Category Archives: Emergent Language

September 16, 2016

Velcro for the Brain?
Emergent Language Just Feels Stickier to Me

img_4926These videos are actually from September 15, as I was out of the building today for family reasons.  This video begins with our reviewing the artists’ work from the image creation process the previous day, and this video is the continuation of the writing.

The image was a machete named Señora Claws, who was sad because everyone thought she was bad due to her being an enormous knife and all, but in reality she was a very nice machete.  It got even cuter because turns out she was a Christmas machete, not just a normal machete.

When we move into the writing, at about 3:45 of the first video, you will hear us talking about a classroom management strategy I use when writing in front of the class.  (I have been calling this “Write and Discuss” like “Read and Discuss” and “Look and Discuss” because we are basically having a conversation as a group and writing the details that the kids give me about the previous day’s work.)  You will hear me remind them that they do not NEED to write to acquire the language, but that they do, of course, need to pay attention and be engaged.  So therefore, if they cannot do that while simply watching me write, I will have them get clipboards and paper and pencils and copy as I write.  Very few kids find this an exciting option (though I do have a few who like to copy and do so as I write) so therefore the class’ motivation to attend to the input is heightened.

Working with no pre-determined target language does not mean that targets do not come up.  Of course, new language will be needed.  But I am finding that kids comprehend and retain the language that emerges rapidly.  My gut feeling is that they comprehend the emerged languages quicker and more easily because they emerged in a moment that is tied to emotion and were truly needed for communicating ideas in a real moment.

Emergent language that you will her in this class is todas las personas and todo el mundo, Navidad, cuento, and hay.  In big Tina news, I have given UP circling hay!  I figure it is going to be in every story, all year, and it will be natural to comprehend it in the context of saying what there is in a story.  So this is the first time they have seen hay but it seemed to present no problems.

img_4922Here are two videos of French 1 doing a Write and Discuss of a One Word Image from the previous class.  At the beginning of Part One you will hear me telling the class about the classroom management strategy of “forcing” them to pay attention if they cannot attend to the input, and giving kids the option of taking out their own materials and writing if they wish.  You might notice that the Gender Equality Initiative from the 25% of the class that identifies as male has succeeded and we have two Professeurs 2, one boy and one girl.  These kids are so engaged that the Professeurs 2 are EXTREMELY important for them.  In Part Two (the new part starts at 1:15), we are working with the text we just wrote.  First I read the text to them, then we chorally translate using a Reader Leader (me for now as I am still modeling it for the eventual kid who will take the job), then we do a little work with a student actor.

Words that have emerged are:  auberginecochon, corps, fluorescent (which I am recycling from a previous story), déprimée, géante, tandis que (which I put in there knowing that this was brand-new and I waited till a kid asked what it meant, so that I could praise them for asking for clarification and reinforce that expectation.)  Grammar points that came up were the fact that I needed to have a city after the preposition à, some words for punctuation, and (when working with the actor), the difference between applaudissez-le and applaudissez-la.

Here is some writing done yesterday in another Spanish 1 class, my seventh period, about a taco-caballo:  medio taco y medio caballo.  See the amazing taco-caballo below.



September 13, 2016

Stop – Grammar Time!

Who says that Comprehensible Input and grammar cannot coexist peacefully?  While we write up the One Word Images from yesterday, and then read them using Ben Slavic’s Reading Options, there is plenty of time to talk about grammar, while doing Choral Reading.  Though it is not strictly CI, but rather conscious thinking and learning ABOUT the language, you can see in the writing below that there are many opportunities, even when writing in front of the class, to grab language elements that might lend themselves to a quick discussion of syntactical, morphological, or lexical elements of the language.

uni-carotteIn this series of videos, from French 1, a seventh-grade class, you can see what I sometimes call “Write and Discuss”, a process in which I draw the retell out of the class by asking questions and guiding the writing. First we review the  calendar, which is usually quite interesting to beginners at the start of the year and provides confidence as it is very transparent and familiar input, then we review the artists’ work, then we write up the story as a class.  The story is attached below as it is somewhat hard to read on the video.

