A Horse’s Ass

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14 thoughts on “A Horse’s Ass”

  1. This is a timely post, Ben. Like all the other posts. I am insecure by nature. I worry excessively about others’ perceptions of me. I feel like as I go through this transformation I am constantly treading a fine line between “omg, I can’t believe how awesome this is” and “oooh, I better not get too excited because I don’t want ppl to think I am down on the way they are doing things.” And then I notice that of course I am judging. Damn. I am trying to be non-judgemental, but here I am judging. I guess it is good that I’m aware so I can rein it in. I think it is an energy drain to judge, so I want to work on keeping my energy flowing to positive thoughts and actions. I’m struggling with this. I know that even in my own classes I have made comments or facial expressions that indicate pretty clearly how I feel about worksheets and memorizing words for vocabulary tests and using technical grammar terms. I need to check myself on this, because some of the students are operating from the old assumptions and I don’t want to make them feel badly about something that was imposed on them. It’s not their fault. I do this a lot in my level 4 class, and it dawned on me just last week that I might be alienating kids who have not had the benefit of CI instruction, so I’m kind of destroying their world view when I say things like “you can break out your Schaum’s grammar workbook at home, but I’m not going to waste time in class on that stuff because it’s totally devoid of context.” This came up when a student said that last year’s teacher told them to hang onto that book because they’d use it this year. I snickered and then made that statement I just wrote. Sigh. Sometimes I am so unprofessional. But I think the bottom line is that I need to be more careful and tuned into where the kids are and walk alongside them a bit more rather than yank them abruptly onto a completely different path. It’s just hard to contain my enthusiasm though :0

  2. …I have made comments or facial expressions that indicate pretty clearly how I feel about worksheets and…
    When we have done it the other way, especially for a long time, it is very very difficult to contain those comments, even in class. Yet, the kids have no idea why one is better and they get confused, especially if they are “good” at the old way and if they like their teacher.
    This has been the source of enmity among departments and it is completely our lack of professionalism at fault. It took me these eleven years with CI to even get a handle on the tendency to blurt out against the old way and yet I still do it, but far less often, like only one blurt per year.
    There are really strong people in our community like Bryce and Laurie and Jim Tripp who have it under control. They are good role models for us. It’s just something we have to work on. I can understand why some people strongly dislike me in the profession. I don’t care much, however, because I know I’m not perfect and I also have constantly been overwhelmed all these years with those thoughts of “I can’t believe how awesome this is”, as you said.
    On the one hand I shouldn’t do it, but on the other those people’s jobs are numbered in a very real way as the tide of awareness keeps rolling in, washing away the old encrusted shit of the past with every story.

    1. I don’t think those folks days are numbered. Face it many teachers and books are still teaching the way we were taught when we were in school and for those of us close to retirement that is a sad thought.
      But, there is room here. We know that students are finding us effective because what they want is the “in the real world it sounds like this.” They did take world language because it was a required course, but they want to know that when they stand on a street corner in Paris looking lost, they can say with some accurate sounding language experience “Excuse me, I’m lost.” They want to be able to say when they go abroad after college or during college–“Do you know a good resturant? I’ll buy you a drink.”
      And they will know how to laugh at their odd mistakes with the people of the target language without feeling laughed at.
      They will be human in a place they don’t have much experience for. They will know how to listen for what they do know in context and to latch onto that. Those are skills that don’t come from a book. They come from learning to converse in class.

  3. I think that we need only to keep reminding teachers that ACTFL recommends that 95% of our teaching be in the target language. Is this not a fairly objective standard? Teachers who are not using CI methods are not and cannot possibly meet this. The onus is on them!

