Saturday, January 21, 2012

Spontaneous v. Scripted Stories

All right, it’s time to admit it. I teach better with pre-scripted stories. My students simply stay on task better and learn more.

All last fall, I experimented with going into class with only the target vocab and brainstorming stories with student input, the way real TPRS is supposed to be done. I’ve watched the TPRS gurus do this in workshops with fantastic results, and I’ve always felt a little guilty that from day one of my TPRS life I had to pre-script my stories in order to feel secure that I could pull off a good story in class. I’ve always wanted to go full-spontaneous-story-creation with student input.

Well, no more. I wrote five scripts and readings for 3B over the winter break as well as the quizzes and activities to go with them, and started using them on my first day back with students. What a difference. I had forgotten how smooth a lesson can go with everything already written and ready, and I am now pre-scripting all my 3B stories as I go.

And as it turns out, the majority of my students like my scripted stories better than the spontaneous ones, so they are telling me. They started complaining about the spontaneous stories about halfway through the fall semester and asking me to just make up the stories myself ahead of time. “It takes too long, Mrs. Waltman, and we aren’t learning the words as well as we did last year [in levels 1 and 2.]” If the spontaneous story didn’t go anywhere, they complained that the story “sucked” and became way more focused on that than on the vocab units I was trying to teach. Also, it was near impossible for them to retell the spontaneous stories since they were so disjointed and rambled on and on at times.

I think part of the problem for me in my teaching situation is that I need to teach so much vocab in a given amount of time, and the vocab is complicated, boring, and dry by itself.

I mean, how do you make “a reliable news report” interesting and/or funny (vocab I’m working with right now from Exprésate chapter 6…)? I can needle the kids for ideas only so long before they get really whiny about having to think up new plot twists. And God forbid I’m begging for funny ideas on a day they are tired, not in the mood to be at school because it’s snowing, etc. With a pre-scripted story, I can draw their focus more to the story and the vocab and off my lame attempts to do Spanish improv and make it work every single class period.

Okay, so here’s what happened last week to illustrate this point. A student from my level 4/AP Spanish class is my TA (Teacher’s Aide) during one of my level 3 classes this semester. She sat at my desk alphabetizing papers through two blocks of me teaching with these new pre-scripted stories for 3B; she watched as we gestured the vocab, acted out the script, did verbal Q&A for a couple of minutes, then retold the story to a partner (like I always did in the past.)

Later in 4/AP Spanish class, Mandy* raised her hand. “Mrs. Waltman, I think you should teach this class the way you are teaching your Spanish 3 classes. They are having so much fun and learning so much more Spanish than we are.”

I smiled. I told her I was wondering what she thought of what she had seen, and I was glad she spoke up.

The other students in 4/AP chimed in. Another girl said, “Yeah, Mrs. Waltman. I learned so much in your Spanish 2 class."

So, I sat down that night and pre-scripted a very complicated 4/AP story to teach dar a conocer, darse cuenta de que, dar las gracias, estar a punto de, and estar de acuerdo. It took me forever to weave that many phrases into a funny story, but the AP vocab list is over 900 words, and I’m only scratching the surface as it is. The story ended up being called, “El chico que quería dar a conocer sus sentimientos” (The Guy Who Wanted to Make His Feelings Known,) and it was a blast to have them act out in class. After I did Q&A and had them retell it, I asked them in English, “Okay, how did that feel?”

All around the room, smiling faces. “Really good, Mrs. Waltman. Felt like we were really speaking Spanish.”

So…I’ve got a LOT of work to do every weekend if I am going to pre-script for both 3B and 4/AP this semester. But wow, that payoff in class over the past two weeks has been amazing and totally worth it.

I’m going to have some very fun stuff for level 3 ready to go to print later this summer, and it will be exciting to have my own books to use next year in level 3 as well.

So…stay tuned!

*Any time I talk about students in this blog, their names have been changed.