the ideal class size), teaching word order via ‘Kim’s Game’ ala Rudyard Kipling (also known as ‘memory’). 

Judith explained how perfect Kim’s Game is for repetitive & correct noun/adjective word order input. I hope I have interpreted her instructions correctly! 

Put together a collection of props that are similar except for size and colour! How awesome is this!  Eg. A big red snake. A small pink snake. A big red shoe. A small red and blue shoe. A large red pencil. A small blue pencil. A large pink monkey. A small blue monkey. Etc. Put them all together in a covered basket/container. One by one, take one out and circle it focusing on reps of noun/adjective word order. Once the basket is empty, pick up the props one by one again, repeat what is (a big blue hat) and then return it to the basket. Once all the props are back in the basket, ask the class if they can remember what is in the basket. As a prop is suggested by a student, pull it out and once again confirm it’s description to consolidate further the noun/adjective word order! 

This would be an engaging activity for all students and a great way to get reps on not only word order but also any nouns covered in stories. 

A huge thank you to Judith for spending time  with me yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you at last and truly appreciated that you took an entire afternoon out from your hectic schedule to spend time with me. I thoroughly enjoyed our various TPRS related conversations and the impromptu history tour! Merci beaucoup!! 

Sorry – I don’t speak French! 

After a mammoth flight via Singapore & New Delhi, I am finally here in Paris. I can’t believe that I am so much closer to Agen and super ready for the TPRS conference. 

Leading up to my departure, I was very excited until the week before when I remembered that  my knowledge of French is almost zilch. I suddenly became incredibly nervous about not being able to communicate in French. While everything I’ve read assured travellers to France that English is widely spoken here, I still dreaded my arrival into Charles de Gaul airport where I was convinced I would need help. It was the first flight ever that I wished would not end but of course it did!! I deplaned and was immediately surrounded by people chatting in French. My bag was one of the last to appear on the conveyor belt and it was with relief I spotted it because the idea of talking about lost baggage could have tipped me over.  

It has been fascinating, in a macabre fashion, observing my reactions to upcoming conversations. My knowledge of French is simply bonjour, merci and une baguette.  The first 2 picked up through reading and the last from my previous trip to France in 1991. While in the almost 2 days I’ve been on French soil, not one person has spoken rudely or impatiently with me yet the idea of speaking has me quaking. I open my mouth to speak and my brain scrambles to work out what to say. Several times a mixture of Indonesian and English have come out! It is so stressful yet as a language teacher, a valuable and interesting experience. 

Today my plans have all changed due to Versailles nor opening on Mondays, thunderstorms and the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterrand (National French Library) not opening till mid-afternoon. I found through TripAdvisor, a small cafe close to my airbnb and walked through the rain arriving a few minutes before it opened. It is so warm and dry inside and I’m enjoying my first coffee – latte with late de soja- perfect for a wet, cool day. It’s lovely sitting down and letting the French conversation flow around me although the English music in the background seems strange and is definitely unwanted ‘noise’. 

Why do most language teachers expect and demand that their students speak? When I open my mouth to speak French, my affective filter is ramped up to the highest level because I expect to fail. A little while ago, when ordering coffee, the lovely girl behind the counter preempted the coffee, but adding the soya milk detail flustered me. I was confident that I would mispronounce the word (it was written up on the menu board) and I did! It took me several goes before she worked out what I was asking. Even though the failing was no surprise, it justified my lack of confidence. If just a phrase has that much impact, imagine how much worse it would be reading a sentence!! One error after another. Guaranteed! 

Excuse me for a minute, I need to ask for the wifi password. Hang on. There’s a few things I need to sort out beforehand…. firstly;  how do I get the girls attention politely? Secondly, is ‘wifi’ the same in French? Thirdly I must remember to say merci!! Right? Ready? Come on! It’s not that difficult. Stop stalling. You can do it!! I’ll just wait a little longer because she is busy serving.  Right, here goes. 

Ok, that wasn’t hard. Drats. I forgot to say merci! 