  4. Working in a vacuum is not easy. I try desperately not to comment on anything, but I am surrounded – literally – in my work space by people whose worksheets have worksheets and charts. For real! Sometimes my tongue is bloody from biting it! It became clear to me today that I must be putting out a vibe or my kids are. My friend whose German program will be a memory next year told me that a former student came back from college for a visit and was very proud to tell how intimidated she had been in her German class that was full of native speakers (in Florida) and that her prof told her that her grasp of grammar was better than the native speakers. My friend’s take away from that was that she had done a great service for that student by giving her the ability to describe the language. BTW her speaking is great too. Not that all of this may not be true and I am happy for her, but I had two reactions: The first was sadness that my friend feels she needs to defend herself in this way. The second was of course, the question: am I good enough at this to get my kids to be a solid combination of both at the end of four years? Anne Matava’s e-mail from last year sticks in my mind along with the fear that I’ll told to do the National French Exam to get the “data”. That’s kind of a joke with 40 minute classes and about 135 good teaching days. I am currently in the process of creating an exam with the illusion of the “traditional” while honoring the way I have been teaching and assessing. No wonder we may have a bit of an “edge” from time to time. We pour ourselves into the method, spend countless hours reading, blogging, and “workshopping” to perfect the skills. The slings and arrows can sting. I really don’t like to take up blog space with this kind of stuff, but if not here, where? Off to Tampa Wednesday. Happy Holidays to all.

  5. Language programs like the German one above are biting the dust all over the place for the objective fact that Skip mentions above. Each time that happens, a little bell goes off in the invisible world, signaling the failure to attract kids to the programs. The ringing will get louder over time. It will grow in the ears of your colleagues signaling the end of their jobs. It won’t happen next year, and, judging from looking directly into the teachers at ACTFL this year, it won’t happen for years and years and years. But the bells they are a ringing nonetheless. Way to ring their bells, Chill. ‘Tis the season, right?

