A Blow To His Confidence 17

K continues her reports:
“Some of the kids that I do stories with at lunch are at the point where they can do a 5 minute freewrite, and so we do 1 everyday. Normally, they  just write and then a few share what they wrote, or see if I can read it. The other day, I had a girl who kept writing and writing for about 20 minutes. When she finished she asked if I would read it , but not out loud. Amazingly, I could read every word!
“I saw the blog about kids writing/helping to write stories. Another kid asked if we could do a biography or part of a biography of a student or famous person as a story. I’m having trouble picking structures for these bio-stories. Any suggestions? Things are wonderful for me now at school, at home , and in French. Everyone is learning so much . I don’t think I can ever thank you enough for what you’ve done the past 2 years. It has truly transformed and opened my world and I find new possibilities as a result of that every day! THANK YOU!!”
K you are welcome. Of course, it is you, something in you, that has responded to this way of approaching languages. Many people, who are not to be faulted, would rather judge this stuff before getting to know it. You sat in my classroom for a few years and “got” it. The piece that I see loud and clear in all of your posts here, which we all so much appreciate, is the fire to blaze into new things. Without that fire, there is nothing. I like the way you said that you could read every word of that freewrite, without saying anything about spelling, etc., which you know comes later, once the language has been used, heard, chewed on, and, especially, read enough. When you said that you could read every word that the student wrote, you honored what the student could do and did not criticize. I did ask Dr. Krashen about the structures, picking structures, what to focus on, etc. and he said he will get back to me and I will definitely post his response here. In the meantime, it is so truly bizarre, this picture you have painted of getting all those people, teachers and students and even students from Spanish classes, into the lunchroom of your school and just playing off each other and slamming new ideas into the mix to see what happens. Isn’t that the sort of thing that we as Americans do, since the time of Lafayette and Washington? Just seeing these ideas playing out in the form of happy people learning, smiling, appreciating each other as people, and not feeling stupid because they can’t conjugate some double stem verb correctly, is an honor, and, of course, we want to keep up with this saga as it plays out through the rest of the year, so keep the lunch reports coming!



25 thoughts on “A Blow To His Confidence 17”

