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Registration for the Agen Workshop 2020

We are a small conference and hope to remain that way. We cannot accept more than 120 participants, including coaches, teachers and presenters. Register early to guarantee your place. In 2020 The conference will begin on Monday, July 27th, and end on Saturday, August 1st.

The "Early Bird" price is 445 euros. After March 1st the price will be 525 euros. There is a Paypal button after the formulaire. If you wish to pay by bank transfer, you will be contacted with the necessary information. If you need an invoice, you will receive one on request. Those who live in France and have a French bank account may pay by check. Cash payments are exceptional and need to be made before all the places are taken.

Registration for The Agen Workshop 2020
(Street address, zip code, city, state and country)
(CI : Comprehensible Input All methods of teaching a foreign language use Comprehensible Input. CI conferences seek to favor acquisition through as much Comprehensible Input as possible.)




Where in Europe can you learn about Comprehensible Input methods?

The Canal at Agen

The Canal at Agen

The Agen Workshop for foreign language teachers is seven years old. In 2019 once again teachers from around the world will meet in Agen and share their ideas and innovations. Last year there were eighty teachers from twenty-five different countries, including Japan, Korea and Costa Rica. This year there will also be teachers from as far away as Kazakhstan, South Africa and Australia.

Warning: The Agen Workshop is addictive. Once people come they tend to come back year after year. Some participants are being reimbursed by their schools or professional organizations, but many of those who come to Agen pay their own travel costs, hotel stay and meals. a sacrifice they accept with joy, looking forward to a week of growing and sharing with kindred souls. Here is what some of them are saying:

Maika from the Netherlands: The very nice experience in the previous years and the great atmosphere and the inspiration it gives me. Every year I learn new things and I get inspired again, which is so good to start the new year with.

Seoyoung from Korea: I just loved the 2018 Agen Workshop. I’m returning in 2019 with a friend.

Hélène who teaches French in a IB school in Spain: I would come every year. It is more than teacher training. All the school year I have in mind what I have seen or learned at Agen. It is inspiration and motivation for a successful school year.

What is going on in Agen? Who are these people that you see having lunch in the restaurants downtown, carrying on animated conversations, usually in English but sometimes in French or Spanish or Dutch? They are participants in the annual Agen Workshop, here to learn more about TPRS and Comprehensible Input. They are language teachers from around the world that want to learn more about Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis and how it can be applied in the classroom.

Krashen’s research on how languages are acquired dates from the 70’s, but it wasn’t until the 90’s that classroom teachers found ways to put his ideas into practice. For the first time, thanks to the Internet, thousands of teachers were able to collaborate and share their experiences and feedback. Blaine Ray is honored as the original creator of TPR Storytelling, but the method grew and evolved over the years with input from classroom teachers like Susan Gross who were trying it out in the real world. Often in France a method that is the brain child of one influential person is handed down from ministerial authorities and teachers are told to adopt it, or else, and to throw into the trash bin the “exciting new innovation” they had spent the last decade trying to master. Today Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling is truly a child that has been raised by an entire community, a grass roots movement that has spread and conquered more and more schools and districts across the United States. This year, as ACTFL (the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages) named the five regional winners of the “Foreign Language Teacher of the Year” award, it turned out that three of the five were TPRS teachers.

Every year there are two major TPRS conferences in the United States: NTPRS and iFLT. They are usually held in July. European teachers who were interested in the method had to organize a trip to the States to learn more about it and meet some of the amazing teachers who have helped it develop. In 2013 I invited Teri Wiechart, who has been a coach at NTPRS since the early days, to help me organize a workshop for TPRS teachers in Agen, France. Fifteen people came. The following year we had twenty-five and in 2015 year there were fifty people. In 2017 eighty teachers came together in Agen. Something a bit magical happened at these workshops. People from different lands, who taught in schools that were very different, were sharing their ideas and difficulties and experiences and discovering that they had much in common and that Comprehensible Input and TPRS offered many solutions. People left the workshops excited about the method and its possibilities, but also excited about the friends they had made and the doors that had been opened. The TPRS world heard glowing reports about Agen and more and more wanted to come.

Stephen Krashen was the key-note speaker at TESOL’s Colloquium in Paris in 2014. He repeatedly told the 400 assembled teachers that TPRS was the most effective means of teaching a language that he had ever observed. He came to Agen in 2016 and again in 2017. He helped convince Beniko Mason Nanki to come. Her research has validated much of the Comprehensible Input hypothesis.

In 2016 Beniko presented her Story Listening method, which inspired Kathrin Shechtmann, Alice Ayel and Ignacio Alamandoz to try it. Story Listening is brilliantly easy to master and can be adapted to many different types of students. You can now watch videos of Kathrin, Alice, Beniko and others doing Story Listening on line. It is not TPRS, but a unique way of giving Comprehensible Input to students that has proven its effectiveness.

In 2018 Susan Gross, who did so much to develop the TPRS method, joined us, along with Jason Fritze, Scott Benedict, Sabrina Sebban-Janczak, Laurie Clarcq, Kelly Ferguson and Robert Harrell. Margarita Perez-Garcia came all the way from New Zealand to demonstrate using OWI in a Spanish class with young learners. Alice Ayel explained how using Story Listening as developed by Beniko Mason had helped her IB students attain excellent scores. Pablo Roman taught Japanese using the Automatic Language Growth method.

