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!

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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 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!! 

TPRS Step 3: Reading

Our Inaugural SA TPRS conference has just finished. It was 3 days full of information, explanations, demos and coaching. My brain is full to bursting and my body is absolutely shattered (note to self: participating in a language class is a physically and mentally exhausting brain workout) I am now in a particularly weird emotive state where I would just love to be heading back again this morning for another day of listening to Terry & Lizette and yet on the other hand, I am so excited to have some time to start thinking about the ways in which I can incorporate the skills that were demonstrated over the past 3 days into my teaching.

What an outstanding team Terry Waltz & Lizette Liebold are! They work together seamlessly and complement each other beautifully. Terry skills as a presenter dovetailed nicely with Lizette’s coaching skills. Combined they have countless years of TPRS teaching, in fact Lizette is one of the original pioneer TPRS language teachers who hopped on the TPRS train right back when it first began and has consequently attended all NTPRS conferences bar one!

Terry’s skills as a presenter are remarkable. While this was her 3rd consecutive Australian conference, delivering (I assume) exactly the same program, at no time did I feel that it was rehearsed or a repeat of a previous presentation. Terry’s manner assured us that she was genuinely enjoying her time with us and that we in no way compared poorly against previous cohorts. Which is exactly what happens in a TPRS classroom! While the target structure may be the same with consecutive classes, each class provides different details which lead us in different directions each and every time.

My brain is reeling with all that I heard throughout the conference and thank goodness I took notes, because right now it is still aching and overwhelmed. If I reflect on the biggest take away for me from my 3 days at the conference, it would without a doubt be the clarification of the 3 steps of TPRS. I now understand that the stories I’ve been using for the story asking are in fact the final reading text.

Terry demonstrated this with two very different languages; Hawaiian firstly and then on day 3 with Mandarin. Being unfamiliar with both languages, I was incredibly fortunate to experience the 3 steps of TPRS as a student twice. This really helped me consolidate my understanding and appreciation of the 3 steps which are:

  1. Establish meaning
  2. Story asking
  3. Reading.

Prior to the conference, step 3 for my classes was the story the class had created and revolved around various TCI activities to keep it engaging while achieving repetitions within that one story. I completely understand now the value of reading a different story (the original story or maybe another modified class’s story) for step 3.This enables students to consolidate the acquired language in a totally new setting. Depending on the level of your students, this final step also has the potential to provide your student with longer stories with a variety of the newly acquired target structures in it, each targeted separately prior to the final reading in steps one and two. This understanding is going to turn the way I plan upside down and I am sooo excited. Can’t wait to get started to experience it!

To clarify:

If the story is this one with the Lucy wants a jacket story
(credit Judith Dubois):

Ada perempuan.

Nama perempuan Lucy.

Lucy dingin.

Lucy mau jaket.

Lucy tidak pakai jaket.

Lucy lihat laki laki kecil.

Nama laki laki kecil Will.

Will punya jaket tetapi jaket Will terlalu kecil.

Lucy lihat Pak Hudson. (principal’s name)

Pak Hudson punya jaket tetapi jaket Pak Hudson terlalu besar.

Lucy lihat Jane.

Jane punya jaket dan jaket Jane pas.

Jane kasih Lucy jaket.

Lucy pakai jaket.

Lucy berkata, “Terima kasih Jane.”

Jane berkata, “Sama sama.”

The first task is identify the target structures your students will need to acquire to read and comprehend this story. When I do this story, the target structures are grouped and ordered like this:

Group One

  1. topi
  2. sepatu
  3. jaket

Group Two

  1. dingin
  2. panas

Group Three

  1. terlalu besar
  2. terlalu kecil
  3. pas.

Because my students have acquired the remaining language from previous stories, I can incorporate it into fun songs and TPR activities to target each group of target structures one by one. I usually begin with panas/dingin which is easily incorporated into the roll call if the weather is extreme and the students come in hot and sweaty or conversely wet and cold! My lessons generally begin with a roll call asking “Apa kabar?” This in itself is an awesome opportunity for circling. Kelas, Joe panas! Joe dingin atau joe panas? Joe dan Mary panas dan Betty dingin!

If you look back through this blog, you’ll find various songs that I’ve made up which my students have enjoyed singing and then acting out. The one I love the most is sung to the tune of baa baa black sheep:

Lucy dingin.

Lucy mau jaket.

Will panas.

Tidak mau jaket.

Will kasih Lucy.

Lucy pakai jaket.

Lucy berkata, “Terima kasih Will.”

