Greg shares his syllabus and parent letter:
Greg shares his syllabus and parent letter:
This letter is from Nathaniel Hardt. It is a brilliant response to the letter he received from a parent (in italics):
Good morning, Mr. Hardt,
My son Gordon is in your Spanish I class. Yesterday, he came home and informed us that he had a pop quiz in class and didn’t think he did well. When we inquired further as to what he’s been working on in class, he didn’t have much to show. We found that he only had a half page of notes. We’ve seen no homework to date and although he’s mentioned a couple of previous quizzes (that he’s said he’s done well on) we haven’t seen them. I also don’t understand why there is no textbook available for this class. I’m concerned that Gordon may be missing something as I would have thought we should have seen more content, given that school has been in session now for over a month. [Click To Continue Reading...]
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones:
I’d like to check in regarding Troy’s performance in Spanish class. It is clear that Troy is very capable. However, currently he is among the poorest performing students in his Spanish class. There really is no need for that.
Troy is expected to be an active participant in class. I expect him to dedicate his energy to understanding the Spanish he’s hearing or reading. I expect that he focus his attention in class on our conversation or on what we are reading. I expect him to respond to my questions and statements. I expect him to observe my facial expressions, gestures and laser pointer when I’m delivering spoken messages so he can benefit from the many ways I’m conveying meaning to him and the class. [Click To Continue Reading...]
So the parent communication below was just sent out to parents by Tina, who has given permission for us to cut and paste and edit to our own situation. It is a strong preventive move to (a) get the kid to get with our program, and, just as importantly, (b) avoid any kind of parental meltdown in a month or so:
My name is Tina Hargaden, and it is my great pleasure to work with your children in French or Spanish class. In class, we spend the majority of our time communicating in French or Spanish. Your child’s grade reflects the importance of the interpersonal communication that happens in class. 65% of the grade is based on your child’s communication ability. This includes attentive listening, responding to comprehension checks, and demonstrating understanding of the class’s learning activities, stories, and discussions.
I am contacting you because I just entered the first Interpersonal Communication grades of the year, and your child’s grade was below a B for this week. I thought you would like to know so that you can help your child understand the expectations for communication in this class. it is expected that they listen actively to the class’s activities, maintain a flow of French or Spanish communication, and demonstrate their comprehension of the language.
I have sent home a copy of the rubric for this Interpersonal Communication grade, as well as a more detailed explanation of the assessments used in class.
Please contact me with any concerns or questions. email@example.com is the best email to use. In your email, please specify your student’s name and period, as I sent a bulk email to all students whose interpersonal communication grades were below 80%.
Please know that next week I will replace this week’s grade with your child’s new grade, as this is a settling period of adjustment to the class. Therefore, this week’s grade is for informational purposes only.
Already I can see how it is transforming my relationship to families: I am taking charge of the energy, and sending tons of positive vibes their way, positive about their child, and positive about the work I am doing with them everyday. Now I no longer dread checking my email. Instead, almost daily I am getting at least one really nice response from parents who are not used to receiving any kind of personalized communication from a teacher about their child–I teach in a very large school. Last week, one dad replied with great enthusiasm about how his daughter loves my class, even more than digital photography. And by the way, he mentions that he is an 8th grade cross country coach at one of the feeder schools in the district, and he will make sure to spread the word.
So if you want to take charge of the culture of your program, I really recommend that you begin with a simple email each day to 3 parents. It will pay off. I am not saying anything about how I teach. Parents are already hearing about that, and hearing positive things from their kids.
I wanted to share with the group something I have begun to do, and it has already paid off in terms of getting parents on my side, and hopefully ensuring the enrollment numbers I need for next year. Every day, I am making a point to email parents of three students, starting with my freshman class, since they’re my most important investment. I am asking them to reach out to anyone they know with kids who will be entering our school next year, and spread the word about Latin: that it’s an option, and that all kinds of kids can succeed and have fun.
So I have a template that I simply cut and paste. But I make sure to begin the email with one or two sentences containing something I appreciate about their child, and a specific way in which he/she has contributed and/or progressed in ability. I’d say it takes me about 15-20 minutes to do 3 emails.
I believe this particular [helicopter] parent was listening to the other from last week who was complaining about her precious having to wait three seconds before answering chorally. These dragon moms believe they aren’t getting their children’s rIgor needs met!
By the way this kind of petty complaining to the top is a new phenomenon in our district. My new principal is determined to retrain the parents to engage in pedagogical conversations with the teacher instead of tattling…
I guess I’m old/veteran enough to see recently a real shift in parent attitude toward their kids’ teachers. My theory is that the culture has shifted (more me-centered; more immediate gratification with electronics, etc.) such that the good of the group, and the lessons from being part of a community are no longer appreciated as they once were…it’s all “My kid must get ahead!”
My mistake perhaps has been to try to identify as a parent with each and every one of these angry missives – when really, I don’t identify at all – not with the demographic (rich); not with the attitude (entitled); not with the value priorities (my kid over the group/community/school….)
The issue I was reaching out to you about is a behavioral issue and that is what I was hoping to have your support and thinking around. In class, I have tried to help [name of student] to not blurt out as the result does impact instruction in that there is an unbalancing of the speed of instruction (a critical factor in a storytelling language class). [Click To Continue Reading...]
I wanted to follow up a bit to gain a better understanding of your curriculum and plans to introduce textbook and workbooks. What is the goal for year one of middle school French and how does it compare to first semester of high school French 1/2?
As a parent, I notice that James is not understanding avoir or etre and thinks “est” is spelled “a” and vice versa. He also said he feels the reading time in class is frustrating because he can’t really understand what he’s reading. He is a pretty rote learner and loves worksheets (the opposite of me or his brother) but I also want to support him appropriately and better understand the curriculum so I can correct him when appropriate and ensure he is understanding the language correctly.
