The name Bryce Hedstrom in the World Language community has a robust, 30-year ring to it for a reason : experience in not only creating, but also teaching teachers the best instructional strategies in world language today.
He’s the writer of many books, the creator of many practices such as my personal favorite – the Special Person Interview – and Classroom Passwords, among many others. He now gives workshops around the country, and many teachers know his work by name.
Bryce being a giving spirit wanted to share with the teacher community more than just the average interview, and also dropped a bunch of truth bombs on us – wait till you see it. Check out the interview that will completely change your practice:
Bryce also wanted to contribute EVEN FURTHER by sharing these in-depth interview answers, and I knew I had to share these with you. So sit back, grab a hot drink, and absorb the wisdom that’s about to come your way. It’s some serious food for thought, it will take some time to process. So pin it for later so you can come back to it!
An Interview with Bryce Hedstrom
1. What was one fear you had with using more target language and how did you get over it?
At the beginning of my career, my own lack of fluency held me back, knowing that spontaneous, natural speech did not come easily to me, especially when under the social stress of having to react instantly in a classroom.
The models I had experienced and seen in school did not use 90% target language, so it was not initially obvious to me that I needed to use it most of the time in the classroom.
I got over it by using more target language in class with my students. My fluency grew as I used the language in simple but meaningful ways with my students. First through stories, later discussing topics that interested them and last, and most powerfully, by conducting regular “Persona Especial” student interviews.
Continually saying, “No one speaks perfect Spanish in this class, including me” helped a lot. I believe that is a comfort to students. It certainly has been to me.
2. What activity would you call the gamechanger for target language use for your classroom?
The gamechanger was student interviews. “Persona Especial” interviews completely changed the tone and exponentially increased the meaningful target language, student engagement and the positive feel of the classroom. But to get there I had to understand SLA theory, realize the implications for lesson planning and develop the accompanying teaching skills:
A) SLA Theory
- Monitor—Grammatical knowledge can help in certain, limited circumstances
- Affective Filter—The emotional state of students deeply influences their learning
- Natural Order—Language develops in a predictable order, but all are at different rates
- Input—People acquire language by comprehensible input
- Acquisition vs. Learning–they are different: subconscious vs. conscious
- Compelling Input—interest will do most of the work
B) Implications for Lesson Planning
At first, it was inventing stories together with students, a la TPRS—that was the learning curve I had to follow to get accustomed to meaningful language, plus the other elements of solid comprehensible input-based teaching.
The acronym CRIMP may help:
Comprehensible: Do they understand most of what you are saying?
Repeated: Have the vocabulary and grammar been repeated often enough so that everyone can get it when they are ready?
Interesting: It doesn’t have to be entertaining or utterly fascinating and it doesn’t have to be able to compete with popular media, but your lesson needs to be able to keep their attention.
Meaningful: It must make sense in the context of their world—and their world now, not in 10 years.
Personalized: It must be presented in such a way that students can connect to the content in a personal way. They have to be able to see themselves using it.
Crimp the edges of your teaching and planning with these elements to be sure the learning doesn’t leak out.
Not using these will put a crimp in your plans.
- Asking questions, particularly follow up questions
- Language Control: Using simple, natural-sounding language that is comprehensible
- Reading student body language
3. What activity/lesson is the gamechanger for students using target language with each other?
No one particular activity changed things, just the expectation that we try to speak the language in class, and giving them the tools that allow them to do so. Rejoinders and useful expressions helped students to respond naturally.
4. How do you create student buy-in for an immersion classroom?
Oddly, by NOT doing complete immersion, which has been compared to drowning—complete submersion in the language without coming up for a breath of mutually shared language. Use your shared language to quickly check for comprehension and to do short “care taking” tasks at the end of class. This shows them that I care that they understand the TL and care about them.
We also keep track of how many minutes per class that we go with no unnecessary English. The buy-in comes from the personal connections. I show that I want to get the know them and that I want them to be able to tell their story to their peers, but in the Target Language.
5. Walk us through your lessons, procedures, mannerisms, etc. the first week of class. How do you set up a target language environment?
Demonstrate that the watchwords of this class are Comprehensible and Interesting. They must understand most of what is said in class and it must be reasonably interesting to them. This is shown by saying it over and over and by these steps:
1) TPR. Begin level 1 by teaching some quick, valuable vocabulary, especially some high frequency verbs via classical Total Physical Response gesturing. Move on to novel commands and short stories.
2) Questions. Begin to ask different types of questions in the TL to show students that they can actually get this stuff. Not plaintive Ferris Buehler-type questions (Anyone? Anyone?), but focused, purposeful questions that are designed to:
- Check for general understanding of the whole class
- Check for understanding of individuals at different levels
- Get ideas from individual students
Ask a student to count the number of questions you ask per hour. Shout for 2-3 per minute of TL time in class. Why? Because the person asking the questions controls the conversation.
3) Comprehension. Students need to show me when I am not being clear. Teach students to signal when they do not understand so that they can learn. We’re not just politely nodding in here, folks. Create a common gesture that they are to use when I am speaking too quickly or when I am using words they do not comprehend. Call them on it often: “You have to show when I am not being clear so that you can learn. I am dong my part. Your part is to show me when I am not doing my part well.”
