Dr. Krashen at Agen

When Dr. Stephen Krashen came to Agen, he was filmed by Dr. Beniko Mason Nanki, the world’s most charming and erudite cameraman. Here is the link to her blog where you can see the video of his talk on Sustained Silent Reading.

Ben Slavic

I have often said that Ben Slavic is the one that made TPRS comprehensible to me. I had read the Green Bible, I had attended a workshop by Janet Holter Kittok in St. Louis and I was convinced that the method was efficient, that it worked. What I did not understand was how I could do it. Then I read some of Ben’s posts on the moretprs list and I ordered his books.

I began with TPRS In A Year and immediately began applying his advice, learning the strategies as he suggested, a week at a time. Trying things out, not feeling that I had to get it all at once, accepting that teaching this way was a skill that I could eventually master. Little by little, things began to click and I could see a difference in my students’ acquisition. For his help in getting my foot in the stirrup, I will be eternally grateful. And I still recommend TPRS In A Year for those who want to try TPRS but are not sure where or how to start. PQA In A Wink helped me get into asking my students questions about themselves, but it took me longer to assimilate, perhaps because I was still working on basic skills.

When Ben created his private forum, I joined and have never regretted being part of it. I have often told people that it is the best and cheapest professional development to be found. Not only are there fascinating discussions going on all the time, but I have met so many wonderful people through it, some of them in Europe. For some reason Ben’s forum feels different than the moretprs list, more private, safer, more congenial. I look forward to reading it every day. And I learn something almost every day. One day I read a description of Jason Fritz doing Reader’s Theater and began trying it. Now I do it all the time. Many of the people on the list became familiar names to me, like friends from far away that I had never met. Robert Harrell, Carol Hill, Laurie Clarcq, Martin Anders, Jason Bond and Charlotte Dinscher have become good friends and will all be in Agen this summer.

When I tried to organize the first Agen Workshop in 2013, Ben promoted it and most of the people who came that year had learned about it on his blog.

In 2014 I finally met Ben face to face at the IFLT conference in Denver. I was looking forward to meeting him, but didn’t expect to have someone shout out “The Queen of France!!” from the other end of the hall and bow down like a true French courtier. For some reason, when I remember the scene, he’s waving an enormous Trois Musketeers hat with a gorgeous white plume. I’m sure he didn’t have one, but that’s how I remember him. I am basically, fundamentally a very shy person and was horribly embarrassed. All I could say was, “Get up. Please, get up.” He seems to have forgotten that the last Queen of France had her head chopped off. Later I hoped to get the chance to listen to one of his enchanting monologues where he would discuss TPRS and students and comprehensible input and I would gain wonderful insights. But a lot of other people had the same idea and every time I saw Ben he was surrounded by admirers and I felt intimidated. I mean, I couldn’t just walk up to him and demand, “Say something inspiring!”

In Chicago I attended one of his “War Room” sessions. He was coaching people who were trying out their TPRS skills with a friendly audience. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of colleagues and pretend to teach. All coaches know that it’s a brave thing to do and that their interventions should be tactful, delicate and caring. (Coaching doesn’t work for me, personally, because I teach English and it’s hard for my “pretend students” to pretend that they don’t understand their native language.) Anyway, I can only say that what I saw that night in the War Room was a tactful, delicate and caring Ben Slavic.

Last year I was able to invite Ben to come to Agen and he accepted. So Ben came and did his War Room coaching every night. Also, being very generous with his time and energy, he presented during the afternoons, talking about One Word Images and the Invisibles. I was teaching every morning and presenting every afternoon and running a conference all the rest of the time, so I didn’t have many chances to see Ben in the evenings, but I heard very positive things about the War Room sessions. Many came away inspired to try something new.

Ben was staying in the same hotel with Dr. Beniko Mason Nanki, Dr. Stephen Krashen and Tina Hargaden. They often had breakfast together and Ben and Tina learned about Beniko’s technique of Story Listening. The rest is history and I encourage everyone to try this way of giving students compelling comprehensible input. Dr. Nanki is publishing a book about it and Ben and Tina are putting out a revised version of his Invisibles with a forward by Dr. Nanki.

