Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 2: Reading with Carol Gaab

How do I begin? Carol is probably the most unique presenter that TPRS has. She is simply amazing: she has a story to tell, and she prefaces it by saying that she really doesn't have a story to tell.  She fell into TPRS in a search for good teaching, and it has led her to be a publisher, a presenter, a coach, and a teacher to the MBL.  She works with the San Francisco Giants, and she has the world series rings to prove it.  But when she speaks, her humility shines through. She talks about being caught by surprise, being in the right place at the right time. More than anything, she talks about grace.  A higher power led her here, and that higher power blesses her with what she has. As she speaks, you realize that she never forgets that, not for one minute.  I'm glad to count her among my friends.

Carol gave a session on reading. I thought that this was going to be another review of a subject I knew super well. Reading is my forte. I write stories, and my students read more or less effortlessly. I thought I would know everything that was going to be said. (By the way, that is something really great about NTPRS--you do happen on workshops where you already know the material presented. Believe it or not, that is a great feeling. It's called affirmation, and we teachers need it.)

Well, I was right. I knew reading. I knew the basics. I was comfortable in what I did. But Carol took us from the basics and far beyond.  I was grateful at the end of the session for what I had learned.

Now I have to start with a reminder: this was an all-day workshop. I can't possibly show you everything I learned. I can only show you a few things. For more, go to the ntprs.org website.

Carol began with reminding us of the five C's:  communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities.  Right away I realized that I have been good at some of this (communication and cultures) but sadly lacking in the others.  She illustrated different ways to make reading workable for our students. One of those ways was also demonstrated by Blaine and Von on Monday--I think it's called "volleyball reading". You seat your classes in groups of two (a class of 30 would be split up like this:
ONE           TWO         THREE
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x

I have individual desks, so that's not hard to do. When you start, you read to the students in Spanish and then the students read to each other. The first student reads a sentence in Spanish. The second student reads the same sentence in English and then reads the next sentence in Spanish. This continue for (I think) two minutes, at which time, the students make a change. The "outside students" (for me, the ones on the left) move forward while the other students stay where they are.  You tell the first students that they are moving to the back of the next row, so the first student in row one will go to the back of row two, the first student in row two will go to the back of row three, and the third student will go to the back of row one.  That way everyone sits with someone new.

Now up to that, I'd already done. What I hadn't done was this next bit. You find out where each person had left off, and you start where the person who had read less finished. This assures that everyone will read everything, and it also provides extra review for the person who read faster. What a simple and effective idea! You get the students up and moving around, you keep them both focused, and you give everyone a chance to read with everyone.  From time to time you ask if both partners had finished both stories, and you stop when everyone has read them both through at least once.

Carol also showed us how to use culture and comparisons together. This is one of those times when I really wish I took notes (we were told that it wasn't really necessary--that there were handouts available online.  There are--go to ntprs.org/downloads and you can find them all). Unfortunately, that meant that I didn't bother to write down exactly what I learned. So I'm going to give an example from my sieve-like memory, and I invite anyone who remembers differently to write a comment so it can be cleared up.

Culture and connection is actually pretty simple if you stop and think about it. I did it without knowing that was what I was doing on the Pobre Ana PowerPoint (available through both Blaine and Carol's websites, and soon to be available on lasirenbaila.com!).  I showed the house that Ana lived in--a normal house in Tepic--and then I showed a house a little distance away--quite different, a hut with no electricity and a 3-stone fire.  It's the same concept here.  You take something from the reading--John's dad is a doctor--and then you compare a doctor in the US to a curandero in Mexico. You can do this most effectively through photos.  You can talk about how they are similar and how they are different.  This lends itself to pretty much everything you read. For example, a boy wants a dog. Why would a boy in the US want a dog? As a pet (picture). Why would a shepherd boy in the Basque Country want a dog? To work with the sheep (picture). Why would a boy living on the street in Guatemala want a dog? For comfort and for protection (picture). The students are immediately given understanding of the way dogs are treated in different cultures within the L2 countries.

Now, this next lesson didn't come from Carol. It came from a Coaching for Coaches workshop that I attended on Sunday. But the lesson is important, and it falls under "cultural nuances".

At this workshop, there was a group of military teachers from Turkey. As the day progressed, I noticed that one of the teachers was becoming more and more irritated. Finally, someone asked him what he thought of the coaching so far.  I don't remember the exact words, but the meaning was very clear:  we were being offensive to him because of the way that we were offering advice (we meaning the various coaches). In his culture, you never offered up criticism to an elder or someone in charge in a group. You did it person to person, and with respect.

I know, you're thinking 'When will we ever have Turkish military in our classes?' Let me ask you this: do you have students from the Middle East in your class?  Do you have students with Hispanic or Eastern culture, even if those students don't speak those languages? If you do, you need to watch--you might be in danger of treading on culture there.

An example:  I used to teach in Bakersfield, CA, and I had a friend who taught in Wasco. Wasco's school system is so heavily made up of migrant workers that they take a month off for Christmas to allow the students time to return from Mexico. This teacher was a sub in primary, and one of the students was misbehaving. She called him over and started to talk to him. He stood in front of her, head down. She was used to respect meaning looking the teacher in the eye, so she called him on it. He said, "But Teacher..." "My name is Mrs. B-----!  Call me by my name!" So the student looked her in the eye and called her by name. He did it through tears.

My friend knew that I was a bilingual teacher, and she was still disappointed in the lack of respect shown her, so she told me about it that night. I told her what had happened:  the student comes from a culture where you show respect by looking down when you're being chastised.  You call a professional by his title because that is more respectful than his name. So in essence, she was telling that student to treat her with disrespect.  To her credit, she sought him out the next day and apologized.

So anyway, these are my ah-ha moments in Carol's class.  I really suggest you go to the ntprs.org website and look at her download. It's worth a read.



  1. Thank you for sharing. I found this very interesting.

  2. Meg, nice blogs about your ntprs experiences. Thank you for posting them.

    Pam Schultz

  3. Meg, I have enjoyed your blog posts about ntprs14 and I am looking forward to more!

    1. Thanks, Pam. I know that when I didn't get to go, I really appreciated others' insights. I'm thankful to have had the chance to be there this year.


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