Fearless – step 3: Post a story for all to see

Okay, so I said that I’d post my story here. And even though I’m still nervous to do so, I’m going to post it anyway. Constructive criticism is the best kind, right?! Right.

So, please remember that I’m a non-native speaker, and that I’m not perfect in any sense of the word. And that while TPRS does a great job of giving three completely random structures, I do not yet possess the same abilities.

This story is intended for year three, intermediate low speakers of French.

La sculpture magique! 


Ca me fascine
J’ai déjà vu cette pièce d’art
Ca me fait sentir ____________

Un jour, Bob et Angélique sont allés au musée d’art avec leur classe de français. Ils sont allés au Louvre à Paris ! Pendant le tour du musée, Bob a vu une sculpture très célèbre : La Venus de Milo. « Oh la la, » dit Bob, « Ca me fascine. » « Vraiment ?! » dit Angélique, « Ca ne me fascine pas ! » « Pourquoi pas ? » dit Bob. « Parce que ca me fait sentir triste. »

Dans la prochaine salle, Bob et Angélique voient une peinture très célèbre : La Joconde ! « Ca me fascine » dit Angélique. « Je ne l’aime pas » dit Bob «  Ca me fait sentir étrange. Elle me regarde. » Et puis, quelqu’un dit, « Bonjour ! » Bob tourne, et Bob voit encore la Venus de Milo ! « Angélique, » dit Bob, « J’ai déjà vu cette pièce d’art … » Mais, quand Angelique tourne, la Venus de Milo n’est plus là. Angélique et Bob courent a une autre salle.

Dans la prochaine salle, Bob et Angélique voit des pièces d’art très grands « Ces pièces me fascinent » dit Bob. « Bonjour ! » quelqu’un dit. Puis, Angélique voit la sculpture, La Venus de Milo, derrière une autre pièce d’art. « BOB ! » dit Angélique, « J’ai déjà vue cette pièce d’art. » Mais, quand Bob tourne, la sculpture n’est pas la. « La sculpture est magique ! » dit Angélique. « Ca me fait sentir étrange. »

Bob et Angélique vont partir le musée après le tour. Ils montent le bus pour aller a la maison. « Le musée me fascine » dit Angélique. « Moi aussi. » dit Bob. Et tout en arrière du bus, Bob voit La Venus de Milo ! « Angélique ! La sculpture magique est dans le bus ! » Et Angélique voit la sculpture. « Bonjour » dit la Venus de Milo. « Ca va ? » …

There is intentionally no ending to the story because I plan to have my students make their own endings to tell who the statue is/why the statue is here. We will vote on the best one.

One of my biggest fears is that I write my stories too easy for my students, but I want to make sure that the language is accessible. I think I heard once that you should use 90% of known language, 10% new structures or cognates. Is there validity in that?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Fearless – step 2: Listen to advice

Hi everyone! I can’t believe that it’s finally Saturday – even with only 4 days this school week and two of those days where we were delayed for weather, I thought this week was the longest week EVER! Much like that first sentence.

Since my post last year about storytelling, I’ve gotten really into it. My students are still on the fence, but I think that as I continue to do it, they’ll get used to it. Plus, I’ll get better with each story and soon it won’t be so painful for them.

My third story attempt was awhile ago and it just seemed to fall flat. The kids were bored with the story, and I have one specifically crazy class that cannot function if they don’t know the meaning of a word in English. It’s maddening trying to work with some of them. Anyway, I knew something was off, other than my beginner status, and by my 4th attempt, I had found it.

Circling. Circling, circling, circling, where have you BEEN all my life?! Okay, that’s silly: I know where it’s been. Circling has been out in plain view and I just chose to ignore it. I initially read about it from Martina Bex, but questioning is mentioned multiple times over at Musicuentos too! (two of many sources here and here) And instead, I ignored it.

“The questions can’t be that important,” I said. “I definitely don’t need to script questions; that’s a waste of time,” I declared. “You can’t ask a question that many times and expect students to pay attention,” I scoffed. “There’s no pattern to questions that will help students when storytelling,” I boasted. And I was wrong.