So what is different about Agen? Why are so many people coming from so far away to a little town in southwest France? And why do they keep coming back?
One thing that we have tried to do in Agen is to develop the better aspects of the big American conferences. We have coaching with some of the best coaches around. We also have language labs as developed in iFLT, that is real classes of students of English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Breton with experienced teachers. Participants can observe the classes for the first part of the morning, then step in and have a turn as Apprentice Teacher, putting into practice basic CI strategies, trying out new techniques. In the final part of the morning, we ask the participants to PQA one of the students in a brief one on one discussion. In this way, we actually engage the participants in the lesson, so they are doing more than just observing a master teacher.

Of course, our secret weapon is Lunch. Agen is at the heart of a region reputed for its good food and there is almost a surplus of excellent but inexpensive restaurants. We encourage participants to choose one and go to lunch together. Instead of grabbing a sandwich and rushing back, we want them to take their time over lunch, to enjoy the food and process what they have seen and learned, sharing their thoughts and exchanging ideas, asking questions and giving themselves time to absorb a very different way of viewing their profession.

In the afternoon coaches are available for those that want to try out new skills. There are also presentations by well-known figures from the States, but also by some of our local, European talent. As TPRS and other methods that promote Comprehensible Input become better known on this side of the pond, we want to encourage those who are using it over here.

Some of our other presenters have never presented in the States and it is important to me to develop the “European” angle. Jayne Cooke, Stephanie Benson and Carol Bausor as well as myself have taught for many years in Europe and understand the conditions here, and how our techniques which encourage Comprehensible Input can be adapted to a public with much different expectations than are found in American schools. Jayne Cooke will speak “In Praise of Difference”, explaining how some students simply see the world in different ways. I will explain Very Narrow Listening, an extremely effective method of helping students to be able to hear input that thus becomes comprehensible.

The afternoon sessions end at six o’clock, but there are evening coaching sessions at the Stim’otel.

In 2018 we offered free language classes for members of the participants’ families, as well as a guided tour of Agen and a free visit of the Agen Museum which enchanted everyone. Our goal is to be “family friendly” so that participants can combine a family holiday with their professional development.

I’ve tried to give you a peek at our workshop as it is shaping up. It’s still a bit early to give all the names of our presenters and activities, but we hope you can make it either this year or another year. In the meantime, enjoy life and be kind to others. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

The Witch

How is the Agen Workshop organized?

 Here is a description of the Agen Workshop that may be useful to those who are applying for grants:

 

 

The Agen Workshop

International Professional Development for Language Teachers in Innovative Methods Favoring Second Language Acquisition

 

Our training is designed for teachers of foreign languages. Presentations are offered in personalization, classroom management, and a variety of techniques and classroom activities, as well as lectures on the principles of second language acquisition. Our staff, participants and presenters come from around the world to learn and share their experiences in a unique setting.

 

Requirements:

Participants must be a certified foreign language teacher or a university student who is preparing a diploma in foreign languages.

 

Pedagogical Goals :

Our goal is to help participants better understand the principles of how a second language can be acquired and to understand and experiment with innovative, varied and motivating methods of giving students comprehensible input in order to improve the four skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing.

 

After finishing the training, the participant will be able to use the techniques of Story-Listening, TPRS, Clip Chats, Readers’ Theater and other assimilated strategies which can enhance the success of their students. A better understanding of the principles of acquisition will permit the teacher to make appropriate choices in how to conduct their classes.

 Training Time :

The conference begins at noon on Monday in the last week of July and finishes at noon on Saturday, a total of five full days. The dates for this year are July 22nd to July 27th, 2019.

 Cost:

The normal cost of the full five day conference is 475 euros. Those who register and pay before March 1st have the benefit of the “Early Bird” price of 395 euros. Family members who are travelling with them can attend the “Language Lab” classes free of charge.

Organization :

During weekday mornings, the participants can observe experienced teachers working with students in Language Labs.  Some participants can volunteer to co-teach the class, working with a Coach who also facilitates the de-briefing after the students leave. In these classes students learn English, Breton, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Latin.

The afternoons and Saturday mornings are given over to lectures, presentations and round tables concerning the principles of  Second Language Acquisition or specific techniques.  Coaching sessions are programmed during the afternoons and also during the evenings when teachers can try out specific techniques with the help of an experienced coach.

 

Professional  staff :

Mme Judith Logsdon-Dubois, professeur agrégé, has a Diplôme d’Etudes Avancées. She is assisted by Diane Neubauer, currently finishing her doctorate studies at the University of Iowa, Sabrina Sebban-Janczak, who teaches French in Denver, Colorado and was TOY in her State, Magarita Perez Garcia, Spanish teacher in New Zealand, Daniel Dubois, Breton teacher in Lorient, France, Robert Harrell, currently working on a teacher training system in California, Tamara Galvan, a teacher trainer in France, and Scott Benedict of Teach for June and many other well-known figures, such as Susan Gross. All our trainers are certified teachers with many years of experience in training teachers.

 

Pedagogical documents:

Each trainee receives access to The Agen Workshop Handbook, a seventy page document that explains the basic principles of Second Language Acquisition and describes the various techniques used to apply the principles to a classroom situation In addition, the trainees can choose from a large selection of books and material adapted to the language they teach at a stand presented by The CI Bookshop.

 

Training evaluation and Certification :

  • Each trainee is required to fill out a feedback questionnaire.
  • There is a debriefing with the staff after the conference.
  • We consider the best proof of our efficiency is the large number of trainees who keep returning to Agen, year after year.
  • Each trainee receives a certificate as proof of attendance.

 

Graduate Credits: We are currently negotiating with a number of American universities concerning the possibility of graduate credits for our trainees.

