I already told you about Jessie’s Visit. Laura Abuhl also came to visit recently all the way from North Dakota! She observed for 2 1/2 days!
Laura teaches in a private school with smaller class sizes than I have. She teaches grade 2 all the way up through seniors. This is also a big difference. Although she’s taught for several years, it was for a couple years here and there while raising children. Now she’s back at it and in it to win it. This is her first year of really giving TPRS a go.
Laura was a gracious guest and has written up her experience to share with others. Here it is:
If you are somewhat connected to the TPRS/CI world, then you will have heard about the conference that many language teachers recently attended in San Diego. The ACTFL Conference. Perhaps you have heard of other conferences as well, such as NTPRS and iFLT. Whether this is your first year at this or you are a seasoned veteran of TPRS, the opportunities to improve one’s implementation of this amazing teaching philosophy/style/method/journey abound. (I’m so new that I don’t even know how to refer to it, but whatever its label, I love it!) I would never discourage a person from attending a conference. I attended NTPRS this past summer and I learned so much! So yes, GO TO A CONFERENCE! But I want to put a plug in for another method of self-improvement as well: GO OBSERVE A TEACHER! Now, I know what you might be saying. “I don’t know of anyone near me.” “I can’t take the time off.” “I live too remotely.” “I can’t afford it.” The possible reasons are endless; they might even be valid. BUT DO IT! I want to encourage you to find a way. It will pay huge dividends.
I live in North Dakota, so I knew I was going to have to travel. Once I decided that I was going to make the sacrifice to go observe someone, I wanted to pick someone who I knew was very experienced and was well-respected in the field. I also wanted to pick someone who lived close enough for me to use frequent flyer miles, so it came down to Bryce Hedstrom near Denver and Grant Boulanger near Minneapolis. I am confident that I would have come away with equal amounts of insight from one as from the other. I decided to go to Minneapolis because my brother lives in St. Paul, and I had not seen him for awhile. (Sorry, Grant…it wasn’t your sparkling personality!) It ended up that my brother’s house was about 9 miles or so from Grant’s school. It was perfect!
I had discussed visiting Grant and Bryce with them in October and both were very encouraging and welcoming. That is one of the wonderful benefits of this TPRS/CI family. Everyone is willing to share experiences, encouragement, ideas, and resources. I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating way, but I am a “nobody” in the field, and both Grant and Bryce made me feel like a “somebody” important enough to want to help in any way they could.
So, what did I learn from Grant? Well, I took 10 pages of notes! LOL It would take awhile for me to share it all. Unfortunately I do not yet have a blog, or else I would share on there. Maybe Christmas break??? While I was furiously scribbling away each of the 2 1/2 days that I was in Grant’s classes, I put boxes around the phrases that really stood out to me; the ones I knew I needed to use in my classroom. As I reflected on all of the phrases with boxes around them, I realized that the majority of them were related to classroom management, which makes sense since that is a weak area for me.
The following are some of the self-explanatory phrases:
- No side conversations in English, please.
- There are at least 12 different ways to clarify meaning in my class and you chose to respond with “What?”
- Your attention to what I am saying is not yet automatic.
- I am talking to ________ right now, but you have a seat at the table. Listen in.
- I expect you to answer a Spanish question in Spanish.
- The over-arching rule is, “En la clase de español, todo es posible.” Does it really matter how many people were actually at the party? No. Do you know ANY numbers? It doesn’t have to be factual. We just want to keep the flow of Spanish in my class.
- Thank you for resisting the urge to blurt in English.
- Great job! Now, class…THAT is what an A student looks like in my class.
The following are some phrases that need a bit of explanation.
- I’m not gonna teach you that yet. (When a student had asked in Spanish how to say “basement”, Grant decided that it was not the right time to add that to their already full day of vocabulary. I believe this is what is meant by “sheltering the vocabulary.”) (Editor’s note: I usually say something more along the lines of “We don’t know that word yet”, or “Let me share that word with you after class.”)
- Do not whisper the answer. (Grant then took time to explain the rationale behind that. He said, “It takes away from the learning of others. Then, he/she does not need to clarify meaning with me and THAT is part of their grade. So don’t whisper the answer. Ever.)
- I love how you are still doing those gestures. (Depending on the class, this might be used as a straight-up compliment. On the other hand, he used the same words with a sarcastic tone with those students who were not doing the gestures. Either way, his students KNEW he meant it!)
- Trust your ears. (After teaching the structures for the day and their gestures, Grant had them all stand up and close their eyes. He would then have them do the gestures without sight and encouraged them to really think and focus, and to trust what they heard. He also told them to put their whole bodies into the gesture when standing up with eyes closed. Having their eyes closed help lower their affective filter and they didn’t feel inhibited to put their whole bodies into it.)
- I love hearing you swivel your attention toward me wherever I am standing in the classroom. (Again, this could be used sarcastically. But it was most impressive following a moment when the students really were moving their whole bodies so their attention was on him.)
Personally, the above phrases, in and of themselves, were worth the sacrifices made to visit Grant’s classroom. But I observed something else that has had a profound effect on me. Grant has a lot of students, but one in particular stood out. We’ll call him Samuel. Samuel has autism. It might seem that this special need would put Samuel at a disadvantage in a foreign language class. Not in Grant’s class. I would describe Grant as subtly commanding. On the one hand, he has an easy-going, laidback demeanor which invites an excellent student/teacher rapport, but on the other hand, he has a deliberate, purposeful approach which commands his students’ full attention and respect. The balance that Grant maintained between the two was awe-inspiring.
Obviously some serious training had taken place prior to my observation, but it was clear that Samuel was successful in this TCI class. I never once witnessed other students rolling their eyes when Samuel would loudly shout out answers which might be deemed “socially awkward.” Sending negative messages or using language “as a weapon” is something that clearly is not tolerated in Grant’s class. Most of the time, Samuel blurted in Spanish, but on those occasions when he forgot, Grant simply reminded him of the rule about no English without permission. At one point, as Grant was teaching the structure “talks too much”, Samuel shouted out excitedly in Spanish, “I talk too much!!” One of my favorite memories was Grant’s response. He countered, “No, Samuel. You do not talk to much…in Spanish class. Perhaps you talk too much in English class, but not in Spanish class.” (All in Spanish, of course!) Samuel just chortled at that!
Later, Grant shared with me that there are some students in his classes that simply want to do the work necessary to get the grade. What makes Samuel special is that he wants to do the work necessary to make his Spanish teacher happy. Grant added that that reality sometimes dumfounds the general education student and when they see Samuel’s success, it causes them to try a little bit harder!! Oh, that makes me just want to weep. How awesome TPRS/CI is to provide success for those who otherwise might not experience educational success and to challenge those who do not really otherwise have to work for their success!! A paradox, for sure.
Let’s face it. Whether you are Grant Boulanger, a masterful, inspiring teacher, or Laura Abuhl, a novice, but aspiring teacher, you have something to learn! So, consider making it a priority to visit a teacher. You won’t regret it! I know it was worth the frequent-flyer miles.
And, Grant…you really DO have a sparkling personality!!