When I think of Ben, the word that comes to mind is passionate. He is passionate about his craft, passionate about wanting to help others find their way. He has the courage to go off the beaten path, the courage to try new methods and the courage to speak his mind. I don’t always agree with him, but I have discovered that he also has the courage to admit his mistakes. But actually, the Ben I know best is not the Ben I met briefly in Denver and Chicago and Agen. The Ben I know best is the writer, the writer that I’ve been following for many years now. He has a gift for words and many of his posts are pure poetry and I can’t help but admire the way he says it. I hope to see him back in Agen one of these days, and that this time we’ll find time to have a good meal and a long discussion about teaching students with comprehensible input, something we are both passionate about.

What Happens When Teachers Use Comprehensible Input

Bob Patrick is a Latin teacher. Bob Patrick teaches with Comprehensible Input. He was hired for a part time position in a public high school with over 3000 students in Atlanta, Georgia. Bob was soon selected as Teacher of the Year in the Southeast and was a hot contender for the national title. His program grew at first because he encouraged the counselors to send him the students no one else wanted and then continued to grow because the kids loved his classes. He recently posted this announcement. Draw your own conclusions.

We are a progressive Latin team teaching collaboratively in a large high
school program striving to build and maintain an inclusive Latin program.

We are looking to add a fifth full time Latin teacher to our team. This
should be someone who is either a) an experienced Comprehensible Input/TPRS
user or b) is willing to adopt the practices of CI with a great deal of
support, mentoring and training from our Latin team. We are exclusively CI
and task oriented. No one on our team typically teaches more than two preps.

We are one of the largest elective Latin programs in a public secondary
school in the nation.

We are an untextbook-Latin program sourcing the content from multiple ages
as well as modern novellas.

We teach Latin to grades 9-12 with classes in levels 1-4 and also offer AP

We are an exclusively CI and task oriented program.

We use Standards based assessments.

We teach in a large (3000+) ethnically diverse school in metro Atlanta
teaching over 20% of our student body.

Our Latin program mirrors the diversity of the school.

We have a very high student success rate and a retention rate of 50-60%
over four years.

We have built a reputation for working with all kinds of learners including
those with emotional and learning disabilities of which we are proud.

We have over 180 students in our chapter of JCL.

Georgia public schools in general pay teachers at the national average and
higher than most in the southern region while costs of living in GA remain
relatively low.

Our team members include: Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, Bob Patrick, and
Keith Toda

Interested persons should send letter of interest and resume to Bob
Patrick, Dept. Chair:

Robert Patrick, M.Div, PhD
Metro-Atlanta, GA

Coaching for Coaches at the Agen Workshop 2017

Once you have found your sea legs in TPRS/TCI, you will want to share the joy and help other teachers start on their own journey. Coaching for Coaches is a special all day session for teachers who feel fairly confident about their own skills and want to help others to implement Comprehensible Input in their classrooms. And we all know that the best way to master a skill is to try to teach it to others.

Coaching for Coaches in Agen will be held Sunday, July 23rd, at the Centre Descartes. Teri Wiechart, Robert Harrell, Carol Hill, Judy Dubois, Laurie Clarcq, Kirstin Plante and Iris Maas will work with teachers who want to coach other teachers in the skills that make Comprehensible Input work in the classroom.
The Coaching for Coaches session costs 100 euros. Register here.
Please select a valid form

You may pay by Paypal or a bank transfer. If you have a French bank account you may pay by check.

About Noise and Circling

Some people on the moretprs list seem to have misunderstood a comment that was made about Tamara Galvan. I wrote this to explain how I perceived her classes.