The Arrival – a graphic novel with endless possibilities

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan is an extraordinary book. It’s a truly graphic novel because it has no words at all. It could be used to teach any language, even Latin. I’ve been using it to teach English as a Foreign Language for years with different levels of students. It’s my “entry test”.  When I have a new student I open the book and we start discussing the pictures. What is that? Where is it? Is it old or new? Is the family poor or rich? Is the teapot full or empty? Very quickly I have a good idea of my student’s level in English and I can decide how I want our lessons to continue.

This year I have a group of “beginner” adults. (I’ve decided that when a French person asks to be put in the beginner group, it means they are not advanced. Most French adults have learned traditionally and feel inadequate in any situation where they might have to speak English.) I knew that I would have mixed levels and that I was free to design the course as I pleased. Another English teacher in the organization is doing “communicative” teaching with grammar explanations, etc. I described my course as learning through stories and reading. I decided that our “course book” would be The Arrival.

I have scanned the book and have it on a flash drive. So I can project the pictures of the pages on a screen while we describe them and talk about them. I have asked past students to write descriptions or summaries about the pictures which I have edited to be able to use as readings for new students.

Shaun Tan is an artist who also writes whimsical stories. Son of an immigrant to Australia, his masterpiece tells the story of a man who leaves his family to go to a new country, hoping to be able to bring them later. The cover of the book shows him carrying a large and battered suitcase and staring at a very strange animal, some kind of cross between a fish, a mouse, a reptile and a dog. Everything is very strange and unexpected in the new country and he has many misadventures because he doesn’t understand the language very well and is not used to the customs and strange machines. Most people consider it a science fiction story, but actually, I suspect Shaun Tan is helping us to better understand the immigrant’s experience in an unfamiliar country.

The first page of the book has nine individual pictures that seem to have little or no relationship. There’s an origami, a paper bird, an old clock, a hat, a cooking pot, a child’s drawing, a teapot, a cup of tea, a suitcase full of clothes and a family picture of a man, his wife and their daughter. I can usually take at least fifteen minutes to discuss these pictures with my students. Then I turn the page, being careful, if I’m using the actual book, not to let them see the third page.  Here is a view of the second page:

Download (PDF, 1.76MB)

We describe the action in each picture. When we get to the last picture of two hands, I ask if the hands are the same. It’s interesting to see who catches on to the fact that one hand is larger than the other. We understand that one is a woman’s hand and the other is a man’s hand. Then I show them the image of page three where everything comes together.

Download (PDF, 2.71MB)

We look for the paper bird, the old clock, etc. After we have located all the objects seen on the first page, I ask questions about the scene. Do the people look happy? What time is it? Is it morning or night? Where is the little girl?

Page four shows the little girl waking up, having breakfast and leaving the house with her parents. We see the shadow of a monster’s tail on the building. Then we see that the monster is everywhere in the city. The family goes to the train station where other people are waiting. The father says good-bye and gets on the train alone. Finally we see the mother and daughter returning home in the monster infested town.  It usually takes an hour to “read” the pictures and finish the first chapter. I give the students a text to read or ask them to write their own, depending on their level.

Here is a text which I have “edited”in order to target some typical difficulties that the French have with English, such as his hand/her hand :

“It’s the story of a family with a man, a woman and a little girl.  The man and the woman are preparing a suitcase while the little girl is sleeping.  They are packing the suitcase. The man’s hand is on the suitcase. His big hand is on the suitcase. The woman’s hand is on the suitcase. Her little hand is on the suitcase. In their house we can see a paper bird, an old clock and a teapot on the table.  After a few minutes the little girl wakes up and goes to her parents to drink tea.  She looks at the suitcase. Everybody prepares to leave the house.  The man puts on his hat. The little girl puts on her hat.

“When they leave their house, there is a strange creature which can represent a danger.  This strange creature is everywhere in the city.  When they arrive at the train station, there are other people who are waiting for the train.  The man gives the paper bird to the little girl.  He kisses his wife and talks to her because she is crying. After that, he leaves his family to get on the train.  The train goes away with the man. The woman and the little girl go back home in the night.”

After the first lesson with The Arrival, I decide if I want to continue with the book or if I think the student’s level and interests would be better served by something else. With my group of adult beginners, we went through the book, picture by picture, chapter by chapter. The second chapter is long and usually takes two classes to get through. Each lesson gives us a lot of discussion during the  class followed by a text to read, either at home or in class. I often have more than one text which they can compare. I always ask the students to give their own name to the different characters. In the book as the main character meets other immigrants, they tell him their stories, so there is often a story in the story, which we “read” and discuss before composing our own text.

This worked very well with my beginners because of the built in repetition of key words. First we discussed the image, then either read a text about the episode or composed our own, which the students then reread at home. I love the freedom this gives me to meet my students where they are and adapt what I can say about the images to their particular needs.

P.S. We have now finished the book. I think that we can begin looking at a film such as “The Mighty” or “The Black Stallion” now. In many ways our classes will be similar since I will not be using the sound track at first. We will watch a scene and then discuss it and compose our own text before I let them start reading the subtitles in English.