(NB names are substituted with the names of the actors)

These type of activities are then repeated for each list of target structures. which are each targeted separately because each set may take several weeks till acquisition.  For target structures like the ones in group 3, I love looking for weird and wacky pictures on google images that incorporate familiar and popular characters from recent films/books/tv programs and then use them to create a powerpoint. Harry Potter is reliably popular and easily identifiable by all year levels at my school so one powerpoint had a page with harry potter wearing a tiny hat, the next page with him wearing an enormous hat and the following page showed Harry wearing a hat the perfect size! Thus I was able to consolidate ‘topi’ while introducing new structures! The following pages were pictures of familiar characters or cognate animals (orangutan, komodo) wearing oversized, undersized or perfectly sized jackets, hats or shoes. My students are generally riveted to the screen, wondering what kooky picture will be next. It also provides opportunities to circle using mau and punya. Billy punya topi pizza besar? Billy mau punya topi pizza besar?

After the structures have been acquired to my satisfaction, I move on to step 2 – story asking – using actors. The actors help in a variety of ways; they make the story engaging for the class (& me), they help me circle each part of the story (especially if the acting requires more expression – I love OTT acting – sneaky way to get reps), they can also be a tool for me to measure class acquisition. Story asking is incredibly important as it allow classes to create unique stories through collaboration, its how students buy into the story. Afterwards, the class story can be written up to be used in a variety of ways as listed on the TCI activities page.

Then finally step 3 (the one I will work on this year) is reading together the original story as printed above. I loved how Terry did this. She had a powerpoint ‘book’ that the class could read together and each page had a line of text with a quirky picture that provided opportunities for circling, popup grammar, funny stories/gestures to help students remember conjunction words (eg. tetapi = point to your but) or other useful words that need a boost. (imagine the ‘cultural’ story you could create for bercakap-cakap!!).

For me as a student, this final step was incredibly powerful. It made me feel super confident that I could read it and understand the story even though the characters and setting were not familiar. With those changes, the story felt foreign yet still achievable. Soo cool. It truly demonstrated for me the concept of  i+1. Fully comprehensible yet stretching my acquisition just the right amount.

With this text, there are a variety of reading activities that can be done with students to further consolidate acquisition. With Terry, we choral read the book on the tv screen, firstly in pinyin and then with Chinese characters. Boy, did this hit home for me how fortunate both my students & I are that Indonesian is a roman alphabetic language!!

Here are a list of the reading activities & games  that Terry shared with us:

  • kindergarten reading
  • whole class choral reading
  • group reading
  • Echo reading (teacher reads in TL and students read in English)
  • volley ball reading
  • paired repeated reading
  • readers theatre

Reading games:

  • Musical readings – students in pairs each reading a sentence each one by one with each student double checking the sentence was read correctly & if not, the sentence is reread. The teacher plays music and when the music stops, whoever is not reading gets a point.
  • Reading Bingo – each student has a 3×3 =grid. In each box, the student writes a different word from the story in each square. Students cross out the word when they hear it.
  • Stupid Teacher (Guru Gila?) teacher reads the story and deliberately says a word not in the story or changes one word. Students in pairs, competing against each other, tally up the mistakes and compare tally at end of reading.
  • Comprehension Questions – to measure comprehension, ask the questions in English. They could include true/false questions, short answer questions, multiple choice questions, cloze from story with multiple choice options for each cloze empty space.

Now all I have to do is decide which story I want to begin with this term!! What story are you using?

Meeting Blaine Ray in Sydney

Annie and I are heading home after 2 unforgettable days in Sydney with Blaine Ray. What an amazing time and I still can’t believe how fortunate we have been.


Firstly how lucky were we to have Blaine Ray to ourselves almost for 24 hours! We did share him on Tuesday with Stef and her son Daniel, but considering that she is heading up to the conference in Brisbane this Friday, this was a bonus! We were able to pepper him with questions and then listen to his explanations while taking notes. It felt like our own personal workshop specifically tailored for our needs and level. Words simply cannot express how amazing this was and we’ll always be indebted to Blaine for his kindness and patience. 

Secondly, we were able to practise our note taking skills ready for next week’s inaugural TPRS conference on the Fleurieu Peninsular with Terry Waltz & Lizette Liebold! It has been fascinating comparing our notes and seeing the huge gaps in my notes where at times I must have become so engrossed in the conversation I forgot to write anything down! Annie has diligently cross referenced both sets of our notes and created a version that incorporates everything and then on top of that has presented it out beautifully.

