Friday, April 29, 2016

One Step at a Time

Over the past few weeks, I have had a number of informal discussions with teachers who have tried CI/TPRS this past year but have abandoned it. In these discussions, I just wanted to hear what they had to say, so I simply listened and asked questions. I was not interested in trying to win them over back to CI/TPRS or to fix the problem, because that is not what they wanted. These folks simply wanted to be heard.

In each of the cases, these teachers truly wanted to implement CI/TPRS. They all had attended CI/TPRS workshops, so they had seen it in action. At the beginning of the school year, they began to use CI/TPRS, and things went very well...for awhile. The honeymoon, however, wore off, and trying to keep up the momentum became more of an effort. Essentially, they had no idea where they were going after a few months. When I heard all of this, I could totally relate, because when I first learned TPRS years ago, I went full bore with it, only to burn out after 6 weeks. Quite honestly, I was ready to give it up completely, but I had seen a change in my students' acquisition of the language but more importantly, students began to ask me how come we were no longer "doing the stories about students in the class." That is the reason why I decided to try out TPRS again the following year; that year, I lasted 9 weeks. By my third year, I had a much better and realistic idea about what to expect.

These discussions got me thinking: Why is that so many teachers who in good faith and with the best of intentions and enthusisam try out CI/TPRS but leave it behind to return back to their previous methods? Here are my reasons:
  1. Trying to do too much too quickly. I liken one's first year of teaching CI/TPRS to one's first year ever of teaching: it is all so new, and there is so much to learn. In their zeal, so many first-year CI/TPRS teachers try to take on too much right away, and suddenly, it becomes way too overwhelming, because no true foundation has been established.
  2. Feeling like one has to go "all in" or else. For a number of reasons, I hate hearing folks say "If you really cared about your students and truly understood what true second language acquisition was all about, then you would jump on board with CI." Number one, that statement is incredibly arrogant and employs shame to get folks into facilitating CI, but more importantly, it gives the impression that there is no middle ground/transition for new CI/TPRS teachers. There are certain CI/TPRS teachers whom I will deliberately avoid in person or online purely because they come across as intolerant of anyone who supports traditional methodology or textbooks. Although I can understand their zeal, essentially I find them very negative, because there is no middle ground or transition in their worldview. 
  3. Doing it for the wrong reasons. I have seen teachers jump on the CI/TPRS bandwagon, because it is trendy. When a new trend, however, comes about, they abandon CI/TPRS. 
  4. Lack of support. The reason why most professional developments fail is because there is no adequate follow-up or support. Speakers come in and then go. At most inservices, information is cast out among teachers, but the net is never pulled in to see who is interested and wants to explore it further with support. Instead, interested teachers are left to operate on their own with this information, which usually results in frustration and abandonment. So imagine a world language teacher embarking on CI/TPRS on his/her own for the first time. Though he/she may have blogs and online communities to rely on for support, these cannot compare to a live, in-person CI/TPRS support group. This is why instructional coaches can play such an important role in the school environment.  
So if you are new to CI/TPRS or are wanting to implement it but are still hesitant, here is my single piece of advice for you: continue what you are doing but take one or two CI/TPRS strategies, and run with it. Do not feel like you have to abandon the textbook right away. Pick a strategy such as circling or an embedded reading to do with your students. If you can Ask a Story, then do it. Implement an activity like TPR, One Word Picture, Stultus, or a dictation. Have your students do a Ping Pong/Volleyball reading. There is no rush to get it all right the first time. When you feel up to it, incorporate a new activity or strategy to add to your routine. The idea is to build up your CI/TPRS muscles one step at a time. Think of it like stretching a rubber band: in the beginning, you may only be able to stretch a rubber band so far, but after awhile, you realize that you can stretch it further. 

I hope that many of you who have fallen off the CI/TPRS bandwagon will one day get back on!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Instructional Coaching

I am currently pursuing an Ed.S degree in Instructional Technology, with an emphasis on Instructional Coaching. While I have appreciated my Instructional Technology courses, what I am truly enjoying though has been my course in instructional coaching and its field experiences. 