Tamara Galvan teaches English as a foreign language in France. She is an amazing teacher. Parents fight to get their kids into her classes because they come out transformed. The kid who hated English suddenly wants to read books in English and continue his studies in an American university. What happens? They ACQUIRE the language instead of memorizing irregular verbs. She is also that rare miracle, someone who learned all they could about TPRS via this list and books and began applying it in their classes. What Ignacio was describing was not Story Listening, it was a very “traditional” Blaine Ray style lesson, complete with props and crazy ideas from the students; Tamara might be surprised to learn that Ignacio didn’t think she was circling. She just does it so beautifully that it doesn’t feel like circling. It feels like she’s having a genuine conversation with her students.

Also, she was not working with complete beginners, wha are rare in France where kids begin English very early, but with teachers that are often not proficient enough to flood their students with CI. Complete beginners may need the more mechanical form of circling. (I’ve used it with primary students and still had fun. They seem to accept it as part of the game.) The kids Ignacio saw with Tamara had had three or four very boring years of lots of incomprehensible input in school. But even the students of the most traditional legacy teachers manage to acquire bits and pieces of the language. The reason that Tamara was so successful, the reason her students had such big smiles, was that she made it both Compelling and Comprehensible from day one. She was with those kids, reading their eyes, checking for comprehension without seeming to, reading them just as we all do in any conversation when you need to know that the person you are talking to understands what you are saying. She taught the kids to signal when they didn’t understand and she questioned them to be sure they understood. Please do not believe that Tamara was doing anything but giving her students lots of Comprehensible Input with very minimal noise.

The obvious form of circling where one statement generates a dozen questions and then we make another statement and ask another dozen questions can become mechanical and it becomes deadly when it becomes mechanical. I can understand the reaction of the student who said, “But you already asked that question.” I still circle, even with advanced students, but only when a tricky structure comes up and I want to be sure they are hearing it. I may ask only one or two questions, as if I’m checking to be sure I’ve understood. then I use the same structure in a different way and again ask a question or two. Laurie Clarcq compares it to sanding wood. If you stay in the same place too long, you’ll make a dent in the surface. So you sand a bit here, a bit there, but eventually cover all the table top.

When students are very weak and unsure of themselves and intimidated by the idea of being judged, they tolerate very little noise. Some seem to go catanic as soon as an unknown word pops up. Such students need input to be 100% transparent. But as they ACQUIRE language they also acquire confidence and become more tolerant of noise. If they find the input they are receiving compelling, they will tolerate even more noise, which makes them more able to navigate and communicate in the real world, where it’s impossible to eliminate all noise. I think of noise as something like bacteria. Too much of it can be fatal, but children who are raised in a sterile environment won’t be able to survive in the real world.

Laurie Clarcq, my mentor

She always signs her posts, love, Laurie. She was already a frequent participant in the discussions on the moretprs list serve when I began following it in 2006. She helped me understand how TPRS fit into a classroom, but she also helped me understand that the most important thing in the room was not the method, not the teacher, not the equipment, but the students. Unless the teacher was focused on them and their needs, there would be no miracle. Unless there was love and respect in the classroom, there would be no miracle. Perhaps love and respect were the miracle.

There are a lot of strong personalities on the moretprs list and strong personalities have strong convictions. Sometimes sparks fly and tempers heat up. Invariably, when that happens Laurie will post something that is both kind and open-minded. She has a special gift for seeing both sides, for knowing where people are coming from and understanding their pain. Again and again I admired her gentle wisdom and her skill at reconciliation and wished I could be more like her.

She has contributed to the TPRS movement in many ways. As a coach at NTPRS and IFLTC she has helped countless teachers gain confidence in their skills. After a comment she made on Ben Slavic’s blog, the author of TPRS Q&A, called her a TPRS goddess. With Michelle Whaley she helped make Embedded Reading and Movie Talk indispensable tools in the TPRS toolkit. On her blog, Hearts for Teaching at she has generously shared hard-earned insights gleaned from her long experience in the classroom. Reading her posts, I particularly appreciate her honesty. She doesn’t pretend to be a super hero teacher. She’s open about her doubts and struggles.