(This is from Blaine’s advice that whenever you get universal agreement with a response, never accept it. Choose the opposite and surprise them! Never accept the obvious; eliminate the expected!) 

And thirdly, it was simply a lovely break spending 2 nights in Sydney and being a tourist in such a beautiful city with like minded people. We spent most of our time together either walking or eating along the scenic waterfront. Except for the initial trip to our hotel from the airport, all of the travel we (Annie & Cathy) did in Sydney was either by ferry or by train and this is definitely the best way to travel. The ferry system is efficient and relaxed. It was just lovely sitting or standing on the ferries enjoying the gorgeous scenery and the cool breezes with the added occasional bonus of sea spray. The trains too were great. So much quicker and took us directly to the domestic terminal which was in direct contrast to our long and tiring trip on arrival which took at least an hour of zig zagging throughout the CBD streets of Sydney. I’m so grateful that Annie talked me into exploring alternative travel options for our return to the airport!


What a generous and gracious person Blaine Ray is. He happily and enthusiastically shared his knowledge with us and was genuinely impressed to discover that we are 2 of 3 language teachers on the south coast who have been teaching with TPRS in since 2014. He told us afterwards that he had presumed we had only recently heard about TPRS and therefore surmised that our discussions would lack any deep TPRS connection. In fact we spent every single minute chatting about various aspects of TPRS and Blaine answered all of our questions and gave many demos to illustrate his points. He also encouraged us to share all that we learned; a huge relief because I couldn’t wait to write up this post!  I particularly appreciated his personal stories which clearly illustrate his open mindedness towards improving TPRS, unlike others who have created a successful model and then constantly ‘protect’ the model/concept fiercely. Blaine told us of several instances where he had witnessed or discussed with a practising TPRS teacher a successful idea of theirs, which he  immediately saw the value of incorporating it into TPRS procedure and then gave that teacher full credit for that update! Alina Filipescu is one such teacher and after seeing several of her youtube videos, I fully understand why Blaine Ray would be impressed by her teaching.

His explanation and demonstration of the 5 steps of teaching a sentence is a procedure I aim to focus on this upcoming term. I particularly would like to work on this to ensure that I am story asking rather than story listening. I can finally understand how we can create a class story based on the target structure. His advice of writing out a script beforehand with a few planned surprises (should the student ideas be too predictable) would help as my mind goes blank when I am in front of a class. He did reassure us though, by saying that once you get started and students get the hang of suggesting the unexpected, we will begin to build up a bank of great surprises perfect for our cohorts that can be drawn upon when needed. I liked his mantra of rejecting the expected; I can fully understand now that choosing an idea that is sooo off the planet ramps up the class stories to make it even more compelling. Blaine demonstrated this with us all at Watson’s Bay with a sentence about a chicca called Annie. He circled this sentence using his 5 steps with us as the class. Whatever we suggested, he would shake his head and reject it with a disappointed look on his face and so we would dig deeper to outdo each other to come up with even better unpredictable ideas. However he continued to reject our suggestions and would then use his own which were always better than ours. I also loved his comeback when I told him that his story didn’t make sense to me; “This is my story and if you don’t like it, go and write your own story.”

Here are the 5 steps of teaching a sentence:

  1. Annie was a girl.
  2. Annie, are you a girl?
    (If the actor doesn’t have the language to answer in the target language, she/he can either read it or mouth it while the teacher provides the voice.)
  3. Yes, I am a girl.
    (The actor must answer in complete sentences confidently as this provides input for the class and is also a clear indicator of the extent to which the whole class ‘gets it’. Any errors or hesitation are indicators that more repetition is necessary.)
  4. Yes, you are a girl.
    (teacher verifies the response)
  5. Class, Annie was a girl.
    (Teacher speaks to the whole class)


This leads on nicely to Blaine’s comments about actors. He made it very clear that choosing good actors is critical. He explained about having auditions to select the best actor which is an idea I’ve tried but not while focusing on the target structure which would be an awesome way in which to add additional input, rehearse the structure and develop student confidence. A good actor must be enthusiastic, must want to try and must have the mindset that this is a cool class. We loved his line that actors have the opportunity to be in the movie rather than to just watch it!

If however, the actor is not performing (maybe he/she is shy or reluctant to act in an exaggerated fashion), try whispering in their ear hints or even demonstrating the required action and if they are still unable to act in the engaging manner required, it may be necessary to replace them. Choosing a bad actor gives negative messages to all the students about our subject. Blaine’s statement that every teacher has a battle for the students hearts resonates for me in my school where we can have up to 5 specialist teachers on top of their class teacher and other support staff. He says the way to win their hearts is through comprehension and play!