  6. Ben,
    After reading your post today I echo how much I owe of what currently happens in my classroom (and more and more in my department) is because of what I learn and have learned here.
    Over the course of the past three years every time we have finished one of Ray’s novels, I made the students write an analysis of the story that we spent the semester reading. Since the story is 100% comprehensible and we have already analyzed all parts of the story in class, this is totally doable, in my opinion. It’s forced output, but once you see what I have to show my department chair, my principals and anyone else who wants to see, it’s worth it.
    After we finish the novels we discuss theme, plot and characterization all in L2. Their homework is to write a thesis statement. The next day in class I do 1-on-1s with each student and their thesis statement while the rest of the class scours the books for any quotes they might want to include in their essays. 4 paragraphs, at least 2 citations from the text (written on a note card).
    This sounds tough and the kids freak out a bit. But it is a perfectly scaffolded assignment that lasts for an entire semester. When the students got their grades today they were all shocked at how well they all did. Since the novels use the same 500 words they had a great vocabulary base to use.
    They get a rubric grade for Analysis (3.0 Student draws inferences from the text and creates and supports a thesis); Fluency (3.0 student produces language understood by a sympathetic native speaker) ; Vocabulary (3.0 Student shows accurate and appropriate use of vocabulary in alignment with the curriculum); and Completion (3.0 student addresses all parts of the prompt with some extension).
    I wanted to share one of the best and one of the worst (but still good). I will use 100% of their language. These are this season’s batch of Finals from Spanish II after reading “Mi propio auto.”
    Sample 1
    Turner y Ray tiene una novela y se llama Mí propio auto. La novela tiene una persona y se llama Ben. Ben está un hombre. Ben está rico y tiene muchos lujos en su vida. Ben tiene una novia y se llama Mindy. Los autas [autores?] usan Mindy por el cambío de Ben antes de que El Salvador y después El Salvador.
    Ben tiene una novia y se llama Mindy y Ben piense Mindy está bonita de todas chicas en el mundo. Brevemente antes de sal de San Jose, Mindy se dice «No tienes que decir me fabulosa. Yo sé» (14-15). Mindy principalmente piense de ella. Ben piense a Mindy piense para ben más de ella. Ben no sabe Mindy.
    Después de el verano de Ben y Mindy, ellos veo un día. Ben está feliz porque Ben ve a Mindy. Mindy habla mucho de ella verano. En primer lugar, Ben quiere de habla de él verano. Pero Mindy habla mucho. Después de todo, Mindy habla nada y pregunte «¿Dónde está el carro, el carro nuevo?» (55). Ben no piense de el carro. Ben no le importa de el carro pero es importante de Mindy. Mindy no le importa Ben. Mindy piense de el carra más que a Ben.
    Finalmente, Ben no le gusta a Mindy. Ben le gusta a Anabel. En fin, no recibé una carro nuevo. Ben tiene una miente differente, Ben escribir a Anabel y Ben está muy feliz con él vida. Ben cambío en El Salvador.
    Grade: Analysis 3.0; Fluency 2.0; Vocabulary 2.0; Completion 3.0
    Sample 2
    La mayor parte del tiempo, muchas personas en el mundo nunca se da cuentan de que es mas importante que dinero. Raramente, estadounidenses no se da cuentan de que felicidad es con amor y familia. Personas como Ben Sulivan en la novela “Mi propio auto,” son como eso. Ben cambió cuando el fue a vivir en El Salvador porque se da cuenta de que no necesita lujos y cosas caras para ser contenta y también se da cuenta de quienes son verdaderos.
    Al principio, Ben es muy materialista y solo importa por coches y Mindy. Cuando el fue a vivir el país pobre de El Salvador, ve muchas familias con amor y amigos amables. Aunque los salvadoreños son muy pobres, tienen que necesitan. Ray y Ray muestran que sobre todo los salvadoreños son feliz con que tienen y no quieren mas. En la novela, Anabel le dice, “No tenemos que vivir en una casa grande. Ben, somos ricas sin esas cosas” (42). Eso muestra que los salvadoreños son contento porque son ricas con felicidad y amor. En fin Ben se da cuenta de que Anbel tiene razón sobre el concepto de felicidad.
    En el novela, “Mi propio auto,” Ben tambíen cambió cuando se da cuenta de quienes son verdaderas. Cuando regresa a los Estados Unidos, Mindy se dice, “Ben, llamame cuando tengas tu carro nuevo. Quiero ver lo” (54). Eso cita muestro que MIndy no le importa el. Mindy solo importa sobre cosas caras como zapatos y ropas y coche de Ben. Mindy nunca le pregunta nada de su verano en El Salvador. Por esta razón Ben se da cuenta de que Mindy no es una amiga verdadera.
    En síntesis, Ben se da cuenta de el importante en la vida. No necesita mucho dinero y lujos en los Estados Unidos para ser contenta en vida. Solo necesita que el tiene. Puede ser muy felíz sin lujos. Principalmente, se da cuenta de quienes son verdaderos.
    Grade: Analysis 4.0; Fluency 4.0; Vocabulary 4.0; Completion 4.0
    When I first started teaching I never would have thought that this kind of language could come out of Spanish II kids. My old Spanish II kids wrote a paragraph using 10 verbs in the preterite and 5 in the imperfect about something insignificant.
    Just imagine what is going to happen when they get to Spanish III and then AP Spanish. The language is messy but totally comprehensible. I don’t waste time adding accents or fixing syntax or suggesting new vocabulary. I read and make comments like good point, nice conclusion, bitchen thesis (maybe not that one). With more and more reading and CI the language will fix itself.
    I’m so pumped that kids did so well on their final exams it looks and sounds like a daunting assignment and the kids totally rocked it.

    1. Wow Drew! This is fantastic! Does this assignment surprise the kids, in terms of “whoa, I didn’t realize I could write an essay in Spanish!” I imagine they must feel pretty proud.
      I am interested in your writing process…the scaffolding that gets them to this point. Are you doing freewrites all along the way? You mention that you took the whole semester for this novel…so how much time per day do you spend on it and how do you keep the interest going? What does your reading process look like? I had a really hard time earlier this fall and had to bail out of novels in 2 classes because the kids started complaining daily. Probably this had more to do with my newness and insecurity than with the particular act of reading. Anyway, I ended up writing up a summary (haha… spark notes of a TPRS novel !!!) for the last few chapters so we could move on.
      Since this was a final exam, did they do all the writing in class? How much time was given? Sorry for all these questions. I am so intrigued by this.
      I can sense so clearly from the students ‘writing their “feel” for the language. There is a real comfort level that comes across, along with each student’s voice! Truly remarkable, Drew! Thank you again for sharing this 🙂