I have learned so much about instructional coaching, and quite honestly, it is so different from what I thought it was going to be. In my mind, instructional coaching was going to be folks coming to me for instructional advice, much like Lucy at her psychiatrist's booth. While instructional coaching can reflect that, it is different on so many levels. Below are some points which I have learned about instructional coaching. Though much comes from Jim Knight’s book Instructional Coaching, a lot comes from my own field experiences this past semester:

  1. Coaching is a partnership. Instructional coaching is not a top-down implementation, with an expert blindly dispensing advice to novices. Rather, both parties come to the table as experts in their areas and possess knowledge/information which the other needs. Each party needs the other in order to succeed, and no one is more important than the other.
  2. Coaching is relational. Instructional coaching is not a one-time meeting but is a process. It takes time for trust and a level of comfort to be established. Not every potential coachee is open to the idea of being coached.
  3. Coaching is non-judgmental. It is important to create an atmosphere of trust and of respect for the coachee. Though colleagues may disagree with each other pedagogically, it is imperative that both treat each other with respect, as both are professionals.
  4. Coaching requires close listening and asking the right questions. What is the coachee saying? What is it that the coachee exactly wants? What parameters are the coachee setting? If this is to be a partnership relationship, then it is imperative that the coachee be heard. As the instructional coach, it is very easy to come to the table with one’s own agenda and plan for success. While the coach’s lesson may work out with a wonderful outcome in the classroom, it may be not at all what the coachee wanted.
  5. Coaching allows for a coachee to find his/her voice. Although the coach may be an expert, he/she is not the one in front of the coachee’s classroom. While giving the coachee a pre-made lesson which a coach has created may yield classroom success, that is not the coachee’s voice but rather the coach’s. The coachee’s voice is one which needs to come through in the lesson. As part of a partnership relationship, both parties craft a lesson together which reflects each voice.
  6. Coaching involves potential rejection. Not everyone is open to the idea of instructional coaching, and even in a coaching relationship, coachees may reject suggestions/ideas and even the coach.
Though my field experiences this past semester in instructional coaching primarily dealt with technology implementation in the classroom, I absolutely loved it. I was surprised at how natural the process all felt for me. Maybe it is because I have been a teacher for almost 20 years. Maybe it is because of my personality. Though I possessed a lot of book knowledge on instructional coaching, I was astonished at how quickly it turned into heart knowledge. 

I hope to be able to facilitate this knowledge with world language teachers. I will be serving as an apprentice coach this summer at IFLT, so I am looking forward to add that experience to my instructional coaching arsenal.

I wonder if I have found a new calling...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Memory Card Game

I am sure that you have played the Memory Card game, where you had a number of picture cards turned face down in front of you, and your job was to turn over 2 cards at a time in order to match the pictures. Many of you may have played this game using single vocabulary words, but here is a post-reading version which can be used with a story or a novella.  

  1. 2 packs of 100 index cards. You can have one pack of 100 but you will need to cut the cards in half. Ideally, you will be using 200 cards for 10 groups.
  2. A list of 10 sentences from a story or novel, with which students are very familiar. It is best that the senteces are not too overly long, so you can divide a long sentence into phrases.
  3. Ziploc sandwich bags
  1. Type up the list of 10 sentences, and print enough so that every student has a list.
  2. Divde the students into groups of 3 students each. You can have groups of 2 students, but groups of 4 is too big. The groups will need to arrange their desks so that they have a common working space
  3. Give each student a list of sentences.
  4. Give each group 20 index cards.
  5. Tell students to pick 3 different sentences from the list. If a group of 3, one student will have to pick 4.
  6. For each sentence, a student will write the sentence on one index card and then illustrate the sentence on another card. NOTE - it is important that everyone in the group select the SAME SIDE of the card to do this, i.e., the group needs to pick either the blank side or the side with lines to write and to illustrate.
  7. Give about 10-15 minutes for this.
  8. Have each group collect their cards and shuffle them.
  9. Have each group put their cards into the sandwich bag.
  10. Collect the bags and distribute the bags so that every group receives a different bag, i.e., they will not receive back their own bag
  11. Tell each group to lay their cards face down on their common working space.
  12.  Explain to class that they will be playing the Memory Game where each group member will take turns turning over two cards at a time trying to match the sentence with the proper picture. They may use their list as a reference. It may be that students will turn over 2 picture cards or 2 sentence cards during play - this is okay.
  13. When a match is made, that student will remove the two cards and keep them. You as the teacher can determine if you wish to have that student continue with his/her turn. I usually do not in order to allow for more students to play instead of having one student monopolize the game.
  14. When all of the matches have been made (or time runs out), then the game ends for that group. The student with the most matches in the group wins.
  15. If time remains, collect the decks and redistribute them again.
  1. Because students are already working from a story with which they are familiar, the sentences should be very comprehensible for them. 
  2. Because students are personally drawing pictures, this will aid in their acquisition process.
  3. Due to the nature of the game, students are receiving constant repetitions of the language via the sentences or the pictures.
  4. My absolute favorite part of the game though is students trying to interpret other group's pictures! I love hearing "Who the heck drew this?!!"
  5. I have found that students help each other to remember where particular cards are.
  6. I love the fact that as a teacher, I am simply facilitating. 
Consider giving this activity a try!