In the example below, sur M. Canadian Bacon, dont le sobriquet est Candy, from my second-year French class, an eighth-grade class, we discussed lui and how it can refer to a him or her, à cause de versus parce que, and the difference between s’appelle and l’appellent.  The One Word Image from which this story and class-crested reading was built is below.  He is très mignon, au moins à mon avis!




September 6, 2016

Small Talk as Curriculum

Today in class I was able to take a YouTube video of sixth period.  This is a class of 35 kids, seventh graders, at a public middle school, on day two of instruction.  We are still working a lot on getting to know each other and establishing the expectations for behavior.  I am still on the absolute lookout for kids not doing their job.  It is a gift, as I have an opportunity to exert leadership each time a kid is whispering or slouching in their seat.  Calmly, and smiling (thinking to myself, “This is a gift, this is a gift, this is a gift.”) I try to walk to the rules each and every time and point, smile, and put some tiny little teeth into the smile, to show that I am not ALL peppermints and unicorns inside, then resume instruction.

At the beginning of class, we spent eight and a half minutes in L1, which is, admittedly, a large percentage of the class period of 54 minutes.  Over the years I have actually incorporated MORE L1 into the classroom.  I started my CI journey committed to using L2 as much as possible.  I have come to see that a little L1 use is time well spent, though.  I feel it is important at the beginning of the year to establish a solid foundation of community and connection, with the kids feeling like I am on their side and an approachable, real human being.  So we talked a bit about the grading this year (I am using 100% Interpersonal Skills Rubric and this was the first time I had broached that topic with this class – that their actual minute-by-minute behavior in class was the basis of their grade), and we talked about getting back into the routine on this, the second week of school.  Then at minute 8:30, we start the input in Spanish.  As the year progresses, we will do a quick check-in and then jump into L2.  But here on day two I am investing in them in L1.

We are working on assigning student jobs and so we started the L2 discussing the people who have jobs already.  I do not have a big Day of Assigning Jobs, I just distribute them as the need arises.  It is easier on me and, maybe most importantly, it allows kids to feel truly needed, because the job was needed in the moment that they emerged as the “Hoy Kid” or whatever.

The “Hoy Kid” was getting a workout today, because we spent the rest of the period on the calendar.  You will notice on the board there is a schedule with nothing on it, because I do not know day to day what activities will be used in class.  Today, we were still talking about the sixth of August by the  end of the period.  It is all good to me.  The kids’ energy was there, we were communicating in L2 for extended pieces of time, and we are building their word bank.

You can see the emergent word wall below me.  It will continue to grow as we add more words daily, based on the actual communication needs of the kids in class.  This is entirely new to me, as this idea popped up in a workshop this summer – I think in Portland – and seemed to fit in well with the practice of basing instruction on emergent language needed at the moment in class.  Because this is so new, I will be interested to see how this plays out this year.

Tomorrow in class, we will be creating a class text based on the discussion from today.  Then we will do some reading work with it.  A job that is likely to be needed is the Reader Leader.  This important job helps save my voice, but most importantly, it helps – like all the jobs – distribute power in the classroom.

In comprehension-based teaching, the teacher is often the center of attention.  This is normal, as the teacher is the one providing the input.  Taking the teacher away and using another means (internet, film, song) is an option, but it reduces personalization and human communication.  So in my opinion we should sparingly do this, and still guide the class’ interaction with these resources.  So, most every day we are there providing input for extended periods of time.  Therefore, for me, it is of the utmost importance that we share power with the kids.  Ben Slavic’s student jobs are so key for me in this.  I cannot imagine teaching without my student jobs.

September 2, 2016

With Nothing But My Training

One goal I have for the year is to explore what can happen if I get out of the way of the language-acquisition machine that is the human brain and let comprehensible language emerge the natural way.  Part of this focus on emergent language, for me, is to not plan classes and simply rest myself in my training and trust that I can simply show up and speak comprehensibly in a safe community, that this is all my students need from me – comprehensible input and emotional safety, as Ben has ben saying to me all summer.