Stephen Krashen on Error Correction

I stopped correcting my students’ errors a long time ago, while I was still teaching in the lycée. I had come to the conclusion that correcting written errors was an enormous waste of time and energy. I’ve discussed this before in my article about helping students to improve their written production: http://tprs-witch.com/how-to-teach-writing/   Here is another, more scholarly article which should put the last nail in that coffin: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Gray-WritingCorrection.html

And when my students were speaking, I felt it was better not to correct them simply because it was an interruption. I myself know that when I am speaking French, particularly when I’m talking about something that is vital to me, if someone interrupts me to correct my grammar, I feel that they aren’t really listening to me, that judging my grammar is more important to them than what I have to say. Of course, I feel much differently if my error has made something I’ve said ambiguous or incomprehensible. When the other person is trying to be sure that they are understanding me correctly, I don’t see that as “correction” at all. I feel that they are trying to help me get my message out, and I am grateful. And I am very unlikely to make the same mistake again, because I do want to be understood.

Stephen Krashen has pointed out that studies which seem to support error correction, in various forms, often have two weaknesses. One is that students’ progress is measured by tests in which they are asked to choose the correct form, rather than by examining their written production. Any experienced teacher knows that you can drill students, practice a grammatical structure over and over, and they will be able to pick out the correct form on a test. But they will continue using the incorrect form in their spontaneous production. Another weakness of the studies that seem to support error correction is that any measurable improvement diminishes in time, a sure sign that recognition of the error was learned but not acquired.

Recently one of my former students contacted me on this topic. She is currently studying to be a language teacher and taking university courses. She has attended the Agen Workshop for the last couple of years and has heard Dr. Krashen speak more than once. She was surprised to hear one of her professors, who seems to respect our eminent friend, support error correction. She asked me for articles and references on the topic, and of course I wrote to dear Stephen. This is his reply:

“A lot of people say that mistakes are good and part of the process.

“I think mistakes are inevitable and a natural result of acquisition.  

“When people think they are “good” it means, I think, that we can then correct them, and correction is good.

“But correction has no real effect. It is learning, not acquisition. It encourages you to rethink the conscious rule and make a better rule.  That’s conscious learning. 

“I like Steve Kaufman’s attitude about mistakes … don’t worry about making mistakes, people listening to you don’t care if you make mistakes, they are interested in WHAT you are saying. If you worry about making mistakes you talk less, and you get less CI.

“Notice that you can improve dramatically without talking at all (listening and of course reading), which means making mistakes doesn’t really help.  But they don’t hurt unless they make you hesitant to speak.”

Here, once again, Dr. Krashen makes the point that is so difficult for teachers (and students) to accept. “You can improve dramatically without talking at all (listening and of course reading).”

Then he adds, “Making mistakes doesn’t really help. But they don’t hurt unless they make you hesitant to speak.”  When teachers, and well-intentioned friends, correct our mistakes, what they are actually doing is making us hesitant to speak. When we hesitate to speak, we will get less interaction, so less input, the one vital element that we need in order to progress.

Motivation = CAN = Competence + Autonomy + Network

One of the wonderful things about the Agen Workshop is the amazing people who come, people that I occasionally find time to sit down and talk to. Last year I met Liam Printer for the first time. He is Irish and teaches Spanish in a private school in Switzerland. He is working on a doctorate (among many other activities which also include coaching a girls’ basketball team) and I found his discussion of motivation very interesting. After all, we all know that if you can motivate your students, the battle is won. Liam explained that the three elements needed for motivation are: a feeling of competence (“I can do this.”), a feeling of autonomy (“I have some say in this.”) and a feeling of belonging to a network (“My friends and I are in this together.”)

This makes a lot of sense when applied to a classroom where the teacher is focusing on giving her students the Comprehensible Input they need to acquire language. We make tests and quizzes easy and don’t correct errors so that we can build a feeling of confidence and competence in our students. We give them choices. If we are doing TPRS, they decide what happens in the story. And we work very hard to create a positive and supportive classroom feeling, where everyone feels safe. Most of the presentations in any given conference will be about ways to develop one of the three crucial elements of motivation.

But, I thought, what about me? I tutor students and most of my sessions are one on one. How do I make a student feel that he belongs to a network? Some of my students have already found their network of fellow English speakers. In the days when I was giving oral exams for the French baccalaureate, whenever I encountered a student that was actually at ease carrying on a conversation with me, I almost always discovered that they shared a passion with a network of English speakers. It might be music or on-line games or anglophone neighbors that had motivated them to do more than memorize lists of irregular verbs. In those days, I focused on the passion. Liam helped me see that the feeling of belonging to a community, of being accepted, was as vital as that passion.

I did quite a bit of musing on Liam’s ideas. It helped me realize why I am not as motivated to go horse-riding as I used to be. I’m not spectacularly competent, but I’m much better than I used to be. I’m fairly autonomous, because I have my own horse and can ride when I want to. But … I have no one to ride with me. Two of my granddaughters used to come every school holiday, and we would ride together. None of the others caught the virus and Shanye and Ines are now living their lives of young adults and no longer visit as often. So I find it easier and easier to find reasons not to go riding. I realized that my passion for horse-riding would be hard to maintain if I don’t find others to share it with.

Recently I was contacted by the mother of a student who came to me for emergency lessons last spring. He was obviously not very motivated and I did not expect to see him again. Well, his mother wants his grades to improve and she wants him to continue taking lessons with me. At first I intended to refuse, because when the student is pushed into taking lessons by the parents, it rarely works out. Then I decided to have a discussion with the boy first, in case I had misjudged him. I saw him as the kind of student that could test Liam’s theory. What would it take to motivate him?

Competence? I could acknowledge whatever level he has reached and consider it a foundation to build on. In our discussion it turned out that he likes his new English teacher and is able to follow much of what goes on in class. So he does feel that he has some competence. I will be careful not to diminish that feeling.