4) Rejoinders. Teach some quick and handy rejoinders in the TL so that they can respond without using English. Teacher keeps them posted in the TL and on English and uses them often throughout the week. Assign a student to count how many rejoinders are used by students each class period and post on the board to engender competition between classes.
5) Class Norms. Establish the norms of the class: diligence, helpfulness, and friendliness, by posting and constantly referring to these class slogans: Work Hard, Be polite, Play the game. Teacher models
6) Class Jobs. Assigning classroom jobs helps because it shows that we are all in this together, that the teacher needs help to make the learning happen, that they are not here just to watch the teacher work.
7) Connections. Making contact with each student every day at the door to the classroom with Passwords also helps to establish the friendly, personal, TL-focused atmosphere we want to create daily.
6. What does your class look like in November, in the thick of things?
Everyone knows the routine. They know what to expect at the beginning of class and at the end of class. The middle of class is always different. So they know that there is both structure and variety. That comforts students.
7. Can you recommend an essential routine, tip, or trick for teachers that they can start using tomorrow in class?
1) Before class starts: Every student is greeted at the door. They say a “password” in the TL to get in.
2) Before the late bell rings: The day’s “Repasito” (a warm up activity, bell ringer, or do now) is on the board. Always in the same spot. Always the same number of questions. It is discussed 30 seconds after the bell rings and the teacher has taken attendance. Students grade their own.
3) Self-Selected Reading (SSR) for 10 minutes. 4 days a week, students read books in the TL silently. Everybody reads, including the teacher; especially the teacher. No exchanging books. Get a different one tomorrow. No you can’t go to the restroom. No, you can’t sleep. On Fridays they write a short reaction or reflection about what they have read that week. For groups that don’t get it, I have a rubric that they fill out with the expectations for SSR time.
4) Lesson of the day. Often it is a Persona Especial student interview. Could be story invented together as a class. Could be a song. Could be a geography, history or cultural lesson.
8. How can teachers build up to more target language use if they want to reach for more than where they are now?
1) Give students the tools, especially the high-frequency verbs, so that you can talk about something. Many teachers fall into the trap of noun-based teaching. Nouns are often more concrete and easier for students to pick up, so the teacher feels that the students are really learning, but you can’t do much without verbs. Here is where you will detour from standard curricula. High frequency verbs are irregular. Teach them anyway. Students will get them because they are used so often. You can’t say much that is interesting without suing the high frequency verbs.
2) Talk in the TL about what interests students. Students are interested in themselves, so start there.
9. How can teachers make target language more comprehensible to students?
Check for understanding often. Don’t assume they know. If they don’t understand, it is usually my fault. Check on different levels of students and in different ways. Have a couple of “barometer” students in mind and keep checking to see if they get it. If they don’t, reteach that portion of the lesson in a different way. No one gets left behind. Don’t cater only to the kids that learn quickly the way you did. Think outside of yourself.
10. What resources do you use to become a better language teacher? podcasts, books, conferences, etc
1) Word frequency lists from A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish by Mark Davies, and the wiktionary.org frequency lists.
2) Language learner novels
11. What do you do on difficult days to maintain Target Language?
You mean homecoming week, the first snow, Super Bowl week, the end of the grading period, prom week, spring fever time, or before vacations?
- Talk in the TL about things they really want to talk about
- Teach a new song
- When desperate, show a movie.
12. How do you handle tricky situations with classroom management in the TL?
- Keep them busy so they don’t have time to misbehave.
- Keep them meaningfully involved so that they have reasons to behave
- Do purposeful brain breaks that not only get them up and moving, but also tie in with the content
- Teach them the vocabulary for classroom commands.
- Develop body language signals for minor disturbances.
- Use English, if necessary–usually out in the hall.
13. How do you handle when things flop and students are lost in translation?
- Keep checking for understanding. Know who your “barometer” students are and use them
- Assign a student to see how many questions you ask during a class period
- Use English to quickly and accurately establish meaning.
- Do not use only the TL or pantomime, it’s too slow and inaccurate.
14. How do you design your curriculum with TL use in mind?
Start where they are and build. Keep circling back. Keep checking for understanding.
15. What keeps you motivated to strive for 90%?
3 hard-won realizations:
1) They Have to Hear It. Students will not acquire the language unless they hear it… and merely hearing it is not sufficient: the language also has to be comprehensible and interesting to students. and if they hear it and don’t understand it, my work is still useless. This is a game, and the rules are that the students are not stupid and lazy. The stupid and lazy one in the class is too often me. I have to figure out ways to get them to pay attention long enough to acquire the language.
2) Comprehensible Input Rules. Knowing that my brilliant explanations of the finer points of grammar are virtually useless for acquisition–only two students in any given class will retain and internalize my genius lesson and the rest will be bored or throwing things at me–as well they should. People acquire language by understanding messages in that language and slowly building their ability to understand and produce. Comprehension and fluency are the result of interesting, meaningful, repeated comprehensible input, not memorizing formulas. Language is not learned as if it were theoretical physics. It is acquired by interaction and by sharing meaning with other human beings.
3) I Must Be Patient. “Comprehension beats production… by a mile.” –Susan Gross
Mil gracias Bryce, I know this will have so much impact on the world language community. We appreciate how much you’ve done for us.
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Keep teaching for proficiency – I’m in the trenches with you.
Devon @ La Libre