      1. We read during the semester when I have yearbook deadlines. I usually don’t feel like planning anything when I’m staying late so I pull out the books the next day. No set plan except to be done with the book two weeks before the exam. Sometimes we will do a Chapter over the course of a Tuesday/Thursday reading period. In a 17 week semester there is a lot of time to find a day here or there to read. The kids aren’t really into the books but as teacher I like them because they bring a little bit of unity between 2 or more teachers teaching multiple sections of the same class. The kids groan when I take the books out but I think sometimes they need to see that school doesn’t always have to be fun. From the 1st time we read I informed them that this stuff will show up on their essay at the end of the book.
        In terms of scaffolding the novel. With Mi propio auto (My own car) I PQA “tendría vergüenza” (I’d be embarassed), “(usted) ya tiene su propio auto” ([do] you have your own car), “si tuviera” (if you had). We circle statements like Do you have your own car? If you had a mini-van would you be embarrassed? What would you have that would not make you embarrassed?
        In Chapter 2 you could PQA “quiere que sea/tenga/haya” (wants him/her to be/have/wants there to be) to describe a perfect partner or gift.
        In Chapter 3 you could PQA disasters.
        Chapter 7 is about lujos/nececidades. Chapter 8 is about the definition of civilization. The chapters open up a wealth of PQAable material that is more interesting than the novels themselves (which is key). This sort of CI helps build teach the vocabulary for the chapter ahead time and helps to communicate the ideas that they will use in their essays.
        Actors and actresses help. I try to make the kids hate Mindy and love Anabel in the novel. That love interest really appeals to their hormones.
        Since my department wants to give 4 parts to the final we do the writing the Wednesday before, we did 2 days of reading Thursday and Friday and the oral exams during the 2-hour exam block. They had Monday for in-class recap of the novel, Monday night homework was thesis writing, and on Tuesday I let the kids pull quotes from the book and did thesis statements. I said I’m aiding with thesis statements on the document camera, if you want to watch, watch, if not, just don’t bug everyone else. People watched.
        I think it’s helpful to view students’. I enjoy seeing what others’ students do and knowing how we assess them. What do others consider “proficient” and why?
        I hope this information turns out to be helpful for you, Jen.

  7. Drew –
    Writing the analysis was a wonderful thing and what your kids wrote there is very cool indeed. I see writing output as not the same as oral output. Writing is an analytical act and, since the vocabulary is limited to 500 words, what you describe above is nothing short of brilliant – a narrow and deep tour de force, really, and it looks like the feeling of them being forced to write was of the right kind, with solid academic rigor guiding them along for real reasons and with real confidence in the process provided by you.
    Asking kids to speak, on the other hand, is so much more vulnerable. Therefore, speaking is more dangerous to the children, most of whom are genuinely shy and in doubt about so many things in their lives right now. To ask them to create spoken language without having heard it enough is to force the flower to bloom. So, just to be clear, my issues around output are more around spoken output.
    Thank you for allowing me to point that out and thank you for sharing samples of work that most traditional teachers would aggressively challenge as the work of level 2 kids, as many of them still hold that the world is flat.
    Related: https://benslavic.com/blog/2008/11/29/each-year-i-grow-a-garden/

  8. As a learner I am far happier to output in writing. I can take time to think through what I am going say, how to get it into the right tense, etc. Speaking just has me stumbling all over the place. I took German one year, Spanish one year, and now I am learning Mvskoke. I am a different learner as an adult, but I was always motivated as a child too. I was a 4%. But speaking–oh please don’t make me.
    Teaching Mvskoke has forced me to speak. But, in order that I do it accurately, I script out my class and practice so that I sound natural to the children. They smoke me! Would they know if I said it wrong? No. Would their parents? No. I would though. And face it. Having conversation and engaging with them is why I do it.
    In the next generation, there will be Tallahassians who know why some places have the names they do and something about the people who lived here and saw those places and called them home before any European set foot on this continent.
    The world is flat and geographically specific no matter what your first lanugage is but it is circular.

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