Currently, having retired from the school in New York where she taught many years, where she was well-known and respected by her students, she has accepted a new job in a new school in California. It takes years for a teacher to build up a reputation as “a good teacher” so that students enter her classroom knowing they are in the hands of someone who’s competent, someone that their friends and older brothers and sisters respected. New teachers have to start from scratch and prove themselves every single day. That is the challenge that Laurie has courageously accepted. On her blog she is disarmingly frank about her trials and setbacks, her little steps forward and minor victories.

I was delighted when Laurie told me that she was coming to Agen in 2016. I had met her face to face in 2014, but in all the rush and excitement of the big conferences, we didn’t manage to really get to know each other. Thank heavens, she came to Agen a day early, so I had some time to spend with her and immediately it felt like I was talking to an old high school friend, someone who knew me from way back when. We were on the same wave length on so many things that we were often finishing each other’s sentences. She was a great presenter and a precious addition to our coaching team. I hope she’ll be able to come to Agen again and again.
Love, Judy

My Son Daniel



He went to Brittany and fell in love with a language, an ancient and beautiful language of Celtic mysteries and Gallic grace. He discovered that he could share his linguistic passion and his love of games with his students and began role-playing in Breton.
– There is a door. There is a big blue door. On the right there is a little yellow door. Which door do you open? Do you open it quickly or slowly?
– Behind the big blue door there is a tiger. It looks at you. Do you attack? Do you run away? Do you give it some meat? What do you do?

Then his mother started talking about something called TPRS. She talked and talked and he finally decided to go to the first Agen Workshop to see what she was talking about. He met Teri, who coached and encouraged him, Martin and David and Petra, Lynnette and Lori, who, like him, wanted to share their passion for a language with their students, who wanted to laugh with their students and Teach to the Eyes.

At the second Agen Workshop he taught two lessons of Breton, and people wanted more. So he taught more the following year and people were still asking for more. And he was having fun, laughing with his students and sharing his enthusiasm.

I have watched my son Daniel grow into TPRS and Comprehensible Input. Teri says he’s a natural, but I think he’s incapable of being anything but natural in front of his students. He has never tolerated hypocrisy, so when he looks at his students and speaks, they feel that he is a hundred per cent there, that he’s hanging on their answer, that he truly cares about what they have to say. No one taught him to Teach to the Eyes because he doesn’t know how to do it any other way.

He went to iFLT in Colorado and NTPRS in Chicago, saw many expert TPRSers at work and made a lot of friends. In Agen 2016 he met Stephen Krashen, Ben Slavic, Laurie Clarcq, Robert Harrell and Beniko Mason Nanki. He watched and listened and he learned and he adapted what he observed to his own personality, to his own language, to his own students. He returned to Brittany and taught Breton and English, as well as French on Skype, gaining professional experience without losing the twinkle of adventure in his eye.

Today I want to salute Daniel and tell him how much I admire his tenacity, his sincerity and the way he has grown into a vital member of the Agen Workshop team. Every time I see him teach, I remember that it’s all about having fun with your students, nothing more, nothing less.

I’d like to finish with a note that Daniel wrote to Ben Slavic:

I’ll just paraphrase on what you wrote Ben. Your post rings a mighty bell because that’s exactly what I feel like when I’m in my classroom (universe). We efficiently understand (comprehend) something because we’re interested in it. When we’re in the process of learning something from someone, we learn best from someone we have a personal (special) relationship with, someone who has showed us that we were the most important people in the world and someone who really meant it doing so. The classroom of a language teacher (I personally prefer the term ‘a language transmitter’) has to be that special place where you feel like you belong to a community. And I do transmit (teach) the language having in mind that I’m willing to create a bridge between people, between me and the people I’m dealing with. That’s my focus and that’s how I define my own ACTFL (we do have similar nonsense classifications in France) proficiency scale : LET’S CREATE A BRIDGE WE CAN ALL WALK ON TO GET TOGETHER. LET’S COMMUNICATE

When the Required Curriculum is Way Too Much!