The last time I told a story, I decided to script my questions. I followed the circling technique to a T. I asked:

  • A question to which students answer yes
  • An either/or question
  • A question to which students answer no
  • A question with a question word (who, what, when, etc)
  • A personalized question (using new vocab, students had to answer about their lives)

And man, did it work. Did student pay better attention? Yes. Did students hear infinitely more repetitions of the target structures? Yes. Did I know if students understand what was happening as it was happening? Yes. And did student get a chance to interact with new vocabulary and structures? YES YES YES.

I’m actually really amazed at how simple it is to ask a series of questions, and how much better retention students had of those target structures than before. It was amazing, and I recommend it to anyone looking to either tell stories, or to increase the language they use with their students.

Monday, I’ll be telling a story to my level 3s about a magic statue that walks around an art museum. It seems silly, but I hope that they like it. Maybe when I finish the script, I’ll post it here (please encourage me to do so, or I’ll be too “scared” to do so)

Now my challenge to myself is to find great activities to work with after the story is over. I need extension activities, retelling activities, etc. What are your favorite activities for after stories? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Fearless: step 1 – Target language use

Before I get into this post, I am not advocating that you charge ahead into decisions before you think them through. That would be irrational. And I am only occasionally irrational.

Okay, so I’ve gotten some great feedback and varied interest about my #oneword2015 – fearless. Really, this was the push that I needed to take my classes to the next level – public accountability. So, I’m here to tell you of the wonders and failures that have happened recently.

The first thing that I decided to do: some kind of 90% TL system for my kids, levels 1-AP. If they have to speak the TL, then I have to model great behavior for them. So, I jumped right in. The first day of our new semester was familiarizing ourselves with the new program, and filling in a cheat sheet of relevant questions and phrases (“I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” “Can I speak English?,” “Can I go to the bathroom, nurse, locker, drinking fountain, etc.”

Now, choosing a system was not easy. I knew that I could be #fearless and start using the TL myself, but that wouldn’t exactly mean my students would follow my lead. I’ve been pouring over different systems for months. I originally wanted to go with Cristy Vogel’s French-only “Paie-moi” system, but with so many classes, the logistics are hard. I know my students, and I know that they would cheat. If you don’t know the system, any time a student uses English, another student who hears yells “paie-moi!” and once a student racks up 10 points, they have to write a suck-up letter to her in French. Students are allowed to write in English, mind you, but not allowed to speak it unless absolutely necessary, and when that happens, it’s outside of the room. If Cristy herself speaks English and is caught 10 times, she bakes her students brownies. My students would love this, because they know I make the most delicious cheesecake swirl brownies in the world. But this would be a lot for me to keep up with. In a few years, I do plan on switching to this plan.

The plan I went with comes from none other than Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell over at Musicuentos (are you really that surprised?) where each student gets a set number of dollars at the beginning of each class, (#8 on her list) and these dollars “bail them out” when they need to speak English. Once they’re out of dollars, speaking English will cause their grade to fall. This lets kids ask complex questions at the novice level, or tell me that story that they can’t hold in until later, and get through those “DUH, I KNEW THAT” moments without initial consequence. I’ve also started giving myself the same number of dollars, and students love making me pay up. I’ve also started asking my students “Can I speak English?” in French, and they have to say yes for me to continue. Some students nod like their head is about to fall off, and others want to tell me “no” so that they can watch me struggle. Either way, I know that I’m pushing them, and I think that it’s important to give them the option to hear more French before I switch to English.

Even before I was sure that this is the route I wanted to take, I explained the system to my students so that I had no way to back out. I bought play dollar bills a few months ago, and I laminated them with the help of a fantastic library aide (they were individual dollars and we had to push 8 through the laminator at a time to not waste the film!) Then, my loving, wonderful, too-good-to-be-true husband helped me cut them out. All 150 of them. And the next day, though my hands were shaky and I was instantly worried about my decision, I passed them out. No turning back.

My laminated "bank" of dollars. Also, check out my adorable mug that has a sweat coozy!
My laminated “bank” of dollars. Also, check out my adorable mug that has a sweat coozy!