Our meals with Blaine were spent juggling our plates & cutlery with our notebooks & pen. Meal times were perfect times to focus on specific aspects of TPRS. The first evening, Annie took notes while I hesitated to pull out my book. Afterwards back at the hotel, I quickly wrote down all that I could remember and was horrified at how much detail I couldn’t remember. From then on, as soon as Blaine began talking, I would whip out my note book and note down the salient points using some of the shorthand I haven’t used since teachers college lectures! 


Over our first al fresco breakfast in Pyrmont, Blaine discussed circling. Questions are the backbone of TPRS and are the key difference between TPRS teaching and everything else. He told us of studies which showed that TPRS teachers ask 3-4 questions a minute whereas legacy teachers rarely ask ANY questions. Questioning is critical because it gives students the opportunity to rehearse while giving the teacher the opportunity to get repetitions on just one sentence.

Here are his 7 rules of circling:

  • Never circle in the same order (too predictable)
  • Use either/or on any part of the sentence (subject, verb, object)
  • Always have a bias towards asking negative questions as they are more challenging
  • Use your question words and point and pause to give processing time
  • Add information to the sentence to create a new sentence. Either circle the longer sentence or part of the longer sentence; whatever is necessary for your students and this is evident through your actor. Eg. Girl wants a monkey, Girl want a big/small monkey, Girl wants a big monkey that speaks Chinese/dog,
  • add a new character (parallel character)
  • add yourself (teacher)

It’s all about asking different people different questions based on the same structure. If it feels boring, ramp it up by adding another character, a celebrity, a celebrity’s pet cat. Adding something new makes it more interesting. Speak to each character. Eg. Are you a cat? What languages do you speak? You are very clever. Each new piece of information can be added to the sentence being circled or just circle the new addition depending on the level of actor confidence and continue till the actor ‘sooo gets it’! If a student actor hesitates or has errors in their answer, this indicates that the class also needs more circling on that sentence. Blaine requires actors to respond in complete sentences to provide further output for the class however class responses are limited to one word responses. In this YouTube video you can see him demonstrating this:

 https://youtu.be/9DRblDN2sXY

Just as critical though are student responses. He told us about Alina Filipescu who coaches her students to give powerful responses. I am definitely going to investigate that idea as I agree it is a skill that needs explicit teaching. 

Answering questions demonstrates comprehension and understanding.
Blaine has 3 procedures for evidence of student engagement

They are:

  • Respond to new statements with ‘ahh’.
  • If I ask a question, respond in the target language.
  • If I ask a question and you don’t know the answer, guess in the target language. Surprise me with your guess and if you don’t surprise me, I will surprise you!

This conversation led us neatly onto the 2 Rules for Students in class:

  • NO social talking
  • Never speak negatively about this class.Regarding point 2, Blaine recommends teaching early on a phrase such as, “I like this class” (Kelas Bahasa Indonesian keren) and whenever a student speaks negatively about the lesson or class, insist they repeat this phrase while reminding them of rule no 2. Personally I can’t remember anyone stating publicly in class that they dislike my classes or lessons, I just get occasional glowering glares or disengaged expressions which I usually do not draw attention to and work harder to turn their attitude around. For one student this happened when she became the class artist.

 

A major theme that underlay every discussion we had with Blaine was student confidence and teacher patience. He highly recommends all language teachers experience learning a totally new language to fully enable us to  empathise with our students. Teacher thinking about language learning is usually wrong. We have forgotten just how it feels to be a learner and why students want and need patience from their teacher. Teachers can not make their students learn any faster, the only way we can help with their acquisition is to provide more repetition.

Always respond with love and patience until your students CAN:

C= Confidence

A= Accuracy

N= No hesitation.

 

We want new language learners (slow processors) to become confident fast processors which is the goal of TPRS. Writing translations up on the board can make a big difference with this. Did you realise that your brain starts from the point where it is confident? How much sense does that make! It explains why we can hear the same talk/ explanation several times and yet pick up different facts each time! This is relevant for language learners too! Each time we repeat a structure, it solidifies in the learners mind and helps them become more confident. Every learner is different and begins at a different point. TPRS students are at one of the following stages:

~ understanding

~ getting it

~ soo getting it.

Obviously it the final stage we are aiming for with our students!
 

Post Script:

This post is my grasp of Blaine’s explanations. I hope it is true to his understandings and should there be any errors, I fully accept that they are evidence of my ongoing and constantly developing comprehension of TPRS. 

