I was one of the lucky few who was able to sign up for Ben Slavic’s session in the afternoon. I couldn’t wait to see his presentation, and it did not disappoint. I feel like I gathered so much information that it will be difficult to put it all into a single post! One of the reasons that is was so helpful is that he actually treated the audience the way he would treat students in his classroom rather than as TPRS teachers. This was nice because I really saw how and why some of his ideas work the way that they do.
Ben started out the session by going over the list of words he keeps in his classroom. This list comes from words that may be in the curriculum or are high-frequency, but are not necessarily covered in stories. He usually does five words per day, and starts out simply by saying the word in English and doing a gesture with it. He then has students suggest any connections they can make between the target language word and the English word in order to help themselves remember what it means.
Right from the beginning of the “class”, Ben made us feel good about being in his class. He started by teaching us the signal for “I don’t understand.” He uses a swooping of one fist into the palm of the other hand. He also made sure that students wouldn’t be afraid to actually use the symbol by having the entire group practice it and saying “I love to see that you understand, but I need to know if you don’t.” and “It’s my job to make you understand.”
Next he went through the process of having students apply for jobs, which is the part that I really found interesting. In his classes, Ben has a bleater, a professor, a door-knocker, a doorbell-ringer and many more. These students must apply for a specific job by competing against several other students. The best student will be selected from the group, thus making them feel important and creating a sense of belonging. Since there are many jobs and they change students frequently, everyone in the class gets a chance to feel like this. I had read about these jobs in Ben’s books, but I didn’t really understand until I experienced it myself how important they were and how much comic relief they provided when things got slow. I loved how Ben acted so disappointed when a student would miss a cue. He gave them a chance a few more times, but if the student continued to do poorly, they would be fired and a new student appointed. This kept students on their toes and therefore they paid close attention to the story.
Source: Ben Slavic, NTPRS 2011, Handout