And I’m loving the system so far. I’ve been really reluctant to speak with my French IIIs. I don’t know why. They’re definitely intermediate level, but when they think listening, they think terrible textbook exercises and crazy accents. One girl, giving up a dollar, shouted, “I understood ALL OF THAT” after I explained a concept to her table in French. I’ve also been able to joke with them. I don’t think they thought speaking French all the time would be their teacher talking about how she met her husband (we’re on a unit about love and friendship) and saying that she robbed a cradle because she’s “hyper-cool.”

I did fail this week, and part of my #fearless journey is recognizing where i went wrong and coming up with a solution. I was trying to give directions about filling in some cloze blanks, and I was getting those deer-in-the-headlights stares. I was gesturing, modeling, drawing, and saying the best cognate I could (blanc in French is blank) – still nothing. So we went with English. It was not the end of the world, and the kids still managed to complete the task. This week at #langchat, Amy Lenord shared her strategy: never make directions an interpretive task. She shared that she either uses English directions on the (smart)board while saying them in Spanish, or to have them written at the top of a paper, while saying them in Spanish. I plan to rectify my “fill in the blank directions” this way – she even advocates keeping the directions to your most commonly used activities saved so you can pull them up on a moment’s notice. Thanks for the advice, Amy!

I think the first step to being #fearless is doing something before you have a chance to question it. Before the fear trickles into your mind and you’re afraid to look silly, or to fail, or to wonder if you’re up to the task.

What about you? What #fearless things have you done this year? I’d love to hear your stories! And speaking of stories, look out for my next post on storytelling: coming soon!

#oneword – “Fearless”

Bonne Année, tout le monde! I hope that you all had relaxing breaks, are enjoying the beginning of 2 hour delays and unexpected calamity days. I’m trying to stay warm despite the -30 degree wind chill outside. But, at least I had the day off to grade!

I learned a lot of things in 2014 – I joined the #langchat PLN, I attended some intriguing professional development, read some phenomenal books on education, and I threw my textbook out the window (figuratively) and started focusing on communication. Communication based instruction (is that even the term?) has been really difficult for me, but I’m ready to hit the ground running when our new semester starts next week.

This brings me to my #oneword. I’ve read a lot of inspiring posts over the past year, whether on twitter, a blogging platform, or somewhere else on the web. And after every inspiring post I read, favorite, retweet, like, comment on, modify, whatever it may be, I can always imagine myself doing those things. I close my eyes and I’m storyasking, using 90% TL, telling a story, using actors in my class, infusing grammar without teaching it, being awesome. And then the time comes for me to tell that story, ask those questions, be awesome, and I freeze. I look at the 9-29 students in front of me, and I don’t. I worry. I freak out. I chicken out. And I go back to what I used to do.

So, my word for this year? Fearless.

Fearless teaching: Instead of imagining myself doing these things, I will do them. I will try, try again, and dang it, sometimes I will fail. I will have wonderful intentions and mess up. I will charge headfirst into teaching my students to communicate, and I will try out the things that I imagine myself doing.

Fearless speaking: Sometimes I revert to my pre-study abroad days, where I think that everyone in the room will know if I use the wrong verb, adjective, adverb, construction, etc. But these are high schoolers, and chances are they won’t know. How can I teach my students to “go for it” if their teacher can’t model what “going for it” looks like?

Fearless learning: More than even being fearless myself, I want my students to be fearless. I’m teaching an AP class of students who went through three years of grammar based instruction, and they won’t speak to me out loud. They’re terrified. This year, I will teach all of my levels to negotiate meaning, to boldly say that they don’t understand (thanks, Colleen!), to speak even when they’re not sure of the words, and to “go for it,” whatever the “it” may be.

Fearless leading: I want to explain the benefits of communication, proficiency-based instruction, indirect grammar, etc. to my colleagues, but sometimes that’s more terrifying than anything else. This year, I will challenge myself to speak more openly with my colleagues about these topics, even when they tell me, “why teach them grammar if they don’t need to use it perfectly?”

So, fearless might not be the best word. I’m sure that I could have chosen something more inspiring, more applicable, more student-oriented, but this is the word that I think will change my teaching forever. I’ll try to update you with the progress I’m making toward becoming fearless.

Thank you to everyone who has replied to, emailed, messaged, commented to, retweeted, answered, considered, taught, or helped me in the year 2014. I appreciate everything you’ve said more than I could say in words.