Friday was the first day of school.  Not for the kids, but for me. They were at school since Tuesday working on their Circling with Balls cards, doing a Hargaden Website Scavenger Hunt, and drawing “imaginary pets”.  (Shhhhh…the drawings are actually potential Invisibles to use later when we are ready to launch into stories…but I just told the sub to tell the kids that we would be doing a lot of artwork in class this year and using our imaginations, and I wanted to get to know what kinds of artists and imaginations they had.)

I was down at Mike Peto‘s workshop in Southern California for the first three days of school.  My plane arrived back in Portland on Thursday night around midnight and I did not actually go to sleep till about 1:30 AM.  So, after all the traveling this summer and this last late night, I was feeling super-fried and tired and pretty much just “Do I really have to do this?” on the ride to school Friday morning.

The chairs in my classroom still needed to be arranged and I had nothing on the lesson plan.  But, riding along on this cool, cloudy September morning, I was strangely at peace – more than I have ever been on the first day in sixteen years of teaching – because I have committed to working with completely emergent language and no pre-planning.  I actually had the thought, “This is the perfect start to the year, because I am simply too fried to plan.”  I met Rhea, who will be student teaching with me this year, for coffee, and we did not even talk about school!  We talked about our friends, our summers, our lives, and an epic night at the Bye and Bye we had enjoyed in August.  We enjoyed each other’s company and connected as friends and colleagues.

And you know what?  We got to school, we arranged the chairs (Mike, I used your four groups of nine arrangement, and it is a great setup!), and then classes started.  And it went great.  Better than great.  It was joyful.  With just my intuition in the moment to guide us, very joyful and successful classes emerged.

What helped me to teach successful classes with literally NO IDEA what I was going to do, talk about, or accomplish (other than providing comprehensible input)?

  1.  Speak slowly and clearly and with good humor and love.  Speak so slowly it is painful for me.  If it is not painful for me, it is painful for the students.
  2. Pause and point, like, EVERY. TIME.  Embrace the time it takes to slowly walk to the board and point.  And then, with your hand on the L2 word, scan the room to make sure that their faces show comprehension.  I once heard that we should treat each word like a golden coin dropping into a deep well, and wait till we hear the thunk at the bottom.
  3. Write L1 and L2 on the board whenever anything new is said.  Even things you would assume they know.  Even “gracias”.  Even “moment” – in French one would think kids can get “moment” with no L1 translation – but it sounds so different.  Kids literally gasped in amazement seeing that what sounds like “mamuh” is “moment”.  Cognates really aren’t.  And if kids stop trusting that you will make it comprehensible, you have lost their hearts.  It is much easier to keep trust than to regain it.  Support them with L1 and they will quickly learn to trust you.
  4. Enjoy and embrace kids’ breaking the classroom rules.  With patience, good humor, and smile, point silently to the rule and make it clear with a sweeping look around the room that you expect this rule to be followed.  I walked over to that poster at least eighteen times per period.  It makes me happy to do so.  Because soon, in a few weeks, I will be enjoying a well-trained class that knows how to listen.
  5. Acknowledge kids.  A lot.  Make them “the best, smartest, most talented, most famous, most amazing people in the world.”  Applaud them, literally.  We applauded the kid who got the first class job (hall pass kid), the second class job (person who takes the picture of the board between classes and erases the language that emerged in the previous class), kids who spoke in L2 (yes, there were a couple even on Day One), we applauded ourselves as a group for listening so well, it was like the Emmys up in there today, so much applausing
  6. Train kids to be patient as you write on the board.  I literally have them applaud themselves for waiting silently as I turn my back and write on the board.  (This is hella important since I will be spending many a minute writing on the board throughout the course of the year.)  The FIRST TIME I need to write something on the board in L1 and L2, I stop halfway through, and, as if I am blown away with surprise that they are listening silently, I write “Silencio” (or “Silence”) on the board, tell them “¡El silencio es MAGNIFICO!” and have them applaud themselves.  Then for the next week or so we will frequently applaud the class’ silence.  (Sometimes we give “un aplause silencioso para el silencio” and clap without touching palms…cause it is funny.) This positive reinforcement will pay off throughout the year as I write peacefully on the board and do not feel rushed by the fear that I will lose them while I write.
  7. Do not fear L1.  You have to invest in kids at the beginning of the year.  And the middle of the year.  And the end too.  You have to give some time in L1 to build those relationships that make kids want to be there and want to listen.  You need to be a community first and a language community second.  Unscripted, unplanned L1 interaction shows kids you care about them as people.  As the year goes on, I will be talking more and more in L2 and less and less in L1, but right now I do not fear L1 as long as we can get a nice flow of L2 going from time to time, so we know how it feels as we ease our way into the year as a group.  So, I shared about the conference and I asked kids about their summers, and I talked about the rules a bit, and we assigned a few student jobs, and we talked logistics (like how to put materials under your seat.  In one class, a student invented a new job, of policing kids’ materials and taking away house points from their group if their materials are in the way!  I love this – emergent class jobs!  What if I had been more invested in “covering” a lesson plan?  This student’s idea – a great one – would have likely been lost.  Because I had the attitude of “Let’s see what emerges”, the space was there for her to offer this brilliant suggestion and now she has a cool new role in class, and the cookie part is I won’t have to trip over kids’ binders and such!)
  8. Give mini-brain breaks.  After about fifteen to twenty minutes, kids need to process.  Probably in L1.  That is OK.  A minute of L1 to “talk about what we have learned so far” is time well spent.  Even if they are not talking 100% on task, who cares?  They will come back to you refreshed.  Listening and understanding is rigorous, hard work.

