About

mike n lucyA generation of polyglots… something of an ambitious goal, no?

This blog is about my small part attempting to create that generation.  Throughout my career I have embraced an eclectic approach, drawing on strategies from a wide range of approaches to second language acquisition.  At this point, however, I am focusing on Comprehensible Input.

I have been teaching in public high schools in the US since September, 2000.  Educated in Massachusetts (and having spent the first 5 years of my career in a well-funded suburban school outside of Boston), I am currently Chair of the department of World Languages in a Title I school of 2400 students outside of Los Angeles.  I have given presentations at the national TPRS convention (NTPRS) and I published an article in the book widely referred to as the most important guide to the TPRS method, Fluency Through Reading and Storytelling (7th edition) by Blaine Ray and Contee Seeley.  I have taught every level of Spanish from a 7th & 8th grade academic program through to AP language. I have experience designing & teaching courses for heritage speakers of Spanish, as well as specialized courses designed for non-native speakers with learning disabilities. Recently I have led my department in implementing our IB program. I have taught courses for teachers on integrating technology in the language classroom.

While Spanish is the main language that I teach, I have also had the pleasure of teaching French 1.  I am fluent in Portuguese, or at least I used to be when I attended PUC-RIO, a university in Rio de Janeiro.  I would love to someday teach Portuguese.

– Mike Peto

21 comments

  1. Peto Sensei,

    Thank you so much for teaching at the Spring Workshops for the Confederation in Oregon for Language Teaching! I found your instruction extremely engaging and beneficial. I want to ask: how frequently do you use the one-word image activity in class? Would you say it is the main activity used in your teaching?

    • This year yes, especially during the Autumn semester for my level 1 classes (high school, first year of language instruction). During Autumn semester we roughly followed this pattern:

      Monday: OWI, student interview, write & discuss
      Tuesday: co-create story featuring the character from our OWI, write & discuss, textivate
      Wednesday: Music, Movie talk, book talk
      Thursday: OWI, student interview, write & discuss
      Friday: co-create story featuring the character from our OWI, write & discuss, textivate

      During the second semester I introduced FVR and we have been doing some story listening activities. Throughout the year I have interrupted the process to do a few of my old TPRS story lessons, and just now we are doing a modified whole class novel. During second semester my students had the foundation to start El Internado (tv program), so now since there is so much more going on we are only creating OWIs and spinning the stories about two days of every two week cycle.

      In my level 3 classes we still do OWIs, but less frequently. They do a lot of FVR, we watch El Gran Hotel together about three times per week (for about the last 20 minutes of class), and there is even more music in that class. They occasionally get reading to do at home too.

    • Could you comment on how you approach the palabrotas in El Internado with your students? I will have seniors this year, and am considering using it, especially thanks to your resources. Yet I struggle with the idea that even though swear words are much less extreme in Spain the translations are pretty questionable to show/explain in school. Especially the “c” word.

      • Hi Marissa,

        There are other high-interest shows without swears– I am thinking particularly about Gran Hotel. Kara and I have written very good reading guides for Gran Hotel and I think it is a better choice for advanced students. You are right that with El Internado, even if you shield kids from the swears, they often go home to watch it on Netflix with English subtitles and then come back to school with comments. Gran Hotel has far fewer questionable scenes and is harder to find online, so it is easier for you to curate the experience. Gran Hotel used to be on Hulu, I am not sure if it still is, but I recommend buying the CDs from Amazon.es or Spanish ebay. Using the Spanish sites is probably key; I did not see Gran Hotel on the US site for Amazon.com.

      • Thank you. I will check that one out too. I really like El Internado myself, so I will have to weigh my options.

  2. Hola, profe:

    I’m starting at an IB school next week! Very excited to be involved in learning something new that seeks to give students such ownership. In our MVB training today, we learned that we should be giving “voices and choices” to our students and letting them spin off into their own projects and collaborative groups. I’m in, but as a devotee of CI and the very limited range that students can create even after several years of study, I’m scared to turn my student’s loose and try to produce very far outside the constraints of the input that I am giving.

    I’ve also read something interesting lately about a concept called “dirty output,” perhaps invented by you, where students are asked an open-ended question such as “¿Qué actividad te interesa?” and they spend so much time identifying how to say the response, which they have never received before, that time gets wasted and the output is forced, and therefore, “dirty.” This strikes me as being the same sort or issue with the “turning them loose” quality of “choices and voices.” They will venture away from the input that I’ve given them and seek to use the language via the filter of their L1. And they will exit neither proficient nor satisfied.

