My new teaching position has introduced me to a lot of new challenges in finding harmony between CI-based methodology and a textbook-based pacing guide. Our French 2 textbook is especially heavy on irregular verbs, and although my students are working their hardest — engaging actively in CI practice during class and completing a wide variety of practices at home — we’re still struggling to the meet the goal of mastering all these verbs forms. As usual, the textbook considers a set of verbs like dormir, partir and sortir to be one “rule” because all the verbs have similar irregularities. The reality is that acquiring all the present- and past-tense forms of these three verbs solidly enough for confident production is far beyond the scope of one week’s learning, and that doesn’t even take into account the twenty or more additional lexical items to be covered in the week. It’s also far more than can be sensibly addressed totally through CI activities.

Enter Conjuguno. I developed this activity to give students some kind of purpose for using all these verb forms that’s hopefully enjoyable enough to at least trigger a few good neurochemicals and boost their retention.Read More »

Boosting Memory the Hard Way

I’ve been reading Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, et al., and I’ve gotten far enough along to extract four fundamental factors in boosting memory: recall, interleaving, spacing and elaboration. In fact, I woke up this morning to find that my never-sleeping brain had organized those factors in a tidy little acronym: RISE. I could hardly resist the urge to head straight for the computer and put this epiphany in writing. After all, I now had the answer to every memory-related question and didn’t want to forget any of it.

Wait, what? How could I forget any of it? I had read and reflected. I had recalled.

I had an acronym.Read More »

The Magic of Extended Reading

For me, an extended reading is a crowning achievement in a TPRS unit. It’s a chance to bring together all the different words and structures students have learned, and it’s amazing how much reapplication you can get out of one extended reading. Best of all, it’s content that students have already mastered, so they get the reward of reading an extended passage with ease. Read More »

Real-World Application

One of my favorite things to do in class is use target language in realistic contexts. I think it’s important for students to find out what it’s really like to be a second-language user, both as a tourist and for the workplace, and I also enjoy the personal touch that students will add to this kind of work. Our French program gives students several opportunities to apply these skills — from roleplaying situations in a store or restaurant with realistic props and money to creating presentations and documents for clients. Read More »

Living Latin

It’s almost time for the Summer Language Institute, so I thought I’d do a little throwback to my first TPR- and TPRS-based Latin class. I was very lucky to have such a motivated and creative group of students, but I also have to give credit to the TPR and TPRS themselves. Can you imagine, a whole group of high school students voluntarily studying Latin, not for the credit but just for fun, and mainly because they knew what the methodology would be like? What a great testament to brain-based teaching! The students made the class outstanding, and the methodology empowered them to do so.

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Pop-Up Power

One of the first things I liked about TPR was the potential for immersion. And for the first few years, using TPR to build an immersive classroom worked well for me. But that was when students only took my class because they wanted to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were spending a lot of time at home clarifying meaning on their own.

Things are different now. Every student takes a foreign language, but not all of them are self-motivated to do anything at home. For some, if it doesn’t happen in class, it simply doesn’t happen. Add in the fact that these same students have a low tolerance for ambiguity — they want exact, straightforward meaning — and issue start to develop.

What I’ve learned to accept is the idea that a non-immersive class can be even better than an immersive one. I want my students to get all the input they can get, but it only matters if it’s comprehensible. A lot of my students made great turnarounds as soon as I stopped worrying about the French-to-English ratio and started focusing on 100% comprehension.

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