Autonomy? To our meeting, I brought a variety of films in order to let him choose the one he’d like to work with. Some easier than others. We discussed them all and he chose Get Out! , a recent film which won the Oscar for the best original screenplay. If I had been choosing, I would have chosen something easier, but, I decided to go with his choice, to allow him some autonomy. I explained to him that there are two endings to the film and the DVD I have has both endings. We did the first scene, in which a black man, lost in a well to do suburb, is kidnapped, as a Movie Talk, then collaborated together to write a summary of the scene. I used his ideas, silently editing the grammar as we went, and projected the final text so that he could read it over again. So he is the author of our text.

Network? Now, here I admit I was a bit stumped. He doesn’t seem to have any passion shared with an on-line community. He is paying a higher price for one-on-one lessons, because he didn’t feel that he had much in common with the other student who came to lessons with him last spring. How do I make him feel part of a network?

Yesterday we had our second lesson. We watched the scene showing Chris in his apartment with Rose. I muted the dialog, so basically we began by talking about the photographs on the wall, what kind of person would live in such an apartment, what could their profession be, man or woman? Then we saw Chris shaving, then Rose choosing pastries for breakfast, and my student was surprised to realize they were a couple. He was able to guess that Chris was packing to go on a visit to her parents, and I let him listen to Chris’ question. “Do they know I’m black?” And Rose’s response. “They are not racist”.

We watched the drive to her parents’ home and the incident when they hit a deer. We discussed the policeman wanting to see Chris’ driver’s license even though he was not driving, his easy compliance and Rose’s defiance. Then we saw them arrive and my student agreed. Her parents were welcoming. They were not racist.

After Dean gives Chris a tour of the house and grounds, we see the parents and the couple having tea, served by Georgina, the black cook. I have prepared the scene as a VNL and we began the exercise, but did not have time to finish. I encouraged him when he heard the missing words and quickly gave them to him when he had problems, agreeing that some of them are hard to hear. A VNL exercise should build a feeling of competence and should never leave students feeling discouraged.

I had left the door open so that I could see when the next student arrived. There was a man with her who I assumed to be her father, but when we stopped, he turned out to be the boy’s father. If I had known, I would have closed the door, so that the boy did not feel he was being spied on. But on second thought it seemed to me that the lesson had ended on a good note and I had been congratulating the boy on what he was able to hear, so he could feel that he had displayed a certain competence for his father’s benefit.

I felt that the session had been positive and that we had progressed. He was very much into the film and obviously enjoying it. And I was enjoying his reactions and comments. Then it hit me. A network doesn’t have to be a lot of people. A network can be two people. Perhaps all networks began with two people connecting and then bringing in others. If I could develop a positive relationship with this boy, so that he can consider me a friend, someone who is on his side, I can be his English network. While I was asking his opinion about the images we saw, I was also saying that I valued and respected his opinion. I don’t expect to get invited to his next birthday party, but I can hope for his respect and trust. And perhaps that is the most important part of a network, being able to respect and trust the other people, the other person in your network. So, yes, I believe my new student will be motivated and able to progress in English. Because we will be building on all three of Liam’s components, competence, autonomy and network. A network of two, because we can be more than teacher and student. We can also be friends.

The Mighty – 4th episode – Their first quest

After the exciting fireworks scene in which Max and Kevin first begin to function as a team, the students are looking forward to seeing what will happen next. The next scene in the film shows Kevin going to wake Max up early in the morning, eager to continue their adventures. Max is not at all interested. Basically I do this scene as a Movie Talk, first without sound or subtitles. At the end of the scene, we cannot know what Max will decide, so I ask the students whether they think he will go with Kevin or stay at home.

Then I put on the sound and the subtitles and we watch the scene again. I usually have to explain the Wizard of Oz reference. Again, I ask the students what Max will decide.

The question is answered when we see the two boys crossing the bridge to Cincinnatti. I don’t exploit the song unless the students are interested. I do point out that we see Max smiling for the first time.

They go into a diner and the boys rescue a girl who is being harassed by a man. We read the subtitles, discuss what is happening, make suppositions. I point out that when Kevin says, “Unhand her, knave,” the man does not understand and Max has to translate: “Take your filthy hands off her!” It is interesting to point out the difference in the language the two boys use.

We see the boys crossing the bridge again on their way home, this time accompanied by a group of knights on horseback. At home there is a scene of the boys eating in Kevin’s home. It reveals Gwen’s concern about Kevin eating too fast. I also like to point out that the food that Max finds so delicious is something a mother would toss together in a hurry, wieners with ordinary bread, which is why she laughs when he says, “Gram never cooks like this.”

Then I give my students the Embedded Reading that summarizes the scenes we have seen. Again I have given them a task with the first reading: choose the right word.

Reading I
Freak went to Max’s door/house/school and woke him up. Max told him to take back his five/seven/ten dollars. He said he didn’t have any money/time/friends and he didn’t need any. Freak said not to talk/think /write of it as a friendship, but as a partnership. So, they went into the city/house/barn and rescued a girl who was being harassed by a dragon/man/knight. It was their first mistake/fireworks/quest.

II
Freak went on crutches to Max’s house. He knocked on the bedroom window with his crutch to wake Max up. Max was angry. He said, “You almost got me killed last night.” He told Freak to take back his five bucks. He said he didn’t have any friends and he didn’t need any friends. Freak told him not to think of it as a friendship, but as a partnership. Max needed a brain and Freak needed legs. So the two boys went across the bridge to Cincinnatti. When they were hungry they went into a diner to buy candy bars. A man was harassing a girl, so Freak said, “Unhand her, knave.” The man didn’t understand, so Max told him to take his filthy hands off the girl. The man was frightened and confused. He left the diner and the girl said thank you. Max and Freak had rescued a maiden. It was their first quest.

