My school finished the first four days of instruction on Thursday, August 30. Since there was no school on Friday, my colleague asked if we could get together to debrief after 4 days. We spent an afternoon discussing TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), the activities we used, what worked, what didn’t, asked for each others input and advice, and shared what we plan to do next week. It was an energizing way to collaborate and reflect on our first few days of the school year and to support each other in our goal to improve our teaching for more student success.
My Spanish 1 and 2 lesson plans for the first four days revolved around personalization and getting to know the students. I used the "Circling with Balls" technique described by Ben Slavic in his book "PQA in a Wink" (but w/ construction paper and sketches). In those classes and my Spanish 4 class, I made a conscious effort to practice some of the fundamentals of TPRS such as Signing/Gesturing and PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers). With the focus on learning to know more about the students through PQA, it has been my best start of the year to date!
This summer I also read another book by Ben Slavic titled "TPRS in a Year". The book describes 49 TPRS skills. The skills that I practiced this week are explained below. (The number in parenthesis is the number of the skill in the book.)
1. SLOW (#6) There’s no way to successfully teach a new language without going slowly. I instructed my students to swipe their hand over their head when they didn’t understand something. In the past I had them place their hand on their desk, palm up, and place the other hand on top of the palm in a fist. The old way was less obvious which was a problem for me. The hand swipe over the head catches my attention every time.
I’ve read many times that we have to go SLOW and I experienced the need to go slow from the student’s perspective when I was in Linda Li’s Chinese class this summer at NTPRS, but seeing all the hand swipes in the last four days from my students cemented in my thinking the need to go SLOW. If there is one student in the class that doesn’t understand, then I have failed to provide comprehensible input for the students. It is easily remedied by going back, restating or repeating, and checking for comprehension.
2. “What did I just say?” (#10) I used this phrase multiple times in my classes this week. First of all, it helps me SLOW down my instruction. Secondly, it clears up any possible confusion that students may have. Most times I ask the question to the whole class, but sometimes when I’m looking the students in the eyes and I know which students know the answer, I’ll call on an individual student to answer the question.
3. Teaching to the eyes (#7) From my experience, “Teaching to the eyes” says to the student, “I’m glad you’re in my class and I’m going to constantly check with you, and look your way, to make sure you understand what I’m saying. You are important to me and at no time do I want you to feel lost or confused.”
On day 1, I explained to my students how crucial it was for them to look at me when I’m teaching, because I need to see their eyes to determine if they understood me. I can’t do my job well unless I am able to pace the lesson according to their needs. That information and assessment comes first from their eyes, and if I misjudge their comprehension, the hand swipe over the head is the safety net.
“Teaching to the eyes” does not come naturally for me. In my first year of teaching, at a middle school, the high school department chair came to observe me and asked me if there was anything I wanted her to look for. I asked her to watch to see if I was looking at the students or above the students’ heads. In the last few years as I read more about TPRS, it’s clear that “teaching to the eyes” is essential for teachers to know if they’re providing comprehensible input. I had a college professor that was excellent at this, and at times would watch to see how long it would take from one glance directly at me until the second glance – it was never more than a minute of two. This strategy will be one of my main focuses this year because I have seen the value each time I consciously do it.
4. Point and Pause! (#4) I posted the question words with their English translations at the front of the room and wrote all new words with their translations on the board. As I used those words in PQA and in circling, I forced myself to point at the word, pause to give students’ minds time to recognize the words, and then continued. After a few times this skill became almost second nature. If your focus is on making everything comprehensible, it seems only natural to point at the words written on the board to ensure the students understand and pausing to give them the time they need to make the connection. As they acquire the words, the need to point at the acquired words will disappear, and then I can continue to point and pause at new words.
My goal is to focus on one or two new skills each week. Next week’s skill is #9: Barometer student. I’ll also be asking stories next week, (the Sp1 and Sp2 classes this week were mostly PQA and TPR) which will encompass many of the “step two skills”, but the Barometer student skill is the one that I'm pinpointing to improve.
If you haven't read Ben Slavic's two books mentioned above, I strongly recommend them to give you a thorough understanding of the skills and techniques.
Best wishes for a successful and enjoyable week of teaching whether you’re also in your 2nd week or your 1st, 3rd, 4th, etc. week!