Last week, I was one of about 120-140 lucky teachers in the state of Nebraska who attended a two day workshop put on by the one and only Carol Gaab. The first thing I want to say is that it makes me kind of sad that language students in Nebraska don’t understand how awesome their teachers are. The kind of people who take two days out of their ‘summer’ to learn a technique – which was a new thing for the majority of teachers – are the kind that are teachers who care about their students. Who want the best for their students. I saw so many instances of these teachers being helpful, kind, and often just funny. Some of the people at my table traveled quite a ways to be in Lincoln last week, but I hope it pays off for their students.
The second thing I need to say is, of course, if you EVER have this opportunity, dooooo itttttt. Carol is a wonderful presenter and truly a master of her craft. Like many CI/TPRS workshops, she started with telling a story in a mystery language. She actually launched into the first verbal mini-story before doing any of the PQA, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I wasn’t sure if she was speaking a real language or just made-up sounds (cause after all, that’s all language is – a bunch of sounds strung together that we all agree means a certain thing). Then we went through and did the steps – establishing meaning, PQA, and telling of the story. By the time we got to the end of the hour (that’s it, just one hour) she retold the story again and it was completely comprehensible. I don’t know how anyone can go through that sort of experience and not say ‘Wow, that was amazing! This totally works!’ Then the afternoon of the first day and most of the second day was spent on going over the different ways to have this effect on our students. As an experienced, if not amazing, TPRS/CI teacher, I felt there was a lot of stuff I already knew, but at this point I was looking for the little tweaks to take me from ‘eh’ to ‘yeah!’ and Carol provided them. I will say, if you are brand new to the technique, an TPRS workshop (not conference) is also highly recommended, or practicing with a teacher who is already well-versed in the technique. In this case, we learned about techniques that we could use, but in the workshop I went to last year, we had the time to go through the entire process PLUS practicing how to circle PLUS practicing telling a story. So I felt that this conference was a good supplement to the workshop I went to last year.
I can’t summarize the entire two days worth of learning, but here is what I think is most key for me:
-I have said in previous posts that I don’t think I do a very good job of verbally story-asking. I think the problem is that like many new CI teachers, I am either way too focused on my target structures that I make the story less compelling, or I completely lose control of the structures and we don’t get the repetitions we need. I think an important step I am missing is the parallel story/going between the story I’m telling and PQA. In almost every instance, Carol would say only a sentence or two before asking a question (either to keep the story going, or a PQA question).
-My verbal stories became way too long. After we got past the initial vocabulary (quiere, tiene, puede, etc.) then my stories suddenly became over half a page long – that’s just too much input to be comprehensible. I need to keep it a reasonable level. Carol showed us how a story of only 6 sentences could take up half an hour’s worth of time because of all the question-asking and redoing of the sentence. (Tarzan sees Jane and calls, ‘Jane!’ Does Tarzan call romantically? Does Tarzan call loudly or quietly? Does Jane answer? How does Jane answer? – Even though the main sentence was ‘Tarzan sees Jane and calls ‘Jane!’, this sentence took 5 minutes to act out and get past, but with tons of repetition.)
-When doing readings (which again, were getting kind of ridiculously long in my class) the trick is to make your low readers forget that they’re reading. So you read a sentence… and then you ‘go off topic’ (you’re not really going off topic; you’re going into question-asking) to make them think you’re just having a conversation about what you just read. But you’re really steering them into, you guessed it, more repetitions of the target structures.
-Everyone loves to quote Carol as saying ‘The brain craves novelty!’ which is true. By the end of the year, I was very predictable. Sometimes I would ask a story (rarely though, I had given up by then) but mostly we did readings. Everything I did was a thinly veiled repetition of reading in some format two or three times until the students started audibly groaning. What I learned from Carol is that the steps we’re doing are quite honestly, exactly the same every time. We just have to fool our students’ brains into thinking we’re not doing the exact same thing (even though we are). A lot of the ideas offered (act it out, using images, using video, reader’s theater, TPR, PQA, draw it, etc) are things I already do… I just need to mix them up. And apply them to the story rather than to my ‘not doing a specific story’ activities. Although if you want to get technical, almost everything we say is telling a story, so maybe I just need to change my thinking. I may outline my month’s worth of stories and decide what activities I’m going to do with each story so that I don’t repeat any during that month.
-Another caution from Carol is when using circling, it can become very boring and predictable very quickly. So you have to circle for a bit… then go do something else. Then circle a bit…. then go do something else.
-One really ‘duh’ teacher trick she taught us was about sentence strips. When doing a story, you can give them some sentences on strips of paper and ask them to put them in a logical order. This is a great activity, but takes sooooo much time to prepare. I usually only prep one set of strips per pair/group of 4 (depending on class size) but that’s still usually 5 or more sets of papers to cut out, and those of you with monster classes might have 10+ sets. So I don’t do it very often because, if the activity takes me longer to prepare than it does the students to complete it, then I’m going to opt out. Here’s Carol’s trick: instead of printing new strips for each story, get a set of differently colored strips (you can just use colored printer paper). Each group gets a set of the colored papers (1 of each color). Then project the sentences themselves on the board, each sentence highlighted in a color that matches one of the strips. Then the students arrange as usual, putting the colors in the order they think the sentences should be in.
There were so many more wonderful tips and tricks that Carol shared with me, but truly, there is no way to record them all here. You have to experience her teaching for yourself. You will not regret it!
P.S. We had a catered lunch by a local restaurant and it was amazingly delicious. I just wanted you all to know. Best conference ever. Super shoutout thanks to Janine Theiler, the NDE, and LPS for providing this opportunity for us!