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. 

Behaviour Management for Junior Primary

Earlier this year at one of our PLN get togethers, we talked about a behaviour management technique found on Pinterest.  I refer to it in my classroom as the nakal/pandai (naughty/clever) system. Read here for a quick refresher! It has been such a success in my classroom with  younger students that I want to post about the way in which it works for me.

I have created 2 A4 posters from images from Google and sticky taped to the back is an old fridge magnet to make it easier to put up and down on the whiteboard. The nakal poster looks like this:picture credit:

The pandai poster  looks like this:picture credit

I put them up side by side on the white board like this, with a blob of blutack in the middle:

Using these posters significantly reduces the amount of English I need to use for behaviour management with my active bearcubs (love this term from Catharina to describe young’uns!)

Here is how I use the nakal/pandai system in my lessons with my R-2’s.

The students walk in the door and sit down immediately in front of the white board. Students who do this quickly and quietly, receive immediate positive feedback with a smile and a verbal compliment, “pandai’. I then point at the pandai sign, look back at the student, smile again and then add a tally point. I then turn back to the class and give a thumbs up sign to the student before stating to the class, “Jack pandai! Bu Cathy kasih kelas Warner satu poin! Bagus Jack” (Jack is Clever! Bu Cathy has given your class a point. Well done Jack) If anyone does the wrong thing ( rolls on the floor, starts chatting in English to a friend etc), I look at them with a sad face and then do the nakal finger shaking gesture and turn around and tally a nakal point. The beauty of this, is that everyone knows exactly what the problem is and no English is necessary. I used to rely on English to get explain this, but it is no longer necessary!

After calling the roll on class dojo in Indonesian  (Bu Cathy mengabsen), I turn to the class and say, “Bu Cathy mau satu stik!” I hold up their class pot of paddle pop sticks (huge shout out to Natalie Bond for writing the names of all our students on the sticks for me!) and ‘randomly’ choose a stick, looking at the name to check that firstly the student is here today and secondly that they haven’t yet had a turn – each stick is marked afterwards with a dot. I then put the stick in the blutack between the nakal/pandai signs, name side downwards so no one knows whose stick it is. Students have quickly learned the colour of their own stick which is something I will avoid next year by allotting a different colour to different classes.
 Throughout the lesson, I tally whenever students demonstrate successful learning behaviours (pandai) or behaviours that interfere with thir own learning or the learning of others (nakal). The students watch this avidly and cheer when a single tally changes the balance from nakal to pandai!!

With 5 minutes of the lesson left, I invite students to sit in front of the board by saying, “Ayo kelas Lacey, menghitung” (Lets count, Miss Lacey’s class) and together we count in Indonesian. After each, I write the number under the tally marks and then turn back to the class and say, “Show Bu Cathy sembilan.” The students then hold up the corresponding fingers before repeating the process for the second tally marks. Next term, I feel my JP students are now familiar enough with this routine and are consequently ready to learn the word ‘kasihlihat’ (show) especially considering that they know both kasih (give) and lihat (see)! We then get repetitions on each number by saying the 2 numbers one after the other starting off slowly and then getting faster and faster with students trying to keep up with their fingers!! It always ends in hilarity!! We then turn back to the tallies and I ask, “Pandai besar atau nakal besar?” (Clever is big or naughty is big?) and the class generally answer with the correct answer. Some students recognising that the stick on the board is the wrong colour to be theirs will usually try to trick me by attempting to convince me that nakal is larger than pandai!! I then ask the class, “Mau lihat stik?” (Do you want to see the stick?) to which they cry out ‘Ya!”I then become goofy and suggest ridiculous statements like, “Nama saya ular! Nama saya Bu Lacey, Nama saya Spongebob!” (My name is snake. My name is Ms Lacey. My name is Spongebob!) After a couple of these incorrect suggestions, I read out correctly, “Nama saya Lisa.” Lisa jumps up excitedly. I ask her, “Mau lihat treasure box?” to which, of course she replies, “Ya!”

While she is looking in the treasure box (Is there a simple catchy Indonesian  word for this?), the class sing the goodbye song which is generally enough time for ‘Lisa’ to choose something from the treasure box, put the lid back on and then rejoin the class in time to line up ready to leave with the class teacher.