III
The morning after the fireworks, Freak went on crutches to Max’s house. He knocked on the bedroom window with his crutch to wake Max up. Max opened the window, but he was angry. He said, “You almost got me killed last night.” He told Freak to take back his five bucks. He said he didn’t have any friends and he didn’t need any friends. Freak didn’t take the money. He told Max not to think of it as a friendship, but as a partnership. Max needed a brain and Freak needed legs. So the two boys went across the bridge to Cincinnatti. Freak rode on Max’s shoulders. Freak was happy and he talked to friendly people. Everyone thought Max was kind to carry his friend and no one looked at him like they had just seen his picture on America’s Most Wanted. When the boys were hungry they went into a little diner to buy Babe Ruth candy bars. A man was harassing a girl. He wanted her to give him something and he was hurting her. Freak told Max that a knight proves his worthiness by his deeds. So Max walked over to the man and Freak said, “Unhand her, knave.” The man didn’t understand, so Max told him to take his filthy hands off the girl. The man looked up and he thought he saw a tall knight on a horse. He was frightened and confused. He left the diner and then the girl said thank you. Max and Freak had rescued a maiden. It was their first quest.

The Mighty – Session 3

By the third session with the film the students will have some empathy with the two characters, Max and Kevin. I should explain that from the beginning of the film Max talks about “Freak”, but I always refer to Kevin as his mother would, with his real name. It’s only later that we come to understand why Max calls him Freak.

I begin the third session with the scene in which Kevin offers Max five dollars to take him to see the fireworks. We read the subtitles and briefly discuss the fact that Kevin knows no one else to ask. I point out that the boys are not friends. You don’t pay a friend to go somewhere with you. Max has no friends and Kevin has no friends.

Then we are at the fairgrounds and we continue reading the subtitles and discussing what we learn about Max and Kevin. Kevin’s mother is always worrying about him. Max’s mother is “in heaven”, so it becomes clear that she has died.

Then the boys run into Blade and his gang, and Blade calls them freaks. I explain to my French speaking students that “freak show” is “la foire aux monstres” in French, that it used to be a common circus attraction. I pause so that they can see how Max tries to ignore the gang, showing that he doesn’t want any problems. Then Kevin calls the gang “cretins”. I pause so that they can see how Max, who is supposedly not very bright, quickly manages to get Kevin to safety and why the gang cannot follow. This is a form of Movie Talk. We’re translating the subtitles, but we are also discussing the actions of the characters.

The fireworks scene is a high point of the film. I ask the students why Kevin is frustrated, why he can’t see. And then Max puts him on his shoulders, and the real story starts. Usually the students catch on to Kevin’s calling out the different names of the chemicals that produce the colors of the fireworks, but if they don’t I explain.

Then the boys meet the gang again and there’s an exciting chase scene during which Kevin becomes Max’s brain and Max becomes Kevin’s legs. It’s one of the best scenes in the film. If I’ve taken too much time before the chase begins, I stop when they see the gang and wait for the next class to continue. I want to be able to include the following scene when the police take the boys home and Grim tells Max, “I’m proud of you.” It’s an important scene and I’ve noticed that the word “proud” is often definitely, permanently acquired after viewing it.

When we have finished watching it and discussing it, I give them this Embedded Reading. You will see that the first reading has words in italics and the students are to choose which word fits the scene they saw in the film. (Now I borrowed this idea from someone who posted about it recently, but when I went back I couldn’t find where it came from. If you are the author, please contact me so I can credit you.) This simple exercise of having to choose one of three words gives some variety to the Embedded Reading, and also, I find, takes some of the focus off of the new words in the text. When students are thinking about something else, new vocabulary seems to glide painlessly into their minds. Since the new words are going to come up again in Reading II and III, they will seem familiar when we’ve finished. The third version is written in the first person. If your students are up to it, you could use the original chapter from the book, Freak the Mighty, as a fourth Embedded Reading. The readings I have used are derived from it.

Reading I

After the fireworks, Max carried Kevin on his back/shoulders/head. Kevin was happy. He could see nothing/everything.

Then Kevin saw Blade/his mother/the police. He told Max to go left. There were more Doghouse Boys.

Then something funny happened. Kevin became Max’s stomach/heart/brain and Max became Kevin’s legs/mouth/arms. They ran away.

There was a train. Max ran/walked/jumped across the tracks. The train stopped Blade and his gang.

The fire/police/water stopped Max and Kevin. Blade and his gang were in front of/behind/next to them. Blade had a gun/knife/hamburger. Kevin said, “Go straight. Trust me.”

Max walked into the mud/street/snow. Blade was behind them with his knife. Max had mud up to his stomach/knees/mouth. He was stuck. But Blade could not walk in the mud. He went back.

The police/teacher/dancers came. The Doghouse Boys ran away.

Kevin and Max became like a knight of King Arthur.

Reading II

After the fireworks, Max carried Kevin on his shoulders. They walked through the crowd. Kevin was happy. He was high and he could see everything. “This is better,” he said.

Suddenly Kevin saw Blade and some of the Doghouse Boys. He told Max to go the other way. There were more Doghouse Boys. Kevin told Max to go left, but there were other Doghouse boys on that side.

Then something funny happened. Kevin kicked Max and he went right. Kevin became Max’s brain and Max became Kevin’s legs. They ran away and the Doghouse Boys ran after them.