  1. There is a quality in K that is rare. Running down a hallway at great risk to her physical well being, then actually falling, to prove a point to a classmate, as she described in the first of these 17 blogs, shows exactly how determined she is to shake things up. I agree, it is an incredible thing.
    This might be a good place to make the point about observing TPRS teachers again, however. We who have been doing it for awhile rarely have home run days, we are insecure, all of us (maybe not Blaine), we are wrestling with a very fluid process that depends on people’s moods, etc. So, on behalf of all of us who get observed a lot, it is very possible that we fail to demonstrate a good class on any given day.
    It is this very vulnerability, however, that perhaps accounts for the incredible kind of bonding that occurs between us when we get together. You do not see grammar teachers getting together like excited campers every summer and fighting and arguing and hugging and just being crazy about the joy and horrors and potentialities of being language teachers.
    Experts are not what will move this stuff forward into practical everyday use in our nation’s classrooms. As the name morphs into something much bigger and not limited to one or two personalities, we now move into a kind of brotherhood of teachers who just want to stay in the target language, who just want to understand what CI is and be able to do it.
    That is hard as hell to do. So I suggest that we stop looking to spend our time looking at so-called experts (I am not an expert), and rather, in the spirit of St.-Exupéry’s statement that love is about people facing together and working together towards a common goal, get together as often as circumstances permit and, laying our fears at the classroom door, roll up our sleeves and work together, laying bare our fears and flaws with the method.
    It is just too hard otherwise. Look at K, and how she just “went for it”. She had never taught a French class before – she barely speaks French – but she believes in herself and in the power of comprehensible input so much, that she took a chance. That’s what we all need to do. Keep taking chances.
    Since I’m on a motormouthing run, I may as well add that I just spent half the night waking up what seemed like every hour thinking about how what we do is not at all a method of how to do something, but a process of trusting in a guiding force that moves us forward through each lesson.
    That is to say, Stephen, as you are in your first year of teaching and I am in my thirty-third, I have only one thing to say to you in terms of observing me or K or anyone else for that matter – don’t put as much stock in observations, although they certainly can help, as much as learn to trust your own intuitive signals that come up in the most unexpected ways during class.
    This is most certainly a process in trusting, and the skills, like Point and Pause and Circling, are just the wheels on the car – they are not the car. The car is in your heart. That is why so many people – I woke up so many times with this thought last night – don’t get what we do. We only succeed if we put ourselves aside, and stop wanting to control everything in the class, and and just let our intuitions guide us, and do our classes in a warm back and forth flow with our kids.
    We must learn to listen, but really listen, to our students as they struggle to be heard in the stifling environment of most school classrooms, as teachers drone on about stuff that is not interesting to them, as teachers absolutely fail to ASK what their students think and then incorporate that into the lesson.
    Most teachers can’t do that. In content driven (vs. Socratic) environments in areas like math and chemistry, they have to teach the content, they cannot do what we potentially can. We in language education have the unique potential to actually interact spontaneously with our students, if we choose.
    You are lucky because you see this and want this as a teacher. You clearly have chosen to not go through your years of teaching from a place of control that most of us in TPRS have had to go through, and you are blessed in that way. You have vision. You know that the old model of foreign language classrooms driven by content is for all intents and purposes dead.
    But it is not really dead, it is just laying there, writhing about. It will not fully die until the thousand or so of us now basing our teaching on the work of Stephen Krashen become ten thousand or fifteen thousand or whatever the number is that is needed to get to the tipping point.
    I asked Dr. Krashen last summer when that tipping point would come, and he told me it would be a very long time (he actually answered with a neat story that I will tell you sometime – if you go to Los Angeles this summer you can ask him yourself to tell you that story because, as I understand, he’ll just be walking around at that conference all week, available to anyone who wants to talk).
    Personally, I think that the tipping point is coming very fast. I know that because, when I talk to Susie and Bryce and Diana and Meredith and Annick and Amy and Paul and so many others, I see a light in their eyes, a light is the only way I can describe it, that is the dim reflection of a true fireball of change that is about to torch the old ways. It’s just a feeling, but it is bright and strong.
    Man am I motormouthing. I am trying to get that dream feeling that I wrestled with all night. I guess I’ll give up on that. But it was compelling. It was compelling dream input about how you and me and all of us must learn that a CI class is about fluidity and trust in some force, an energy, and not about doing certain step by step things to make the PQA or the story work.
    Stephen, I know it sounds hackneyed in an era of hallmark cards and TV shows, but do trust your heart in your lessons. Remember that your lessons must be a two way street with the kids, and that what you do in L2 with them must be about them. Learn to hear and acknowledge and praise the furtive attempts that your kids make to contribute to the CI.
    They are scared and you are scared. We are all scared. Now let’s just all get over that. There is too much work to be done. I have major reservations about being observed, about making DVDs and writing books. But I allow that fear and do it anyway, because how are any of us to move forward unless we communicate and just lay ourselves wide open to being bad?
    Listen to the kids. Go with what they say. Listen to the Force, Luke. Let the lesson go in the direction that you feel it is meant to go in. We need to get out of our minds. Those who reject what we do simply don’t want to give up control. There is fear in that rejection. But we must be fearless if we are to change.
    I still cannot get that feeling I dreamed, so I will let it go now. But the fact that you are there, that K is there wowing the Lakewood IB program lunch crowd, and only in ninth grade, that people just won’t stop talking about Krashen, it all shows that things are changing so fast that it really is like a fireball, all of that just shows that we are moving into something truly great, something that we cannot control. We are moving towards an era of teaching based on intuition and not intellect, on compassion and not judgement, on cooperation and not competition.
    So, Stephen, I’m not going to apologize for the rant. Sometimes (have you noticed?) teachers comment on this blog and then apologize for the length or whatever of what they say. We need to stop doing that. We need to stop putting ourselves down. We need to believe in our work. We are on the A Train, and we are gaining speed.
    So rant on everybody, and go in again fearlessly on Monday. But, dude, you don’t need to observe me or K or anybody else. Just go in on Monday and talk to them about what they did on the weekend, or go in with a few structures, teach them, go through the steps, do the skills, but let the energy in the air and in your students and in your own heart guide things. The era of the mind, of fear, of hating teaching, is over. And so is this rant. Sans apologies.