Tea With BVP with Blaine Ray

Yesterday, I headed into Adelaide for the first time in months and as usual for my hour long drive, I listened to a BVP podcast

However instead of listening to episode 53, I skipped ahead to episode 57; featuring Blaine Ray.  I have been looking forward to hearing this episode ever since I heard that he had been a special guest on Tea With BVP!

It was fantastic listening to Blaine Ray again and what he had to say totally resonated with me and helped to consolidate my understandings of TPRS! My only grumble is that Bill told Blaine Ray that he hasn’t spoken to anyone from Australia yet!! How could he possibly have forgotten my call in January when we spoke about Terry Waltz presenting at the inaugural Australian TPRS conference?😜

I loved listening to this episode so much, that I listened to it again later at home so I could take notes to consolidate what I learned and to share with you all. However my notes have run to several pages, so instead I will just pull out the major points that I believe are particularly worthwhile and encourage you to listen to the full podcast yourself to fill in the gaps!!

After talking generally about the steps leading to Blaine’s discovery of Stephen Krashen’s book, The Natural Approach and the light bulb moment Blaine had reading the sentence,

Language is acquired by comprehensible input.’,

Bill made a profound statement;

Teachers not using TCI are teaching language teachers out of existence.

Isn’t that a powerful statement? It truly resonates with me because evidence shows that this is exactly what’s happening. My students move firstly to a local high school where the numbers of students choosing to continue with Indonesian are not many.  They then may choose to enrol at one of our state universities where again students are generally not choosing to continue with languages beyond semesters 1 & 2. This information was provided by an Adelaide University French lecturer, John Sooby-West, at a recent training and development meeting earlier this year specifically for language teachers. He spoke frankly about the heavy load that his beginning French language students have which has lead to significant student drop out rates. Their language work load (one that at times is equivalent to the combined work load of all their other subjects) are so onerous and unappealing that drop out rates have led to language program cut backs and in some Australian universities, whole courses have been abolished. So sad to think that all this could easily be addressed through CI. I look forward to the day when Australian language students discover how language learning can be fun, engaging and considerably less onerous.

SLA Question: This weeks SLA question was about intake which according to Corder (1967)  is the amount of input/communication that learners attach form and meaning to. It’s important to realise that while CI and TPRS maximise intake, it is not always 100% comprehensible. Student intake increases with repetition and by minimising noise (going out of bounds). Bill added that you can’t throw input at learners and hope it sticks. Teachers must manage learning time to ensure that learners gain the maximum amount of intake.

A further point of Blaine’s is timely for me, even though I’ve heard it several times; “The goal of TPRS is not to finish anything!” Blaine clarifies that the biggest enemy for teachers is teacher type thinking. Teachers have been trained to cover the curriculum – to finish chapter 10 by the end of term 2. This encourages a focus on ticking curriculum checklists off rather than truly catering for student needs. We must think more like our learners who are saying to us, “I can’t get enough repetitions & I can’t hear that sentence too many times.” I personally am sooo guilty of this. I will write this into each of my lesson plans in big bold lettering!! It’s sad how finishing a story becomes the goal of a lesson rather than teaching to the eyes and checking in with the barometer student to measure if they have ‘soooo got it’. As Blaine rightly reminds me here; the goal of a lesson is not to finish a chapter, a book or a story. Our goal is teach a sentence by focusing on that sentence by circling and adding characters to give students maximum opportunity to experience the feeling that ‘I am sooo getting this’ which is much better than just, ‘I am getting this.’

When Bill asked Blaine about the relationship between CI and TPRS, I was keen to hear the answer. Blaine believes that the main difference is that TPRS teachers focus on one sentence so that students feel that ‘I’m soooo getting it’ unlike CI teachers who go from sentence to sentence with minimal repetition. TPRS is one of the ways teachers can provide their students with CI.  CI is successful for some students and its highly likely that for those students, they will be successful regardless of the method! TPRS, however, is successful for everybody because of the emphasis on the sentence. The teacher doesn’t have to worry about individual differences because the net is cast so wide and so broad that every learner type, visual, auditory, kinetic, etc is successful. TPRS really is one of the most broad based and student based approaches. Everybody is getting it and everyone is engaged!

