Have you ever been to a conference that just totally rocks your teaching methods and everything you’ve done so far in your teaching career? I attended a TPRS Training that did just that! It really helped jumpstart my journey into comprehensible input and various methods you can use to deliver it to your students.
Almost a month ago, 5 colleagues and I had the opportunity to go to a training on Comprehensible Input and TPRS hosted by Allison Wienhold from Mis Clases Locas, Mike Coxon and Craig Sheehy from TPRS Books. I was super excited when I saw her post on Instagram about the training. Ever since Central States last year I’ve been interested and trying to dig a little deeper into this method (See my post on Movie Talking). I wasn’t sure how to fit it in with our textbook curriculum. I wasn’t sure how to explain the whole “I sat in a session and walked away reading a whole story in MANDARIN!” feeling that comes from your first experience in a CI demo. This was an opportunity to share that feeling with my colleagues, especially since we are in the middle of redesigning our curriculum from Spanish I through AP.
So, six of us piled into a suburban and hauled over to Iowa. We waved at the John Deere museum. We went to the conference. And it was awesome! Craig told us a story in German and it was just so neat. We went beyond the story into some reading strategies as well for afterwards. One of my colleagues in particular was just ON FIRE as I was sitting next to her. It was so cool to see them get so excited about a different teaching method!
Here’s where the story goes from, oh, conference? Thanks for sharing what you learned! To – wait, what?
The Kidnapping (!?)
As we were saying our good-byes and thank yous, we mentioned our drive back to Illinois. Apparently Mike was supposed to drop Craig off at an airport that was sort of on our way, so we told him to grab his stuff and get it! Craig joined the ‘bus’ back to Illinois. Being the opportunistic people that we are, poor Craig was grilled for the next two hours about every aspect of CI that we could think of. He was a great sport and answered all of our questions! We took notes, and wrote down quotes and strategies to try and help us get our heads on straight with all of the new information.
We got to where we were supposed to drop off Craig. And we hemmed and hawed. And then he got back in the suburban and headed further into central Illinois with us.
At this point it’s about 7:30 at night, we’ve been in the car for hours, and we have to teach the next day, but excitement is high and there’s still two hours left in the drive so what do we do but decide to trash our lesson plans for the next day in favor of a story 5 ecstatic but exhausted teachers and one kidnapped trainer have decided they are writing RIGHT NOW.
We finish the story along with several notes to ourselves, pull into the parking lot, and divide jobs – Who’s going to share the Slides? Who’s going to print the story? Props? – I cannot emphasize enough that our department is the dream.team. when it comes to working together and getting things done. We head home to our families and collapse into bed. I teach zero hour, and Craig is coming to watch me try out this brand new adventure with my 8th graders tomorrow at 7:15 AM. What is questioning again? Parking? Zzz…. lights out.
The Day After
I wake up feeling like we were crazy. The story telling is only sort of like a Movie Talk, and it had been quite awhile since I had even done one of those, and had I even really slept last night? I’m a zombie in the morning on my best days – zero hour is really hard for me. That day in particular I felt downright nauseous. Like that feeling when you think you’ve forgotten how to teach because you had summer break? That too. Trying a brand new teaching style the day after being out of town, AND the person who taught you is coming to watch? I was so nervous. My saving grace that I kept telling myself was that my 8th graders I have during zero hour this year are the bee’s knees. You could not ask for a better group of kids.
So, I kind of leveled with them. I told them we were doing something different. I talked about how I needed interactions from them to help me know if they understood what was happening. I assigned classroom jobs. I brought in student actors. We took brain breaks. And we all had fun! It was a great day!
Craig gave me some feedback afterwards that was incredibly helpful, and my co-workers and I shared our reflections after zero hour and talked about how their stories went in their rooms. All day long, Craig was in and out of our rooms, observing how our first stories were going and giving more feedback. We talked about what assessments might look like, and he talked with some of our department members who didn’t get the chance to go to the conference.
Craig eventually got on a plane, and the rest of us finished telling the story with our ones. We used the traditional assessment – even though we have now learned that’s not advised. Like I’ve mentioned before, we have a very grammar-centric curriculum. We used the story to model and practice comparisons – more than, less than, as ____ as, better, worse, younger, and older. The kids did SO WELL. We felt very encouraged to continue exploring this method of teaching, and worked together to write another story. Our students are currently working on weather and places with a story about Carlos the Cactus who is too warm in the desert.
I am feeling so encouraged and excited about the type of language usage I am seeing and hearing from my students. They are actively participating and – goshdarnit – they are FUNNY. I’ve laughed so hard I’ve just about cried multiple times in class over the past few weeks. I’m not sure where this method is going to fit into our new curriculum design (ongoing department discussion), but I know that I want to keep using it. I would love to bring novels into my room. I want them to read. I want them to hear and understand.
I want them to communicate.