  2. Resources for K:
    K, you’re an inspiration. You are already changing the world.
    Baby steps TPRS 2: the reading piece
    If you scroll down to Inga’s comment, she talks about doing bios from questionnaires. translate.google.com does a pretty good job with the sample bio she posted if you need a translation.
    An Idea with Potential https://benslavic.com/blog/?p=2631
    This gives ideas for writing a class novel.
    Embedded Readings: http://blog.heartsforteaching.com/2009/12/16/embedded-readings.aspx
    This was Laurie Clarcq’s first post on embedded readings, where she describes starting with a movie about a famous person and having the students write based on that. Then she compiled it into a story they read in layers. The structures to teach then would be the ones needed to read each layer. If the movie idea is a little out of reach still, she had about 10 more blogs on making embedded readings, and some of them might be helpful to your project of writing a biography.
    And if you guys do make the movie, I know I’d watch it 🙂

  3. Hi Ben,
    I think you are right about the observations. I think it is natural for teachers to want to watch some expert and expect to be able to become one by watching. That is exactly how I started and the expert I watched was Alice.
    I think however, that what MUST be the focus is peer coaching. That is what I am longing for. That is what I was hoping for for the “un-conference” in Maine this summer. That is my next big push – to get our experts (Anne, Alice, Mike, Carter, Rachel, etc etc etc) here in Maine to help teachers by WATCHING THEM DO TPRS and critiquing their practice. It is by doing and being critiqued and NOT BY WATCHING THE EXPERTS that we will improve our practice. That little bit of peer coaching that you and the others did with me last October was invaluable. I need more. We need to systematically go after this and make sure it happens. This I think will lead to all of the positive results that we are looking for in TPRS .
    The problem is time. Teachers (especially with the budget cuts – we have lost 14 teachers in the last 2 years – just in our learning area we are down to 3 from a one time high of 9.) we are stressed, overworked and barely able to hang on ourselves – say nothing about taking time to help others.
    On Tuesday our learning area will have its first peer coaching session. I have invited 3 students to join us so that they can help critique us. I will be starting. I was thinking of using one of Anne’s script…. It is a start. It will also give our students a chance to give their input….
    So, a state-wide vision, framework and process for peer coaching. That is my next project. That is what I would like the October conference to focus on.
    What do you think?
    Thank you again for motivating, teaching and inspiring so many of us.

  4. Yes I think it would be perfect for October. The people there are already trained, some for many years now, so it should work beautifully. And I agree with your overall point. There are many, many people who say that they doing comprehension based methods but don’t. That needs to change. Nine of ten who claim to do this stuff just don’t, and the result is total confusion and misrespresentation – it is out of control. Working together side by side is the only way out of this. I talked with Bryce for an hour today about this very topic. Thanks, Skip, and maybe I can talk Bryce into coming up in October as well. He’s a great coach and gets real results in the real world all the time, esp. with grad students who come to his classroom.