Bill rightly then makes an important point regarding watching very experienced presenters demonstrating techniques & skills that appear easy. This happened to me after the January Fleurieu conference where we were incredibly fortunate to watch Terry Waltz demonstrating circling! While she spoke to us later about the dialogue going through her head during the demos, all we saw at the time was a flawless and effortless demonstration of circling which to this day, I have yet to replicate. We have to accept that we aren’t like Terry YET! (Acknowledgment – Carol Dwek)

Tea With BVP finished with Blaine asking Bill 2?great questions. The first was about timed writes which from a teachers perspective are invaluable because they provide teachers with an insight into student proficiency through a simple word count.

Did you know that by the end of:

-Spanish 1, students can do about 70-80 words in 10 minutes.

-Spanish 2 – students can do about 100 words in 10 minutes.

Bill then clarified that timed writes don’t violate the input hypothesis because the teacher is not using the timed writes to teach language; they are an assessment tool useful to demonstrate improving levels of language fluency to leaders, parents and students themselves.

The second question Blaine asked Bill was regarding ”forcing output” in reply to the recent criticism of Blaine & other TPRS teachers encouraging actors to answer teacher circling questions in complete sentences. According to Krashen’s theory, second language students should not be forced to produce language until they are ready to do so. Blaine ask Bill to clarify how asking student actors to speak during role playing (e.g. asking, “Are you a boy/ Am I a boy?”) fits in with Krashen’s hypothesis.  Blaine explained that he expects full sentence responses from his actors for 2 compelling reasons. Firstly, to provide fellow students with ‘I/you’ input and secondly to assist teachers recognise when more repetition/input is necessary should actor responses be hesitant thus easily matching the required quality and quantity of input students receive with what is required.

Bill’s answer to this question clarified that this practise is not ‘forced output’ as defined by Krashen. Firstly, it’s the difference between talking at students and talking with students. TPRS exemplifies teaching with students. Secondly, because the teacher is not forcing the student to create language; they are merely reproducing a heavily scaffolded sentence that is visually available to them either on a sheet of paper or on the board, it is not forced output. The important distinction to make is that asking actors to speak in complete sentences is not making students talk to learn, but rather students are talking to show teachers what they’ve learned. It is an assessment tool that informs their teacher about whether to move on or to work further on that sentence.

One final point I enjoyed and would like to add from this episode was:

Irony = novice TPRS teachers need TPRS input to comprehend TPRS! 

A picture is worth a thousand words. Feeling the method as a student is the key.

Hosting The State Education Minister – The Honorable Susan Close – in The Indonesian Classroom

What an experience it was teaching with the state education minister, her entourage, both our PEPS school leaders and several SRC representatives in my classroom!

Before the arrival of Susan Close (SA’s education minister), to the Indonesian room, I pre-warned my 5/6 class that during their Indonesian lesson, the education minister would be visiting to observe them learning Indonesian via TPRS/CI. With Marg’s (their teacher) help, we provided the ketua kelas & the tukang foto time to practice their jobs. The ketua kelas needed to ensure that he addressed the minister correctly incorporating an Indonesian twist: “Murid- murid berdiri dan kasih hormat kepada The Honorable Bu Susan Close”. The tukang foto’s job included taking photographs of the minister chatting with Lincoln – our host (pemandu)  and then ensuring the visit finished with a class selfie. The whole class then practised all of this a few times which was lots of fun.

We then returned to our current story, ‘Dua Mulut’ (2 Mouths)  beginning with a PowerPoint reading ala Terry Waltz as she demonstrated at the SA 2017 Fleurieu Conference. Unfortunately the minister missed this and arrived just after we began the post story activity.

The activity I taught was one that I had read recently on the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook PLN group. Students listened to and then illustrated 3 sentences read to them 1 by 1, from the story. They then swapped their clearboard with a friend. I repeated these 3 sentences many times incorporating reps and circling while students double checked that everything I’d said was included into the illustration given them by their friend. If the illustration was incomplete, they had to add the missing details. I then slowly read to them 1 by 1 three new sentences (that followed on from the previous sentences). Students listened to each sentence and added the new detail to the clearboard before swapping again with a new friend. I then repeated all the sentences, starting with the initial sentences getting as many reps as possible while students double checked again and added any missing detail to the illustration.