Another added bonus of this system has been student acquisition of numbers! It has been a successful and meaningful way in which  to introduce and consolidate knowledge of numbers 1 – 20 and without a doubt, my receptions this year have the best grasp of numbers than any other previous cohort!

Do you have a behaviour management system that works for you? Please feel free to share below by adding a comment!!

Brainbreaks

My most popular brainbreak video last semester was senam penguin which I mainly showed to junior primary students, but it turns out the older students enjoyed it too one day when I was absent!

 

However it is now time to give senam penguin a break so I started looking for a new senam brainbreak video and I think I’ve found it! This will be be perfect for all students especially those who have been enjoying Pokemon G!  What do you think?

 

Don’t forget you can purify these videos to remove any advertising!!

 

A great Brain Break from Bu Anne

This term my junior primary students are learning target structures for Catherina’s snake story. This week we focused on ular (snake). After showing a PowerPoint of pictures of ular’s which included pictures of worms & cicak’s (geckos) all ways to get repetitions of the structure ular, I finished with a few pages of ular’s hiding in environments and asked the students, “Dimana ular? (Where is the snake)  They absolutely loved this although the touch TV screen was challenging!

Untitled

Afterwards I tried a fantastic TPR game that Bu Anne wrote about recently and it was a big hit. I asked the students to stand up and spread out around the room. We then revised the positions needed for the 3 words in the game. The 3 words this time are: sekolah (school), cicak (gecko) and ular (snake). If I said ular, the students lay on the ground like a snake, if I said sekolah, they stood tall with a roof over their head and if I said cicak, they got down on their hands and knees. It is good to choose 3 words that give you 3 levels of movement and also ensure that the only unfamiliar  word is the target structure and the other 2 are familiar from previous stories.

Once the students were familiar with the game, I added various levels of complexity. Firstly I said just 2 words (ular/cicak) about 3 times each and once they were in a rhythm, I tricked them by repeating the last word! eg ular, cicak, ular, cicak, ular, cicak, cicak! Another way to ramp it up was to say it again without any gestures and finally to really ramp up the listening, use the wrong gestures!! All classes absolutely loved this TPR brainbreak.

A Great Reading Activity For Pre-Literate Students

Have you seen the oral cloze retell idea by Eric Herman on my TCI/TPRS activities page which is found on my homepage up the top in the header?

Here it is:

On subsequent retells you can erase more and more words to give more advanced students a greater challenge and eventually erase the entire story and have superstars retell the entire story without any written support.

Example:

There is a boy. His name is Bob. He likes pizza.

There is ___ boy. His name __ Bob. He likes _____.

There __ ___ boy. ___ name __ Bob. He ____ ____.

There __ ___ ___. ___ name __ Bob. __ ____ _____.

 

I tried it today with a year 1/2 class as well as a reception class and it was awesome!

I began by asking 2 students to act out the story while I retold it. By now, I’ve lost count of the number of times they have heard it, but it never hurts to get in one more retell!! I then dragged over my mobile white board and asked the class to tell me the story again. It was brilliant how well they could retell the story! I wrote down the first 5 sentences on the board.

Buarlapar.

Buaya lihat Elsa.

Buaya mau makan Elsa.

Elsa berlari ke Horseshoe Bay.

We all then read the story together using hand gestures. At the end of the first reading, I rubbed out one word and in its place I drew a contrasting coloured line. We then read through it again together, however before we all read it, I explained that the next person to rub out a word would be someone who is both reading and gesturing beautifully. Boy – that ramped up the participation and engagement!!

We continued this until there was nothing left of the story and all that was there were red lines where the words used to be!! Both classes absolutely loved it and were so fluent by the time we rubbed out the last word!

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Wisdom from Carol Gaab – A Fantastic Post Written by Bu Anne On Her Blog

Over the Easter holidays, I spent some time viewing a 3 DVD set purchased from the US. It was recorded at the National TPRS Conference in Burlington, Vermont in 2006. The presenter was Carol Gaab and she was demonstrating and talking about  teaching TPRS to primary level children. I took copious notes as I watched, […]

http://buannesblog.com/2016/04/11/wisdom-from-carol-gaab/