Recently a teacher posted on the TPRS Witch Facebook page about what I believe is a common problem: “My students continue to struggle because I am required to ask too much from them too soon. Is there any way to combat this? I feel like a failure on most days but when I reflect it’s the overall expectation that is just unrealistic.” Few teachers can afford to ignore Required Curriculum. I wanted to respond, but thought it deserved more than a short comment.

For generations textbooks have been slicing language up into pieces that students were expected to learn in a very logical and carefully calculated order. The experts didn’t always agree on which tense to start with, Simple Present or Present Continuous, but they all agreed that you start with the “easy”, basic fundamentals and gradually build on them. They grouped vocabulary into themes. We taught all the family words, then the house words, later we learned to talk about the weather, the seasons and sports and going through customs. Whether the curriculum was based on grammar or communicative activities or whatever, the basic principle was that students learned bit by bit, the grammar rules and vocabulary lists, until four or five years later when they could actually carry on a conversation. This approach has always reminded me of Johnny Cash’s song, One Piece at a Time, and gives similar results. The students, the few who persevere, have a lot of bits and pieces but they don’t necessarily fit together very well.

What’s wrong with bits and pieces? What’s wrong with focusing on the simple fundamentals first?

I think the teacher who posted the comment accurately identified the real problem. “The overall expectation is just unrealistic.” For generations teachers have been blaming the students, saying that they were lazy and unmotivated. Otherwise, how could their disappointing results be justified? I had a wake-up call the year I was given a truly exceptional class to teach. The students were extremely intelligent, hard-working and highly motivated. I got along well with them and they did everything I asked and passed all their exams with flying colors. But I couldn’t help but notice that the lessons they had diligently learned for my tests were quickly forgotten. When I heard of Krashen’s distinction between learning and acquisition, a light came on. Some of the students went on to actually acquire the English language, but if I had anything to do with that it was because they had enjoyed my classes and felt more comfortable listening to films in English and engaging with English speakers.

Expecting students to memorize vocabulary lists and grammar rules and then apply them in order to be able to produce language is totally unrealistic, yet it is what the textbooks encourage, however modern, flexible and “communicative” they try to appear. Teachers who have grasped the importance of maximizing Comprehensible Input and teaching language in context rather than “a piece at a time” realize how impossible the textbook expectations are for acquisition. “Is there any way to combat this?”

TPRS teachers have been struggling with this dilemma for decades now, and some have come up with a solution that seems to work, or at least appease their non-TPRS colleagues. Since, basically those who follow the textbook or the required curriculum are asking their students to memorize vocabulary, the TPRS teachers give them the same lists of vocabulary to learn … at home. In class they use their limited time to furnish their students with comprehensible input. They may or may not target certain high frequency words or structures, but they don’t waste class time on low frequency vocabulary. That goes on the lists and there’s a quiz to validate what the students have learned. Just as in the other classes, students who want the grade will learn the words and students who don’t care won’t. And just as in the other classes, the students who learned the lists will immediately forget them. In your class students are actually acquiring language and high frequency structures that will enable them to use the words they need when they need them.

My advice if you have a required curriculum is to look at it carefully and decide what is essential and high frequency and thus automatically present in your comprehensible input lessons, and what is not. Don’t sweat the grammar, because you are sheltering vocabulary, not grammar, so you’ll be giving your students a fully operating grammar system from day one. It’s the difference between buying a basic car with a operating motor already installed and sneaking parts out of the factory “one piece at a time.” Take all the remaining fluff, make a list and divide by the number of “vocabulary quizzes” you want to give. Tell your students to learn the lists for extra credit. You could even challenge them to write stories using as many of the words as possible. In all possibility, your students will know the low frequency vocabulary on the lists as well (or as poorly) as your colleagues’ students. But your students will have acquired a machine that runs and your colleagues’ students will have all the parts and not know how to put them together.