There was a train coming. Freak said, “Don’t worry.” Max ran across the tracks and the train stopped Blade and his gang.

But the pond stopped Max and Kevin. Blade and his gang were behind them. Blade had a knife. They could hear Blade laugh. Kevin said, “Go straight. Go straight ahead. Trust me.”

Max walked into the mud. There was mud up to his knees. He couldn’t move. Blade was behind them with his knife. Max was stuck. But Blade could not walk in the mud. It was too deep. He went back to the shore.

A police car came. The policemen arrested Blade and his gang. They took Kevin and Max home. Gwen told Gram and Grim that Max had saved Kevin’s life. Grim told Max that he was proud of him.

Kevin and Max became like a knight of King Arthur, walking high, killing dragons and saving maidens.

III

After the fireworks, I carried Freak on my shoulders. We were walking through the crowd. Freak was happy because he was high and he could see everything. “This is better,” he said. “I’m taller than everyone.”

Suddenly he saw Blade and some of the Doghouse Boys. Freak told me to go the other way. But there were other Doghouse Boys on that side. He told me to go left. Then I saw another Doghouse Boy. I didn’t like his grin.

Then something funny happened. Freak’s foot hit my side and I went right. He became my brain and I became his legs. I ran away and the Doghouse Boys ran after us.

There was a train coming, but Freak said, “Don’t worry. We can beat it.” I ran across the tracks and the train stopped Blade and his gang.

But then we were on the edge of the pond. Blade and his gang were behind us. Blade had a knife. I could hear Blade laugh. Freak said, “Go straight. Go straight ahead. Trust me.”

I walked into the mud. There was mud up to my knees. I couldn’t move. I was stuck in the mud. Blade was behind us with his knife. I took another step. Then I took another one. But the mud was too deep for Blade. He went back to the shore.

A police patrol car came along. The policemen arrested Blade and his gang. They took Freak and me home. Gwen told my grandparents that I had saved her boy’s life. My grandfather gave me a cup of coffee and he told me that he was proud of me.

That is how Freak and I became like one of King Arthur’s knights, walking high above the world, slaying dragons and rescuing fair maidens.

Max meets Kevin – part two of The Mighty

In the following scenes Max learns that they have new neighbors and then he sees Kevin for the first time.

If we begin when Max is lying under his bed, I ask the class “Where is he?” At first, if they’re not paying attention, they think he is on the bed. I rewind and let them follow the camera, so that they realize his refuge is under the bed. I’ve never had anyone laugh or scoff at this. They seem to realize how miserable he is, even though his face shows no emotion. We read/decode the subtitles together. I furnish the words they don’t know as soon as they hesitate. Then I go back and replay the scene. (I use the VLC program because it lets me replay as often as I wish, at the speed I want and I can choose the exact second I want to stop at. Other programs that I’ve tried are not as easy to manipulate.)

On the second replay I don’t stop or question or intervene at all. I just let the input, which is now comprehensible, soak in. It won’t all be acquired of course, but it’s a beginning.

Then we hear Gram chatting about going to the market and the price of pot roast. She mentions there are new neighbors. I usually translate this myself for the students because it’s mostly low frequency vocabulary. When she says “Her name is Gwendolyn,” I ask if Gwendolyn is a girl or a boy. This is not obvious to most of my students, so I point out that “her name” means “son nom à elle”. I do this tiny pop-up to help them with the difference between His and Her which gives them a lot of trouble. If I have more advanced students, I might ask what we can understand when she says “She’d be just about your mother’s age.” I do NOT ask the trick question “Is it “She had” or “She would”. I tell them that it means “She would be just about your mother’s age” and I translate “Elle serait un peu près l’age de ta mère.” Then I ask what this tells us about the boy’s mother and help them to realize that the boy’s mother is probably dead. My intention is to help them grasp the meaningful difference between “She is” and “She would be”. Grammar is only relevant when it gives us information about the characters and their situation.

Then we see the boy in his backyard and we see Kevin for the first time. The boy does what most people are tempted to do when they see a person who is handicapped. He stares. Gwen, played by Sharon Stone, appears and talks to her son. We learn immediately that Kevin is very intelligent. We see him fly his “ornithopter”, which his mother says is a big word for a mechanical bird. Kevin explains that he’s trying to take advantage of what looks like ideal flight conditions this evening. The subtitles shrink his statement, so I ask the students if they hear the missing words. We listen again and again, until they do hear that he’s saying more than is written on the screen and are proud when they can hear “this evening”. I use the “what’s missing” technique with students often. It gives them confidence and gets them to really listen to the audio rather than relying completely on the subtitles. Often they are the ones who point out that there are missing words.

Kevin realizes that he is being watched and confronts the boy. “What’s the matter? Have you never seen a robot before?” Sometimes I ask, “where is the robot? Is it the mechanical bird? Or is it Kevin?”

Then we go to the boy’s gym class. We meet his gym teacher and see that he is not above making fun of the boy in order to get a laugh from the other students. It’s rather sad to see that my students are never shocked by his behavior. We skim through the scene, until Blade says that Max threw the ball at Kevin. The students have no trouble understanding what is happening. I ask about Kevin’s feelings and we agree that he is angry.

Then we see the boy on the weekend, helping Grim repair the house and going to LD Reading class. Again, we translate the subtitles to get the idea, but we don’t linger. We do learn the boy’s name when the teacher calls him Max.

