TPRS and the Textbook

One of the biggest challenges in teaching through TPR and TPRS is finding harmony between an existing curriculum and TPRS methodology. The few textbook sets that come with TPRS materials will bombard you with low-quality TPRS experiences, so you’re often left to do the work on your own. There’s a process to the madness, though, and once you get the hang of it, you can transform nearly any textbook unit or chapter into a series of TPR and TPRS lessons.Read More »

The Post I Keep Putting Off

“Mr. Simpson, do you have any popsicle sticks?”

“Uh, yeah, you know I have a million popsicle sticks in the drawer over there, every size and color. Knock yourself out.”

A few days later, after being sidetracked by my colleagues for nearly an hour, I walked into my classroom to find it full of current and former students, teachers, and even a few parents. It was a going-away party. For me.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 »

Algeria: A First-Person Perspective

Our French program was pleased to welcome Mr. Richard Vaugier, a native of Algeria and former resident of Montréal who now operates his own construction company in Arizona. Mr. Vaugier’s visit gave us the opportunity to not only practice French with a native speaker but also discuss the culture of the Maghreb and socio-political issues that the area has faced for decades. Mr. Vaugier offered first-hand perspectives on modern and historical events in both the United States and Algeria, which is one of the focus areas of this quarter’s culture portfolios. We’re very grateful for Mr. Vaugier’s visit and enjoyed the chance to hear native viewpoints on events that, for many of our students, are familiar only through textbooks and news reports.

Meeting Our First Native Speakers

My second-year students recently had the opportunity to meet native French speakers for the first time, and we had a great experience! We welcomed two college students — one from Rennes and one from Toulouse — who are currently enrolled at Martin Methodist for an hour of Q&A in French and English. I was very pleased with my students’ ability to ask meaningful questions in French about what it’s like to be a French speaker living in the United States, and the French guys were impressed with the level of motivation and interest in our program. I think they were also happy to see that our students were already familiar with their cultural perspectives and home cities through our curriculum. Afterwards, we had just enough time for students to blow up social media with bragging rights and selfies with our guests!

The Mug of Happiness

If anything, I see my blog as a journal of positive things going on in my language program. It’s a personal reminder that a foreign language program — even one in a rural, low-income community with sparse cultural diversity — can be an extremely positive experience for students, teachers and the school community as a whole.

A few weeks back, some of my former students gave me a coffee mug. It was the kind that you can put your own design on, and they had written le café on it in script. The gift itself was a very sweet gesture, but that was just the beginning. Before I had the chance to use the mug, I came in one day to find that these students had filled the mug with little positive messages and affirmations. I was told to read one a day, and several weeks later, I’ve finally made my way to the bottom of the cup and have requested a refill. Maybe la tasse du bonheur is the beginning of a tradition that all my students can contribute to.

I’ve always enjoyed student feedback, even the criticisms. I’d rather have the opportunity to get truthful reactions to classroom management and activities before it’s too late to change them. But there’s always more room for students’ voices in school, and there’s always more room for positivity. The mug of happiness is perhaps a way to spark the search for it. Some of my students, I think, would be hard pressed to write down something positive about anything. The problem isn’t a lack of positives but rather a blinding surplus of negatives. What would happen if I encouraged these students to seek positivity? Does a simple tradition like this have the power to make the positives, few as they may be, outweigh the negatives?

As the eternal optimist, I’m always looking for new ways to make my class a memorable experience for my students. Most of them will never use French in real life or travel outside of the United States. I can admit that, but I can’t accept it as an excuse. I can’t stomach the idea that a student could walk away from my program as if they’d never been in it at all — uneducated, unchanged, unchallenged. I have a million tools in my arsenal to help avoid that possibility, and I think soon I’ll be adding a coffee mug to the list.