I noticed that this training has little to do with what is in my brain and a lot to do with the body and heart.  This training is more a mental stance, an attitude, a disposition, based on a mindset that all I need to do is provide understandable messages that people will pay attention to.  I rest myself in Krashen’s and Chomsky’s elegant findings on the simplicity and beauty of the human brain, and what we need to give it to let it do what it is designed to do.  I rest myself in the years of training I have gotten from my incredible mentor,Ben Slavic, a true educator and a pure soul.  I rest myself in the community of support and love that has grown up around Ben, and nurtured me and so many others.  Thanks, fellow human beings!














Sammy the Salad

I love this story.  It was created by the students in my sixth period class back in April using Ben Slavic’s Invisibles, as I was assisting Ben with piloting the approach and writing the book.  The story was really cute.

Había una ensalada, que se llamaba Sammy la Ensalada.  Era una ensalada pero no era una simple ensalada.  Podía hablar y tenía sentimientos.  Pero nadie sabía que no era una simple ensalada.  La gente pensaba que era comida.  Pero en realidad él era un personaje muy importante en el cuento de sexto período.  Vivía en el pelo de Kaitlyn.  Su pelo era castaño.  Sammy era verde.  (Es normal;  ¡era una ensalada!)

Un día, una persona muy mala fue a la escuela.  Se llamaba Sr. Fork.  Tenía hambre.  Mucha hambre.  Quería comer a Sammy.  No sabía que Sammy era un personaje importante.  Pensaba que era una simple ensalada.  Kaitlyn estaba nerviosa y Sammy también.

Kaitlyn tuvo una buena idea.  Fue a un salón de belleza.  El salón se llamaba Hair N’ Stuff.  En el salón había un empleado, un vestidor de pelo, que se llamaba Taryn the Cool Guy.  Kaitlyn le preguntó:  Señor, yo quiero pelo verde.  Un hombre muy malo quiere comer a mi amigo Sammy.  Necesitamos camuflaje.  Necesito pelo verde.

Pero Taryn the Cool Guy no era un simple vestidor de pelo.  Era en realidad un agente secreto.  Trabajaba para Sr. Fork.  Él le llamó por teléfono a Taryn the Cool Guy.  Le dijo:  Señor, Usted tiene mucha hambre y quiere un a ensalada verde.  Tengo una ensalada verde aquí en mi salón.  Voy a tintar el pelo de la chica pero voy a usar un verde diferente.

Taryn the Cool Guy tintó el pelo verde oscuro.  Sr. Fork llegó al salón y comió a Sammy.  Después, comió a Kaitlyn.  Después, comió a Taryn.  Después, comió el salón.

(My kids like sad endings…sorry!)