The scene between Max and his new tutor, who turns out to be Kevin, sets the tone for much of the film. I like to stop the film when on Kevin’s expression and ask, “What is he thinking? Is he remembering that Max threw a ball at him?” “Why is he so upset? Has he ever been in a special school ‘Where kids can’t even say their own names’?” Kevin is teaching Max to read, and since Max didn’t bring a book, Kevin uses his, King Arthur and his Knights. Kevin explains that “Every word is part of a picture, and every sentence is a picture.” I tell my students that this is true in English too. That when they read a sentence in English, they should be able to see a picture.

We usually end with “Freak was patient. He told me that dinosaurs had brains the size of walnuts. And they ruled the earth for sixty million years.” And we can talk about the name of the chapter: Dinosaur brain.

Finally I give them a summary of the beginning of the film. I use Comic sans MS to print the documents I give to students because it is said to be easier to read for dyslexic students. You may notice that in the readings I repeatedly contrast “tell” with “say”. My francophone students have problems with these words because they are both translated as dire.
The summary is presented as an Embedded Reading, but I sometimes tell weaker students to read only the first version, or the first and second version. Of course, they usually return and let me know that they read all three versions. And I give them my “cat who got in the cream” smile.

Reading 1
Max Kane lives with his grandparents, Gram and Grim. He is in the seventh grade but he is thirteen years old because he is not a good student.

The Doghouse Boys are Blade’s gang. They make fun of Max because he looks like Godzilla. They sing “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Blade wants to be friends with Max, because he could use his muscles. Max has no friends.

Kevin Dillon lives next to Max. He is handicapped and he looks like a robot. His mother’s name is Gwen. Kevin is very intelligent. He built a mechanical bird. Max watched Kevin with his bird, but Kevin saw Max. He asked, “Have you never seen a robot before?” Max ran away.

In gym class Blade threw a basketball at Kevin. He fell down. Blade told the teacher it was Max. He said, “It was Kane, sir.” The teacher told Max to help Kevin up. Kevin was angry and refused Max’s help.

On Saturdays Max went to Reading Class. Kevin was his new tutor. Kevin told Max to close his eyes and listen to the story. He said, “Every sentence is a picture.” He told Max to read “King Arthur and his knights”. Max told Kevin that he didn’t throw the ball at him. He said, “It was Blade, not me.”

Kevin asked, “What’s the matter with you?” Max said, “I don’t like to cause trouble.”

Reading 2
There is a boy named Max Kane. He lives with his grandparents that he calls Gram and Grim. He is in the seventh grade but he is thirteen years old because he failed the seventh grade.

The Doghouse Boys are Blade’s gang. They make fun of Max because he doesn’t get good grades in school and he looks like Godzilla. They laugh and sing “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Blade tells Max he wants to be friends with him, because he could use his muscles. Max doesn’t answer. Max doesn’t talk to anyone at school.

Kevin Dillon is a new boy in the neighborhood. He lives next to Max. He is handicapped and he needs crutches to walk. He looks like a robot. His mother’s name is Gwen. She is proud of Kevin because he is very intelligent. He built a mechanical bird. Max watched Kevin with his bird, but Kevin saw Max. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Have you never seen a robot before?” Max ran away.

In gym class Blade saw Kevin and threw a basketball at him. Kevin fell down. The teacher asked who was responsible and Blade told the teacher it was Max. He said, “It was Kane, sir.” The teacher told Max to help Kevin up. Kevin was angry and refused Max’s help.

On Saturdays Max went to Learning Disabled Reading Class. Kevin was his new tutor. Kevin told Max to close his eyes and listen to the story. He said, “Every sentence is a picture.” He told Max to read chapter one of “King Arthur and his knights”. Max told Kevin that he didn’t throw the ball at him. He said, “It was Blade, not me.” Kevin didn’t understand why Max didn’t say anything in gym class. He asked, “What’s the matter with you?”

Reading 3
There was a boy named Max Kane. He lived with his grandparents that he called Gram and Grim. Although he was thirteen years old, he was in the seventh grade because he had failed the seventh grade.

Blade was a punk who had been in Juvenile Hall for three months. The Doghouse Boys were his gang. They made fun of Max because he was learning disabled and he looked like Godzilla. They laughed and sang “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Blade told Max he wanted to be friends with him, because he could use his muscles. Max didn’t answer. Max didn’t talk to anyone at school because he didn’t have any friends.

Kevin Dillon was a new boy in the neighborhood. He and his mother Gwen lived next to Max. He was handicapped and he needed crutches to walk. He looked like a robot. Gwen was proud of Kevin because he was very intelligent. He built a mechanical bird. Max watched Kevin fly his bird, but Kevin saw Max. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Have you never seen a robot before?” Max ran away.

In gym class Blade saw Kevin and threw a basketball at him. Kevin fell down and the Doghouse Boys laughed. The teacher asked who was responsible and Blade told the teacher it was Max. He said, “It was Kane, sir.” The teacher told Max to help Kevin up. Max said nothing and went to help Kevin get up, but Kevin was angry and refused Max’s help.

On Saturdays Max went to Learning Disabled Reading Class. Kevin was his new tutor. Kevin told Max to close his eyes and listen to the story. He said, “Every sentence is a picture.” He told Max to read “King Arthur and his knights”. Max said he couldn’t.

Kevin told Max that if he didn’t learn to read he would go to a special school. Max told Kevin that he didn’t throw the ball at him. He said, “It was Blade, not me.” Kevin didn’t understand why Max didn’t say anything in gym class. He asked, “What’s the matter?”

Max said he didn’t like to cause trouble. “So you’re a pacifist,” said Kevin.