  5. Thanks again for the encouragement, Ben. And I appreciate the wisdom in what you said.
    I am so used to approaching challenges from an intellectual standpoint, trying to understand concepts well enough to think myself to success. I want to read, study, observe so much that I KNOW TPRS well enough to do it perfectly. But I appreciate the reminder that I’m not going to be successful in TPRS (or teaching in general) by what I can do with my intellect. I am coming to understand all the time how my success is going to be more about the relationships I have with my students than it will be about my understanding of this “method.” And I realize that I am just going to have to learn a lot by making my own mistakes (and I have made enough mistakes this year for a WHOLE lot of lessons).
    I believe Susie says “just talk to the kids,” right?
    I taught Saturday school yesterday, which means I got to teach a class of 15 sixth graders for an hour (I teach 7th). It was so nice. They were so interactive and loved the lesson. I did a lesson using monsters, and one of them created a monster in his head that was, “Really big, black, and strong, and didn’t have many friends.” Then I asked him the name of his monster, “Mr. Nowell” (one of our principals). It was really funny. It was so cool how easy and fun everything was. Half the kids had never had a class with me before, but they knew how to have a silly conversation, I gave them the support they needed to be able to do that in Spanish. I’d say that was one of my best lessons this year.
    This reminds me that I can and will do this well. I will continue learning from my mistakes, and I know that next year I will be so much more successful than this one. But the reason I was able to have a great class with those sixth graders is because I haven’t made the mistakes with them that have taken great tolls on my relationships with them, like I have with my 7th graders. My successes next year will come from my relationships with my students and not from the new lesson ideas I implement or my new understanding of Dr. Krashen’s work.

  6. I know you are not really discounting your intellectual curiosity and the work you have done to build a good foundation to do the work you are doing. I liken it to the difference between a charismatic speaker of a language who cannot read and a well-read, charismatic speaker of that language. No throwing the baby out with the bath water.
    I believe you are saying that your success will rest upon prioritizing (but not linearly)–authentic and successful relationships being the axis. I know, personally, that my intuition has a better chance to function well if the information (Krashen, techniques, etc.) is solidly in my head and I have practiced my craft.
    For me, the thing that is so hard is getting it all to happen at once: relationship, intuition, skill. I do not have complete control over my own “order of acquisition” of these things. I must trust that the synergy of prioritizing (relationship as the centerpiece), practicing, and listening to my kids and my intuition, will forge the successful amalgam I seek.
    Stephen, I am so hopeful for the future when I read your posts. Don’t give up on the painful seventh graders. I hope you pleasantly surprised by the end of the year. You never know.

  7. Thanks for the encouragement, Jody. I won’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I love the theory. I love the methods. But I’m going to make sure I am not so imbalanced next year in where I put my energies for personal development as a teacher. Thanks again!

  8. Looking back on our communication this year so far, Stephen, I would say that you have packed in about ten years worth of learning. We mustn’t forget that a full half of y’all new teachers quit after three years (last time I heard that stat anyway). Those are astounding numbers. So sit back and give yourself some credit. Why don’t any of us do that (give ourselves credit) more often? Damn, y’all, we’re doing great work in a tremendously difficult setting! In that spirit, K wrote this the other day to all of us:
    This is a formal apology to you and all teachers on behalf of myself and every middle school and high school student in the United States. We can be so cruel to teachers as well as others our own age sometimes. Thank you for coming to work, even when you are having a bad day, to teach us. Thank you for putting up with us -we are quite the handful and are oftentimes so disrespectful (including myself) that it makes me sick – sometimes literally. I bring this up because a teacher was brought to tears today by one of my classmates. Thinking about it, I get a bad taste in my mouth. Thank you for continuing to do your very best, despite our disrespect. Your jobs are very important – some of the most important ever, and yet we as students and even as a country dramatically undervalue what you do and often take it for granted.

  9. Thanks for sharing the note from K. If only I could get my 6th period students to appreciate me one tenth as much as she appreciates all teachers….
    I have a question on another topic.
    Ben, you wrote above:
    “…if you go to Los Angeles this summer you can ask him yourself to tell you that story because, as I understand, he’ll just be walking around at that conference all week, available to anyone who wants to talk)”
    What conference are you talking about? I feel totally out of the loop. The NTPRS this year is outside of Chicago, n’est-ce pas?