As Susan Close stepped through the doorway, the ketua kelas led the class greeting which appeared to blow her away.  Lincoln then stepped up and introduced himself and explained his role as host and translator. 

The lesson then continued with Lincoln translating and explaining to my left and the entourage standing along one side of my room and overflowing out the door!

While I was teaching, I was able to focus on my students and block out the fact that there were many extra bodies in our room. However as soon as the activity finished, I looked up and without intending to, made eye contact with the onlookers.  My mind instantly went blank!! That terrifying moment when self doubt creeps in and the could’ve/ should’ve list begins. Did the activity demonstrate #TPRS well? Should I have demonstrated kursi luar biasa? Did I incorporate enough circling? Etc etc All I could process was that the tukang foto had yet to arrange the class selfie which in hindsight was a good idea because Susan Close must have been in the Indonesian for way longer than the tight schedule had originally set out!! 

Later at recess when I thanked her for spending so much time in my room, she confessed that the TPRS observation had been what she’d been looking forward to the most!! What diplomacy. One of her comments that I loved was how amazed she was with the almost entire lesson being conducted in Indonesian. I truly hope that she appreciated the amount of communication in Indonesian that was happening as opposed to lots of talking about Indonesian in English as used to happen in my room!!

I would also like to acknowledge Margaret Roberts (back left in class selfie) for staying with me during the observation (her non- contact time) and supporting not just one of her colleagues, but also the TPRS Indonesian program.  After the minister left, Marg provided us all with a much appreciated brainbreak leading her students and me all in a quirky chant. Just what we needed. Terima kasih Ibu Marg; you are luar biasa!

Meeting our State Education Minister – Susan Close!

I have just returned home after a very exciting meeting and half an hour later, I am still grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I am on such a high that I want to share it with you!! 

Last Friday,  Annie added our 3 names to the invitation list of the Country Cabinet State Government visit to the Fleurieu. 

The aim of the Country Cabinet visits is to provide regional residents with a community forum so they can speak directly to the premier and his ministers about issues directly relevant to their region. We were thrilled that this would  provide us with an opportunity to speak with the SA education minister, Susan Close. 

Last year we heard her speak at the MLTASA conference about the importance of language learning. All the language teachers were delighted to discover that we had such a powerful ally in our state government. 

During our car trip home after the conference, we decided that it was a priority to speak directly to the minister about TPRS but could not find a time that suited us all. It was a gift to hear that she was visiting our region and schools this week.  

Tonight the 3 of us joined the throng at the Victor Rec Centre enjoying a BBQ dinner cooked by the brilliant Lions Club. It was lovely seeing such a huge cross section of people representing the Fleurieu. We caught up with friends while munching on sausage sandwiches (or in my case, a veggie patty) while waiting for the cabinet to arrive. 

We had deliberately chosen seats at the back of the room to give us an excellent vantage point from which to peruse all who entered. Annie immediately spotted Susan Close as she arrived. We allowed her time to grab a sausage sandwich before making a beeline for her and totally monopolising her until she had to make her way to the front. 

Susan was very gracious and listened intently to us as we explained to her about TPRS and all that we have achieved down here on the Fleurieu for language teachers. She asked many questions (when she could get a word in!) and was delighted to hear that she will get the opportunity to observe TPRS in the classroom tomorrow during her school visit. 

It was so exciting to have the opportunity to speak directly to the minister of education about TPRS, a largely unfamiliar methodology in Australia, that has the potential to reverse the decreasing numbers of students choosing to study languages across secondary and tertiary sectors in Australia. We took great delight in sharing Ian Perry’s amazing 2016 student retention numbers as evidence of this!! 

Let’s hope our chat and the brief observation opportunity tomorrow will tweak her curiosity enough to investigate TPRS further. It would be awesome to have her support!!