We had wanted to meet during the conferences as well but it didn’t work out with the timing of our block meeting. I’m happy to meet with you or have a quick chat on the phone if you have time as well.
Mrs. Nameless-Helicopter-Mom-Who-Thinks-She-Knows-How-To-Teach-French-Because-She Got-an-A-In-It-In-College-By-Memorizing-Verb-Charts
Our colleague’s response:
Thanks for following up and sharing your concerns. I am passionate about all my students’ success in gaining proficiency in French and I appreciate your enthusiasm for the French language and James’ progress.
As you are writing this on a Sunday afternoon, I assume your concerns could be stemming from your son’s weekend homework. When he looks at the word “est” in the reading, is he unable to say that it signifies “is”? Can you clarify what you mean when you say he does not understand “avoir” or “être”? Please provide me with more information on how he is doing at his homework, especially reading.
Or perhaps your concerns are more general. Is he complaining about class? Does he not understand what is going on? Is he not letting me know if I need to slow down or repeat? That is a key skill in my classroom. Language cannot happen when one party only is working at communication. Communication is now the established national standard of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Language, my parent organization. I must work toward reciprocal and participatory back and forth communication with my students or I would be doing what they did 50 years ago. I can provide you with articles in support of that idea if you wish – just let me know.
I am working from research that says that humans learn languages by hearing and reading massive amounts of input before producing any language in the form of speech and writing. Oddly, there is no known research that supports the grammar translation approach, though that is how most of us now-adults were instructed. Here is an example of a 1967 article that I think you will agree is compelling:
Regarding reading time, perhaps I can be more structured by choosing a common easy text for the entire class to read. Let me try that and we can re-evaluate things in a few weeks on this reading.
I understand that you also have concerns about James’ success in French class at the high school. You have a child who is struggling there currently, so I totally understand your desire to not repeat that experience. I have met with the high school teachers and I keep a close eye on what they are doing in their French 1 course.
We also have a meeting scheduled for December, after which I will have more information on the plans for articulation and transitioning the students to a successful second-year experience.
I hear your concerns about your son being a “rote” learner. I understand that acquiring a language might lead a rote learner into some frustrating territory, because languages, much like the skill of playing a musical instrument, are not acquired in a rote fashion. Even for a rote learner, second (and third and fourth…) languages are acquired in the same fashion as our first language, through comprehensible interaction in the language. This class is an opportunity for James to experience success in a different way of learning. That in itself is almost as valuable as acquiring proficiency in French, in my experience of working with young adolescents. As much as I might wish that I could give kids rote memorization to speed this process up, it would likely do more harm than good, by causing anxiety and low self-esteem in the learner.
As I implied above, recent research has shown that learning a language through memorization, manipulation of forms, or even through forced output does not lead to true acquisition, fluency, and proficiency in the language. What has been shown to lead to fluency is comprehensible input–messages that the learner hears, reads, and understands. That is why I think it would be best if I went to a common text through which I can guide him as we work together in class.
Another concern you might have is James’ limited output abilities. Again, research has shown that a flood of comprehensible input is needed before even a smidgen of output can happen. At this point in his language acquisition journey, he has been exposed to 55 class periods of input. He is just taking his first steps in French. As long as he is able to understand the class’ readings (the weird ones we create together), and our conversations in class, at this point, that is what I expect from him. For more on that, again, I can provide you with the concrete research on just how long it takes for speech mastery to happen – just let me know. My one goal in teaching is to teach in full alignment with current research.
In my previous position, I sent three groups of middle school French students on to another high school, where they went into second-year French after one year of instruction and were successful. Their instructor at the high school gave them great feedback on their abilities. I am confident that James will have a very solid base for his second-year French studies.
Regarding the use of the text/workbook, I do not plan to use those resources until next year, towards the end of eighth grade. I would not use them at all, because they do not fit with my understanding of best practices in language acquisition. However, since as of now the students are heading into a grammar-based environment, I will help them in learning how to navigate the text/workbook.
Please know that I am very pleased with the students’ progress and I think that James is exactly where he should be after approximately 50 hours of French exposure. We are currently, in November 2015, less than 3/16 of the way through our time together. I understand that it can be frustrating working with human brains and the natural order of acquisition, when our language learning experience was so different. However, please be patient with his progress. By the end of the next two years, I expect him to have a thorough, solid understanding of the basics of the French language and be very well-prepared to succeed in high school French.
A related question for the group from our teacher:
Do you think I really should put that kid on worksheets? Like make him sit at a separate place and work independently?
My response and I think it’s the best one I’ve ever employed in situations like this:
Great question. One thing you an do, and this is working with my current singleton version of this type of kid is that I tell them privately that since their learning style is not lined up with my teaching style (act as if it happens and is normal, no shaming), he can work on grammar worksheets at any time in class. ANY time. This gives HIM the choice of what to do in class. Tell him that if we were to do nothing but work sheets he would be adequately prepared for next year. Next, do lots of SSR read and discuss as per that recent comment here about how to start a class with SSR and expand it into an entire class (so easy!) and watch the kid stay in the class so as not to be embarrassed and if the SSR text chosen is sufficiently low level he will actually get into it. Now you have turned the tables on the kid. Instead of being forced to learn a certain way, they have a choice. It changes everything. When he feels that it is he who makes the decision about how he is taught, and when he chooses to stay with the class and do the SSR or story or whatever (you have to make it so simple that he can!), then the entire dynamic of complaints against you is neutralized. Mom can no longer fly her stink-o-copter into your room and complain – you have given him the option to learn as he will in high school and he has chosen to stay with the class. But I would start with SSR bc it is reading and easy (did I mention the importance of choosing a really easy text!).