  10. Ben’s talking about the first iFLT: international Forum on Language Teaching. It will be in Los Alamitos (Orange County), California, 27-31 July 2010. The weekend before the Forum, there will be opportunity to work with Fluency Fast. Here’s the URL for more information: http://www.iflt.org/. University credit is available through Chapman University in Orange.
    The Comprehensible Input movement is growing and spreading. In addition to NTPRS and iFLT, German teachers have the Sweet Briar experience, and the Fluency Fast program is also expanding. This summer we will have opportunities literally from coast to coast (and in between).

  11. OT: I was right. Take off the http://, and your post will go up without moderation when you include a URL. At least that’s what just happened for me. The website software apparently adds the http, and if it’s already there it registers a problem and therefore needs moderation.

  12. Diana can you talk a little about the conference in Los Angeles? I know you are in charge of the whole thing. Anyone else with a conference please free to mention it here. But, yes, the Chicago conference is only one of many. I regret that the Maine thing with me and Laura and Bryce and Jim and Anne Matava and Skip Crosby and maybe Jody has been put off till the summer after this one, mainly for reasons having to do with logistics. I am also aiming directly at the Chickasaw Language training in Oklahoma next summer. I may ride my bike down there if I can get Bryce to go with me for protection. Only 500 miles. There are always great things up there in WI and MN – which may be the most active TPRS area in the country right now, kicking out new great talent all the time with an army of veterans like Janice Holter Kittock and Barb Cartford and those Concordia Village superstars. It looks as if I will be in Los Angeles as part of the DPS study, where and Bryce with me, but we’re not sure of that yet. Lots of options, though, Erik. Where are you located?

  13. Hmm. I had a phone interview last week for a teaching position with Concordia Language Villages this summer. If I get the position, I will be working until July 25. I just may be able to head to LA, though I’d have to miss out on NTPRS this year.
    If I don’t get the position, maybe I’d be up for doing that bike ride with you, Ben.

  14. Get ready to get dropped, then. By Bryce, not me… I’ll be the speck on the road in the distance behind you. I’m seriously thinking of it. Backroads, camping, paniers, the whole thing. Bryce and I haven’t logged enough road miles on yet and this would be a great trip. Webster? Others? Dale? C’mon!

  15. Sorry for the late entry here. This all sounds good to me. I am up for getting together and talking teaching–especially like the two 18 hour conversations Ben and I had this summer to and from San Antonio.
    And I am ALWAYS up for a ride on my road bike. Not so sure about the panniers thing–how about the extra set of shorts, some flip flops and a credit card style of camping? I have friends in Tulsa and relatives in Norman if we wanted to detour.

  16. Ben,
    I’m in San Francisco. Currently I have little ones at home so I’m not as mobile as I might be for going to conferences. LA has an outside chance of being doable. But likely I’ll have to wait until my two guys are a little older. That bike trip sounds pretty darn good, too. (Sigh!) Someday…

  17. Ben, I think that I’d be the speck on the road way behind Bryce, and trying to keep up with you. I know I’m not in the best shape I’ve ever been, even though I don’t have a car and use my bike to get around the ATL. It’s mostly flat here, so it’s not so bad. Denver to LA would be a completely new type of challenge for me. We’ll see. Let me know if you start making serious plans.

  18. Actually, scratch that. I just got an e-mail saying that I got the position teaching at Concordia Language Villages this summer! So excited, but unfortunately no biking with Ben and Bryce for me.
    Even so, I’m definitely still looking at possibly going to the LA conference.

  19. Congratulations Stephen! All I’ve heard about Concordia is good stuff – a bunch of CI freaks they are if Byron is any indication – so you’re in good hands! Actually, I was thinking of riding to OKL the summer after next. I don’t think I could get over those mountains to get to LA. It’s more downhill the other way and not so far. Again, great job and it’s going to be a wonderful summer of learning for you.

  20. Stephen,
    Way to go getting the summer position at the Concordia Language Village–internationally renowned program and from what I hear, teachers that are serious about fun CI.

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