    It sounds like you’ve already fought this war, with success. Can you recommend something for me to read, please? Many thanks!

    • I often stay silent when I find myself among IB teachers. I do not abandon what I know about SLA research when I approach my IB courses, and a lot of what I hear from IB trainers involves forced output, a huge amount of vocabulary and (my personal pet peeve) an uncomfortable emphasis on Castilian Spanish. We only have a four year language program (my impression is that many IB programs start language B six to eight years before the DP assessment), yet our pass rate is 100%. That includes the stoners we had our first year of the program who literally failed every other IB assessment; even they passed the Spanish exam because we don´t need them to do homework or ever struggle with the language. They just show up and soak it in. In our four year program we discourage teachers from even including speaking assessments in the formal grade for the entire first year. Listening and reading in a welcoming environment without any anxiety is the key. I understand that an IB education is much more than the DP assessment, and I do try to work with the IB core values & themes. But good SLA research comes first.

    • I do not plan class time dissecting the differences, I do not explicitly teach a certain dialect but I do expose students to a wide variety of variations. From El Internado they also hear Carolina´s Cuban Spanish, and through other sources they hear Mexican, Argentine, Costa Rican, Peruvian and whatever else might show up (while listening to Enrique Iglesias´ video Bailando we heard Spanish spoken with a Brazilian accent). The notion that there is some “standard Spanish” out there beyond the textbook does not reflect reality. I suppose, if you want to organize what is important to include in a curriculum, you should start from the principal of high-frequency words. Having lived in Costa Rica I would like to teach the voseo, but I cannot really justify that it is high frequency enough to replace other structures that I have chosen to include within their first 3 years of instruction (unless the student in question plans on going to Costa Rica). My students are beginning to recognize the vosotros form because it comes up so often in El Internado that it is high-frequency in our class, I do frequent grammar pop-ups for those cases, but they produce ustedes because that is what I model in class. Ultimately I want them to be flexible in their listening, which reflects a certain linguistic multiculturalism, rather than being able to reproduce regionalisms from across the Spanish-speaking world.

  3. I have been reading your posts with great interest and especially in need of an advice on how you combine TPRS with IB program. Do you teach IB class the same way as AP class?

    • The AP test is quite different so we do not combine the two classes. As I see it, IB strikes the right balance for a four year program (like the one we have) whereas developing the listening skills necessary to take the AP exam requires more than 4 years. We still have kids take AP, but they have to do a LOT of listening activities outside of class. The IB exam, on the other hand, requires a conversation between teacher and student. TPRS is perfect preparation for that kind of exam!

      The course pathway that leads to IB SL follows a TPRS curriculum up until the year that they take the exam. There is no specific preparation for IB themes until the year of the exams. I wish we had an additional year so that we could explore IB themes more in depth. That last year focuses on IB themes, and there are thematic units designed to prepare students for the IB reading sections, but there is also a healthy dose of reading. We do not teach an ab initio class… students either take SL or HL (heritage speakers only). I have the impression that ab initio has a lot of thematic vocabulary and less authentic use of language, which is too bad.

  4. Hi Mike thank you so much for providing all these great resources I’m in my first year teaching Spanish where would you direct me to get the best start on adopting CI?

    • Best start: without a doubt, attend a workshop or, even better, attend the national conference where you will be trained by the very best TPRS teachers in the world in an intense five day workshop/conference format.

      Other things you can do if you cannot afford a workshop at this time (although I really need to stress that face-to-face training with a properly trained mentor teacher is essential): read either Blaine and Contee’s Fluency Through TPR Storytelling (known as “The Green Bible” among TPRS teachers) or Ben’s TPRS in a Year. Both are excellent introductions to the skills. Eventually you’ll probably read both books.

      At your training you will be given a book of stories to use with your classes, but you can buy those at Blaine’s website too. For example, if I were to start I would buy the Mini-stories for Look, I can Talk! and maybe the teachers guide too. You will see that these texts are designed to present vocabulary slowly to students.

      On the other hand, if you are a Spanish teacher then Martina Bex has put together her own Spanish 1 storytelling curriculum. The lessons that I have used are excellent. She has an awesome reputation for a good reason.

  5. I bought the entire series of el internado from amazon.es
    Shipping was not outrageous, and I have them all. They are region two, so I use VLC media player (free download) and watch on the computer. VLC also has a nice feature that can jump to a specific time…which is better than fast forwarding past María changing clothes. Here is a link for one set…
    http://www.amazon.es/El-Internado-Temp-DVD-Varios/dp/B001V7V3BQ/ref=pd_ys_qtk_general_recs_1

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