Inaugural Australian TCI/TPRS Conference: QLD & SA

Have you heard our exciting news yet?? For the first time ever, a TCI/TPRS conference will be held in Australia! How exciting is that!  Terry Waltz has accepted our invitation to work with us in both Brisbane & here on the Fleurieu Peninsular. This is a dream come true for all Australian TPRS language teachers who for many reasons have yet to fly to America or Europe to attend one of the conferences held there. We are so thrilled that the internationally recognised Terry Waltz will be leading us at the Australian inagural TPRS conference.

terrywaltzauthor

The two conferences will be very similar however a couple of major differences need to be noted. Firstly, the conference on the Fleurieu Peninsular does not include lunch. We plan to include a 2 hour lunch break to give participants the time to walk to the nearby main street with sufficient time to  network and discuss specific details before heading back to begin the afternoon session. Annie attended the Agen conference in July and found this time so useful. Another major difference is that we are limiting the total number of participants to 50. This is for several reasons but  mainly because we wish to recreate the community atmosphere Annie experienced in Agen.

The Fleurieu based conference will be held at Port Eliot Primary School from January 19 – 21. While the program is still being finalised, registrations are open and there is an early bird option available until 9th December 2016 for the South Australian conference. Follow this link to access the registration form:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BxtA-NkdsB6hSVhFQ2ZlSDlUMGs

It will be a 3 day conference with the first 2 days relevant for all language teachers regardless of sector or language taught. On the 3rd day participants will be divided into 2 groups:

Group 1 = (Non Roman alphabetic Languages eg Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian) will work with Terry Waltz who will cover specific TPRS topics relevant for scripted languages such as cold character Reading, TOP tonal spelling, directional gestures.

Group 2: (Roman Alphabet Languages. eg Indonesian, Spanish, French) will be invited to attend  & participate in skills labs that focus on specific TPRS skill development. Time will also be available for participants to work together to create the resources necessary for implementing TPRS in their classes from day 1 of the school year.

If you are keen to attend, download the registration form asap. The early bird registration for the Brisbane venue finishes 19 November and for the Port Elliot venue, it finishes 9th December. Once you have completed the registration form and emailed it off with payment, we strongly encourage you to investigate accommodation options. The more popular ones book out early, so be quick.

If you have any questions, either write them below or contact us via the TCI TPRS Teachers Australia group on Facebook.

We really hope to see you at either one of the conference venues. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! 

ASILE 2016 – Games & Activities for Language Classes

One of the workshops we attended on Sunday was led by Pak Irianto Ryan Tedya. It was a very enjoyable workshop with songs and games, 2 of which would be ideal as a brainbreak or for TPR.

The first game he shared was ‘dam dam sut’ which is his own variation of ‘suten’ (gajah, orang, semut). This game reinforces the target structures:

  1. Kita seri (we draw)
  2. Saya menang (I won)
  3. Saya kalah (I lost)

Each with their own hand gesture:

  1. Hands crossing left to right horizontally palms facing downwards
  2. Hands up in the air, fingers splayed
  3. Hands down wards, palms facing opponent.

The game is played in partners and together players say dam, dam together while clapping and then together say sut and on sut, players choose to either do:

gajah (elephant),

orang (person) or

semut (ant).

When first introducing the game, Pak Irianato recommends just focusing on;

  1. Gajah beats orang (elephant steps on person)
  2. Orang beats semut (person steps on ant)
  3. Semut beats elephant (ant gets into elephants ear and irritates the elephant – ant is small yet powerful)

Pak Irianto asked us to play 3 times with a partner and then swap partners choosing someone new. When he judged that we had mastered that, he asked the whole class to synconize our games; meaning that the entire class clapped & said dam, dam, sut at exactly the same time, starting very slowly and encouraging everyone to keep the rhythm.

Once this is mastered, I would introduce the above target structures yet Pak Irianto encouraged us all to use it right from the beginning. One participant suggested the following rhyme sung to Frere Jacques to consolidate vocabulary:

Saya menang

Saya menang

Saya kalah

Saya kalah

Kita seri

Kita seri

Marilah bermain!

Marilah bermain!

All up, it was a fun game and I loved the way that the game increases in complexity which makes it appealing to all ages of students.

The final activity he did with us was awesome and perfect for TPR. This song could be adapted to any verb. I love the idea of asking students for action suggestions!! I was thinking of how much fun ‘menangis’ (cry) or ‘jatuh’ (fall) would be. Pak Irianto first taught us the song and actions then suggested adding the jumping left, right & centre afterwards to add a further challenge.

I didn’t take any notes, just this video!!